Monthly Archives: June 2013

From the Publisher’s Desk (Volume 2, No. 2 – June, 2013)

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Dear Readers –

This third issue Exchange has been delayed for two months but I like to think the disruptions to my schedule and reasons for putting it off have been worthwhile. Since publishing last time, I have attended three significant events.

The first was the Global Business-as-Mission (BAM) Congress in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It capped the culmination of the initial research phase of the virtual BAM Think Tank. You can learn much more at http://bamthinktank.org/, and / or read my initial reflections on the event in my blog post – “Sawasdee-cup from a Chiang Mai Global BAM Congress Delegate” (available here). As I suspected, a great deal that is to come from the Global Congress will take years to unfold. The final reports from all sixteen issue groups, which presented their preliminary findings at the Congress, will be vetted for release in the Fall of this year.

The second event was a half-day presentation of Mission Nexus (http://www.missionexus.org/). Missio Nexus came to Atlanta as part of their Seven-City Connection Tour to help build relationships with mission folk in Philadelphia, Chicago, Orlando, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Colorado Springs, Dallas, and surrounding areas. Steve Moore, Missio Nexus President, brought a report from the Executive Summary of their recent Missio Nexus 2013 CEO Survey: Navigating Global Currents, which surveyed more than 180 mission agency leaders and their views on today’s toughest challenges and ripest opportunities. The Executive Summary can be purchased from the Missio Nexus web site for just $9.95 (a bargain!). The event also featured a talk by Paul Borthwick, author of Western Christians in Global Mission: What’s the Role of the North American Church? This should be read in (or to) every local church in the United States. Mission practice is changing and Missio Nexus and Paul Borthwick are at the forefront of the conversation on where it is going and how we are to get there.

The third event was the Marketplace Revolution ’13 U.S. National Gathering hosted by Launch Chattanooga (http://www.launchchattanooga.org/) and emceed by Rudy Carrasco, Partners Worldwide U.S. Regional Facilitator (http://www.partnersworldwide.org). There is a three-part series of short articles in this issue of Exchange concerning that event, one of the business owners who went through the Launch Entrepreneur Training Program and recently celebrated the Grand opening of All Dogs and More, and finally, an exploration of how Scott Soltau, a Launch co-founder, found grace in his own business development even as he was extending grace to the at-risk community in Chattanooga.

Given how much I learned at these three events, in addition to the incalculably valuable networking that occurred at all three, I have been focused a great deal the last two months on the topic of collaboration. The cooperative and collaborative spirit leading the accomplishments surrounding the three events above should be replicated at the local level between church congregations and at the national and international level between denominations and mission agencies. Quite frankly, we are failing the mission of God (missio Dei) in the world by the horribly inefficiencies of operating within and protecting our fiefdoms from “the competition.” It is exactly this attitude against which Christ prayed (John 17:22) and to which, perhaps to their great surprise, many local church leaders and denominational and missions leaders will be held to account. I have included an excerpt – “Competition versus Cooperation and Collaboration” –

from my book, Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission in this issue of Exchange as it pertains specifically to our understanding of the marketplace in Christian perspective  and to encourage godly leaders to lay down territorialism and fear in light of God’s abundant grace to fulfill every need.

As always, I encourage readers to respond to the articles in this issue of Exchange at the individual pages on the www.edensbridge.org web site. I also encourage readers with an interest in the integration of Christian faith and business practice to submit relevant articles, including book reviews.

Shalom,

Dave Doty

Eden’s Bridge

This journal is downloadable in its entirety in .pdf format and all articles are available individually for reading online at http://www.edensbridge.org for ease of sharing. 

Exchange: The Journal of Mission and Markets is a copyrighted publication of Eden’s Bridge, Inc. (a not-for-profit corporation) of 991 Lancelot Drive, Norcross, GA 30071. Exchange and Eden’s Bridge can be reached at davedoty@edensbridge.org. Portions or all of Exchange may be redistributed or reprinted within two restrictions: 1)materials repreinted in Exchnage by permission of the original authors may not be reprinted, 2) any materials reprinted in any printed or electronic publication or redistribution.  To learn more about Eden’s Bridge, please visit our blog at http://www.edensbridge.org. Tax deductible support for Eden’s Bridge or sponsorship for Exchange may be mailed to the Eden’s Bridge address above or contributed via the PayPal account of davedoty@edensbridge.org. Thank you for your support and please keep our ministry in prayer. Shalom, Dave Doty.

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Stay Thirsty, My Friends

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” – Matthew 5:6

I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” – John 15:15

I tap (pun intended) a popular beer commercial because the words of the Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign were, in effect, long ago uttered by Paul: But as for you, man of God, shun [the temptations of the world]; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.” – Timothy 6:11. But rather than the focus of the Most Interesting Man on seeking self-satisfaction, Paul calls Christ-followers to know God deeply and live life accordingly in service to the world, as worship to God.

It is reasonable to think that Jesus chose his words intentionally for the starkness of their meaning. In Matthew 5:6 he equates righteousness to fundamental physical needs of the human body. Beyond the lack of air, physical trauma, or certain poisons, few things are more threatening to human survival than dehydration. Not as immediate but of equal importance to survival is nutrition. If you have ever been in a situation without access to water or food for an extended period, you know firsthand how desperately the mind fixates and searches for those resources to stay alive. Knowing the aridity of the region and the imminent danger when droughts occurred would have painted a blunt mental picture for Jesus’ audience. Hunger and thirst were more urgent concerns than they typically are for most of us today.

In recent weeks, I have been blessed and simultaneously afflicted by a series of events and reflections. I attended the Global Business-as-Mission Congress in Chiang Mai, Thailand and met many workers trying to leverage the power of the global marketplace to alleviate the suffering of the poor (a foundational biblical mandate), especially as witness to the glory of God. I was invited to take part in a six-part young entrepreneurs series at Metro Merge in South Atlanta where attendees from the neighborhood create a business plan and vie for small grants to start their own businesses. I spent two days in Chattanooga, Tennessee to hear about the more than two dozen small businesses launched in just two years by graduates from Launch Chattanooga’s entrepreneurial training program. Finally, I spent a day visiting ministries, including the Refugeee Sewing Society and re:loom, who minister to refugees and the homeless in and around Clarkston, Georgia on Atlanta’s far east side.

I was blessed by the energy, zeal, and commitment of all those carrying out these ministries but I was afflicted by the contrast of the needs juxtaposed to the marginal awareness and response from the church at-large.

North Atlanta is a bustling place. Their are many impressive affluent communities, including Vinings and Marietta on the northwest corner off I-75, through Roswell, Dunwoody, Sandy Springs, Alpharetta, Johns Creek across the north, to Duluth and Cumming northeast up I-85. This area is also home to some of the largest churches in North America, some with multiple campuses and packing in tens of thousands of worshippers every Sunday morning.

