Asbury Theological Seminary
Jay Moon, associate professor of church planting and evangelism
“Try to develop partnerships, then learn what works and multiply it!” was the advice from Greg Forster when we started the Office of Faith, Work, and Economics (OFWE) three years ago at Asbury Theological Seminary. Following this advice, we have learned many lessons and are multiplying our efforts through four main initiatives.
The Asbury Project
The Asbury Project is a social entrepreneurship incubator that encourages seminary students to develop social businesses. Asbury Seminary has partnered with Asbury University’s Howard Dayton School of Business to multiply our efforts. Students submit business plans that have two criteria: create a profit and address a social concern. We were pleasantly surprised to have 31 student submissions in the first year. The top ten business plans were selected for a Pitch Event using the Pecha Kucha style. Cash awards were given to the top five business plans so the students could actually launch the businesses. For example, businesses were created for farmers in Kentucky, Native Americans on a reservation and women at risk in Ghana. An example of an ongoing business is By Grace, a clothing company.
We learned that if the projects are going to be viable, students need to have good mentors to come alongside them at crucial times. The mentors do not need to know all of the answers; rather, they help the students ask the right questions. As a result, we have developed a team of mentors to assist students. In addition, a local entrepreneur now provides follow-up seminars to walk students through next steps. Due to the positive response of the Asbury Project on the Kentucky campus, we are now preparing to launch a similar event on the Florida campus on April 19-20, 2016. Orlando Rivera of Nyack College, a longtime member of the Oikonomia Network community, is partnering with us.
To facilitate the Asbury Project, the faculties of Asbury Seminary and Asbury University collaborated to produce an instructional book and DVD: Social Entrepreneurship: The Business of Changing the World. This resource equips students to move from a good idea to a business plan and launch.
Acton University Course
The second initiative that has borne fruit is participation at Acton University. This partnership with Acton has provided an essential capacity building function for our faculty, mentors and students. Faculty and mentors often return from Acton excited to engage in OFWE activities.
In addition, we held a seminary course last year at Acton University for students who expressed interest in exploring faith, business and money. Prior to the four-day event, students listened to Acton lectures and did required reading. They arrived at the event ready to discuss what they learned each day as we met in the afternoon for reflection and discussion. Following the Acton event, students then interacted with the Oikonomia Network’s “Twelve Elements of Economic Wisdom” for a final written report. Comments from the students were overwhelmingly positive, and we plan to conduct this class again this year. If other seminaries would like to consider partnering with us for this course, we are available and willing.
A third focus has been our internship program. Through applications and interviews, we have selected four interns each year to work alongside a Christian who is engaging their faith in the marketplace. The interns start their experience by attending the Asbury Project event and conclude by attending Acton University.
In particular, students on the Orlando campus had an excellent experience working alongside of the Polis Institute. Polis is now very eager to expand our partnership so more interns can learn and serve there. In addition, the Blue Jean Church in Selma, Al. has been a choice internship partner. Judge Bob Armstrong has provided housing for our interns and they returned from Selma with an incredible learning experience – spiritually, socially and vocationally. Since these partnerships are providing such valuable learning experiences, the OFWE hopes to continue and expand upon them.
A fourth focus is research grants. Twice a year, students and faculty can submit proposals for support. The grants focus on work-and-economics issues related to pastors in North America. We have gradually learned that student research proposals and publications are best realized when a faculty mentor assists. Each of the researchers is required to submit a journal article or make a presentation at one of the guilds to complete the requirements of the grant. To assist in grant selection, a faculty advisory team meets to review and discuss the grant proposals.
Lessons Learned: “God Outwitted Us!”
While these are just a few of the activities conducted by the OFWE this year, we have also learned a few lessons in the course of our work.
One is to take the time to interview and select a good administrative assistant. The assistant provides the necessary logistical support to make the programs run smoothly. Additional staff were also needed when we expanded to the Florida campus. This has provided a valuable boost to the OFWE activities there.
Another is that cooperation from the provost and dean are very important. This elevates the OFWE program and ensures that the program finds an administrative home.
Partnerships are essential. Each of the programs described above rely upon partners to develop synergy that leads to success.
We keep watering what is growing. Some of the programs that we started did not grow, so we dropped them. On the other hand, for the projects that did work well, we continued to water them with time and attention. As a result, we have been amazed and surprised by God’s grace in our midst. As former Asbury Seminary President Maxey Dunnam was fond of saying, “God outwitted us!”