We hear this question a lot; it’s a question of identity. In order to be an effective Christian anything, to bear any real fruit, one needs to know what it means to be a Christian; an entrepreneur is by far the lesser of the terms. This might sound obvious, but all too often, it’s not.
Successful entrepreneurs who just happen to be Christians (entrepreneur Christians) are often praised, celebrated, and asked to serve on ministry boards – either because of their business prowess or their deep pockets and ability to provide funding. These people are sought as mentors to the next generation, and unfortunately, the entrepreneur Christian’s values are passed down through the gene pool of the church.
I see this pattern of equating business success with Christian character frequently unfold among the folks I know in Silicon Valley or Silicon Alley, Silicon Prairie, or Silicon Anywhere. What is far better, of course, is to find great Christians who just happen to be entrepreneurs. Then, and only then, can we really get somewhere.
This is a really important topic. In my organization, we meet hundreds of Christian entrepreneurs who struggle with anxiety. Why? It relates to identity. They think of themselves as entrepreneurs first and Christians second.
They’d never admit this out loud, but that’s how they operate. The problem is, they’ve bought into the world’s narrative, and here’s how it goes: Society gives entrepreneurs kudos for being the next big thing, for growing a company at 20 percent each month, or securing a $15 million-dollar investment, or inking a deal with Google.
Christian entrepreneurs hear this message from their friends, their parents, their investors. They believe it without ever knowing when they crossed over from being a Christian first to an entrepreneur first. It becomes a feedback loop that, most assuredly, doesn’t come from their time in Scripture, but from society at large.
As a result, they mistakenly place their identities in their roles as entrepreneurs – oftentimes successful ones – and the consequences of this become evident when their growth slows, or they can’t find funding. Then, the “Protestant work ethic” many celebrate as a noble virtue is revealed as the ugly idol it has been all along. They act like they can earn their salvation and deliverance. Lest circumstances beat them with many blows, they redouble their efforts, only to find the predictable outcome of ever-increasing anxiety and the near total absence of joy.
Overcoming an identity crisis
What’s the solution? Acknowledge the problem for what it is – an identity crisis. Every entrepreneur or worker in business needs to understand that their identity comes from being a beloved child of God with full inheritance rights to his kingdom. They must take hold of the gift of life now and forever. They need to reflect on that, stew on that. For how long? Well, as long as it takes for them to have their minds blown by this awesome and indescribable gift.
It may take time in Scripture. It may take time in creation. It’s not enough to understand this intellectually. It must permeate every aspect of life.
Once entrepreneur Christians shift their identity to Christian entrepreneurs, they realize they’ve been given the greatest and most meaningful gift imaginable. The Work has already been done by Christ, so the most logical thing to do is bring all they are and all they have to the altar before God, not because he needs it, but because they can’t help but be overcome by gratitude; it consumes them.
It just so happens that in doing this, the Christian entrepreneur has a great advantage over the entrepreneur Christian, and definitely over the secular entrepreneur. The gospel, if we tap into it, indeed becomes a stream of living water that causes our trees to bear fruit. Our leaves don’t wither with anxiety, and what we do prospers, maybe not in the eyes of the world, but always in the eyes of God with whom we abide now and for eternity (Psalm 1:3).
So, the business professionals who know they are Christians first bring all of their talents, experiences, and opportunities to the altar as a meaningful form of worship. They understand that God doesn’t need their work or their money. But they want to bring it all anyway because it reflects the joyful abandonment of self. They have rightly found their identity in God and understand the beauty of being owned rather than owning.
Who gets the credit?
So, how can we distinguish the Christian entrepreneur from the entrepreneur Christian? Just ask them to tell their story, and listen for the unifying theme. Is it their story or God’s story? Is it a story of their accomplishments or God’s? To what and to whom do they credit their success?
More succinctly, a Christian entrepreneur understands what it means to be a Christian first and foremost, and then, after some period of significant pause, endeavors to understand what it means to be an entrepreneur.
This text was originally part of Purposeful Living: Financial Wisdom for All of Life, compiled by Gary G. Hoag and Tim Macready and is used here with permission from the editors. Feel free to download your own copy of the ebook.