A few months ago, I began an MBA program at a local college. As the Church changes and evolves to meet the needs of world, I am realizing that there are many tools that I personally need to develop. While I want to develop my own leadership skills, my primary goal is to learn the tools necessary to help faith communities launch successful social enterprises. I want to explore if it is possible to start a venture development organization that provides mentoring and seed funding to help faith communities reach their neighborhoods and the community-at-large to generate health and prosperity. This is not an especially innovative idea. The monastic movement of the middle ages was largely funded by social enterprises and the development of market solutions. The Church was an integral part of local economies.
When the program kicked off with our orientation, I was not too surprised that my motivation as a student was a little different than many of my classmates, many who are seeking career changes or advancement and more responsibility in their professions. However, I was very surprised that the focus of our first session was using your position to leverage your company’s ability to create the greatest positive impact in the larger community. Maybe I was a little cynical entering the program and thinking profits were what an MBA program would focus on, but instead we were asked, “What are we individually doing to make Memphis a better place?” And we were told that if we are not giving back, volunteering, and working with others, we will not have a positive impact in the community, or a successful business.” Here is the kicker, the speaker implied, that your motivation cannot be to have a more successful business, but instead, to make a larger pie, a better place to live because this is what it means to be human in an interdependent society.
Our first class after the orientation was an Ethics class that we are wrapping up this semester. The impetus has been the same: make your community a better place. We have been studying businesses that have been profitable because they work to create a better life for everyone. And the lesson we are all supposed to take home is the simple reminder that a good leader makes the world a better place to live in.I say all this because when I was the minister of a church, I spent way too much time focused on running the congregation without asking the question, what are we doing to make our community a better place to live in. Sure, we were involved in outreach, and we deeply cared about the community, but I certainly did not have my priorities in line. I was focused on the church community, growing the church, and forming the community through teaching and pastoral care. While I still believe those are noble causes, I have to wonder, how would our church have been different if we started every vestry meeting with the question, “What are we doing to make our community a better place to live in?” Or maybe as a Christian, “What are we doing to see the kingdom of heaven here on earth.” Maybe I would have spent less time worrying about the altar and flower guilds and more time with my parishioners in the community doing the work we are called to do. Maybe there is something to learn about the Christian ethic from the business world.