Oscar Merlo: The Ecology of Business as Ministry [Crowell School of Business]


(upbeat music) (applause)
– Thank you, Gary, and it’s fantastic to be here with you guys. I’m excited, I’m thrilled, I’m happy, and I’m extremely nervous because this feels like you know when you’re in the tarp and
you’re about to take off and American Airlines says,
you know, this is Flight 109 and get ready, put your seat belts on, and I know that God has something very special prepared for us here tonight and I am so thankful, Gary. Thank you for the invitation and I’m meeting such a
fine group of individuals that really are inspiring to me and thank you for the invitation that started back in October. And you guys really have a way of knowing how to persuade
people that’s just amazing. So I was asked to give a consultation about what I thought the Lord was doing around the world and every three weeks I
was in a different country traveling and, oh my God, I’m not gonna miss that at all but I was contemplating the idea oh, I’m gonna lose my executive platinum status with American Airlines. And then I thought, that’s
wrong, that’s wrong. I ain’t thinking of that anymore. And then I was asked what
I thought of a director for a center of the Holy Spirit here at Biola and I gave them my opinion and then I was asked, will
you consider applying? I said no; said will you
consider praying about it? And I say, ah, yes, so I prayed and then, long story short, is that after a six month transition of trying to discern God’s will and hearing the voice of the spirit and with an overwhelming Shalom, peace of God, I made this
transition and I am now here and I don’t know what I’m
going to be doing yet. (class laughs) So, we have a strategy, yes, we got a plan. We got four initiatives
but really thinking things through by the second day of my first week, I had
the whole plan all outlined ’cause I’m a MBA, and
I had it all outlined: marketing, integrated marketing, all these other things that I had. And then I paused and an impression was in my heart. Do you want me to work on that? I say yes; I was kinda, you know, that little voice that
God talks to our heart. And then I say, yes. Say, will you trust me and listen? I say, oh, I know where this is going so I came and I erased the whole board. Can you believe that? And I put the two words trust and listen and trust and listening is what I’m doing so I’m looking forward
to engaging with you guys as time comes about and we can conversate and
just basically listen. Listen to you, listen to
the voice of our history, listen to the founder, listen to the deans and the presidents in what has been said through our scholarship inquiry throughout the entire history of Biola about the Holy Spirit. So please pray for me. I am married; I have
two wonderful daughters. Priscilla, just started Pepperdine and she just called me and she wanted my Amazon account so she could buy her books. She’s at Pepperdine, first year student, International Business, I
wonder where she gets that from, you know, and I’m excited for her and we’re praying that the Lord will open. Next year, she’ll spend a whole year, six months in Argentina, and then six months in Madrid, and I hope to visit her and really I was a mess about a week ago. I was crying, I mean, some of you guys have gone through that, right? Are you a daddy of a little girl? I will always see them as a baby, you know, I was a mess, I’m sorry, I was (cries) Santiago, oh Lord, help me. But I’m praying that the
Lord would, you know, lead her as well as I am praying for you. And, really, our journey with Lexa, we’ve been married for 20 years, started a long time ago and I never thought that,
you know, God would, you know, put us where we have been and travel where, where we have traveled and, I don’t know, I lost count of how many countries I’ve been in and how many communities but I’ve been in complex communities as Havana, Cuba, and (mumbles) Fuegos, and spending time with communities that live in their faith in a completely different context, like Tel Aviv and since Jordania and Jordan, as well as, you know, the major cities of Latin America, including Africa, and some other countries around the world. And God has really blessed us. We’ve been married for 20 years. Yes, 20 years, and Denae is, she is 15, and she text me today, daddy, I just formed a new club at school. It’s called the Intercultural Club. And we gonna do two things: we gonna eat; wow; and we gonna serve. That’s interesting, ’cause through food we discover our differences and we discover our similarities and we have a lot of similarities. And service for the common good is one of the things that I think is important that we also
foster in our children. But let me get right
into our talk for today. So when Gary called me, I got really freaked out. I was like, oh my God, what am I gonna talk to these experts and, you know, throw me in the midst