A couple of years back, one of those churches raised an impressive sounding amount of money in a period of two weeks to give in support to various ministry and mission agencies locally, regionally, nationally, and around the world. I am sure the receiving ministries were very appreciative that this church had ramped up their giving over previous years and the money was put to great use. Many in the church were amazed at the big number and I am sure more than a few took pride in the accomplishment. At the same time, however, the total dollar amount only represented about $100.00 per weekly attendee, or roughly $300.00 per household where average annual household incomes are easily three, four, or five times the national poverty level. It is not unusual to see the parking lots of these churches on Sunday morning, resembling the bustle at major sporting or concert events, dotted with innumerable late-model luxury cars – Lexus, Mercedes, BMW, Cadillac, Porsche. A drive through the neighborhoods where many church attendees live reveals spacious homes that typically cost at least three times the national average.

The lack of giving is convicting. There are those who give and give generously. But the national average of church giving is less than three percent of gross income. One of the young men at the young entrepreneur’s program in South Atlanta is trying to get a $1,000.00 grant to start a small business. Many folk in North Atlanta will spend $1,000.00 for a golf or beach weekend, a new television, or set of tires . . . and it will have no significant impact on their lifestyle. For Kelvin, an inner city youth, $1,000 could prove to be a matter of lie and death.

Many in the church of the United States are also adamant about supporting the military. That institution obviously serves important, necessary purposes. But just for the sake of consideration: Abraham supported a “household” that could put 318 fighting men afield (Genesis 14:14). The U.S. military spends almost $7 billion annually to support about 2.7 million afield in all the combat, support, administrative, and strategic roles, or a little more than $250,000 per person. For Abraham, in today’s terms, that would be nearly $80 million dollars. His was no small household. Abraham was obviously an astute business practitioner to build the cash flow and amass the wealth necessary to support his household year in and year out.

We recognize Abraham as the father of faith for the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic religions, today representing well over half the world’s population. Why was Abraham chosen? Because he believed God. He acted in faith on the outrageous command of God to sacrifice his own son, Isaac. What was his promise from God to include? To be blessed to be a blessing to all nations.

Throughout the history of God’s people (for we see it actively believed among many of the religious elite throughout the Old Testament, in Jesus’ day, and in our own), many have believed that God’s blessing was a reward for their belief (which was counted unto Abraham as righteousness) or their living according to right doctrine. In other words, they believe that God is blessing them because he loves them . . . and he does. But the blessings ultimately are not ours (as all is gift from and still belongs to God) to keep or to lavish opulent lifestyle upon ourselves.

The Bible tells us over and over that creation glorifies God. Wealth is merely a component within creation: just one more aspect that points to the abundance, creativity, generosity, and, in effect, the character and nature of God. The use of wealth is supposed to reveal God’s glory all the more.

Israel was given the Mosaic Law to guide their religious and social life (which in their thinking would have been fully integrated). The result of living according to the law, which reveals a high correlation between righteousness and economic justice – as caring for the widow, the poor, the orphan, and the sojourner – was to result in witness to the nations surrounding Israel. You must observe [God’s laws] diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!’ For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?” – Deuteronomy 4:6-8.

The reflection that afflicts me most, in light of my recent exposures, is that the church, in many places today, does not appear to be a “wise and discerning people.” In fact, in too many places, especially in North America, we look (and live) just like the world around us. Please do not think I am only pointing an accusing finger. In this season, I am trying to discern how I can better leverage the resources I have to serve God’s purposes. But no matter how I serve, I hope I will remain afflicted knowing I can always do so much more.

My prayer is that we would be so bold as to trust God beyond our comfort levels and ask him to reveal his heart for those afflicted in the communities both near to and far from us; to reveal to us how we might invest ourselves and our resources in ministering to them. It takes no imagination to agree that the world is largely unjust and focused upon selfish evil.

Hunger and thirst are painful afflictions. Are you afflicted to see righteousness grow in the world? Are you ignorant of the suffering? Are you content to turn a blind eye to the poor, the starving, the prostitutes, the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the struggling single parents, the prisoners, the fatherless, the million of orphans and those enslaved by human trafficking?

Ours is a connected, global, communicative world. When we stand before God we will have no excuse of ignorance to plead our case for failing to stand up for the oppressed. The conditions around the world and in our own backyards should disturb us to the point of taking action such that righteousness would prevail, to the glory of God.

2 Corinthians 1:20 says that in Christ every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes.’ For this reason it is through him that we say the ‘Amen,’ to the glory of God.” God’s “Yes” is already given unto our salvation. But God’s promises extend to the redemption of all creation. We say, “Yes, Lord,” in intellectual and emotional assent to the revelation of God’s love for us. But our “Amen” is more than an assent. Amen means “so be it.” Yes, learning of the love of God extended for us in the sacrifice of Christ is the milk of the Gospel. This is what we learn when coming to first know Christ, that he is our Savior.

But Amen is our response to God’s call to action. Amen actualizes Christ’s Lordship in our lives. Amen does more than renew our minds, it transforms out behaviors. “So be it” is our response to put time, energy, and resources to work carrying Christ’s ministry to the world. The author of Hebrews writes: For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.” – Hebrews 5:12-14.

It is good to serve God, the church, and the world, to make the glory of God known by our good works (Matthew 5:16), and to baptize and teach others to carry out Jesus’ commands (Matthew 28:19-20). By contrast, it is evil to neglect ministering the heart of God to the lost and the suffering. The Gospel is a promise of action, by Christ and by our Amen.

Stay hungry. Stay thirsty. Stay afflicted in spirit. Act on behalf of Christ and the world.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:3.

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The Convergence of Life, Work, and Freedom

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” – Genesis 2:15.

It may seem to be splitting hairs but before Adam’s fall from God’s grace there was not a command that humankind was to work or take responsibility for the environment and its management. The reality was, rather, that work and stewardship were part of the spiritual and social DNA of being human. In our broken, sinful nature, we often seek ways to avoid work, or at least to minimize our efforts at securing the basic necessities of life. This is due to the exasperating nature of work after the Fall, when nature itself took on an adversarial attitude and work became toilsome. But God has a plan to change all that.

In the Garden, humankind worked easily as compared to the effort required once outside that place of blessed abundance. Why the difference? Because when we work in accord with God’s intention and ways, work is pleasurable. We have all likely experienced times when some effort we expended resulted in a job well done and left us with a strong sense of accomplishment and well being. Too often this only occurs when we have carried out a task outside the normal routines of our work life such as applying our energies to charitable acts or in the passionate pursuit of a hobby.

Whatever the field of our wage-earning career, sadly, it can too often be equated to the “cubicle life,” where we are assigned tasks and quotas and we feel isolated or unfulfilled or used or all three simultaneously. Forbes magazine reported last year that nearly two-thirds of worker survey respondents were not happy at work.[i] What a sad contrast to the joyfulness of life that we are promised in the Bible.

