The Table Podcast

Living out Faith in Business and Government

In this episode, Dr. Darrell Bock and Greg Adams discuss the intersection of faith and work, focusing on Adams’ experience in business and government. Note: This episode as recorded before March 2020.

Timecodes
00:15
Adams’ background at IBM and as first COO of Tennessee
04:46
The choice to go into business rather than vocational ministry
10:36
Balancing faith with the intensity of the business world
19:36
The challenges of putting family first
22:47
Adams’ career shifts and transition into government
26:19
A service model of government
34:22
Maintaining a healthy marriage, family, and spiritual life alongside a career
36:20
How ministers can best shepherd people in the workplace
43:12
Business and government service as a calling
Transcript
Darrell Bock
Welcome to The Table, where we discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Darrell Bock, Executive Director for Cultural Engagement at The Hendricks Center in Dallas, Texas, and my guest is Greg Adams. Greg, welcome to The Table.
Greg Adams
Thanks, Darrell Bock.
Darrell Bock
Now, people will go, “Well, so who’s Greg Adams?” Greg Adams is the first – that’s what it says – first Chief Operating Officer for the State of Tennessee. I didn’t know government had that position.
Greg Adams
No, it –
Darrell Bock
What in the world is it?
Greg Adams
Well, the private sector has someone that works closely with the CEO to make sure that the operations of the whole company is run on a day-to-day basis. And so Governor Haslam decided, “Hey, maybe that’s something we should have for the state, that we can really improve the efficiency and effectiveness of all our departments.” So we were old friends, and –
Darrell Bock
Wow.
Greg Adams
– he got me to come up and do it.
Darrell Bock
So logistics, huh? Well, you do all the logistic stuff, and all the – making sure things are in the right place, and all that?
Greg Adams
It’s 23 departments, 42,000 people –
Darrell Bock
Oh, wow.
Greg Adams
You know, from doing roads to adopting, to foster care, to you name it.
Darrell Bock
Huh. Well, so how [laughter] does one prepare for that? I mean, tell us your story. How’d a nice guy like you get into a gig like that?
Greg Adams
Well, I was with IBM for 37 and a half years. And it was interesting – during that time the worst job that I had in IBM, that I disliked the most, really prepared me the best for this job.
Darrell Bock
Oh, wow.
Greg Adams
Actually, I got put into the penalty box for not taking a promotion. And I was the vice president then of re-engineering, where we were re-engineering all the processes in the company. And that got me engaged in things that I didn’t like to do – detailed project management, detailed IT, et cetera Well, those are the kind of things that for Governor Haslam in the last five and a half years, I’ve been in the middle of. And so it’s just interesting how God used the time that was the least favorable of my jobs, to something I enjoy the most.
Darrell Bock
Oh, wow. And you said you’ve lived in ten places in your life. You told me that before we got started. And one of the most fascinating was Japan. Talk a little bit about what it means to live overseas in a culture in which you not only have to learn the language but the customs are completely different.
Greg Adams
It was. It was probably, of all the moves and things we’ve done, just a great family experience. We had three children at the time, and they were eighth grade, sixth grade, and fourth grade. And so for them to come from very good but white suburban churches, and all of a sudden they get thrust into Tokyo Baptist Church, where they look into the choir and there’s 25 nationalities, and they hear people saying we’re going back to a Muslim country, and we may be killed because of our faith –
Darrell Bock
Oh, wow.
Greg Adams
And so for your children to see that, and to experience that, it really broadened their whole idea of what Christianity was, and to see the impact in a country like Japan.
Darrell Bock
And they’re a great age to have that experience, ’cause that’s actually something that did mark them, I bet. I would imagine.
Greg Adams
It’s something we talk about all the time when we get together as a family. And all of them, before I went over, they had them all take some Japanese. And so when they got there, we lived right in a Japanese neighborhood, and just a wonderful experience.
Darrell Bock
So – And you’ve been in Nashville as COO for how long, now?
Greg Adams
So we had actually had a stint with IBM in the early ’90s, where we were in Nashville, and then we had another stint in East Tennessee, in Knoxville, where I first met the governor. And that’s another story we can get back to.
Darrell Bock
Okay.
Greg Adams
And then so we moved up there in 2013. And so I was the COO for this state for five and a half years. I came in almost a third through Governor Haslam’s term. And then he was term-limited, and he finished in January of last year.
Darrell Bock
I see.
Greg Adams
I did some transition with the new governor, and now I’m doing consulting, mentoring, chasing ten grandkids, et cetera
Darrell Bock
It’s called retirement, but it isn’t retirement, right? [Laughter]
Greg Adams
That’s right, that’s right. Exactly.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. I tease people here that – Some of the people who’s like, “Well, I’m retiring,” and then they tell me what they’re doing next, and I go, “I suggest you go to the dictionary and look up the word retirement,” you know? [Laughter]
Greg Adams
Well, one of the things I did, I had a good friend that he – I took a, stretching the term a little, a “jubilee.” I didn’t quite work 49 years, but I said, “Let’s take a year and refresh, reflect, and see where God would have me to do next.”
Darrell Bock
Hmm.
Greg Adams
So I’m just finishing that time now, and getting into the next phase. It’s wonderful.
Darrell Bock
Very good. Well, so let’s talk about some of the things you’ve learned in doing faith and work. And you mentioned to me earlier that you visited the seminary here back in the 1970s, have I got the time frame right?
Greg Adams
Yeah. Late ’70s, I’ll stretch it, yeah.
Darrell Bock
Late ’70s? Okay, go for it. That’s actually when I was here as a student. And you were thinking about going into ministry, so how did you end up in business instead of in ministry? And assess what you think God did with your life in making that choice.
Greg Adams
Can I go back just a little?
Darrell Bock
Sure, absolutely.
Greg Adams
‘Cause it helps set the context where –
Darrell Bock
Okay.
Greg Adams
So I was raised in a results-oriented, achievement family. And there was a lot of pressure on academics, sports, art, and –
Darrell Bock
You’re supposed to be an all-rounder.
Greg Adams
Exactly.
Darrell Bock
Do everything well.
Greg Adams
But I was blessed that between spring of my senior year in high school and spring of my freshman year in college, God brought men into my life who really challenged me to get into God’s Word, read the Gospel of John. I’m not even sure we had a Bible in our house. And fortunately at spring of my freshman year, I finally realized that I can’t add anything to what Jesus did, and I can’t take away, with my goofy stuff, anything that He did, either. And so I became a Christian in my freshman year.

