This evening’s series of presentations revolved around the theme of entrepreneurship. Greg Forster opened the presentation using Gallup Chairman and CEO Jim Clifton’s argument that the greatest challenge facing the country is job creation.
Forster echoed Clifton’s emphasis that organic job creation is a “spirit” not a social policy.
Forster’s observations set the stage of Kern President James Rahn who also stressed the challenge of recovering work as a form of vocation. Rahn noted that in many surveys, paid work ranked lower than almost any activities other than illness, so work is seen in our culture as primarily debilitating. Rahn argued that work has lost the deeper mean of vocation and noted that the church has failed to respond appropriately.
Kern’s desire to recover a meaningful expression to work has led the organization to invest in the Kern Entrepreneurship Education Network. This “investment” in entrepreneurship set the stage for the main speaker, Katherine Alsdorf, senior fellow of Redeemer City to City ministry and founder of the Redeemer Presbyterian Church (NYC) Entrepreneurship and Innovation Fellows program. Alsdorf is also co-author with pastor Tim Keller of Every Good Endeavor.
A former entrepreneur in the tech world, Alsdorf came on staff at Reedemer church in 2000 to nurture an environment of gospel entrepreneurship as a means of transforming the city. The result included a radical revisioning of the church’s administrative structure (around five fronts of Worship/Evangelism, Community Formation, Mercy/Justice, Church Planting and Faith/Work that Alsdorf guided). The “fellowship” started slowly in a truly entrepreneurial fashion since Alsdorf was given a lot of room to experiment and permission to fail, with no budget but with a large talent pool within the church. The ministry started with less emphasis on programming and more on theology, as well as with a focus on equipping and mobilizing. Ultimately the ministry was founded on the assumption that culture would ultimately change through work.
The result of the efforts culminated in both a nine-month fellows program (Gotham Fellowship) for 25-35 year olds and a strong emphasis on entrepreneurship in the private, public, and arts sectors. People proposing those grants had to meet a number of requirements, some of which included the following:
- Entrepreneurs had to link personal passion with the passion of Christ
- Applicants had to articulate how the gospel informed their project
- Project proposals had to have an external focus “for the city” so explicitly “Christian” projects were not engaged
- Applicants had to listen to the Christian community as a part of their discernment (Alsdorf admitted that some people choose entrepreneurship because they cannot get along with others, but such a view often resulted in a natural exclusion since, for entrepreneurs, relationships and accountability remain key factors).
Alsdorf noted that entrepreneurs also had to embrace the idea that failure is okay but also that they must have hope in recognizing how their project might change the city. To date, the ministry has given eighteen venture grants over the last eight years including projects like Tegu toy blocks, Open Hands Legal Clinic, and the Arts and Mind organization focusing on Alzheimer patients and their families. In all Alsdrof noted that this type of faith and work ministry cannot survive as an “add on” project buried under a layers of other forms of cafeteria like ministry. However, Alsdorf does believe that gospel entrepreneurship, bridging theology and creativity for the sake of the city, may well be one of the major ministries of the church in the future.