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What is a Spiritual Entrepreneur and Why We Need Them?

A Sermon by Rich Tafel

Today, I want to speak about spiritual entrepreneurs. Thanks to Joy for suggesting this topic.

Fifteen years ago, when I started trying out the phrase “spiritual entrepreneur” to describe my coaching business, it didn’t make sense to anyone. My clients suggested I drop the “spiritual” as it sounded to New Age.

Today, in preparation for this sermon I found hundreds of different definitions on the internet.

Mainly they break down into a few concepts. One is religious people seeking ways to make money or businesses. Or where the entrepreneur is guided to do good and the funds from God.

I describe it as bringing together training of our spiritual inner life and our engagement with the world in our impact life.

Most people chose one or the other.

An entrepreneur is someone who solves a problem with a business. A social entrepreneur is seeking to solve a societal problem using a for profit model.

How does a spiritual entrepreneur differ from a social entrepreneur?

In my professional life, I’ve primarily used the social entrepreneur coaching model. During this time, I attended coaching conferences for social enterprises packed with people who were bright, compassionate, young leaders interested in changing the world.

At one inspiring event, I wondered if maybe social entrepreneurs were the new evolution of church and coaches were the new pastors.

I immersed myself deeply among these action-oriented change makers. I was hired by organizations to provide coaching and strategy. In 2014 I helped launch the nation’s first statewide social entrepreneur competition hosted by the state of Michigan.

This deep dive into the world of social entrepreneurs taught me a lot.

Social entrepreneurs did want to good, but they often suffered internally with imposter syndrome and under the brutal pressure and competition created by scarce funding. They were often more concerned with how they looked then their impact.

Their inner life was motivated by a desire to look good while making decent money.

There was no one to guide them on soul work in a world that doesn’t believe in a soul.

The more I worked with them, the more I saw the weakness of the “social” not spiritual entrepreneur.

I believe, if you want to change the world, you need to start with your soul, and social entrepreneurs didn’t have that training offered.

What became clear to me was the insight from Swedenborg describing humans has having two vessels within us for God of compassion and truth, an inner and outer life as spiritual beings in a physical world. Our inner life is the cause and outer life is our effect. One leads to the other.

The more I worked with clients they often had one side developed or the other, but they were not being coached to develop both. Those with compassion side going full strength having done years of personal development on their inner life, but rarely had the skills to navigate the outer world of great accounting, funding, policy, business skills and projections.

I met so many ministers and nonprofit leaders angry they lacked funding necessary to achieve their purpose.

I met entrepreneurs who were great at gaining attention, raising money, and looking to do good, with little development of their inner life.

I met many social entrepreneur leaders who had achieved great public recognition for their work but felt hollow inside. But who was helping them develop their soul?

One leading social entrepreneur I coached rose to global fame with his efforts, only to find that his younger brother, who he was competing with took his own life.

In December 2019, Rishi Jaitley wrote a powerful article entitled Dreams of My Brother : Reflections on Loss, Guilt and 2010s Culture that highlights why social enterprise isn’t enough after he faced the death of his younger brother.
He writes:

“A starting point might be ten years ago when I left my Internet-evangelizing job at Google and moved to Detroit to build a non-profit organization, Michigan Corps, founded on the idea that social media fuels positive, social change…
In the ensuing ten years, I had a front-row seat, across more vantage points and places than I could have imagined, as social media — and, critically, our collective embrace of it — ushered in new ways for billions to self-identify, freely express, and civically engage — as publishers, sure, but also as performers.
In fact, I wasn’t just in the front row seat; as an entrepreneur in Detroit, a philanthropist at Knight Foundation and ultimately a Vice President at Twitter stationed across Asia, I was often on stage, with founders and friends, product managers and presidents, making the case for affirmatively embracing this shiny new Age of Self. “Look no further than the Arab Spring,” I’d say.
But more than an actor, I became a part of the problem, too: I indulged in publicly hyping my own unproven ideas, thought more about my brand than my being, and found myself passively observing, even critiquing, members of my own family — from a cold distance measured in more than miles. I didn’t merely lionize politicians, as part of this past decade’s affinity for personalities-of-cult. I lionized myself.
Was I trying to do something? Or was I trying to be someone?
By sharing and engaging, was I giving of myself? Or was I — in fact — taking, objectifying, and expecting from others?
While cultivating this 2010s brand, did I worry about who couldn’t keep up, who I might be misleading and, worst, hurting?
He continues:

…this new Age of Self heightened dramatically…

Referring to his brother’s death he said,

“But while alcohol seized him, how many more autopsy reports might read, in part, “Cause of Death: Culture.”

