Just over 10 years ago, Judson E. “Buddy” Childress, at age 24, was in charge of the University of Virginia account for the Xerox Corporation. He had been promoted four times in two-and-a-half years, from salesman to account executive. His goal was to be a millionaire by the time he was 30.
Today, Childress, a native of Richmond, Virginia, has somewhat different goals. As director of Needle’s Eye Ministries, Inc., he has dedicated himself to working with the business and professional community in the Richmond metropolitan area. Childress’s clients are educators, lawyers, physicians, and financial consultants.
Childress’s organization is reaching more than 3,000 people a year. He uses monthly luncheons that feature speakers from the professional community, weekly Bible studies designed to evangelize and strengthen members, special seminars on such topics as time management, and the counseling services of the Christian Counseling Center, which is an agency of Needle’s Eye.
A faith ministry, Needle’s Eye depends on gifts for 75 percent of its approximately $45,000 annual budget. The remaining 25 percent comes from seven churches of different denominations in the Richmond area that include Needle’s Eye in their annual budgets.
Childress has been engaged in this work for four years, following his graduation from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. He finds it to be the most difficult work he has ever done. “I think the hardest person to bring to Christ is the business and professional person,” said Childress. “He’s got too many gods he has to give up.” It was not all that long ago that Childress himself responded to the claim that Christ rose from the dead with, “I can’t buy all this garbage.”
The transformation from a success-oriented businessman driven by money and ego to a man with Christ as his main concern in life was a slow one. There was no sudden or dramatic change. It began when Childress started going to church for his son’s sake. The man he saw preaching was someone Childress could identify with—big, a nice dresser, academically successful. And as Childress admits, “They were all the wrong reasons.” Still, a friendship between believer and skeptic developed.
The minister was effective first by being a friend and not pressuring Childress. Second, the man took issue with Childress’s unbelief “in a very gentle way.” He made himself available to Childress and was able to answer many of the tough questions that stood in the way of Childress making a decision for Christ. The minister’s willingness to accept Childress as he was and patiently nurture him has influenced Childress’s own style of witnessing to the business and professional community.
To establish contact with executives, Childress uses the same combination of professionalism and pavement pounding that he used when selling copiers and insurance. Like any other smart salesman covering a new territory, Childress started by consulting a register that listed all the members of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce by corporate address along with one or two of each company’s top people.
Sometimes Childress would call ahead and set up an appointment. At other times, he would make what is known as a “cold call”—going to see someone he did not know without an appointment. “The reaction was amazing,” he said. People did not think he was a crank when they learned of the services he was offering. “I got more positive responses … than I did when I was in insurance,” he said.
One of the major difficulties Childress faces in his ministry is the feeling of moral superiority that many of his clients have. “There are many people in the business and professional community who belong to the church, and who are tacitly if not otherwise actively satisfied with the fact they’ve done their religious part. They go to church every now and then. They give a little bit of money to this organization and that organization and lead a comparatively clean, ‘good’ life but have absolutely no [more of a] relationship with Christ in a personal manner than I did 10 years ago.”
Often the professional who has achieved material success feels that Christianity is only for those who need it. An objection Childress hears regularly is, “I don’t want to have to come to God when I’m down. I don’t want Christianity to be a crutch.” The difficulty with this, observes Childress, is that man’s ego has always stood in his way—since the beginning of time. Consequently, a person is usually going to have to be at a low ebb for God to get his attention. “That’s the norm,” he said.
The motive to succeed, to gain acceptance by one’s peers and by one’s self, often keeps the business person busy 12 to 14 hours a day. The executive may be “making it” socially and financially, but his family suffers neglect. For example, Childress does not remember his first child before the age of two. His marriage was near divorce three times.
Confusing success with happiness causes people to lead restless lives and to struggle after goals they never seem to reach. In an effort to gain a momentary reprieve from the hectic anxiety of the moment, business and professional people often become heavy drinkers. Alcoholism is one of the problems with which Childress and Needle’s Eye deal. The use of drugs, both legal and illegal, is not an uncommon way for professionals to handle their tensions. “Adultery,” says Childress, “is rampant.” Divorce has become commonplace.
“We don’t ‘sell’ Christ as a pie-in-the-sky figure who will meet everything we want. [We don’t say] there will never be any problems ever again … that’s not the gospel. If that was the gospel, [Christ] would have never hung on the cross.” Childress feels that Christians who do teach that faith is related to success and well-being are “heretical.”
Childress’s first concern is with the client’s “felt needs,’ such as trying to save marriage or overcome a drinking problem. “We must meet felt needs” in order to win the right … to meet the deepest needs, which are spiritual in nature,” he said.
Once concerned with little else, Childress now is reluctant to talk about the success of his work. He laughs, “We don’t have visions of grandeur about having little franchise Needle’s Eyes all over the country.” He does not even have long lists of important names and statistics to impress the inquirer. “I’m not sure of the motive for keeping tally of everybody that comes to the Lord or makes a recommitment through your counseling, through your Bible study, through this, that, or the other.”
Yet, the results have been there. The two monthly luncheons with which he began have become three. The attendance at each has grown from 30 up to 100. The number of Bible studies, seminars, and other services, most of which are free, have grown. The number of people desiring counseling has required Needle’s Eye to set up another agency, the Christian Counseling Center, in order to handle the waiting list that was once four months long. At present, the Christian Counseling Center, which, like Needle’s Eye, is interdenominational, has 23 counselors working in the organization.
For Childress, the success has been in seeing marriages revitalized, homes changed, and individuals coming to terms with themselves. “Ultimately,” he reflects, “one of the really exciting things is maybe a generation away. The children are growing up with two parents who are dedicated to Christ.”
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