At Work & Economics 101 & Theology 101

Are Entrepreneurship and Risk-Taking at Odds with Biblical Stewardship?

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“It is right to risk for the cause of God.”

So begins a sermon by John Piper on the topic of risk.

If you’re a Christian entrepreneur and you believe your work contributes to the cause of flourishing that God desires for his creation, you might find yourself asking about the biblical perspective on risk.

You know from experience that risk is inseparable from entrepreneurship. There’s always the chance that whatever new venture you’re pursuing might fail. Vision and perseverance in the face of risk are essential traits every entrepreneur needs.

Yet you also desire to be a good steward of the resources God has given you. You want to use your monetary, physical, and natural resources wisely. You want to spend your time effectively, and you want to employ your talent towards success. You believe all these things are your responsibility.

As Hugh Whelchel writes in a post about the four biblical principles of stewardship,

We are called as God’s stewards to manage that which belongs to God. While God has graciously entrusted us with the care, development, and enjoyment of everything he owns as his stewards, we are responsible to manage his holdings well and according to his desires and purposes.

So are entrepreneurship and risk-taking at odds with biblical stewardship?

The following thoughts are by no means all that can be said about this question. These are starting points that will hopefully spur you on towards deeper reflection.

The Underlying Factors of Risk are Directly Dealt with in Scripture

In a talk on risk and whether it’s faith or folly, Tim Keller says,

There’s actually not a whole lot in the Bible about risk-taking, because risk-taking, venture capitalism, things like that didn’t really exist in those days. But there are two things the Bible says a whole lot about. It talks an awful lot about fear, and an awful lot about control. And if you’re going to draw on the resources of the Christian faith to make you smart, savvy, courageous, and sober entrepreneurs, you need to know what the Bible says about these two things.

Keller cites Psalm 3, saying that to deal with your fear, you must “relocate  your identity in God’s glory.” Regarding control, Keller cites James 4, pointing out that “to understand your real level of control…you’ve got to humble yourself and trust God’s providence.”

You can listen to more of what Keller says about the biblical perspective on risk here. His insights on fear, control, and humility, though, lead directly to two other points about risk and stewardship.

Risk is Inseparable from Biblical Stewardship

In the parable of the talents, the servants who are rewarded are the ones who made the most with what the Master gave them.

In his e-book Monday Morning Success: How Biblical Stewardship Transforms Your Work, Hugh Whelchel explains that these servants had to take risks and make investments in order to double the Master’s money and ultimately be good stewards of what he entrusted to them.

The servant who failed to act because of his fear was rebuked.

This doesn’t mean fear holds no place in risk and entrepreneurship. In his talk on risk, Keller mentions how a lack of fear can cause someone to take bad risks, risks without caution, humility, or principle. Having no fear can lead to reckless risk.

Risk Is Meant to be Principled

Perhaps you’ve heard the term principled entrepreneurship. It’s a term encompassing many things, from ethics to evaluation and assessment.

It’s the opposite of reckless risk.

Even if you aren’t familiar with the term, you’re probably living it.

You know risk-taking involves humility and wisdom in order to create long-term value. You recognize you may not have all the knowledge you need to make a fully-informed decision about the risk you’re taking, so you do your best to diversify your investments or take other steps to mitigate the more damaging effects of failure.

In other words, you’re exercising good judgement in assessing the risk and the reward of whatever venture you’re contemplating. It’s the idea that allows for taking risks, but in a way that also exercises good stewardship.

There’s much more that could be said about the biblical perspective on risk, stewardship, and entrepreneurship. Hopefully these thoughts will encourage you as you think about how biblical principles inform your risk-taking and entrepreneurship in your own life.

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  • Solomon had some things to say about risk in Ecclesiastes. “Cast your bread upon the waters” is interpreted by some scholars to refer to his investing in international trade through shipping. And I think the context confirms that when he encourages readers to divide their investments among seven opportunities because we don’t know which ones will fail.

    The real problem Christians often face is what I call temple leaping. When Satan tempted Christ, he urged Christ to leap from the top of the temple so that angels would catch him. Jesus replied that we shouldn’t tempt God. Christians sometimes do reckless things to demonstrate their faith by expecting God to bail them out when things go wrong. That is tempting God. Christians shouldn’t demand miracles from God in their business ventures but use wisdom.

  • Quinn Holzer

    I agree wholeheartedly with the takeaway lessons here. However, I think there continues to be a gap between “conventional wisdom” and the existing research regarding entrepreneurship. For years, I thought I could not be an entrepreneur, partly because “everybody knows entrepreneurs love risk.” I realize that is not how you worded it here, but it seems to read in such a way as to support this idea. However, Drucker shares the research and personal experiences of entrepreneurs that indicates successful entrepreneurs are actually very risk averse. “They can’t afford to takes risks.” It’s an interesting concept, and one that I don’t think does anything to take away from your article or its truths. However, I think that by perpetuating this myth, we are steering people away from entrepreneurial activities, rather than encouraging them.

    But maybe it’s more of a problem of how I have traditionally defined risk. Growing up on a farm/ranch, risk meant relying 100% on the weather and the resulting crops. That kind of life led me to believe “risk” meant we were completely at the mercy of “fate.” (for lack of a better word) However, I have come to realize that taking risks in business should mean taking very calculated, researched, well-understood risks that provide for the greatest possible return based on sound business fundamentals. Yes, there is risk involved, but not the kind of blind-faith risk that I believe Christians too often decide they have to have, and then blame God for the resulting failures.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Justin Steffen

    Another important point is that there is no “risk-free” investment, whether it is working for a company or starting your own, whether you are investing in index funds or in bonds. Even “investing” in a college education has risk involved as you are tying up 4 years of your potential labor and tuition costs with no promises of a job nor promises of learning more than you could through other avenues.
    There are always a measure of risks and trade-offs that one cannot ultimately avoid and the article does well in directing us not to fear and using wisdom and prudence as we seek to glorify God as faithful, trusting stewards.

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