On his first day as CEO of the Christian relief agency World Vision, Rich Stearns sat down in a conference room, bowed his head in prayer, and wondered, not for the first time, what exactly he'd gotten himself into.

In 1998, after a successful corporate career, Stearns left behind his corner office and company Jaguar at Lenox—a high-end tableware company—and entered a world he knew nothing about. He was convinced that God had called him to the job—and nearly as certain that he would fail.

So his prayer went something like this: "Lord, I don't have a clue when the eight o'clock bell sounds, and it is time to start actually doing this job. I haven't the foggiest idea where to start."

Then he added this request.

"I did my part. I showed up," he told God. "Now you have to do the rest, or we are going to screw up one of the best ministries in the kingdom."

Stearns learned quickly. During his tenure, his business skills have helped World Vision cut overhead costs and strengthen its programs to better serve some of the world's poorest people.

In doing so, he's joined a long list of Christian businesspeople who've taken leaps of faith into the nonprofit world. That list includes Peter the fisherman; George Williams, who was a draper before starting the Young Men's Christian Association in the 1840s; Bill Bright, who ran Bright's California Confections before starting Campus Crusade for Christ; and Millard Fuller, who was a millionaire lawyer and entrepreneur before founding Habitat for Humanity.

In recent years, several high-profile Christian nonprofits—including World Relief, Habitat for Humanity, and the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA)—have hired former business leaders to head their organizations. ...

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March 2007

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