Several months ago, in the wake of Detroit’s bankruptcy and the flurry of discussions surrounding it, Chris Horst and I co-wrote a post on how Christians mustn’t forget or neglect the role of business in our attempts to rebuild, restore, and reinvigorate failing cities.
In the latest issue of The City, we return to the topic, expanding a bit more on what exactly businesses contribute — materially, socially, and spiritually — and how Christians might adjust their imaginations in response. If a city’s economic future is driven in large part by entrepreneurialism, high levels of human capital, clustering of skilled workers and industries, or in the case of North Dakota’s Bakken region, bountiful natural resources, what role should the People of God play therein?
Of course, churches musn’t pretend to be economic chess players — surveying cities and placing pawns accordingly — but certain economic drivers and actions are bound to influence the way our witness ultimately takes shape. What do we miss if we ignore such factors?
Toward the end of the piece, we offer some examples of how this might impact that:
Take Silicon Valley, an area propelled by a unique flurry of entrepreneurs and subsequent start-ups. And it’s not alone. As a study by Harvard’s Edward Glaeser and William Kerr demonstrates, where an abundance of newer, smaller firms exist, explosions in employment are bound to follow, spreading across metropolitan areas and beyond. If high levels of entrepreneurialism are so crucial to a city’s overall health and growth, what does the church miss if it fails to recognize the unique set of challenges that come with starting a business? Are we discipling our entrepreneurs and encouraging them to take risks in healthy, discerning ways? Are we cultivating church bodies that not only have a heart to serve, but also have the skills and education to execute such service?
Or look at North Dakota, a state with a balanced budget, well-funded schools, and a robust police department…Though natural-resource booms are specific to given regions and somewhat out of human control, the recent flock to particular areas of North Dakota is driven by the very types of work that many have grown accustomed to shrugging off or looking down upon. Oil rigging may not be as glamorous as starting a community choir, but rough work must be done. What does the church miss if it fails to speak to this reality? Are we challenging and guiding folks in their decision-making about industry switches or job relocations? Are we elevating the God-glorifying beauty of all edifying work, or are we caving to the culture’s perception of what is now, for whatever reason, “beneath us”?
Low unemployment and economic growth are not enough, in and by themselves. But until the church begins recognizing the purpose and promise of business, big and small, and expands its economic imagination in its discipling and sending of believers, the Silicon Valleys and Bakken boom towns will be increasingly filled by those without the love and power of the Gospel, as the Detroits continue to struggle with emptied factories and ever-emptying streets.
Note: Special thanks to Michael Hendrix for pointing us to much of the research that shaped the piece.