The Ministry of Entrepreneurship

What should be the church’s response to this issue of debt?

It was probably the most popular commencement speech delivered at any college graduation this year. To say it went viral would be an understatement. Billionaire Robert Smith in his address to the almost 400 graduates of Morehouse College pledged to pay off all their student loans. It was an estimated amount of $10 million.[1]

Many of you reading this probably wished you were in that graduating class (so do I). This act of kindness underscores a major fact in America today – to be young and college educated is to be in a lot of debt. The total national student loan debt is over $1.5 trillion. Graduates of predominantly black colleges and universities carry 32% more debt than their counterparts at other institutions of higher education.[2]

We are in a crisis that threatens the economic, emotional and social well-being of a generation. Political candidates are making big promises as to what they plan to do about this issue if they get elected. What should be the church’s response to this issue of debt?

What does the prophet say?

In the Bible there is a story of a woman facing a similar debt crisis. It is affecting her peace of mind, her family, and threatening to jeopardize her future. In 2 Kings chapter 4 we find the story of a widow whose deceased husband was a church worker. Not only has she lost her life companion and the father of her two sons, but her only income source as well.

When we are introduced to her, she is in debt and the creditors are coming to take her boys and make them slaves. With nowhere to turn she seeks out Elisha the prophet, the mouth-piece of God in that day.

It may be expected that Elisha, as spiritually connected as he was and with all the miracles he had performed, would have prayed down resources out of heaven for her. But he does not do that. With a network of other believers it is also conceivable that he would have collected an offering from the body for her. But he doesn’t do that either.

Instead Elisha helps her to develop a small business to relieve her debt situation, care for her sons present needs, and secure their future.

Could it be that this advice to this mother in debt is still relevant today for those under the weight of debt?

3 Steps to Start a Side Business

This story captures three principles that can help anyone to start a side business. It is estimated that 45% of Americans are earning extra income on top of their salary.[3] Some of that is through freelance and contract work. Here are three steps for anyone looking to start a business.

STEP #1: Figure out what you have

The big question Elisha asks the woman is “What do you have in your house?” For someone who seemingly has nothing, that is a challenging question. It is difficult for each of us to stop and assess what skills, expertise and resources we have.

Just like the woman back then, it is easy to down play and overlook what we have. We tend to value what others do much more than our own abilities. But good stewardship of what God has given us requires that we stop and take inventory of what we have.

We can figure that out by looking at what we know a lot about, what we are highly skilled in doing, and evaluating the things people come to us for help with. Those three areas can give us a good picture of what we have that we can use for a business.

STEP #2: Connect with others

One of the brilliant lessons that Elisha shares with this widow is the need to connect with others. So he has her go borrow vessels from her neighbors. The fact of the matter is, in order for someone to lend items to you there has to be a level of trust. This widow had to tap into the trust she built up and possibly even develop new relationships of trust.

This is key for anyone seeking to build a business. You have to grow a know, like, and trust factor. People are looking to do business with others they feel confident in and believe in. And there are so many ways to build up trust in who you are and what you have to offer.

One big way to develop confidence in the eyes of potential customers is to show results. You demonstrate that what you have has helped others. More than anything people want to know that what you say you can do you are able to deliver.

STEP #3: Convert into sales

Elisha instructs this mother to go pour her oil into the jars she has borrowed. We cannot overlook the miracle that God works here. From a small amount of oil in her house, multiple vessels are filled. What an encouraging feeling to know that God blesses entrepreneurial efforts that we give to Him.

After the vessels are filled, she has to go sell the oil to get the money to pay her debts. This shows us that what we have has to be packaged in a way that our customers can receive it. In our world today there are so many ways to package your knowledge and expertise. And people are willing to pay for it!

What’s in your house?

Perhaps you opened this article by chance and initially were not interested in full time entrepreneurship. Truthfully, it is not for everyone. But what if God is nudging you to use what He’s given you? What if He’s challenging you to pour your oil into empty vessels? Once this woman filled those vessels I believe she went back to the same people she borrowed them from and offered the oil for sale. She took what they gave her and made it better.

