There are many reasons to become an entrepreneur . You may be trying to implement a good idea inside your organization, but the status quo keeps shutting it down. You may see a need that isn't being met and decide to do something about it. You have access to a lot of capital and want to steward it well. Or you can't get a job! Right now colleges and business schools are scrambling to add classes in entrepreneurship to prepare their graduates for a tight job market.
At Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City we invest in entrepreneurs because we want to empower individuals in our congregation to create new companies, institutions, and ministries that bring the justice and love of the gospel to the city. Our investment is more than start-up capital; people in the congregation have rallied around our entrepreneurs to test new products; give legal, marketing and strategic advice; and provide spiritual mentorship. At the risk of being kitsch-y, we call this "gospel entrepreneurship."
Gospel + Entrepreneurship + City Serving and Culture Renewing = Gospel Entrepreneurship
How, with God's power, does the gospel change things? Can we imagine a movement of the gospel in New York City, or any city, that increases the shalom—the peace and prosperity—of the city? That's what God called the Israelites to do as exiles in Babylon (Jeremiah 29: 4-7); that's what God invites us to do as resident aliens in a culture that does not know or honor him. The power of the gospel is in how it changes our hearts and enables us to serve others at a cost to ourselves.
Tim Keller describes this power well in Every Good Endeavor:
In some ways our contemporary culture operates like the Ring of Power (ref: Lord of the Rings), magnifying the self-serving nature of sin in every human heart. It tells us in myriad ways every day that nobody has the right to tell us what is right or wrong for us—that in the end there is no standard or authority higher than the Choosing Self. Our consciousness and our needs are more real than anything else outside us; there is nothing to which we should submit, nothing that may trump our own happiness without our permission; and there is nothing for which we should sacrifice our freedom. But in the Bible, the very definition of passion—think Christ's Passion—is to sacrifice your freedom for someone else.
The gospel changes us because the hope we have in God, the work of Christ on the cross, and the coming restoration of all things enables us to sacrifice for the sake of others. The gospel becomes our motivation, our vision, and our power to seek the welfare of the city.
What Difference Does the Gospel Make?
What, then, is distinctive about entrepreneurship when the gospel is at the center? Certainly Christians are not the only people who serve society in selfless and wonderful ways. Thank goodness! Otherwise our world would be in much worse shape. God, through his common grace, has held this fallen world together through the work of Christians and non-Christians alike. Nonetheless, a deeper grasp of the gospel makes a difference in our own hearts and minds and work.
The truth and love of the gospel changes our entrepreneurship in as many different ways as there are entrepreneurs, according to God's infinite creativity. At Redeemer we talk about the gospel influencing a new venture in four areas:
- Products and Services—how they foster innovation and contribute to society and human flourishing.
- Organizational Culture—how the values and practices of the venture contribute to teamwork and trust, justice and integrity, service and humility, joy and excellence.
- Operations—how the leadership, strategy, systems, structure, and activity of the venture best steward its mission and resources.
- Broad Stakeholder Perspective—how the interests of investors, customers, employees, suppliers, the industry, and community align for the common good.
We seek to help people in our congregations start new for-profit businesses, schools, art galleries, and theater companies, legal aid clinics and law firms, ministries to help the poor and non-profits to serve the marginalized in our cities because of the biblical mandate to cultivate and steward the creation that God has given us (Genesis 1-2). With God's grace, the body of Christ at work in the world will draw others to a knowledge of Christ and contribute to the welfare of all people.
After seven years of encouraging and discipling entrepreneurs, through the Entrepreneurship Initiative (Ei), we have helped launch more than 30 new ventures. While these barely scratch the surface in addressing the needs of our city, they are signs of hope and God's work. Some are struggling to become sustainable, and others are growing in reach and impact. All have been challenged to think more deeply about their faith and how it motivates and shapes every decision and activity.
Perhaps most significantly, gospel entrepreneurship has expanded our vision for what is possible through the body of Christ. It helps the congregation look outward at the needs of the city and the brokenness of society, rather than become absorbed in meeting our own needs. It has drawn together a community of stakeholders—investors, mentors, experienced entrepreneurs, marketers, lawyers and others—to support the launch and growth of new, worthy ventures. It's the small beginning of a gospel-centered ecosystem—of churches, institutions, arts, service organizations, businesses, and ministries—that can bring the hope and love of Christ to a broken culture.
This year the ecosystem is expanding. Other churches have joined our annual Ei Forum (April 5 and 6) to learn how to encourage entrepreneurs in their community. In partnership, Marketplace One and the Ei will present the first national Gospel Centered Venture Award this April to established entrepreneurs whose companies are good examples of gospel entrepreneurship. The purpose of the GCVAs are to identify inspiring role models and build a nationwide network of entrepreneurs and investors who serve the world we live in well.
The Gospel Changes Everything
As the people of the church are changed by the power of the gospel, it affects everything. Hearts are changed, relationships are changed, and the way we relate to the world changes.
Today, one of the hallmarks of a gospel-centered church is the way it influences people to live and work out their faith in the world. The gospel turns our creative energies towards seeking the peace and prosperity of the work places, institutions, and cultures of our city.
To join our New York City gathering of investors and entrepreneurs committed to building a movement of innovative, gospel-centered, culture-renewing ventures and institutions, register here and use discount code TGCei to receive $30 off the current rate.
If you know entrepreneurs who exhibit a gospel-centered approach please nominate them for the 2014 Gospel Centered Venture Awards.