Category: On Call in Culture

nfcoLast month, I had the pleasure of interviewing the folks at Neighborhood Film Company, a company that melds for-profit with non-profit to train, mentor, and employ adults in recovery through the process of filmmaking.

This week, Tim Høiland has an article for Christianity Today’s This is Our City project that expands on NFCo.’s story, digging deeper into the ins and outs of their business model and further exploring the dynamics of their community-oriented approach. Though big can sometimes be better, the founders of NFCo. believe they are called to orient the process of transformation in their business as they observe it in Jesus’ approach to discipleship.

Høiland summarizes:

Numbers are intentionally kept small; there are currently three apprentices, with plans for three more next year. “For us, the philosophy is shrinking our focus to people with names and faces and stories that we know,” says Dan Walser, 29, executive director of Working Film. “This is what we see when we look at Jesus and his ministry with his disciples.”

By working with a limited number of trainees at a time, NFCo. and Working Film can personalize the program while holding each apprentice to a high standard of excellence. “We tell our guys, ‘Look, the bottom line is that we need to run a company. So if you can’t cut it as an employee, there are plenty of nonprofit programs that will babysit you,’ ” Staub, 29, says. “That may seem harsh, but if I start looking at you like you can’t be the best, I’m not giving you full human dignity…” (more…)

In a lecture at Acton University titled “Business and the Common Good,” Dr. Scott Rae of Biola University examined the role of business in serving the common good.

Rae began by examining some of the common criticisms lobbed against business, namely, that it promotes greed, inequality, and consumerism. As Michael Miller often notes, these are human vices, not economic ones, and thus business, properly understood, is not immoral in and of itself.

On the contrary, business has great potential for serving and contributing to the common good. Though some believe profit-seeking enterprises are only valuable insofar as they can “give something back” out of what’s leftover, Rae emphasized how business advances the common good right from the get-go.

Rae offers four primary ways this occurs:

  • By peaceably providing needed goods and services that allow human beings to flourish and enhance their well being
  • By providing meaningful work that allows human beings to flourish and enhances their well being
  • By facilitating wealth creation and economic growth
  • By enabling the poor to lift themselves out of poverty

By leveraging business, we not only yield profits that can be used for the glory of God outside of business, we can serve our neighbors in the here and now. “God is not just redeeming individuals,” Rae concluded. “He is redeeming all of creation. He is redeeming the marketplace.” (more…)

Over at the Institute for Work, Faith and Economics, Dr. Vincent Bacote follows up on a previous post on business as Christian cultural engagement, explaining how such engagement needn’t be separated from our view of discipleship:

If we regard discipleship as the “spiritual” part of our life, we are certainly correct that it has everything to do with how we relate to God in our internal life. We would also have only a partial understanding of the extent of discipleship.

Jesus came pronouncing the arrival of the Kingdom of God, a reign that will ultimately be both in the hearts of people and the very structure of society itself. As we wait for the fullness of the Kingdom to arrive, we live as followers of Jesus who call him “Lord.” This means that he reigns over everything, including our external, every day lives beyond Sunday worship.

To be a disciple is to be a truly spiritual person, where “spiritual” does not mean “non-material” but directed by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:3-16; Galatians 5:17-19)…Christian disciples are people who pursue all of life with and under the Lordship of Christ. The fact of Christ’s Lordship does not equate to churches micromanaging the business affairs of congregants, but it should mean that churches are helping businesspeople have an increasingly greater vision for how their “business life” is an expression of the rich life of discipleship.

Indeed, and just as churches mustn’t speak only to a “spiritual” life apart from culture, those in business mustn’t see their work as only material or temporal in significance. Whatever earthbound benefits our business endeavors yield, being spirit-led in the work of our hands will make room for a host of spiritual contributions to the economy at large and those working within it. (more…)

prayer“How is religion related to entrepreneurial behavior?”

As Joe Carter pointed out last week, a new study by Baylor University sought to examine this very question.

Focusing specifically on American entrepreneurs, researchers Mitchell J. Neubert and Kevin Dougherty found that although entrepreneurs “appear no different than nonentrepreneurs in religious affiliation, belief in God, or religious service attendance,” they do “tend to see God as more personal, pray more frequently, and are more likely to attend a place of worship that encourages business activity.”

