Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Catalytic Change

At times, I’ve been guilty about trying to do everything myself. That point has become abundantly clear over the last year. And it’s apparent that God is calling our organization to something greater.

I’ve learned over the years that your biggest strength can also be your biggest liability.

I love the excitement and the activity that surrounds a new faith venture start-up. I also like rolling up my sleeves and diving into the various pastoral situations that arise in the midst of individuals rebuilding lives from addiction, homelessness and felony conviction. It’s why I do what I do. But my love of those activities can get in the way of building an organization that’s bigger than just one person.

Five years ago, I mentioned to a friend that Belay’s “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” was to create 100 faith venture businesses over the next five years. I really thought God wanted us to aim towards that number of new businesses through our micro-enterprise, coaching and internal business incubation activities on behalf of the urban poor. Somewhere along the way, for numerous good reasons, we fell very short of that aim.

But in this particular situation, there have been bigger benefits from not accomplishing the goal. At the forefront, it points us to the truth that we can’t do it all by ourselves. There is a bigger role out there for Belay as a catalyst for faith venture business as mission verses just as an incubator of our own activities.

The reality is that there are much better Christ-following entrepreneurs out there looking for opportunities to use their gifts and talents to help God in his mission of rebuilding our broken world. For some talented, successful followers of Christ, the church isn’t guilty of asking too much but of asking too little. The church hasn’t provided a big enough challenge to capture the hearts and latent talents of some of our communities most capable leaders.

The goal of 100 businesses in five years wasn’t too ambitious. It was just too premature with Belay’s internally-directed approach. If we are willing to release control of our approach and inspire others towards using their business skills on behalf of disadvantaged communities, another run at the same goal will have a better chance of success.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Five Thoughts on Urban Business as Mission

Last month, I had the pleasure of presenting with Rudy Carrasco of Partners Worldwide at the Christian Community Development Association conference in Cincinnati. Our workshop was an introductory presentation on Business as Mission (BAM) with a look at both the theory and the practical application of the movement in an urban setting. It’s now been a month later. Here are some thoughts related to the workshop:

Urban Ministries are interested in BAM
Without a doubt, there is a growing interest in the area of applying business as mission to urban settings. The current recession has emphasized the need and value of employment-based job training programs. It’s not enough to just provide job-training and job placement services.

Urban communities and organizations also need sustainable vehicles of employment in order to help individuals with severe barriers to employment, such as felony conviction, homelessness, or addiction, succeed in the workplace. The large number of attendees at our workshop, added at the last minute, shows that community development ministries understand the importance of jobs to long-term success.

BAM makes some people nervous
Even with the popular interest in business as mission, some individuals are uncomfortable with the mission of business. In urban settings, business has sometimes been seen as a cause of social ills and not as an agent of positive social change. That message was very clear in some conversations at the conference. The Urban business as mission movement has to show how businesses run by incarnational Christ-followers can be positive forces in tough neighborhoods.

There are lots of urban BAM ideas
Throughout the conference, numerous people and ministries shared some fantastic ideas for urban businesses with a social purpose. Everyone’s enthusiasm for business as mission is translating into some very practical faith venture employment training businesses. And I think many of them are likely to succeed as self-sustaining businesses.

Urban BAM needs knowledge, synergy and best practices
Urban Christian community developers have many ideas for businesses with a mission but they recognize they are lacking in the area of practical knowledge. Many who attended our workshop shared they are searching for the “how to’s” of urban BAM. This provides an opportunity for kingdom synergy.

At the same time community developers are feeling a need for specialized business expertise, a potentially large collection of Christ-following entrepreneurs are searching for ways to employ their specialized talents towards kingdom goals. The job becomes one of connecting people towards greater faith venture purposes.

And in the end, Urban BAM needs to declare a set of best practices to help potential faith entrepreneurs navigate the tricky waters of balancing the double bottom lines of mission and profits.

Bam has primarily been an international phenomenon
The CCDA conference reemphasized to me how business as mission has primarily been an international movement. Very few individuals or organizations are promoting domestic urban business as mission. The movement is seen as having its best impact internationally.

Even though many of the most exciting business as mission operations are overseas, I think domestic Urban BAM has an equally large potential impact. Many tough urban areas in the United States offer equally difficult environments for business development. Yet, these same areas offer a huge potential in lives and communities changed by the positive impact of business.

And I think Urban BAM can bless international BAM in turn. Domestic business as mission provides a convenient entry-level experience for U.S. Christ-following business leaders that can grow over time into the toughest communities throughout the world.

If you are interested in looking at the slides from the CCDA business as mission workshop, Rudy has posted them to his blog at: Business as Mission at CCDA 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Gift of Work

Work, in many ways, is a gift from God. The Bible’s first words bless the inherent goodness of creative work: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1, NIV) God worked at starting the Universe. He created light, water, food-bearing vegetation, the sun and stars, and all the living creatures of the earth. His six days of work culminated with the creation of man in God’s own image. All that God created was very good. Then God rested on the seventh day because he “had finished the work he had been doing.” (Genesis 2:2, NIV) The Bible teaches that the Sabbath day is holy because of its relationship with work on the prior six days. (Genesis 2:3)

But a key teaching of the Genesis creation story is the idea of man being created in God’s image. As an image-bearer of God, man shares God’s inherent affinity for creative work. This trait becomes damaged as a result of sin entering the world. In Genesis 3:17, work’s creative goodness takes on a component of toil because of man’s original sin. Work is no longer known only by its creative aspects but also by its frustrating and difficult tendencies. One doesn’t have to look very hard to see how sin frustrates work and even contributes to its absence for large communities of men and women. Even though work has good, creative aspects for all individuals, some people find it difficult to find employment because of issues like poverty, addiction, or felony conviction. As a result, those very challenges become self-perpetuating realities because of an inability to support one-self through employment.

