We surrender our personal ambition to God and seek first the good of others
We surrender our personal ambition to God and seek first the good of others, not ourselves. Instead of privately yielding our desires to an accumulation of wealth, power, and prestige, we cultivate gratitude, joy, and humility in the way we lead and serve.
As entrepreneurial leaders we long to build a business that can meet needs, address problems, provide meaningful work, and generate returns. We relish the satisfactions of entrepreneurship: inexhaustible energy for the mission; rapid learning curves; authorship of an organizational narrative; innovation in problem solving and venture building; delight in customer traction; and solidarity with others in the effort. We sense God’s power at work through our leadership.
Yet we must acknowledge that we are seduced by a “winner’s script” of how to scale a vision into the world through business. This script exalts certain goals (power, wealth, prestige, legacy) and prescribes the path to achieve them (audacious hustle, maniacal focus, maximum velocity, ruthless competition, elite backers). It has so much cultural power that it is hard for us to hold any counterscript in our imagination long enough to chart a different course.
Even Ethical versions of this script promise that we can “do well by doing good.” We deeply hope this can be true of us; yet we also feel the force of Matthew 6, where we are warned of our inability to serve both God and money, and Mark 10, where we sense the weight of the rich young ruler’s dilemma. Indeed, one of the greatest challenges we face as business builders is how to wrestle down the power of Mammon in our own imagination.
We are also seduced by the belief that the founder and venture are one. Our financial and growth metrics can feel like a referendum on our worth as a leader. The stewardship mentality we aspire to gradually tightens into an ownership mentality, and our belief in the mission becomes inextricable from our belief in ourselves.
This conflict arises from a distortion of our identity relative to our venture and its mission. We “know” that our true identity rests in Christ and not in our association with this organization. We “know” that whatever our ownership stake in the business may be, we are stewards and not owners of the mission, brand, and team. We “know” that our ambition must be surrendered to God’s purposes. Yet our hearts are so susceptible to the pull of these false narratives—the myth of progress, the supremacy of money, and the conflation of our venture’s success with our personal worth.
Instead, we long for God’s love to perpetually re-orient us to his upside-down kingdom—first in our hearts, then through our leadership.
1. We use our power for the sake of others, not for our own benefit. We use our networks, influence, and time to generate opportunities for others, particularly those with limited access and agency. As we take calculated risks to deliver impact and returns, we absorb the downside vulnerability of these risks, and generously share the upside and credit with our team.
2. We actively create ways for others to glean opportunities for growth and satisfaction that might otherwise be ours—for example, delegating not merely the tasks and roles we don’t enjoy, but also some that we prefer to do ourselves. Over time we narrow our scope and focus of contribution so that “we are only doing what only we can do.”
3. Understanding that our ambition creates pressure for many people besides ourselves, in both healthy and unhealthy ways, we give others a voice in our vision. Before committing to ambitious goals, we involve the people who must work to meet those goals. We bring our most consequential decisions before God and others—not making decisions by committee, but informing them through community.
4. We set patterns early on that acknowledge our limits and demonstrate that the mission can advance without us. We moderate our participation in the privileges of personal visibility, such as public speaking or writing engagements. Recognizing that we will be treated as experts, we position ourselves as learners inside and beyond the organization.
5. We prepare ourselves to share our faith as we “give the reason for the hope that we have” (1 Peter 3:15) in ways that provide clarity and invite accountability, without judgment or coercion of others. We connect our faith to our redemptive vision and commitments for the venture as suggested in this playbook, as well as our personal and leadership behavior and decisions.
6. Recognizing that our identity, motives, and imagination are the lifeblood and limiters of our organization’s redemptive possibility, we attend urgently to our spiritual and moral formation. We make ourselves accountable to our team, board, and (where appropriate) our investors, submitting ourselves transparently to wise counsel, grace, and truth. We consider personally practicing Praxis’s A Rule of Life for Redemptive Entrepreneurs to protect our entrepreneurial capacities.
THE GOOD NEWS
Before the redemptive pattern of creative restoration through sacrifice can take shape in the organization, it must take root in the leader’s life. With us, this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.
Leaders of redemptive ventures can experience greater abundance and peace as we trust in God—not ourselves, not in markets, not in technological advances or social progress—as the supreme actor in our business. We will lead with a high tolerance for healthy risk, knowing that our ultimate identity and provision does not ultimately depend on our “success” in the world’s eyes. We will be able to hustle and compete joyfully, without malice or fear. With a settled posture of stewardship rather than ownership of our venture’s resources, we can enjoy healthy and interdependent relationships with our investors, and remain more motivated by the mission than the exit.
The best news is that while this vocation is important, its stakes are not ultimate in our lives. We are not made righteous by our company’s virtuous product design, our spotlessly ethical supply chain, our generous cap table, or even our sacrificial leadership—any more than we would be made righteous by an eight-figure exit or an invitation to Davos. As eager as we may be to bring good to the world, we will invariably fall short of expectations, and unwittingly disappoint and even harm others. We will encounter pain, setbacks, despair, and failure. Indeed, all these may come to pass, as they did for many of the prophets, the biblical character Job, and Jesus himself—even when we have been as faithful as we could possibly have been. We can face these experiences not as amputations of our identity, but as opportunities to be formed into our true identity in Christ.
Indeed, with love at the core of our business’s mission, we will be able to experience any decision, any conversation, any win or loss as a sacred opportunity. Whether our business grows or dies; whether we exit with millions or debt; whether we change our corner of the world profoundly or not at all—we can know that God is with us and for us, offering us the profound invitation to be co-creators with him in the world.