A year later, I met my future bride and helpmeet. So in a two-year period God totally changed my life.

Darrell Bock
Reorganized your life, yeah.
Greg Adams
In fact, and it’s interesting, my wife – getting back to here, Dr. Allen and his wife Lindsay were childhood friends of my wife. So –
Darrell Bock
He’s our chaplain. Go ahead.
Greg Adams
Okay, so with that kind of background, I graduated from college. And it’s funny, when I speak to IBM groups, one of the thing employees always wanna ask is, “Hey, why did you join IBM? Was it the technology? Was it international?” And I say, “No, it was love.” And they go, “What?”
Darrell Bock
[Laughter]
Greg Adams
And then I tell the story that basically my wife – my fiancee – said to me, “Hey, if you’re gonna marry me, we’re gonna live in Atlanta.”
Darrell Bock
Uh-huh. So it was Coca-Cola or IBM? [Laughter]
Greg Adams
Exactly. So her dad had passed away, and she was an only child, so it was a good start. But she ended up moving ten times after that, as we talked about.
Darrell Bock
That’s right, it was payback.
Greg Adams
So it’s interesting. So as I started working, I was really struggling with this secular-sacred thing. To me, as a new believer, and with my background of heavy works and achievement, I thought, “Boy, the best work I could be doing is sacred work. So why shouldn’t I be in the ministry?” And so I said, “What’s the best place to learn ministry? It’s Dallas Seminary.” So I knew a guy that was going here, and so I actually came out to the school, went to Howard Hendricks’ class, went to chapel.

But then some men stepped in my life who were really wise folks and started talking to me about this idea of faith and work. “And that really, Greg, the only difference between you and your pastor is how you guys get funded.” And I thought that was an interesting concept, just how we get funded. And so it was that point that I felt that God had called me to be salt and light.

Darrell Bock
And I think it’s interesting the way you stated this, because you said, “I need to go do sacred work,” as if the work over here is something else and something normal and not sacred, which is the way a lot of people do think.
Greg Adams
Right.
Darrell Bock
And I take it that you learned something in the midst of doing the work in the workplace, and that is that you had a call, and the work that you were doing was very much, I guess I’ll say it this way, God-enriched.
Greg Adams
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And so this secular-sacred divide that we tend to function with and compartmentalize in our lives, particularly if we’re not in professional Christian vocational work, actually gets in the way of being who God calls us to be if we’re in the workplace, right?
Greg Adams
No, exactly, exactly. When I finally started getting my arms around that, and it was really at our church, and through these older men discipling me, I started handling that and dealing with that. And I still struggle a little with “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”
Darrell Bock
Yeah, yeah.
Greg Adams
And I was real careful with, “Well, I’m spending too much time with kind of ministry today, and I need to – “
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Greg Adams
And then finally I just realized that God’s in control.
Darrell Bock
Right.
Greg Adams
And that was the maturity of me. I was growing as a believer in the marketplace. But let me tell you, the exciting thing was that very quickly God brought people into my life that were really hurting, really needy, and I didn’t have to do much but give my testimony, and it was so – Clearly, that was where God had placed me. And then my wife and I both felt – I joke about the ten moves, but we adopted the Paul’s tentmaker theme. We were in ministry, but IBM was our tent we were making.