There are two main reasons we find ourselves in such a state of mind on the job. First, it is our attitude. We may very well have a sour outlook on life in general, thinking the world or God or someone or something else owes us a high degree of personal satisfaction. In other words, we are not abiding in the Spirit of Christ which produces joyfulness within no matter our circumstances. It seems there are times God deems it necessary for us to suffer such that by our suffering we learn of him and grow in spiritual maturity. Jesus pursued the highest career calling of all, to do all that his heavenly Father asked of him. But even he had to learn “obedience through what he suffered” – Hebrews 5:8. The lesson is to trust God and that appears difficult to learn when we are miserable. But James 1:2-4 clearly teaches it is in just such circumstances that God builds our faith: My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”

The second instance of our unhappiness requires a great deal of mature Christian discernment. While God will shape and transform us through the trials of daily life, including on the job, his promises should encourage us that when we find our particular calling, despite the continuance of struggles, we will also find a deep and satisfying compulsion to pursue it. All too often unfortunately we do not take the time to clear our heads in the din of daily life to hear God’s voice and find that place of peace and fulfillment, truly of shalom, vocationally. The Society of Human Resource Management reports that “87% of employees feel having the flexibility I need to manage my work and personal or family life” is of great import in deciding to take a new job.[ii]

Many people enjoy the nature of what they do but mitigating circumstances reduce their satisfaction including factors like their relationship with management, inadequate, or even seemingly inappropriate, pay, the physical work environment, co-worker relations, or having to work excessive hours. Many are also dissatisfied believing their work has little impact in the grand scheme of things. They crave making a difference. Some feel their gifts and talents are unrecognized or misaligned with the work at hand and that their potential is being lost in the daily shuffle. If this is a snapshot of your work life, buck up . . . there is good news!

One of the grand outcomes of globalization is an ever increasing movement toward complexity and vocational specialization. Career niches are the new norm where narrowing foci afford living wages as the efficiencies of divided labor continue relentlessly increasing productivity. Increasing productivity is actually wealth creation and that means cash flows work through a labyrinth of interconnected commerce that looks ever more like the fragmentation of the human cardiovascular system with the heart (the market), arteries, capillaries, and hair-thin veins.

There is significant potential in this complex commercial environment for workers to find a niche tailored to their individual gifts, talents, and interests. Many workers are now finding they can design and carve out their own vocational space through launching their own business. They not only can apply their particular expertise but they can more effectively realize fulfilling significance by managing their own career rather than having it managed for them. In other words, they change the world by changing their own lives first.

There are numerous legitimate keys to unlocking the door to vocational paradise. The first is how you define success. This is critical to vision casting. Without some idea of what you hope to achieve, pursuing anything is like taking a trip to an unnamed destination without a map. You have no idea where you are going or how you will get there. Studies have shown that when we are lost, we tend to wander in circles, accomplishing little more than expending energy and getting dehydrated![iii] Sometimes a single landmark or the simplest strategy will help keep us on track.

I learned a great example of this when I was about ten years old. We sometimes hear of people lost for days in forested wilderness. A state park ranger in Indiana told my brother and me the simplest way to find your way: always go downhill, then follow flowing water. Water nearly always eventually crosses a roadway which will lead back to civilization. The worst case scenario is that it leads to a coast line . . . which will either lead back to civilization or to more water flowing downhill. A simple strategy to solve a serious problem.

Defining success may seem elusive. How much do I want to make? How many customers do I want or need? Are those numbers big enough or will they satisfy me in the long run? Business strategic coaches will advise that when planning a business or project, always be specific in drafting your goals. Too often, however, they want to focus on quantitative goals. Those obviously have their place but I think they undermine potential (what if you could achieve so much more than that particular goal but just don’t know it yet?) and satisfaction.

Life is mysterious. There is a great deal we do not nor ever will understand. Get comfortable with ambiguity. To enhance your comfort level, adopt qualitative goals. Reason is a great tool but it does not feed the heart. We need heart and intellect to be more balanced than the pragmatism the world preaches. For me, defining success is a vague notion but one still measurable . . . not quantitatively but definitely qualitative.

Have you ever walked away from an activity thinking “man, that’s living”? Or found yourself with a warming glow inside in the middle of a particular kind of meeting or job task? Those are the moments to cling to, to dissect, to analyze. Those are the moments that help define your passion.

For me, the advice of a high school friend’s father many years ago opened the door to some deep thinking. He told three of us (paraphrasing), “Boys, the goal is not money. The goal is freedom. In this country, money is simply the tool you use to acquire your freedom.” While there was a definite pragmatic side to his thought, I zeroed in on “what does freedom mean?” If I were completely free to pursue any form of work, what would it be? Freedom ultimately means having the ability to do what you want to do. It is as simple as that.

What do you want to do? I spoke briefly above of passion emerging in those moments of deep contentment. That overwhelming sense of well-being is analogous to the shalom that God’s promises bring when we, like Adam before the Fall, align ourselves with God’s created design, and his character, ways, and will. We can learn a lot about God’s character and ways from the Bible, and even of his will for all of humankind and creation. But how do we figure out his will for our individual lives?

Every prisoner needs a plan of escape to obtain freedom. We have started the journey by contemplating what freedom (fulfillment) looks like in our mind’s eye. We have envisioned a new, different, desirable, passionate vocational reality for ourselves. We now have at least some sense of where we are going, or at the very least we have an idea what it looks and feels like so we can recognize it when we get there. With our destination at least somewhat in mind, let’s delve into other keys, or markers on the map, to unlocking the doors (removing the obstacles) we confront.

Before I suggested getting comfortable with ambiguity. An article written by Paul Wilson, Jr., entitled “Developing the Entrepreneurial Mind of Christ” (to be published this month in Exchange: The Journal of Mission and Markets at www.edensbridge.org), lists several criteria to ponder but it opens with the most critical: faith.

Our relationship with God more often than not seems plagued by ambiguity. I once thought to myself that the closer we draw to God the more quietly he speaks. His intention is that we would therefore draw closer to him to hear more clearly. It works. But we seem to prefer expecting God to answer our prayer overtly. He seldom does (though I have had immediate answers to prayer from a billboard message along the highway and from the Nike “Just Do It” message on a young boy’s ball cap standing in line at a fast food restaurant!).

God will more typically guide us through a process of converging realities if we will open our hearts, minds, and eyes to the promises of his immanence. God is with us every day in every circumstance (despite how often I wish I could hide from him). If we will take an objective survey of our life and situation, we will likely find several pointers along the way indicating the way to go.

One set of significant pointers are those gifts, talents, and passions that seem to well up in us almost without any real effort on our own part. If we study those deeply, we will find they are usually the products of our journey through life. I will use my own case to think through how convergence shines light on where I am headed.

The first converging factor is always that I am a Christian. I am a new creation in Christ that turns me from egocentrism and self-service. I know that I abide in Christ because I have the interest of others at heart. I know myself well enough to know that I am naturally selfish and want to look out for myself and everyone else can wait, and even suffer in their waiting. But I find the choice before me every day to pursue a path of godly obedience or to pursue trying to satisfy my needs by my own devices. Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness” and all necessary things will be ours (Matthew 6:33). I can certainly attest that the compulsion to pursue the things of God do not come from within my own character. It is the Holy Spirit of God dwelling within me that responds when “deep calls unto deep” (Psalm 42:7) for surely “no good thing dwells in my flesh” (Romans 7:18).

The second converging factor is my passion, born out of the Spirit of Christ, to help others. I want to empower people to make positive changes in their own lives and in the world around them. I want them to be fulfilled, happy, provided for, and a witness to the glory, the goodness, of God.

