What is Christian about Entrepreneurship?

One of the best definitions of entrepreneurship is that of Harvard Professor Howard Stevenson (1983): “the pursuit of opportunity beyond the tangible resources that you currently control”. This definition is broad enough to describe all types of enterprising activity, yet specific enough to focus on what makes entrepreneurship something admired by many and attempted by few. This short yet powerful definition has three components, and each is worth deeper consideration, particularly if you are a follower of Christ.

“The pursuit…”

If entrepreneurship were a sport, qualification would be as simple as entering the race. What makes you an entrepreneur is the pursuit, not the achievement. Entrepreneurial activity is not tied to a particular outcome or ‘success’, yet it is sure to require struggle, learning, unexpected obstacles and iterative refinementtoward a new or novel idea. This is a full-contact sport that requires the founder to engage directly with market elements that may injure or destroy. Every founder enters the race in a vulnerable state and their likelihood of survival increases as they recruit others in the pursuit (investors, employees, partners, etc.). Entrepreneurship can be understood as a team sport that is more about the journey than the destination.

Christian disciples should understand such a struggle: we are called to pursue a perfection we can never attain, we exercise refinement toward a godly character that can only come from a long obedience in the same direction. We understand the humble ambition required to commit all we have in a race we can never “win”; to pursue something greater than ourselves.

“…of opportunity…”

The entrepreneurial race leads through complex social systems and unpredictable terrain. Entrepreneurs seek to introduce innovative solutions to address perceived challenges in this terrain – to add value where it was previously lacking. The one who pursues such opportunities must have deep insight and keen vision to see around the corner. While most people focus on the challenges in front of them, visionary founders can step back from the cliff and muster the optimism to imagine the bridge that just might reach the other side. A bold and well-defined opportunity can fuel the entire pursuit and muster the resources needed to chase it. To see such opportunities takes creative genius, but to realize them requires convincing others to pursue it with you.

God is the Prime Mover, the ultimate Creator, and we are made in his image with a capacity to steward and emulate his creative genius. Christians can build only with what He supplies, but he has given us much; we can work to redeem what is broken. Frederick Buechner contends that God calls us to “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet”. With an eternal perspective, we can appreciate God’s creative genius and possess the hope needed to address profound hunger.

“…beyond resources controlled

This part of the definition captures the reason most avoid this race, while others find it the most thrilling challenge amarketplace can offer. Rational thought and tangible assets fail to explain a domain where vision outpaces resources. Few would embark on a race without the necessary resources to reach the finish line, yet many of us have seen an opportunity pursued by the right founder has a mysterious capacity for assembling the components necessary to claim victory. Amazingly, founders must begin with a hope in something that does not yet exist. It is difficult to describe this sentiment in secular terms, but spiritual traditions have a word for this: “faith”.

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1)

We are living in amazing times, where the heroes of our day are entrepreneurs. More amazing still, the traits of the best entrepreneurs compliment that which Christ commends: commitment to a journey of struggle and refinement, a mandate to pursue opportunities of creative and redemptive value, and faith. Of course, there is a way to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities with avarice and disregard for others, inconsistent with Christian values. However, there is a growing community struggling to show there is a better way. The definition hasn’t changed, but even popular entrepreneurship texts now name the key virtues required: humility, empathy, creative thinking, grit and courage. We can take comfort: entrepreneurship is a popular sport that plays directly into the strengths required of those who follow Christ. 

Let us hope these amazing times inspire a host of faithful founders to enter the race. If we faithfully respond to this challenge, the world will never be the same.

About the Author

This article was written by Carter Crockett. Carter’s background includes over twenty years of business experience, connecting theory to practice. He has held strategic marketing roles for a number of innovative companies in the following industries: automotive, consumer media, coffee, and information technology. In 2000, Carter left product management at Microsoft to become Co-Founder/President of Dealer Trade Group, a wholesale (B2B) marketplace for vehicles, which he led through successful launch. Starting and leading Karisimbi Business Partners continues to be the highlight of his career.

Besides his own ventures, Carter has guided entrepreneurs on three continents. His practical experience informs his teaching, writing, speaking and consulting in the areas of social entrepreneurship, business ethics and virtue. Carter was a primary author of the National Code of Business Ethics commissioned by Rwanda’s Private Sector Federation (PSF), and also contributed to the Entrepreneurship Development Policy for Rwanda and the creation of the Community Benefit Company designation, making Rwanda the 5th country in the world to embed social enterprise as a category of their business laws and registration.  He has also served as Founding Director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at Gordon College, bringing a class of international development students to Rwanda annually.

Carter received his B.A. in Business and Economics from Westmont College in 1992 and in 2005 earned a Ph.D. in Entrepreneurship while teaching and conducting research at Robert Gordon University, Scotland.