Choosing a business as a ministry

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“The most dangerous risk of all: the risk of spending your life not doing
what you want on the bet you can buy the freedom to do it later.” - Anonymous

Why would you ever start a business?

The first reasons are ones we’ve all heard before; be your own boss, get rich, have more freedom. These are valid reasons, but is there more?

Molly and Jeremy, recently married, found themselves at an interesting crossroad. Jeremy, was now a civilian, having just come off his second deployment to Iraq. Molly had finished seminary and was an ordained minister, but didn’t yet have a church to lead. They had no commitment to a community or anything else, other than each other. They were looking for a place to put down roots.

The world and all its possibilities were before them. Now, what to do with it?

Jeremy had long thought about owning his own business after his military service. He spent a lot of time studying business and business models during his downtime in Iraq, trying to figure out what kind of a business he could launch. He had loved teaching leadership at various military schools. Molly was looking for a congregation to teach, build up, and minister.

It was an epiphany -- an “aha” moment, and a big one -- that made all the difference in their lives. It set them in the right direction.

They both wanted to do something worthwhile with their lives, he with a business and she with a congregation. And they both wanted a community in which to grow and build. A minister naturally seeks a community to serve, and they both knew that finding the right community would be central to Molly’s ambitions. But, until their big “aha” they thought a business was simply a way to make money, and a good business would be a fun way to make money. Molly’s ministry would be a source of satisfaction; Jeremy’s business would be a source of money.

Then the “aha” hit them. Not all at once, but over the course of a lot of talking and planning. It started with a question.

How could they start a business that will not only allow them to be their own boss and to be rewarded financially as the business grows but to also design it with the idea of them making an impact in the world through changed lives?

To meet both those objectives would require some serious forethought and planning.

They knew that they wanted it to be a gathering place of people
  • Restaurant? - not really having any experience in restaurants and the complexity of running an independent restaurant - doesn’t seem like the best fit.
  • Bar or brewery - good gathering spot but it really wasn’t their scene or passion and would not attract the people they wanted - not even seriously considered.
  • Coffee shop - now this is closer, a meeting place for a wide spectrum of people, but the market is fairly mature and they would be trying to break into an existing market.
  • Ice cream store, hmm interesting, attracts that youth demographic but it’s also a fairly mature marketplace with lots of entrenched competition.
  • Frozen Yogurt (Froyo) attracts the right cross-section of people, rapidly growing niche, the small city of Holland that they wanted to live in didn’t currently have any froyo shops. 
They started looking and found some attractive franchise companies who had figured out a lot of the logistics and business model. They decided on buying an Orange Leaf Franchise and to take the plunge into business ownership.

Molly wanted a place that she could bring in groups of teen girls for bible studies and a place where they could hire young people and mentor them through working at the business. They found a location and launched.

They went through the usual business startup issues, early losses, competition moving in, figuring out how to run it, figuring out how to hire and train. The business worked and was profitable, not as much as they wanted it to be, but still profitable.

But the question is, did this business add to their life or take from it? There are many in our society who have accepted that their job will suck and will drain the life out of them but it pays the bills and so they grudgingly go to work each morning. But this should never be the case for a business owner, after all, a business owner has more invested, they have taken on a lot more risk and they put up with a lot of extra hassle. So a business should both reward them financially but also help to give them the life they want.

I often tell people that the purpose of your Life isn’t to serve your business but the purpose of your business is to serve your life, to give you more of it.

Molly and Jeremy are the rare entrepreneurs who sat down before they even decided on a business to start and determined what kind of a life they wanted to live. They thought about and talked about what made them tick, what kind of a dent they wanted to put into the universe, what kind of a ministry they wanted to have in the community.

They figured out their core purpose. What makes them tick as people.

Then they very intentionally launched a business that not only made money but also gave them this kind of a life. They made sure before it even opened that the strategic intent of the business matched up to the core purpose that they had identified for their lives.

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