Bizinstry: what if we took a new approach?

This article by Jeff Greer and Chuck Proudfit is reprinted with permission from OUTCOMES MAGAZINE.

For most of us in leadership, resources never seem to keep pace with vision. Whether you’re running a church or a nonprofit organization, donations tend to fall short of needs with frustrating regularity.

Taking initiative to tackle this, we started Self Sustaining Enterprises (SSE) in 2002. The original goal was to help fund orphan care in developing countries through business ventures within country. We felt the quickest way to get the money for our mission was through grants, but we hit a roadblock when the funds for our projects fell short. Lamenting our situation, we found ourselves complaining to God… “Lord, you gave us this vision but how we are going to accomplish it without the money.” God’s answer went something like this, “Stop whining! You have some of the finest business minds in the country right in your church. I never told you to ask for grants. There are billions of dollars out there, go and get it.”

Well, that’s what we did. Instead of just starting businesses (what we now call biznistries — integrating business and ministry) in developing countries, we started them at home as well. With the help of other dynamic business minds, we launched an “Angel Fund” to help generate capital for startups. We built a center for marketplace ministry called the ORCA Center, where we run an accelerator and an incubator, as well as business seminars and training. We’ve also created office space within ORCA for local entrepreneurs with the same heart and passion. Our goal is to use the funds generated by those initiatives to help fund other ministry opportunities. It was during the early years of seeking insight and skills from our church body that our paths crossed. Both of us, Jeff from the local church and Chuck from the marketplace, were hearing God’s call into marketplace ministry. We have become close friends and colleagues through our journey together, with Jeff focused vocationally on Grace Chapel and SSE, and Chuck focused on a consultancy called SKILLSOURCE alongside a marketplace ministry called At Work on Purpose.

We all have goals. For some it’s impacting the lives of those in need around the world; for others, it might be reaching out to the unchurched in your community. We believe that Christian leaders need to be asking the question, “How can we use the God-given business skills of those within the body of Christ to address the challenges of funding our ministry goals?” Now, we are not claiming to be the first to come up with the idea of creating businesses for funding ministry, or the first to venture into the world of marketplace ministry. There is nothing new under the sun, and the church has used these principles for thousands of years. We are simply using our experiences to create a framework that equips others to develop sustainable solutions for their ministry needs.

One of the things we’ve learned is that without significant marketplace skills it’s difficult for a nonprofit to run too many “brick-and-mortar” businesses. Through SSE we still oversee businesses, but they are mostly technology and service-based. We’ve also found it effective to invest in accelerating the work of talented entrepreneurs. We prioritize collaboration with like-minded organizations and individuals for greater kingdom impact. Right now we partner with At Work On Purpose, Back2Back Ministries, local churches, Acton Institute, as well as individual entrepreneurs, business people, scientists, and inventors. When you start down this path you will find gifted “Half Timers” ready to take on the role of marketplace minister in your organization. Many of these mid-life professionals have saved what is necessary for their future and are not motivated by money. Their inspiration comes from a challenge, and helping the defenseless and lost people in our world can provide that spark!

Pete is one of those people. He retired early from Procter & Gamble to become the director of SSE. He would say he often works harder now than before he retired. Ibrahim, a chemist, and inventor originally from Nigeria, has also joined the team and is making an impact through his innovative technology. Millennials are another group with a passion to make a difference. It’s hard to pick up a magazine and not see an article on “social entrepreneurship.” Our churches are filled with millennials looking for an opportunity to impact the world. Marketplace ministry is also a natural avenue to connect with people otherwise “disengaged” in the church. We have heard story after story of people coming alive spiritually who were once only marginally engaged in the body of Christ.

There are former CFOs, CEOs, attorneys, marketing directors, scientists and salespeople ready to invest their lives in a Spirit-driven cause, and best of all, many are willing to work for free if they believe in your vision. Ephesians 3:20 says, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” So take a moment and dream. Ask the question, “What if”?

  • What if you were no longer limited by traditional funding methods?
  • What if a church of 500 could have the same impact as a church of 5,000?
  • What if we could build economic zones in developing countries to better serve the “least of these”?
  • What if entrepreneurs and business people saw the church as a first stop in finding solutions to their marketplace challenges?
  • What if you could blend local church and nonprofit leadership with marketplace leaders to further the cause of Christ?
  • What if we could eliminate the mindset that “nonprofits are needy, and businesses are greedy”?
  • And, what if we could revolutionize our idea of giving and serving, and begin to dream without limitations.

Instead of just giving a person a fish or even teaching them how to fish, what if they owned the pond! Everything we’ve talked about is difficult and unorthodox, but so are most of the stories we read in the Bible. We serve an unorthodox God! If you take this step of faith, you will face cultural biases, traditional barriers and the unbiblical concept of secular versus sacred standing in your way. But a movement has started that will not be stopped, and innovative Christian leaders are tired of Plato’s secular/sacred paradigm limiting the ability of their organizations to move forward in fulfilling vision. In a biblical worldview, things are either sacred or sinful. God created everything, Satan created nothing, and dynamic leaders are tired of God being left with just a few hours of our time on Sunday, surrendering the rest to the enemy. We must ask ourselves, why do we surrender territory to the enemy that doesn’t belong to him? When believers are introduced to this truth, they are inspired to use their business skills to further the kingdom of God. One person said to us, “I feel born again … again!”

When you implement sacred business principles into ministry, you’ll begin to see incredible outcomes. We saw dynamic results when we helped apply this approach, leveraging the parable of the talents for a small business in Nigeria. A widow named Julie owned a successful plant business on a tiny piece of land. We saw her business skill and gave her 6 acres, a borehole water well, 250 fruit and nut trees, 1,500 trees for wood and fuel, and plenty of land for her other business activities. The results have been astounding! She is building relationships with restaurants and hotels that buy her produce, putting her children through university, hiring other widows who can now provide for their children, and inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs. This is what it means to give people a hand up and not a hand out. This is directly investing in the lives of orphans and widows as we are called to do in James 1:27. This is Biznistry!

People often tell us that you can’t mix business with ministry. But, our response is, “Why not? Is business sinful?” Most Christian leaders are working with one hand tied behind their back and don’t even realize it. It’s time for us to take back what belongs to God and spark a revival within the nonprofit community!

Jeff Greer is senior pastor of Grace Chapel in Mason, Ohio, a church he planted with his wife, Debbie, in 2000. Jeff is also the co-founder of Back2Back Ministries, a global orphan care ministry (back2back.org) and Self-Sustaining Enterprises (sseinc.org). Chuck Proudfit is founder of At Work on Purpose (atworkonpurpose.org), the largest citywide marketplace ministry in the country. Chuck is also founder and president of SKILLSOURCE (skillsource.com), a business building consultancy delivering sustainable growth to corporate clients through applied biblical principles. Jeff and Chuck are co-authors of Biznistry: Transforming Lives Through Enterprise (P5 Publications, 2014).