God’s in the business of our work
ERIC STUMBERG remembers the moment his perspective on business shifted for him. It was in 2013. He was at a retreat center for business leaders at Laity Lodge in San Antonio, Texas. Former SPU Provost Jeff Van Duzer, then dean of the School of Business, Government, and Economics, was speaking on the important role business plays in God’s plan for the world.
That realization lit a fire in Stumberg that hasn’t stopped burning.
CEO and co-founder of commercial internet provider TengoInternet, Stumberg was no stranger to the ins and outs of the business world. His father, grandfathers, and uncles were entrepreneurs, starting and running businesses in several industries. As early as 10 years old, Stumberg worked for his grandfather’s cement business.
He studied business in college, worked for an uncle’s business, and went on to earn his master’s of business administration and work for Dell Technologies. After a few years, unsure of what to do next in his life, Stumberg took a six-week solo trip to Mexico. With no phone, he spent a considerable amount of time at internet cafes.
In the early 2000s, the internet was on the rapid rise. Stumberg became fascinated with Wi-Fi and its ability to connect travelers with the places they were visiting, their homes, and the entire world. He decided to start an internet provider service specializing in travel-based clients like campgrounds and hotels.
In 2001, TengoInternet was born. Over the next decade, the company became an industry leader among outdoor Wi-Fi providers, serving RV resorts, campgrounds, state parks, marinas, and other venues.
“My scoreboard as a Christian is based on whether I was faithful to God, not successful.” — Eric Stumberg
Stumberg had founded a successful company. As an entrepreneur, he had made it.
But there, in that small room at Laity Lodge, he questioned whether he had, in fact, “made it.” Or if the important work was just beginning.
“I had never heard anything like that before,” said Stumberg of Van Duzer’s message that all work — even business — matters to God. Stumberg had grown up in a Christian home and served in his local church, but those experiences remained separate from his work in the business world. “I had the mindset that you should work hard and be ethical and generous, but if you wanted to be part of God’s really important work on earth, you had to either be a missionary or a pastor, or donate the money you made to a missionary or a pastor.”
When Stumberg realized his work in the business world could and should be a way to directly live out his faith, it changed everything. According to Stumberg, if God cares about businesspeople and businesses, then suddenly, everything matters: the company’s mission, the work culture, organizational structure, customer relations. “Every business decision becomes a theological decision,” said Stumberg. “It meant I had to rethink everything I was doing.”
Today, TengoInternet has 48 employees. But Stumberg refers to the people under his care as “117 souls,” counting the spouses and children of his employees as those he has a responsibility to serve. “The most important commandment after ‘Love God’ is ‘Love thy neighbor,’” he said. “Jesus announced his ministry as good news to the poor, healing for the broken, and release for the captives. I want Tengo to be a safe place where my employees and their families experience healing, freedom, blessing; where people are better for having worked here.”
Stumberg reevaluated the wages he paid to ensure each employee made a livable wage and established full health care benefits for TengoInternet employees.
In 2019, TengoInternet went a step further and began the process of becoming an employee-owned company. “You want your employees to work as if they’re owners of the work they do,” said Stumberg. “I wanted them to reap the full benefits.”
TengoInternet has now installed internet access at more than 3,000 RV parks and resorts, campgrounds, hotels, and marinas in 48 states, Canada, and Mexico. But while profits are important to the life of a business, Stumberg is quick to say this is not how he defines success.
In fact, he says, sometimes success can look like failure.
In 2018, Stumberg faced one of his greatest challenges as CEO. He got a phone call that a data breach had occurred: Tengo’s system had been hacked, releasing customer information. “I knew two things,” he said. “I had at least disappointed everybody that I’d ever served. And I might lose the company.” When he got home that night, he was so anxious he could barely stand.
He went to say goodnight to his 7-year-old son, Ericson, who laid next to him as he told him about the hack. Ericson listened quietly, and when his dad was finished, he looked his dad in the eyes and said, “It’s OK, Dad. You did your best.”
“I held him and wept,” said Stumberg. “My son reminded me we can only do our best and still something like this could happen. And it pointed me to the truth that my scoreboard as a Christian is based on whether I was faithful to God, not successful. The failure of my efforts and how I respond could be my faithful offering to the Lord.”
TengoInternet addressed the breach and recovered well, but Stumberg came away with a new realization: “It’s not actually my company; it’s not my work. It’s God’s work that he has given me to do. When you accept that, you have peace and can rest no matter what happens.”
According to the market research firm Barna Group, 56% of Christians consider their faith private, and only 41% strongly agree that their church helps them understand how to live out their faith in the workplace. Stumberg believes the message that work matters to God is key to addressing these statistics.
In 2018, Stumberg and his wife, Keri, together with SPU’s Center for Integrity in Business, founded Faith & Co., an initiative to help people connect their work with their faith through powerful storytelling in films.
Faith & Co. offers its films and online courses to everyone. Each film tells the story of a different Christian businessperson and how their faith informs their work. Faith & Co. materials have been used in workplaces, churches, and nonprofits worldwide.
The Stumbergs believe this message speaks not just to businesspeople, but to everyone — children, young adults, parents, and people working in every industry and in every position.
Keri Stumberg has worked in several roles as the minister of counseling at a local church. She’s been a counselor serving couples and young women, a full-time mom, and now a Christian spiritual director.
“I struggled for many years thinking that I wasn’t doing enough for God because my gifts and callings are usually behind the scenes and one-on-one,” she said. “I wasn’t the activist or mobilizer who could point to outward ways I was building God’s kingdom by leaps and bounds. But I’m learning that what’s best for God’s kingdom is whatever work he calls me to.
“Sometimes the work is a direction session. Sometimes it is resting, praying alone, or spending time with my husband and son. It all matters to God, and I can rest knowing I have nothing to prove. Also, faithfulness leads me to a deeper intimacy with God, and that is the reward!” she said.
Looking to the future, the Stumbergs are setting their sights on a new mission: discipling the next generation to take up the mantle of living out God’s calling. The Stumbergs funded a new initiative at SPU to equip faculty (and, through them, students) to discover God’s purpose in their work lives. Faculty across all disciplines can now join small cohorts and take 10 graduate-level seminary classes from the School of Theology, free of tuition. At the end of the course series, they complete a capstone project that integrates theology with their own academic discipline.
In 2022, Eric and Keri received the President’s Award for Philanthropy from Seattle Pacific University, celebrating their ongoing commitment to students and to God’s work in the world.
“There isn’t any wasted time in the kingdom of God,” said Stumberg, when asked what advice he would give to students and graduates starting their careers. “It’s tempting to think that if you get to a certain level, you can make an impact. But what you’re doing right now in being faithful, is as important as what you could be doing in 10 years in whatever position you’re in.
“My son is now 11 years old. What he’s doing now for the kingdom of God — being a faithful son, student, soccer player — is as important as what he will do 20 years from now. It’s as valuable as what I’m doing now.
“Finally, live with integrity. Be the person God’s called you to be in all places. That person — you — is actually enough. The Lord delights over you and is pleased with you.”
Illustration by Scott Anderson