What is the difference between gospel entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship?
When gospel motivation prompted me to leave a rewarding job in the financial services to teach in a failing NYC public school, the question didn't occur to me until I realized that the terms of my contract required me to be silent on the great realities that had moved me to social engagement. I now am keenly aware that if this question is not answered well, or not asked at all, Christian entrepreneurs may seek the common good, but never function as a sign, instrument and foretaste of the kingdom of God.
Even the least Biblically literate Christian entrepreneur is likely to be well acquainted with the command to love. This refrain comes out loud and clear throughout the bible: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Paul goes farther in Ephesus: "Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need." This clearly affirms social enterprise: work both is good, and does good. Considering that most people devote a majority of their waking hours to work, understanding gospel calling is no small part of Christian life.
In Matthew 19, Jesus encounters a man who might well be described as a successful social entrepreneur. He is wealthy and loving -- the man that everyone would want for a neighbor; for when Jesus tells him that he must love his neighbor as himself, the man confidently answers that he has faithfully done this. He is commonly known as the rich young ruler.
This upright, loving man recognizes the deficiency of his good deeds. So he asks, "What do I still lack?" Jesus' answer reveals the gospel itself - and how it forms a new starting point from which to live in the world. The Lord says, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."
This man is law-abiding. He already loves his neighbor as himself! Yet Jesus doesn't say, "Keep it up, and the world will be a better place, and you will have treasure in heaven." Instead, the Son of Man calls this archetypal social entrepreneur to give his stuff away and follow. He makes relationship to himself preeminent, even priceless. The man's spotless record didn't bring him into relationship with the Son of God, and his wealth couldn't purchase it. So Jesus presents him with a stunning offer: sell and give away this stuff that corrodes and decays, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. After the rich young man has walked away, Jesus reveals the ROI of the rejected offer: whatever we relinquish for his sake we will receive one hundredfold. That's like trading Pokémon cards for diamonds.
The good news is Jesus. It is God bringing us into restored relationship with himself at God's own cost. Jim Elliot succinctly captured it: He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.
Social entrepreneurs strive to love their neighbors as themselves. Then they live out these loves in new ventures. Gospel motivation doesn't just call us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Rather, it compels us to follow Jesus by acting as a sign, instrument, and foretaste of God's gracious rulein public life through the creation of goods and services that witness to this reality: All things were created by Christ, through him, and for him, that in every relationship and cultural creation Christ might be preeminent (Colossians 1:16-17). At this announcement, some, like the rich young ruler, will walk away sorrowful. Others will see the pearl of great price and gladly run to sell all they have in order to possess it. Through our joyful abandon and public embrace of the reconciliation and reign of Jesus, the world will see the glory of God on display not just within the church walls, but in our gardens, homes, stores, and offices.
This is gospel motivation, which, once I had observed the distinction between social and gospel entrepreneurship prompted a move out of the schools to create Tumblon.com.
Graham Scharf is the co-founder of Tumblon.com, and the author of the forthcoming book The Apprenticeship of Being Human.