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The Contemplative Entrepreneur

October 7, 2012


There’s this little story from the life of St. Anthony that has completely changed the way I view my calling and has helped me immensely as I’ve tried to integrate my earlier life as a minister with my more recent life as an entrepreneur.

For years I’ve viewed my move into business as a demotion. Since I was a child I’ve wanted to be a missionary or a pastor. That call has taken me to many countries, to get a ministry related doctorate degree and to being a pastor for 15 years in Norwood, Ohio with Vineyard Central first as an associate pastor followed by 8 years as the lead pastor.

And even though I would preach and teach that everyone has a calling and being a pastor is not more important than being a shoe salesman some how that was never quite true for me.

I remember the tension I felt as my business began to grow. I was almost angry… ok, I was angry! I didn’t want it to grow or at least out grow my church. I wanted to see fruit from my ministry not profits from my business! It seemed all backwards and out of proportion. A little effort in my business and it would grow all out of proportion to the small effort. Same effort with my church… more effort actually… and very little fruit. I was an “ok” pastor but a good entrepreneur. Except I didn’t want it that way. I wanted my business to give me “just enough” to live on so I could be about my real work as a pastor. And not having great fruit from my ministry efforts just confirmed that I was suffering for Jesus in obscurity working in a ‘hard’ place. That must be worth some bonus kingdom points, right?

An unknown doctor who was a contemporary of St. Anthony is changing all that. Finally.

I have lived with this feeling that I somehow messed up or got a pink slip from God. Or if you prefer sports metaphors: I was sidelined and went from being a quarterback to a water boy.

St. Anthony is probably the most revered desert father from early church  history. After giving away his large family inheritance he lived a life of solitude and prayer in the Egyptian desert. Eventually hundreds imitated his life and followed him into the desert then thousands came to learn from them. These men (and some women too) who went to the desert were like rock stars in the kingdom. Everyone wanted to meet them or be prayed for by them. They were called the ‘athletes of God.’ They were a special class of Christian that many would admire but few could meet the high demands of renouncing everything to follow them into the desert.

In short, they were the gold standard of what it meant to be a Christian.

Or were they?

While on a recent pilgrimage to Ireland and Scotland I would find books along the way that really seemed to speak to me. Directly. It was weird. And one book would lead me to the next. Like one book I was reading in Ireland about life in a monastery referenced another book on silent prayer that I just happened to find in Scotland at a book store I stumbled into one day… and then that book had a little story in it that really spoke directly to me. It was like God had me on a scavenger hunt or like he was leaving me a trail of crumbs that led me directly to this…

“It was revealed to Abba Anthony in his desert that there was one who was his equal in the city. He was a doctor by profession and whatever he had beyond his needs he gave to the poor, and every day he sang the Sanctus with the angels.” (Sources: OrthodoxWiki.org and Wikipedia.org)

Whoa! Hold on here. You mean there was someone out ‘in the world,’ living in a depraved city, being a doctor and managing his business who lived a prayerful and generous life and that he was St Anthony’s equal?

Yep.

I know I have issues but that was mind bender for me. And that little story is changing the way I view my calling. I can be a prayerful and generous entrepreneur and be really, really close to God.

Which is really all I’ve wanted all along…

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. sam permalink
    October 13, 2012 1:09 pm

    Kevin, you may have written about this topic before (please link me if so) – I’m riffing from David Thompson when I ask this, by the way… Curious about your feelings on the nature of capitalism (and currency) – the more time i spend being entrepreneurial with other business-ey people, I find there seems to be a natural pull that these systems exert that takes people away from empathy and love, emphasizing profit (even if that amounts to basic business sustainability) over putting others first. Do you find a tension there?

    • October 13, 2012 1:56 pm

      Yes! I feel that tension all the time… not surprisingly it comes back to the orientation of the heart. If the people you are around skew toward the “profits first. people second” crowd then yes that would feel gross to me and I try to either avoid those environments or infect them with “people first” and “higher purpose” if I’m able. I think this highlights why community and support from others who are trying to live more compassionately in business settings is so important. So because there IS that natural pull you reference we need each other as rails to keep us focused on what really matters. So perhaps you, Dave and I should grab lunch sometime and talk about this some more =) I also feel another blog post coming on called the “Compassionate Entrepreneur.” (thanks for the inspiration!) … also haven’t you connected a bit with the Quakers? Great examples of business people in that tradition that were “people first”, compassionate, generous, etc like John Woolman among many, many others…

  2. Owen permalink
    October 13, 2012 2:53 pm

    When our deepest values intersect with our gifting and passions, we are most likely in the spot that God had in mind all along. Pay attention to where your sense of energy is, as this is often a good indication of the fruit of living in that intersection. Appreciate your thinking on these matters.

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