And they were calling us to different places, and we’d plug into new churches, new communities. God blessed us with kids that, when they walked into a room, it was, “Hey, hello, everybody. Let’s get – “

Darrell Bock
Yeah. So they weren’t intimidated by the moves.
Greg Adams
No. So it was something we felt like, this is where God had called us, and this is what we needed to be doing.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. You know, it’s interesting. I tell people, churches work hard to say what evangelistic program should we have, et cetera, and I go, “God’s already designed the evangelistic program. He’s got people in the front lines who are out there everywhere, that He sends out from the church who are ready to represent Him in the midst of wherever it is God has them. And that’s the calling.” And so all your board meetings where you’re trying to plan what to do? Just relax. He’s already got it in place –
Greg Adams
That’s right.
Darrell Bock
– in terms of what the plan is, et cetera So let’s talk about this. A lot of people, when they’re in the business world, will say, “Well, so how does that work as a Christian?” I mean, business can be pretty ruthless. I mean, it’s competition. It’s challenging. People are fighting for the same kinds of contracts, et cetera So how did you put that aspect together, in terms of your business work?
Greg Adams
And I really do – For folks that are gonna be pastors and ministers and helping, I mean, it is – The intensity around results has just grown exponentially.
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm. ‘Cause it’s global.
Greg Adams
As technology has –
Darrell Bock
It’s global competition. Yeah.
Greg Adams
And the other thing now is we now know, with the cell phones and all that you have, there’s analytic systems and metrics that are tied to what you do every day, and how it ties to the dollars per share that shareholders receive.
Darrell Bock
And someone’s looking.
Greg Adams
And so, every quarter. In 37 years with IBM, it was intense in the beginning, but by the time I was finishing up, it was relentless. I mean, we’re just to deliver the quarterly results. And so it’s hard to get through it. There’s no, to me, easy answer. But that’s just the importance of folks in an accountability group, good communications, relationships with their wife, their family, and knowing at a point where if it does get too over the top, you’ll know that, “Maybe I need to be doing something differently.”
Darrell Bock
Interesting.
Greg Adams
But I have a son that’s in the IT industry still, and I’m kind of living still vicariously through him. ‘Cause he goes through his quarter to quarter, and it’s amazing.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. So it’s odd, ’cause in one sense the fact that you grew up in a family that was so achievement oriented also probably helped you prepare for what you were dealing with in the business world. Is that a fair observation to make?
Greg Adams
It was fair. ‘Cause I do enjoy the –
Darrell Bock
The challenge of it?
Greg Adams
– the challenge, and then the competition.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, yeah. And the challenge of the business place is that the business is, in one sense, oftentimes just focused on what those results are. But meanwhile people are living their lives and feeling what they’re feeling and going through what they’re going through, et cetera.
Greg Adams
Right.
Darrell Bock
And I’m gonna posit a thesis that there are two kinds of managers: the manager who’s interested, “Just the results, man, just the results,” or the people who actually manage in such a way that they care about the people that they’re managing at a personal level, and engage them with that additional layer. And I guess my view would be that if you’re a Christian, you should be that second type.

In other words, you should care about the performance and how you serve, absolutely. That’s important. But the second part of it is taking good care of the people that you’re working with.

Greg Adams
Right. And it is one of the things that I would always try to do. And I was a manager in IBM, and an executive from 1982 till I retired. So I always felt that one of the things I could do for my employees was to shield them from the constant questions from above. “Are we gonna get this done? Are we gonna get this done?” so that they could focus on getting their work done and doing a great job. So clearly, that’s the case. But Darrell Bock, the interesting thing is because of these performance-oriented cultures in all these companies, the opportunities to be natural salt and light, it’s crazy.
I’ve got story after story, where – At IBM, each year you would make your numbers, you get a little pin that you wear. And so my wife took it and did calligraphy, and took Mark 8
36

He goes, “I need to talk to you,” he said, “because when I leave work at night – ” He was a peer manager, a lot of pressure – “when I leave work at night, I have to stop at a bar a block from my house and drink a six-pack before I can face my family.”

Darrell Bock
Wow.
Greg Adams
Because of the intensity. Well, today he’s teaching third-grade Sunday school at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, has ten grandkids, three saved children. Just a great story of where –
Darrell Bock
Turned a life around.
Greg Adams
So story after story of people, they see you, and they know you’re dealing with the intensity, and your team is. But they see there’s something different there. That, yeah, you’re intense, but at the same time they see that your hope is –
Darrell Bock
So a key here is not just the care of, the management of the person, but also living – And so I imagine people look at the way you live, and committed Christians in the workplace all around, and go, “There’s something different about the way this person approaches the pressure and the life.” Is that, it’s – ?
Greg Adams
It really – And the surprising thing for me is that, ’cause you always – How proactive do I get? How “in the face” of my coworker do I get about, “Hey, do you if you were to die today, where you would go?” And there’s people that are – that’s good. But for me, it was so natural that, just living a life as a dedicated believer, and being encouraged by my wife and –
Darrell Bock
And caring for people.
Greg Adams
– other believers. People see that, and literally I have, like that last story – I have story after story where people would just say, “Hey, I’m struggling with this. Help me. You don’t seem to be as crazy as the rest of the gang.”
Darrell Bock
[Laughter]
Greg Adams
And then it was almost a lay-up, just to be able to say, “Well, let me tell you. “
Darrell Bock
Yeah, I have a very similar story. I’ve spent most of my career, obviously, teaching in the seminary. But one of my early summer jobs right after I became a Christian was to be in the mailroom of a bank. And this is back when banks had workers who did nothing but file all the checks that came through the bank system. So this is before all the automation, et cetera. So those jobs, they weren’t mind stimulating in some ways. And we were down there in the mailroom, tucked off to the side where everyone was doing their check filing and all that kind of stuff.