I encourage you to use what God has given you to enrich the lives of others through your small business. Remember, Billionaire Robert Smith, through the success of his entrepreneurship, was able to take care of the debt of the 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College. How can the success of your small business help your community or church? Maybe God is waiting to bless you so that He can use you to bless others. What if God is seeking for a generation of believers, a generation of churches, that are willing to do ministry through entrepreneurship? What’s in your house?




Jesus and Politics: Religion With Responsibility

One thing I love about the book of Revelation is its focus on the imminent return of Jesus Christ. It speaks of how He will defeat the kingdoms of this world, and usher in a new kingdom governed by love, justice, equality and truth.

When Heaven Becomes an Excuse

This hope in the soon coming of Jesus is essential to the faith-walk of a believer. However, as a young, black Christian man, the songs that speak of heaven are drowned out by the cries of those living in an earthly hell. Have we become so focused on glory that we have created a culture where hope in eternity is a sort of eschatological escapism?

I know that we are waiting on the return of Jesus, but I believe that the people of God should be working while we are waiting. Let’s be honest, the world needs us, right now. If we are going to take on the name of Jesus, we must also take on the agenda of Jesus.

The Politics of Jesus

In Luke, Jesus said the Spirit anointed Him to proclaim good news to the poor, set captives free, and bring liberty to the oppressed. In spite of these verses, many have been taught not to engage in “social movements” or “politics.” I would like to suggest that if we believe that Christ cares for the whole being, we should definitely use every resource possible to bring liberty to the oppressed among us, even if that means becoming engaged in the political process.

When there are policies that disproportionately impact the health of women of color, we must fight to change those policies.

When certain neighborhoods of predominantly black and brown people don’t have adequate healthy food options, and the life expectancy rate of that neighborhood is lower than that of a majority white neighborhood in the next town over, we must get involved.

When the median wealth in white America is 10 times the median wealth in black America, we must do something.

Christians Engaged in Politics

It is possible to become politically and socially engaged without becoming corrupt. We shouldn’t fight for power or prestige. We shouldn’t engage with the hopes of lording over people. We don’t even have to align with one particular political party. But when we see issues that are aiding in the oppression of people who cannot speak up for themselves, as believers, we have a responsibility to be their advocates. Here are three reasons why as followers of Christ we have the responsibility to be advocates and activists.

Reason #1: Jesus Advocated for the Oppressed

The Bible is a book of hope to people who are either going into oppression, experiencing oppression, or coming out of oppression. The overwhelming narrative of scripture is that God always sides with the marginalized people of society. You cannot read scripture and come to the conclusion that God is the defender of the empire.

He is the God of the Hebrew slave.

He is the God of the young woman in Babylonian captivity.

He is the God of the forgotten leper relegated to the outside of the city.

He is the God of the teenage refugee protecting her newborn from a murderous king.

He is the God of the religious minority risking life and liberty in the shadows of the Roman empire.

In light of Scripture, our political activity should be for the purpose of advocating for the people God has called us to defend. We should support candidates whose agendas set out to present policies that make life better for the marginalized among us.

Reason #2: Our Communities Need More Than Charity

I remember being a child in church and discovering our congregation’s food pantry. I remember my parents explaining to me that our church gave food away to people who were poor and didn’t have the money to buy groceries. This was surely a noble deed. As I got older, I began to question why so many people who looked like me, and lived in certain neighborhoods needed food from church pantries?

Many of our congregations are known for doing charitable work in our communities. Let me be clear, charity is good, and necessary. Jesus said “I was hungry and you fed me, naked and you clothed me.” Righteousness is demonstrated by meeting the present needs of people. However, at some point, we have to ask ourselves why certain people in certain demographics continue to need food, or help with rent, or services provided by free health clinics.

