DLGP

Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Unpacking My Christian Entrepreneurial Guilt

Written by: on March 5, 2023

Why are you charging a fee for a guided prayer session? Talking to God should be free.”

That message appeared in my DMs after I invited my social media followers to an online guided prayer session I was conducting. In spite of more than 30 people happily paying for the online experience, I never offered one again. That sting of criticism brought to the surface doubts that existed deep within me:

 Is it appropriate to earn a living by helping other people grow in their relationship with Jesus?

This blog unpacks that question through the lens of Karl Polanyi’s book, The Great Transformation and Dr. Jason Clark’s doctoral thesis, Evangelicalism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship.

Capitalism: What’s not to love?

If being a doctoral student has taught me anything, it’s that objective reading and critical thinking are key to understanding the world in which we live. At the same time, I’ve learned just how difficult it is to completely set aside my own beliefs and experiences and be open to differing views. This is the tension I experienced as I first began to study Polanyi’s critique of capitalism.

Per Dr. Clark, “Polanyi and Weber were acutely aware of the need for accounts of the history of things in order to understand concrete realities.” [1] So while it was initially a bit uncomfortable to consider the shadow side of the modern, capitalistic life I know and love, I knew it was necessary work.  The Great Transformation highlighted several ideas related to capitalism and the modern day self-regulating markets (SRM) that helped me understand some of my Christian entrepreneurial guilt from an academic perspective, particularly the following[2] :

  1. Whether an economy is a traditional or market driven, it must figure out a way to provide for all members of society.
  2. The SRM (profit-based) way of providing goods to citizens gets in the way of other social responsibilities to the point where it is detrimental to those responsibilities.
  3. The SRM model requires that its members put land, labor and money above humanity, and in some ways can be deadly to people and the planet.

Milton Friedman, a Nobel prize winning economist, states, “There is one and only one social responsibility of business—to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game.”[3] I now understand that part of my guilt about being an entrepreneur stems from the realization that I have many social priorities other than making a profit such as: 1)helping people better understand themselves, so they can grow, 2) helping people to know Christ and live in His Kingdom, 3) and loving others where they are, but not leaving them there. Those intrinsic priorities of mine (helping and loving), appear directly in opposition to the self-interest required by capitalism.  I now understand that there’s plenty not to love about the capitalistic society in which we live.  But the fact remains that we do live in it—so what’s a Christian leader like me to do? For the answer to this, I turn to Dr. Jason Clark’s doctoral thesis.

Capitalism and Christianity: Could they be any more different?

In his thesis, Dr. Clark asks the following questions that are at the heart of my own conundrum when it comes to discerning whether it is possible to have a faith-based business: “Even if the SRM does pose a threat to the social fabric of life, as Polanyi suggests…why are people who are aware of these effects still willing to order life around the SRM? Most importantly for my project, why are Evangelicals so complicit in that life ordering?”[4]

Jesus said that “whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:25-26). That appears to be the opposite of the rules required in a capitalistic society. So, what are we to do? I admit I was hopeful that Dr. Clark had figured out the answer, so I read to the very end of his thesis only to find that this question remains. Dr. Clark was able to show “an account that described the relationship between Evangelicals and capitalism”[5] and partially answered his initial research question of” how and why the forces of life in capitalism often overwhelm the aspirations and beliefs of Evangelical Christians for faithful living for Christ.” Yet, it seems the solution to preventing that from happening still requires a working out for each individual.

So while I don’t have a formula for addressing my entrepreneurial guilt, I do have a better understanding about why I feel it and a strong inclination to move forward in resilience to address shadow questions such as: 1) how do I provide a way for people to use my services if they cannot afford to pay? 2) how do I ensure that my profits are used to help overcome some of the societal destruction that capitalism creates? 3) how do I ensure I am working from a place of service and not falling prey to lure of self-interest and 4) how do I intentionally provide opportunity to those for whom capitalism would otherwise overlook? May Christ’s Spirit lead me—for that is the only way.

[1] Clark, Jason Paul, “Evangelicalism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship” (2018). Faculty Publications – Portland Seminary. 132, 122. https://digitalcommons.georgefox.edu/gfes/132

[2] The following points are summarized from my reading of this blog–

Zaman, Asad. “Summary of the Great Transformation by Polanyi.” Medium (blog), August 25, 2018. https://asaduzaman.medium.com/summary-of-the-great-transformation-by-polanyi-c329541e8532.

[3]“Why Capitalism Must Adapt to a New Era | University of Chicago News,” October 20, 2021. https://news.uchicago.edu/story/why-capitalism-must-adapt-new-era.

[4] Clark, 142.

[5] Clark, 252.

About the Author

mm

Laura Fleetwood

Laura Fleetwood is a Christian creative, certified Enneagram Coach, doctoral student at Portland Seminary and Creative Director at her home church, Messiah St. Charles. As a published author, national faith speaker, podcaster and self-described anxiety warrior, Laura uses storytelling to teach you how to seek the S T I L L in the midst of your chaotic life. Find Laura at www.seekingthestill.com

4 responses to “Unpacking My Christian Entrepreneurial Guilt”

  1. Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

    Laura, Thank you for your blog post! I really appreciate your honesty and your description of the ways in which you are wrestling through how Christians can maintain their business, based on a Christ centered model in the midst of a capitalistic economy. I also appreciate the way you pulled your subject out of the reading and stuck with your themes all the way through your blog, as opposed to summarizing the entire reading assignment. I’m trying to figure out how to better do this, so appreciate your model.

  2. Tonette Kellett says:

    Laura,

    Your blog post on wrestling with charging for your services is fantastic. Thank you for your honesty and transparency.

  3. Audrey Robinson says:

    Laura,
    I commend you for your ability to thoughtfully and logically process the internal questions you grapple with in a way that helps me process along with you.

    Thank you.

  4. Laura, as always thank you for your post and your honesty. I too have wondered about the charging for services. The first time I got an honorarium for conducting a funeral I was shocked and felt awkward about what to do with the money. It is an interesting intersection of faith and entrepreneurial endeavors. I think you are asking the right questions and coming fro a place of honesty and truth. Thanks for writing this post!

Leave a Reply