The biblical teachings known as the Sermon on the Mount contain much that is central to the Christian faith, and even people who have never seen the inside of a church have heard this one: "No one can serve two masters.... You cannot serve both God and money."
The Colonial Church of Edina is as mainstream Christian as they come, and yet Colonial is about to give money, along with lots of hands-on support, to entrepreneurs.
Colonial won't be stepping into the shoes of a venture capitalist. It is instead planning to help create or accelerate for-profit businesses with a social purpose, which means the business sells a product or service that meets social needs or uses profits to do so.
But, with grants going to businesses, Daniel Harrell, senior minister at Colonial, has heard that "Jesus would never do this." He's heard that churches ought not to touch the realm of commerce, that capitalism cannot be redeemed.
It may be impossible to serve both God and money, Harrell said, "but to leverage capital for the sake of service is a powerful thing."
Colonial's simple idea here is that a business can be a very efficient way to fulfill the kind of humanitarian missions faith-based groups traditionally support.
And that is not serving money. It's using money.
Colonial's project began with a discussion over what to do with $1.85 million in proceeds from the sale of a parcel of land used for a new senior housing project adjacent to the church. Harrell said one thought was to give the money away, but the church decided to carve out $250,000 for a program that became known as Innové.
They settled on helping people 35 and younger, in part for the impact younger people could have on the church.
"The critical-thinking young mind is not attracted to the traditional church," said Brian Schubring, a consultant and former pastor who attends Colonial and helped shape the program. "That's a really big deal here. [Innové] is an innovative strategy for doing church."
The church is taking applications through Jan. 11. Brian Jones, the Colonial minister overseeing the project, said he has 16 so far, but he has talked to about 45 entrepreneurs who have said they will be applying.
The church understands that it's the money attracting attention, and while $250,000 is a lot for a church, it's not a venture capital fund. The more valuable asset to be given away is the time and talent of Colonial's more than 1,000 members.
Colonial is in Edina, an affluent suburb of attorneys, financiers, business managers, consultants and other highly skilled professionals. As Jones put it, "we realized we're sitting on a human resource gold mine."
Some Colonial members will screen the applications, others will serve as "navigators" to help semifinalists through the process, and up to 50 will jump in as "skills coaches." Semifinalists will share in a workshop day at the church to refine pitches and connect with other applicants, and then they pitch to a panel of seven judges, who have the task of picking maybe five to 10 to fund.
These will be grants, not investments, and church officials expect some of the applicants to be nonprofits.
But it's the for-profit aspect that's most intriguing, and Harrell said simply that businesses are "efficient" at allocating time and capital. Moreover, profits from a venture that succeeds famously could dwarf the social impact of the same dollars granted in regular philanthropy.
They talk about companies like Project 7-Products for Good Inc. of Costa Mesa, Calif. The company sells mints, coffee, bottled water and other everyday products, with the proceeds going to seven areas, from health care and housing for the homeless to clean water.
Another example is Toms Shoes Inc., a for-profit firm founded on the idea that one pair of shoes would be donated for every pair sold.
Colonial members like Jim Foster, a retired Medtronic executive who will be one of the judges, said his congregation is energized by the possibilities. "We don't know where this goes," he said, "but some of these ideas may literally change hundreds or thousands of lives."
Members have been regularly informed of Innové's progress, and Harrell began his one sermon on it with the story of the Transfiguration.
Biblical accounts have Jesus on top of a mountain with a few disciples, and his robes are turned to a dazzling white and he is infused with a great light. They are joined by the prophets Moses and Elijah and the voice of God rings out.
The disciples are both terrified and utterly baffled, and it's soon all over. Jesus is once again dressed like a poor itinerant preacher and former carpenter, and they hike back down the mountain.
The point of Harrell's teaching had less to do with the drama on top of the mountain, but that they came down. The work on the ground was going to continue.
People of faith need mountaintop experiences, he said, but they also can shine some light Monday through Friday of the workweek.
Even light the way for an entrepreneur who intends nothing less than changing the world.
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