Intentional Living and Giving: A Deep Dive with Larry O’Nan

“Stewardship principles didn’t come from the United States – they came out of the Middle East.” -Larry O’Nan

Tommy Thomas: Today we continue our dialogue with Larry O’Nan that we began last week. Before delving into that conversation, I’d like to share some reflections that have emerged after revisiting our episode a few times. As the one handling post-production duties for this podcast, I typically listen during the edit for technical nuances and formatting concerns, rather than immersing myself in the content.

However, I get a second chance to absorb the discussions when I tune in via my podcast app. This usually occurs on Saturday mornings during my long bicycle rides. Alongside other favorite podcasts like Alan Alda’s Clear and Vivid, previous Tennessee governor’s Phil Bredesen and Bill Haslam’s You Might Be Right, Tia Brown’s One Question Leadership Podcast, Far East Broadcasting Company’s weekly update and other enriching podcasts.

During one such ride last week as Larry recounted the early days of Fund Development with Cru, my mind traveled back to 1974 to those nascent beginnings. As a young 23-year-old joining the Crusade staff, my prior fundraising experience had been limited to helping a friend with a critical medical procedure. While this endeavor proved fruitful, it primarily relied on contributions from close acquaintances.

Under Larry’s guidance, alongside a small team of field reps, I unwittingly became a part of Campus Crusade’s foundational efforts in Fund Development. Back then, not only were we tasked with raising our own personal support, but we were instrumental in pioneering the organization’s approach to securing substantial funding for specific projects.

My tenure with Larry proved to be a master class in various aspects of life and fundraising. From time management strategies to maximizing air travel budgets. And even cultivating relationships with affluent donors predominantly in their senior years. Those lessons were invaluable.

Little did we know that we would be trailblazers in Campus Crusade’s fundraising efforts, contributing to the trajectory of Larry’s enduring career. Looking back, I’m deeply grateful for those formative years and the profound insights into both fundraising in life that Larry had parted to me. Let’s pick up where we left off last week.

[00:02:40] Tommy Thomas: Take me into your new book, Intentional Living and Giving. What was the genesis of that?

[00:02:48] Larry O’Nan: The genesis came back from this study when I was assigned the job of writing to come up with Stewardship Theology. I did another book in the mid 80s called Giving Yourself Away, and in many respects, this is a revision of that, although it’s a totally different package, but it was still basically all the same core theology.

And a few years ago, I was in Ireland for an event, And some people in Britain were saying there’s nothing that’s really distinctive that we know about this, simple to understand about what stewardship’s about, because there’s a lot of misconceptions out there. And there’s a lot of traditions that would get in their way.

[00:03:30] Larry O’Nan: In Great Britain, years ago there was a guy there that started orphanages. And he had about 300 kids in the orphanages in Bristol. And as he was working with these kids, he was a great marketer, but he was known for praying things in. So, he’d go into his closet and pray.

And then people decided that his style of raising funds was the way they would adapt. So, they would say we’re not going to ask for money. We’re going to go pray for it. What they don’t tell you is the story of how well he was at marketing where the kids were living. And everybody knew where he was located, and he was out all the time talking about the kids in need.

[00:04:13] Larry O’Nan: So, you’ll find that story. And there are some people who say we should never ask for anything. God is the one that provides. We’re not going to go that route. So, there’s a lot of skewed ideas of what this all means. The book itself, Intentional Living and Giving, is a recap of everything. So, the first nine chapters are the Theology of Stewardship, and then the latter nine chapters are how do you practically apply this in your life.

So, we unpack what God’s role for man was and what we do, how we respond, how we act, what we should be doing. And then the latter part is here’s some very practical things that will help you be successful. And out of the whole book, there’s one chapter because everybody expects a book on stewardship to be about money.

[00:05:01] Larry O’Nan:  I dedicated one chapter to talk about what money is and how it works and what tithing is and some of those things. But that’s one chapter out of 17 chapters. And I really say this is one thing you can give, but there’s a hundred other things you can give as well. What are you doing in stewardship?

Not what are you doing with your money? And so the book itself is, what I discovered, there’s people out there, Tommy, I remember a lady about a decade ago, she was probably in her 60s, maybe 65, and she had tears in her eyes. The context was she’d been married to a pastor, and they’d gone through a divorce, so that was a mess up.

