One principle that should drive every Christian is honoring God in everything—including financial investments. I recently interviewed my friend Art Ally, founder and president of the Timothy Plan, on my "In Depth With Stephen Strang" podcast. (You can listen to the interview here or in this article.) Art has a special message for Christians across the U.S. who may be funding sin without even realizing it.
As the Timothy Plan celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, I wanted to ask Art about how God led him to found an investment company. He tells me it went back to that primary principle: Honor God in everything. When Art discovered that much of his financial investments were unwittingly supporting unbiblical values, he knew he had to do something about it.
"Twenty-five years ago, I was sitting in a very nice, lucrative financial planning practice in Central Florida, working with a Christian community," Art tells me. "Actually, I was challenged to start a retirement plan for pastors of independent churches. And ministry is my passion, so that appealed to me. So I started calling some of the product lines that I had been working with for my clients. ... And then it hit me that I couldn't do it because I was becoming increasingly aware of what some of these publicly traded corporations were doing beneath the radar. And it was absolutely the opposite of our biblical worldview."
Some of those under-the-radar practices included pornography, abortion and gambling. Art knew he couldn't promote these retirement plans to pastors who preached against these very evils from the pulpit. No matter how he looked at the situation, Art knew this was his turning point.
"The turning point was simply this: Drop the project or start a mutual fund—which is the way these retirement plans are funded—that would be honoring to God," he says. "It would apply strict moral, biblical standards regarding whom we invest in. That became what is now the Timothy Plan."
For those of you who may not be as in tune with the world of financial planning, let me point out that this was no easy feat for Art. First, there are many governmental regulations when it comes to investing. And even though these regulations are in place to protect the naive, it means that potential investors like Art have to jump over huge hurdles to get where they want to go. In fact, many public companies go under because they can't handle it.
"I have some friends on Wall Street, and they said, 'You're nuts,'" Art says. "I said, 'What do you mean?' They said, 'Well, you can't have an investment program that screens out some of the most profitable companies that we invest in and expect to get good returns.' ... My comment then was the same as it is today: 'I know who's in control. I know who owns it all.' And my answer to them was obedience."
Art's Wall Street buddies predicted total failure, but God proved faithful. After 25 years, the Timothy Plan has produced for its shareholders "very nice, conservative returns," as Art describes it.
I find what Art is doing through the Timothy Plan fascinating. It stuns me how easy it is to sit in a pew and sing worship songs like every other Christian around you and yet unknowingly be compromising by funding ungodly practices.
Art quotes Romans 3:10 and says, "There is none righteous, not one." But as a publicly traded, righteous company, he is unafraid to draw the line between good and evil and warn Christian investors according to his findings.
"We've got five full-time people who do nothing but research these companies, not blackballing but to find out what they're doing," he says. "And if the companies fail our screens, we will not allow our money managers to invest in them. It would be wrong to think we only invest in 'good companies.' But where we draw the line is that there is a difference, when you see this research, between companies that are passively unrighteous and those that are pursuing an unholy agenda. Those are the ones we refuse to own."
Art admits that this firm stance has sometimes hurt the company's financial performance. But he believes when you compromise your moral standards with your investments, it eventually comes back to haunt you.
"Some of these companies, sooner or later, come crashing down," he says. "You have to have good morals to do well. You can do well without them for a season, but sooner or later, it catches up with you."
When Art first found out about the evils many investment companies were unwittingly funding, he became critical of Christians who played along. God had to show him that it wasn't that these Christians didn't care where their money was going—it was that they didn't know.
"The church has really dropped the ball in educating their congregants in one area that is more central than anything else in every single person's life, and that's money," he says. "The Bible says more about it than any other subject. And yet you don't learn the biblical principles of handling money in church; you get all of your training from the world. ... If you're investing, you invest like the world invests because the church is not teaching you, so you end up in a financial quagmire because you're doing it the world's way."
Upon receiving this revelation, Art took three months to simply listen to the Holy Spirit and study what the Word has to say about financial responsibility. The fruit of those three months was a nine-hour-long study guide on biblical stewardship that compares the world's methods to God's methods.
"It's a night-and-day difference," Art says. "We have just made that [study guide] available to the general public. They can plug into it right on our website at no cost. It's our ministry to the body of Christ. But it is life-changing when you really lay side by side God's principles and [Satan's]. So it's time we start doing it God's way if we want to be successful."
I admire Art for having the moral grit to stand up to the world's established way of investing and choosing to honor God. Because of him, many other Christians have stopped funding wicked practices and now have integrity in their financial investments.
To learn more about the Timothy Plan, please visit timothyplan.com and check out the biblical stewardship study guide Art described.
Be sure to listen to my full in-depth interview with Art, where we dive into how to serve God instead of mammon as well as Art's own testimony! Click here or scroll up to listen.
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