Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The God of Slashers

No. I'm not talking about graphic horror films (although God might wonder why we delight in dismembering the sixth commandment). I'm talking about a new, quickly growing career field, made up (mostly) of young 20 and 30-somethings. "Slashers" or "soloprenuers" can't sum-up their job title with one quick description, because they're modern day renaissance men and women. They're graphic designers/SEO consultants/dog walkers. They're self-employed bloggers/personal shoppers/freelance photographers/writers. The National Journal, describes slashers as "solo entrepreneurs ...[who] view their job as developing multiple lines of business, preferably diverse but all revolving around a central, defining brand."

You may not know a soloprenuer, but I do. And lots of them. For young 20-somethings graduating into a lackluster market where they're competing with overqualified middle-aged workers for entry level positions, it can be tough to find job security (or any job at all). Finding a career within your major study area is even harder. Most available jobs are either part-time, short-term, or unpaid. So, some young people are making lemonade out of bad lemons and engaging their entrepreneurial spirit to become solopreneurs. If magazines aren't hiring, they freelance, blog, and pick-up a part time job. If marketing firms aren't paying, they turn to slashing as a legitimate way to make a living and build a personal portfolio.

The Wall Street Journal projects that slashing is on the rise, so it's worth discussing today. Too many people wrongfully dismiss slashers as lazy or misguided, but most slashers I know are far from lazy. I want to begin by affirming the great goods involved in solopreneurship, and then I'll address some ethical questions that present themselves in any emerging vocation.*

With that said, let's start with the good in soloprenueing... 

1. The entrepreneurial spirit flows from God's spirit. Many of the slashers I know show an incredible ability to invent creative micro-businesses that fill small needs in niche markets. In my previous blog  I discussed the cultural mandate, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over it..." (Gen. 1:28). This is God's command to creatively use our natural resources, both material and immaterial, to create and develop culture. That includes business endeavors. So, when slashers invent new products, services, or goods they honor God's creative Spirit in us, and fulfill his mandate. When you see a market in our community for search engine optimization, and take up the calling to help local businesses maximize online hits, you honor God with your entrepreneurial spirit.

2. Wise people are productive people. No other planet has the material richness and potential of earth. God made it to be a place where productive work and manufacturing of goods is possible. When you start a small ETSY shop to sell bow-ties, you're industriously using the resources of the world God made. In a service-driven culture like ours, our productivity may not always be material, yet in principle we honor the richness of God's creation by consulting, designing, or posting our favorite recipes on a blog.

This productivity flows from wisdom (Lk. 12:42). The Bible depicts foolish people as sluggards who are so lazy that they will not even feed themselves (Prov. 26:15). However, the ideal wife in Proverbs 31 is characterized by her industrious ability to see potential market opportunities, "She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens. She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. ... She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness." Far from criticizing full-time moms for "parental over-share" on mom blogs, I think we should encourage their industry when they generate wealth by blogging about their passions. The same goes for all slashers, who see potential markets and industriously work at making them profitable.

3. Trade glorifies God. Just step back and consider the immense creativity required to develop modern trade. We no longer bother with fatuous bartering systems (if I only need a few eggs, but only own one bull, what can I fairly trade for the eggs I need?). Instead, we have a national currency that allows us to trade our goods for money, that we in turn divide and trade for other goods we need. It allows a win-win system, wherein I trade my money (at fair cost) for products that I need, while you trade your products for the money you need. All of that creativity glorifies God. 

Moreover, when we trade goods ethically, we honor God. Leviticus 25:14 says, "If you make a sale to your neighbor or buy form your neighbor, you shall not wrong one another." Wayne Grudem writes about this, "This implies that is possible and in fact is expected that people should buy and sell without wronging one another - that is, that both buyer and seller can do right in the transaction." What right can we do? We serve one another! I get what I want; you get what you want. Together we generate wealth, and create jobs and markets. I know that seems oversimplified (and it is). There are unethical ways to trade and gain profit (Prov. 20:13). But we need to be reminded that buying and selling are not sacrilegious activities; they are, in of themselves, good. Soloprenuers trading goods and services fairly, glorify God.

4. God calls us steward our talents and gifts profitably. In fact, when you sell someone a service, like a recipe, or a family portrait, you honor God by practicing good stewardship over your talents. The ideal wife "perceives that her merchandise is profitable" (31:18). She sees its market potential, exercises dominion over it (thereby imaging God's own sovereignty) and sells it for a profit. The point is that God gives us creativity to use it. So if you're a gifted writer, write. If you're a gifted designer, design. If you're a gifted marketer, consult. When slashers steward their multitudinous talents and gifts, they glorify the God who gave them.

Now let's ask several ethical questions for soloprenuers with scriptural insights. Suffice it to say that questions that apply to most vocations.

1. Are you thoughtful about the idols which accompany the blogosphere and "self-branding?" Making your own personal brand is not necessarily sinful, but it can make you myopic. Christ commands us to carry crosses (Matt. 10) and Paul demands that we ignore what other people think (1 Cor. 3:21-4:7). That runs counter to the blogging idols which revel in fame and cultural-includedness. Moreover, the idolatrous cynicism and snarkyness in modern blogging ought to be rejected by Christians, because a sincere conscious with wise words is a Christian conscious (1 Tim. 1:5). Consider what drives your career. Is it enslavement to idols of being in or a love for what you do? Peter writes, "whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved." (2 Peter 2:19) Are we enslaved to idols?

2. Are you showing discernment in long-term planning? If slashing is just a doorway for you into a full-time career, what's you deadline before you move on? Do you have a sense of business direction? How do you plan on growing your business? If you plan on slashing for your whole life, have you fully considered the longterm sacrifices of such a lifestyle? Have you considered how to provide for yourself (and your dependents) without being a drain on family or society?  Paul wrote hard words to Timothy, "But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Tim. 5:8). Provision starts with yourself and moves outward. So, are you showing discernment in long term planning?

3. Are you showing discernment in calling? Not everyone makes it. That means many of us may not be called to be slashers. It's attractive to move to a big city and become a cultural renaissance man, but we need to prayerfully discern God's calling on our lives before we do so. Consider your life circumstances (am I married? do I have kids?),y our talents (can I do this?), and your spiritual well being (will I be leaving a Godly community? do I have a significant ministry here?). Proverbs says 14:8, "The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving."

4. There are no little people and no little places. I know that's not a question. It's a reminder. God calls us to be faithful in the small things. Maybe we need to be faithful to provide for our marriage or our kids. Maybe we need to be faithful to the friends around us, who trust us and need us. Maybe we need to be faithful to our small community, where we've been called to serve and minister. There are no little people or little places in God's eyes. We don't need to do great worldly things to win God's attention, Christ already won it for us on the cross. By his death he made us insignificant creatures immensely, gloriously significant. If we move into a vocation,because we want to be big people, we'll make ourselves insignificant and miserable for eternity.

*This blog is (obviously) an overview. I encourage anyone interested in thinking more about this to check out Wayne Grudem's short book, Business for the Glory of God. He hits relevant topics like competition, money, employment and inequality of possessions. Also check out Jay Richards' Money, Greed and God.

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