Bank Executive Makes Discipleship a Priority

  • by Elizabeth Bahe

Eric Pederson persistently invited the senior vice president of Provident Bank to lunch. Jerry Barron's priorities and full schedule kept him from accepting, but each time he told the Cru staff member to ask again.

After 6 months, Jerry said yes. He joined Eric and 7 co-workers from Jerry's Cincinnati bank in a conference room overlooking the Ohio River.

Seated around a hardwood table, they had lunch, as well as a conversation about relevant topics, such as relationships or finances, from a Christian perspective. Eric works with Priority Associates, and this is what's known as the "lunch-hour dialogue" strategy.

After attending several dialogues, Jerry re-evaluated his life.

"I had an above-average lifestyle, but it was always missing something," he explains. "I was moving up in the corporate world, doing the right things at work, and improving myself that way, but I was deteriorating spiritually."

It took 9 lunch-hour dialogues to stop the deterioration. One noon hour, Jerry prayed and received Jesus as his personal Savior and Lord.

The outgoing leader in his late 50s began meeting with Eric weekly to learn about following Jesus and how to talk with others about his faith.

This process, called discipleship, comes from Christ's command in Matthew 28:19, where Jesus said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations ...." The command, called the Great Commission, is part of the Priority Associates vision -- that teaching others how to follow Jesus would become a normal discipline for Christians.

Since the high-level executive learned about Christ at work, Jerry seeks to give his employees that same opportunity there, where he manages more than 500 people.

In 3 years since he first met with Eric, Jerry has made disciples of several employees, meeting with them regularly. Now he even hosts lunch-hour dialogues of his own.

When Doug Stoutenborough's young wife passed away, the mortgage underwriter wrestled with questions of "Why?" and "Where is God in all of this?"

Several months later, Jerry heard about Doug's situation and invited him to his lunch-hour dialogue. They began to meet and go through the Life Builders 1-to-1 spiritual-mentoring process to help Doug search for truth.

"Here is someone who could be doing anything with his time," explains Doug. "Yet he's taking the time to work with me, a low-level nobody. That really impressed me."

Doug's confidence has grown as a result of meeting with Jerry, and so has his compassion for people.

Kevin Rost, another bank employee whom Jerry trained, now meets with 14 other men and takes them through the process.

"Jerry has successfully bridged the gap [between work and faith]," says Kevin about his highly motivated boss, "showing that Christ can be involved in your life all the time, not just on Sundays, but in a workplace as well."

The husband and grandfather of 6 used to live to play golf; now he lives to tell people about Christ.

"Jerry has a lot to think about and a lot to do," says Matt Knueven, also mentored by Jerry, "but he definitely prioritizes the Great Commission."

"Now," Jerry says, "if I have a choice between 2 things, and one of them is meeting with someone for 1-to-1 discipleship, I'll prioritize the discipleship."

Jerry is satisfied with the new focus of his life. "I've spent 55 years of my life trying to figure out what life is all about," he says with confidence, "and I've spent the last 3 years knowing what it's all about."