[00:05:40] Larry O’Nan: They had been in ministry for years and years. She raised a family of a couple of kids. And her tears in her eyes was I never have figured out my purpose in life. Why did God put me here in the first place? And I thought for 65, you just missed some of the great joy because he was very clear giving you assignments and work.

You just didn’t know what day you were a steward. So, she really was fulfilling a stewardship, and everybody knew about it, but she was miserable because it wasn’t articulated to her that you are doing what God called you to do.  I think of that lady every once in a while, and I think, boy, if more people understood how they could be a steward and practically implement stewardship in their life, they could go from confusion and fear to thriving and abundant contentment.

[00:06:30] Larry O’Nan: And that’s what I’m really trying to help people get is I’m trying to help you free yourself up from the confusion and the fear that you probably are living with to wonder if you’re doing what God led you to do. Why am I here in the first place? What’s all about a life that says I’m thriving? I have an abundance.

Nothing about money there, just the abundance of life, and I can be content. So, the book is really unpacking that for the average Christian. I wrote it as much for the international side as I did the American side, but it’s a universal challenge that’s out there, and that’s why the book is you know, on its way out the door.

I’m just trying to help people get free so they can thrive. That’s what it’s all about.


[00:07:15] Tommy Thomas: Early in your career, and then you took a break from it, and I think now you’re back at it, but tell our listeners a little bit about your Andy Ant series.

[00:07:24] Larry O’Nan:  I’m a dad. I have two daughters. My oldest daughter was three years of age, and the other one was just coming along.

She’s about three years younger. One night, Carrie, I read her stories every night when I was home, and I would put her to bed after reading her a kid story. And one night she said, Daddy, I don’t want you to read me a story. And I did. I thought this is weird. She says, I want you to tell me a story.

[00:07:53] Larry O’Nan: And so I laid down her book that I was going to read to her, and I laid there in bed for a minute, and I said, once upon a time, there was an ant, because I was remembering the book of Proverbs, it said, watch the ant, learn of his ways, my definition is, though he’s tiny, he’s mighty in many ways, we can learn a lot from ants, how they store, how they work.

The diligence, the way they work together in cooperation. I’ve got a 300-page book on ants, believe it or not. I didn’t write it, but the guy did his doctoral thesis on ants. And I thought that’s an interesting one. But anyway, I started telling my daughter stories and they were really just stories about her and the life she lived about this little character.

[00:08:34] Larry O’Nan: And I named him Andy. And she liked Andy Ant. So many nights it would be tell me an Andy Ant story. Now, the Andy Ant stories that are out today, my brother is the author of all the books. We did collaborate on the concept, but he’s an attorney in Denver. And I said if you will work on the storylines the way you see him, I’ll try to work on the marketing and getting the stories out there and their books for three- to 10-year-old kids.

They are the day in the life of a little boy that I didn’t create. My brother is basically Joseph Tyler Johnson, the main character. But I, in my world of Andy Ant, it was what Carrie was doing outside and how the ants interrupted her life. And then Jessica came along, and the same thing happened. So, the environment there was learning from the ants and learning principles of daily living in a fun way without being religious.

[00:09:32] Larry O’Nan: I wasn’t trying to make him memorize verses at that time of day. What did I learn? Andy would play baseball because Carrie had a baseball bat and she played out in the backyard and tried to hit the ball. Andy started hitting the balls in the grass. So, it was crazy.

It made no sense. And if for 10 years, Andy existed between Jessica and Carrie and myself, the life came when my brother got involved and created it. We eventually got a former Disney artist who had worked for 21 years for Walt Disney personally, and he did all of the illustrations. So, if you see the Andy Ant work today, there’s eight books in the series.

[00:10:13] Larry O’Nan: It looks like what you would call Disney evergreen art because it was created by one of the Disney evergreen artists, and he did that. He spent two years of his life working with us on the entire series. He’s no longer living, but that’s the story of how we got the stories going. So that is out there for kids that really, there’s a stewardship element to it because I have trouble giving up on Andy because I’m a steward of Andy.

So, I got to take care of this crazy ant. Because that’s a responsibility that God gave me. But it’s incidental to the other story of really helping people thrive. I’m much more motivated to help you and other people that you might know or other adults. God’s really got a purpose. I want you to thrive and do all that God led you to do.

