“Let us know how we can help you!” the online chat extension advised me. I was on the website for Take Command Health, and Elyse, Julie, and Zachary, would soon be available to respond. I could see their three smiling faces, framed by little white circles inside the small window.
I noticed something similar when I visited the website for Remedy Urgent Care. Yet again, a welcoming chat box appeared when I visited the website for LoanWell, a flexible, end-to-end platform for lenders. I immediately reached a person who answered my questions and gave me the information I needed. They were just chat boxes, similar to those you find at a lot of startup sites, but this is how I felt about them, like I’d experienced a moment of connection with another person in a real way.
After a few phone calls with the entrepreneurs behind Take Command Health, Remedy Urgent Care, and LoanWell, it became clear that, small as it may seem, online chats were something that these companies approached as lighthearted in presentation but remarkably serious at the core.
When I spoke to Jack Hooper, Take Command’s co-founder and CEO, I didn’t mention the online interactions. I didn’t have to. Two minutes into our interview, Hooper brought them up himself. Part of his vision for Take Command, he explained, is to take a “holistic approach” in which he and his employees are “thoughtful about everything — whether it’s hiring, our customer support chat, how we treat our vendors, or paying our contractors on time.”
Sure, CEOs like Hooper hope that positive, human, online chats could lead to business for their companies. But the linchpin for these entrepreneurs isn’t year-end revenue. Rather, their startups revolve around a theological axle — ushering God’s vision for humanity into the marketplace.
Is it a little ridiculous to think such a grand, theological goal has something to do with online chats? Probably. But maybe the smallest things can come together to mean something great.
These companies are part of parallel movements known as Faith Driven Entrepreneurship and Faith Driven Investing. Their models manifest the ideology of the broader faith and work movement, a decades-old conversation that has gained popularity in recent years in large part due to the work of pastor Timothy Keller and the Center for Faith and Work, the cultural renewal arm of his church. The movement as a whole wants to reimagine the role and even the definition of work for the Christian and society. And the FDE/FDI movements are doing it.
What might cultural renewal look like, they wonder together, within day-to-day work rather than solely outside of it? What if a Tuesday afternoon strategy meeting could be just as oriented toward redemption as Wednesday night at church or Saturday morning at the soup kitchen?
For Jason Myhre, director of advocacy and managing partner at Eventide Asset Management, rotating on the axis of work looks like co-leading a company that manages over $3.8 billion in net assets and advises individuals toward “investing that makes the world rejoice.”
Myrhe met Finny Kuruvilla while the two were both graduate students at Harvard University. At the time, Kuruvilla was an M.D. and Ph.D. student whose stipend more than covered his relatively low expenses. Kuruvilla’s mother advised him to invest some money in a mutual fund but Kuruvilla couldn’t get past what he saw in his research: The top 10 holdings companies rendered his values compromised — some sold tobacco, others produced abortifacient drugs, and still others had exposure to revenues from pornography.
Rather than compromise his convictions, Kuruvilla started a “DIY approach” of choosing his own stocks. A roommate gave him a stack of economics books and Kuruvilla got to work figuring out investments for himself. This, Myhre said during our recent phone interview, was the first version of Eventide.
Kuruvilla’s story — and, for that matter, the Eventide origin story — matches the experiences of many American Christians. “They want to save for the future and have made a faith commitment to honor God with their money,” Myhre said. But those without the skills, time, or interest in investment strategies, they tend to outsource to a financial advisor, who is tasked with investing money in an effort to make the highest possible returns for clients. This type of relationship renders the investor in the dark about the companies they “own.”
Ownership is key. Once people understand that investments equate to ownership in companies, according to Mhyre, they may start asking if the companies they partly own are operating consistently with their own values. If answers to that question seem too complex or even unreachable, people may comfort themselves with the knowledge that they can support charities with the returns they make. But Mhyre believes there’s a better way — both for the venture capitalist with millions to invest, and for the lower middle-class father who hopes he can contribute to his child’s college expenses.
On behalf of their investors, Eventide identifies companies according to a “theme of human flourishing,” like biotechnology, renewable power production, or cybersecurity. They then vet those companies according to orienting questions like, Is this product meeting an important human need? and Are customers delighted? Do the employees love their jobs? Is the community better for the company’s presence? How about suppliers — are they treated as valued partners? Is the environment being protected?
