In the beginning, God created… (Gen. 1:1)
Throughout the history of Christianity, a sort of Christian hierarchy of accepted vocations emerged. At the top are those that answered “the call,” such as missionaries and others in full-time church employment.
Somewhere near the bottom has traditionally been the merchant class, businessmen as we call them today. As the Barna Group found in a survey it conducted in 2013,
…few Christians believe they’re called to do what they do. This data presents a challenge to the popular Christian understanding of career as calling since most Christians in the U.S. don’t seem to be thinking about their jobs in terms of calling.
This is consistent with historical Christianity. During the larger part of Christian history, a number of commercial activities were prohibited, or at least discouraged, by church teachings. Martin Luther wrote against foreign trade and trading in what he termed things that “serve no useful purpose” in his 1524 tract, On Trading and Usury.
We still see vestiges of this thinking in seminaries. Undoubtedly this is carrying over into the pulpits. This is wrong, and we need a better understanding of what entrepreneurship is and what entrepreneurs do.
Learning about Entrepreneurship from the One Who Invented It
Entrepreneurs are creators. The creative process is often something we celebrate. Christians can look at great art, like the Sistine Chapel or The Last Supper, and marvel at the beauty and creativity of the art (which we should). But we often completely miss the creative act required to start and successfully operate a commercial enterprise.
Entrepreneurs are creative people. They are often as passionate as artists about what they are doing, but also have to serve people passionately. There is a stereotypical characterization of the starving artist creating only to please himself. While this is a romantic notion of artists with only the barest hint of realism, we do not have the same notion of entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs must be sure they are doing one thing: their creation must serve their fellow man or they are no longer entrepreneurs.
The entrepreneurial process requires a lot from a person. It requires them to:
- Look at the world and see an unmet need, an area of dissatisfaction, or a problem.
- Visualize a solution, often a solution others disparage and ridicule. In many cases the solution requires a completely different approach, something no one else could see, like a vision that there could be a mass market for wireless hand-held phones or computers in every home. Few saw that life would be that much better with such devices. Within living memory, this stuff was science fiction.
I am not saying that entrepreneurs are closer to God in some way because they are entrepreneurs. But the entrepreneurial process requires certain Christian traits, and is enabled by our being made in God’s image.
To create something truly useful we must create like God did, for others. It serves his purpose to have a world and people and a universe, so he created it, but it is largely for our benefit and use. In Genesis 1:27-30, God tells Adam and Eve he has given them creation for sustenance and cultivation. God reiterates this to Noah in Genesis 9:1-3.
The same is true of an entrepreneur. To create something lasting and of value, the enterprise must serve others, give them value, make life more enjoyable and easier in some way. An entrepreneur that creates purely for himself has a hobby, not a business. He is indulging his interests, not looking to serve his fellow man by making life better in some way.
The first thing the Bible tells us about God is that he is a creator. “In the beginning God created….” The above picture shows a hand creating the world, a world that is artistically beautiful but also a system designed to work and function. We cannot tell for sure if the hand is holding the paintbrush of an artist or the pencil of an architect. Both forms of creation are in his nature and ours, and we should embrace them both, and celebrate a successful business just as we do a beautiful work of art.
Editor’s note: Learn more about the biblical value of all work, including business and entrepreneurship, in How Then Should We Work?
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On “Flashback Friday,” we take a look at some of IFWE’s former posts that are worth revisiting. This article was previously published on Jun. 12, 2013.