Perhaps some of you have a similar story, but the most difficult circumstance of my life thus far — spiritually, emotionally, and in fact financially — has come through the failure of a start-up in which I was an investor.
I will spare you a detailed account of the saga (or rather, I will spare myself from reliving it yet again), but suffice it to say it did not go well. In fact, despite the relative financial strength of the business model, the well-capitalized investors, and the seemingly qualified operations team, it failed miserably.
Left in the wake were hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid liabilities, strained friendships, and life-long personal wounds that can eventually heal, but will always retain a scar.
For an introspective person like myself, this experience of failure has led to an endless amount of self-evaluation and regret. I would like to think that, as someone who strives to be a follower of Jesus, I have a relatively healthy perspective on life. This has been deeply challenged by both my experience with this specific failure and my general dabbling in the world of entrepreneurship — a world that especially prioritizes linear-thinking and immediate results.
As I reflect on the saga, it is hard to not believe that God had perfectly engineered the situation to enact the most harm. No doubt, in looking back on the situation, I can see many instances where as an investor I should have spotted some alarming red flags along the way. But just as easily I can point to evidence that God seemed to be indicating to move forward with the investment. The business even had “Eden” in its name – that had to count for something!
Several years ago, I probably would have drudged forward through this difficulty — grasping onto the thin hope often preached in the start-up world — that “failure leads to opportunity.” Or even the spiritualized version, that God will work all of this together for my “good.” This translates to, this failure will eventually be the key to my multimillion-dollar breakthrough as confirmed in Romans 8:31.
Such hope doesn’t attract me much anymore. The simple reason is that I don’t think life — the earthly form and certainly the spiritual — normally operates that way. Yes, as a follower of Jesus, I cling to the hope of a better future, a redeemed world to come, but I also believe that the way this narrative plays out in the Kingdom of God is often very different than the linear-thinking, immediate-results sort of world that drives our modern culture of entrepreneurship.
When Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God he, in effect, challenged his original hearers to fundamentally rework their worldviews. The same is true for you and me today. I would like to suggest that in three key areas, the life and teachings of Jesus present a means for those of us engaged in entrepreneurship to restore its promise in a culture of excess.
The modern culture of entrepreneurship — like much of Western society — prizes the immediate. What is real is determined by what is now. The primary goal of virtually every start-up is to scale as quickly as possible.
In such a world, it is difficult to think of ourselves beyond what we are able to achieve in the material present, which often means that we can get caught in an endless cycle of discontentment. Jesus, of course, calls us to think of our lives beyond just the here and now and contemplate our afterlives. Humans are a created and contingent being whose story stretches as far back as the Garden and as far forward as eternity. This means we will never be able to measure the value of our lives by the ever-evaporating “here and now.”
Because of its obsession with the present, the modern culture of entrepreneurship places a premium on external results and immediate satisfaction, much to the neglect of internal processes and enduring commitments. This can amount to a Machiavellian-style, “ends justify the means” mentality, in which human worth and identity are tied not to the development of certain character qualities—which take time and steadfast commitment—but the obtainment of material achievements.
The question, “Where I am going?” becomes the central aim, obscuring the question, “What type of person am I becoming?” In his life and death, Jesus modeled something entirely different — the condition of the heart in relationship to our love for God and for others is of the upmost importance in the Kingdom of God, more so than any social status or power we might obtain in fleeting earthly kingdoms.
It might seem like we should begin with this area, but Jesus’ truly counter-cultural approach to money is more apparent in light of the first two. The modern ethos of entrepreneurship has the potential to develop a feverish obsession with money. We might say, in fact, that in Silicon Valley wealth is a god. Interestingly, I don’t suspect Jesus would entirely disagree with this. As created beings in the image of the one true God, humans will inevitably worship something. The question is, what will ultimately satisfy the human quest for meaning? If reality is nothing but the pursuit of material outcomes in the immediate now, the temptation will be to think that money is indeed the only thing that can satisfy. But if so, why do we never have enough of it?
The Kingdom of God is Jesus’ way of telling us that we are made to flourish in an exceedingly better narrative. One in which everything — including money — can be a means to a greater end, namely a fully reconciled world in which created beings find their joy and happiness in fellowship with their Creator.
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This post was published August 26, 2016
Drew Yancey is the president of Yancey’s, a produce merchandising and distribution company based in Loveland, and entrepreneur-in-residence at Peak Solutions, where he works as a management consultant. Drew is also a PhD candidate at the University of Birmingham (UK) researching the connection between theology and entrepreneurship. Drew has an MBA from Texas A&M and an MDiv from Denver Seminary.