What does it mean to be an entrepreneur in the time of COVID-19?
The question has come to mind lately as the New City Fellows* have been exploring what it means to be an entrepreneur as a follower of Christ. We’ve gotten to hear from Christian entrepreneurs like Holy Trinity’s Jesma and David Reynolds; we’ve explored millennial startup culture; and the Fellows have just presented their cultural renewal projects, which are exercises in entrepreneurial thinking.
I’ve paused at times because of the seeming impropriety or absurdity of the question – of starting a business or new venture when so many existing ones are struggling to survive. Losing one’s employment is profoundly difficult. I cannot imagine it being any easier to have to face that risk oneself, while making difficult decisions between family, the survival of one’s business and one’s employees.
I’ve realized, however, that it is entirely appropriate, and even necessary, to think about this question. As Andy Crouch recently commented, every organization is now a startup in some way, and no business exists the way it once did.
Meeting and reflecting with the Fellows has made clear, however, that there is a further impetus for entrepreneurship in the time of crisis – a spiritual and theological one. To put it simply, it is in such crises as ours that God has used his people in some of the most creative, powerful, risk-taking, world-changing – entrepreneurial – ways.
Why is it that our culture so rightly valorizes those doctors, nurses and grocery workers who stay and work on the frontlines of the pandemic? Why does our culture so rightly celebrate every effort to join in sewing masks or deliver groceries or meals to those who need them? Why are we so moved by videos of cities like New York filling their streets with cheer in support of their medical workers as they begin and end their hospital shifts? Better yet, why is it that hospitals exist to begin with?
It is in so many ways because of the actions of past Christians in responding to crisis entrepreneurially – creatively, redemptively, taking upon immense risk – in order to serve the neediest in the name of Jesus. It was their distinctively Christian actions in the midst of plague and on behalf of the infirm and the dying that eventually led to the invention and proliferation of hospitals throughout the world, and of our culture’s appropriated, embedded ideal that we are not to run away from the sick, but toward them, even if doing so exposes us to great risk.
I’m reminded by the example of these past Christians, and by the Savior their actions mirrored, that God calls his people precisely in the midst of crises and difficult circumstances to act in ways that are sacrificial, creative, risk-taking and – dare I say – entrepreneurial.
In memory of Jesus the Christian community turned toward the sick, not against them, caring for them in their suffering and attending to them in their dying, practicing hospitality to them rather than ostracizing them from community. In the plague of the third century in Alexandria, Christians distinguished themselves by their heroic care for the sick while the pagans of the city abandoned the sick, deserted their friends, and “cast them into the roads half-dead.” By the ministry of Christians, some of the sick were healed, but many of those who cared for the sick died — their deaths a witness (martus) to their memory of Jesus and to their hope in him. Down through the centuries the memory of Jesus echoed in the care of the sick — in the heroism of Alexandrian Christians, in the vow of the Knights Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem in the sixteenth century to “serve our lords, the sick,” in the “holy calling” of Rauschenbusch’s prayer. In memory of Jesus the sick have been accorded a preferential position, and in memory of Jesus care for them has been regarded as a duty of Christian community.
— Allen Verhey, Remembering Jesus: Christian Community, Scripture, and the Moral Life, p. 128
In their sacrificial acts in the midst of crisis, these past Christians began a new venture: they paved the way for hospitals and healthcare as we know it today. But in doing so, they were only following in the footsteps of their entrepreneur-in-chief, Jesus himself. For it was Jesus Christ, the Son of God who commenced the greatest entrepreneurial work of all and gave us a pattern to follow. He ran not away from humanity in crisis, but toward it – toward us when we were infirm and sick, taking upon himself our infirmities and bearing our diseases (Matt. 8:17). He took upon himself not just great risk – but infinite cost – in order to accomplish the work to heal us, and our world, forever. God himself entered into our crisis as the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and he began a new work, creating a new way to new life in the midst of sickness and death.
I hope that the work of Jesus encourages readers who are lonely and weary to remember that God is with us in the midst of this crisis. I also hope it encourages readers to respond to our crisis the way Jesus and past Christians did – entrepreneurially, redemptively, creatively, sacrificially – in ways both big and small. It may be through the way we navigate our own businesses, organizations and ministries, or simply at home through patient, enduring, creative love for those around us, or by reaching out and simply serving someone new and doing it in a new way. All these ways are meaningful to him, and all are needful. Whatever it may be, Jesus has always used his people in entrepreneurial ways in the midst of crisis. May he do the same with us.’
*New City Fellows is a nine-month fellowship program sponsored by Holy Trinity, which equips emerging leaders to integrate faith and work and navigate our changing culture. Applications for the next class are due May 10. Learn more at our Virtual Info Session on April 27, 7-8pm – register here.