of a group of sinners and I’m at home ’cause I’m an evangelist in my heart. That’s what I do for a living. That’s what I feel like. But these are MBAs and Masters in Global Leadership is that or. – [Man] Nonprofit. – Nonprofit organs, so I was so nervous. So I say, what am I gonna do? I say, I’ll take out my little paper clip. So this little paper clip is keeping me from being nervous. That’s one of the things that we as MBAs always have to have and as Masters, something that you could generate your energy into. Amen; you guys are allowed to. So, I thought, okay, let me pray and this is
what the Lord gave me. The Ecology of Business as Ministry. So I’m going to be extremely practical. It has to make sense for me, at the practical level, though I’ve been involved in executive leadership as
an Executive Director and having 26 direct people to me and being able to coordinate all this. I mean, I saw business as an ecology, which means that it’s alive and it’s alive because it’s
driven by living beings. There is a dynamics in business. It’s not stagnant, it’s
not just, you know, something that is number, yes, it is important but those numbers become alive until you reason and you put your heart into it and then your strategies are designed and then you’re able to deliver. There’s a life to it and especially there’s a life to it when we are Christians that are in the marketplace and we are living individuals that are affecting this organism. Colossians 3:23 says, Whatever you do, work with all your heart or work hard. As for the Lord and not for man. And I was so encouraged to
see this verse in your lobby. Who has read that verse? Okay, who’s the youngest person that has read that verse? Raise your hand; okay. If you’re 20; how old are you? – [Student] Nineteen. – Okay; is anyone below or above 19? You got a shirt, my friend. Oh, yeah, you like that, huh? So here we go. Medium-size from the
School of Business, right? Very nice; could you pass it back there? So now you guys are
gonna participate, right? (class laughs) Got you on that one; okay, so great. So when this verse came to mind, which is a verse I’ve used and it’s a verse that has always
been important because it, it gives me anchor that what I’m doing is
not for President Corey or for these donors or for Alberto Mottesi or for, you know, but I’m working with this work theology that I’m doing everything for God. That makes a big difference. It makes a big difference in our careers as well. Number one: Business
as Ministry is a bridge for Integration and Innovation. Integration: the coordination and action or process of integrating. This is very interesting that integration is part of the ecology and when we are doing our work, we’re integrating the
marketplace in our work. And this process is an action process and it’s important that we understand that we here are being prepared so that we can integrate with market. Or we can integrate with politics or wherever God is going to put your life, you’re gonna be always integrating things back and forth. Innovation: it’s to make change
in something established, especially by introducing new
methods, ideas, or products. So both of these, the innovation and the integration are part of your professional agilities and it’s a bridge for you to be able to erase the dichotomy between the sacred and the secular. You know, this theology of the sacred and the secular
really has done bad. So, we live Sunday worship but then we go back to business life or the day-to-day and sometimes there’s a separation and that needs to be erased. And you have to integrate and innovate in-between your integrity and your life as well as with the new ideas that God has put you to be responsible for. Number one is that Business as Ministry as I see it is a bridge for
integration and innovation. Number two: this is an example of Lyman Stewart so I won’t go to number two. I forgot my practical example here. Lyman Stewart, his life is an example of integration and innovation. Have you guys read his biography? It’s amazing; that’s
what I’m doing right now for the first couple of days, I invested about a week
down in the archives and I put on the gloves and I was there and looking at the information, and I discover a man that loved the Word of God that was holy in his lifestyle, that he was close to the spirit, and integrated his faith with marketplace. This is not something new or a new idea but also Paul, and in the Bible we see it. The integration of faith and marketplace has always been there and it produces good things. It produced Biola, the Bible
Institute of Los Angeles, and have you heard President
Corey define what that is? I’m not gonna get, yep
(mumbles) LA, in Orange County, now, anyhow but it’s a man that also reflects to us in a practical way the integration and innovation. Number two: Business as
Ministry is missional. It’s a missional calling and a vocation. Deuteronomy 8:18 says But
remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and
so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your
ancestors, as it is today. So any production of
wealth in the marketplace, in your business, it comes from God. It comes from the Lord so that we can participate with