The next set of converging factors are the gifts and talents I have received from God, formed through the experiences of life. I like words . . . a lot . . . because they allow me to express ideas that help me (and others) think critically and creatively. Solutions to problems come by looking at circumstances in a different light. To the entrepreneurial mind, problems are not really problems but in truth they are opportunities to make human experience better. To the entrepreneurial mind, there are not disadvantaged people so much as there are people embodying God-given potential to become far more than even they believe possible. I love empty buildings and at the same time empty buildings cause me pain. I love them because they help me dream about seeing their potential fulfilled. They cause me pain (perhaps more appropriately I should say sorrow) because their potential is unrealized. Buildings fulfilling their potential are happy, joyful parts of creation. People are very much the same.

My gifts and talents emerge from my main interests. My undergraduate degree was in English literature. I jokingly say that I went to college to learn how to read and write. But in a very real sense, it is true. I learned to read critically, discerning the important information within a text, and I learned to synthesize ideas and express them in written and spoken word so others might share in the knowledge I had gained.

I am an insanely curious person. I have frequently said that I want to know everything. There are, unfortunately, too many things to know and many of them are too technical and complex for me to comprehend. But I find if I can capture the essence of what string theory is, and I observe computer-generated maps of the universe, I can find the energy and integrated design God infused into material creation present in similar ways in both. I want to always be a learner because the more I learn the more I am humbled by how little I know and the more God’s glory, as the Holy Other, is made apparent to me.

So we can see how education contributes to our converging realities. So too, our family and work lives feed into guiding our wandering. Our families of origin inform our value systems, for good or ill, whether as inclusive, receiving people or bigoted isolationists, as hard workers or ne’er-do-well’s, as people of generosity and integrity or selfishness and deceit . We learn of integrity and discipline, and we develop patience given the respected examples around us as we grow into adulthood. Those patterns become part of who we are. My parents were some of the hardest working folk I ever met. They were not, however, overtly ambitious and eked out a meager living all their lives. I personally battle being content with the status quo just as they often acquiesced to it. It just seems easier to just get along and not put myself out there, at risk of failure or ridicule. But I will keep fighting.

As mentioned, careers contribute enormously to our current set of circumstances. We may not be currently working in a field of particularly high passion but the skill sets we pick up along the way contribute to what we are now and are yet becoming. Early in my career, I noticed the assistant manager at the hotel where I worked made a lot more money than I did. I decided I wanted to learn about management so I secured a management trainee position with a restaurant company. Frankly, learning management in that particular company was like studying the complexities of warfare during a fire fight. But learn I did. Subsequently my professional career has spanned nearly thirty years of business management and administration at various levels across seven or eight industries. I learned that core management principles are universal.

Particular aspects of our careers can also contribute to our convergent reality. As a child I made woven pot holders on a small metal loom and sold them to the housewives in our neighborhood for fifteen cents each (or two for a quarter). In effect, I launched my very first business when I was six years old. I handled strategic planning, logistics, production, marketing and sales, and accounting. I was an early entrepreneur. That experience, as well as working as a contractor from ages eight to thirteen (as a newspaper carrier), led me to believe that I could take the bull by the horns and try to shape my own destiny as an entrepreneur. As I am writing this, I am on the verge of launching my fourth small business (or fifth if you consider writing a book a close-ended, project-oriented business enterprise).

Finally, we will find God has supplied some things we need in unique or different ways than we might expect. In 2002, at age 46, I started my seminary education without any real sense of why I was doing it other than I should. Oddly enough God called me to seminary to study economics and that reached a culminating point in the publication of my book, Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission, which explores the biblical and theological bases of business in God’s grand scheme, as well as the disciplines necessary for integrating our Christian faith and economics.

Now I find myself consulting with Christians in business about integrating their own faith with their vocations. I also continue researching how business glorifies God and serves to meet the needs of the poor in response to the biblical mandate charging us all with their care. And I find when I am about these things, there is within a contentment, even excitement, as I reach out and find contact with God’s presence ministering to the world. It is indeed freeing in that not only do I get to do things that are enormously personally satisfying, I get to all the more press down that voice within that frets about my own circumstances. Walking by faith is the ultimate freedom.

God’s plan, his mission in the world (missio Dei), is to reconcile all of creation to himself, setting all things to rights, restoring an order of blessing upon blessing. Our vocations, as said at the first, are an integral part of God’s good and right order. Look around. See God at work in your life, especially at work. Step into the faith and freedom of his blessings. Finding that joy in the work of our hands, the good works that glorify our heavenly Father (Matthew 5:16) are vital to life in Christ, and that abundantly (John 10:10).

[i] Susan Adam, “New Survey: Majority of Employees Dissatisfied,” Forbes, May 18, 2012.

[ii] Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “2012 Employee Job Satisfaction

and Engagement.” Available online at http://www.shrm.org.

[iii] Smithsonianmag.com. “Getting Lost and Wandering in Circles.” August 20, 2009. Available online at http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com.

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Developing the Entrepreneurial Mind of Christ

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–        Paul Wilson, Jr. (2012)

Albert Einstein was an intellectual phenomenon. Steve Jobs was a creative mastermind. Thomas Edison was a genius as bright as they come (pun intended). However none of these entrepreneurial inventors measures up to the brilliance, inventiveness, resourcefulness, prowess, and many other words I could use to describe our indescribable God.

God is the original and ultimate entrepreneur. In the beginning of Genesis 1, through Jesus (Hebrews 1:2), He created something incredible out of chaos. At the end of Genesis 1, they created man and woman in their divine image and told them to take dominion over the earth, be fruitful, and multiply. In order for us to accomplish these three mandates we have to use the divine characteristics of entrepreneurship, including but not limited to faith, intelligence, creative ability, and resourcefulness, all of which God displayed as He manifested the universe.

The most widely accepted definition of entrepreneurship was coined thirty-seven years ago by Harvard Business School professor Howard Stevenson. He defined it as “The pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.This definitely describes God’s approach to creation, but with a major exception. He definitely pursued the opportunity to “invent” the earth and mankind, but He wasn’t worried about resources, knowing He controls all of them anyway.

When most people hear the word entrepreneur they automatically think about business and selling stuff. However, you don’t have to be in business to be entrepreneurial. My simple definition for entrepreneurial is the ability to create value for people using attributes given to us by God. So using this definition, everyone should be entrepreneurial, which also describes how we should be operating in the world with the mind of Christ.

Let’s discuss some of the many characteristics of successful entrepreneurs and how they relate to operating effectively with the mind of Christ in the kingdom of God.

Faith – God spoke the world into existence, but He first had to believe that His words had creative power. Hebrews 11:6 says it is impossible to please God without faith. Similarly, it is nearly impossible to be entrepreneurial without strongly believing in yourself and in the ideas that you have. Accomplishing anything significant for God requires the constant application of your faith. God believed in Himself when He created the universe. You must believe in Him to accomplish the assignments He gives you.