These questions, in addition to other qualitative assessments, empower Eventide to allow investors from a broad range of financial statuses to invest according to their consciences and beliefs.
“We want [people who invest with Eventide] to benefit from the convenience of having an investment product structure,” Myhre said. “But we also want them to have a sense of confidence that the responsibility they’ve delegated to someone else is going to be exercised the way they would [exercise it] if they were doing it themselves.”
Mhyre thinks people long for integrity and wholeness. “And I don’t even mean integrity and wholeness in the sense of ethics, necessarily, but just the feeling of knowing that your life is your own and your wishes are being expressed in every area of your life.
“It’s very interesting to me that the root word for ‘integrity’ is also where we get the word ‘integer,’” he said. “So, in math, we know what an integer is: It’s a whole number. That’s where we get wholeness from. If you don’t have a whole number, you have a divided number or fraction. We feel divided, or fractional, often in life even though we were designed for wholeness.”
It’s jarring how many of these entrepreneurs and investors spoke to me about fractions and wholeness. To be honest, I wondered at times how authentic they were — how likely it was that they really pursued this integrated, holistic way. But I found these leaders don’t belong among zen hippies who seek wholeness by shirking the system any more than they belong among Silicon Valley disruptors who just want to, as Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook put it, “move fast and break things.”
Rather, they trudge a third way. The point isn’t to be novel. It isn’t to be zen or disaffected or to float above the marketplace in a spiritual hovercraft. The point is the work. It’s the creation mandate. It’s Jeremiah calling the exiles to seek the peace of the city, for in its welfare, they’d find theirs, too.
Against Anxiety, for Community
Managing partner of Sovereign’s Capital, Henry Kaestner, also said many Christian entrepreneurs fragmented. Kaestner co-founded the telecommunications firm Bandwidth Inc. (“If you use Alexa and say ‘call home’ or ‘call mom,’ that’s us,” he told me during a phone call) and is the man behind network-and-resource hubs Faith Driven Entrepreneur and Faith Driven Investor.
“Often, a Christian entrepreneur has a life that is characterized by anxiety,” Kaestner said, “maybe even more than a secular entrepreneur. You talk to John Mackey at Whole Foods, and ask him why he does what he does — he talks about wanting to redeem the global food supply chain. And he feels great about that! There’s an integrity to what he says. He’s got a passion about it that’s convincing.”
But many Christian entrepreneurs, Kaestner said, “are confused.”
“At one level, [Christian entrepreneurs] want to create this great, say, accounting firm or social justice enterprise or fill-in-the-blank for the glory of God. But there are these other things competing for their desires as well. ... That type of dissonance can, at its worst, become a negative witness to God.
“So they have this anxiety about why they’re doing what they’re doing.”
Kaestner’s words conjure the image of a Picasso, or of a Mr. Potato Head with its eyes, ears, and nose pegged into the wrong holes. A lot of necessary features are present and accounted for, but they lack order and cohesion. This can make for a brilliant painting or a laugh-out-loud moment with a preschooler, to be sure. But the chaos doesn’t hum quite as beautifully or humorously when it’s the soundtrack of a person’s livelihood.
What faith-driven entrepreneurs need, Kaestner believes, isn’t just a pat on the shoulder, or a Bible study on anxiety, or a kick in the pants toward tunnel vision on ethical business practices. Rather, they need a framework that starts with the theoretical and theological then extends outward into the practical. They need a narrative to live within that releases their entrepreneurial spirits to embrace peace in the context of a community that exists for the good of the world. If the faith and work movement has called entrepreneurs to think better about their startups. The framework of faith-driven entrepreneurship and investing helps them put those thoughts into practice.
For Justin Straight of LoanWell, this kind of narrative gives him a role and invites others to play theirs.
“It’s an act of love to say, Come into this story.”
This, he hopes, is what LoanWell provides — a “safe entry point” for people who want to be part of a more holistic way of approaching lending. It’s not just about numbers for him. It’s about narrative.
