Social Entrepreneurship: The Good News of Reimagining the Work of the Church
“A Church that has lost its voice for justice is a Church that has lost its relevance in the world.”
-Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
One of the things I love about the life and ministry of Jesus was how practical his service was. I love that the ’good news’
was always synonymous with tangible expressions of care: people were hungry? Jesus fed. Someone was sick? Jesus healed. Someone was suffering? Jesus brought relief. More importantly, these expressions of care went beyond symptomatic issues, but also disrupted systems that perpetrated inequity, pain, and exclusion. When Jesus fed, healed and comforted, it allowed the marginalized to reenter society, to be treated with dignity, to experience a holistic liberation in their lives. Simply put: Jesus’ ministry was deeply rooted in justice, which made his ministry profoundly relevant.
It is a unique gift to serve as NBA’s Social Entrepreneurship Program Coordinator, because I get an up-close look at the many inspiring non-profits and social enterprises across the life of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) that are pursuing justice, equity and tangible care in innovative, life-giving ways. It is a joy to walk alongside and support fellow Disciples who are being called to care for their communities through needed, relevant ministry. This, to be clear, is the heart of social entrepreneurship. Our faith compels us—just as Jesus’ life revealed—to serve in ways that disrupt oppression, seek justice, and meet tangible needs. This kind of service is what keeps the Church relevant as our world continues to shift and change.
Many hear the term “social entrepreneurship” and might assume we’re talking about churches starting a side-business or creating alternative forms of revenue. But I believe social entrepreneurship is one crucial way the Church reflects the teachings and ministry of Jesus. Social Enterprises are innovative, expansive ways of embodying the work of the Church to meet real-felt needs. It allows and invites us to seek justice, God’s Kingdom, and remain relevant. And relevance is something the Church desperately needs.
A Pew Research finding showed that the number of Americans who identify as ‘Christian’ has diminished by more than 10 percent, and the number of Americans who identify as “religiously unaffiliated”—also named “Religious Nones”— has increased by 17 percent since 2009.
By Dr. Martin Luther King’s definition, it might be argued that Americans in general no longer view the Church as relevant. This invites us to reassess how effectively we are pursuing justice, equity, and the practical needs of our communities. This is where social entrepreneurship comes in. If we are to remain—or return to—relevant, we must take seriously the needs and inequities of our contexts. But beyond that, we must be willing to respond in new ways.
Albert Einstein once said that, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
It is incumbent upon the Church to learn and reimagine how we might live out our work—our call to care for the orphaned and widowed; to liberate the oppressed; to feed the hungry and clothe the naked—in ways that extend beyond traditional, congregational ministry. The needs of our communities might be timeless: hunger, access to education and health care, liberation from oppressive power structures, etc. But the Church’s response to these needs—our holy calling—must seek to creatively, effectively, and sustainably meet those needs. Because our communities and cultures continue to change, so too must our ways of serving the world—even if our call to care remains.
May we have the eyes to see, ears to hear, and spirit of compassion to sense the need in our communities. May we imagine new ways of doing the work of the Church. May we live out the good news of social entrepreneurship. And may we be a Church that seeks justice in relevant, meaningful ways. Amen.
Rev. Ashley Mayham is a musician, artist, minister, and holistic soul-care clinician. She received her Masters in Theology and Ministry with a focus in trauma, addiction and abuse from Fuller Theological Seminary. She lives in Houston with her wife, son, and menagerie of fur-babies.