Charity responds to the  symptoms of a much deeper sickness. Certain communities remain in need because of systemic evil. Yes, we need to clothe the naked, but we also have to ask ourselves why our children can’t afford clothing and new school uniforms? Why aren’t wages keeping up with the rising cost of living? Yes, we should feed the hungry, but we must also deal with the joblessness and income inequality that keeps certain people groups food insecure. We should house the marginalized immigrant, but we must also fight against the policies that force them into hiding in the first place.

As we aim to tear down certain oppressive strongholds and systems, we must recognize that something as simple as voting, can make a big difference in the shaping of public policy.

Reason #3: Social and Political Engagement Helps Our Witness

Finally, we as a church should engage socially and civically because it helps our witness. My pastor used to always say, people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. When the church fights for people’s right to vote, marches in protest of a criminal justice system void of justice, and publicly supports policies that protect the economically vulnerable, people will be more willing to hear about our Jesus. It is possible that an introduction to Jesus the social advocate, can lead to a relationship with Jesus the savior.

So yes, let’s look forward to the return of Jesus. He is our hope. But as we wait on Jesus, remember there’s a world waiting on us.

Social Justice: The Revelation of Jesus Christ

Growing up in the 90’s as a Seventh-day Adventist, there were few things more impressionable than evangelistic meetings or what many would term “Revelation Seminars.” These meetings would last for weeks with the goal to bring individuals to Christ at their culmination. As an 8-12 year old child those seminars were quite daunting and foreboding. The preacher’s emphasis was heavily placed on Biblical prophesies, “signs of the times,” and ultimately the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

While it was a very captivating experience, I often left more confused about Jesus, and my salvation. I would think to myself, “If I have heard this stuff for years and am still confused, I cannot imagine how a visitor might feel!” Revelation Seminars seemed to be anything but a revelation – at least not a revelation of Christ. Don’t get me wrong, I understand their intent and have witnessed God work on the hearts of those who sat through them. But looking back sometimes I wonder what exactly was being revealed.

A World in Need of a Revelation

We live in a time when we have unlimited and unfiltered access to information, but the least sense of direction. We can communicate with one another across the globe, and yet we feel the loneliest. There is a desire for community, belonging, and a hope that the God everyone talks about is actually real and relevant to our lives. In other words, the world (and the church for that matter) is looking for a revelation of Jesus Christ.

The Bible is replete with passages that reveal a God whose ear is tuned to and brokenhearted. Better yet, we serve a God whose heart breaks over the injustices of this world. However, the mantle has been laid on the Christian believer to make sure that the world experiences the love and power of a God that sees their plight. It is clear that the follower of Christ is primarily called to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16-19 NIV), but how can we disciple a world that has yet to have a revelation of Jesus?

Christ Revealed to the World

The Apostle Paul provides profound insight as to how Christ is revealed to the world. In the Book of Romans Chapter 1:20 he says “For His (Jesus Christ) invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, and understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead!” In other words, the long-standing question of “is there a God?” “Who is God?” and “does God care about what takes place on earth?” can all be answered by the actions of those who claim to serve this God according to the scripture above. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we have the power to reveal the “invisible attributes, the eternal power and divine nature of God” just by how we relate to one another and the world!

Paul places more emphasis on our role in revealing God to the world when he pens Romans 8:19 (NIV) “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” If Paul were writing in laymen terms today he would be saying “ Would the real Christ followers please stand up?” If God is revealed through His creation, then there is little wonder why at this moment in Earth’s history the entire creation from plant to person is under attack. The enemy aims to suppress the revelation of God to the world! On the contrary, mankind has been ordained to facilitate the revelation of God. I submit to you that it is through acts of benevolence and a keen sense of justice that God is revealed to the world.