And one day I decided – we’ve got an employees’ board here where we do information – “I’m gonna put up a thing called ‘the verse of the day,’ and just put up a verse of the day.” And the first one was – I’m in Houston, Texas – the first one was, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” And underneath I put, “On the administration building at the University of Texas at Austin. Does anyone know what this refers to?” So one verse and one question. And people got simulated by that.

Mostly proverbs and psalms. Anyway, so one day I decided, “I’m gonna not put up the verse of the day, and see what happens.” So I didn’t put up the verse of the day, and about 9
30, 10
Greg Adams
That’s good.
Darrell Bock
Because what would happen is that I would put it up and then trigger a question, and while people were doing this very monotonous filing, they would talk about, at one point in the day, what was going on. They weren’t going to church or anything like that, but they were just stimulated by thinking about how life is impacted by thinking about, why did you do what you do? And so that was a very simple exercise. It’s like you’re, you know, “What does it gain, to gain the world and lose your soul?”

It’s the same kind of idea, where you just put an idea in front of someone in an environment where they’re not used to seeing it, and stimulating someone’s thinking.

Greg Adams
But the one thing I tell friends and brothers is that as a believer, though, you still have to – I mean, I tell people, “There’s some weeks where you’re gonna work 60-hour weeks.”
Darrell Bock
That’s right, yeah.
Greg Adams
So you can’t do the, “Hey, I’m sorry, I’m a believer. I only work 9:00 till 5:00.” But expect to be in this high-performance culture, and so there are gonna be times, and I think it’s just, I always stressed, for myself, excellence. You know, “Serve unto the Lord.” Didn’t talk about it to people that –
Darrell Bock
Right.
Greg Adams
Just for myself. ‘Cause I wanted that to be where my bosses would know, “Yeah, he’s a little different, but boy, I can count on him.”
Darrell Bock
Exactly right.
Greg Adams
“And he’s not – ” Now, if you’re doing 60-hour weeks three straight months, you may step back and say, “Is this where God really wants me? Because it’s destroying my family.” But there are times in any business where you’re gonna have to really knuckle down.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, exactly. So talk a little bit about what – you’ve talked about the kind of work-family balance that many people in business go through, particularly as they move up in a company, and the demands for performance – I’m assuming that as you move up in a company, the demands for performance almost ratchet up, as opposed to anything else. So –
Greg Adams
When I was with IBM, I was on the senior leadership group. And so it’s a kind of a subset of the executives in the company. It’s really the top 300 of 400,000 employees. And it’s basically –
Darrell Bock
Just 300 of 400,000. [Laughter]
Greg Adams
And they hold you by filthy lucre, you know. But it’s one of these positions where you do what you’re told. And so I had a real hard incident, and that’s where I ended up in the penalty box. Because they came to me – The experience in Japan was great, and I learned the language. IBM Japan folks loved me. I was on the board, and it was – So when I came back to the US, had another job, and we had a challenge in Latin America, and they wanted me to take a look at running Latin America.

And they said, “Hey, but the good news is, we’re not gonna make you move to Brazil and be in São Paolo; we’ll let you do it out of Miami.” And I’m thinking, “Great. I fly down there Sunday night, come back Friday night.” And it would just destroy my family. It would have just – And I had two boys at the time that needed serious head-shaping as teenagers, on a daily basis.

Darrell Bock
Head-shaping. That’s an interesting phrase. [Laughter]
Greg Adams
And so I had to turn it down, and there was no other way to say but, “I’ve got two teenage boys that I will regret if I’m not around to shape their heads the next three years.” And so you didn’t say that to the folks at that point in time.
Darrell Bock
“What?” [Laughter] Yeah.
Greg Adams
So I got put in the penalty box. It was –
Darrell Bock
So define penalty – what is a penalty box in business?
Greg Adams
It’s just kind of a nasty job where –
Darrell Bock
[Laughter]
Greg Adams
And it’s, do you survive it or not? And from there it could be out, or, “Okay.”
Darrell Bock
So it’s a real penalty.
Greg Adams
And no one calls it that, but everybody knows. It’s like, “Oh, boy.”
Darrell Bock
Yeah, interesting. Huh.
Greg Adams
So it was just an example where I think as a Christian you can go so far, and push and be in the middle of the culture. But at some point –
Darrell Bock
You’ve gotta make their tough call.
Greg Adams
You just gotta. And then say, “God, you’re in control. You make this.”
Darrell Bock
Now, that’s interesting, to put kind of the trust and faith point of view over a decision that you know is gonna be a hard decision professionally.
Greg Adams
No, it really is, but again, you know through God’s Word, what is important, what He wants you to do, your role as a father. And it was just clear-cut to me that this is something that –
Darrell Bock
Yeah. It isn’t like you’re the only person who can fill that post for that company, but you are your child’s only parent.
Greg Adams
Right.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. So as you moved on in your business experience, and let’s stay focused on IBM – I’m gonna shift to the government here in a second – what did you feel like you were learning as you were moving along and kind of going up the ladder?
Greg Adams
I loved my work. I mean, it was a lot of interaction with customers, delivering services, meeting their needs, leading a set of employees. It really was something that God had equipped me with a lot of those strengths to feel very natural and – But He just kept stretching me with giving me new assignments and new things, from going to Japan, from this penalty box, like I told you. That was at the time when headhunters would call me and say, “Hey, we got a job that’s in the Fortune 50.”

