First study session covers missional entrepreneurship
July 5, 2017 / By Kathleen Christiansen
The Rev. Dr. Kenda Creasy Dean watched lobsters molt in Maine. For a lobster to molt, it takes on extra water to bloat, cracks the shell, turn itself inside out — and goes blind while doing it — and flips itself before breaking free of its tail. Now a blind, squishy blob, the lobster can easily be eaten, but it has become something new.
“I think this is the Church,” Rev. Dean said. “At various stages in this process, we have got to get out of our shells, for new life awaits us. We can’t see what’s going on and some of us are afraid, disoriented, but new life awaits us because we are called to have great love and because God is doing a new thing.”
Rev. Dean — an ordained United Methodist pastor in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference and professor of youth, church, and culture at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey who served as the study leader at the 2017 Upper New York Annual Conference session — held her first study session “Love Made Me an Inventor: Why an Entrepreneurial Church Matters to Young People” on June 2.
The session focused on missional entrepreneurship and how churches can become entrepreneurial.
She started the session discussing the American blacksmith union membership decline in 1909, which increased over the next few years, only to decline 10 years later as Ford began mass production of Model-T cars. We’ll circle back to this later.
Rev. Dean showed multiple videos, since it was an early morning session, including one clip from “Apollo 13,” where NASA workers had to figure out how to fit a square peg into a round hole.
“Most of us have had that ‘Houston, we have a problem’ moment — we realized that the oxygen that once fueled the church we loved was leaking out, and we had nothing lying around to fix it with,” she said.
Rev. Dean said in these situations, you have to “hack,” to use familiar stuff in a different way. And the Church has to learn how to hack, she said, to become missional innovators.
Rev. Dean mentioned several examples of missional innovators from Father Gregory Boyle, who started Homeboy Industries to help with gang member rehabilitation; Episcopal priest Becca Stevens, who founded Thistle Farms to help women coming out of prostitution get back on their feet financially; Rev. Richard Joyner, who by establishing a farm in North Carolina, brought down emergency room visits in his town from 80 people visiting the ER each year to five; and Maggie Barankitse, who watched 72 people slaughtered in Barundi and decided to build Maison Shalom (a place where children can be loved) that includes a farm, movie theater, mechanic shop, and more at the site of the massacre.
Dean said many churches are jumping on the missional entrepreneurship bandwagon.
“But here is the truth: ‘Big ideas’ will not save the Church; only Jesus Christ saves the Church,” she said. “You might try for many reasons, only one matters: Because love has made you an inventor, do it for love, or don’t do it.”
Dean pointed to Rev. 21:5, where God says, “Behold, I am making new things!”
“Turns out the Bible both begins and ends with stories about God innovating,” she said.
Dean said we are at an entrepreneurial moment in our culture, especially with young people. She said young people’s affinity for entrepreneurial ministry helps them move past two cultural streams that have them stuck between a rock and a hard place — “the New Sincerity” and “the immanent frame.”
“In the New Sincerity, the impulse to do good is so strong even those who don’t want to do good, do good,” she said.
Rev. Dean said according to Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, young people live within the “immanent frame,” which means young people have flattened their horizons so much they can’t imagine anything being true or real except what is true or real in their own experience.
“So here is the reason social entrepreneurship has so much power: Young people sense that this immanent frame they’re stuck inside is too small,” she said. “They feel it; they know it, but they don’t know how to get beyond it. They sense there is more to life than this … And doing something good for others, volunteering, or social entrepreneurship, is one way to tamp down the uneasiness that comes from having plenty in a world where few have enough.
“When love makes you an inventor, it stretches the canvas on their immanent frame so thin that they might be able to make it out, just a little, to see the shape of God on the other side,” she said.
Before closing the first study session, Rev. Dean cautioned three things: We are not called to have big ideas, we are called to have great love; it’s a myth that the most successful innovators leave everything behind to purse moon shot; and one group of blacksmiths survived: the mechanics because they adapted to the change brought about by mass production of cars.
“Churches that value innovation try new things, even when they don’t work particularly well, giving young people the distinct impression that they too have something to offer, that their gifts make a difference, and that the church will welcome their contributions,” Rev. Dean said.