Making things happen in the century

The very personal speech of Norman Rentrop about his own faith at the christian leadership conference 1999 near Stuttgart in Fellbach. (Der “Über-setzen ins 21. Jahrhundert”-Vortrag in Englisch)

Norman Rentrop in Stuttgart

Speaking about my faith is new for me. In germany we say, “yes, faith is private”, but I have learned that privacy is not far from loneliness.

I have often wanted to hear from those people I admire, not only about what success means to them, but also what a personal relationship with Jesus Christ means. In Church, we always begin with the confession, “I believe in God Almighty, creator of heaven and earth and in his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, conceived by the Holy Spirit …”. But when we leave church, everything we have just been talking about seems to be taboo all of a sudden! Our constitution allows us to talk freely about God. In the preamble, it says, “being responsible to God and the people…”.

My walk to faith

I remember it well. I was invited to a talk show on TV in Baden-Baden. In the hotel that evening, I opened the drawer of the cupboard next to my bed, saw a Bible and began reading it, something I had not done for a long time. I realised it had a lot to say to me. Since then, I read the Bible every day, asking myself:

What does this mean to me?
How can I apply it to my life?
What is God saying to me in this particular passage?

Billy Graham was speaking at a convention in 1993. He spoke to my heart and I accepted his invitation to go to the front. After that though, things somehow did not go well. I had accepted Jesus Christ but I really did not have the impression that a personal relationship with God had begun. I read in Oswald Chambers devotional book, “repentance is not the same as re-birth.”

I visited a prayer meeting in the American church in Bad Godesberg, near Bonn. The conversation was in English, due to the participation of Americans and diplomats from stand English literature. However, to express my feelings about my personal faith was extremely tough. That was difficult enough in German, in English even more so.

A scientific research paper about speech encouraged me. English is the language with the most words, about 750.000, due to its multiple roots from many languages such as Germanic, Anglo-Saxon, French etc. German has only 400.000 words. I learned that there were only 4000 German words describing faith and emotions, one in 190. Of these, 75% are negative, and only 25% positive. I was not getting any further after my confession at the Billy Graham meeting.


God didn’t let me off the hook. I found myself in a serious crisis. I considered that to be a challenge.

I always had an ambition to become a leader. As an 18 year old, in my small room, I started to develop some ideas. The publishing house came into being. Sometime after, I realised that business success does not automatically bring fulfilment. Of course, success is fascinating and you want to see your ideas become reality, that your efforts are fruitful and crowned with success. When things go well, that brings satisfaction. Besides that, in my profession you get to know interesting people and go to many nice places in the world. Economic success is accompanied by a lot of stress, jealousy, conflict and loneliness. It does not bring inner peace and fulfilment. That only comes from a personal relationship with God. It was to be some time before realised that. My 40th birthday was the toughest ever. I had reached the statistical centre of my lifespan. Three years previously I had bought my first bottle of hair tonic. The hairline was retreating, my head was becoming shiny. I realised just before my birthday, that I was in a midlife crisis. Thoughts rushed through my head. Should I work less? What is the meaning of life? What should I change?

Like many businessmen, I was confronted with loneliness. With whom could I share these personal, basic questions? Who could I turn to for help, who would understand me and want the best for me, without using me for their own ends? With whom could I feel comfortable enough to let down my protective barrier to share my feelings and bare my soul? To whom could I give myself completely and become vulnerable? My co-workers, with whom I had played the role of a strong man for the past 22 years, full of ideas and a never ending thirst for knowledge? My colleagues, with whom I had done my best never to show any signs of weakness? With others in my church? Could I expect help from that side, when it is not about congregational matters?

My wife understood what I was going through, as did my parents and the rest of my family. I considered what God’s promise meant, “I accept you as you are.” What did that mean to me? How was I to apply it? What was I to do? In this time, another of God’s promises became meaningful to me; “See, I am with you always.” I have discovered prayer and sharing to be fruitful ways of overcoming the loneliness of an entrepreneur.

How would I apply my faith?

Bob Buford’s book “Half Time” helped me. He wrote that when you have reached the middle of your life – Half Time – you need to decide, “who or what is at the centre of your life?” I decided to follow his advice. I pulled out of my daily business responsibilities. The publishing house became a public company and I transferred the general management to one of our managers.

At a conference in 1997, I heard Barbara and Ben Jakob tell the story of Jesus’ visit to Martha and Mary. Jesus words, “what is necessary?” caused me to think. I always felt under compulsion to always be doing something, like the motto of a journalist I know – when I am awake, I work. It was important for me to realise that it is ok to just sit quietly and listen to God, that this listening to God is what Jesus called “the good choice”. That Swiss couple, the Jakobs, gave me a small book by Anselm Grün, called “The Challenge of Mid Life”. Anselm Grün is a businessman like me and financial manager of a large Benedictine monastery. In his book, he describes a phenomenon in monastic life. Between the ages of 40 and 50, many brothers decide to leave the monastery and quit the Order. What did the Benedictines do?