Through the Faith Driven Entrepreneur website, podcast, resources, videos, and events, Kaestner and his team make their storied visions tangible through “marks” of a faith-driven entrepreneur — identity in Christ, stewardship vs. ownership (the idea that all things fundamentally belong to God and he has appointed us as stewards, not owners, of his resources), business excellence, ministry in deed, and ministry in word. These came from a spiritual integration plan that Sovereign’s Capital, where Kaestner is a managing partner, conducted with their 45 or so portfolio companies. Twice a year, these companies each grade themselves on a matrix with five or six initiatives per mark.
Kaestner wants entrepreneurs to understand that their calling is “a godly one.” Entrepreneurship, Kaestner believes, is one skill God gives to some of his children so that they might carry out his commands. And just as in the case of those with pastoral gifts, or a proclivity to medicine, or a penchant for construction, the world benefits from people who wholeheartedly embrace their entrepreneurial skills.
“We were charged in Genesis to be able to be fruitful, multiply, and to take dominion over all things,” Kaestner said. “We are indeed part of the work that God is doing in the world to bring about the New Jerusalem — to bring about God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Ours is not a world in which we’re just trying to just hang on until the end. Ours is one in which we are out there, through his power and for his glory, trying to make all things right.”
As the co-founder and CEO of Praxis Labs, Dave Blanchard regularly talks with Christian entrepreneurs who face compartmentalization, anxiety, and tension. Praxis spans the FDE and FDI movements by facilitating a network of investors who fund startups and providing community and mentorship for entrepreneurs through Praxis Academy. The Praxis Business Fellows program has graduated Justin Straight and co-founder Bernard Worthy of LoanWell, Jeremy Gabrysch of Remedy Urgent Care, and Jack Hooper of Take Command Health.
Praxis hosts a communal learning intensive called Academy Week that custom-matches fellows to peer cohorts. This togetherness isn’t just a one-time experience, either. Praxis offers an “emerging founders” program for entrepreneurs working toward making their venture a full-time endeavor, and “academy campus collective,” which hosts idea exchanges on college campuses.
When I asked Blanchard about Praxis alumni — do they stay in touch? How does the community travel with entrepreneurs back into their everyday pursuits? — he smiled. For Blanchard, the best outcome is that relationships are ongoing.
“We really see it as a portfolio of organizations,” he explained. “If we hear from someone who wants to raise capital and it’s three years after the program, we still want to help. That’s a major win for us.”
For Blanchard, redemption in the marketplace cannot occur without strong relational ties.
“People work together by being intertwined in each other’s lives,” he said. “So, the more we can facilitate that — whether that’s through capital placements, talent, and obviously creating gathering spaces like our summit every year — [the better].”
Marketplace (and Pulpit) Transformation
What Blanchard described is something I heard from several entrepreneurs. They want to be part of building an ecosystem within the marketplace that can only emerge from both entrepreneurs and consumers embracing a mindset of abundance and thriving over and against consumerism or material success.
Yes, they indicate that consuming quality products can — in fact, it should — be part of an ecosystem that exists to help others flourish. And material success, when rightly defined, may be one marker of how effectively a company, product, or service is addressing the needs of the marketplace. But, in isolation, these markers simply reinforce tensions and compartmentalization that exist in the deep, soul-level places of entrepreneurs and within the marketplace itself. The marketplace does not exist apart from the people who create it.
When people who feel forced to leave a part of themselves behind when they go to work every day, a fractured system emerges. Perhaps the foundational premise of the FDE (and FDI) movement is that Christianity — the faith of the wholly broken and fully redeemed — resists this fracturing.
“Any time you feel like you have to corner off part of who you are instead of creating from your whole self, you create a kind of long-term toxicity,” Blanchard explained.
This movement in pursuit of wholeness requires a willingness on behalf of leaders and members to acknowledge past failings and current imperfections. For the FDE movement, one of the imperfections is a lack of diversity. People like Blanchard feel theologically motivated to focus on this issue — the New Earth will be diverse, after all.
Every investor and entrepreneur with whom I spoke is a man, which is unsurprising given the modern landscape of entrepreneurship (whether Christian or secular). Blanchard also sees this as an area where his company can take action: “We’ve been really prioritizing diversity in our community over the past few years.”