Vision – Vision works closely with faith. Vision gives us a clear mental picture of what we need to have faith for. We are instructed by Habakkuk 2:2 to write the vision and make it plain. And we know from Proverbs 29:18 that without a vision the people perish. We need vision, because it gives us a hopeful expectation of something different or better than what we currently see. Fortunately, God’s vision for your life is even bigger than yours. One of my favorite quotes is by D.L. Moody, who made a significant statement about vision: “We must dream, because we were created in the image of the One who sees things that are not and wills them to be.”

Integrity– God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). His character never changes like shifting shadows (James 1:17). It is impossible for Him to lie (Hebrews 6:18) and His word always comes true (Isaiah 55:11). One of the main reasons Jesus got angry in the temple, threw out the businesspeople, and called them thieves is not because they were doing business. It is because they were doing business dishonestly! Always do right. And always do what you say and say what you do. Under-promise and over-deliver. You will not be in business very long if your word cannot be trusted. Always remember, do not let your charisma take you places where your character cannot keep you there, because a good name is worth far more than great riches (Proverbs 22:1).

Purpose – True entrepreneurs are not just out to make a buck. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves, i.e. revolutionary ideas, changing lives, new inventions, fresh innovations, etc. God gives life to purpose and purpose to life. He was not random or haphazard in what He did at the genesis of the world. He wanted to do something that had never been done before – design a new being with whom He could demonstrate the immensity of His love. He was so purposeful that He already had a plan in place when Adam messed up the perfect set up (John 3:16). Purpose should proceed all of your planning. For those in business, why are you in business? For those considering making the jump, why do you aspire to be an entrepreneur? Your motivation for business should have everything to do with why God created you.  

Intelligence – Entrepreneurs do not always get the best grades in school, but they are usually very bright in that they constantly use their brains think through problems, issues, and opportunities. Unfortunately, some Christians think that their intellect is no longer needed once they commit their lives to Christ. The total opposite is true. When we get saved, we are to stop thinking, but we must commit all of our minds to Christ and allow him to transform how we think and what we think about (Romans 12:2). When we think like he thinks we will be able to tap into an eternal knowledge base that surpasses all human understanding. In Christ is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3). So if you need a business idea, ask the One who has all the ideas.

Creativity – This one goes right along with intelligence. To see a simple example of God’s creativity, just take a walk outside and look at how many different types of plants, trees, and flowers He made. Botanists estimate that there are more than 10,000 species of flowering plants. Jesus also sets a great example of using his divine creativity. If you look at all of his miracles, very seldom do you see him performing duplicates. John mused that all the miracles Jesus did could not be contained in all the books in the world (John 21:25). No doubt there was a lot of creative juices flowing during his life. Having the mind of Christ – powered by the Holy Spirit – gives you a competitive advantage over others without him. John 14:26 states that the Holy Spirit will teach us all things, so you can best believe he will reveal witty ideas to you that no one has ever thought of (1 Corinthians 2:9). How are you exercising your creative juices?

Talents/Gifts – We know that God is all-powerful and has no lack of ability to get things done. What’s also true is that He gave every person a unique set of talents, abilities, gifts, and skills. He expects you to use – and improve – what you have been given (Matthew 25:23). Entrepreneurial people are excellent at using their talents intelligently and creatively to produce value.  Do you know what special talents and abilities you have? How are you using them intelligently and creatively?

Perseverance – Life can be very challenging and so can business. God knows this firsthand. He faithfully endures through His creation’s blatant rebellion, even after He freely gave them His most valuable possession. Jesus had to persevere through a tortuous trial and execution in order to fulfill his purpose. Perseverance involves a great deal of sticktoitness, resourcefulness, and a never-say-quit attitude in the face of seemingly overwhelming obstacles. It takes a persevering mindset to endure what he did and still come out as the champion. Jesus expects us not to just look at his example, but to also follow it as we face trials of many kinds.

Patience – Patience is a close brother of perseverance. Delayed gratification is an invaluable asset. You have to be confident that “your vision is yet for the appointed time; It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; For it will certainly come, it will not delay (Habakkuk 2:3). God is patient with us, because He sees our end from our beginning (Isaiah 46:10), and He knows greater things are in store for us than what we may be currently experiencing (Jeremiah 29:11). Entrepreneurs are intimately acquainted with the principle of Seed, Time, and Harvest. They realize that a proper investment now of their time, talents, and treasures, will yield a profitable return in due season. Patience allows you not make hasty decisions. And while you are waiting for certain things to happen you are still planting more seeds.

Follow-through (vs. procrastination) – God’s plans His work and then works His plans. He does not wait when He’s supposed to be working. He does not delay when He’s supposed to be doing. He is perfect love, so He has no fear to keep Him from moving forward. Entrepreneurially minded people take action more than they take breaks. Even in the times when it seemed like Jesus was delaying, he was very purposeful in his actions. If you already have the vision and the permission from God, what are you waiting for?

Courage – Courage turns your faith in action. Courage is often associated with taking risks. Interestingly, God took a risk creating human beings with the free will to reject Him. God took a risk creating a ransom plan by sending His son Jesus to redeem those who rejected Him. God takes a risk every day by allowing people to call themselves Christ-followers, even though we do not always do what Jesus did and say what he said. God is courageous, so He did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7), which we are to use to bring the realities of heaven down to earth.

Solutions-driven – Entrepreneurial people spend the majority of their time solving problems, generating value, and fostering positive change for themselves and others. They do not entertain pity parties. They waste little time complaining about things they either have no power over or are not intending on doing something about. They are all about blessing others through the intelligent and creative application of their time, talents, and treasures. They do not withhold good from people, because they realize it is in their power to do good for them (Proverbs 3:27), which is what the true Gospel of Jesus looks like in action (James 1:27). God sent Jesus as the #1 solution for our problems. How are you using Jesus to solve the world’s problem?

Hopefully it is easy for you to see how Jesus exercised each of these entrepreneurial characteristics while he lived on the earth. Therefore, if we want to be like Christ, we must embrace the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), which was very much entrepreneurial.

In order to bring the kingdom of God from heaven down to earth in a literal sense, we must utilize Holy Spirit-inspired entrepreneurial ideas to do good works, by turning spiritual truths into practical, holistic solutions that bring real, positive, lasting change to people’s lives. That is when the world will really see our lights shine and glorify God in heaven!

Paul Wilson Jr. is the co-founder and President of Kingdom Business University, which trains current and aspiring entrepreneurs to grow profitable and sustainable businesses by teaching innovative business best practices that are built on eternal Biblical principles. He is a social entrepreneurship educator and consultant, providing dynamic leadership and marketing solutions to help grow businesses and organizations that strengthen communities. Paul has been a champion for spiritual empowerment, economic advancement, and community development for over a decade and has consulted or spoken to several organizations including the National Football League (NFL), Fortune 500 Companies, small businesses, trade organizations, and several churches and schools all over the country. Learn more about Paul Wilson, Jr. at http://www.paulwilsonjr.com.

