Nazarene Theological Seminary’s Ministerial Entrepreneurship Initiative

By Dean Blevins, reprinted from the Oikonomia Network.

“A gym really needs a pastor.”

Observations like this one sprinkle across a new curriculum offered by Nazarene Theological Seminary (NTS) focusing on entrepreneurship with ministry in mind. The comment comes from my interview with entrepreneur and pastor Brett Armstrong, founder of CrossfitRWOL in Mustang, Oklahoma. This former youth pastor turned independent business owner, along with his wife Ashley, work tirelessly to create a new venture that blurs the line between entrepreneurship and ministry. The Armstrongs represent many other likeminded ministerial entrepreneurs working in disparate fields from coffee shops to art galleries to media production companies to sustainable gardening to social enterprises. Together, they fuel an educational emphasis at NTS designed to resource and support these efforts.

Brett & Ashley Armstrong

Beginning in 2013, NTS developed a partnership with the Kauffman Foundation’s FastTrac Entrepreneurship program, a national leader in entrepreneurship education. In 2017, the Kauffman Foundation created a national “Zero Barriers” initiative to empower aspiring entrepreneurs with opportunities to create new firms. Kaufmann opted to digitize course materials, revise some electronic resources and establish a modular low-cost program deliverable through an asynchronous, online, accessible format for approved programs.

NTS adapted FastTrac’s entrepreneurship training for a ministry context, extending the curriculum to practicing ministers and other professionals interested in the intersection between entrepreneurship and faith. A grant by the Association of Theological Schools enabled me to interview eighteen younger entrepreneurs (often within newer ventures) as well as established leaders in ministry and entrepreneurship. While primarily designed to connect Kauffman’s FastTrac educational program to specific issues relevant to the intersection of faith and ministry, the missional vision that emerged from these interviews provided a new perspective on entrepreneurship. Currently we offer the program to graduate students enrolled in the new MA in Transformational Leadership and to working ministers through an online continuing education platform called NTSx.

Imaging the Entrepreneur

One might wonder why a seminary would adopt the language of entrepreneurship. It seems counter-intuitive in light of critiques from some church planters and lead pastors. When one considers the popular imagery of success personified by figures such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, it might seem difficult to think of entrepreneurs as pastors or shepherds.  However, as theologian L. Gregory Jones argues in Christian Social Innovation, the church has historically demonstrated considerable innovation and creativity. Jones asserts the church needs to recover a vision for social innovation and entrepreneurship for the sake of its own internal integrity, mission, and purpose. Anglican priest and scholar Michael Volland, a participant in the Church of England’s Fresh Expressions movement, sees entrepreneurial practice as an artform with recognized value beyond wealth creation.

Jones and Volland establish both an ecclesial and aesthetic framework for entrepreneurship with ministry in mind. The activity remains primarily entrepreneurial, yet coincides with a vision of leadership advocated by Goossen and Stevens in Entrepreneurial Leadership as one that “pursues opportunities in the face of opposition or limited resources and brings together the human and financial resources necessary to pursue an objective.” Collectively, these Christian scholars, alongside the stories of ministerial entrepreneurs, point to a broader view of entrepreneurship than the popular images generated in our society.

Supporting the Ecology of Entrepreneurship

NTS’s efforts in entrepreneurship education continues to expand. Recently I joined the Kauffman EShip Summit, a gathering of community development officers, chamber of commerce officials, bankers, mayors and other support organizations working together to provide an “ecology” of support. NTS is the only seminary active in this network, and currently the school is beginning to partner with local organizations such as Made to Flourish Kansas City to identify and encourage churches to better serve local entrepreneurs.

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