A Christian Code of Ethics

As a practitioner in the Social Work profession, my practice is bound by a code of ethics. As listed in the National Association of Social Workers Book of Ethics, I am bound to Service, Social Justice, Dignity and worth of the person, Importance of human relationships, Integrity, and Competence. If a secular profession can hold its practitioners to such noble standards of Righteousness and Justice, should those who stand under the banner of Christ live by anything less? Christ has in fact given us a “code of Ethics” that calls for its practitioners to not just agree with the code but to also live by the code! In fact, the primary criterion for entrance into Heaven is not based on our doctrinal subscription but on how we served those who could not help themselves (Matthew 25:35-40).

When we as the body of Christ are ready to give, that is when the Kingdom of God will receive. When we are ready to listen to the plight of the downtrodden, those same individuals will in turn become receptive to the message of a crucified and risen savior. When we are ready to extend a hand in our community, our community will make their presence felt in our midst. I believe we are called to move away from some of our traditional practices that often only yield conversion to a denomination. Now, God is calling us to move toward the practices of the early church: genuine benevolence and a pursuit of justice that yields conversions to Christ.

He’s Revealed in Me

Recently, I had an encounter with a young man who was homeless. I felt led to give and as I did, he looked me in the eyes and said, “I feel so alone, confused, and misunderstood.” I believe his are the sentiments of the world at large. We can no longer afford to be benefactors of a revelation of God in our own lives, and not share it with those who are seeking for it as well. The question then becomes; “how do I do my part in revealing God to the world?” Author and messenger of God, Ellen White penned a familiar statement that I believe provides a guideline for those seeking one.

In her book, Ministry of Healing p.143 she states “The savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs and won their confidence. Then he bade them, ‘follow me.’” That passage and formula is riddled with genuine, tangible ways in which Christ revealed himself to the world. When we become more intentional about being present in the triumphs and trials of those around us, we wont need them to sit through a Revelation seminar in hopes that they see Jesus. They will have already seen him revealed through our love for them and for one another.

The New Bloody Reality

As of September 1st, there have been more mass shootings than days this year. The worst part of this is that it appears that these types of violent outbursts began to spike around 2012, during the second term of Barack Obama. Nevertheless, some entities reported a rise in hate crimes as early as November of 2008. The rise of this phenomenon is actually not mysterious or inexplicable at all. Social scientists have long argued that this spike in hate is the result of shifting power dynamics in the country.

Vera Bergengruen and W.J. Hennigan wrote in the August 19, 2019 issue of Time magazine, “Law enforcement officials say the cancer of white nationalism has metastasized across social media and the dark corners of the internet, creating a copycat effect in which inspiring killers draw inspiration and seek to outdo one another.” This is the “45 Effect” – It is an emboldened mass of those who are determined to revert back to former times by any means necessary.

It appears that a large portion of the dominant group is unwilling to live in a country where equality reigns. They prefer to perpetuate systems of disproportionate power, dehumanization, victimization and oppression. In order for them to feel that all is right in the world they must maintain a position of power, authority and control.

This Has Always Been, America

Furthermore, on top of all of his fear-mongering, hate-stoking, and violent rhetoric, 45 has appeared to plunge into yet a deeper and deeper chasm of depravity and failed diplomacy. Yet, his followers are undeterred. They are convinced that the #MAGAtrain will surge ahead until 2025. Interestingly, the 2020 election has inspired hope in some on the other side of the aisle. Many democratic candidates and voters believe 45 will be defeated and that we will achieve, in our lifetime, the beloved community.

In my estimation, we would do well to remember that while the Pledge of Allegiance proclaims this to be the “land of the free,” the reality is that your station and status was settled by your skin tone. The violent terrorism that held those systems in check then have morphed a bit, but they are still very vibrant. And a changing of the guard in 2021 will not change this entrenched social system.

This is America. Or at least, this is the enduring legacy of America. This is the land that many have long said, “looks like a lamb and speaks like a dragon.” This is the same America that defrauded the indigenous peoples out of their land, and ravaged their tribes. This is the same America that has separated children from their parents at our southern border. There is no justice for minorities in America. And just in case you forget it, the dominant group has quite a few fringe members who will quickly grab an AR-15, run to a public place and remind us all that this is their country; and they will do with fear and force whatever is necessary to keep it that way.