Just the same as we in business would do. Analyse the problem and discuss it. I found the analysis very interesting. They looked at the works of Johannes Tauler, a 14th century German mystic and Carl Jung, the father of psychoanalysis. Tauler preached about the 40th birthday and said, “Don’t run away!” I translated that to mean, don’t wander off to a Pacific island.

Don’t do like Günter Ogger’s best-selling book on Germany’s society calls it: “Cash out and drop out”. Jung specialised, as an adult psychoanalyst, in the second half of life. He is also the one who concluded that at the end of all scientific analysis – God is there. In the first half of life, consciousness is prominent. This is primarily concerned with creating and making things happen. In the second half, we need to be more concerned with bringing our sub-conscience together again. I remember Anselm Grün’s statement that God shakes us awake again in the middle of our life so that we can get closer to him.

Closer to God

Not just to sit back and enjoy a peaceful life. Jesus gave us a case to consider. “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘what shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘this is what I’ll do. I will rear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then you will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” (Luke 12:16-20).

I should not hoard the rich blessings that God has given to me. We will be confronted at some time with the question, “What have you done with the gifts I have given to you?”

I acknowledged that success, making thinks happen, is not everything. This meant for me, a man of action, a change in thinking. This means to put God in the centre of my life and not myself. This is easy to say, but not so easy to put into practice. I often fall back into my old ways. In talking about my personal faith here, please realise I am not an expert. I am trying to put my faith into daily life.

We live on the one hand in a world characterized by fast change and increasing complexity. On the other hand, there is a huge longing for simplicity and direction. We understand less and less, while there is even less to grasp.

The next ten years, will be a decennium of authenticity and innovation. Trend researcher see the whole of the 21st century as a century of ethics, values and religion. Analysts and editors of the “Trend setter” explain some global developments. A recent study shows these 10 trends.

1. New work forms. New independence, self-responsibility. More people working from home.

2. Immigrant workers become world citizens. The world becomes a global village with a new understanding of its citizens.

3. From mass production to intelligent individualising.

4. The mega trend of virtual business. Trade and business is occurring more and more in virtual space, distance is no longer a factor.

5. Smart technology (simplification technology). From microprocessor to nano-technology

6. From youth culture to ‘third age’ values.

7. Less government and more private initiatives in education, training and development.

8. From electronics to the century of biology.

9. From “wanting to have everything” to a balanced life.

10. From materialism to spirituality.

We have one of the most efficient economies of the world. In comparison to many other countries, we have a very good educational system, a stable judicial and financial structure, and still have a large social consensus. However, over-regulation and over-taxation make it difficult to develop business. Courage and willingness to start new enterprises, “in responsibility to God and the people” is often absent.

One of the important developments in our economy in recent years is a concentration on core-competencies. Companies which attempted to produce everything for everyone, from airplanes to irons, concentrate these days on what they do best.

I really want to concentrate on that which I can do better than others. When I think of the 21st century as a century of ethics, then this is a marvellous opportunity for Christians to take leadership responsibilities. What would happen if our whole society was suffering from a mid life crisis?

We can see lots of symptoms. Burnout, drop-out, internal and external emigration. Where are the young people willing to take responsibility? Who wants to serve others?

Who wants to hear, “don’t ask what your country wants to do for you, but what you can do for your country?”

Leadership through and out of a mid-life crisis is something we can never learn in schools or in university. Here lies a huge opportunity for Christians.

“Don’t ask what your country wants to do for you, but what you can do for your country?”

Portrait of Norman Rentrop

Norman Rentrop began writing for the school newspaper at age 12. Next to his business studies, he began a publishing business.

Verlag für die Deutsche Wirtschaft AG is a publishing house that produces 59 magazines and professional journals for business and business owners.

The most successful is his first publication, called “Business Ideas”, for which he got inspiration after a school trip to England, where he discovered a similar magazine for business concepts and ideas.

Rentrop’s company has become the sixth largest professional publisher and publishes the business magazine “Chef”. In 1999, the group turnover hit a record high of 195 million Mark and the company employs around 600 people worldwide.

Norman Rentrop found a New Testament in a hotel drawer, placed there by the “Gideons”. As “one who makes things happen”, he realised that he had to turn things around; God was to be the “One who makes things happen.” Since then, his motto is: listen to God and seek His will. And so he continually asks when faced with decisions to make: What would Jesus do?