I wouldn’t even wanna talk to anybody, because I’d never wanna do a job like that. And again, like I told you, later it became critical for me. But I really was daily challenged in my job, enjoyed working. So I thank the Lord for giving me that.

Darrell Bock
And He was using those experiences to shape you and prepare you for what you’re eventually doing. I hinted, I guess, between the lines that you were brought in because government tends to operate in a certain way, and you were being asked to make government operate in a slightly different way. Talk about that a little bit.
Greg Adams
Well, probably need to start with just how this first –
Darrell Bock
Okay.
Greg Adams
So as you say I’m moving along in my career, and being challenged, but at the same time you read all these books about the red zone, and second half, and I’m saying, “Lord, do you have something else for me where I can use the skills that I’ve built up to help maybe in another part of my life? Nonprofits, ministry, et cetera?” Back in the late ’80s, we had a two-year stint in Knoxville, Tennessee, and I formed a small group with a retailer, a lawyer, I was the salesman, a distributor, and a banker.
And I left that group then, after two years, ’cause we moved to Boston. And I stayed close friends with those guys, but especially one guy, who got elected governor of Tennessee in 2010. And so November of 2010 I sent him a text, and my wife’s very close with the First Lady, and I say, “Hey, Governor, we’re just so proud of you. We’ll be praying for you.” And he comes back and says, “I need you to come help me do some things up here.” And this was the typical us, texting at 10
00 at night – knuckleheads.
Darrell Bock
[Laughter]
Greg Adams
And so at that point in time, I’d just taken a new assignment at IBM, and it didn’t make sense to leave, ’cause I wouldn’t be finishing well with them. So I said to him, “Let’s discuss. What are you thinking about?” So for the next two and a half years, I had a couple trips to Nashville. We talked about the job. And my wife, we talked about, “Is God calling us?” ‘Cause here she is – we moved ten times, we’re back in Atlanta at this point, and her knucklehead husband’s saying, “I think God may be calling us to – ”

And so with Governor Haslam, we just talked about the idea of how can we make government run more efficient and effective? How can we measure things? How can we pay employees differently to incent them to do work for the citizens? And so that took – In July of ’13, then, I joined his team as the first COO in the state of Tennessee. And at the time, I was the second COO in the country. But the one that was in Florida was a different type, wasn’t the real COO job.

And then eventually now, when I left a year ago, there was 15 COOs across the states.

Darrell Bock
Oh, wow.
Greg Adams
And I actually had worked with the National Governor’s Associations and a consulting organization to help formulate this job. The new governor of Tennessee brought in a COO, ’cause the job has really made a difference, I think.
Darrell Bock
Interesting. And I take it that part of the shift is that what seems like almost a bureaucratic job – just, you run the forms and you do the work – but in another sense it requires, ’cause you’re actually face to face with the citizens of the state, it’s extremely important not only that you get things done, but how you do them.
Greg Adams
It was one of these ones where God really just prepared. Because first thing I did, I went, “What is state government?” I mean, I don’t know. I think of it as paying my taxes and getting my driver’s license.
Darrell Bock
Right, right.
Greg Adams
So I went and visited our 23 departments, and I start seeing all the things we do.
Darrell Bock
Right, right.
Greg Adams
And so from delivering services to our citizens, like you said, but then the other thing I saw was, “Gosh, we’re doing it for the least of these.”
Darrell Bock
Yeah. Right.
Greg Adams
And we’re really helping. And so what I saw consistent across the 23 departments is that we’re a services business. Like IBM, we were an IT services business. And so I adopted that construct and started saying, “Hey, we’re a services business.” And so what we did, we catalogued all the services that each of the departments provided, and it’s a thousand different services. Then we baselined ’em, we started measuring ’em – and let me give you an example of a great service.
Darrell Bock
Okay.
Greg Adams
Did you ever think of when you go in and get a gallon of gas, is it really a gallon? Well, who goes and measures all those pumps to make sure?
Darrell Bock
Oh, I’ve seen that stamp. [Laughter]
Greg Adams
Yeah. So all these kind of services that we deliver. So that became the construct. And even Governor Haslam then started adopting, saying, “Hey, in state government, we’re a services business.” And so when you raise up the idea that, “Oh, government. They’re just –” No, no. We’re delivering services to our citizens. And then we came up with a thing called customer-focused government, and it really got traction.

And then we ended up saying, you know, we have to pay for performance, which you don’t see much in government – kind of across-the-board raises, if you get them. So we started putting performance plans in place.

Darrell Bock
So that was the incentive.
Greg Adams
Yeah. And then if you exceeded, you got four percent, some people got three percent. But it was really just, so much as a believer I felt like, “Wow. This is – we’re delivering services. Striving for excellent for our citizens. We’re doing it to the least of these.” And just the opportunity is there to be salt and light –
Darrell Bock
Yeah, you know, government work and civil service is really something most people don’t understand or appreciate. I’m on the board of an organization here called Christians in Public Service, CIPS. And it’s nonpartisan. It’s designed to help people be the best at their service that they can be. It was founded by an African-American woman who was the first deputy mayor of Duncanville. And we see ourselves as trying to help people be a different kind of civil servant, for lack of a better description, and completely nonpartisan.