Baylor recently posted some interviews with the researchers to get their thoughts first-hand (HT). Dougherty, an associate professor of sociology, emphasizes that in a time of economic recovery, we should pay close attention to any area that might impact those looking to start a business:

We’re at a particularly important time for the promotion of entrepreneurship, coming out of a recession, not just in our country, but globally, so if there’s a time period where we need people engaging in new business creation, now is the time, and if religion has something to do with that, it’s important to know what that is and how that occurs.

Neubert, an associate professor of business and entrepreneurship, notes that although this particular study doesn’t get into why entrepreneurs pray more or what exactly they pray about, he hopes that future research will examine these areas more fully. (more…)

downloadOver at Rough Trade, the always intriguing James Poulos celebrates the increased attention  now being given to the “relationship between economic and religious life,” pointing to the Acton Institute’s very own Samuel Gregg to kick things off.

Yet he remains unsatisfied, fearful of a return to what he views to be unhelpful “conceptual frameworks and cultural antagonisms” of the past, and urging us to push toward “a new mode of analysis that breaks away from the old, exhausting debates.” For Poulos, this means embracing an “economics of grace,” an interrelated component of something he has called “radicaltarianism” in the past (see more on this here and here).

Poulos observes the typical divides among Christians as follows:

Christians who accept these teachings [about the fall of man and grace] tend to split into two economic camps: those who lean toward an uncritical embrace of free-market capitalism, and those who tilt toward a far more skeptical, suspicious attitude. For the first group, the social upshot of Christianity is an institutional framework that supports flourishing with minimal reliance on the state. Christianity supplies a good foundation for market activity. For the second, the most durable and authentic institutional frameworks supplied by Christianity raise damning questions about the sustainability of neoliberalism — the secular “democratic faith” that gives market capitalism its modern philosophical foundations. For both groups, the key is that, ultimately, religion drives sustainable economic life. The difference is that the first group typically understands religion in a Protestant way, as a driver of explosive, and morally legitimate, economic growth, while the second takes a more Catholic view, doubtful of the moral purity of explosive growth, and focused much less on growing capital than other sorts of things, like families.

Although I disagree with where precisely Poulos draw his lines — sharing much of Rodney Stark’s skepticism about an explicitly Protestant ethic (etc.) — such divides do exist, labels aside.

Describing the state of the debate more broadly, Poulos argues that our political factions have also proven unhelpful, using terms like “economic growth” based on limited materialistic assumptions. (more…)

At The Gospel Coalition’s 2013 National Conference, Tim Keller kicked off a Faith at Work post-conference by exploring what it means to be a Christian in the marketplace.

Keller argues that we have to view our work through the larger Biblical story of Creation > Fall > Redemption > Restoration. If God is the creator of all things, and if through Christ all things are made new, that process of restoration must include our work.

Keller proceeds to offer five ways that the  theology of the Bible shapes the way we work. (more…)

Ricky Staub and Anders Lindwall were on a steady path to success in the film industry. Ricky was working for a big producer and Anders was freelancing as a commercial director. Then, God called both of them to leave their jobs and start a company of their own — one focused on leveraging the process of filmmaking toward whole-life transformation for adults in recovery.

Creating a unique business model founded on a concept called “family ratios,” NFCo melds for-profit with non-profit to train, mentor, and employ adults in recovery, a group they felt was particularly marginalized and left with few opportunities. Founding a separate non-profit called Working Film Establishment to serve as “a training ground to prepare adults in recovery for thriving employment,” Ricky and Anders now use NFCo as a for-profit wing for employing newly trained workers to “create content as a means of restoration, dignity, and hope.” As the above video notes, “in 2014, NFCo plans to enter into production on their first feature film with an entire crew recovering from homelessness, addiction, or incarceration.”

The founders of NFCo have followed the call of God on their lives, and through their daily work are actively impacting culture, the arts, and the economy through community-building, one-on-one discipleship, and creative output. Though it can be tempting for us to take the work we have for granted, NFCo offers a clear example of how God uses entrepreneurship and business to lift people up, transform relationships, and contribute to the common good.

