Praxis

“We are made in the image of God, designed to be creative as He is creative.  But we live in a fallen and broken world.  While Christ has come to redeem His people, He also taught us to pray that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.  We await His final restoration of all things, which only He can accomplish, and yet He calls us to participate in redemptive and restoring work.”

For the October issue of MinistryTech, my “Startup” column introduced Praxis, a community supporting gospel-centered startups, and their co-founder Dave Blanchard.

This month, I’d like to introduce you to an entrepreneur whose calling is to equip and resource Christian entrepreneurs to better understand and achieve the integration of their faith with their business.  Dave Blanchard is the co-founder and CEO of Praxis, a community and education-oriented venture group.  This month’s column is less about Dave’s story and more about what we can learn from Praxis.

Dave’s Story

That being said, I do think it’s worth quickly recounting how Dave came to co-found Praxis with Josh Kwan in 2010.  Dave was raised in the church – a pastor’s kid.  But his entrepreneurial bent was also clear at an early age.  Dave and his friends collected baseball cards, so in elementary school, Dave launched his first for-profit venture – creating a baseball card trading market by renting out space in his family’s garage to his buddies.  Dave studied entrepreneurship at Babson College where he also started a late-night sandwich shop.  After college he co-founded DiscLive, a company working at the intersection of music and technology.  During this period, Dave’s business skills were sharpened, but his focus was very much on financial success and he wasn’t walking with the Lord.

That started to change when Dave was 26 and he started to pray “Lord, you made me as an entrepreneur.  What does that mean in serving you?”  That seeking of God’s will in prayer, scripture reading, meditation, and seeking Godly counsel set Dave on a new path.  He simultaneously earned an MBA from Kellogg and an MEM in Design from McCormick at Northwestern.  Upon completion, he landed a job at IDEO, a leading innovation and design firm, where he was tasked with helping the firm think about how best to support entrepreneurs.  He spent time with some of the best organizations in the world at enabling entrepreneurs to accomplish big things, including Y-Combinator, TechStars, and venture capital firms.

While helping IDEO discover their role in serving new ventures, Dave started to see a “market opportunity” with even greater impact.  Entrepreneurship is grueling, but it is also formational, and startups are working with a blank canvas.  In that formative stage, infusing the gospel into the venture could have world-changing impacts.  It was at this time that Dave met Josh Kwan and started a discussion about creating a space where faith and venture could intersect and blossom.

What Praxis Is and Does

Praxis operates as a non-profit, but it doesn’t look like most non-profits you know.  More than anything, I think of Praxis as an expanding community of people passionate about growing the gospel impact through entrepreneurship.  That community includes the small Praxis staff, a network of successful entrepreneurs and others in the startup ecosystem, and a multiplying collection of entrepreneurs that have been transformed through their interactions with Praxis.

Each year, Praxis accepts a dozen ventures each into their business accelerator and non-profit accelerator.  These ventures go through a 6-month process that takes a holistic view of their life – the financial and organizational health of their business, the state of their personal relationships, and their spiritual health.  Although Praxis helps most of these ventures accelerate their success, in some cases, the business has to decelerate to achieve health in the other dimensions.  The process involves teaching, coaching, mentoring, strengthening spiritual disciplines, and building lifelong support and accountability relationships with mentors and peers.

The ventures that pass through the Praxis accelerators have already demonstrated some level of success, but often are just on the cusp of scaling to tremendous impact.  While the companies or organizations may not necessarily present themselves as “Christian” (e.g. Webconnex and SOMA Games, who I’ve featured in previous columns, have both been through the Praxis accelerator), the leader of the organization must be a Christian who is sincere in his desire to integrate faith and work and isn’t content with the “compartmentalization” that is more typical among Christians in business.  He also will be very thoughtful about the cultural or social impact of what his organization does.

But Praxis is also very focused on the rising generation of Christian business leaders.  I have just returned from the annual Praxis Academy, a week-long experience for college-aged students that immerses them in rich content, introduces them to incredible role-models and potential mentors, and helps them build a network that will encourage them as they seek to love God and love their neighbors through their businesses and careers.

What Praxis Teaches

Praxis starts with the Biblical worldview encompassing creation, the fall, redemption, and restoration.  We are made in the image of God, designed to be creative as He is creative.  But we live in a fallen and broken world.  While Christ has come to redeem His people, He also taught us to pray that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.  We await His final restoration of all things, which only He can accomplish, and yet He calls us to participate in redemptive and restoring work.

At the recent Praxis Academy, students heard story after story of Praxis Alumni who have used their businesses to have a tremendous positive impact in the world, bringing beauty with dignity and grace into the world, lifting people out of hopelessness with meaningful employment, providing for basic needs of the poor, saving babies, and being and sharing the gospel with the lost.  But throughout were also warnings for humility.  We can’t increase and God increase at the same time.

The closing speaker, Skye Jethani, said that there’s a temptation in living our life for God.  We may be tempted to self-righteousness and thinking that God needs us.  God doesn’t need you.  He wants you and He loves you.  Before we are ever called to some place or some task, we are called to Someone.  Every mission will eventually end.  What will never end is our communion with God.

Praxis also has a tremendous set of tools and models that can help with building out a venture to the glory of God.  I recommend their book, From Concept to Scale, to you as you consider how God may be calling you to be entrepreneurial for His glory.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:27-28)

In this article series, we’ve defined a Christian entrepreneur as: a person, driven to glorify God in all he or she does, and ruled by the Word of God, who starts a new venture and is willing to risk a loss in order to achieve the success of the venture. Each month I’ve been introducing you to specific Christian startups and entrepreneurs, some of which may be helpful to your church, ministry, business, or family, but my main intent is to encourage and inspire you to be entrepreneurial in your ministry and career. Are there Christian startups I should know about? Contact me at russ.mcguire@gmail.com

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