Long time popular TV shows such as Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice have put entrepreneurs in the limelight generating an alluring public fascination for a class of people who are really not at all like the popular image. Entrepreneurs don’t run around barking ‘you’re fired’ at employees or are ruthless wheeler dealers motivated only by return on investment.
On the one hand entrepreneurs are ordinary people like everybody else and on the other quite extraordinary in that they are putting their business idea, finance and personal dreams on the line. They take a risk when there’s no guarantee of a reward.
They are instinctively ‘people of faith’. They work to gain a prize that is unseen and their journey is more often as perilous as a far off mission to an unknown continent.
How dare I make such a comparison you may ask? I’ve been lucky to have personally worked with hundreds of business owners on a business growth programme, helping them reach their goals, make difficult and often emotionally fraught decisions for the sake of the business and have encouraged many to keep going with their goals.
A few of them have been Christian and I’ve learnt a lot about how these people really put their faith into action, every day.
In fact Christians in business make a massive difference to the workplace as well as be in a unique position to disrupt the market, provide us better options to what we consume while putting a Biblical ethic at the heart of everything they do.
Given that the primary driver for prosperity, employment, opportunity and (dare I say) tax revenue is generated by businesses acting in the marketplace, isn’t it time we at least acknowledged the really important role Christian entrepreneurs have and are doing in the world?
Yet why is being an entrepreneur seldom talked about as a truly Christian vocation?
I believe the problem lies in an unspoken suspicion of acquiring money and mammon. God and money are viewed as polar opposites.
What a mistake. I want to blow apart some myths and get people to think positively about the role Christian entrepreneurs play in the world.
Myth 1 It’s only about the money
Jessie J singing it ‘ain’t about the cha-ching cha-ching’ couldn’t be truer for many entrepreneurs. Making money is not the primary reason for going into business. Of course generating revenue and a profit is an expected result (not unlike my receiving a salary every month for doing my work) but I’ve yet to meet an entrepreneur do what they do for the sole purpose of getting wealthy. But ironically I’ve met an awful lot of people in salaried jobs who hate what they do but do it just for the money!
Those few entrepreneurs who are singularly money focused soon burnout and the business fails. Why? The reason is passion. Entrepreneurs start businesses because they can see that something could be done better or different or that they have something they can give to the world, such as an invention or an amazing new service to make our lives easier or better. It’s why they get out of bed (often very early) and go to bed, (often very late). Yes there may be financial rewards for doing it (which are never guaranteed) and many business owners put aside short term reward for a longer investment in getting established in the market. But always it’s the passion for what they’re doing that keeps them motivated when times get tough.
Myth 2 The winner takes it all
What nonsense. Yes being in business is competitive and Christians may see this as being unhealthy but I know many entrepreneurs who remain friends with their competitors and in fact learn from each other. Surviving the competition is one thing but it’s more than possible to thrive in it too, not to outdo others but to work out your own positioning and offer to your own customers (and keep them too). There’s space for everyone, especially if you’re small because you can nip at the heels of Goliaths in your sector who may not be serving their customers as well as they should be!
Myth 3 Business is bad for society
Capitalism is evil, right? It exploits people, drives down living standards, provides an illusion of choice and promotes the idolatry of materialism.
This is at best a simplistic view of how business operates in the world yet could this be true for some companies? Of course but is this true of all companies? No, not at all. In fact by focusing on the bad we neglect some pretty important truths. According to a recent UK government report 99% of businesses in the UK are defined as small, employing 0-249 people. Of those small businesses, 96% are micro, employing 0-9 people. Nationally micro-business account for 32% of employment. (House of Commons Library Briefing paper 06152, 23/11/16).
For many people business is small and personal not big, bad and anonymous. And yes some owners are Christians serving and leading their employees doing good things along the way.
Myth 4 Business practice encourages conformity
There’s some who are of the opinion that business is always ‘business as usual’ , that very little changes in society even if some people are able to work for themselves. The ‘system’ just perpetuates itself. To accept this would mean rejecting a whole lot of innovation going on in how business is done and run. For example social enterprises are becoming a more established way of running a business. They trade to tackle particular social problems selling goods and services but profits are reinvested back into the business or local community. Many social enterprises make a point of employing people from disadvantaged backgrounds to help them get a chance, learn skills and gain an employment history.
What’s interesting is that many charities now have a social enterprise wing to help them generate revenue while many are stand alone businesses in their own right. Christians are right amongst it running many of these new and emerging organisations.
Myth 5 Business is not really a serious kingdom building activity
Put simply the kingdom of God is where God rules, where his ways and the example of Jesus is lived out. It could be anywhere, anyplace and this certainly includes commercial life. Given that the world’s economy is so interlinked and the marketplace determines so much of our work and leisure, having active Christian entrepreneurs serving God must be a necessity.
Being an entrepreneur is a kingdom building activity because people’s worth, God given gifts, relationships (personal and trading) can link people together for a common good and mutual benefit. When much of our economic relationships are broken or open to misuse, the call for Christians to lead by example to demonstrate a different way of doing business couldn’t be greater.
The church needs to openly minister to those who have this unique vocation, they need our prayers and support because it is a tough and lonely place to be for much of the time.
The church can also learn a lot from how Christian entrepreneurs and business owners manage their time and resources as well as employees. The hard earned practical wisdom of an entrepreneur who has experienced many of the difficulties of growing a business can provide invaluable life lessons.
And we can certainly learn from the entrepreneur’s faith, their vision to act on something unseen from little more than a vision or a dream.
A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. Proverbs 10:4.
May the ‘riches’ Christian entrepreneurs bring to society continue to inspire and give glory to God.
© Not Only Sundays, December 2016.
Scripture quoted from the NRSV translation.