The Voice: Summer 2002

The Voice

John Van Groningen: teacher, painter, musician, servant

By Sonya Jongsma Kauss

John and Patti Van GroningenA summer painting job that helped him make ends meet as a Christian school teacher has turned into a growing business for John Van Groningen (’76). Van Groningen, who majored in vocal music and philosophy while at Dordt, says it took him a while to come to grips with the fact that the plan he had for his life was not necessarily God’s plan.

“I had six really good years of teaching, but I came to the conviction that I would not be able to sustain it for forty years,” he says. “Some parts of it weren’t as suited to my gifts as I had thought.”

Van Groningen continues to use his musical skills as a church choir director. But now he also runs his own painting and decorating business, which he says fits his gifts well, allowing him to be involved in “lots of little things rather than being stuck in one place.” While he enjoys the variety and the challenges of his current work, he never expected to end up in the painting business.

“I took some friendly abuse from fellow contractors for having a master’s degree and being ‘just a painter,’ but I found that I really enjoyed both the painting and the business side of things,” he says.

His business, Jondec Finely Tuned Decorating, specializes in painting, decorating, and faux finishing and has anywhere from six to ten employees, depending on the season and work load.

Van Groningen’s seemingly unusual carreer-switch illustrates his belief in the Reformed idea that all work can be done to God’s glory. From teacher, to painter, to businessman, using his gifts to glorify God has been his goal.

“In the business world...there can be a temptation to cut corners or be involved in unethical business practices,” he says. He tries to run his business in a way that is honest, ethical, and God-glorifying, rather than trying to make as much money as he can by cutting corners. Customers notice the difference.

“The main thing you hear is: I’m just looking for someone responsible, reliable, honest. You can really set yourself apart with those values.”

Van Groningen also makes conscious decisions to mirror Godly principles in the way he runs the company. He gives his employees good hours and pays a fair wage, ranging from $15 per hour for just-hired apprentices to $27 per hour for a full-fledged union-level painter.

“My problem has been that I’m probably too naïve and give people too many chances,” he says, admitting that it’s not always easy to find good, reliable employees. But he believes that as an employer he needs to be open to hiring anyone who could possibly become the kind of honest, responsible worker he’s looking for.

After graduating from Dordt, John received his master’s degree in church music at the University of Potchefstroom for Christian Higher Education. His wife, Patti, supported them by working in the university library.

They returned to the U.S., where John looked for a church position in music, and not finding any, decided to finish his education degree at Trinity Christian College. He taught at Chicago Christian High for several years, working as a painter in the summer. Eventually he decided to leave his teaching position and look for other employment. He painted as he looked for work, and eventually decided to start his own painting business.

He appreciates the opportunities his business gives him to serve in other areas.

“One of our prayers was always that the business would provide me an opportunity to become involved in church music should that be available,” he said.

And in 1993 it did. He was offered a temporary position at Calvary Christian Reformed Church in Orland Park, Illinois, a large church with about 1300 members. The position turned into a permanent one, and his wife, Patti, was brought on board to be the church’s music coordinator. They serve as worship leaders and direct the church’s various musical groups.

Because he now spends more time managing the business and is less involved with actual painting and installation, he is able to spend part of two or three days a week at church, planning music and working with his wife. He says without her help and support he wouldn’t have been able to make a “go” of the business or his other activities. They enjoy being able to work together at the church.

John and Patti try to help those they work with understand what it means to be a servant.

“The challenge is to keep everyone on an even keel,” Patti says. “Musicians can be very temperamental…they have the tendency to use their gifts to their own glory. Part of my job is to remind them what we’re really here for: to give God the glory.”