Human Flourishing

As U2’s Bono said “Commerce is real… aid is just a stopgap.  Commerce – entrepreneurial capitalism – takes more people out of poverty than aid.”

For the February 2017 issue of MinistryTech, my column took a step back from profiling individual Christian entrepreneurs and their startups and revisited the question of why we should even care about entrepreneurship.

This month, I want to take a pause in our monthly profiles of Christian entrepreneurs to reflect again on why this topic should even matter to Christians.  We spent a few issues at the beginning of the series on what startups and entrepreneurs are and why the church should care about them, but that was two years ago, perhaps before some of you were even reading Ministry Tech (or Christian Computing, as this publication was then called).  So this month, I want to consider how entrepreneurship can contribute to human flourishing.

What is Human Flourishing?

It seems like the concept of Human Flourishing has become trendy again.  The Greek philosophers often debated the concept of eudaimonia, which some have translated as human flourishing.  Plato’s definition of eudaimonia was “the good composed of all goods; an ability which suffices for living well; perfection in respect of virtue; resources sufficient for a living creature.”  Today, we are aware of poverty in the world around us, and we may be tempted to think of flourishing as the absence of poverty, but the concept is much more than that.  

Jesus said, in John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Anthony Bradley, professor of religious studies at King’s College says that human flourishing is “characterized by a holistic concern for the spiritual, moral, physical, economic, material, political, psychological, and social context necessary for human beings to live according to their design.”

In their book, Entrepreneurship for Human Flourishing, Chris Horst and Peter Greer of Hope International link the concept to the Hebrew word shalom.  “The ancient Hebrew word shalom goes beyond our modern concept of peace and embodies completeness in relationships with God, others, ourselves, and creation.  Human flourishing happens when people and communities thrive – when they experience wholeness and restoration in their relationships, in their view of themselves, and in their relationship with their Creator.”  

We get a sense for the richness of this concept when Jesus uses the Greek equivalent of shalom in John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

Who Brings About Human Flourishing?

So human flourishing is a really big concept.  Although the Bible doesn’t use the words, we certainly get a sense that Adam and Eve, in the garden before the fall, had the kind of wholeness and perfect relationships described in all three definitions above.  We also know that all will be redeemed and restored in paradise, and if you go back up and read Plato’s, Bradley’s, or Hope’s definitions, you’ll see that they accurately reflect what we see promised for us in the Bible.  

But that will be accomplished by Christ, and not by man.

That being said, as Christians, we are called to “put on… compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12), we are commanded to love our neighbor as our self (Matthew 22:39), we have been given “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18), and we are told that the “peacemakers” are blessed and “shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Many in Christian ministry have taken these words to heart and are working diligently and effectively to address the issues of the world, the effects of the fall, that keep people from truly flourishing.  Their work is critical, impactful, and God honoring, and although their reward will be in heaven and all praise is due to God, they deserve our admiration and support.

How Can Entrepreneurs Contribute to Human Flourishing?

That being said, business does more to address human flourishing than just provide funds for those in “full-time ministry.”  As U2’s Bono said “Commerce is real… aid is just a stopgap.  Commerce – entrepreneurial capitalism – takes more people out of poverty than aid.”  

The Goldwater Institute found that “Economic freedom and entrepreneurship are keys to escaping poverty for many.  There is a strong connection between a state’s rate of entrepreneurship and declines in poverty.”

The Economist wrote “The world’s achievement in the field of poverty reduction is, by almost any measure, impressive… the aim of halving global poverty between 1990 and 2015 was achieved five years early.  Most of the credit, however, must go to capitalism and free trade, for they enable economies to grow – and it was growth, principally, that has eased destitution.”

But advances in human flourishing are about more than just addressing poverty.  Horst and Greer write in their book “Entrepreneurship is not something we should just tolerate.  We should celebrate it.  Average life expectancy has more than doubled globally over the past 200 years.  During that time, we’ve moved from a nearly illiterate population to one in which 84 percent of adults can now read.  In the past 40 years alone, the percentage of undernourished people in the world has dropped by half.”

They point to innovation and entrepreneurship as foundational to these incredible advances.  But they also point to the more mundane impacts that entrepreneurs have on eudaimonia.  “In general, entrepreneurs are in the business of solving problems, not creating them. Their initiatives and inventions—and the businesses that sustain them—meet human needs. Tables allow families to share meals together. Telephones enable friends to communicate in real time. Airplanes permit people to travel the globe.  Tables, telephones, and airplanes are handicrafts of entrepreneurs. When entrepreneurs fulfill their mandate to serve others and solve problems, humans  flourish. And to solve these problems, entrepreneurs recruit workers, who can also then experience the dignity of work.”

Entrepreneurs are very good at creating jobs.  According to a Baylor University study, between 1980 and 2000, small businesses in the U.S. created more than 34 million new jobs.  And according to a National Bureau of Economic Research study, in one year in the U.S., 2.5 million net new jobs were created in total, while companies less than 1 year old created 3.5 million net new jobs – meaning that all companies more than 1 year old combined, eliminated a million jobs.

And jobs do matter.  Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup found “if countries fail at creating jobs, their societies will fall apart.  Countries, and more specifically cities, will experience suffering, instability, chaos, and eventually revolution.”

It is my hope that, in this series, I am giving you a glimpse into how Christian entrepreneurs around the world are using their God-given gifts in service to God, whether it be building web sites or solving major world problems or simply providing jobs and dignity to the hopeless.  And, it is my hope that they may inspire some of you to use your God-given gifts to love your neighbor and bring glory to God.

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