Where’s the Biblical Teaching about Entrepreneurship?
Has the church lost or abdicated our economic and business roots? Our founding fathers had a classical education. They were expected to know Latin and Greek as a requirement before they went to college.
“Jefferson used so many Greek quotes in his letters to Adams (who liked Latin better than Greek) that, on one occasion, Adams complained to him about it. … Students were also expected in these early years, according to the Harvard College Laws, to be able to translate the Old and New Testaments from the original Greek and Hebrew into Latin.”
Such was their educational foundation, steeped in the Bible and its principles.
Ethics and Economics: Classical Business Foundations
Adam Smith wrote the Wealth of Nations (1776), the study of economics, but this was his second book. Nearly everyone I ask fails to mention his first book, Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), the ethics and the foundation of economics. Without ethics, i.e. trust and faith between two sides of a transaction, business becomes hard to transact. Loss of trust means loss of business.
Economics used to be a field of study that belonged with religion and theology.
“When…great universities moved the study of economics from their religious departments to their science departments, they were actually driving a wedge between the profoundly uplifting activity of business and the moral arguments and spiritual dimensions that underpin the validity of economics.”
After our Revolutionary War, the U.S. economy began it’s recovery and once again became a “startup” national economy. But with the help of the 1824 Supreme Court decision Gibbons v. Ogden, it broke up various state awarded business “monopolies” and broke their state-enabled monopolistic habits. The decision accelerated our entrepreneurial growth in America.
Then, as the pace and size of the U.S. economy grew, industrialization came into being by the mid-1800s into the early 1900s. The captains of industry during the Gilded Age, Cornelius Vanderbilt (shipping and transportation), John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil), Andrew Carnegie (Carnegie Steel), and J. Pierpont Morgan (banking) started businesses. As their wealth grew, they had to create and invent new business systems and processes to handle their largess and growth.
But typical of the pace of the marketplace change, educational institutions are nearly always playing catch up with any market changes, identifying “theories” and content from observing the marketplace. These and other businessmen grew their companies based on the foundations of ethics and economics: but not for long, and not all of them.
Educational and ecumenical institutions follow marketplace mindsets
In the late 19th century, colleges responded to these marketplace changes and offered some of the first business schools with courses in accounting, business strategy, economics, finance, manufacturing and production. In 1881, American entrepreneur and industrialist Joseph Wharton established the world’s first collegiate school of business at the University of Pennsylvania. Within a few years the Haas School of Business at the University of California in Berkeley was founded and provided west coast students with the same opportunities. The first school to offer a graduate level MBA program was Harvard University in Cambridge, MA in 1908. But an MBA is a Masters in Business Administration, administering business, which is not the same as entrepreneurship.
While colleges will teach you the craft of your business (law, medicine, writing, computers, etc.), they rarely teach you the business of your craft (marketing, sales, taxes, etc.) with your degree. Most college grads agree with this statement. For example, today a doctor will have six to eight years of medical school, but get a mere eight to twelve hours about business. But even fewer grads and higher education institutions understand what entrepreneurship truly is, let alone being an entrepreneur following biblical principles. But this glacial mindset is changing.
“In God we trust. All others must bring data,” says W. Edwards Deming, statistician, professor, author, lecturer, and consultant. Our problem: Educational institutions collect data, that’s good. But it’s incomplete, fails to provide context, and it is historical, i.e. it’s a lagging indicator. Data tells us where we’ve been, it does not say where we’re going. Data is like looking in the rearview mirror, not the windshield. This means that, in most cases, collecting, sharing, and interpreting the data only gives us a snapshot in time. It tells us of our position, not what direction we’re going or heading, nor what is our speed.
State of Entrepreneurship: Educational institutions
There is a marked difference between the subjects of economics, business and corporations, and especially entrepreneurship. Academic achievement has replaced business performance or, worse yet, fails to solve marketplace problems.
“Instead of measuring themselves in terms of the competence of their graduates, or by how well their faculties understand important drivers of business performance, they measure themselves almost solely by the rigor of their scientific research.”
One of my all time favorite films is Teacher’s Pet with Doris Day and Clark Gable. It’s the story of college professor Day teaching journalism and New York city newspaper “hard charging” editor Gable in the newspaper business of “living or dying selling ads” to stay in business. But even as my sister has been a teacher for over 30 years, this “Blueberry Story: The teacher gives the businessman a lesson” illustrates how disconnected education and the marketplace can be between each other. While businesses can “hire the best” and can turn back any bad blueberries to produce their award-winning blueberry ice cream, K12 schools “can never send back our blueberries. We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, frightened, confident, homeless, rude, and brilliant.” If the movie Teacher’s Pet highlights this disconnect in 1957 when it came out, it seems like neither side has learned much from the other since then. These issues still remain.
