If you found yourself on the verge of success and financial freedom with your long-term goals, could you walk away from your accomplishments to obey God’s calling?
Over a year ago, Andrew Cornell did just that.
In 2006, his senior year in college, Cornell intensely focused his efforts to secure his dream job of owning and operating a Chick-fil-A franchise. By 2007, Cornell was selected to run the Treasure Coast Mall store–quite an accomplishment for someone so young. But his motivation didn’t stop there. Passionate about attaining that next goal, he envisioned owning a freestanding (or street store) Chick-fil-A, a move that typically yields higher returns.
In the midst of this pursuit, Cornell experienced the paradox of continued business success with an internal spiritual struggle of God nudging him towards Life .
The Good News caught up with Cornell and inquired how he surrendered to God’s call and became the career and mentoring manager at Urban Youth Impact (UYI) in West Palm Beach.
When did you hear God calling you away from Chick-fil-A?
In February of 2010, while listening to Pastor Bill Hybels’ talk about God directing his life, I had a brief conviction that I should stop pursuing my dream of a freestanding Chick-fil-A store. I quickly dismissed the random thought. I remember saying to God silently, “If that was you, bring it up some other time. But, I’m not entertaining it right now.”
I completely forgot about it. Three months later, I had another experience where God, without a doubt, pointed out to me that I had ignored His calling and I needed to walk away from my plans. I mentioned these two instances to my wife, Lyndsey, the next night. We began praying and knew we would be leaving Chick-fil-A. We just didn’t know what direction God would take us. I told Chick-fil-A in August of 2010 that I would not pursue another location and that I actually did not think I’d be an Operator for more than a year, even though we didn’t know what was on the horizon. I terminated my contract on April 30th of this year.
How did you first learn about Urban Youth Impact?
When I was 15, I took part in a few church outreach programs where I served at UYI community events. Years later, I partnered with Chris Tress (former UYI staff member and current pastor of Bow Down Church, which meets at UYI’s Dream Center) to start an adopt-a-block outreach program.
After attending Bow Down Church for a while, there was a lot of discussion to get a mentoring effort started as a collaboration of UYI, Bow Down and area churches. It was a significant portion of Pastor Chris’ vision for transformation in the inner city. I was discussing this with Pastor Chris and Bill Hobbs, founder of UYI, and Mr. Hobbs brought me on to serve that process as well as a couple of other projects.
What did you learn when working at Chick-fil-A that you’ll bring to the students?
I learned an immense amount throughout my time with Chick-fil-A, often from mistakes. As a young Owner/Operator, you have to learn quickly. First, youth are far more capable of responsibility than most adults believe (maybe not in word, but in practice). If you give clear direction, a list of obligations and coach them (not handholding and micro-managing, but true coaching), they accomplish great things. We just have to get out of their way.
Second, true leadership is serving and it is the only way to lead today’s young people. It is said all the time and then not carried out. The command and control way of leading is dead. You want a sure way to make young people check out? Keep them out of the process. Instead, ask questions, don’t give commands. Get them involved in the process rather than telling them the process.
Don’t be the genius with a bunch of followers. When employees or students ask a question, reply with another question to help them think through the answer. This takes more time but when they are served in this way, young people can demonstrate more growth, creativity and productivity than you could ever imagine. Basically, you risk a little to cause a tremendous amount of growth.
Lastly, dream big (which, as it happens, is a key tenet at UYI!) from a personal level to a broad level. Youth want to grow to their potential individually. Help them. They also desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves – to influence others. Again, help them. They will work their tails off if you help them with those two things.
Who inspires you the most?
My wife, Lyndsey. She sat across the table from me as I told her God was asking me not to pursue my dream goals with Chick-fil-A. We had a 3-month-old, Kate. At that time, Lyndsey was able to stay home. I was completely my own boss, making good money and heading towards making incredible money. I set my own schedule as a business partner with a phenomenal company. Life was good.
Yet, as I expressed what God was doing in my heart, Lyndsey didn’t flinch. She trusted me and God and we began dreaming about what God might have in store for us. She’s been supportive the entire way through.
This has been a long journey of hard decisions and uncertainty. Never once has she looked back – not when I told Chick-fil-A I was terminating my contract without a job on the horizon. I did, however, turn down a job offer at a church just seven weeks from being without any income. She’s supported me unbelievably as I have led our family through a crazy time. She’s awesome.
What makes you most excited about working at UYI?
I look forward to learning more about the inner city. My involvement at a greater level is exciting. Children and youth in much of the inner city are in tough situations – broken homes, poor education, few resources and few voices to change it. I look forward to seeing God glorified as He moves among what society would say are the least of these. Inner cities can often be an afterthought, and it was for much of my life. But, the inner city is one of the main areas of society where churches can love beyond what makes us different. The culture is different, which can be uncomfortable. But it is close enough that we should not be completely separate, much like the Jews and Samaritans of the early Church.
In Acts 1, Samaria wasn’t an afterthought of less importance. “Being witnesses there” inherently means rearranging significant time, talent and treasure around “there” – a place close enough that it was uncomfortable. The cultures “knew” each other, but they didn’t engage each other. The gospel trumps comfort in all people. When that love transcends the boundaries of what is comfortable and normal, the watching world knows that the love of God can actually be real. I praise God for what He is stirring among churches for the least of these right here in their own backyard. I am excited to see what happens as it goes to another level – as it has more long term, more uncomfortable, more inconvenient, more consistent action.
To contact Andrew Cornell, visit: andrewgcornell.com. For more information about Urban Youth Impact, an organization dedicated to loving, equipping and empowering inner-city youth and families in West Palm Beach to fulfill their God-given purpose, call 561-832-9220, or visit: www.urbanyouthimpact.com.