him in his missional day. In the meta narrative of all things, God wants us through our careers, our vocations, through our lives, to participate in the mission of God. This is fundamental, very
important, as well, for us. Also, vocation; a stronger
feeling of sustainabil, suitability for a particular
career or occupation. Business, in a sense, it’s a vocational calling. If you wanna go into business just because you wanna make money or just because you want a better job, which is okay and good. But if you wanna go into business as ministry, it’s a vocation and I’m truly convinced of that, that God puts something in our hearts. That’s why you’re here, right? That’s why you’re getting trained because you are contemplating the possibility of having yet a better job or either your work requires of you to have a MBA or a degree that is of higher education. But there’s something special about what your heart senses as your vocation, that, you know, you feel in your heart a calling to business. Yes or no; okay. So this is important, to discern this piece of our vocation. So, Cathy Hughes, founder
of Radio One, says, you have to believe in God and embrace the greatness of the creator, then you are able to believe in yourself and tap into that. This is a very powerful statement. We understand that out of that calling and that love that we
have for God then flows this higher calling for our vocation but there will be days (laughs) like the exams or the 20-page papers. Are you guys writing 20-page papers? Right 30-pages; well, I’m
in my third year PhD at at Fuller Seminary and I have my, my, my research defense on
Wednesday, and I’m studying how are male Pentecostal Cubans interpreting hope or, I mean, experiencing hope and
interpreting their future? Can you believe that what I’m studying? So, yes, we have to have
a lot of work that is going to require discipline and there will be those days when we just wanna quit. There will be those days where we’re not meeting the numbers and the quotas and we’ll say, you know, we’re ready to just change this but there’s something in there that keeps us in the game. Right, Mark; there’s
something in there that, you know, we know that, that,
that, that that is, is beyond, that flows from God, and that’s why he’s placed you in this school and also in the career that you’re developing. Number three: Business as Ministry is biblically anchored and has a compass. It’s not, business as ministry flows from a center, flows from
a framework from the Bible. And in it we discover our ethics. In it we discover how we
ought to treat each other. In it we discover a higher standard that our world and our
business world needs more than ever before. For our lives to live in integrity and live a life that is representative of the values of the Bible and an anchor. And I was looking for this picture, I was really fascinated
by these two anchors because we only think of the
anchor as the finished product. Right but an anchor has a process where it has to be build
together and put together. And that’s what happens to us when we go to the Bible and God begins to deal with us and our hearts and he begins
to put together pieces of our lives in order for
us to have a profound anchor and this is fundamental for us. This is very, very important because there will be times where opportunities can come to your life and if you don’t have
anchors, you will sway. There will be times, like it was for me, when I was in Conagra Foods. I was in Conagra Foods and, great, flying out on the private plane from the hangar here in Orange County. Hallelujah, and that was awesome and here is this young man, from Honduras, the best
country in the world. I’m half Jew as well, so, and, not only that, but I come
from a very humble background and now I’m finding myself
sitting in the last seat of the Jet Lear. I could get used to that. Who could not, right? But do you understand that the last row in the Jet Lear is for the senior VP guys? So this guy comes in and he’s like, who’s sitting, and he says a bunch of bleep, bleep, bleep, bleep,
bleep, bleep, you know, in my seat and he looks strange at me and I look at him and I look to the right, I look to the left and I did not move and I stay there because I thought First Class goes on the front, right? And then the newcomers, we go on the back but it’s the opposite. Now you got some protocol
from where God puts you in a Jet Lear how these things
work at a corporate level. And then after will be the meetings and then after will be the
extra curriculum activities, that I don’t have to describe for you. But there you have to have
anchors for your life. There is really when, when the, the road and the wheel are, are meet. When they ask you, will you
go with us to the strip club? And you’re like, I can’t do that. I’m sorry, I’m going to my room. You have to have biblical anchors wherever you are at
wherever God puts you in, remember that your life is anchor in God. It’s anchor in the Bible and it has a compass. You’re just not going anywhere. I love compass; actually I have one in the front of my desk and it reminds me that
