The startup mentality: Why the church is better than the next big thing

August 2, 2017

Like most of us who came of age in a post-Microsoft world, I grew up on the nursery rhymes written in a culture that idolizes the almighty startup. Whether it was Steve Job’s genius forged in a garage, Bill Gate’s battle to create the perfect operating system, or Google’s unconventional work environment and Internet-eclipsing success, the moral behind the folklore was clear: It pays to be a part of the next big thing.

The giants that rose out of Silicon Valley made us all want to be entrepreneurs. We want to invent an idea or a product that goes viral. (If we can wear our Converse high tops to work while doing it, that’s even better). I’m grateful for the ways many startups have added convenience to my life. I’m typing this blog post on my MacBook Pro (Thank you, Apple). If I get stuck, I’ll quickly Google to find the right information or Bible verse. If I need office supplies, or toilet paper, or a gift for a coming baby shower, I’m thrilled to be able to drop my purchases in a virtual shopping cart and find them on my doorstep 48 hours later (Thank you, Amazon). But the tidal wave of startups has churned up something dangerous beneath the surface of our hearts. As I scan the horizon, I feel compelled to shoot up a warning flare.

Sticking with it over startup

I hear it most often among the young women I teach. They love Jesus. They love his Word, and somewhere along the line, the idea of a unique and individual “calling” has fallen on their shoulders like a ton of bricks. They want to do “big things” for the kingdom of God. They want to be a part of something new for God’s glory. (And if those “big things” come with an adorable office and a brand they can build, that’s even better.) The end result is often spiritual paralysis, they don’t use their gifts because they aren’t sure where they will have maximum impact.

The church doesn’t just need entrepreneurs, the church needs stick-with-iters.

Here’s the rub: The church doesn’t just need entrepreneurs, the church needs stick-with-iters. We don’t need more sharks in the Shark Tank. We need fishers of men, willing to do the ongoing and often unglamourous work of investing in the kingdom over the long haul.  

While God’s Word does call us to live surrendered lives and to adopt a willingness to go where God calls us and do whatever he asks, it also calls us to value small over big, faithfulness over distractibility, humility over building our own brand. Instead of grabbing market share, we give our time and talent away for the good of our fellow believers. There is tremendous kingdom value to be gained when we faithfully and anonymously give to our local church, though it’s unlikely to generate the buzz the startup culture can.

The original startup

The church is the original startup. Launched in an upper room, led by Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit, with a hodgepodge bunch of guys crazy enough to bet everything they had on the mission, the church is how the amazing idea that the gospel is for all mankind went viral. The disciples caught the world on fire with their message and this simple mission statement:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20).

More than two thousands years later, the new may have rubbed off, but the mission has not changed. We are called to make disciples. We are called to teach the Word. We are called to cheer each other on as we strive to be a source of light in a very dark world. And we are called to do it primarily through the church. The local church may not be new news, but it is uniquely designed in these three ways.

1. Authority: As Paul traveled through Europe and Asia planting churches, he implemented a specific and effective leadership structure. Titus 1:5-9 describes the appointment of elders in the local church. These overseers are to be godly, self-controlled, and dedicated to the welfare of the local church. Matthew 18 gives church leadership permission to participate in discipline of the flock when needed. Ephesians 4:11-16 recognizes the role of shepherds in the Church and calls them “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”

God has given church leaders authority in our individual and collective lives for our own spiritual health and the health of the Body. A board of directors or executive team are not good substitutes for the spiritual and practical leadership offered by the local church. Part of the allure of the startup mentality is the ability to buck the system to some degree, to forge our own path. Yet, we never outpace our need for elder and pastoral authority in our lives.

2. Funding: Not only is the church the original startup, she is also the original crowdsourcing forum. In the Old Testament, God instituted the tithe, calling his people to give a portion of their belongings back to kingdom work (Lev. 27:30, Num. 18:26, 2 Chron. 31:5). The New Testament church upped the ante, sharing all of their belongings with each other (Acts 4:32). Either way, the big idea is this: our resources are from the Lord and belong to the Lord. We gladly surrender them for kingdom gain.

Each time we drop money in the offering plate, we are loosening our grip on our individual purse strings. We don’t control the exact use of the funds we give, but trust the church leadership to use them to minister to the collective Body. In my own church, we need funds for several covert ministry efforts few know anything about. A few examples include:

What about the individuals who clean the church toilets? That ministry is essential, yet not glamorous enough to generate donations. How about the individuals who are serving anonymously? Should they receive no financial support from the church simply because their profile is low? The local church takes the funds given by believers and spreads the love to many different ministry efforts, the seemingly big and significant and the seemingly small and insignificant, because we know God is using them all.

3. Impact: When we minister in the local church, our impact on the world around us is collective and progressive. You use your gifts to serve others. I do the same, and our efforts add another layer of brick and mortar to the foundation laid by Christ and built upon by the Christians who came before us. We are building something together through the ages that Christ has promised will stand through eternity (Matt. 16:18).

There is a higher good than something fresh and new. It is something old and unchangeable.

As I serve in my own church, I like to think of myself as a runner responsible for a single lap in a long and high stakes race. The baton that was passed from Christ to Peter to Paul to Jonathan Edwards to Charles Spurgeon to Billy Graham, has in some ways, been passed to me for a brief moment. I get to share the gospel, teach the Word, and equip the saints for this brief moment of time, and I don’t want to fumble. Instead of spending my time starting to build something new, I want to keep building the legacy of the church that’s been under construction for thousands of years.

The gospel is a message that never needs re-branded. The local church, though operated by flawed and broken people, will remain the epicenter of individual and cultural transformation until Christ returns. Instead of looking to only invest in the next big thing, may we be a people who faithfully invest in one of the best things Christ has already given us—the local church.

Erin Davis

Erin is a speaker, author and blogger who addresses women of all ages nationwide and is passionately committed to sharing God’s Truth with others. She is the mother of three boys and the author of 13 books which can be found on her website. Erin lives on a small farm in rural Missouri and … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24