Review: Called to Create

Called to create

Called to CreateJordan Raynor. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017.

Summary: A view of creative, entrepreneurial work as a good calling from God, and the challenges and opportunities of pursuing entrepreneurial work for the glory of God.

We celebrate them when they are successful–the Steve Jobs, Elon Musks, and Oprah Winfrey’s of the world. They are risk-taking entrepreneurs whose creativity brings new products to the market, or whose artistic work is of a character of excellence and success that it gains wide notice. The author of this work extends the idea of entrepreneur “to anyone who takes a risk to create something new for the good of others.”  These include tech entrepreneurs, but also small business owners, artists and writers, nonprofit founders, chefs, and many others. The author, himself an entrepreneur, explores whether the pursuit of such work is honoring to God, or somehow “second class” to more “noble” forms of Christian service. Clearly, he believes the former to be true.

The book addresses four “C’s” of Christian entrepreneurship: Calling, Creating, Challenges, and Charge. He integrates biblical principles with the stories of forty men and women entrepreneurs in a variety of fields from J.R.R. Tolkien to the founders of TOMS shoes and In-and Out Burgers. What I appreciated was the combination of rich theological insight (rather than cliche’) and substantive examples.

In the section on “Calling” he begins with God as the first entrepreneur as maker of all things and the source of all creativity. I appreciate that he considers the incarnate Lord as a carpenter who for twenty years revealed God’s creative and entrepreneurial spirit. From this he outlines a theology of work as intrinsically good, and finally discusses how we discern calling as we understand what we are passionate, gifted for, and have the greatest opportunity to love others by doing.

“Creating” begins by looking at why we create–is it to make a name for ourselves as did the tower builders of Babel, or like Bach soli Deo gloria (for the glory of God alone). Then there is the question of what we create, and here the two factors are products that show something of what God is like and products that love others. It could be children’s stories like those written by Lewis, or the beer brewed by the Guinness family, less alcoholic than gin, and safe to drink. Finally, the question is how we create, and the key here is excellence in product and putting people before profit, which the author found exemplified in his study and interviews with Chick-fil-A personnel.

“Challenges” begins with the relentless pressure entrepreneurs face to hustle and the issues of trust and rest, including sabbath, that are essential for staying focused on their callings. A reality of entrepreneurship is failure, yet often it is hushed up rather than transparently acknowledged and learned from, where it becomes a source of hope and boldness. Finally, he addresses the continual need for mental renewal that he believes comes through communing with God, partners, and others (for example, the Inklings).

The last part was perhaps the most unexpected for me. “Charge” begins with the call of entrepreneurs to make disciples through first loving people and then teaching the word. Perhaps the most moving story was that of Alex Clark, a Chick-fil-A manager who hires Jenny, before discovering she is a felon on probation, but sticks with her and develops her professionally to the point where she manages a store, but also comes to faith, and embraces a calling to do what Alex did with others. He talks about the use of profits– given away, reinvested to grow the business, and invested to help others called to create. He concludes with a chapter that focuses around a shared speaking engagement between Peter Thiel (co-founder of PayPal) and N. T. Wright that explores the idea of the new heaven and earth, and thinking about our work passing into the eternity of the New Creation.

In my work, I’ve had the chance to interact with entrepreneurs in business, in the world of ideas, and in the arts. Often, I’ve discovered that they have felt that the church looks a bit askance at them, or only views them for what they give to the church in time or money. This book is an encouragement to these people that their work matters to God and the pleasure they take in entrepreneurship may just be the favor of God upon their lives. This is also a book pastors desperately need to read, as it may stretch their imagination about the ways God might call the people who sit under their teaching Sunday by Sunday. Do we see Peter and Andrew simply as the first disciples, or as hard-working self-employed entrepreneurs? Is Lydia just Paul’s host, or an enterprising businesswoman in purple goods? Do we affirm just the hours people put into the ostensible ministries of the church, or recognize the ways they reflect and bring honor to their Creator in their work every day?