With the reality of the two natures of work--its creative necessity and its frustrating nature—there is an important role for faith venture employment ministries in today’s world. Organizations like Belay Enterprises and other business as ministries can step into an area where the market fails the needs of individuals. For a person rebuilding a life from a felony conviction or homelessness, a job can be the first step towards future success and realizing God’s creative designs for an individual’s life.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Good Soil Industries: A Southern California Urban Business as Mission

(Updated 7-6-11)

I had the good fortune to attend the Christian Community Development Association’s annual convention this past month in Cincinnati, Ohio. One of my favorite experiences at the event was spending a lunch with Ryan VerWys of Kingdom Causes in Bellflower, California.

He leads an innovative community development organization that has incubated a promising landscaping business as mission called Good Soil Industries. This project is a true faith venture that seeks to employ homeless and economically disadvantaged people in a self-sufficiency discipleship and job-training program.

If you are a business owner or property manager in the Bellflower area, you should consider helping individuals rebuild lives by contracting Good Soil Industries for your landscape maintenance needs. For more information, call Joel Holwerda at 562-688-5010 or Taylor Seger at 562-502-7716.

I also enjoyed brainstorming with Ryan about future faith venture projects. One exciting project has the potential to provide employment and training across two states.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Social Enterprise Confluence 2009 Teleconference

The Social Enterprise Alliance is hosting its first ever virtual conference on December 9, 2009.

The Social Enterprise Confluence 2009 event is an opportunity for practitioners and interested individuals to participate in a high-quality learning experience without the expense of travel.

I am excited to be presenting in the Faith and Enterprise teleconference with the former CEO of SEA Jim McClurg of Bethany Community Church. This session will run from 12pm to 1:15pm EST on December 9th. We plan to explore the unique roots and characteristics of organizations that combine faith and enterprise.

Besides our session, there are four other informative sessions including one from a hero of mine, Carla Javits of REDF.

The cost of the event is $75 for members of Social Enterprise Alliance and $100 for non-members. Space is limited so register before November 30, 2009!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Reducing Recidivism Makes Financial Sense for State and Federal Budgets

I returned to my office at Bud's Warehouse to a waiting phone message. One of our former program graduates was trying to get a hold of me. My heart sank because I had heard rumors that he was facing troubles in his life and I feared the worse.

The rumors were wrong. He shared some very good news. After close to 20 years in prison and 3 years on intense supervised parole, he shared that the parole board had released him from active monitoring. He no longer had to wear an ankel bracelet or check in daily with his parole officer.

Success! This results from combining employment, job-training, transitional housing and faith. Someone who statistics says should be the most likely to return to prison is on the path to a productive second half of life with built in support systems to rely on when life gets difficult. Ex-offenders are bound to face challenges, but with the support of the church, mentors and other faith programs they are equipped to make better choices and overcome common pitfalls.

A recent article, “Can Our Shameful Prisons be Reformed?” in the New York Review of Books argues that helping to prevent recidivism makes financial sense. In 2008, 700,000 prisoners were released. It’s estimated that 469,000 of them will return to prison in less than 3 years. At a minimum, the average annual cost of imprisoning someone is $20,000. Recidivism results in $9.38 billion in lost savings.

In an era of declining state and federal budgets, it pays off financially to develop programs to reduce recidivism. And in such an environment, it’s inexcusable to overlook the added value of faith-based employment job-training programs. It’s an opportunity for Christ-following entrepreneurs to impact their community with their business as mission talents.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Business as Mission: Unleashing the Enthusiasm of Christ-Following Entrepreneurs

Over the last few years, I have been involved in several discussions about how to encourage people to use their gifts in service for God. Inevitably, the conversations turn to Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 about the types and roles of spiritual gifts in the kingdom. More often then not, these discussions take place in the context of how these gifts can be used to build up an individual church. I believe that this inadvertently makes the Gospel too small and overlooks Jesus’ own stated mission of coming to build the kingdom of God.

After 10 years in urban business as mission, one area that excites me the most about building faith ventures is the enthusiasm such an approach unleashes in Christ-following business people. It opens a whole new realm of service for particular followers of Christ in the church whose gifts and talents have sometimes felt unneeded by the local church.

My recent participation in Partners Worldwide’s annual gathering in early October reiterated this point. Keynote speaker Lloyd Reeb, author of From Success to Significance, shared about his own journey of discovery as a successful real estate developer wanting to use his skills for the kingdom. At one point he sent his resume to numerous Christian ministry organizations hoping to find a position of direct service. Not one organization called him back.

He pressed one of them for details as to why they weren’t responding. The person admitted that didn’t know how to use a former real estate developer in its organization. The reality is that most traditional Christian organizations only see successful business people as targets for financial donations. This short-sightedness leaves behind the potential benefits of these individuals’ technical and business talents.

Partners Worldwide understands this cry from the heart of Christian entrepreneurs and has used it to build an innovative global networking and business as mission mentoring organization. Partners connect North American businesspeople with high-impact third-world entrepreneurs. These mentoring collaborations help build successful businesses in the developing world while allowing North American business people the opportunity to use their gifts and abilities directly for the kingdom. It’s a model that was before its time 15 years ago when Partners introduced it, but now has become one of the most successful business as mission initiatives with much practical expertise to offer other BAM organizations.

I’ve recently shared about how Belay Enterprises has a big goal of wanting to create 100 urban businesses in the next 5 years. We’ve been guilty in the past of trying to incubate these businesses by ourselves. The reality is that the only way to reach such a goal is by empowering other Christ-following entrepreneurs to pursue urban business as mission development. The Partners model has much to teach us.

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...