Faith + Entrepreneurship
Posted by· July 29, 2019
We stumbled across this great blog post by Sherman Leung and thought we would share it with our Seed Community. Original post can be found here: https://medium.com/@skleung/faith-entrepreneurship-55112159fd84
The first time I inadvertently explored the intersection between entrepreneurship and faith was through the gold-standard of middle-school communication: the viral chain-emails promising good fortune or the absence of utter tragedy if you forwarded it along to 20 friends.
Taking a contrarian opt-in approach, I started an email newsletter to pass along sermon reflections, new worship songs, short devotionals to a few friends and classmates. This lasted for almost 2 years — writing and organizing content for over 100 fellow students across 3 schools — before we grew out of the fad, but the desire to start and scale faith-based efforts stayed with me.
Spending 4 formative years in the shadow of the Silicon Valley as an entrepreneurially-minded college student, I started to more seriously explore the intersection of entrepreneurship and faith: meeting Christian founders, entrepreneurial missionaries, attending Urbana’s Hack4Missions. Admittedly, I still wrestle with these opposing forces of worldly and everlasting impact, but have come to some learnings that may indicate ways that the Christian faith can be applicable to the entrepreneur’s struggle.
To me, Jesus might have been one of the greatest entrepreneurs that ever lived. Trained with an engineering background in carpentry, he and his core team of 12 disciples catalyzed the growth of the world’s largest religion — one that has sustained thousands of years to reach billions of people worldwide. An early pioneer of leveraging word-of-mouth growth, Jesus was also the primary feature to one of world’s most well-known products(the Holy Bible).
But before I reduce Christianity to a series of startup buzzwords, let me pause and offer some thoughts on why there’s perhaps a tension between faith and entrepreneurship:
- There’s a disconnect between worldly and eternal aspirations. Especially as a venture-backed entrepreneur, you’re beholden to your investors to make a return on their investment no matter how socially impactful or mission-driven your company might be:
No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Matthew 6:24)
- Business models and general strategic frameworks seem at odds with the concept of living by faith. Companies traditionally make decisions leveraging data-driven or objective processes whereas Christians are called to live with a “Kingdom-first” mentality which adds a powerful dimension and discernment process to traditional decision-making frameworks.
- But perhaps the biggest intrinsic tension I feel is in the opportunistic attitude that entrepreneurship often promotes. “Making your own luck” and “Be the change you want to see in the world” is inconsistent with the view that Christians have in believing that radical and significant change aren’t and shouldn’t be byproducts of our own will but God’s.
Despite this, I was inspired by a series of recent conversations with Christian entrepreneurs to consider and come around to a contrarian thought. Rather than being at odds with entrepreneurship, Christians might actually have a natural predisposition and perhaps a competitive advantage in their ability to take risks and be truly mission-driven.
- At the end of the day, entrepreneurship is about serving others. Whether it’s through category creation or becoming a market leader, the biggest entrepreneurial successes arose from humble beginnings in understanding and serving their end-users. Christians have the same greater calling to love, support, and serve our communities. Knowing that we are loved and not needing to earn it provides Christians the assurance that we are never beyond His grace. To me, this is a game-changing attitude when applied to the world of business: taking a “love others” and “serve-first” mentality that can transform the way that relationships are built and sustained.
- The same sort of sentiment applies to a central theme of empathy throughout the Christian faith that seems to map directly to understanding the needs that inspire a service or product. Christians are called to love our neighbors as ourselves (as a side-note: I believe this goes way beyond neighbors that reside within our comfort zone…and especially includes the marginalized communities that Jesus himself made an intentional effort to reach out to during his ministries). To me, this tenet of the Christian faith has always been a very relevant part of the entrepreneur’s mindset and I believe that there’s a level of deep empathy that falls naturally out of an embodiment of Jesus’s second greatest commandment.
- Risk-taking is fundamentally what Christians are called to do — so much so that taking risks for our faith should be part of our normal, everyday lives. We’re repeatedly reminded that living by faith was never meant to be an easy burden, but instead a challenging and narrow path. This continuous effort of perseverance is one of the greatest assets that I believe Christianity gives entrepreneurs. Not that all problems will magically whisk away but that there is an assurance that God will work for those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Though I haven’t lived as an entrepreneur myself, I know I can trust in the provision and support promised if the opportunity presents itself:
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them…So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear? … But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:26–34)