And in fact, one of the things that we have to wrestle with is the way in which in the context of elections we might have two people in our organization who could be running against one another. I’ve been in a meeting where, after an election, two people have apologized to one another for how they treated one another in the election ’cause of the pressures of what that represents. And that’s all background to ask you this question, and that is, how do you deal with –

‘Cause I think one of the challenges of government is, it is a service organization, but it’s driven by a lot of partisan forces and a lot of lobbying that goes on, in terms of how things get done.

Greg Adams
Right.
Darrell Bock
“Help!”
Greg Adams
No, and that’s what I always point out to people, that when they say “government,” there’s really, to me, two beasts in this. The first is, let’s call it the executive branch. So I mentioned we had 42,000 employees.
Darrell Bock
Right, right.
Greg Adams
So of those 42,000 employees, probably only 50 of us cared about whether the governor got reelected. You know, the rest are career –
Darrell Bock
They’re trying to do their job.
Greg Adams
Exactly. Exactly. But then you got this other thing, which is the legislature. And so you got the 132 state senators and representatives.
Darrell Bock
So you’re referring to the legislature as a beast? Is that what – ? [Laughter]
Greg Adams
Well, but I said we were a beast, too.
Darrell Bock
Okay, right. There you go. [Laughter]
Greg Adams
Just from the size. Affectionate beast.
Darrell Bock
Right, right, right.
Greg Adams
So that was the real eye-opener, to me, is that I’d been used to dealing with a board of directors, which are usually kind of business ladies and men, just – All of a sudden you got 132 individuals who are always on, getting votes. And they leave you alone, but all of a sudden there’s something that happens, where a program that you did did something to one job in their district. And so that whole partisan –
Darrell Bock
It’s a different kind of accountability.
Greg Adams
It really is. And so learning that whole aspect – I really wish, if I would’ve gone back that first summer when I started, just to have gone out and met with – Just introduced myself, to say, “Here’s what I’m trying to do.” Versus they get wind of, “Oh, wait. Did you hear he’s going to _____ services, consolidate.”
Darrell Bock
“I need you to fix a problem, and my job depends on your fixing this.”
Greg Adams
Right, right. So it is. That whole aspect of it makes it – just, it adds another layer of communication, interaction with people, listening.
Darrell Bock
And the pressure that that generates isn’t always what I would call the best kind of pressure, because it’s oftentimes – even though at one sense it seems it could be well motivated, it oftentimes is motivated with some very mixed expectations that can be challenging.
Greg Adams
And credit to those people, and I credit the governor. I mean, just to have to run for office, and then to continue, and then to get a second term, and – it’s hard.
Darrell Bock
What we found in the organization is that the people who put themselves in that position can be worn down by the demands that are coming at them from their constituents for certain things, et cetera. ‘Cause everybody wants something from you.
Greg Adams
Right.
Darrell Bock
And that’s a different kind of relentless pressure.
Greg Adams
Well, it’s interesting. So when the governor announced that he was gonna have a COO, some guy from IBM, of course the press wants to, “Wait. Your job is the COO. You’re not – ” And most people don’t realize that with 6.7 million citizens, and traveling around the state, and all the policy and things going on, most governors don’t have the time to get into the details that I did as to –
Darrell Bock
It’s like a provost and a president in a school.
Greg Adams
Right. The jobs.
Darrell Bock
So, yeah, it’s a challenge. Well, that’s fascinating. So let’s talk about – we’ve alluded to this, but in the midst of all this that you’re doing, et cetera, you’ve got a family that you’re interacting with and trying to deal with in the midst of all this. You’ve already talked about a couple of decisions you made that impacted your family. How did you monitor that tension between what your job was asking of you and the way in which your family – how your family was doing?
Greg Adams
So I think probably one of the most important things that my wife and I did in our – we call it walk-a-talk. So once our kids were old enough where we could leave the house for a half hour and they wouldn’t kill each other, we would walk for a half hour to 40 minutes every day. Just a good pace, but really more just to talk, and just to make sure that –
Darrell Bock
You’re on the same page?
Greg Adams
– we’re on the same page. And it was interesting, the kids, “Uh-oh, mom and dad are going off. They’re strategizing.”
Darrell Bock
[Laughter]
Greg Adams
But it was so important for Janine and I just to be able to talk every day about what was going on, and to hear her heart about, “You know, you been getting home late every night,” or whatever the issue was. And so I think for anybody that’s in these kind of jobs just to have that time where they set aside with their wives just to walk, to talk. And then, I mentioned it before – to me, I needed an accountability group. I needed four other guys to be asking, every Thursday morning at 6:00 AM to 7:30 –
Darrell Bock
Hard questions. Yeah.
Greg Adams
– you know, “What are you doing?” or “Wait a second. Tell me what you did last week?” or “Tell me why you’re traveling so much?” And then, obviously, to be in a great church. But those things were important to help keep me, “Hey, if God’s called me to be doing this, how do I make sure that I’m staying in his Word, and I’m staying on the path with my family and my marriage and – ?”
Darrell Bock
So what I wanna do with kind of the last segment is talk about – when you think about the church and you think about businesspeople, what often happens in churches is that pastors will see businesspeople as the people they need to be close to to generate the support that they need to do what they’re gonna do in the church, and in some cases even to help them manage the church, et cetera. But what we’ve found in the faith and work work that we’ve done is that there’s almost sometimes a disconnect, because the pastor doesn’t understand the world of the businessman.

