Pastor Daniel Harrell had a heart for missions, so upon unexpectedly receiving roughly $2 million from a land sale, his Minnesota church was energized to use the funds accordingly. Though they had various debts to pay and building projects to fund, the church was committed to allocating at least 20 percent to service “outside of their walls.”
“The sensible way to spend the 20 percent would have been to find a successful service agency and write the check,” Harrell writes, in a recent piece for Christianity Today‘s This Is Our City.* “But I hated that idea. Surely we could leverage this money in a way that would let us get personally involved.”
The process proceeded as follows:
We had the money. We had the wisdom and experience, especially in fields related to business. What we lacked was our particular calling (or the energy to follow it through). What if we challenged young adults in our church and wider community to generate an idea that could become our calling?
I proposed we take $250,000 and sponsor a social entrepreneurial competition. We could invite innovators ages 35 and younger to submit project proposals with gospel values of grace, justice, love, redemption, and reconciliation. We’d ask that applicants affirm the Apostles’ Creed, because we wanted our effort to promote Christian faith. Our church would provide funding and expertise, networking, creative community, and acceleration toward successful launches. We’d use business acumen to make the projects sustainable and stress measurable outcomes.
Upon pitching the idea to church leadership, Harrell was greeted with skepticism. The plan involved plenty of risk and uncertainty, as well as forms of investment that made some uncomfortable. Noting that “they had a point,” Harrell openly recognizes the challenges. “To prosper financially may not be a biblical vice,” Harrell writes, “but greed, injustice, and extravagance lurk in prosperity’s shadows.”
It is at this point where a healthy concern for spiritual purity can quickly morph into counter-productive paranoia, leading Christians to feverishly push away whatever material prosperity they may encounter without considering the wider range of stewardship opportunities. Yet it is here, drawing on Jesus’s famous eye-of-the-needle remark, that Hassell found that such wariness need not be countered by hasty, legalistic imperatives or anti-business escapism. As Jesus reminded his disciples, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
As Harrell continues to explain, his church eventually found the confidence to commit these resources to active, in-house investment and discernment:
Mission can redeem the better aspects of the market to serve kingdom ends. Virtues of honesty and hard work, along with love and fairness, all improve the way we do business. To believe in Jesus is to value all these things. Granted, to believe in Jesus is also to embrace humiliation and loss, and loss is no way to profit—unless you buy the gospel. To take a providential windfall and risk it all on untested idealists sounded as ridiculous as changing the world through death on a cross. It takes faith for good business sense to make good mission sense.
The outcome, an initiative titled Innové, led to nearly 139 applicants, six of which were selected as “Protégés” to be funded. These resulted in a mix of non-profit and for-profit enterprises, including “a church-school partnership program that provides weekend meals to undernourished children, a nonprofit, non-predatory payday lender, a mobile food market that sells affordable fresh fruit and vegetables in urban “food deserts,” an educational initiative for men to combat sex trafficking, a college opportunity for post-secondary students with disabilities, and a for-profit printing business that directs profits toward clean water projects.”
Such efforts are refreshing and encouraging, demonstrating that wealth can be used in a variety of creative ways to further God’s mission in this world. But while Harrell’s church put a particular focus on “social entrepreneurship” — a loaded term for some — we should note that God also moves through the avenues of more “traditional” business, whether “inside” or “outside” the church walls. A for-profit printing business that directs profits to expanding its printing business can be just as God-glorifying as a for-profit printing business that directs profits to clean water projects. Proper alignment, active discernment, and attentive obedience to Word and Spirit are necessary, but the path to stewardship needn’t neglect the social aspect of “business” in and of itself.
Innové demonstrates that churches and businesses alike can match care with confidence in approaching wealth, taking stewardship beyond one-stop “missions,” and in the process, wield both non-profit and for-profit models for the glory of God.
“Innové brought together a vast array of gifts that comprised our church—human resources people, arts people, social services people, accountants, lawyers, managers, executives, marketers, technologists, organizational developers, and more,” writes Harrell. “They all were finally getting to use what they did best for the sake of God’s work in the world. It was as good as we’d prayed it would be: good for the gospel, good for our congregation, good for our young entrepreneurs and good for the world.”
Read the full piece here.
*Note: I feel compelled to note disagreement with the piece’s title, “Yes, Sometimes We Can Serve Both God and Mammon,” which does not represent the supporting content well. We cannot, I think, serve both God and Mammon, even if we are serving God through our material wealth — which, even still, is different from serving him through “Mammon,” I think.