And it’s time we tell ourselves, and one another, a different American story: a story about goodness, shared in the third person, and not a story about greatness, told in the first person.”

Rishi’s brilliant and honest pieces sum up for me the need of a spiritual entrepreneurs. Goodness to humanity over greatness of self. We need soul work married to great business and political plans.

Spiritual entrepreneur are people who seek to balance their inner and outer life. They have done the soul work to be aligned to God’s providence in the world and are willing to be used for it. And, they have mastered the earthly mechanisms for engagement including business structures, funding models, and navigating the politics to create systemic change.

Our original vision was for CHC to be a hub for spiritual entrepreneurship. After hosting our first gathering of spiritual entrepreneurs in 2016, we had a realization. The day of the event was hot and with no HVAC people went outside to cool off. Our electric system was such that when groups plugged in their equipment, we blew fuses. Then, our internet didn’t work properly, and we had to borrow form a neighbor.

While there as interest in our hosting this event annually, we realized we needed to get our house in order, which we’ve done these past five years since. It was a living example of marrying our compassion to host with the truth of what that meant.

Over the last two year we hosted a cohort of spiritual entrepreneurs evolving to their next level.

Our tradition is full of amazing examples of spiritual entrepreneurs whether it be Hellen Keller or Johnny Appleseed. And here in our little church community, we have a group of spiritual entrepreneurs with Annabel’s vision for eco-friendly tiny homes; Eleanor’s mission to India; Eli’s soap business; Shalonda’s vendor mentor program; Maria’s media ideas; Skyler music events; Tony’s coffee shops; Scott’s work on a new economy and Sheri is even writing a book about spiritual entrepreneurship.

Spiritual entrepreneurship fits with our theology because it asks each of us, “How can I be useful?” and “Which side do I need to grow, my spiritual inner life more or my business acumen?”

What did Jesus teach on this lifestyle?

The gospel message today Jesus teaches us to use our gifts of empathy, knowledge, money, and privilege we have and risk it to make a good impact. Jesus is saying don’t just try to be safe. Think big. Take risks. Make mistakes. Be an entrepreneur – a spiritual entrepreneur.

It ends with the warning that if we try to play it safe and simply preserve what we have, we will lose it.

Swedenborg in today’s reading reminds us that only when we fully embark on improving our inner journey can we impact the outer journey.

God looks at our lives not by any outward success, but entirely based on our motivation. Did we seek to do good? Did we take chances and courage to follow up? It is sort of relieving and at the same time frightening to know that God is looking at our heart and asking,

“What’s your true purpose in this work? If it really is to do good for the sake of good, the Lord is pleased. Let the ego reasons go. Let greed go. Let status go. Just do your best for the best impact and the Lord will multiply it.

Spiritual entrepreneurism could really be the medium for how the church and faith evolves. It gets beyond the false teaching that you can be saved simply by saying certain words and that you don’t need to be active in the world loving your neighbor. It also gets beyond the idea that the amount of money you make, likes or followers you have, or elections you win has any measure on success.

Success in this spiritual enterer model involves us developing our heart and our head, our inner and outer life. It is a commitment to God to be of greatest use for the greatest good and having an impact on the world in our own unique way.

How about you? Where can grow? Inner life and a closer relationship with God? Or do you need to get real within this earthly journey.

Wherever we are the challenge is to grow both our spiritual life and our impact in the world.

The world needs spiritual entrepreneurs.

I’m looking forward to what CHC to help support and train them.


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