Thursday, July 30, 2009

Legacy

If you died today what would people say about you at your funeral?

With that one question, the discussion around the table took a decidedly introspective turn at a recent Bud’s Warehouse Bible study. That question cuts to so many other core issues in one’s life: When people look at my life what do they see? Where have I hurt other people? Does my life have meaning? What does it mean to live? Over the years, I’ve found that few other questions create such a healthy discomfort, challenging individuals to really examine their life.

In a faith venture like Bud’s Warehouse, where individuals are rebuilding lives from addiction, homelessness, and felony conviction, such a question opens new possibilities to our program participants. First, it’s an opportunity to see one’s life as a gift. Too often, individuals rebuilding lives only see the mistakes that they’ve made. They don’t allow themselves the opportunity to believe that that they might actually have a positive impact on the world. Just being asked the question about one’s legacy, opens a person to the possibility that life has meaning and one has the power to impact that story by positive actions. A person has the chance to use the gift of life to make a difference for others in however many days they have left.

Second, the question allows the opportunity to seek healing. Inevitably, in life, everyone has hurt others. When we think about what our friends and family might say about our life, we naturally reflect about the ways that we’ve caused damage to relationships and others. When I’ve done a Bible study on legacy, almost always someone starts talking about a broken relationship with a father or mistakes one has made with a son, daughter or wife. Just talking about it empowers our program participants to seek change in those relationships. When you see your life as a story, one wants to restore that which is broken.

Finally, when one faces death, one searches for meaning. Merely raising the question of a person’s funeral, frames life in its temporary state. Too often, we fail to see ourselves as only passing through this life. We don’t ask ourselves what is the point of this journey and instead settle for selfish goals or ultimately worthless pursuits.

It’s impossible to escape the question of life’s meaning when asked about one’s legacy. Over the years, I’ve noticed that our program participants instinctively know that life is more than just the here and now. Life has an eternal dimension that starts with decisions made in the 70 or so years on earth. One’s mistakes and broken relationships are the path to discovering grace. It’s the gift of forgiveness and new life offered by a man named Jesus, who 2000 years ago lived an extraordinary life that culminated in coming back from the grave after a terrible death on a cross. Life finds its ultimate meaning and purpose when framed in obedient faith in the One who conquered death and now offer true life.

It’s my hope that participants in our program find the strength to live a life that follows Jesus. At our funerals, people are quick to share how much we loved Jesus.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

More on the For-Profit or Non-profit Decision

In a blog post, Carla Javitz, the President of REDF, points to some extremely valuable resources and articles about the decision whether to incorporate as a for-profit or a non-profit.

In particular, Robert Wexler’s legal discussion provides extremely valuable advice.

This is an important issue for organizations wanting to create faith venture businesses that employ individuals rebuilding lives from addiction, homelessness or felony conviction. I’ve explored this for-profit/ non-profit decision in past Faithventure Forum posts.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Faithventure Focus: SariBari.com

An innovative faith venture in Kolkata, India, provides hope and a future for disadvantaged women attempting to leave the sex trade.

SariBari.com, a business as ministry program of Word Made Flesh, produces beautiful blankets and hand bags handcrafted by women living in the organization’s Kolkata safe home. Each product, available for purchase on the web site, arrives stitched with the name of the woman rebuilding her life. Over the last few years, SariBari, which means clothing home, has grown to employ 40 women. The organization’s mission seeks “the freedom and restoration of Kolkata’s red-light areas through dignity-giving employment opportunities for women affected by the sex trade.”

Visit the web site to view items for sale and learn about ways to get involved in this creative life-affirming ministry to the poor.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Belay's Top Seven Future Bible Study Questions

It’s a maxim to live by. If you want to know…ask. Like your fifth grade teacher said, there are no stupid questions.

Last week, our program director at Bud’s Warehouse decided to take the “radical” step and ask the staff in a survey what they wanted to learn in upcoming Bible studies. I thought the topics that arose are a fascinating view of what is on the mind of individuals rebuilding lives. And it’s a good reminder to those of us charged with developing programs for faith ventures. For maximum effectiveness, it’s important to listen to participants.

In no particular order, here are the seven topics for future discussions:

1. How to deal with personal lives
2. How to develop patience and perseverance…God’s timing
3. How God sees premarital sex
4. How God views sin
5. How God view integrity
6. How & why God exposes things
7. Prayer

These are great topics. I’m looking forward to our meetings.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Insurance Liability & Felon Employment

Last week, I answered my phone and heard the voice of one of our recent graduates at Bud's Warehouse. I could immediately tell something was not right.

