Forty years ago, Steve Bell began building cabinets in his garage. Those humble beginnings have grown over the decades into Bellmont Cabinet Co., an award-winning manufacturing company specializing in the minimalist ‘frameless’ cabinet, of which Steve was one of the first pioneers.
But Steve has pioneered more than just cabinetry – he is redefining the workplace and what it means to be a working Christian.
God Loves Cabinets
‘Growing up, there was this sense that if you’re really called to faith, then you’re going to go into “the real Christian work” of full-time Christian service—everything else was basically a compromise,’ recalls Steve, whose parents were disappointed that he didn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps into pastoral ministry.
One day in college, he was reading RG LeTourneau’s Mover of Men and Mountains. He came across the part where, after years of hardship, LeTourneau finally begins experiencing success in his manufacturing business. This success causes him great guilt. LeTourneau goes to his pastor, saying, ‘Do you think I should sell my business and become a missionary in China or something like that?’ In response, the pastor says, ‘Bob, don’t you get it? Don’t you understand that God needs businessmen as much as he needs pastors and teachers and missionaries?’
This light-bulb moment for LeTourneau, who went on to become one of the great industrialists of the World War II era, also became the light-bulb moment for Steve. He realized for the first time that his dreams and desires for the business and manufacturing sector were not a cause for guilt, but a conviction from the Lord.
‘I think we’ve got generations of people growing up in the church who don’t really understand the importance of their work and how God designed every human being to not only work, but to desire to work; that his creative energy is going through us and it’s expressed in the work of our hands and our mind,’ says Steve. ‘God doesn’t just love the cabinet maker; he loves good cabinets too. He actually loves the work that we do. I’ve got over 300 employees here that go out every day and they just bust their rears to make something that’s beautiful. And God loves beauty.’
Tragically, so often the church and the workplace are viewed as separate entities. But Steve says that the relationship between the two is more like what happens in the span of a heartbeat: blood comes in to get energized with oxygen, then it goes out and does its work in the body. ‘In the same way, church is where we go to get recharged so that we can live out our faith from Monday through Saturday.’ It’s a heartbeat that pounds clearly through all that Steve does at Bellmont Cabinet Co.
Putting Work Shoes on Our Faith
‘This 200,000-square-foot facility with these 300 employees—this is my ministry. This is my church. This is where God sends me on a regular basis to be a conduit of his grace,’ says Steve. ‘We want everybody that touches Bellmont to see Christ reflected in the way we do our business.’
Every aspect of Bellmont’s manufacturing chain, beginning with the employees, is an outworking of Steve’s faith. There are on-site chaplains available to all, who make regular rounds to get to know people. On the shop floor, employees are free to laugh, listen to music, and enjoy each other’s company as they work—an intentional culture that aspires to manifest a God who brings joy to all of life.
Bellmont also has a family support fund for employees going through rough financial seasons. ‘We had one individual here recently, whose apartment caught on fire and he lost everything. He literally jumped out of a window with the shirt on his back,’ says Steve. ‘Bellmont was able to help him with clothing and furniture and first and last month’s rent and get him reestablished.’
Over the past twenty years, Steve has taken teams of employees on short trips to countries like El Salvador, Papua New Guinea, the Congo, and Latvia, where they use their skills to help with various pro bono construction projects. They’ve built orphanages and hospitals and translation centers, and have developed deep relationships with those they meet. Steve only requires a willingness to go and a servant attitude—his company pays for half, sometimes all, of the costs to go.
Some of his employees have come to know the Lord through these trips, as they see the love of Christ lived out in such a tangible, hands-on way. He recalls how two years ago, a team member was saved on a trip and was baptized right there in the Baltic Sea. ‘That was one of the highlights of my life,’ says Steve. Another teammate found Christ on a trip to Latvia, working at a youth camp. A couple years later, he came down with bone cancer and passed away; but he lived for Christ, all the way to the end—as a result of that little work trip to Latvia.
Steve knows that the way he runs his company isn’t the industry norm; but it feels normal to him. ‘I feel like this is how we’re supposed to live out our faith,’ he says. ‘We put shoes on our faith and we go to where the rubber meets the road. We’re involved in the lives of our people who pour their lives into this business, and we pour our lives back into them. It’s the way it’s supposed to be.’
Coming Full Circle with Billy Graham
Recently, Steve was selected to be a participant in the Lausanne Movement’s Global Workplace Forum (GWF) in June. He will be joining 750 participants like himself, who are impacting workplaces in 120 different countries, to collaboratively spark a worldwide movement of workplace ministry.
For Steve, his connection to the Lausanne Movement and GWF reaches back seventy years, to when his parents became lifelong friends of the late Billy Graham, founder of the Movement. Steve himself served in managerial positions with several of Billy’s crusades overseas, which lay the foundation and vision for his future workplace ministry with Bellmont and his construction trips abroad.
Now, in a time when Steve is transitioning out of his company to leave it in the hands of his two sons, he is in effect coming full circle. ‘The biggest impact that those trips [with Billy Graham] had on me was that I realized God is not limited to our Western evangelical box. He has a much bigger box and a much bigger plan and worldview than what we could ever imagine,’ he says. ‘I’m excited to see the bigger picture like that again at GWF.’
In the coming years, Steve looks forward to leading more teams on overseas construction projects, coaching young business leaders, and joining men and women around the world as they carry forward the Graham legacy to and through the workplaces of the world.
Pray with Us
By Steve Bell
Lord, please help us to grasp how important our work is to you and your kingdom on earth. You created us in your image. As a result, we have been given the ability to be creative. Help us to see that we are conduits of your common grace through the application of the skills and talents that you have given us. We pray that everything we do would be done for your glory and others would see you reflected through our work.
Sara Kyoungah White is the Communications Editor for the Lausanne Movement. She currently lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.