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Renewing the City

OH Youngstown aThis is a post I’ve thought about for some time. We’ve talked quite a bit about memories, and the richness of life in the Youngstown we grew up in. Yet there is also a sense of what has been lost — the mills, many vibrant neighborhoods and businesses throughout the city, and a significant part of the city’s people. But as many have written about Youngstown, we’ve been knocked down, but not knocked out.

I’d like to think, and hopefully hear your thoughts, about what it takes to renew the city so many of us grew up in and love. Before I write about that, I have to acknowledge that I don’t live in Youngstown and won’t be among those who have to do the heavy lifting to make it happen. Nor do I consider myself an expert in these things. Rather, I simply love the place I grew up in and would love to see the city not only get back on its feet, which I think it has, but thrive once more. What I think this involves is building on what Youngstown still has, learning from the past, and learning from healthy cities.

Building on what Youngstown still has. Youngstown became an industrial powerhouse, not just because of the mills, but because of the work ethic and spirit of its people. People who open restaurants, small machine shops, or new technology start-ups reflect that spirit. There are people who remember what good places neighborhoods can be and whether they live on the north side, Brier Hill, the Idora neighborhood or elsewhere, they are doing the hard work to reclaim that heritage. Youngstown has a rich heritage of cultural institutions in the Butler, the McDonough, the DeYor Center, the Covelli Centre and so much more that make it a place to live as well as work. There is the beauty of Mill Creek Park which needs to be preserved, including the health of its lakes. The city has been the home of a great urban university since 1908 and the partnership between the university and industry in providing a well-trained work force can be a key to renewal.

Learning from the past. I would contribute only two things here. Just as investors diversify, so should the city and not rely on a single industry. The great thing about things like the Youngstown Business Incubator and other entrepreneurial efforts is that it has the potential of building a diverse economic base. The other thing is to relentlessly pursue the rule of law rather than criminal or economic interests that drain the city’s wealth into the coffers of the few rather than the pockets of many.

Learning from healthy cities. We’ve lived in a city the past twenty five years that works pretty well. None are perfect but Columbus does some things that might be helpful for Youngstown. One is that it has had a history of good and shrewd city government and foresight that extends back to the 1950’s when Mayor “Jack” Sensenbrenner made plans to allow Columbus to grow in the 1980’s and ’90’s. That has continued through successive administrations. The other is that this city knows how to solve problems, getting political, civic, and business leadership together to quietly work toward solutions. At least when I was growing up in Youngstown, it seemed that it was much more common to play the blame game in the press or wait for someone else to solve the city’s problems for us.

My hunch is that good cities are not “90 day wonders” but are built over several generations. Columbus is a growing city today because of fifty years of reasonably good leadership. That was true at one time of the Youngstown of the past as well.

My sense is that there are people all over Youngstown who are rolling up their sleeves, at very least to make their own living, but also to make the place around them a bit better. They are in government, running businesses, leading faith communities, rehabbing homes, teaching in schools and the university, working in the arts, or simply clocking in each day to do their job in exchange for a paycheck.

Sometimes we keep looking around for others to provide the leadership a place needs. I wonder if it is the case for those of you who are rolling up your sleeves like the people I listed above, that you are the people you have been waiting for. And why not? It’s your city after all.

When Shrewd is Good

To be called “shrewd” is often a back-handed compliment. Images of used car dealers in plaid jackets or oily snake oil salesmen run through my mind. One definition I came across said “given to wily and artful ways or dealing.” One often gets the idea that shrewdness involves something a bit shady, but clever.

© Nennanenna | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Nennanenna | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

This past Sunday, Rich preached on the parable of the shrewd manager in Luke 16:1-15. He finds out that he’s going to lose his job because he wasted the master’s possessions. So, to have some place to go after he gets fired, he calls the master’s debtors in and reduces their debts from 20 to 50 percent. When the master finds out, he commends him as a shrewd operator. Jesus in turn says worldly guys like this are shrewder than the people of light when it comes to using money (verse 8).