[00:11:07] Larry O’Nan: And if I’m doing that and you’re doing that, we’re going to get along fine. Life will be better for both of us. Yeah.


[00:11:13] Tommy Thomas: You mentioned you just returned from Spain. Are there cultural differences in the way a Latin population would see stewardship or an Eastern European population or does it transcend?

[00:11:29] Larry O’Nan: It transcends. I started working with the guy that created this environment that I was a part of. It was the guy that I’ve mentored for 40 years. And I started training him. He picked up on it. There’s another guy in Switzerland that has taken it even further. One of them got into helping missionaries raise their own personal support called Ministry Partner Development.

And this conference was centered around helping missionaries do that. Now, I probably met less than a half a dozen Americans there. Everybody else was European. There were 20 countries involved. I met four people from Ukraine. There were people from the Baltic states, across France, Spain, everywhere else.

[00:12:13] Larry O’Nan: Some of them were with organizations that you would recognize, but they were the European expression. So Young Life and Navigators and Operation Mobilization and Youth of the Mission were all there. So was Agape Europe, which is the Cru expression of Campus Crusade. But I’d say two thirds of the organizations, I couldn’t even figure out how to pronounce their names.

They were unique organizations to the culture. Some of them were humanitarian, camping, evangelism, church planting, church growth. And they were all equipped with how they could raise financial support as missionaries within their culture with nobody ever leaving their culture to raise the funding that they need because they’re raising money in Spain, in France, in Germany, in Switzerland, in the Netherlands, in Great Britain, in Ukraine, in Hungary, in Czechoslovakia, in Poland.

[00:13:10] Larry O’Nan: They’re racing the same kind of a thing that you and I would have done, in the seventies with Cru is being done over and over again. And it’s not a Cru thing. It’s their own unique thing. Everybody that was at that conference was volunteering their time to help others. It was not sponsored by an organization.

It was sponsored by a network. And they came together to help, and they keep on training people how to do it. And they’re helping the nationals be successful in it. Spain’s a unique country. Years ago, when I first went there, probably 40 years ago, I was told over and over again, you can never raise money in the country of Spain.

[00:13:53] Larry O’Nan: It’s impossible because we don’t have the money here. And this guy that was telling me that over and over was making sure that we weren’t going to mess up his plan. The Lord took him home. He’s probably been gone about five or six years. The generation that came after him learned about what we’re talking about in terms of fund development and just said we do not want to be dependent on money from outside of Europe.

[00:14:20] Larry O’Nan: We don’t want to be dependent on money outside of Spain. And so, this ministry is 100 percent funded now by Spanish funds, and comes in through the Spanish structure. They rarely get any money outside of Spain and rarely any from the United States. That doesn’t mean that we don’t encourage that when it’s available.

But it’s very unhealthy when an organization becomes codependent on somebody else just to make them work. And the entire European structure is trying to say we do not need funding from the West, i.e. the United States. I say if people want to be generous and help you, accept it. 

[00:15:01] Larry O’Nan: But to say that we cannot survive as an organization because we don’t have funding from the U.S. They think it is wrong and they need to be responsible. The principle is that every place in the world, God’s landed his people and he’s got money everywhere. And it’s all his. So, let’s go find it and let’s work with the partners that are there.

And if you look at any part of scripture, in fact, the principles that we teach on stewardship came out of the Middle East. They didn’t come out of America. These are all biblical principles that came out of a period of time of the Old and New Testament. So, it works as well there. It takes some time, and it takes, I find that sometimes leadership of their organizations is the number one liability to doing it right because they’re assigning somebody else to go raise it, but they don’t want to go through the pain or the refocus of their attention to do it right.

[00:15:58] Larry O’Nan: When I was over in Spain last week, I was saying, get you copies of Intentional Living and Giving, get the dialogue going with your leadership and your board. Because if they’re with you, you can thrive as an organization. If they’re not with you in this philosophy or theology you’re going to be having struggles all the time because they’re going to want money faster than the development process will get it to them.

Even there, and the book will work there, and it’s all in English right now, that’s the way the books start typically, if an English person writes it. But I would anticipate in the next two or three years, we’ll be in half a dozen languages that will be relevant to the mainstream. You can have about eight languages in the world and be into the marketplace, any place in the world.

