5 Tips For Christian Entrepreneurs In Africa* (TGC Africa)

*First published by The Gospel Coalition Africa (TGC Africa) on 29 September 2020

Huston Malande is a faith-driven tech entrepreneur and a member at Trinity Baptist Church, Nairobi, Kenya. Along with his newfound love for video production as the Visual Theologian, Huston writes poetry, prose, and code. He is married to Eve.

Life is hard. You don’t have to be a Christian (or an entrepreneur) to know that. Life is just hard, for everyone, everywhere. The ancient curse of Genesis 3 hangs over every endeavour like a dark oppressive cloud.

However, it doesn’t always seem like everyone is struggling. In fact, people who don’t care about Jesus often seem to thrive! Is this not the psalmist’s chief complaint to God in Psalm 73? He contends with God, “They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.”

The trials of a Christian entrepreneur

Perhaps the only thing harder than existing in a dark world, is being a living sacrifice and living as the very light that the darkness hates. It’s harder to be honest in a world full of liars and lies. It’s harder to be generous in a world full of greed. And it’s a lot harder to be profitable in entrepreneurship when the rules of the game – or lack thereof – are skewed against you. In fact, they seem to favour those who live as if they won’t have to answer to God in the end.

So how can a Christian venture into entrepreneurship and expect to survive, let alone thrive? For ours is an incredibly cut-throat business environment. If the estimate is accurate and 95% of all new businesses fail, why would a believer risk their time and money jumping into a pool of sharks? The odds are stacked against believers in every conceivable way.

5 Tips from my entrepreneurial journey

The answer to this question could fill the pages of a book. But I’ll give you five thoughts that, by God’s grace, have helped me throughout my own 11-year entrepreneurial journey.

1) Trust your Lord

In every sphere of ordinary life – from science to art – it is often assumed, even by Christians, that faith has a fettering rather than empowering effect. This is why the “wicked” in Psalm 73:11 are bold enough to say: “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?” By asking how he can know, they are essentially implying that he can’t. Similarly in Psalm 14:1, a prideful outburst questions the very existence of God.

Playing dirty does’t pay

It often feels as though this supposed casting away of godly shackles “frees” people. They can now engage in entrepreneurship in a way that doesn’t have to conform to morality or give an account, so long as human authorities don’t catch them.

Because of this, Christians will sometimes feel disadvantaged. It is as if you are boxing with one arm tied behind your back. If only you could be unleashed and give them a taste of their own medicine! Do not be like them, godless and vain, proudly opposing God. But you might say to me, “Come on, I can never be like them. I would never deny God.” To that I’d reply, “Are you sure?”

Test: Where do you turn in a crisis?

Christian entrepreneurs are tempted to deny God every single day. What’s the first thing you do when you run into a crisis? Do you instantly switch into problem-solving mode? Or do you take a step back and ask the Lord for wisdom, help, and grace?

When you’re defrauded, do you immediately think of ways to get your own back? Or do you extend mercy and seek to win hearts more than winning court cases? When you’re broke, do you kick into “hustle mode”? Or do you first ask your heavenly Father for your daily bread, before setting out to find it?

And when your boss wears you down, do you seek liberation through entrepreneurship? Or do you humble yourself first and work as unto the Lord and not unto men? Christian entrepreneur, trust your Lord.

God is truly in control

Whether you stay in employment or go into entrepreneurship, the only way to be in control is to ultimately give it up. We must look to the one who is truly in control: God. Otherwise, you will seek to muscle everything according to your will. While this may change your situation, it will also change you for the worse.

Remember Proverbs 3:5-6 says this. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

2) Learn from your generation

Now, just because you are not of this world doesn’t mean that you don’t need to learn anything from it. There is huge benefit in learning from those who have gone ahead of you in your field. Christians don’t have the monopoly on wisdom, especially the worldly kind that is as a result of God’s common grace to humanity, made in his image.

There is some wisdom in the world

In Genesis 4 we read about our ancient forefathers who invented various things, from cities to musical instruments, pastoralism to metallurgy. They weren’t necessarily godly people. Lamech, for example, who’s mentioned in that passage, killed a young man and went on to write about it in what reads like a typical gangsta rap song. Yet David’s harp and his sword were used to worship and serve God in equal measure. The man after God’s own heart used skills and inventions developed by godless predecessors.

What is Biblical shrewdness?

Looking at the New Testament, we’re reminded of the words of Christ in Luke 16:8, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” It wasn’t his main point, but it still illustrates how believers handicap themselves on either side of the divide. We don’t invest fully in this world because we’re not of it, and likewise we don’t invest in eternity with our worldly possessions because we can’t yet see that which we hope for.