 

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David Livingstone’s Vision Revisited

Christianity, Commerce and Civilisation in the 21st Century

–        Dr Sas Conradie

[Return to Table of Contents]

Background

David Livingstone has been both missionary icon and missionary villain. For many he was the epitome of mission pioneering and for others an imperialistic missionary paternalist with few if any fruit. It is from this controversial figure we in the 21st Century can learn when we discuss socio-economic and spiritual transformation in communities.

David Livingstone’s Vision

David Livingstone had a compassion and commitment to end the slave trade through Christianising and ‘civilising’ Africa while facilitating economic ‘take-off’ that would have provided the needed economic incentives to stop the trade. His wanted to open Africa to Christianity and commerce as a way to combat the social ills of the continent. Livingstone realised:

1)     People had to be set free from sins and practices (such as superstition) that prevented them from living lives that honour God. The spread of the Good News of spiritual freedom in Christ, or Christianity, was therefore of utmost importance to Livingstone[i]. The Holy Spirit empowers people to live holy lives and move away from sin. That would enable social change when more and more people follow that example.

2)     People had to be set free from cultural practices that prevent social and intellectual development, including slavery. Therefore there is a need to encourage a cultural value system that will facilitate education, health and law and order. The chiefs abused their powers to enslave their own people. To end the slave trade a change in culture was needed from within Africa.

3)     People had to be set free from poverty that encourages people to sell others into slavery. Economic development in Africa had to be facilitated through commercial activities. Commerce became a key building block of transforming communities so that slavery could stop.

Livingstone’s belief in Christianity, Civilisation and Commerce as a way to end slavery and encourage social transformation had much deeper roots than his own passion. It goes back to William Wilberforce and the abolitionist movement which significantly coincided with the start of the British missionary movement. Legitimate commerce, coupled with the gospel, would cut off the slave trade at its source in Africa. Wilberforce’s own vision for a better world “lay in the transformative potential of faith and business. … It was in pursuit of this vision that he initiated radical social transformation on a global scale”[ii]. Because Christianity and legitimate commerce both had human liberty at their core, they were needed for social reform.

Rob Mackenzie emphasises the importance of the abolitionist movement’s thinking on Livingstone when he attended a meeting in Exeter Hall in the Strand by the Society for the Extinction of the Slave-Trade and for the Civilisation of Africa[iii]. “There it was proposed that Africans would only be saved from the slave-trade if they were woken up to the possibilities of selling their own produce; otherwise chiefs would continue to barbarically sell their own kind to pay for the beads, cloth, guns and trinkets they coveted. Commerce and Christianity could achieve this miracle, not Christianity alone’.

The discussion of the relationship of Christianity and civilization was therefore not a new idea. It had already been hotly debated in missionary circles in the 1790s and it can be argued it was the response to the social and economic transformation the UK experienced during the revival movements that swept the UK in the second half of the 18th Century. The abolitionist ideals of social transformation through commerce and Christianity became so inspirational that Henry Venn (Church Missionary Society General Secretary from 1841-1873) made abolitionism through commercial enterprise a central aspect of his mission strategy. Cultivating contacts with industry, Venn enlisted the support of a Christian manufacturer who agreed to import cotton at the minimum profit margin. This enabled Venn to set up the Nigerian cotton industry to provide African chiefs with a viable economic alternative to the slave trade[iv].

Livingstone believed that the arrival of honest traders and missionaries would provide the opportunity to exchange the natural resources of Africa for European trade goods. This would undercut and end the slave trade, leaving the possibility of the growth of Christianity and the development of a more prosperous African society. Livingstone tried to find suitable bases “from which Christianity, civilization and commerce could play their role in transforming Africa without the violence, injustice and slavery which he believed had characterized the meeting of European and African heretofore”[v]. During his visits to the UK Livingstone discussed the potential for trade and investment in Africa with business leaders.

David Livingstone’s vision distorted through imperial and commercial self-interest

Perhaps this passion to get the British nation more involved in spreading Christianity, Commerce and Civilisation in Africa and the fusion of the three legs of the development of Africa, opened the door for some as a pretext for imperial exploitation[vi]. Livingstone became the patron saint of liberal imperialism, paternalist and colonialist. The three Cs that Livingstone was so passionate about became distorted:

Christianity had been used by imperial powers to open areas for expansion and to pacify communities. Christianity became ‘the religion of the white-man’ and of the oppressor.

Civilisation had been used to impose the will of imperial powers and to conform communities to the example of “Civilised Europe” in order to produce goods for the “Mother country”. Civilisation became synonymous with colonialism and oppression.

Commerce had been used to advance the economic interest and self-enrichment of imperial powers, large companies and individuals such as Cecil John Rhodes while using the natural resources and cheap labour of local communities. Commerce became synonymous with multi-national capitalism that enriches a few and impoverishes the masses.

Livingstone’s dream of Christianity and commerce, combining to produce developmental ‘take-off’ in Africa’s development did not materialise the way he envisaged. The demand of industrialised countries for ivory, combined with the East African slave trade, was a barrier enough even before the powerful worldwide imperialist expansion finally killed it. Other factors discouraged investment such as Africa’s geography and health conditions that makes transportation and trade difficult.

David Livingstone’s vision redeemed

The mistakes of the past are generally acknowledged today. People became uneasy about the link between Christianity, Civilisation and Commerce. I would argue that the link between empire, mission and commercial exploitation was forced upon by imperial and commercial motivation and instigation. I propose that by dealing with the negative image related to the 3 themes, we can redeem what David Livingstone and other mission leaders in the 19th Century were so passionate about:

People still have spiritual needs, but with the problems related to the term Christianity, it might be needed to return to the roots of Christianity, the Bible, and start talking about Biblical Faith instead of Christianity. Ron Sider[vii] argues that certain religious worldviews tend to create a fatalistic attitude towards poverty. A South African bishop once said that people in the rural areas in South Africa are so fearful of evil spirits that they do not take initiative to improve their lives. People can be set free from the fear of evil spirits and experience total renewal through the life-giving ministry of Jesus Christ.

People need to be set free from values and cultural practices that prevent social-economic and emotional well-being. Society needs to be transformed according to Biblical principles from within the community. It is therefore better to talk about Social Transformation instead of Civilisation. Social problems are also the church’s problems and the church must deal with them. The church must direct itself towards transforming society and not to try to escape from it.

People still have physical needs and need employment to provide in these needs. Enterprise Development that benefit a whole community is needed and not just Commerce that can give the impression of enriching just a few. It is therefore better to talk about Enterprise Development than of Commerce in order to indicate this qualitative difference in business activities.

David Livingstone’s Redeemed Vision – the Kingdom Model

A Kingdom Model can explain the relationship between Biblical Faith, Social Transformation and Enterprise Development:

sas dia 1

Biblical Faith: Bible becomes the norm for life and conduct and not perceived Western traditions. This brings people into a personal relationship with God to experience spiritual freedom, transformation and changing behavior and culture. Christians get the courage to start businesses through which they can earn a living for themselves and their families and through that glorify God. These believers then transform the community around them through encouraging a life-style based on the Biblical message that results in improved community care.