At the Praxis Labs Annual Summit Gathering in May 2019, 43 percent of guests were either non-white, non-male, or both, up from 23 percent of guests in 2018, according to internal data.
“We’ve been diligently working, starting with our recruiting pipeline, to see increased diversity in our programs and our broader community,” Mary Elizabeth Goodell, a community manager at Praxis, told me by email. She also said that in November 2018, Praxis hosted their first Capital Strategies for People of Color gathering, a two and a half day forum in New York with about 15 leaders representing communities of entrepreneurs and investors.
“We learned a lot from that gathering, and continued to deepen our dialogue with the same leaders alongside a larger group of practitioners at the May 2019 Summit,” Goodell wrote. “The breakout session on the topic focused on how Christians can actively repair current systems of capital access. Praxis is deeply committed to the belief that capital access for diverse communities is at the heart of any long-term systemic possibilities for redemptive entrepreneurship as a whole.”
In addition to an uptick in diverse representation, Blanchard, and fellow faith-driven entrepreneurs and investors, want to see Christians in the marketplace turning from old ways of wedding faith and business. Christians have often thought of the blending of faith with 9-to-5 work as, at best, a call to be ethical in business and perhaps to evangelize co-workers. Don’t lie on your expense report, don’t be ashamed to say you go to church, don’t fall in love with your secretary or your paycheck or your title.
Those “don’ts,” well, they don’t seem to be quite enough for members of the FDE and FDI movements.
“The rest of the world presumes that a Christian entrepreneur is not going to be as good as a secular entrepreneur,” Kaestner said. “People see that Christians are really conflicted about money, really think that the most important thing is the service we do with YoungLife — so we’re really working until 5 o’clock and then cutting out for the real work. Or they see that Christians don’t know how to fire people or a whole bunch of different things.
“The reality is, there are lots of Christian entrepreneurs who will put a Jesus fish on the side of their van and then fail to do excellent work. And sometimes, in bad extremes, they use their Christian identity as a marketing advantage but don’t really lean into how important it is that we do our work heartily as unto the Lord.”
Kaestner thinks some Christians share this perspective because, beyond the ethics-and-service model, “they also don’t think that you can bring your faith to the marketplace. ... Christians tend to think that Christians can’t be very good business people.”
In order for the faith-driven entrepreneurship movement to cultivate the type of environment that many members want, Kaestner said, Christians need to acknowledge “the dissonance about what the real headwinds are.” This is a place where he sees the role of pastors as absolutely critical — acknowledging Christian culture’s past sins and guiding believers toward a better way.
“We’ve all been taken by some of these guys with a fish sticker,” Kaestner said. “Or we’ve lost money with somebody who is a Christian. Or we’ve seen [a Christian entrepreneur or investor] who just isn’t really good at what he or she does.”
An essential part of reimagining Christianity in the marketplace is the church. Kaestner wants to see pastors address these issues, including often taboo topics like finances, in sermons and discipleship efforts.
“Pastors have to talk about money,” Kaestner said, citing the fact that money is mentioned in the New Testament more than 800 times. “You can’t have a robust teaching and equipping of pastors to talk about the marketplace … if you don’t talk about the currency of it.”
Kaestner wants to see pastors boldly, humbly talking about the ways that God designed money to be part of the lives of Christians — yes, when the offering plate passes down the pew and when a missionary visits, but also as an ongoing agent in the marketplace. So much of the anxiety and tension that faith-driven entrepreneurs feel in their pursuits comes down to a fundamental discomfort with money — at least partly because money talk can feel antithetical to humility and holiness.
This is a place where pastors can help entrepreneurs in their congregations — as well as all who participate in the marketplace — by speaking about money within a healthy theology of work, a desire to see good done in the world, and an appreciation for excellence.
Myrhe encourages pastors to develop and teach a “theology of profit.” He points to Proverbs 1, which says that profit can be “ill-gotten” or “well-gotten.” By speaking without shame about the power money possesses to build and destroy, empower and corrupt, pastors can help investors, entrepreneurs, and the person with just enough left over each month release anxiety they’ve felt about money. This freedom can provide peace in the life of the consumer, investor, and entrepreneur as it trickles into their company, products, and presence in the marketplace.