The shrewdness we need in entrepreneurship is that which enables us to make the best use of the time because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16). Observe how unbelievers operate their companies and businesses. Think carefully about why they do what they do. Borrow the best things and discard the rest. In it all, seek first the kingdom of God. Don’t chase food and clothing like unbelievers do. You have to find the right balance. It exists. And it is profitable in every way.

3) Cherish and use your freedom

I hope that by now you’ve already divested yourself of the idea that entrepreneurship will liberate you from a 9-to-5 existence and afford you ample free time. Far from it! Entrepreneurship will take a lot more from you than you may be willing to give. Time, peace of mind, money, and energy are drained faster than in a normal day job. So you won’t have freedom in that sense; 39 lashes await you!

What you do have is the freedom to choose when and how you’ll take your lashes. This is a unique stewardship that Christian entrepreneurs enjoy.

Service opportunities for entrepreneurs

Think of it this way. Imagine that your team has a deadline to deliver a product in three days’ time. If you work on it seven hours a day, you’ll beat the deadline. However, a brother in the faith just had a serious fight with his wife. He needs you to help them talk through things. As an entrepreneur, you don’t have to seek permission to do this in the way that an employee would. However, after spending four hours with the couple, you still have a deadline to beat. This means that you’ll have to stay up late or wake up earlier than usual for the remaining two days.

Christian entrepreneur, cherish your freedom and spend it wisely for the glory of God and for the good of his people. Spend it in missions and acts of mercy for the salvation of the lost. Spend it in reading God’s word and in praying for the saints. With joy and gratitude, spend your unique freedom for God and others.

Guard your freedom

And be careful of making commitments which threaten that freedom. I would advise that you avoid bank loans and mortgages and anything that will tie you down for years such that you need to earn a certain amount of money or avail yourself somewhere for a certain period of time without fail in order to meet your obligations.

When you commit to such things, you will be forced to think and act like a slave and not as the free entrepreneur you might be. Better to go without and be free, than to maintain an illusion of abundance tied to a financial ball and chain.

4) Love your neighbour

Think of the phrase: ‘Human Resources.’ What image does it bring to mind? In the commercialised times we live in, almost everything is measured in monetary terms, right down to humans themselves. It’s as if each company is a factory where you put in raw materials and out comes a product that you can sell. And one of the raw materials, or resources, is the human. It’s just another factor of production. You must not see people like that, much less treat them that way.

A Christian entrepreneur has the unique opportunity to truly love his neighbour as he loves himself. Each person that you work with – or for – is an eternal soul. They are made in the image of God, and they are either going to heaven or hell. But between birth and final destiny they live in the present, where they experience life in a fallen world and perform work in a cursed ecosystem.

What type of master will you be?

Will your conduct painfully remind them of reality of the fall? Or will you be the kind and gracious master and worker who pricks the eternity antennae of their hearts? Will you demand results at all costs and tear down non-performers? Or will your speech be seasoned with salt, imparting grace to the hearers?

The fact is that even the business world is starting to adopt compassion and empathy. But for them, it’s just another experimental variable to maximise results. They have no actual basis for the ideological things they encourage.

But as for you, who has experienced the grace of God, you have every reason to imitate Christ. In your approach to handling the precious people in your enterprise, imitate God’s gracious love towards you. I assure you, people can detect the difference.

5) Guard your heart

As Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Your heart is the essence of who you are. Entrepreneurship has the potential to amplify both your strengths and weaknesses. If there is envy in your heart, the success of others in your industry will draw it out. If there is impatience, your interactions with the team will bring it out. Likewise, if there are any good virtues such as kindness and diligence, entrepreneurship can amplify them.

Health check: When virtues become vices

But the scary thing is that entrepreneurship not only amplifies the virtues and vices that you already have, it can also turn virtues into vices. Furthermore, it can create entirely new vices that you never thought yourself capable of!

Consider 1 Timothy 6:9-10, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”

If you don’t keep a close watch over your heart, you will look back after a few years with terrible regret. For we can finish up far from where we started, shrivelled and unrecognisable believers. However, if you abide in the vine, though you will face many trials, steadfastness will have its full effect and you’ll be the better for it (James 1:4, 12).

Can Christian entrepreneurs be successful?

Can Christian entrepreneurs be successful in a godless age? Absolutely. Should you do it? Probably not. But if you do pursue entrepreneurship, then do it according to the measure of faith that God has apportioned to you.

You will find that in spite of your failures, as well as temptations to embrace what the world values, God himself will preserve you. He will enable you to say from the depths of your being, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26).

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Huston Malande