[00:16:44] Larry O’Nan: Yeah, there’s 2000 languages, but those are heart languages. And the economy works in about eight languages. The world economy is there. That’s where we’re at. And these people, yes, the entire conference in Spain was English. But when they read scripture, they would read it in five languages because somebody in that room knew one of those five languages.

So, that’s what it was. And it was the generation Z and maybe millennials that were leading the conference. I never spoke once. I just spent a lot of time interacting with the participants there.  And I didn’t need to speak because they were doing a better job at doing that than I could ever have done.

And it is universal. It can work any place. Some of the largest funding for Christian enterprises currently happens in Asia, not in the United States.


[00:17:37] Tommy Thomas: Let’s try to bring this thing to a close. I want to ask you. I don’t know that I like the word lightning round because you might want to take longer to answer than a lightning round might incur, but so I’ll start with, if you could give a younger version of yourself, a piece of advice, what would it be?

[00:17:56] Larry O’Nan: Don’t be afraid to fail, work a plan or develop a plan and work the plan. Don’t give up.

[00:18:06] Tommy Thomas: If you could get a do over in life, what would it be?

[00:18:13] Larry O’Nan: If I could do a do over? I probably would have gained understanding of stewardship earlier. I totally tripped over it. I think my life would have been a lot more fulfilled if I’d just known it a couple of decades earlier.

[00:18:31] Tommy Thomas: How have you changed in the last five years?

[00:18:36] Larry O’Nan: You got to go backoalmost 10 years on my change.  My wife died 10 years ago, and about nine years into that, I said, Okay, I’m very much alive and well and healthy. And I said, instead of retiring, I’m going to reboot and keep on going. That’s been the radical changes to my fault. I take on more than I should. But if you have got a responsible bone in your body, you’ll probably do that.

And yeah, I think that people that quit on anything lose life. I see people retired, but I also see 40-year-olds that quit on a marriage or quit on their kids or quit on something else. I just think stick with it. That I was going to write a book some years back. I may still do something someday with it called The Curve.

[00:19:33] Larry O’Nan: Because the only time you really grow is when you’re in a crisis situation. And the book, The Curve, was about how you navigate the curves of life. And it’s in the curve when you think it’s the worst that you’re probably going to grow the most. So, embrace the curve and realize that what comes out of the backside of it is going to make you a better person.

[00:19:55] Tommy Thomas: What’s the best piece of advice anybody ever gave you?

[00:20:00] Larry O’Nan: You have the freedom to fail.  I don’t think I ever would have done what I did in my years that God gave me here so far if I did not embrace that and just go for it over and over again. I write it down every once in a while when I’m up against the wall. Larry, you have the freedom to fail. Go try it.

[00:20:26] Tommy Thomas: It’s been a wonderful conversation, Larry.  Thank you. It’s good to catch up and we shouldn’t wait this long to do it again.

[00:20:34] Larry O’Nan: I should come out and someday we have to go out and see what’s in your part of the world together. I have fond memories of working with you, Tommy. Fond memories.

[00:20:42] Tommy Thomas: You’re welcome on the Gulf Coast anytime you can catch an airplane ride down this way.


[00:20:47] Tommy Thomas: Thank you for joining us today. If you are a first-time listener, I hope you will subscribe and become a regular. You can find links to all the episodes at our website:

If there are topics you’d like for me to explore, my email address is [email protected].  Word of mouth has been identified as the most valuable form of marketing. Surveys tell us that consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all other forms of advertising.

If you’ve heard something today that’s worth passing on, please share it with others. You’re already helping me make something special for the next generation of nonprofit leaders. I’ll be back next week with a new episode. Until then, stay the course on our journey to help make the nonprofit sector more effective and sustainable.

“Advice I would give a younger version of myself – Don’t be afraid to fail. Develop a plan and work the plan.  Don’t give up.” -Larry O’Nan


Links and Resources

JobfitMatters Website

Next Gen Nonprofit Leadership with Tommy Thomas

The Perfect Search – What every board needs to know about hiring their next CEO

Larry O’Nan’s Website 

Larry O’Nan’s Email: [email protected]

Intentional Living and Giving: Discovering Purpose, Igniting Abundance, and Thriving as a Steward of God’s Blessing by Larry O’Nan

The Adventures of Andy Ant: Lawn Mower On The Loose (MJ Kids; Adventure of Andy Ant) by Gerald O’Nan


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