Biblical Entrepreneurship and Success

by Morris Ruddick on June 24, 2012

BIBLICAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND SUCCESS

© Morris E. Ruddick

 

“She considers a field and buys it. Out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sees that her trading is profitable and her lamp does not go out at night.”  Proverbs 31:16-18

Entrepreneurship, as most people think of it, is generally lumped into a vague category of anything-to-do with business. Yet, it’s more, so very much more.

My perspectives on entrepreneurship, aside from being a business owner, have been influenced by two primary sources. First, is the word of God. Second is by a dear friend who is considered a world-class expert and practitioner on the topic.

Bill Bolton, committed Christian and former tentmaker in the Sudan, as well as being founder of the St. John Innovation Centre of St. John’s College at Cambridge University is co-author (along with John Thompson) of the best book I’ve been exposed to on the subject. It’s titled “Entrepreneur: Talent, Temperament and Technique.” The Bolton-Thompson definition for an entrepreneur is: “a person who habitually creates and innovates to build something of value around perceived opportunity.”

The Bolton-Thompson definition succinctly conforms to the entrepreneurial description outlined in the opening scripture. The most excellent woman of Proverbs 31 is clearly an entrepreneur.

Biblical Entrepreneurship
These three short verses point to one who is able to spot opportunity and is carefully decisive. She makes her assets work for her. As a good steward, she knows how to bring about increase and innovatively creates earnings through what she does with what she has. She provides a good service that serves a clientele, at a profit. Finally, she is diligent in the ongoing process of managing and leveraging opportunity.

Women do tend to make good entrepreneurs. If business employs the art of managing change, then entrepreneurship is the art of identifying and developing opportunity. As my fiend Dr. Bolton notes in the title of his book, entrepreneurship incorporates a talent/ a gift; a temperament; and it is definitely a technique that can be developed.

A key part of God’s nature is to create and bring increase. These factors are vital components of entrepreneurship. As His nature resides within those who believe, there is a certain level at which this entrepreneurial dimension works within each believer. For some it operates as a natural gift. For others, it represents an enhancement to other forms of giftings, such as the anointed gift of Bezalel in Exodus. Within community, biblical entrepreneurship represents a potential to be nurtured as will be explained in a future post.
“See, I have called by name Bezalel. I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of  craftsmanship, to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood, that he may work in all kinds of  craftsmanship.”
Exodus 31:2-6

Entrepreneurship, as God intended is designed to thrive within the community of His people. It is both an individual and a community factor of the “secret things” revealed by God to His own, designed to play a key role in them becoming the head and not the tail. As a true expression of righteous power, it can change the spiritual climate as it demonstrates the reality of God to non-believers when words fall short.

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that roughly three out of four of those of the persecuted church for whom we help start self-sustaining enterprises do so based by commercializing a skill they possess. The remaining ratio are ones with a natural gift as an entrepreneur; who are able to spot opportunity and know what to do about it.

This subtle opportunity dynamic differs significantly from the misconception, often held in the West that starting a successful enterprise is based on conceiving and developing a better “mouse trap.” This is a much riskier approach. Success of a new startup takes not only an expertise, but a realistic response to market need. In God’s economy, the success ratio is driven by much more, as I will soon discuss, not the least of which is making God the senior Partner and clearly adhering to His guidance.

Transforming the Spiritual Climate
One of the attendees in our God’s economy program was a tribal leader from a poor Asian village. He was both a pastor and leader of this tribal village. The entire village was comprised of committed believers. Their minority status and poverty, along with their faith in God, all seemed to intensify the level of persecution they received from local authorities. When roads and electrical service were washed out by a storm, the authorities didn’t bother restoring either. In the surrounding villages were other believers; minority, tribal groups treated in much the same way.

Upon completion of our training, I learned that this pastor had an expertise and experience in breeding and raising a particular variety of pig, considered a delicacy in his culture, within urban upscale restaurants. So we helped him with the purchase of three of these valuable, fast-breeding pigs.

Eighteen months later we made a visit to this rural village to observe first-hand what had developed since helping put this man into business. We were met not only by this man, who partook of our training, but four other pastors from surrounding villages. What we learned was that from the first group of piglets, this pastor not only made some profitable sales that began supporting his family AND his ministry, but he trained two other pastors in his skill and gave them each pigs to breed. He did the same thing for two additional tribal pastors with the next group of new piglets.

So, not only did he begin the turnaround for his own village with his simple business, but he set up four other pastors in business, who also began experiencing God’s blessings upon their villages and congregations from the fruit of true biblical community and entrepreneurship. From the noticeable change taking place within this pastor’s village, authorities finally restored their power and roads.

The Entrepreneurial Dynamic
Entrepreneurs are people who do things that make a difference. They create, build and are at the heart of change in society. In most cases, they are ordinary people with special matching talents and temperaments. Entrepreneurs spot opportunity and know what to do about it. In short, an entrepreneur is one who:

  • Can deliver on what they say they will do,
  • Knows what opportunities to go for,
  • Demonstrates the creativity and ideas that can’t be stopped in the first place,
  • Operates as a team player and has a purpose that serves.