Good works and good work
Many members of the FDE and FDI communities also see brokenness even in actions that, on the surface and sometimes even in practice, appear to be good.
“Historically, your faith and business weren’t tied together beyond your faith driving you to be a moral and ethical person because you were a person of faith,” said Jeremy Gabrysch of Remedy Urgent Care. “But the interplay between them was often anemic — a job or venture is something where you can earn money and then give it away. John D. Rockefeller is like the perfect example of this. He believed God had enabled him to make a lot of money so he could give a lot of money away.”
It’s not, of course, that earning money to give it away is wrong. But for people created by God with deeply creative or entrepreneurial minds and skills, the thought that those skills are only toward the end of gaining money that can be put toward other things — things that are “actually” valuable — can be discouraging.
Can the work — the venture and the mode — in itself not be good?
This gets to central questions realted to faith-driven marketplace: What if Christian workers and investors could avoid what Myrhe calls “conscience laundering” — the compartmentalized way of easing our guilt over not knowing anything about the companies we invest in by giving away portions of our returns? What if the work itself could be transformed and transformative in such a way that some of the gaps filled by charity were instead filled by a marketplace that doesn’t exist just to serve the people at the top but all people?
Here is where some people get nervous. Is faith-driven entrepreneurship a cover for some form of socialism or anti-capitalistic ideas? The answer is an emphatic “no.” People who are part of the FDE movement do not see capitalism as something to abolish, but as something to reform and redeem. In their view, the foundation itself is not broken. But the exploitation, greed, anxiety, and obsession with success that have grown on the foundation of capitalism — even the notion that enterprises and resulting capital are really only agents for good when they’re oriented toward charity — these walls show cracks.
Some Christians have tried to patch the walls by seeing their workplaces not only as a locale for creating capital to give away, but as their own mission fields. The idea is that “your business is there to evangelize your staff,” Gabrysch explained.“I think faith-driven entrepreneurship can be so much bigger than that. We typically have thought of it in terms of how we can win people to Christ within our businesses. … If you own your venture 100 percent outright, you might have more flexibility to evangelize. But what I’m proposing goes beyond that.”
What Gabrysch — and really the entire FDE and FDI movements — asks is this: “How does a venture become a transformative force within the culture and the marketplace, such that it is bringing about flourishing, seeking the good of the city and the people who live in the city, and really working to redeem the industry?”
For Gabrysch, this redemptive, transformational perspective leads him into one of the most polarized sectors in the country — health care. His company Remedy Urgent Care provides at-home urgent care services through housecalls and telemedicine.
What does it look like?
One of the Remedy core values is “peace of mind” — something that can be hard to come by when your child is screaming after they fell down or has a higher fever than you’ve ever seen. Jeremy said that at Remedy they prioritize accessibility and availability with their hours. They provide both nurse triage assistance and video medicine every single day, around the clock.
Contrast that with the experience many of us have had — it’s the middle of the night and we don’t know if the illness or injury warrants a trip to the emergency room, but we know we’d go to the doctor if it were between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on a weekday. That comfort of availability, of presence in a time of need, it stands out in a culture of fear and confusion around health care.
Gabrysch also encourages his staff to go above and beyond their strict medical responsibilities. “We’re always giving our dispatchers and patient services coordinators who regularly speak to patients on the phone a license to surprise and delight.”
For example, when a single mom called Remedy and explained that her child was sick, the Remedy patient guide on the other end of the call learned that the mom was already having a chaotic day — she hadn’t eaten lunch, furniture was supposed to be delivered, and she didn’t have anyone around to help. So the staff member ordered lunch on Remedy to be delivered to the mom.
“So many things about health care are so broken,” Gabrysch said. “People just bemoan them all the time. If we can be a company that is changing that perception, then to me, that’s kingdom work. That’s worth getting out of bed for every day.”
All this — this small but transformational thing — because Remedy employees see their very jobs, not just their paychecks, as agents of redemptive power. Maybe if a phone call can be this meaningful, those online chats really were, too.