passing of Truett Cathy, I want to focus on those like him who work behind the scenes in ways that won't be given their deserved recognition until that day when all of us stand before Jesus.
Many years ago as a brand new father, my wife and I took our now-teenage son to a chapel service at my alma mater of Southern Seminary to be introduced to the seminary community. It was a very special hour of watching faculty, staff and fellow students offer prayers for my infant son. As we were exiting the building that day, an older man walked up to me, shook my hand, and pressed something into it, saying "congratulations son! You are now a wealthy man, and I hope you and your bride can use these to celebrate." In the parking lot, I opened my hand to find what would amount to a month's worth of complimentary meals at Chick-fil-A, and learned later that the man who gave us that gift was the founder of the restaurant chain himself.
It was that spirit of generosity that characterized the man. For most in this generation, the Cathy family and their restaurant chain are associated with public statements about marriage and boycotts, but this family and its patriarch were serving Jesus long before their business unintentionally found itself at the center of the American culture wars.
Chick-fil-A is the epitome of an American success story. Starting with a single, small store in 1946, Cathy grew his business into a national franchise that today is worth more than $5 billion--and he managed to pull this off without taking the company public, or making his employees work on Sunday. Though he was never afraid to speak his mind, Cathy's commitment to Jesus Christ was best expressed by his fulfillment of his own calling in the restaurant and customer service business. Today, when most think of "calling" they think either of pastoral ministry or Christian missionary work. But by his actions, Truett Cathy demonstrated his deep understanding of the true meaning of "vocation;" a call from God on each person to fulfill his or her purpose in a way that brings glory to Jesus. The company's own mission statement still reflects this understanding: "To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us, and to have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-fil-A."
That mission was executed, not by turning the restaurant chain into a "Christian" business, but simply by running a solid, faithful, profitable company that served the public, provided jobs and benefits to communities, and donated millions to charity. Truett Cathy never sold "Christian chicken," but the work ethic, generosity, servant's attitude and love of Jesus Himself permeated the organization all the way down to each employee, who was trained to take pleasure in serving others.
When I speak to our churches about what "missions" will look like in the future, the picture I draw looks an awful lot like the life Truett Cathy lived. What if every businessman, every public educator, every health-care worker, every engineer, every farmer, every politician, and every artist who follows Jesus saw their "vocation" as Truett Cathy rightly saw his? The world would be forever changed! As those who knew him and knew of him mourn his passing, perhaps the best way to honor him is to emulate his example. It would also be a great way to honor His Lord, and promote the faith that now gives us the assurance of where Truett Cathy will spend eternity.