As a fan of serial entrepreneur and fellow veteran Steve Blank, he outlines problems with educational institutions, “By design, universities are laggards. They don’t want to adopt fads, and so there is a real tension between missing a trend and adopting a fad.” Educational institutions are normally between five to ten years behind what the market is doing while governments can be even further behind.
Now agreeably, educational R&D (Research & Development) happens in the over 4,000 various higher educational organizations in our nation, but the hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurial chefs can create a new recipe on the fly in their restaurant, not in a school. Tens of thousands of writers can create a new novel on their computer, not in schools. Thousands of plumbers create a new idea for a product or service in their shop, not in schools.
So every entrepreneur in the marketplace creates new ideas in their own garage laboratory, not schools. Churches could be the next start up incubators, accelerators, and co-working spots teaching ethics for the marketplace to its members and others.
State of Entrepreneurship: Marketplace Mindsets for Ministries
The marketplace never sleeps and educational institutions and churches are laggards behind the market.
So what’s the spark that should light every person, including an entrepreneur’s, fuse? It starts with, “I want to change or improve my world!” For the Christian, it’s their “calling,” using their God-given talents, skills, and experiences for Him. That’s the first step.
The second step becomes clear for themselves, “I want to change your world,” or the customer’s, “Your product could change my world!” it’s to enhance everyone’s life.
And lastly, for the bigger dreamers, “I want to change the world!” As a percentage, far fewer people will ever get to this last step, but everyone starts at the first step, with their innate drive. All of us have it, even if those that “did have it” had it driven or beaten out of us or has been buried beneath negative attitudes or environments. But once this spark, their calling is lit, it guides them along their life’s path.
For a Christian entrepreneur, there are basically two views of serving others: through a non-profit or a for-profit organization. According to National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are over 1.5 million tax exempt organizations in the US with over 313,000 congregations. But non-profits seek donations and sponsorships from the profits of businesses: they help the poor with help from the rich.
John D. Rockefeller “agonized over the judicious application of his money and found it harder to exercise scrutiny over charities than over business.” He and other industrialists worried that charity fostered dependence and pauperized recipients. You can look no further than the documentary, Poverty, Inc., to validate this issue and the need to have a mindset switch from charity to entrepreneurship. Rockefeller often said, “I believe it is a religious duty to get all the money you can, fairly and honestly; to keep all you can: and to give away all you can.”
But based on Jewish thinking regarding charity, I’d change his last phrase to read, “I’d use my money to invest and start many more new successful businesses.” Too often when churches discuss helping others, i.e. the poor, they ask the rich to help the poor out. The Forgotten Man, i.e. the middle class, is forgotten. But the church needs to understand that everyone in the church needs help, whether one is homeless, helpless, middle class, or rich. ALL have problems which require help: no church member is exempt from problems that require help. Especially entrepreneurs.
Depending on who you ask, there are between 18 million (DMDatabases.com) and 27 million businesses in the US. Of significance are the demographics of the number of companies by number of employees.
Most people in business may be aware of this number spread, companies of 10,000+ employees to solo-preneurs, but many new entrepreneurs may not. Seeing these numbers made me have a significant pivot a third and last time with my target audience of my first book, How to Start a Business: Mac Version. However, the percentage of new entrepreneurs by age shows that age is not a significant determinant for startups, despite what the youth-orientated media reports.
It also says that a church is probably no different: more church members are solo-preneurs than Fortune 500 CEOs. But imagine 10 percent of a church becoming new startup entrepreneurs.
Church: A Community of Commerce
How much of a difference is there between the state of entrepreneurship mindsets, skill sets, and assets between starting a non-profit versus a business? Both require a core startup entrepreneur competency: Serving customers with a product or service. However, are you fully aware how much paperwork and investments of time is needed not only to start, but to sustain a non-profit? Both require an adherence to ethics from the Bible. So, forgo the constant fundraising and government paperwork nightmares and headaches and become an entrepreneur and start a business instead.
A large church I have attended has a coffee shop that’s only open on Sundays. Most churches have space available that mostly goes unused Monday through Saturday. Why not start a fish tank startups, putting church assets to good use? For example, a church kitchen could be used by an up-and-coming chef to try out their menu at a church event as well as hire teenagers who need work experience serving event customers. A church coffee shop could become a co-working spot with some rooms for conferences and use white boards for creating new businesses. Better yet, create a Round Table of Christian entrepreneurs in church.
Having lit this fuse to entrepreneurship, this won’t stop. Churches can once again train Christian entrepreneurs to be the ethical light in the secular darkness of the marketplace.
“I have often been asked—What is the best age for producing?…I know only one answer, the age you are now.”
— Milton S. Hershey
So, are you and your church going to start an initiative of creating a Christian fish-tank startup, contrasted with the secular shark-tank, to create a community of compassionate commerce?
 Thou Shall Prosper by Rabbi Lapin, pg 163
 Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller by Ron Chernow, pg 237
 Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller by Ron Chernow, pg 191
 Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams by Michael D’Antonio, pg 236.