So is Jesus saying its OK to cut corners to make a little extra? No, the point is that this guy in his own way used money to make friends. Rich talked about the idea that for Christians, are we as good at faithfully using money for the blessing of others as the shrewd manager was in using money to make friends. The truth is we can only use money to serve God or be mastered by money where it becomes our god (verse 13).

So often, we avoid talking about money in church because such talk is either a prelude to a guilt trip or to an appeal to put more in the offering plate. In the midst of all that, it seems we miss the incredible opportunity for joy in the use of whatever money we have.

Rich talked about the creative people who figure out not only how to pay their bills but delight in finding ways to use their money to care for others. What is interesting to me is that these are the happiest people I know. They don’t always have a pile of money. But they love having an extra person at the table, or surprising someone with a gift they really need. They always seem to have enough to give. This is when shrewd is good.

I’ve known some people who have real gifts, or just plain opportunity to make a pile of money. They are entrepreneurs. One of the coolest things I’ve seen are some people I’ve known like this who get really excited by figuring out ways to use this money, or even multiply this money through the investment of others in advancing the kingdom of Jesus. This is when shrewd is good.

One friend has created a business with the help of investors that employs ex-prisoners in janitorial jobs in office buildings, giving them skills, a work record, and, if they are receptive, the gospel. Others have invested in micro-lending that enables people to expand businesses, and is a key to helping women escape the threats of violence and trafficking. Another believing friend uses investment skills and Christian principles to help wealthy clients develop family “mission statements” about the use of their wealth and plans for how wealth will be intelligently passed along from one generation to the next without spoiling the children rotten. This is when shrewd is good.

Rich asked us several questions at the end including the challenge to ask someone else to tell us, “how concerned with money do you think I am?” One that I might add is “how do you think about money?” Are you thinking about how much of it you have and how you can get more, or are you thinking about ways that you can use what you have so that someone else can experience the goodness of God’s kingdom? I’m not sure we can get away from thinking about money in this life. It seems to me that the real question is whether we are thinking of money as on trust to us from God and looking for ways to use it for the good of people and the glory of God. This is when shrewd is good.

Review: Entrepreneurial Leadership: Finding Your Calling, Making a Difference

Entrepreneurial Leadership: Finding Your Calling, Making a Difference
Entrepreneurial Leadership: Finding Your Calling, Making a Difference by Richard J Goossen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book fills a void in publishing from a Christian perspective on entrepreneurship. Richard Goossen leads the Entrepreneurial Leaders Organization and R Paul Stevens is a seminary professor who was both worked in the marketplace and thought and written deeply in the area of the theology and practice of work. The book is based on research from the Entrepreneurial Leaders Research Project and so combines good empirical evidence and theological acuity.

The book begins with chapters on entrepreneurship and leadership and contrast Christian and humanist models, focusing on the difference that sourcing such leadership in God rather than oneself makes. Following this are chapters on soul and spirituality in the workplace, meaning and work ethic, risk and reward and a chapter on finding your calling that provides a very helpful rubric for discerning calling.

The latter part of the book focuses heavily on principles for practicing and sustaining entrepreneurial leadership. One of the most illuminating sections for me was the section on dealing with betrayal. Rarely do I hear this talked about and yet I’ve known a number of people who were deeply wounded by personal betrayals in the workplace.

They finish with a chapter on making a difference that has a challenging section on entrepreneurs and the church. They found (as have I) that churches neither know what to do with entrepreneurs (other than ask them for money!) nor do they often support and affirm their calling and provide theological teaching that equips them for Christian service in the marketplace.

This is a travesty. The authors observe at one point that it may well be the case that the marketplace will be one of our main fields of mission in the twenty-first century. Woe to us if we fail to see beyond our church walls to these ripe fields! Hopefully this work, and others that I hope will follow will change the church’s posture toward these gifted people who are also pursuing the call of God.

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