prayer guides my life. This is very important. How many of us are really praying before we launch our marketing strategies? Or before we do our work, whatever it is, that we have assigned, we have
to develop a life of prayer and that’s Stewart, as well. So prayer is a compass for us. We’re not alone in this big world and we have a destination to go from point A to point B but we have to pray more and become, develop a more natural prayer life and I like what Do Won Chang says about prayer. Many people will expect I
will be praying for something big but that’s not the case. I pray for my personal life, my business, and I just talk to God like a friend. This is the guy of, developed a business, a four billion dollar business. He’s a Christian guy and his life of prayer is very important. He gets up at five a.m. to pray. We need to learn a little bit about developing this fundamental practice in our
lives and in business as well. Business as Ministry is evangelistic, illuminates new paths to our commission. I’m not sure if you went to
the Convocation of this morning or the one that President Corey had but our theme is to illuminate and this is also business
as ministry, to illuminate. There is an evangelistic component. At the end of the day, whatever it is that we are doing, it has the sharing of the Gospel in it. It has that in a practical way. For example, let’s say that God puts you in a, you know, portfolio
management company. And you have the ability to create some funds and manage those funds but you know that these
regions of the world, if there’s greater investment there’s greater common good, there’s work. You’ll be supporting all
kinds of different activities because of what you decided to do. There’s, there’s, there’s an
evangelistic component and in the nonprofit world, especially in the nonprofit world, it has this evangelistic component and this word, is like we’re afraid of it or, you know, we forgot that we are called to share the Gospel in whatever tradition that may be or in however you wanna define it. At the end of the day it’s to
be light; it’s to illuminate. And I participated in the distribution of 200,000 TOMS shoes in the mountains of the dry corridor and that was just amazing
to partner with Blake. It was just incredible as well because we got the opportunity to wash the feet of many children and give them just this, you know, shoes and that protection that
came to them because of that action, you know, allowed the Gospel to reach these, these kids that, you know, at the end, you know, not only did they get something but they also were exposed
to the love of Christ. So Business as Ministry illuminates. Business as Ministry opens the path for the great commission as well and that’s something
important to remember. Business as Ministry it’s also costly. It requires total surrender of the heart and I might spend a little
bit of more time here. It’s costly; you will be faced with making some tough
decisions, tough decisions, you know, very tough,
transitional decisions, and it’s important that
you understand that you can’t skip this process. It’s not a popcorn process where you just put the Act II, which is, Conagra Foods owns 97% of your refrigerator, if you didn’t know. Open it up and you’ll see all the different brands turned around. Roserita Beans, Parkay, I
Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, Act II, Chef Boyardee, I mean, they’re just huge company, a huge company, and let me tell you that it’s, it’s costly when, when, when God called me, because it is a calling, to leave this business opportunity, I had a vision in mind. I wanted to become the first
Latino CEO of a Fortune five. That was my goal. Great goal, right; I was in a career path. They were spending about
$20,000 dollars a year in training for me and it was just an amazing opportunity and when I gave Conagra
Foods my resignation, they came back with a
different kind of offer. Oscar, you’re not happy here. I mean, do you want some more stock? Do you wanna; what’s going on? And I said, you’re not
going to understand it. It’s a calling and I do need your stock and I do need your money because we gotta do ministry (laughs) and it’s going to be put for good purpose, for the expansion of the common good, so if you have any money, this school needs it because it continues to
be a very good investment, the return on investment on kingdom-driven projects is, it’s great but here’s the cost. I had to cut 70% of my salary when I went to nonprofit; hello? So that is a costly decision, you know? We put a lot of the
plans, you know, on pause. And my wife and I we prayed through. It took us two years to decide. The best decision of my life. I wish I coulda done it earlier to travel and to preach the Word of God and to develop 140 Extension Centers of the schools of evangelist training over 3,500 pastors and
leaders across the world. Engage in meetings with presidents and senators and governors. Being in evangelistic
sessions with 50,000 people, 100,000 people, 200,000 people, seeing the compassion at hand in the dry mountains of the, in
