Jesus, Entrepreneur - No!: Lessons from Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights

Ricky Bobby in the movie ‘Talladega Nights,” played by the ubiquitous Will Ferrell, says, “Look, I like the Christmas Jesus best, and I'm sayin' grace. When you say grace, you can say it to Grownup Jesus or Teenage Jesus or Bearded Jesus or whoever you want.”  This is what I think of when I come across people, surely well-intentioned, who talk about, “Jesus, Entrepreneur.”

Why?  It’s not true.  There no proof that Jesus was an entrepreneur, so it is simply reshaping Jesus in an image to suit ourselves.  Further, the exegetical approach, such as it is, which leads to the phrase “Jesus, Entrepreneur” is misguided.  To take the claim of “Jesus, Entrepreneur” seriously, however, let’s delve a bit deeper. 

We need to start off by defining an “entrepreneur”—which most people who use the term don’t do. My book titled, Entrepreneurial Excellence (Career Press, 2007) provides a detailed discussion as to the meaning of entrepreneurship.  I will provide a brief summary of a book-long explanation. 

An entrepreneur is one who acts in an innovative manner to develop a product or service with practical application.  Both parts are critical to the definition.  Peter Drucker, the management guru, wrote one of the best books on entrepreneurship, titled Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Harper & Row, 1985).  He identifies innovation as the core of entrepreneurship:  doing something new, unique and different.  Then the entrepreneurs act on it; they are solving a problem. Otherwise they are an inventor and not an entrepreneur. 

There are related elements to being an entrepreneur.  For example, pursuing an innovative course means that it is new and different, hasn’t been seen before and involves careful risk assessment.  Another dynamic of being an entrepreneur is the need for resources to pursue plans.  Entrepreneurs are creative in gathering resources.  The so-called Harvard definition is “pursuit of opportunities without regard to the resources controlled.” 

The above discussion is premised on the notion that a clear definition of entrepreneurship as a starting point is important.  If a definition is too vague or broad, then it includes everything and means nothing. 

In light of a clear definition of entrepreneurship, this shapes how we assess whether particular individuals are acting as entrepreneurs in the business arena.  An entrepreneur is not necessarily a small business operator—although they could be, but it doesn’t have to be so.  A large corporation may be entrepreneurial and a small one may not.  A new corporation might not be entrepreneurial, but an old one could be.

Further, we also need to the distinguish between an individual “entrepreneur” and the “entrepreneurial process.”  An entrepreneur a person who embodies entrepreneurial principles as their defining characteristic, like a Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.  We can say someone is using entrepreneurial principles when they are being innovative if there is an element of commercial application (as per the definition of entrepreneurship), but that would not lead us to characterize them as an entrepreneur, unless that was their central focus.

So, was Jesus an entrepreneur?  Was he pursuing innovation with a practical application?  There is no proof of that.  Did Jesus ever act in an entrepreneurial fashion?  There is no proof of that.  Was Jesus creative?  Yes, we can identify ways in which he was creative but as we have discussed that alone is not enough to make some entrepreneurial.

Was Jesus functioning in some way in a business environment?  As the son of a carpenter who began his ministry at age 30, we can speculate that Jesus would likely have dealt with customers, exchanged money and made things.  So, in that capacity he was acting as a small business operator / tradesperson.  Again, that doesn’t make him an entrepreneur. 

This is not to say that the Bible has no insights for entrepreneurs.  There are many entrepreneurial principles and concepts that are reinforced through biblical insights.  Paul Stevens and I co-authored Entrepreneurial Leadership (IVP, 2014).  We look at concepts such as creation, risk-taking, innovation and creativity and relevant teachings of Jesus such as the “Parable of the Talents.” 

The bottom line is that we are best off focusing on Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God.  He was called many things—in fact, there is a long list of them throughout the Bible.  I hear Amy Grant singing her Christmas tune in the back of my mind: counsellor, prince of peace, Lord of all, Holy One, Emmanuel—but not entrepreneur.  It doesn’t come up in any Christmas songs.

We could say that Jesus likely had some traits commonly associated with entrepreneurs—and we can say that of many people.  So, I’m not sure that does us much good. 

So, let’s get back to a biblical foundation and sound biblical exegesis, and not projecting things that don’t exist.  Let’s go with the descriptions found in the Bible.  Further, the Bible reinforces and adds depth to many entrepreneurial principles.  Jesus reflected entrepreneurial actions—but unless you want to identify with Ricky Bobby let’s not call Him, “Jesus, Entrepreneur.”

So, with the most elementary exegesis we must conclude Jesus is no entrepreneur.  This is true, even others may enthusiastically declare Jesus to be an entrepreneur.  Let’s not emulate Ricky Bobby.