You read that right. Maximize risk, minimize return. That’s not typical financial advice, but only if you assume that I’m talking exclusively about financial risk and financial return regarding investment goals.
When we invest as God’s steward, we flip conventional investing goals on their head, paving the way for alternative, additional goals. I invite you to consider a different way of investing that maximizes some risks and minimizes others. This advice is challenging to conventional ways of thinking and to our risk tolerance, but is effective. It teaches us dependence on God and builds His kingdom.
Steward Investing is Challenging
An investor is “any person or other entity (such as a firm or mutual fund) who commits capital with the expectation of receiving financial returns.” This universally accepted definition is too narrow and short-sighted for a steward investor. A manager of God’s money should not limit their investing outcomes to merely financial returns.
A steward investor is any person who commits capital with the expectation of furthering the kingdom of heaven on earth. They do this by seeking to achieve not only financial returns, but also positive spiritual, social, and environmental impact. A steward investor knows first and foremost that they are a fiduciary, managing someone else’s resources.
As followers of Christ, all resources that we possess are not our own. They are entrusted to us, for a time, and it is our duty to manage them for the True Owner, God. God is in the business of multiplying and extending his blessings to the “ends of the earth,” and commercial enterprise is an excellent way to do this. Invested capital can be deployed to grow businesses in developing economies, among oppressed and enslaved people. It can bring justice and mercy to communities in tremendous need. It can reconcile the brokenness caused by the fall described in Genesis. Those returns are anything but minimal.
In order to accomplish this, however, investors need to consider stakeholders other than themselves and bottom lines other than just financial. These can feel risky.
Capital Investment in God’s kingdom
Capital investment in missional businesses must align with God’s desire to redeem broken communities. To do so, steward investors must offer capital that is:
- Affordable, balancing the needs of all stakeholders. Financial costs are balanced with special attention paid to the borrower’s needs so that the business can survive and thrive. The investor is not more important than the entrepreneur.
- Patient, understanding that missional enterprises in frontier markets will take a long time to plant and grow. Capital is invested with a distant horizon in view.
- Liberal, understanding that a shortage of capital in emerging market startups could be a death sentence to a new enterprise. Therefore, it ensures that enough capital is available.
- De-Risking, willingly taking financial risk to accomplish spiritual objectives and helping to de-risk these unusual investments for future investors.
- Catalytic, provoking and facilitating change that benefits other stakeholders such as the employees and the environment.
- Serving, investing with a primary goal of building people and community.
Investments with these characteristics can also provide financial returns, but likely not at the same rate or amount as traditionally invested capital.
Steward Investing is Effective
An excellent real life example is an agribusiness based in North Africa that grows and processes fruit while promoting the flourishing of people and communities in an extremely impoverished area. Established in 2014, the business has planted over forty-eight thousand fruit trees of many varieties that can be grown in this region.
In the midst of extreme poverty, tribal conflict, and spiritual darkness, this is the first commercial orchard in the region. Located on land leased from the government, it is at an intersection of three people groups who have fought against one another for generations. Already, the shoots and buds of restoration are becoming visible as members of all three tribes now work together. They plant and cultivate fruit trees. They read the Bible and worship side by side in the orchard on land which previously saw battles and bloodshed.
The effects of capital invested into this missional enterprise:
Economic Impact: The main orchard will produce hundreds of tons of fruit each year and establish a market for locally grown fruit. In addition, the business trains and equips both individuals and smaller family orchards with current best practices for pruning and growing. These practices increase their yield and revenue.
Social Impact: “We use fruit to grow people” is the motto of the management. The workers benefit from improved access to basic needs such as safe water, education, and health services while making progress against widespread food shortages and malnutrition.
Environmental Impact: The company strives to be an example for healthy land stewardship for the entire country. Irrigation, soil management, and terraced planting to prevent erosion are rejuvenating what was previously unproductive wasteland.
Spiritual Impact: The orchard employs people from three tribes, one of which has had little exposure to the Gospel, and others with but a small Christian presence. The company has strong influence in these communities through Christian managers who offer workday devotions and prayer. They offer weekly discipleship-focused Bible studies. Lives are being transformed and renewed by the good news of the Gospel.
The company and its investors are producing fruit and bringing blessings previously unknown to the people of the region.
‘Maximized’ Risk, ‘Minimized’ Returns
Is there financial return in such a business? Yes. Do investors need to be more patient to see financial return compared to a traditional investment? Yes. Does this kind of investment carry higher risk than you would accept in a USA-based Fortune 500 company? Yes. But investors are able to facilitate eternal impact such as community reconciliation, restoring and improving the environment through sustainable agriculture, and providing resources for people who follow Christ to make Him known among unreached people groups. In the eyes of God, those returns are anything but nominal. They are literally life-changing.
Risking a short timeline for financial return in exchange for long-term, life-giving business opportunities for sub-saharan Africa communities is a worthwhile risk, especially when we consider the willingness of Jesus himself to set aside his position at God’s right hand and enter this world as a human in order to show us what God is like. He showed us God’s love, power, generosity, authority, and service.
If God claims ownership over our resources and asks us to deploy them as His manager, we can be assured He has a high risk tolerance for using them to grow His kingdom.