Joshua Ungerecht (‘05) is currently either CEO or managing director of five real estate investment companies that steward approximately $1bn in assets under management. He began 11 years ago as an unpaid intern; now 33, he has mastered his craft, though he shies away from the word “mastery” because he knows he will never arrive.
Joshua is and always has been driven. At five years old he remembers becoming angry and tearing up his writing exercises when he made a mistake. At 18 he attended The Master’s University, where he triple-majored in theology, apologetics and missions, and graduated in three years.
He had a dream of serving God on the mission field, but he didn’t want to just become a missionary; he wanted to do the hardest missions work he could find—and die in the process. “It wasn’t that I wanted to die young because I wanted to be like Jim Elliot; I wanted to die young because I was exhausted. I was exhausted from trying to earn God’s favor,” he said.
Several professors saw how hard he was pushing himself and the negative impact his ambition seemed to be having. Drs. Tom Halstead, Greg Behle, Will Varner and Brian Morley—all Bible Department faculty—took him to lunch and showed him what they were seeing. They felt that he was headed to the mission field prematurely and that the Philosophy of Religion and Ethics program at Talbot School of Theology would better fit his gifting towards analytics and critical thinking. Joshua said it was not just an intervention of career but of the heart. Through this meeting and a year under the mentorship of Dr. Tatlock, Joshua began to realize God’s grace was his to have, unmerited, and that lifted the burden of legalism from his shoulders. He realized his motive for ministry was skewed, and that lifted the burden of seeing foreign missions as the only viable option for him.
Joshua graduated TMU in 2005 and he attended Talbot directly thereafter. He came within one semester of completing his M.A. in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics but never finished. Instead, as he became engaged to marry Katherine, he realized that he would need to figure out a way to provide financially. God used that healthy pressure as a catalyst to change Joshua’s course once again, to place him exactly where He wanted him, and ironically, it was the exact opposite of where Joshua had ever dreamed he would go.
In the summer of 2006, approximately 7 months before getting married, Joshua started working as an unpaid due-diligence intern at JRW Investments, a firm specializing in real estate investments. After a few weeks on the job, God opened up an incredible opportunity. The prior due diligence officer quit to pursue another career and Joshua got the job! He was spending 80-90 hours a week studying for his profession and owning his responsibilities, having discovered a passion for macroeconomics — he had found his calling.
In 2008 the Great Recession began and investment firms took a serious hit, including JRW. Joshua stepped up to the plate and asked the partners to appoint him CEO and make him an equal partner. In return he would do everything in his power to keep the company from going under. He became CEO of JRW Investments in the fourth quarter of 2009, near the absolute trough of the recession. Since then, and entirely by God’s grace and provision through lots of mistakes and on-the-job learning, he has led five companies, including JRW, to accomplish goals that most in his profession only dream of accomplishing.
Joshua’s biggest realization as a businessman was the idea that Christians are called to utilize business as ministry, that there is no divide between the sacred and the secular, no distance between Athens and Jerusalem. He believes this idea can change the world for the sake of the gospel and the glory of Christ. A Christian businessman is not defined by Christian fish icons on his business cards, Christian quotes adorning his office or his efforts to evangelize everyone who stops by his desk. It doesn’t even mean that he simply uses the profits from the business to fund Kingdom ministries.
It means that he actively loves the people God has given him to steward at work and does his job with excellence and integrity, completing every task and stewarding every resource for the king of the universe.
He doesn’t settle for average; he pursues ideals, even if many others in the industry do not. And of course, when given the opportunity, he speaks about the King. In that world, the faith of Jesus Christ is proclaimed not only through the “how” (words and actions) but also in the “why” (motives and inner commitments). “Business is one ministry where you get the opportunity to love and serve people who are not actively seeking Christ,” Ungerecht explained. “My employees and clients are a stewardship and gift from God and, while God may not always provide profitability for me in business, He always calls me to love the people He has provided… I’m dealing with people’s net worth, and a lot of these people don’t know Christ, so this is the most important thing to them. And they’re entrusting their money to me, a large amount of it. How amazing of an opportunity do I have for the sake of the gospel if I do a ridiculously excellent job on their behalf for the sake of Christ.”
As Ungerecht sees it, the heart of business as ministry has three components. First, Christians in business are called to love the people God has entrusted to them (employees, partners, clients). Second, they are all called to be on a mission for God; therefore, their primary calling is to be ambassadors of the King, regardless of their ministry (church, parachurch, family, or business). Third, they are all given work to do on this earth that serves others around them and gives them opportunity to be the hands and feet of God. When that service pays an earthly dividend, as it often does in the world of finance, they should give it back to the King.
“People in business should be making as much money as they possibly can, as excellently as possible—they just don’t have to keep it,” Ungerecht said. A Christian businessman or woman must give their business to God, to serve Him in the common grace of work, but they must also give the fruits of their business to doing God’s work. “At the end of the day, this world is corrupt. It’s not like we’re going to fix poverty, but that is not an excuse for us not to, in the name of Christ, leverage all of our resources and stewardship. I mean, everything He gives us is ultimately from Him—it’s all His anyway. So we have this opportunity to utilize it for His glory, and for whatever reason out of His grace, He accrues that to our eternal benefit.”
Anybody in the financial services industry can see Ungerecht’s excellence, from his rise to CEO in a dark time to his stellar performance in the real estate market, and his persistent commitment to his ideals is inspiring. He attributes that excellence to God, but he also gives credit to his alma mater and seeks its continued growth and development.
“I love the professors of TMU. They shaped me and my wife’s life significantly,” he said. “They love the Lord and they love the students. Katherine and I want to leverage the resources that God has given us to help TMU develop a more robust alumni association that will enhance the encouragement, equipping, and placement of students in the marketplace in a way that will maximize our collective stewardship in Christ.”
**Ungerecht concluded with a challenge: **“What has God gifted you with and how can you leverage that to maximize your impact on the world until God calls you home? That is how you’ll find your joy.”
Perhaps that is the question Dr. Tatlock asked Ungerecht over a decade ago.