Social Transformation: The Biblical principles are lived out. Communities are helped to develop a value system that facilitate trust and responsibility; increase productivity; and enable communities in caring for one another. Communities and individuals experience emotional and social freedom. Greater involvement from Christians in community structures facilitate improved social care and the eradication of negative values in the community. They can start social enterprises such as trading networks, low cost housing, services for the poor in the community and environmental initiatives as business initiatives to generate income for the community[viii]. This involvement is a witness and opportunity to spread Biblical Faith.

Enterprise Development: local communities take control of their own economic development.  Local job creation and sustainable wealth creation is encouraged. Companies and individuals from outside are encouraged to invest in sustainable commercial activities. Education provides the basis for enterprise development. Economic and physical freedom is experienced and economic transformation is facilitated. Enterprise Development includes the provision of capital for the poor to earn their own way through for example micro-loan programmes[ix]. Also increased trading opportunities for local business people, access to markets, and the development of fair trade initiatives. Enterprise development then becomes a means of church planting, social service and transformation, community building and grappling with unjust practices.

The relationship between Biblical Faith, Social Transformation and Enterprise Development: The best way to understand the relationship is three overlapping circles that facilitate developing self-sustainable communities of Christians that transform their society through adhering to God-given principles. With Christ at the centre, these communities of believers expand the overlapping area so that Christ will become increasingly the centre of the life of their societies.

At the heart of this understanding of the relationship between Biblical Faith, Social Transformation and Enterprise Development is that the Kingdom of God needs to become a reality in a society or community. The already and not yet character of God’s Kingdom means that the Church and its mission constitute an interim sign. The Church points humanity backward to its origins in God’s creation and forward to the present and coming Kingdom in Jesus Christ.

Livingstone’s vision implemented

Livingstone’s vision to develop Africa spiritually, economically and socially had a profound impact on the global mission movement. For example David Scott developed the Blantyre Mission in present day Malawi as a small missionary community intended to act with the cooperation of the African Lakes Company as a cultural and economic as well as religious catalyst within African society[x]. This vision also finds its expression in the concept of holistic mission where the gospel not only transforms individuals but has ‘transforming consequences for societies, for trade and economics, for law, and for human rights” [xi].

Livingstone’s dream of Christianity and commerce, combining to produce developmental ‘take-off’ in Africa’s development is becoming a reality across Africa. The church in Africa grows rapidly. Many churches and ministries are taking steps towards a more Kingdom-orientated Model of understanding the relationship between Biblical Faith, Social Transformation and Enterprise Development. CMS Africa for example is involved in exciting Business as Mission initiatives (www.bamafrica.org) while the Samaritan Strategy (www.samaritan-strategy-africa.org) encourages social transformation and enterprise development out of a better understanding of the Biblical message[xii]. Christian micro-finance initiatives such as Opportunity International and Five Talents provide capital for enterprise development while changing the values in the communities where they work. The growing integration between Biblical Faith, Enterprise Development and Social Transformation has the potential to decrease dependency on so-called Western resources. Africa is now seen as a continent of hope despite remaining challenges such as corruption.

Sharing wealth in a globalised world

The 21st Century is a totally different world than that in which David Livingstone lived. Technological advances in travel and communication made the world a global village. This is part of God’s design for the world since He made humanity an inter-connected and inter-dependent community with different resources in different places. Within this inter-connected globalised community it is important for wealth to be shared and generated to the benefit of all. This wealth or capital includes knowledge, spiritual, social and monetary wealth. The Kingdom Model must become a reality through “Kingdom communities” that facilitate wealth interchange:

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The environmental context – towards the Quadruple Bottom Line Model

Biblical Faith, Enterprise Development and Social Transformation take place in an environmental context. Christians have a Biblical mandate to care for the environment while unrestrained commercial development will result in increased environmental destruction and economic collapse. Environmental destruction will increase social problems as communities and individuals fight with one another to obtain scarce resources such as water. The quadruple bottom line concept has been developed to describe the environmental responsibility, social transformation, economic development and the spiritual growth in communities[xiii]. Within the framework of the Kingdom Model as described previously, the quadruple bottom line model might be illustrated as follows:

 sas dia 3

 Conclusion

Born within the Abolitionist Movement, David Livingstone’s vision of Christianity, Civilisation and Commerce had a profound impact on the mission movement in the 19th Century. Unfortunately this vision had been distorted by colonialism and imperialism. Many Christians and mission initiatives became reluctant to implement this vision and shied away of commerce and social involvement. Fortunately there are a growing number of Christian initiatives today that take the vision seriously. The challenge for these initiatives is to develop a Kingdom Model of ministry that integrates the different aspects of Livingstone’s vision. In a globalised world this Model is more than ever needed either it be in well-reached communities in Africa or unreached areas of Asia and the Middle East. In a fragile ecological environment we have to go beyond the Kingdom Model and put it within the framework of environmental care as described in the Quadruple Bottom Line Model of mission. Hopefully there will be many Christian leaders who will venture into what could become very excited possibilities.

Dr. Sas Conradie is the coordinator of the WEA/Lausanne Movement Global Generosity Network and involved in the Stewardship in Mission Taskforce of World Evangelical Alliance Mission Commission. His e-mail address is ggncoord@gmail.com


[i] Ross, Andrew C (2002), David Livingstone: Mission and Empire. Hambledon and London, London, p.17

[ii] Heslam, Peter (2007), “William Wilberforce: how transforming business can turn the tide of history”, Faith in Business 10:4, April 2007 p.3-4

[iii] Mackenzie, Rob (1993), David Livingstone: The Truth behind the Legend. Fig Tree Publications, Chinhoyi, Zimbabwe, p.47.

[iv] Waters, John (1996), David Livingstone – Trail Blazer. Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, UK, p.228

[v] Ross, (2002), p.77

[vi] Ross, (2002), p.241.

[vii] Sider, Ronald (1997), Rich Christians in an age of Hunger. Hodder and Stoughton, London

[viii] Sider (1997), p.236.

[ix] Sider, (1997), p.236.

[x] Ross, (2002), p.243.

[xi] Sogaard, Viggo (2004) Evangelizing our World: Insights from Global Inquiry, 2004 Forum for World Evangelization, Thailand, September 2004, p.59.

[xii] See Miller, Darrow L and Allen, Scott (2005) Against All Hope: Hope for Africa.

[xiii] See Inayatullah, Sohail: “Spirituality as the Fourth Bottom Line” at www.metafuture.org/Articles/spirituality_bottom_line.htm for a non-Christian perspective on the Quadruple Bottom Line.

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Guest Post: It’s All About Economics – Dr. Howard Snyder

This essay was originally posted at http://howardsnyder.seedbed.com/2013/05/31/its-all-about-economics/

May 31, 2013 by 
My visits to Haiti (2009, pre-earthquake, and again this year) have prompted me to think more deeply about the relationship between the gospel and economics. Most of Haiti’s problems are economic. True also in many other countries. Much more than economic, of course, but still definitely economic.

It seems at times that economics rules the world. Much of the news, and much of our lives, are taken up with economic concerns. This is especially true today, with the emergence of a really global interdependent economy. Rising fuel costs touch all our lives indirectly, if not directly. The mortgage crisis in the United States shook financial markets worldwide, and the reverberations continue even today.