Mourners gathered on Monday outside the Walmart in El Paso where at least 22 people were killed. Jim Wilson/The New York Times

The Pain in Prophecy

Here’s the sad news, and a bit of a bold prediction. This pattern of violent terror is not going to relent. As a matter of fact, this is (in part) predicted in scripture. Jeremiah says:

From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them,” says the Lord.

Jeremiah 6:13-15 (NIV)

Now, while that text may not apply directly to white-nationalists, just think, if the very priests that were set aside to care for God’s people had become unscrupulous because of greed and deception, what do you think we can expect from people who are bent on hate? The text, in essence, points to a time when people will lose their sense of compassion and decency. That time is now.

Our New Reality

This is the new reality. The battle lines have been so indelibly drawn and entrenched that it is highly likely that we have passed the point of no return. And remember, “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12 KJV). These are not simply natural expressions of bigotry and hate. These instances are being fueled by the very essence of the one who is the archenemy of our souls.

Now, this is not a message of gloom and doom. Jesus has promised that he would always be with us, and that he would never leave us nor forsake us. In another place, he reassures us saying, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

With this is mind, there are some things that we should do in light of this new reality:

  1. Strengthen relational networks and systems that serve as safe places for underserved communities. Whether that takes the form of an active shooter training at your church, a mentoring program, or simply a more consistent time for family meals, we need to preserve the spaces where we belong authentically and fully.
  2. Develop systems for civic and economic engagement that consistently empowers those on the margins. Children at the border who have been separated from their parents need advocates who will continue to speak up for them. Small minority businesses find it even more difficult to develop in this reality. We need creative ways to provide support, build advocacy and create lasting value.
  3. Finally, pursue more dynamic and empowering opportunities for faith development. This may take the form of a Bible study, prayer group, or a church plant, or maybe even more consistent and committed service initiatives and the like. There is a definite need to grab hold of those themes of hope, faith and trust that will help to sustain us.

Protestors take part in a rally of Moms against gun violence. Photo by Johannes Eisele/Getty Images

These are very difficult times. With each mass shooting we are reminded of our vulnerability and the ever-encroaching scourge of bigotry and hate. When I was a kid riding in the front seat of my mom’s car, she had a tendency to stretch her arm out across my chest while she drove whenever she felt there was danger approaching. Her outstretched arm was in an effort to help shield and brace my body from potential impact. Today we need the arms of the community members to reach out, create safer communities, and shield our people with hope that Jesus will come just in time to save us from the impending collision.

Hope Garden: A Sanctuary in the Middle of a Desert

A young mother and her two children walked down the street coming from our church’s daycare. It was their first day, and this mother was walking her children home. They obviously lived nearby, but we were alarmed to learn they lived right across the street from the church. Joining them on their stroll we struck up a conversation, the path took us past the garden. We asked if they like to eat. They laughed and responded “of course!” To that we responded, “then let’s eat!”

Immediately, we turned towards fifteen beautifully raised garden beds. The four closest to us were filled with cherry tomatoes. Before we could offer them to pick their fill, the young three-year old girl, same age as our daughter, picked a tomato and quickly ate it before her mother could object. The image of this little girl eating a fresh cherry tomato, juices and seeds sticking to her little fingers was priceless. This is what it was all about. Giving the community access to fresh organic food.

Ministering in the Desert

It began with a vision of hope for our community. Our church sits in the midst of a neighborhood food desert with crime, sickness, and poverty raiding each home. We recognized that these issues were not mutually exclusive to the systemic problems of our community. Community’s with food deserts like ours need more than simply one-time acts of charity. We need justice. The primary concern for a Christian is to seek first God’s kingdom and God’s justice. Too often justice is discussed in retributive terms, but biblically justice is restorative. Even the judgment in God’s justice is for the purpose of restoration in the earth and the human family. This is why the Hope Garden is an important justice initiative for our community, especially right now.

