The Office of Faith, Work and Economics (OFWE) at Asbury Theological Seminary has developed a growing expertise in social entrepreneurship, provided leadership in connecting the Wesleyan heritage to the discussion of work and the economy, engaged voices of people of color and women, and developed strategic key partnerships with other network stakeholders. These key milestones and their impact in the church, business community and academia have energized students, faculty and staff for bearing witness and bearing fruit of the goodness of work to advance God’s kingdom.
The OFWE has focused primarily upon scholarly research, and upon internships in the business community. This has resulted in key partnerships with churches (e.g. Blue Jean Church in Selma, Al.) and businesses (including fields of law, agriculture, community development, café/coffee shops, publishing, sports management and education). Scholarly research has resulted in seven presentations at academic guilds (AAR/SBL, EMS, ASM, AETE), seven book chapters and three published academic articles, with an additional four presentations scheduled for next year.
In 2015, research and writing began to bear fruit in the publication of a book and video published and distributed by Seedbed (a publishing arm of Asbury) entitled The Social Entrepreneur: The Business of Changing the World. As a result of the Asbury Project, the concept of a digi-book was also developed whereby an e-book contains embedded video introductions for each chapter. Two digi-books were then published on the I-Books app: Social Entrepreneur: Case Studies and Entrepreneurial Church Planting: Engaging Business and Mission for Marketplace Transformation. Building upon this momentum, four more book projects are envisioned. In addition, I gave a TED-style talk on Economics and Mission that is now used as a curricular resource by ON partner schools.
Relevant and contemporary research continues to be a unique strength of the OFWE. We envision the existing and proposed books and scholarship as a valuable contribution to the broader network for the academic community as well as churches and businesses.
A significant outcome of our faculty research, publication and presentations is curricular integration. The three books we have published are now used in two courses. In addition, new courses have been developed by faculty that have been influenced by the OFWE, including Faith, Business, and Money (with a cohort of students meeting at the Acton University conference); Biblical and Theological Perspectives on Faith, Work, and Economics (for the DMin Cohort of OFWE); and Wealth and Poverty in the Bible (for master’s and Ph.D. students). Several courses have also been revised due to OFWE engagement, including: Christian Ethics, Intro to New Testament, Vocation of Ministry, 21st Century Church Planting, Mission of the Church, Missional Formation, Leadership for a Multicultural World, Christian Leadership Identity, and Foundations of Christian Leadership.
Case Thorp, MTF city network co-leader (Orlando) and Rev. Charisse Jones, OFWE associate director
The OFWE has developed a focus on entrepreneurial thinking and acting. This focus stems from our Wesleyan perspective on social holiness as well as the example of John Wesley himself, who was both a successful businessman and church leader. While some students will ideate and launch businesses that have social impact, we hope that all future pastors will have an entrepreneurial mindset that experiments and innovates for the flourishing of their churches and communities. The continuing development of resources such as books and videos, as well as training and seminars, will foster this entrepreneurial approach for pastors.
A signature program of the OFWE is a social entrepreneurship incubator called The Asbury Project, whereby students develop and pitch business plans to launch startups that create social change. Twenty student businesses have been launched, with four going on to other business pitch competitions in Kentucky and in the region. One was even represented at the Forbes Under 30 Change the World competition in New York City. Another result of this focus has been a course now taught at Asbury University’s Howard Dayton School of Business, Social Entrepreneurship.
The Wesleyan movement was historically a grassroots movement that engaged the marginalized. The OFWE has also engaged voices that have been marginalized and provided platforms for their significant contributions and voices to the faith and work movement. The success of the initial OFWE Hispanic Faith and Work Institute held at Fuente de Avivamiento Church in Lexington, Ky. in February, attracting 61 church members for seven weeks, has led to requests for a second level of training the 2018-2019 academic year, to prepare people to ideate and pitch their new business plans. The OFWE on Asbury’s Orlando campus has engaged women and multicultural voices, with Hispanic church leaders envisioning training this academic year similar to what we did in Lexington. This includes the launch of a Hispanic Faith and Work Summit event in collaboration with Hispanic churches, businesses and organizations. OFWE-Orlando is a logical choice for expansion of this initiative due to significant connections to Hispanic churches as well as the Latino/Latina initiatives in Florida with its bilingual faculty.
In 2016, the expanding influence of the OFWE resulted in the Orlando Faith + Work Summit. This initiative has engaged partners like Made to Flourish, local businesses, local churches and NGOs. In Orlando/Central Florida, a network of organizations and influencers impacting the marketplace and providing leadership development has been growing for over 40 years. The OFWE-Orlando was a participating partner with Made to Flourish (Orlando) for Labor Day Worship Celebration, a service of thanksgiving and gratitude for the privilege of work with over 40 attendees. In addition, 15 Asbury students, faculty and staff attended a lunch and conversation with Tom Nelson, President of Made to Flourish, who gave a talk on themes from his books, The Economics of Neighborly Love and Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work.
Asbury student Demetria Childs and MTF President Tom Nelson
Since Orlando has a significantly diverse and multicultural population, the OFWE in Orlando has partnered with women, including partners from Asbury’s Latino/Latina initiative, Asbury En Clave Latina, and other multicultural entrepreneurs and business leaders to engage their voices. The OFWE has noted the importance of highlighting female voices in the social entrepreneurship space. This is resonant with the Wesleyan affirmation of female gifting in the church. As a result of the above, we will embark on book projects this year to capture and broadcast their voices through their case studies. We feel that our Wesleyan perspective provides a unique impulse to empower women and multicultural voices in the ON network.
In 2017, the OFWE gathered eleven strategic leaders to participate in the doctor of ministry program with a work and economic focus. We envision these leaders as the next voices of the OFWE discussion from churches that have regional and even worldwide audiences.
In 2018, the Work Collective Network was developed to combine the efforts of the Small Business Incubator and the Foundry work collective (which resulted from an Asbury Project student business plan). This network provides coworking space, teaching, and discipleship for students who are incubating or accelerating businesses during their seminary education. Presently, there are 19 students participating with three more on the wait list.
The OFWE is building capacity to serve as a resource to others in the ON network and to partner with others such as Made To Flourish network to bear fruit and bear witness of the goodness of work for the common good.