The demand for entrepreneurship education is on the rise. As the economy suffered in the COVID-19 Pandemic lockdowns, entrepreneurship levels spiked and college students were drawn towards opportunities in that space. Even before the Pandemic, the leading business education accreditor, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, reported that undergraduate entrepreneurship programs increased by 23.75% from 2017 to 2020.1 More recent anecdotal evidence suggests the trend is continuing. The most popular major among freshmen in my home university’s college of business this fall—by a wide margin—is entrepreneurship.
College students are drawn to entrepreneurship for many reasons. Some see it as an outlet for their creative ideas, particularly if their ideas are unconventional enough that they cannot get a fair hearing in the corporate sphere. Some entrepreneurs, particularly social entrepreneurs and moral entrepreneurs, want to bring structural or ethical change to an industry to make it more equitable or more compassionate for its stakeholders. Others have more self-referenced reasons. Many aspiring entrepreneurs would like to avoid the stereotype of the organizational, 8–5, job and escape the burdens that come with it.2 Those burdens include being ruled by organizational demands or a boss’s whims and feeling trapped in an externally regimented life. The alternative that many students search for is to start their own business and become their “own boss.” There is a prevailing belief that self-employment will bring satisfaction and happiness through the independence it affords. Those beliefs are not unfounded. Studies have indicated that the self-employed typically experience more job satisfaction than organizational employees due to the independence they have from organizational routines and constraints.3 Entrepreneurs also contribute substantially to the economy. Small and medium sized-businesses supply two thirds of the jobs in America but, more importantly, entrepreneurs also create new products, new processes, and whole new industries that fuel growth in the economy overall.4
Unfortunately, while self-employment and entrepreneurship can be positive for both the entrepreneur and the economy, the belief that they will necessarily produce independence is not entirely realistic. Students who fantasize about being self-employed do not always realize how much work it requires. The self-employed often work longer hours and earn less than similarly skilled organizational employees, and new businesses bring a heightened risk of business failure. On average, only about 36 percent of businesses in the U.S. survive ten years.5 While self-employed individuals may benefit from more autonomy in conducting the operations of the business, external demands from customers, suppliers, and others often undermine that autonomy. Self-employed individuals can find themselves at the mercy of these external demands with no organizational colleagues with whom to share them. The routines and constraints of organizational life might have gone away but new, self-employed, routines and constraints take their place. Combined with the heavier workload self-employed people typically experience, becoming one’s own boss may not be the personal liberation many imagine it to be.
Sometimes students’ reasons for becoming entrepreneurs go beyond the desire for lifestyle freedom. Some young people bristle at the idea of having someone in authority over them. More than autonomy, they want power and immunity from the demands of others, and they imagine being their own boss as equivalent to achieving it. They imagine organizing a business in which they “call the shots” while others “wash the pots”; a business that serves them. These would-be entrepreneurs evidence a misunderstanding of business. Serving the needs of clients, fellow employees, or others is the very nature of value creation in business. Some may prefer to serve indirectly through an organizational structure while others may prefer to serve more immediately by starting their own business. Either way, businesspeople are required to add value to the lives of others to justify the return they receive on their investment, whether of their time or their treasure. Every worker, whether employed in an organizational context or self-employed, will have to serve people. The good news for businesspeople is that service, whether in an organization or as an entrepreneur, can bring one into line with the example of Christ. An acceptance of the need to serve others in business can translate into a biblical view of service to others that is based on following Jesus in a life of self-sacrifice.
Christians have a calling to view the challenge of job satisfaction from a transformed perspective. From a Christian point of view, freedom does not come from independence from an earthly boss. It comes from a submission to the Heavenly Father. Once submitted to God, Christians learn early on that their calling is to follow Christ into a life of service, not a life of self-direction replete with personal prerogatives. While Christians may appreciate their work and the opportunity to be productive in it (Ecclesiastes 3:22), they should never seek ultimate satisfaction from their own creation of a business or their ability to employ themselves. The ultimate end of the Christian life is to learn to walk in the ways of Jesus, the “one who serves” (Luke 22:27).
Christians are called to serve God, one another, and the world. Those of us working in the business community are called to conduct our business “as to the Lord,” (Colossians 3:23) whether we work in an organizational setting or are self-employed. While some of our students, and some of us, may be called into entrepreneurship to serve Christ and His kingdom, it is worth the effort of self-reflection to understand our true motives for creating a business before setting out on that path. Those who connect their entrepreneurial ideas to notions of helping others through creating new products or opening new markets should be encouraged to prayerfully continue considering that career with all the joys, hard work, and uncertainty it entails. Christian entrepreneurs like Conrad Hilton (founder of Hilton Hotels), who built his businesses on serving others and glorifying God, produced tremendous value for both his customers and his employees. (He also left most of his fortune to the Conrad Hilton Foundation stating that divine law, “obliges you and me to relieve the suffering, the distressed and the destitute.”6) On the other hand, Christians seeking to escape the call to service by becoming entrepreneurs may have missed both the purpose of business and the purpose of the Christian life. It does not matter who we are or what we do, we are going to have to serve, and we will not be fulfilling our role in the workplace, or in the Kingdom, until we do.
- Timothy Mescon and Edwin van Rest, “Entrepreneurship is an Opportunity for Education” AACSB Insights (March 15, 2021), https://www.aacsb.edu/insights/articles/2021/03/entrepreneurship-is-an-opportunity-for-education#:~:text=Studyportals%E2%80%99%20internal%20data%20show%20that%20student%20interest%20in,is%2C%20in%20part%2C%20a%20continuation%20of%20pre-pandemic%20trends.
- “Why Do People Become Entrepreneurs?” Ownr Blog (August 16, 2022), https://www.ownr.co/blog/why-become-an-entrepreneur/#8_reasons_why_people_become_entrepreneurs.
- Greg Hundley, “Why and When Are the Self‐Employed More Satisfied with Their Work?” Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society 40, no. 2 (2002): 293–316, https://doi.org/10.1111/0019-8676.00209.
- Kartik Jobanputra, “Entrepreneurship: The Engine of Growth Driving Our Economy,” Forbes (July 31, 2023), https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2023/07/31/entrepreneurship-the-engine-of-growth-driving-our-economy/?sh=4409c4915af9.
- “Entrepreneurship and the U.S. economy,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, last modified April 28, 2016, https://www.bls.gov/bdm/entrepreneurship/bdm_chart3.htm.
- “Successful Christian Entrepreneurs Remembered,” Bible2Business (March 28, 2020). https://bible2business.org/inspirational/7-successful-christian-entrepreneurs-to-remember/.