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A Voice to Be Heard: Christian Entrepreneurs Living Out Their Faith

Richard Higginson and Kina Robertshaw
Published by InterVarsity Press in 2017

The title A Voice to Be Heard suggests that the voices of Christian entrepreneurs require attention since they have not always been heeded in the past. Perhaps in religious circles the phrase “Christian entrepreneur” has even been scoffed at or ignored. In A Voice to Be Heard: Christian Entrepreneurs Living Out Their Faith, Richard Higginson and Kina Robertshaw clearly state that it is indeed possible for someone in business to live out their faith through their vocational work, regardless of what others have said in the past or are currently saying.

The authors analyze the question, “Is it possible to be a good Christian and a successful entrepreneur?” through qualitative research of 50 interviewees. They suggest that living out one’s faith in the business world is extremely difficult due to the sinfulness of man and the temptation of the devil, but also that it is possible. Higginson and Robertshaw cite examples such as Quakers creating banks in nineteenth-century Britain and the recent spiritual awakening in the Silicon Valley tech industry. Instead of separating faith and business, as society and particular religious cultures usually do, the authors explore their comparable traits, suggest ways the two can interact, and even suggest that God is the first and great entrepreneur.

The book begins with modern-day examples of Christian entrepreneurs, followed by biblical figures. The text then gives a history of entrepreneurs and of vocational theology and defines entrepreneurship. The authors explore a theology of entrepreneurial vocation with attributes required for success, such as trusting your gut and taking calculated risks. They further discuss a biblical approach to entrepreneurship, addressing such topics as stakeholders, stewardship, practices to avoid, prayer, persistence, and accountability. The book concludes with a strategy for Christian entrepreneurs to become the best they can be through the mission of the church.

The first chapter introduces five Christian entrepreneurs highlighting various spectrums of spiritual implementation in business. The Entertainer’s Gary Grant does not sell Halloween products and closes on Sundays. David Ball of David Ball Group is driven by quality, staff education, and service above self in the industrial construction industry. Mark Mitchell of Mitchell Group, a car dealership, closes on Sundays and hosts a Christmas carol service. Val King of Rooflight focuses on values of integrity, care, empowerment, and unity. Matthew Kimpton-Smith of Cygnet Group values the Golden Rule, active listening, team success, respect, and complete honesty.

Chapter 2 discusses entrepreneurs in the light of the Bible. After a discussion of Jacob as one hidden, Higginson and Robertshaw present Nehemiah as a model for prayer, vision, courage, planning, how to motivate others, shrewdness, resilience, and faith. They examine Lydia as either an entrepreneur or trader, followed by the Proverbs 31 virtuous woman as the best biblical representation of a true entrepreneur. The chapter concludes with a perspective on God as the original, visionary, and creative risk-taker, and the one who created humans in God’s own image. While the particular order in which the examples are presented is unclear, the text is detailed enough for those not biblically literate while still being insightful for those intimately familiar with the passages by shedding new light on them in the context of Christian entrepreneurship.

Chapter 3 demonstrates a negative side of entrepreneurship since entrepreneurs are sinful humans who fall short of the glory of God. Entrepreneurs have had a bad reputation because of the pursuit of power and money ruining some publicly, such as John DeLorean and Robert Maxwell. Counterexamples include Richard Branson and Anita Roddick, who championed customer value and corporate social responsibility respectively. Today, entrepreneurs are admired for their innovation, industriousness, integrity, and inspiration. They are especially needed for economic recovery, as demonstrated in the most recent financial crisis. However, much is still to be done to convince the church of their usefulness, as feelings remain mixed. The authors also discuss concerns about the spread of half-truths through Pentecostalism and the prosperity gospel in the global South.

Chapter 4 discusses the history of British entrepreneurship. Founded on the Protestant work ethic, the majority of businesses were founded by the Quakers (the Society of Friends) due to their exclusion from other professions and their dedication to honesty, mutual accountability, and education. Examples include the Congregationalist Titus Salt, who created Alpaca Orleans and was well-known for concerns over others’ health and well-being, specifically banning drinking, smoking, gambling, and swearing. George Cadbury, a Quaker himself and pioneer in the chocolate industry, embraced Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it” (NIV). Finally, John Laing, a member of the Brethren church, worked in civil engineering and famously promised God 50 percent of his income. Starting out, he would give one-eighth of it and live on the rest, and later when he made more he promised to swap those ratios. His company still exists today and serves humanitarian and financial causes.

Chapter 5 previews the next nine chapters by discussing the interview research sample from the Faith and Business conference on which the remainder of the book is based. While any research sample must, of course, be limited, this sample of 50 individuals was not based on a national survey and is not a perfectly representative sample. For purposes of the study, the authors define an entrepreneur as one who “pursues opportunities to commercialize innovation, taking the lead in marshalling resources and providing goods or resources in the marketplace in a new and different way.” The questionnaire, which the interviewer deviated from when necessary, addressed three topics: made in God’s image, the practice of entrepreneurship, and the church and the entrepreneur. Chapters 6-14 summarize findings from these interviews with Christian entrepreneurs.

