Believers and doers: A faith-focused approach to social innovation

The Book of Matthew, chapter 22, instructs us to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves — an invitation to all of us. This is a call for all believers to band together to create something bigger than ourselves, aiding in the overall thriving of each person and the communities and institutions that surround us.

As followers of Jesus, Christians believe in a God who is compassionate and who has created humans in his image — designed for flourishing. By interacting with people of all faiths, and no faith, we Christians are presented with the opportunity to display what faith in action looks like.

The Book of Matthew, chapter 22, instructs us to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves — an invitation to all of us. This is a call for all believers to band together to create something bigger than ourselves, aiding in the overall thriving of each person and the communities and institutions that surround us.

Collaborative social impact

Social innovation involves the discovery and development of strategies to build, renew and transform institutions to foster human flourishing for all people. There are obstacles and injustices that exist in our communities that we as Christians and faith-based entities should use our gifts and resources to impact. Together is the best way to address these obstacles that hinder human flourishing.

Often, we see these challenges as ones that should be solved by the business community — by the brilliant entrepreneurs who disrupt common industries for good through creating new initiatives and institutions. But they can’t go it alone; nor should they ever have been expected to do so. We need to forge partnerships and collaborations among our faith-based organizations and the creative minds who lead corporations in order to achieve the social impact we’re seeking.

I’ve found that organizations — churches, higher education institutions and hospitals, to name a few — are well-equipped to implement entrepreneurial strategies thanks to our flexibility, creativity and mission-minded teams. We can have an even greater impact when we partner with similarly minded leaders and mobilize our efforts toward impact. And we need to cultivate a strong innovation and entrepreneurial mindset to do so.

Faith in action

A tangible and remarkable example of this approach is the work of my good friend Dr. Kim Tan, co-founder of the Transformational Business Network (TBN) and longtime investor and entrepreneur. His approach to social impact seeks to develop ways to build profitable, scalable businesses that address a wide array of social issues, including conservation, human trafficking, housing and more.

We recently spent time together at Belmont University’s inaugural Hope Summit, a three-day event focused on making hope real in participants’ lives, communities and organizations. Dr. Tan shared how his faith guides all aspects of his business practices, while welcoming people of all faiths and no faiths. His approach is “faith-based without being faith-biased.”

He told numerous stories illustrating social innovation that support human flourishing, noting that when looking for entrepreneurs to support, he seeks strong character above all. Today, TBN is in six countries and mentors and funds hundreds of businesses. The network is a wonderful example of putting our faith into action as it relates to supporting others and fostering new organizations to cultivate human flourishing.

Drawing from the well

Key illustrations of how we are called to convert our believing into doing can be seen in the Bible — particularly in the images and stories of wells. Wells were a powerful gathering space in biblical times and beautifully represent the importance of community and our calling to support each other in flourishing.

I am specifically reminded of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John. The compassion, love and acceptance he so freely gives to her demonstrates a layer of connection and community. We also see this divine example of the provision of thriving when Jesus notes that, in asking him for a drink, the woman and all who drink from the cup will receive living water and never thirst again. This is a true example of loving thy neighbor in practice — not just in theory.

The same applies in social innovation and human flourishing. Being faith-based is the figurative well from which we draw and serves as a source of both nourishment and connection that results in flourishing. By sharing this with others, we provide sustenance so our communities and organizations and everyone we come in contact with will never thirst again. These wells — and the institutions that bring them to life — take shape in the world as signs of hope.

We must be cautious, however, in being faith-based to not be faith-biased. This means connecting with all whom we encounter — no matter their faith — and seeking opportunities to put our faith into action, working alongside others to impact communities and support human flourishing for all.

Our call to action

Essential to maximum social impact and solving some of the world’s most complex problems are the participation and contributions of an entire public. To be successful in this effort, we must begin to determine ways to level up beyond our organizations’ traditional vision and mission statements and act to impact human flourishing.

Institutions and organizations of faith must first commit to our roles as leaders in this space. We are called to be conveners and connectors — providing safe and inclusive spaces where all are welcomed, where gifts and talents are nurtured, where we can bridge the gap between those of all faiths and no faith.

As Christian leaders, we are called to serve as the hands and feet of Jesus, meeting people and organizations where they are. This means cultivating growth to help them reach their full potential and examining different ways of coexisting socially. This includes building partnerships with like-minded entities and facilitating education, formation and practical application within these coalitions, so they can mobilize and serve as catalysts for the impact we wish to make.

This cannot be achieved by a single organization, stand-alone institution or individual. It will require collaboration — systems of faith-based innovators with a common goal joining forces to galvanize their networks into action, with every road leading to human flourishing for all.

EDITOR’S NOTE — This article was written by L. Gregory Jones and was originally published by Religion News Service.


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