And so what advice would you give to people who are training for ministry or are in ministry who may never themselves have worked in the workplace, but are supposed to shepherd people in this role? What advice would you give so that the connection between the businessperson and the church leadership, the pastoral team, all the way down – not just the senior pastor – is a healthy one?

Greg Adams
You know, I think there should be – I was, in my early years as a believer in the church that I went to, I just never heard the concept of faith and work, and “God’s a worker, and He created in all of us the – “
Darrell Bock
So it’s like the sacred life ran on Sunday, but then on Monday you’re on your own.
Greg Adams
Exactly. There just wasn’t that – so somehow, not just one series but just a continued reinforcement of that concept. The other thing, too, is I’m actually in a small group now with my pastor, and I think it’s great for pastors. Not just with their staff, but get into small group with –
Darrell Bock
See what the life is like.
Greg Adams
– four guys that are out in the marketplace, and just hear them, and then be learning about that. And I tell you, I’ll never forget – My pastor said to me when we first got there, and we did the new members class, and I’d been an elder in our churches; we get involved. But I was really concerned about this new job, like what was I getting into? But you know, so I’m having this conversation with him, and I’m trying to – how do I participate in Sunday school, or this and that.

And he just said to me, he just seemed to anticipate and said, “Hey, tell you what. The governor needs you. You’re about to go into a firestorm. How do we serve you? Don’t worry about it. You come here and be served.” And I like, “Wow!”

Darrell Bock
Yeah, just to –
Greg Adams
That made – what an impact. So thinking that way then, “Hey, we’re here to serve the business folks in the church, ’cause they’re going out every Monday and just living their lives in front of people, and it’s just gonna get harder.”
Darrell Bock
Yep. I like to say we’ll illustrate what you’re supposed do with the family; we’ll illustrate what someone’s supposed to do in their community; we’ll illustrate how they’re supposed to serve in the church; we’ll illustrate how they do evangelism. But the one thing we don’t illustrate is what’s going on from 9:00 to 5:00 on Monday to Friday in the kind of environments that people are working in. And the hard thing about that is that that’s the biggest productive part of most people’s lives. That’s left unaddressed.

So we sit there and say we want God to be with you in every space that you occupy, but the biggest space that people occupy goes unaddressed.

Greg Adams
Right.
Darrell Bock
And that’s a problem.
Greg Adams
What we actually have in our church, we call it the Nashville Institute for Faith and Work. And so it’s just a thing where they have little seminars and little teaching. It keeps the visibility within the church as a resource for folks that really want to understand more about that.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. So one of the things that we try and do – actually, this is part of the intent of the way we handle our chapels. There’s the curriculum; a theological curriculum’s pretty set. I tease people, I say, “You know you’re not gonna get much change when you’ve been doing what you’ve been doing since the Middle Ages.” And so [laughter] change – they come in small increments. So you’ve got this core curriculum which is set: this is how you teach theology so students learn it; this is how you do preaching, et cetera.

And what we do at the Center is, well, we’re called co-curricular. We look at the curriculum and see where its holes are, in terms of values and experiences, and we step into those spaces for the student. And the beauty is, it’s not a class. They don’t get graded on it. It’s not a box they check to get their degree. It’s part of the warp and woof of the way of thinking about life. And that’s what we’re trying to supply to the student.

And what we’ve tried to do is to listen really hard to the businesspeople around us here in the city about what they need from spiritual leaders and from their pastors as they engage in the life that they’re engaged in, as a way of trying to encourage them and to get acclimated to what is a very different life.

Greg Adams
The other thing, as I’ve been on this journey, is not just the idea of being faith and work and salt and light, but just the idea of common grace. And seeing what we do, and especially in government – the impact on nonbelievers, and even nonbelievers making impacts in people’s lives. And I don’t know how God’s working there, but to really see that happening, that’s – And I’m always amazed when I do these department visits. I don’t leave them without a dry eye, because they usually do, they want to feature one of their things they’re doing, and it’s just heartbreaking, the lives they’re touching.

And I see the individuals that are doing it, and my guess is usually that 60 percent of them are believers, the hearts that they have to have. The others that aren’t, I know that God’s working in them somehow, so –

Darrell Bock
Well, if they sense at all the positives that they can bring by the way that they do their job, that’s – We were very involved in the PTA when our kids were going through school. We had our kids in public schools. And it’s the variation of what I call whack-a-mole: the Christians would always pop up, you know? [Laughter]
Greg Adams
Right. Right.
Greg Adams
The number of teachers who said, “I’m here to serve these children, and I’m trying to do the best I can, and I really see this as a ministry, and I feel very called to it,” the amount of people who we would see who would do that, once they figured out that we weren’t just parents but I was teaching in the seminary and served in a church – man, they would pop up and talk to me. And in some cases, just share what they were wrestling with. And just being available.

And I sometimes think that’s how pastors should be avail– or at least the staff – be available to the variety of businesspeople, as well as encouraging businesspeople to encourage one another, because they know, those businesspeople know what others are going through in the business space.