One of many nuggets I’ve gleaned from Professor Bolton comes from a study conducted by Jill Garrett, former CEO of the Gallup organization in the UK. In a study of leaders of successful organizations, she concluded that these leaders could do “something” better than 10,000 other people. That “something” was a developed-gift in each leader. In other words, most people have their own unique gift. (See http://strategicintercession.org/2012/05/the-gifts-anointing-and-calling/)

Not unlike an accomplished musician or sports person, what differentiates the successful from the mediocre is in the level in which the gift is developed. In business, it’s developing the gift to be commercialized, while linking it up with the market need. Then wisdom shapes the mind-set that accompanies this “gift.”

Institutional versus Entrepreneurial Mind-Sets
Keen insight into the entrepreneurial approach to business was outlined by John Skully in his book “Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple.” Mr. Skully was the man behind the 80’s advertising campaign known as the Pepsi Challenge in which Pepsi made major inroads into Coke’s market share.

Then one day his good friend Steve Jobs (an inveterate entrepreneur) at Apple challenged Skully (a hardened institutional practitioner) with the words: “Do you want to peddle sugared water for the rest of your life or do you want to change the world?” So Skully accepted the offer made by Steve Jobs to take over as president of Apple. It was culture shock and devastating for both Skully and Apple’s engrained entrepreneurial foundations for doing business.

Jobs eventually took back the reins of running Apple. However, the experience awakened Skully to the operating dynamics of a corporate culture and way of thinking that was entrepreneurial rather than that of his institutional mind-set.

Taking a bit of license in summarizing his insights, the main focus for the institutional mind-set is on the organization; while entrepreneurial thinking is more on the individual. The institutional structure is tighter and more controlling than the entrepreneurial. For the most part, innovation in the institution serves to reduce risk; whereas entrepreneurially, it is to manage risk and opportunity, which fits more closely to the interaction of faith and risk in a Kingdom setting. The ability sought in an institution gives focus to managing the status quo; whereas entrepreneurially it is the ability to embrace and adapt to change.

The expected output for the institutional mind-set is market-share, whereas the entrepreneur thinks more in terms of market creation. In an institution, leadership tends to reflect a micro-managing orientation, whereas entrepreneurially the leadership focus is on motivating and nurturing. For the institutional mind-set, the product is a service or artifact. For the one who thinks like an entrepreneur, the product is a dream. Finally, the typical motivation for the institutional thinker is to make money, whereas for the entrepreneurial thinker, it is to make history.

God-Centered Community Entrepreneurs
With those insights into the mind-set of an entrepreneur, God-centered community entrepreneurs are in touch with customers and the community they serve. Like the Asian pastor who helped other village pastors set up their businesses, God’s entrepreneurs grasp the big picture and overriding need of the common good. Simultaneously, as they let their Light shine, they build bridges with the broader community. In all that they do, they adhere to God’s guidance. They are generous and participate in purposeful community gatherings that engender unity. Their response to customers and community is gratefulness. They understand reciprocity and know what it means to “give back” in the process of making a difference in their community.

God-centered community entrepreneurs are models of operating with fairness, excellence, honesty and accountability. As good stewards and witnesses, they are spiritually and socially responsible, proactively serving others with the mantle of Abraham as they are blessed to be a blessing.

The Entrepreneur Challenge and Imperative
The responsibility of God’s entrepreneurs is stressed by Dr. Bolton, who articulates the entrepreneur challenge and imperative. The point bears on the biblical theme of employing righteous power in a corrupt world, with truth, serving and influence; thereby making a difference.

Many years ago, a man by the name of Machiavelli was at the opposite extreme in terms of the use of power. He wrote a short book on the devious use of power titled “The Prince.” Yet within his treatise, was the profound statement underscoring the entrepreneurial dynamic: “There is nothing more difficult to conduct or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in a new order of things.”

Entrepreneurs are ones who thrive on challenge, uncertainty and chaos. As a part of the leaders sent to spy out the Promised Land, Joshua and Caleb responded as God’s entrepreneurs with faith, not fear. Their comrade’s report was of them being as grasshoppers in the sight of the giants in the land. Instead of the grasshopper mind-set, Joshua and Caleb saw both the opportunity and God’s intention for His people.

Entrepreneurs challenge the status quo; they spot opportunity and turn it into a new order of things. God’s highest priorities will always come through His “people” operating in community; cooperating with God, by means of their combined gifts to bring change that advances the Kingdom of God. Both the challenge and imperative for God’s entrepreneurs is the responsibility to identify your unique sphere and enter that calling to be blessed to be a blessing; and by so doing, changing the spiritual climate.

The Faith-Gift of God’s Increase
Being blessed to be a blessing sets in motion God’s faith-gift of increase. To create, build, bring increase and multiply are key dimensions of God’s nature. These dynamics are also at the heart of entrepreneurship.