More grocery stores are closing, destroying more opportunities for people to find fresh food. Even the local food banks are closing down. And as healthy food becomes more scarce liquor stores are popping up in abundance. In fact, more and more liquor stores are being built in some of the most vulnerable communities. Interestingly enough, out here in Georgia, churches still outnumber liquor stores. This should compel believers to come together and speak out against the injustice happening in their communities, but unfortunately it hasn’t.

We need a plan from the city to revitalize our community, but we cannot wait for them. At Emmanuel SDA we choose to lead by example. My wife and I understand how easy it is for churches to become complacent and content remaining within their devilishly designed boxes settling for the occassional handout that fails to effect the root issues. But we want a reason to worship. We want to experience the joy of celebrating a miracle done through us. And so we planted the Hope Garden.

Birthing “Hope Team”

A team of people from my church and others quickly emerged. Tired of program focused religion and feeling a move for something greater, Hope Team was birthed. This movement is a new type of church plant that focuses more on mission instead of programming. The Hope Team searches for ways to inspire and revitalize the communities around it. So, when multiple farmers asked us if we were interested in planting a garden for the community, we felt confirmation that God was moving. The idea for the Hope Garden was planted in our hearts, and the Spirit just kept on watering it.

Soon, the local Home Depot offered to help with the project and encouraged us to write a grant. Taking their advice we wrote the grant and a month later they awarded the project $5,000. With these funds and the help of volunteer workers we built our garden beds. Soon the news media picked up the story and the word quickly got out. Since the inception of the project we have gained several partners and others have even caught the vision for their churches and communities. We’re even blessed that some developers in the city want to use our cite as a pilot for doing future gardens at other churches.

The Hope Garden Harvest

The beauty of the garden project is how so many activists and charitable agencies are seeing the value of the garden within their communities and careers. For example, those in the medical field see the value of fresh fruits and vegetables for patient prevention and recovery. This summer our church will host cooking classes featuring foods from the garden.

Those in the business sector are interested in how community members are being equipped to grow and sell their own produce. Law enforcement loves the idea of making use of void space within the community to train young people how to care for the community. Educators see the connection students can make with the practical science applications a garden creates. And most recently, we’ve partnered with the Boys and Girls clubs and city Parks and Recreation to bus children to our garden to participate in this educational experience.

Hope Garden Vision

Currently, our team is working out the logistics for distributing the food in an equitable manner. Our ultimate vision for the garden is that it become a training ground for individuals to learn how to grow their own food. We don’t want folks to solely rely on the garden for their produce needs. We want the garden to inspire, educate, and empower people.

One of our goals is to allow families portions of our land to grow their own food. We are still working out the details of how to market the project and inspire residents to take advantage of the opportunity. But we’re confident that if we continue to show them our consistency in this area then they’ll grow to trust our intentions and believe in our projected outcomes. We are starting small, but we have so much potential for growth. And we believe that as the garden grows so will our community.

Hope Garden is Hope for the Community

As I finish this article I find myself in the barber shop waiting to get a cut. Music is blasting. Every other word begins with “F”. The barbers and patrons don’t know who I am, or what I do for a living. And that’s how I like it. I love when ministry is unfiltered. Raw. Real. And based on the nature of my environment, I couldn’t help but get sucked into a good barber shop debate: “did black folks start the country music genre?” Like every good beef in the 21st century we pulled out our cell phones and let google settle it.

But any good woke brotha knows that even google can’t always be trusted. And just like that a new debater began to reel about other untrustworthy things like the processed food we eat. We began talking about Nipsey Hussle, Dr. Sebi, and nation building. At the end of our discussion we coordinated a partnership with his people and our garden to help educate and employ black men. Experiences like this have taught me to embrace the uncomfortable spaces in search for where Jesus really is. And this experience has showed me that He still lingers where the religious people least expect Him. And there is where Hope continues.