“In the early days of Christianity in America . . . if you lived in Massachusetts and you were a Congregational minister, you got a [state-supported] salary – but if you moved to Ohio, then that was suspect! And that gave [the Baptist and Wesleyan] traditions the opportunity to become very entrepreneurial, with the circuit-riding preachers and farmer-preachers.” – Chad Brand, author of “Flourishing Faith”
“Empowering the lay leadership in the church is something that really has been a key for Methodism, that maybe we need to rediscover in some ways.” – Patrick Eby, co-author of “How God Makes the World a Better Place”
“Pentecostals are natural entrepreneurs, with . . . an openness to spontaneously discovering opportunities for economic development.” – Charlie Self, author of “Flourishing Churches and Communities”
In the modern economy, economic flourishing depends on entrepreneurship. At the most obvious level, this applies to entrepreneurship that creates new businesses. But entrepreneurship is broader than that. The success of the economy depends on everyone – not just a few new-business creators– having an entrepreneurial mindset, or a spirit of entrepreneurship, in all of life. The entrepreneurial spirit seeks out new and unexpected opportunities to serve others, and embraces our dynamic and changing world with hope rather than fear. Not only is this kind of culture the only way to sustain virtuous and fruitful work in the general population, it’s also the only kind of culture that produces “entrepreneurs” in the classic, narrower sense: people who drive new business formation.
In his book “Entrepreneurs of Life,” Os Guinness argues that if we understand life from a Christian standpoint, we should encourage everyone to think of himself or herself as an entrepreneur in everything they do. The Christian faith teaches us to focus on making the world a better place, encourages diligent work, nurtures a spirit of learning and discovery, and reassures us that we can take risks and embrace a changing world without fear. Why? Because our ultimate hope is not in this world.
Historically, evangelical faith has been one of the most important wellsprings of the entrepreneurial spirit in American culture. During a recent panel discussion, authors Chad Brand, Patrick Eby, and Charlie Self were asked about the sources of entrepreneurial living in their respective traditions (Baptist, Wesleyan, and Pentecostal). In their answers, Brand emphasized that independence from state support is essential to entrepreneurship; evangelical churches have had the freedom to be entrepreneurial because they have stood apart from state establishment. Eby emphasized the empowerment of the laity – evangelicals have resisted rigid, patriarchal hierarchies. Self emphasized that a reliance on the Spirit helps evangelicals stay attuned to changing conditions and discover unexpected opportunities to serve others.
For more on evangelical faith and entrepreneurship, check out this speech given by Katherine Leary Alsdorf at the faculty retreat of the Oikonomia Network on Jan. 3. Alsdorf, a senior fellow at the Faith and Work Leadership Initiative of Redeemer City to City, and the founder and director emeritus of the Redeemer Center for Faith and Work, discusses entrepreneurship in theological terms and shares her experiences helping build local church programs that support entrepreneurs. You can also explore the new series of books on faith, work, and economics in diverse evangelical traditions, published by the Acton Institute.