His new employer was having second thoughts about the wisdom of recently hiring him. It wasn't because of performance. My friend assured me that he had been over-performing in every aspect of his new job. And it wasn't the economy. This employer was experiencing success even when other firms were laying off.

My friend feared his employer’s new found concern about his past felony conviction. Like any good businessperson, the owner was concerned about his insurance coverage. It had dawned on him that an employee with a past felony conviction might not be covered. Over the years, I've found this to be a valid concern but one that is often exaggerated beyond its true reality.

Unfortunately, this issue, whether it is true or not, has become the biggest obstacle to employing ex-offenders. A couple of months ago, I shared this view at a city brainstorming session on how to increase employment opportunities for the homeless. The group seemed unaware that this issue was important to employers. Many thought that the federal government’s felony bonding program settled the matter. But bonding against theft is a different issue than potential liability due to employment hiring practices.

In my experience, most business insurance policies don’t prohibit the hiring of individuals with felony convictions. It’s just a mistaken understanding by both the employer and, sometimes, the insurance agent. If the owner takes time to read the small print of his or her policy, the answer is often quickly found.

The bigger issue is practicing due diligence in the hiring and the management of staff. This human resource issue is true whether you are working with ex-offenders or not. And I tend to believe that the real employee an owner needs to worry about is not the ex-offender, but the individual without a record who has not yet been caught. In regards to ex-offenders, working with a well-respected job training program can help achieve both of those aims and reduce potential liability.

In my friend’s case, I called his employer and urged him to read his liability policy and to call his insurance agent. I encouraged him that our past program participant was a fantastic individual who had made a dumb mistake when he was younger. He was now committed to God and to making his life right. I got off the phone and prayed that it would all work out.

As I’ve blogged in the past, if society wants to save money by decreasing prison recidivism rates, employment is the key issue. And if our community wants employers to take chances on ex-offenders, then the government needs to address the issue of employer insurance liability.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Measuring Faith in a Faith Venture

I’ve written recently about the importance of measuring performance in a faith venture. In the past, our organization has relied on measurements like REDF’s Social Return on Investment as a way of capturing the social benefits of our mission. It is mostly straight-forward to measure social change in terms of the welfare dollars saved and the decline in rates of recidivism. But as a faith-based organization, we’ve struggled with measuring the “faith” side of our performance.

A couple of months ago, I read the article “Rediscovering Social Innovation” in the Stanford Social Innovation Review on how social innovation leads to positive social change. At the time, I found myself wishing for a study that would determine the added benefit of faith in a social enterprise. Over the years, we’ve staked our reputation on the idea that faith provides a much needed ingredient to help people overcome significant obstacles to employment success related to homelessness, felony conviction, and addictions.

For most faith based organization, measuring faith is limited to determining the number of professions of faith or looking at other externals like church attendance. Not long ago, I had a conversation with a leader in a large domestic faith organization that was lamenting its insistence on tracking conversion rates. We both agreed that such a number can be an important part of measuring but it doesn’t capture the heart of faith’s impact on a person.

I think whether you are sharing your faith with someone outside the faith or discipling someone in the faith, the aim remains the same. We point people to Jesus Christ as the One who’s Lordship adds grace, meaning and direction. I believe that a person’s exposure to Jesus’ teachings can be measured over the course of time. Instead of looking to professions of faith, one can assign numerical rankings to a spectrum of questions looking at the spiritual depth of a person’s life. With that hypothesis, we are experimenting with a new approach that uses the following questions below. What are your thoughts about this approach to the difficulty of measuring the faith component of our mission?

On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being not true at all and 10 being definitely true, answer the following:

1. I see God’s presence in my life.
2. I understand that God loves me.
3. I try to follow Jesus in all aspects of my daily life.
4. I make room for praying a listening to God at home and at work.
5. I know that my actions sometimes hurt others.
6. I apologize easily to God and others when I do something that hurts them.
7. I read the Bible.
8. I meet with someone regularly who helps me grow in my spiritual walk.
9. I see the fruit of the Spirit in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22)
10. I attend church on a regular basis to worship God and spend time with other Jesus followers.

Belay Venture Partners Program Selects First Founder

I’m excited to announce that Belay Enterprises has chosen Brittany Marlett as our first participant in the Venture Partners Program. B...