Economics is a biblical concern. In the Old Testament, the Jubilee laws required basic economic justice. Jesus also talked much about economics. Many of his parables highlight economic issues. Jesus said, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matt. 6:25). We are to trust God for the needs of life. And yet questions about food and clothing—“what to eat, what to wear?”—are basic economic issues we face every day.

That’s true of nearly every person in the world, regardless of culture or religion. We are economic beings. God made us that way. We live in economic relations with each other and with the earth, which provides most of our food and clothing. Rather than seeing this as an incidential or side issue, we should ask—not how economics fits into God’s plan, but more basically, the ways in which God’s whole plan of salvation is fundamentally economic in a biblical sense.

Biblical Economics

The gospel in fact is all about economics. Not just in a monetary sense, but in a deeper sense. In fact, economics is a biblical idea and concept.

Today when we think of economics we think of money and budgets, but the Bible gives a broader and more profound picture of economics.

The Apostle Paul uses the term “economy” several times in his writings. The Greek term is oikonomiaand is the source of the words “economy” and “ecology” in English and related languages. The root word is oikos, which means household. Literally, oikonomia means household management. In the Roman Empire of Paul’s day the term was also used more broadly, for example to mean the management of a city. From this our modern sense of economy derives. (“Ecumenical,” referring to the whole inhabited world, is also a related term.)

Paul speaks of “the economy of God,” for example in Colossians 1:25. In English, modern versions generally translate oikonomia as “commission,” “plan,” or “administration.” The older King James Version usually translates it as “dispensation” (hence “dispensationalism”). The fundamental meaning however is God’s overall purposeful plan.

What is that plan? Ephesians 1:10 states it most concisely: “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” Paul says this is God’s “economy” (oikonomia) for the fullness of time.

God does indeed have an overall plan or “economy” of salvation for this world, and (by definition) it includes all economic realities. The kingdom of God touches every area of life, including economics. And so Paul says, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).

As Christians, we need to ask about the broader implications of the gospel for economic life in our own societies and globally. Since so much human suffering, in Haiti and elsewhere, has to do with economics, we should ask: What is the gospel answer? Since prosperous nations are tempted to live a materialistic life and forget God, we should ask: What does the gospel say about economics? (There is, of course, a literature on this; here I summarize my own views.)

Three Key Economic Principles

For guidance on economic questions, we look to biblical teachings on the kingdom of God. The Bible teaches principles of economic life that apply to each person, to the church, certainly to the land, and to society generally.

At the broader level of society, the gospel of Jesus and the ethics of the God’s reign help us discern three broad economic principles that apply both locally and globally.

First, every society needs viable basic economic structures that are grounded in sound economic and ethical principles. Free exchange of goods and services, the freedom to produce and sell food or goods at a fair price, and fundamental honesty and integrity are basic in any culture and are taught in Scripture, either explicitly or implicitly. Dishonesty, deception, and corruption undermine healthy economic activity. Political and economic corruption is one of the most malignant diseases undermining economies worldwide. A sound economy requires not only economic opportunity but also integrity.

Second, every society requires ethical economic development that benefits the whole society and protects the environment. In the last decade, a number of countries have seen strong economic growth. Among the larger nations, this is true especially of Brazil, Russia, China, and India—the so-called BRIC nations.

But economic growth by itself is not enough to produce a healthy and just society—as the above examples clearly show. The great strength of capitalism is that it increases wealth and opportunity; its great weakness is that, due to human greed and self-centeredness, it tends to concentrate that wealth in the hands of the few and make poor people even poorer. A healthy and just society requires a sense of public responsibility; a sense of stewardship of wealth for the benefit of the whole. Otherwise the rich get not only richer but more oppressive; the poor get not only poorer but more oppressed.

Just as importantly, economic health requires a recognition of human interdependence with the physical environment. Environmental costs have to be factored into economic considerations. And the goal everywhere must be sustainable economic development in which the earth is safeguarded and replenished, allowed to flourish. (Government should play a key role here.)

One of the saddest sights I saw in Haiti was mile after mile of tree stumps along a major (dilapidated) highway. Trees are cut down to make charcoal for cooking (for personal use or to sell), because people are desperate. But in the long run, this only makes matters worse, destroying the very environment that must be protected if people and the nation are to become economically self-sufficient. Healthy economies require both social solidarity and ecological responsibility.

Third, every society needs the infusion of Christian values and virtues so that people are not subverted by materialism and self-centeredness. Since we used to serve in Brazil, I am pleased to read of the economic growth there and especially that the gap between rich and poor is being reduced. Thanks to economic growth and enlightened government policies, significant numbers of people are rising from poverty into the middle class. That’s good, but from a Christian standpoint, it’s not enough. Economic success carries its own dangers—especially materialism and individualism.

What is the answer to materialism, individualism, and self-centeredness? The biblical answer is accountable Christian community and a vision for the kingdom of God—God’s will being done on earth as in heaven. The most just and successful society would be one that is most Christian. By this I mean, not necessarily the one with the most Christian church members, but the one that most fully incarnates the values and virtues Jesus taught, the values and virtues of the kingdom of God.

In the area of economic and ecological ethics, Christians can and should partner with other religious and public-interest groups that promote high ethical standards. But the Christian ethic, and therefore the faithful growth and witness of the church, Christians believe, is essential.

The Role of the Church

The church of Jesus Christ has a crucial and indispensable role to play in this picture. The gospel provides the essential resources for the three economic principles outlined above.

First, the church can help build viable essential economic structures based on honesty, integrity, and mutual responsibility. Microenterprise and other forms of social entrepreneurship have a key role to play here because this helps the poor (especially women and children) and builds community and shared responsibility. Microenterprise and microfinancing should be a basic part of Christian mission worldwide. Also, Christians of integrity, compassion, and expertise can help build just economic structures and enterprises on a larger scale.

Second, the church can help build an ethos of mutual civic responsibility—the best interests of all people—as well as ecological stewardship. Christians need to help people see both that creation care is an essential part of Christian discipleship, and that failure to consider the earth’s welfare is shortsighted economically, as well.

Third, the church must win people to Christ and form Christians into accountable communities of discipleship where the subtle (and not so subtle) temptations of greed, materialism, individualism, and self-centeredness are confronted and overcome. Much of the biblical instruction concerning the church focuses on building accountable, Christ-like community. This is necessary not only for the spiritual wellbeing and integrity of the church, but also for the health of the larger society and economy.

The earth today is still facing a global food crisis. This is an economic, not just a humanitarian, crisis. It has to do with just and effective distribution of food at fair prices so that all earth’s peoples, and especially the poor, have enough to eat.

This is a Christian concern. Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matt. 25:35). “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40). Sound economics based on biblical principles is essential to feeding Jesus’ brothers and sisters worldwide.

The gospel is all about economics—about God’s provision and our faithful stewardship of all he has given us, both spiritually and physically.

Note:
Since economics is such a basic subject biblically, as I show here, I deal with it (from various angles) in several of my books — particularly Liberating the ChurchDecoding the Church, and Salvation Means Creation Healed.

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