Ricky and Anders were kind enough to share more about their story with On Call in Culture and discuss the ways God continues to use NFCo to impact the lives of others. (more…)

A-College-Graduates-Guide-to-Starting-a-Career1Yesterday, Jordan Ballor explored the relationship between money and happiness, referring to money as “a good, but not a terminal good,” and pointing to Jesus’ reminder that “life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

Over at Café Hayek, economist Russ Roberts offers a good companion to this, advising college graduates to have a healthy perspective about money and meaning when entering the job market:

Don’t take the job that pays the most money. Nothing wrong with money, but it’s the wrong criterion for choosing if you are fortunate to have a choice in this not-so-great job market. People often confuse economics with anything that is related to money as if the goal of economics is to make you rich. But the goal of economics is to help you get the most out of life. Money is part of that of course, but usually there are tradeoffs–the highest paying job has drawbacks. Don’t ignore those. So take the job that is the most rewarding in the fullest sense of the word. Sure, money matters. But so does how much you learn on the job, how much satisfaction it gives you and whether it lets you express your gifts. The ideal is to find a job you love that still lets you put food on the table and a roof over your head. You spend a lot of time at work. Don’t do something you hate or that deadens your soul just because it pays well.

Time is precious. One of the simplest but most important ideas of economics is the idea of opportunity cost–anything you do means not doing something else. Don’t spend all of your leisure on email and twitter and entertainment. Keep your brain growing. Listen to Planet Money. Read a novel. Take a cooking class or keep working at that musical instrument.

Of course, the Christian must be especially careful that this goal of “getting the most out of life” is properly grounded and directed. (more…)

Rooted & Grounded, Abraham KuyperIn Abraham Kuyper’s recently translated sermon, “Rooted & Grounded,” he explains that the church is both “organism” and “institution,” drawing from both nature and the work of human hands. Pointing to Ephesians 3:17, he writes that, “the church of the Lord is one loaf, dough that rise according to its nature but nevertheless kneaded with human hands, and baked like bread.”

Yet, as he goes on to note, this two-fold requirement is not limited to the church, but also applies “to every kind of life that comes into contact with human consciousness.” Further, it is a “fundamental law of creation.”

What follows is a stunningly poetic portrait of God’s created order and the call to human stewardship and cultivation therein:

Creation was fashioned by God, fashioned with life that surges and scintillates in its bosom, fashioned with the powers that lie dormant in its womb. Yet, lying there, it displayed but half its beauty. Now, however, God crowns it with humanity, who awakens its life, arouses its powers, and with human hands brings to light the glory that once lay locked in its depths but had not yet shone on its countenance. (more…)

church_congregationOver at The High Calling, Michael Kruse observes that many pastors and church leaders are now looking for a “programmatic strategy” for helping their congregations integrate work and discipleship.

The problem, Kruse argues, is that such a strategy doesn’t exist:

As leaders, we need to realize that to make faith and discipleship integrated in our congregations, we cannot do it with our congregation’s existing knowledge and skills, requiring those in our congregation (including ourselves) to make a shift in our values, expectations, attitudes, and behaviors. You see, while some of us sense a need for better integration of faith with vocation, there are significant obstacles.

Most Christians do not have a theological framework that accommodates the integration of faith and vocation. Many are even hostile to the idea. They are more comfortable with a life that is not integrated, compartmentalizing work and discipleship. Any attempts at integration feel like intrusions into their private lives. Worship is viewed as an escape from “secular” concerns. And let’s face it, if we really pursue integration, we will discover uncomfortable things about our lives.

Indeed, as the Acton Institute’s Stephen Grabill points out in his foreword to Lester DeKoster’s Work: The Meaning of Your Life, despite many Christians having an “implicit sense that work is good because it carries out the cultural mandate,” we have failed to grasp that work is, further, “one of the core elements of discipleship and spiritual formation.”

To start chipping away at this convenient and comfortable disposition, Kruse offers some basic and broad ideas to help church leaders begin the integration process with their congregations. (Amy Sherman offered a similarly themed set of recommendations a few months ago.) (more…)