the, of the dry corridor and just bringing the
basics of the common good. Bringing water and food and seeing over 200,000 families a month receive a meal and everyday 37,000 people receiving a hot meal, that was all worth it for me; incredible time. It was, it was one of
the most amazing times to see all of that but it was costly, it had
a price, it was costly. It didn’t came really
easy and how did it come? I was in the airplane from
El Salvador to Los Angeles. Conagra Foods have plants
everywhere in the world. And someone gave me this
wonderful book by Mother Teresa. I believe it’s titled
Hands and Feet of Jesus. And this book changed my life and she poses a question and she says, how do you see yourself at 85? And let me ask all of
you guys that question: how do you see yourself at 85? And my mind begin to just quickly, that’s a great sound effect, right? (class laughs) My mind was just like,
you know, just like going and going and going and finally I arrived here. In this vision I’m in
the airplane and I see my daughters and my grandkids and they’re celebrating el abuelo. El abuelo means they’re celebrating the, the grandpa, and I see my, you know, my family, and
one of my daughters says, daddy, we love you. You worked to inherit
for us a better world and you tried to live the Gospel at home and because of that, we are committed to preaching the Word of God. That was my, my scenario. And at that moment, I begin to cry and I begin to say, God, you know, you’re calling me to something greater to labor, to work for the
betterment of the world. And not just for developing
high manufactured, good quality products
but you had something that you want me to do that is different. Then, a conversation; do
you conversate with God? I talk to him, I enjoy talking to God in, in specific; I have a
special area in my house. It’s a little garden and they know that that’s the holy space. That’s what I call it, right? And I started to talk to the Lord and, Oscar what do you love? That’s the conversation; practical. I said, God, I love you. What else; my wife and my family; but what else? I said, well, every,
well, I love you, God. I said, do, do you love your work? And then I said, yeah, I love my position. Will you give me that? What do you mean, give you that? Said my whole life if yours, God. My life it’s, it’s yours. And even this position is yours. Say, well, I allowed you to
administer this position. But will you give this up? And then suddenly I said, yes, Lord and I raised my hands
and I say, it’s yours. And at that moment, I made
the transition to nonprofit. That was my story. That was my personal experience. Might not be yours but there is a cost in the transition between the business world and
the nonprofit world, you know, and it’s costly. But the purpose is enormous, it’s great. It’s purpose-driven; it’s really rewarding and from there on, I was involved for 10 years in developing one, if not the largest
evangelistic association that reaches into the continent of the Americas, and other places. And then now came my other conversation: will you give that up? And guess what, when
that conversation came, I was better prepared and all I saw after was an overwhelming Shalom, peace with my heart, my wife, my kids, and I didn’t argue ’cause I know that when you learn to have that sensitivity, good things are gonna happen. And I’m here with you now, excited about what God is gonna do, at least for the next
12 years being with you. So, anyways, you have to be crushed. How we doing with time? – [Man] Five more minutes. – We have to be crushed in order for us to produce. This is in Israel. I put a couple of things in there but, you know, we need a fresh anointing in order for business to be successful. That’s the way I see it. We need to pray to this Holy Spirit. Let me go through the last slide. Business as Ministry is a model that transforms the world. And I truly believe, I truly believe that, that what you guys are doing here has the potential to transform the world one life at a time, one project at a time, we could create a better world and whatever God puts us in. Business of developing strategies for new water initiatives,
which is the number one thing that we need right now. Or for health or all kinds of different things that I know your heart is, is, is in tune with. But we can transform the world one person at a time. One business person at a time. So, let me just kinda do a summation here. The Ecology of Business
then as Ministry is a bridge for integration and innovation, a missional calling and a vocation, biblically anchored and has a compass. It’s evangelistic, illuminates
new paths to our commission and requires a fresh anointing. We crush for creativity, no shortcuts in the process. There is none whatsoever. And it’s a model that
can transform the world. (upbeat music) – [Narrator] Biola University
prepares Christians to think biblically about everything from Science to Business
to Education and the Arts. Learn more at biola.edu. (upbeat music)