The pacemaker that keeps my heart pumping (and without it I would be dead) was an invention that has improved human life immensely, mine in particular. And that is what all good work does, yes even Kingdom of God work. All good work advances God’s Kingdom and brings wellbeing to people. Of course the Kingdom does even more especially when people come under the gracious rule of King Jesus. But back to the question of innovation and entrepreneurship, the subject Dr. Richard Goossen and I are exploring in a course at Bethel Bible Seminary in November 25-28 including a major international conference in Hong Kong on Entrepreneurial Leadership on November 28.
Jeffrey Timmons summarized the impact of innovation in this way: “Since World War II 50 per cent of all innovations, and 95 per cent of all radical innovations, have come from new and smaller firms. They have included, for example, the microcomputer, the pacemaker, overnight express packages, the quick oil change, fast food, oral contraceptives, the X-ray machine, and so forth.”But that is just in various improvements for everyday life and instruments to serve human beings. Innovative use of technology is resulting in new and accessible forms of education so that students in Africa, South America, Asia and Europe can at the same time form a cohort of learners with students in North America, and that without the unsustainable cost of residential education. So as I open up my Vroom on my computer with Bakke Graduate University I can engage my students personally, and they with one another. Add to this innovation in church life and parachurch work as new frontiers are reached and passed, new services launched, new people groups are reached. In the 1970s fifty thousand young street people “invaded” Vancouver living mainly on the beaches. Our church opened a hostel, a drop-in centre and a bookstore and saw many lives changed, healed and reoriented. As the Berlin wall came down a Slovakian, Milan Cicel and a Canadian Al Bussard, decided that there was an opportunity to be exploited. So they started helping people start businesses in the new market economy and to do so in a righteous way. Today it is called Integra. Innovation is not an option. As one proponent of entrepreneurship has boldly said, “Innovate or die.” Really?
The reasons are all there. First, we live in a changing world. Society and human life on earth is constantly changing. Needs, wants and contexts are constantly in flux. Entrepreneurs see this as an opportunity and do not shrink from the challenge. Indeed they are not risk-focused but opportunity focussed. Second, all human organizations experienceentropy and stagnation. Homeostasis in systems means always tending to the tried and true, even the church. For example all revivals in church history have never been sustained. Intellectual forces that shape the way people think and act are having a profound effect on how we function as a church: secularism, post-modernity, growing urbanization and the re-emergence of Islam. You might long for the “good old days” but the fact is they are gone and we face new challenges. Instead of seeing change as an evil we can see it as an opportunity. But first we must ask exactly what is innovation and entrepreneurship.
The simplest way to describe it is in a chart:
Entrepreneurs see an opportunity. But it doesn’t stop with seeing. Further they effect an innovation. But inventors do this too. But here is a final distinguishing mark. Entrepreneurs go one step further. They actually make something happen. If it is a service or product they “commercialize it.” If it is a new way of serving in a not-for-profit they implement that service. Personally I am not only fascinated that someone had the inventive creativity to envision the possibility of running a human heart on .6 volts but actually made the thing work and then made it available to people worldwide. But that raises the question of whether entrepreneurs are born that way, whether they can be trained and educated to innovate and whether, in some sense, everyone should be innovative. A lot of ink has been spilled on this subject. Some have insisted that it is a particular personality type. Others say it is a practice that can be learned. Still others refer to systemic and cultural factors that evoke innovation, often in national crises. The times make the person, they say. Actually they are all right. Innovation may be a combination of personality characteristics, competencies, conditions and the actual context. In some sense everyone can be innovative and encouraged, trained, and mentored to look at the world and life this way. But there is even more to it than this, as we are anxious to show in our course.
“The Soul of Innovation,” our course title, is not just about psychology and methodology but theology and spirituality. We are anxious to show that creativity is at the heart of what it means to be made as God-imaging creatures reflecting a God who goes on creating and invites us to enter his on-going creativity. We are creating creatures whether it is expressed in an artistic design, a new spread sheet, a new meal or a new deal, a more helpful procedure or a much-needed improvement in telecommunications. When God said “fill the earth” (Gen 1:28) he did not just mean to populate the globe, something we have done fairly well. God was calling humankind to humanize the earth, to develop the potential of creation and in doing so to fill the earth with the glory of God. There are important biblical themes that underscore the human calling to innovation including the biblical view of creation as open and meaningful to explore, the will of God as an empowering vision and not just blind compliance, the call of Adam to name the animals, in other words to make a difference. All good human work is co-creativityin a very grand project.” But why “the soul” ?
Both Goossen and I are anxious to show that innovation is not just a good strategy founded on the truth of the Bible. But it is good for the soul and the soul is good for it. It concerns our relationship with God and our deepest self. The soul is not an organ in the evil physical body which, when the body is shucked off at death like the caterpillar’s cocoon, will enable the immortal soul to live forever in bliss. Biblically the soul is the expressive person, hungry for life, for God and for expressiveness. The parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30 expresses an important truth. Our view of God and relationship with God determines whether we will wrap up our lives and talents, the way the one talent person did, for fear of making a mistake, or whether, like the five and two talent persons we will put our lives to work and take the risk of investing in enterprise and innovation. It all has to do with faith, hope and love, the three themes of the three parables in Matthew 25. So, in Scripture, there is a place for affirming our capacity to make a difference, to discover our calling, to see that one’s life and one’s investment leads to a worthwhile end (Matt 16:26), to affirm our gifts and talents and get on with the business of being a human being. For the Christian, entrepreneurial work is simply fulfilling the Great Commandment (Matt 22:37-39) to love God with all we are and to love our neighbour with what we create and how we serve that neighbour, whether the neighbour is seen or unseen. Gianfranco Poggi expressed it well: “No capitalist development without an entrepreneurial class; no entrepreneurial class without a moral charter; no moral charter without religious premises.”
So every morning when I wake I am glad that someone not only envisioned a machine that would keep my heart pumping but actually made it happen.
“The Soul of Innovation” Course Description (November 25-28)
Innovation is critical to all human organizations, businesses, not-for-profits and the church. But it is seldom considered where innovation comes from, how it needs to be undertaken and what makes up its theological and biblical foundation. This course will consider the need for and practice of entrepreneurial leadership from multiple viewpoints: practical, systemic, cultural, theological, spiritual and sociological. The student will gain practical wisdom on managing innovation as well as becoming aware of the hazards, temptations and spiritual resources for being a change agent.
Note: All credit-taking participants must also attend The Entrepreneurial Leadership Conferenceon November 28.
- R. Paul Stevens
Jeffry A. Timmons, New Venture Creation: Entrepreneurship in the 1990's(Homewood, Il: Irwin, 1990), 4.
Gianfranco Poggi, Calvinism and the Capitalist Spirit: Max Weber's Protestant Ethic(London: Macmillan, 1983), 83.