Chapter 6 focuses on responses concerning calling and kingdom. Most felt called to be an entrepreneur, others were hesitant, and a minority felt they were just doing God’s will. Overall, they saw becoming an entrepreneur as requiring guidance, gifting, and passion. The second discussion involves the kingdom, based on biblical themes characterizing the kingdom in terms of surprise, growth, slowness to judge, penetration, value, forgiveness, generosity, festivity, preservation, perseverance, overthrowing evil, and repentance leading to salvation. The entrepreneurs interviewed felt their contribution to the kingdom included providing an excellent good or service, embodying Christian values, witnessing by word, and charitable giving. The authors suggest embracing all four together holistically.

Chapter 7 addresses topics such as re-enchantment (getting people to sing or enjoy work again), passion, bringing joy, and God as shareholder in the business. The authors relate these themes to the idea of praise, specifically in reference to Psalm 139:14: “I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” They also address two key principles from Jeff van Duzer’s Why Business Matters to God (And What Still Needs to Be Fixed) (IVP Academic, 2010): (1) provide a community with goods and services that will enable it to flourish; and (2) provide opportunities for meaningful work that will enable employees to express their God-given creativity.

Chapter 8 discusses risk. Most of the Christian entrepreneurs interviewed describe their work as expertise and creativity co-shared as part of God’s creativity. Out of the sample, only one was risk averse and few were risk-takers, but most took calculated risks. This requires strength and courage (Joshua 1:9).

Chapter 9 details business relationships with stakeholders. The chapter opens detailing Mark Mitchell stating, “Our employees are more important than our customers!” This references two Scriptural models of leadership that Jesus employed, both as servant, demonstrated by his washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:14-17), and as shepherd, demonstrated by his calling and leading of the disciples (John 10:2-4). It is noted that all entrepreneurs face difficult times, and that they survive through loyalty. The chapter also addresses ways suppliers are treated as fair partners instead of adversaries.

Chapter 10 discusses stewardship, a third leadership model. Stewardship can be seen as having a negative connotation, but the Bible redeems it. Examples of stewardship addressed include treatment of finances, approaching work by focusing on the project or task, and seeing children as a gift from God. The authors also address stewardship in relation to the current ecological crisis, which has created a new opportunity for businesses to rethink sustainability. Martin Clark argues for this and social enterprise by linking the parables of the talents and the sheep and the goats. The chapter ends by noting four commitments to accountability: making required meetings about it a priority, being ruthlessly honest, admit- ting to problems, and being willing to accept deep challenges.

Chapter 11 addresses ways Christian businesses can avoid bad practices, while high- lighting the need for humility and integrity. According to Robert Solomon, “Integrity is not so much a virtue itself as it is a complex of virtues, the virtues working together to form a coherent character, an identifiable and trustworthy personality.” The authors address topics such as paying taxes, doing business that is not always straightforward concerning improper payments or contract language, marketing, transparency, attentiveness to family, and Sabbath rest, as well as being consistent in all things.

Chapter 12 mainly addresses the spiritual discipline of prayer, an important practice for the entrepreneurs interviewed. The authors explain it was common for them not to pray for answers or solutions to problems necessarily, but rather to pray for people, for peace, or for discernment. The entrepreneurs practiced prayer in a variety of ways, including praying when certain items remind them to do so, praying in relation to an event (Nehemiah 2:4), praying during travel, or setting specific time apart for prayer. Some use candles or the rosary. Others meditate three times a day or use other disciplines in combination, such as Bible study or fasting.

Chapter 13 discusses perseverance. In biblical terms, this can be seen as patient endurance, requiring dependence on God. Throughout challenging circumstances such as delays, others cheating, economic recession, and bankruptcy, God is persistent and has plans for humans. Thus, entrepreneurs can be optimistic and have hope in God while living and working, taking into the context the whole of Jeremiah 29.

Chapter 14 discourses the majority view of the church having a negative connotation toward business and entrepreneurship due to a lack of appreciation of what business does. The authors argue based on the premise of encouraging one another and suggest six steps for how to improve: listen, give entrepreneurs a voice in the church, pray, make biblical teach- ing more relevant, realize God may call people outside the church walls, and understand entrepreneurs may have a significant role to play in church leadership.

Chapter 15 concludes with how entrepreneurs can be the best possible. Concerning the nature of mission, God’s plan and purpose is to transform the whole of his creation. The authors state that the nature of being a Christian is, “in choosing to follow Jesus, we are integrated into a much bigger picture. We become part of the worldwide body of the people of God, charged with rescuing God’s world from the sorry mess into which it has fallen.” They state the three major influences of our Christian faith are the Creation (Cultural) Mandate, the Great Commandment, and the Great Commission. Entrepreneurs are called to provide excellent goods or services with the highest business ethics from the Christian faith, taking opportunities to speak their faith when appropriate and give a generous portion of their profits to support charity, including Christian organizations. Churches are challenged to use the unique entrepreneurial talent to reinvigorate missional initiatives.

From an academic standpoint, the book does a great job incorporating Scripture and interviews to describe a story of how Christian entrepreneurs are contributing to the good of society. It is accessible to academics, nonprofessionals, and businesspersons alike. Future research should include a larger-scale quantitative study which incorporates Christian entrepreneurs in other countries, especially the growing global South. But A Voice to Be Heard is a refreshing perspective outside the normal focus of topics relating to Christianity and business in the United States.

Cite this article
Randy Beavers, “A Voice to Be Heard: Christian Entrepreneurs Living Out Their Faith”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 48:4 , 420–424

Randy Beavers

Seattle Pacific University
Randy Beavers is a professor of finance at Seattle Pacific University.