Greg Adams
Right.
Darrell Bock
So, well, Greg, I really appreciate your coming in and talking with us. Would you say that the experience that you had would be the equivalent of like receiving a call? Like a pastor would say, “I’m called to ministry,” “I was called to serve God in the business space, in the government space.”
Greg Adams
No, I would say that – and it was just good for me to have this struggle with the sacred and the secular, to force me, and God bring people in my life to think through that. And then just to see the natural fruit that – Again, I’m not the knock-down-the-door – but just to see how God would bring needy people into my life, and just give me the opportunity to be a part of His work.
Darrell Bock
So what I’m hearing you say is if you’ll just let the door be open, and be sensitive to what’s going on around you, life serves the opportunity to serve.
Greg Adams
Oh, and the move to government was another one where, I mean, it was hard for Janine and I to really pray through this, ’cause we’d say, “Wait a second. Gosh, we’ve been all around the world.” It’s hard packing up ten times, and we’re back in Atlanta, her hometown, and I think she feels like, “Ha, God. We did this.”
Darrell Bock
“Finally.” [Laughter]
Greg Adams
But as we kept praying and talking about it, and saying, “Gosh, wait a second. Here’s someone that we know is a committed believer, and is genuine and real, and he’s saying, ‘Hey, will you come help us? I think we can make a difference.'” And so we said, “Gosh, is God not leading us here?” ‘Cause we’re the first every night to watch the news and go, “What are these knuckleheads in Washington, or Nashville, or you know – “
Darrell Bock
Yeah, yeah, that’s right. Yeah.
Greg Adams
And then we’ll, “Wait. Here’s a chance for us to – “
Darrell Bock
Right. No, it’s not an easy job. The one thing you learn working with civil servants is the intense pressures that they’re under in what it is that they’re trying to do. And sometimes they start out well-intentioned, and then it just gets hard.
Greg Adams
Well, I had two cell phones, and one stayed on all the time. So I was the first call into the governor’s office. ‘Cause you know, we have tornadoes and floods and stabbings in prisons, and we have to take children out of homes –
Darrell Bock
And they don’t sign up when they show up.
Greg Adams
No. And so that was just a whole – No one got killed in IBM in my job selling computer hardware and software and services. All of a sudden I’m in an environment where we’re talking about people’s lives. And again, just to see God working and – So, no, I definitely feel like they were calls. But I think it’s there for men and women in the marketplace, just – And I think the other thing, Darrell, that I just – and you guys probably know the theology of this, but just, God’s economy is so different.

I was just such a – individual – growing up, that “big is better.” And like, “I gotta be doing something that 500 people are coming to Christ,” versus maybe just one life that I’m touching, God’s called me to do – And so when I finally got my hand around, you know, the widow’s mite –

Darrell Bock
Yeah, the issue of scale. Yeah.
Greg Adams
Yeah. And hey, me doing one on one with some person really is – if that’s what God has me to do, then why is that different than you preaching to 500 people?
Darrell Bock
Exactly. Yeah, well, first of all, thank you for your service. I mean, as I said, because my own experience with civil servants is they’re some of the most under-appreciated people in some ways that we have in the workspace. But also thank you for taking the time to share with us this combination of faith and work, and the way a person can live out their lives, and the way in which the church can encourage that. ‘Cause I think this is a very important space, and it’s very important for the life of the church that that relationship be appreciated and connected in the context of what the church is doing. So I thank you for coming in and helping us with that.
Greg Adams
Oh, it’s been a privilege and an honor for me to be a part of this. Hopefully it’s helpful.
Darrell Bock
Well, thank you very much. And we thank you for watching The Table. Hope you’ll join us again soon. If you have a topic you’d like for us to consider for a future episode, please e-mail us at thetable@dts.edu. That’s thetable@dts.edu. We take a look at those, and then we think about, well, who can we interview that’ll help us with that area? And, you know, maybe the show you suggest will be on The Table. So we thank you for joining us, and hope we’ll see you again soon.
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Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than forty books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Greg Adams
Greg earned a Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree from Princeton University in 1976 and a master’s in science and management from M.I.T. in 1989. He joined IBM in 1976, and worked his way up to the company’s senior leadership team, most recently as a managing director in the financial services sector. Throughout his time at IBM, he held positions in sales, marketing, operations, reengineering & quality, and general management. Early in his career, he had assignments in Atlanta, Indianapolis, Knoxville, Boston, Nashville and New York. After that, he served as managing director of operations and board member for IBM Japan in Tokyo. After working for IBM for 37 year, in July of 2013 he joined Governor Haslam’s senior team, serving as the first Chief Operating Officer for the State of Tennessee until February 2019. In the governor’s effort to make Tennessee the best-managed state in the nation, Greg’s role was to work with state departments to ensure they were operating in the most efficient way possible. $575 million was cut in recurring spending, state government was shrunk, the budget balanced every year, the state’s savings account was tripled and Tennessee has been awarded a triple AAA bond rating the last two years. In addition, under Governor Haslam, Tennessee is recognized as a national leader in education and economic development. He has been married to his wife, Jeannine, for 44 years and has three married children and ten grandchildren.
Public Square
Sep 22, 2020
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