Operating on this level begins by embracing a generous, giving heart. Generosity and stewardship in God’s economy operate in tandem. That means not only managing your money well, but always being in control of your assets and income instead of allowing them to control you. The next point to participating in this flow of the faith-gift of increase is to learn to leverage opportunity and change. This goes back to the foundations outlined in the posts on planning. From these dynamics will come a process that will yield enlargement and multiplication.

Success Principles for Biblical Entrepreneurs
In God’s economy the measures of success differ widely from those of the world. The world’s focus is generally on money, prestige and power. In the book of Isaiah we capture a succinct glimpse of God’s perspective for each of these factors:
“Then the fool will no longer be called generous, nor the miser said to be bountiful. The schemes of the schemer are evil; devising wicked plans to destroy the poor with lying words, despite the needy speaking justice. The generous man devises generous plans, and by generosity he shall stand.”
Isaiah 32: 5-8

The measure of biblical success, as is its pathway, employs righteous power to be blessed in order to extend the blessing. A few key biblical principles tied to God’s pathway for success include:
Learn the art of diligence
. Diligence is a precious possession that will lead to an excellence and authority that contributes to the common good.
“The hand of the diligent will rule.
” Proverbs 12:24

Become excellent at something you do. The mastery of a gift/ a skill that serves will bring about not only purpose, but the recognition of its significance for the benefit of the community.
“Do you see a man who excels in his work, he will stand before kings.”
Prov 22:29

Assume responsibility and manage detail. Assuming responsibility means managing the way you make a difference down to the details, not only in bringing blessing upon yourself but in that next step of being a blessing to others.
“Be diligent to know the state of your flocks and attend to your herds.”
Prov 27:23

Strive for trustworthiness and dependability. Being worthy of trust begins in our own hearts with the way we make a lifestyle of the generous and dependable extension of our gifts to help others.
“He who walks with integrity and works righteousness and speaks truth in his heart… who swears to his own hurt and does not change.”
Psalm 15:2-4

Treat your customers like family. In business, when dealing with issues of customer service and marketing, the most strategic, yet most subtle thing that can be done is to build genuine relationships through treating customers like family.
“A good name is to be chosen over great riches, loving favor than silver and gold. By humility and fear of the Lord are riches and honor and life.”
Proverbs 22:1,4

Discipline yourself to view things from a long-term perspective. Wisdom pays the cost in prioritizing and pacing the development of an enterprise. Reach for more, but be willing to be faithful in the small things on a stable pathway to the future.
“Prepare your outside work, make it fit for yourself in the field; and afterward build your house.”
Proverbs 24:27

“Little by little will you drive them out from before you, until you have increased and are numerous enough to take possession of the land.”  Ex 23:30; Deut 7:22

Be alert for opportunities for ownership. Beginning in the books of Moses, the Bible emphasizes the value of private ownership by which opportunity is leveraged.
“She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.”
Proverbs 31:16

Learn to manage risk. Faith and risk operate hand in hand. Responding to God’s guidance will involve getting out of our comfort zones and the management of risk.
“Against all hope, Abraham believed God.”
Romans 4:18

Make your assets work for you. Foundational to ruling over the work of His hands is the stewardship that brings increase to that with which we’re entrusted.
“Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things.”
Matthew 25:18

Surround yourself with wise counselors. The emphasis is on wisdom drawn from the “experience” of those who have expertise in the pathway you’re walking.
“In the multitude of counselors there is safety.”
Proverbs 11:14; 24:6

Make decisions based on the right thing to do. The world confuses stewardship with squeezing everything possible out of a deal. In contrast, in the Torah is the principle of gleaning, of leaving something for the less fortunate at harvest time.
“What does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God.”

Micah 6:8

Make the Lord your senior Partner. Biblical success will pivot on the level at which God’s guidance is sought and accurately adhered to.
“Seek first His Kingdom and righteousness and all these other things will be added to you.” 
Matthew 6:33

Your God-Centered Entrepreneurial Agenda
Your God-centered entrepreneurial agenda is your calling, your destiny. It begins by seeking to know God’s heart and his priorities for you. It incorporates a progressive grasp of applying the biblical mantle of being blessed to be a blessing. That involves identifying your mix of “gifts” and personal sphere of influence, along with the authority from the anointing that you have to bring multiplication.

This form of multiplication involves replicating your efforts; extending and enabling opportunity to others through proactive mentoring. In this way you will fulfill your God-centered entrepreneurial agenda or calling by ruling over the work of your hands as a cooperative process with the Lord at the helm.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Professor Charles J Mambula1 November 24, 2013 at 8:05 am

A very synthetic approach of scriptures and entrepreneurship.

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Stephen Ngatia Njogu March 28, 2014 at 10:34 am

Wonderfully done to God’s glory

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Lwandile Kefiwe Ngendane September 5, 2014 at 7:25 am

Amen. Glory be to God!

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