Recently I had the opportunity to speak to an entrepreneurs’ class at a local university, as well as to a group of eighth graders at a school career day. I told both groups that less than 200 years ago, the majority of people were entrepreneurs. Many were farmers, ranchers or herds-people; others were individuals whose businesses served them. Blacksmiths, wheelwrights, tanners, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, and hundreds of other professions – all relied on high levels of specialized skills.
But the industrial age, along with the appeal of high-paying, low-skill jobs, lured most of these people from their established businesses. Soon they became addicted to the security of a regular paycheck.
Education adapted and began teaching industrial age values of showing up on time, doing what you are told, not asking questions, and avoiding mistakes. The result? As a society, most of us have lost the skills necessary to run a business – or never learned them. We have also lost the infrastructure necessary for learning skills – apprenticeships where years of on-the-job training teach skills and craftsmanship that cannot be learned any other way.
It is encouraging to see TV series that honor small business owners: Like “Pawn Stars,” “Counting Cars,” “Rehab Addict,” “Property Brothers,” and shows about restaurants. They reasonably depict life as a small business owner. These shows may encourage people to start antique shops, auto restoration businesses, coffeehouses and other enterprises, showing the excitement, grit and fun of being small business owners. Most entrepreneurs I know would admit their businesses would make for good reality TV.
These shows underscore the high level of skill and knowledge necessary to run a small business and the lack of opportunity to learn these skills. Small businesses started by people coming out of the corporate world often fail because the owners have never developed the skills necessary to succeed.
Fortunately, I grew up in the auction business, worked in a pawn shop, managed a retail store, and played in a rock band, all of which prepared me to be the owner of a photo lab, coffeehouse, and now a commercial photography business. Of course, entrepreneurs are not a new phenomenon, or something that started in the 18th century. In fact, the Bible offers many examples of entrepreneurs:
Abraham was a cattleman and landowner. Noah must have gained a wide array of skills to be equipped for building the ark. Before becoming kind of Israel, David was a shepherd. Nehemiah was cupbearer to the king of Babylon, but had the understanding and leadership skills to direct a large team in rebuilding Jerusalem. In the New Testament, several of Jesus’ followers were fishermen, and the apostle Paul was a tentmaker – a man who made leather goods. His ministry had no corporate sponsorship.
In fact, in 1 Thessalonians 4:11, Paul wrote, “Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before.” Today people that start their own businesses are often viewed as adventurers and risk-takers, but in reality, over the centuries entrepreneurs have played indispensable roles in society. Maybe we will see many more entrepreneurs in the years to come. Then we can truly “work as for the Lord, rather than for men” (Colossians 3:23).
Jim Mathis is the owner of a photography studio in Overland Park, Kansas, specializing in executive, commercial and theatrical portraits, and operates a school of photography. Jim is the author of High Performance Cameras for Ordinary People, a book on digital photography. He formerly was a coffee shop manager and executive director of CBMC in Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri.
1. Did you realize that at one time most people were entrepreneurs, having their own businesses rather than working for some corporate entity? How do you think the rise of corporate enterprises and the decline of entrepreneurism affected society?
2. Have you ever owned or participated in an entrepreneurial venture yourself? Perhaps you are engaged in one right now. If so, describe that experience. If not, do you think you possess the skills that would make you a successful entrepreneur? Why or why not?
3. What would you say are the pros and cons – the strengths and drawbacks – of being involved in an entrepreneurial business venture?
4. For people of faith, do you think being an entrepreneur would make it easier to live out one’s beliefs in the workplace – or more difficult? Explain your answer.
If you would like to look at or discuss other portions of the Bible that relate to this topic, consider the following brief sampling of passages:
Proverbs 14:23, 16:26, 24:27; Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 3:17, 23-24; 2 Timothy 3:16-17