corn harvest

A Potluck Approach: Engaging the Marginalized with Meaningful Work

by Stu Minshew

Work is good, and we are called to glorify God through the work that we do, but what does that look like in our day-to-day lives as entrepreneurs and Kingdom businesspeople? A new book by Michael Rhodes and Robby Holt, Practicing the King’s Economy: Honoring Jesus in How We Work, Earn, Spend, Save, and Give, has challenged me to intentionally consider how I can provide employment opportunities for those on the margins of society. Today, I want to share two key takeaways for as we seek to engage those on the margins through our work.

Where Do We Start: Potluck vs. Soup Kitchen

No matter where we live and work, we are surrounded by those in need. Many individuals, and even entire groups of people, live on the margins of our society. There are those who have committed crimes and served time in jail, those treated as inferior because of their race or ethnicity, members of low-income communities, single moms, and the elderly. Almost everywhere in the world, these individuals are afforded less encouragement and fewer opportunities for work, and are often prevented from even pursuing meaningful work.

How should Christians respond? We must start by realizing the value inherent in each individual, a value that comes from the fact that they are created and loved by God. As His followers, we are also called to love them and we demonstrate that love in the way we engage them. 

We often engage those on the margins from a “soup kitchen” mentality—we have all the soup (wealth and resources) on one side of the line. They bring an empty bowl (no wealth and resources) to the other side of the line. We scoop soup into their bowl, and when it is empty they come back for more. If this is our default method of helping those in need, we will create problems, both economically and spiritually. We cultivate an unhealthy dependence, forcing those with empty bowls to have to come back over and over again for resources, each time taking a bit more of the person’s dignity and self worth. On the other side of the line, those of us with the resources begin to feel like the hero and see ourselves as the savior, putting ourselves at the place where Christ rightfully belongs.

Work is good, and we are called to glorify God through the work that we do, but what does that look like in our day-to-day lives as entrepreneurs and Kingdom businesspeople?

We need a better default model for engaging those in need, one that Rhodes and Holt call the “Potluck Party of God.” A potluck is a meal where everyone brings something and everyone shares in the food that is brought. In this model, we recognize that all of God’s children have value and something to contribute. Everyone has something to give and everyone is able to receive. We begin to realize that those who we once looked down on have experiences and abilities that will enrich our lives and communities. Yes, we still have resources we can share, but now we’re considering the resources they bring. They may look different than our resources, but they add value and move us into a better understanding of what it means to follow Christ and love all of His children.

Gleaning Laws

I was also challenged by Rhodes and Holt’s emphasis on the Old Testament gleaning laws and their application to our context today. When the Israelites harvested their crops, they were to do two things. First, they were not to harvest all the way to the edge of their fields, but leave a margin around their fields for the needy and those on the margins of society. Secondly, they were not to go back and pick up anything that was dropped during the harvesting process. These dropped fruits and grain were to be left for those in need to come and gather (Leviticus 19, 23 and Deuteronomy 24).

This was different from giving the needy a handout, and God treated it as so. In other places in Scripture, God clearly calls us to give generously, but this was different. This was leaving some of your possible earnings on the table so that those in need could come and take part in meaningful work to provide for themselves and their families.

Christ is calling us to invite those on the margins to have a seat at the table of our business. He is calling us to provide meaningful work that brings dignity to those seen as outcasts and unemployable.

Despite the fact that most of us are not harvesting fields, these Old Testament principles are applicable in our context today. Am I willing to sacrifice profits so that I can provide meaningful work for the marginalized? Do my company’s hiring practices reflect a commitment to treat each person with dignity?

The Potluck, Gleaning, and Entrepreneurship

For those of us engaging in Kingdom-minded business, these concepts can have tremendous implications on how we run our business. We frequently talk about sharing the gospel through our business relationships and giving generously of our profits, both of which are God-glorifying and must continue. Yet, I agree with Rhodes and Holt that we are called to go even deeper as we seek to honor Jesus through our work. Christ is calling us to invite those on the margins to have a seat at the table of our business. He is calling us to provide meaningful work that brings dignity to those seen as outcasts and unemployable.

I stumbled into some of these principles while running a leadership and team development company in Kenya. The nature of our work necessitated that most staff work on a part-time or contract basis. Due to Kenya’s high demand for educated, young professionals, my top recruits were often whisked away to promising full-time positions. Desperate to find a more sustainable hiring model, I began recruiting new hires from the margins. On paper, my new team members were unqualified for their positions, with many of them coming from slums or rural areas. What they lacked in education and social position, they made up for in enthusiasm and a hunger to learn and work.

It will look different in every company, but I believe we can all find ways to engage the materially poor and marginalized through our work.

Hiring less qualified staff necessitated significant changes in the way we conducted training. We provided more intensive training on the hard and soft skills that were required to provide excellent service for our clients. All of the hard work paid off for everyone involved. Over the next couple of years, the new hires became standout facilitators and were fiercely loyal, creating a new, dynamic culture at our company.

As I read about the potluck and gleaning laws, these principles resonated deeply with me because I’ve seen them transform my life and the lives of those on the margins. It will look different in every company, but I believe we can all find ways to engage the materially poor and marginalized through our work.

Take Action

I want to leave you with three questions Rhodes and Holt use to challenge business owners to use our positions of influence to create opportunities for people on the margins:

  • Can you partner with a nonprofit that engages marginalized job seekers?
  • Can you provide paid internships for youth in low-income communities?
  • Can you change your hiring policies to hire people with criminal records or lower skilled workers who could be trained on the job?

If you are a business owner, I want to challenge you to start by implementing one of these changes. If you are already doing one of them, can you incorporate another? For aspiring entrepreneurs, will you commit to engaging the marginalized? Even if the impact seems small in the beginning, Jesus will be magnified and, in the long run, it will have a tremendous impact on your life, as well as those of your employees and community.

 

Read Part 2: Practicing Jubilee Through Entrepreneurship

 

Practicing the King’s Economy: Honoring Jesus in How We Work, Earn, Spend, Save, and Give

Through This Book, You’ll Learn:

Why the economy of this world leaves us feeling anxious, depressed, and dissatisfied.

Six keys to Jesus’ economy—and practical, innovative ways you can live them out in your work, church, family, and home.

Principles and practices that will move your heart away from materialism—and toward a richer understanding of your place in God’s Kingdom.

How to experience deeper meaning in purpose as you live out your faith in new ways.

For more information about Practicing the King’s Economy, visit website.


stu-minshew

Stu Minshew is the Vice President of Operations for The Chalmers Center, an organization that equips churches to walk alongside people who are poor, breaking the spiritual, social, and material bonds of poverty. He is a facilitator for CO.STARTERS, where he equips aspiring entrepreneurs to turn their passions into a sustainable and thriving endeavor. A serial entrepreneur, Stu has started three businesses, two in East Africa and one in the United States. You can connect with him online at UnleashedStartup.com, where he mentors, trains, and consults with entrepreneurs and startups across the globe.

Read more by Stu:

Get Started Growing

Understanding Your Customer

How Startup Success Starts with You

Practicing Jubilee Through Entrepreneurship

 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash