I’ve just come back from a trip to Asia. We visited the church in China, among others, and had a tour of the Amity Press. After the government began to permit open religious expression in 1985, this printing enterprise was founded in order to make Bibles available in Chinese. It’s an amazing example of what we’re here to talk about – entrepreneurial leadership for mission. By the end of this year the Amity Press will have printed about 100 million Bibles. They employ about 200 people, and provide dormitories and a canteen for those who live too far away to commute every day. Among the employees is a team of blind workers who produce Bibles in Braille. Amity uses the press’s excess printing capacity for other work as well – I saw nursing manuals in Spanish as well as Bibles in local languages for Tanzania and Botswana.
But the Amity Press is not only about making the word of God available in a language people can understand. They produce a profit, not by charging high prices for Bibles, but through modest prices for all their products, and by serving markets other enterprises can’t or won’t serve. Those Braille Bibles, for example – each Bible requires more than 40 volumes, and they can produce only a few dozen a year, but nobody else is doing it in Chinese.
The profit from Amity Press is plowed back into expansion and into the Amity Foundation, which is a lot like Episcopal Relief and Development, with whom it partners. The Amity Foundation does the kind of social ministry that heals individuals, families, and communities – clean water, schools, microenterprise, and community health clinics.
This is leadership for the nations. It’s what Isaiah was talking about when he said God would make his people leaders like David, if only they would turn in and join God’s feast. God is the cosmic entrepreneur, the source of creativity and life in abundance, the feeder and healer of the nations, the one who spreads a feast that does not cost a dime. We are all invited to sup at that table of wisdom, in order that we turn around and draw in the nations to the same table.
This is a specific kind of leadership. It has to stay connected to the vine, the source of life. If it goes off on its own to search only for profit or for its own ends, it will die. This kind of leadership has to stay well-rooted in the earth or it will no longer have the resources it needs for life abundant. That rooting is the source of humility – and it’s what David had trouble with. As long as he was faithful in his relationship to the source of creativity, he was an effective leader, but he got in trouble when he went off to pursue his own selfish desires. This kind of leadership has to stay humble, connected to the earth, from which human beings were created. David the shepherd had that connection. David the king lost it, at least for a while. The entrepreneurial leaders we’re looking for need to be similarly connected to the earth, for their leadership is meant to serve the humble, those whom Jesus called the least of these.
The dangers of this work lie in disconnecting from the vine – either because pursuing profits becomes the goal of the work, or because the leader begins to think only of himself and his success or wealth or control of an empire. There’s an interesting example in the different translations of this part of Isaiah. One version has it that David is going to be chief of the nations and God will put Israel over the nations of the world: “porque yo, tu Dios, te pondré sobre todas las naciones. Humbler versions say that the nations will run to Israel because of its good leadership and example: “lo he puesto por testigo a los pueblos, por guía y jefe de las naciones” or “como jefe e instructor de los pueblos”. One more example of how this can go awry: “Vean cómo lo usé a él para manifestar mi poder entre los pueblos; lo convertí en un líder entre las naciones. Tú también darás órdenes a naciones que no conoces, y pueblos desconocidos vendrán corriendo a obedecerte”.
Which is it – guide, chief, and example to the nations, or a dictator who gives orders and requires obedience? Which kind of leadership is going to produce people who go out in joy, and are led back in peace? Perhaps this is what Jesus is talking about when he says that branches that don’t bear fruit have to be pruned – they can’t produce joy and peace.
Joy and peace tell us something else about this work of entrepreneurial leadership. The reason for using these methods is to build a community of right relationship, justice, or shalom. Entrepreneurial leadership is a tool, not an end in itself. The title of this conference offers an example and some questions: Unidad en Mision para un Liderazgo Emprendedor. Is it unity for the sake of entrepreneurial leadership, or the other way around? And is unity achieved through entrepreneurial leadership, or is unity a source of it?
Partnering in God’s mission is a way of reaching that goal of joy and peace, and entrepreneurial leadership is a tool for getting there, not the goal itself. At the same time, we can’t build a partnership for mission if all we’re focused on is how creative each individual leader can be. We partner because we need the varied gifts of the body of Christ to do his healing work.
We can find a number of examples of creative part