DL Moody In Singapore

I spoke this Monday, August 28th in Singapore on “The Missing Piece:  Can You Be A Christian Leader Without Being Entrepreneurial?” at a public lecture hosted by the Biblical Graduate School of Theology (www.bgst.edu.sg). The answer to the question posed in the title of my presentation rests partially in the 19th century, in the life of D.L. Moody of Chicago.

The giants of the past keep revealing their lessons through historical accounts.  I marvel at the amazing tradition the Christian community has of creative and innovative leaders in its midst—and yet it is so little known and recounted.

I did my undergraduate degree in history—which is of minimal practical use, but I can proffer arcane tidbits at parties.  History is important.  I like the summation of the great English historian, E.H. Carr: “The past is intelligible to us only in light of the present, and we can fully understand the present only in light of the past.” (What is History? (New York, NY:  Penguin, 1961) [55].  Very true and relevant in our context.

The gist of my presentation in Singapore was on the “missing piece:” the exponential impact of the combination of entrepreneurship and leadership.  One great example of a past entrepreneurial leader is D. L. Moody (1837-1899).

In this brief blog, I will quote extensively from an excellent biography written by Kevin Belmonte which is titled, D. L. Moody—A Life (Chicago, IL:  Moody, 2014). 

Let’s start with an astounding example of the meshing of commerce and faith. Moody decided to embark on an evangelistic mission to Britain.  It ended up lasting two years, from June 1873 to July 1875.  Moody exercised his frenetic stewardship, addressing over 2.5 million people at four venues [108].

Moody was typically accompanied by singer Ira Sankey at his evangelistic gatherings.  This was a compelling combination:  Moody preached the gospel and Sankey sang the gospel.

As Belmonte tells the tale, Moody wanted to have hymnals for people attending his gatherings.  He went to a British publisher to take on his hymnal, but the publishers declined.  What to do?  Not fold his tent.  Moody scraped together $100 from his meager resources and published the 16-page pamphlet himself [120].  They sold out in no time.

The publisher then approached Moody with an offer to publish the books and offer a generous royalty.  These became known as, “The “Moody and Sankey Hymn-Books.” [119]

Belmonte notes that, “In the years following, up to 1900, the sale of succeeding hymn books generated royalties in excess of one million dollars, or just under 28 million dollars in today’s currency.” [121]

Pause for a second and let that sink in.  Moody invested his own $100 and that resulted in a one million dollar return.  This is a 10,000-fold return!  All of which he gave away.  Every pence and penny.

This episode reflects much about Moody.  Belmonte summarizes that Moody “became one of the late nineteenth-century's most successful fund-raisers and philanthropists—securing and channeling millions of dollars—in nineteenth-century dollars—into a wide variety of good causes [orphanages, schools, YMCA chapters, inner-city missions, church building projects, etc.]” [83]

In my presentation in Singapore, I recounted Moody as a great example of an entrepreneurial leader—someone who has combined the innovative spirit with stewarding their influence.  Here are five examples of how Moody used his entrepreneurial leadership skills in pursuit of his mission to further the Gospel.

First, there is the founding of the Moody Bible Institute, which thrives to this day (www.moody.edu).  Belmonte notes that, “Moody’s entrepreneurial, innovative spirit served him in many ways.  In no instance was this side of his character, burnished by faith, more in evidence than in the circumstances behind the founding of what is now Moody Bible Institute.” [159]

This new institution “was for people who had a background like his own—too old, perhaps, to attend a college or university—but people who had gifts that ought to be cultivated, in a setting that could provide some formal training.    He believed deeply in the value of college education, and his two sons both attended Yale.  But college, in many instances, wasn’t for everyone.  The institute that became MBI met a very real need.  It still does today.” [164]

Second, in 1895, only four years before he died, he launched a mass market publishing venture – “Bible Institute Colportage Association.”  The idea came because “All around him, in train stations and sidewalk stalls, Moody had seen the kind of literature history knows as “dime novels”.  [179] He didn’t see any religiously-themed titles so he reasoned that there was “an untapped opportunity.” [179] He wanted to put good materials in the hands of people of modest means.

Moody’s three goals:  the spread of the Gospel via print into neglected areas; to supply pastors with low-cost materials; and reach non-church-goers [171]. In 5 years, ¾ million copies had been published [172].

Third, the Northfield Bible Training School was perhaps one of Moody’s most original developments [172].  This school was specifically to train women in ministry who assisted the poor.  The School offered systematic Bible study, how to prepare foods.  “The school reveals Moody at his innovative best.  He perceived a genuine yet unmet need for Christian workers.” [174] By 1900, more than 700 women had completed 1 – 4 terms; by 1908 it was merged with the Northfield Seminary [174]

Fourth, Moody showed his creativity in terms of taking advantage of the 6-month Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 to share the Gospel. Almost 2 million attended—and due to Moody most heard the Gospel.

“Here, Moody was at his unconventional best.  Where others saw obstacles and were bent on contention, he saw opportunities and sought to extend a welcome—with a message of hope, to those visiting the World’s Fair.” [190]

A lack of venues did not stop Moody.  “Moody hit upon an innovation born of necessity; he decided “to hire theatres.” [193]  Then he thought of mobile ways of sharing the Gospel – “two gospel wagons were custom-designed and outfitted, for use in holding open-air meetings, and distributing tracts.” [193]

Fifth, in Northfield, MA he founded a school for orphans which provided an otherwise unattainable education.  Moody saw a need and was determined to make a difference.  “Betterment, on a generational scale, was Northfield’s continuing bequest.” [238]  The “Northfield Mount Hermon School” (www.nmhschool.org) thrives to this day.

In conclusion, the answer to the question posed at the beginning of this blog is that an effective Christian leader must be entrepreneurial.  Belmonte provides a great summary of the nature of an entrepreneurial leader: “Among Moody’s greatest character traits were a passion for the gospel on the one hand, and a willingness to innovate and accept change on the other.” [203]. 

As I explained during my public lecture in Singapore, DL Moody is a great example of an entrepreneurial leader—a person who can have an exponential impact by combining their influence with innovation and creativity.