Small business, small church

Money has been lacking these days. What can I expect from an hourly part-time job and an unpaid internship, but when I think about it I’ve gained a lot of wisdom through it.

Since my last entry about the frat atmosphere at my internship, I’ve seen more examples of how a lot of the guys there need to grow up. But I’ve also learned more about how they’ve established and grown their businesses, and I’ve observed a lot of good things as well. I’m beginning to feel less and less of a need to stay there because I think I can use that time for better things, whether a second part-time job or to do church work, but as I spend more time there the more I pick up these little tidbits of observations that help me become wiser.

These guys are entrepreneurs. It takes a special type of person to succeed as an entrepreneur. It’s been humbling to understand all the work they put into their startups. Rather than mindlessly put in their hours working for someone else in a corporation, they are on their own. There is the freedom of working for yourself but also a greater responsibility to make the best use of that freedom. They have to really think about what they want their business to do. How does it add value to the consumer or to society? What is our mission? Why do we exist? Robert (named changed for anonymity) told us that sometimes he would get so caught up in trying to get the best deals that he would forget the main mission of the company, which is focused on creating value for customers by helping them achieve their fundraising goals quickly and effectively.

This kind of entrepreneurship is hard for Korean people, I think. We like structure, we like the career tracks where the steps are already laid out for us: med school, law school, I-banking, accounting. Even the typical Korean-owned small businesses are in areas that are more predictable and less unexpected than others: restaurants, convenience stores, dry cleaners. Many people just own one store and never think about expanding or trying something new. They spend their whole lives working hard, getting established in the community, providing a living for themselves and their families. There is nothing wrong with that. But these guys, they did their research and found out markets and niches where a need was not being met and created their businesses to respond to those needs. They didn’t go the typical small business route…this is e-commerce after all. No brick-and-mortar shop. No customers in person at the office. As much as possible is outsourced in order to lower costs. They have to go out and meet industry contacts, get plugged into trade associations, and build their customer base through smart online marketing and impeccable customer service. Some of this overlaps with all small businesses, but when I realized that, I felt pretty small. I didn’t know if I could do what they did.

On Friday, I spent the day in Hemet with Jake and met most of the employees of the company we work for: the truck drivers, the pit manager/loader operator, the owner, and the salesman. I could write another entry just on my thoughts on Hemet. Random decent-sized city in the middle of nowhere, thinking about how the place could be like a mission field (some really weird people there). But the main thing was just taking it all in, all the aspects of the business, seeing the 20-foot high piles of plaster sand, concrete sand, gravel, and rock, the bulldozers, screen plants, and truck and transfers. Seeing and talking to the middle-aged truckers, feeling slightly out of place and wondering what they were thinking about some random Asian guy standing around. And kind of marveling about how Jake got the business to this point, dealing with the county supervisors and federal inspectors, setting up the MobileMe system (light years ahead of other mining companies…where will you ever see truckers with iPhones), hiring independent truckers to subhaul when our own drivers can’t handle the work load, hounding customers for cash and suing delinquent ones, handling the art of paying bills, making a QuickBooks company file from scratch, drafting agreements for promising partnerships, looking at properties to lease for expansion…the list goes on and on. It wasn’t easy having to do everything by himself, but he had to do it.

So what I’ve learned from small business and managing your own business is that you have to take charge, you have to get your act together if you want to survive in this economy and have the edge over competitors. You just have to. Your livelihood may depend on it. It’s just like small church. Sometimes there is no else there to do the job and you have to learn on the fly, making mistakes as you go. The issue is not whether you will fail, because you will fail, but how will you learn from your failures.

The guys at the internship, they may work hard for many reasons. Maybe they just want to maintain their reputation as a capable boss and manager (i.e. to impress others). Maybe it’s how they feel like their life has a purpose. Maybe it’s the money. But at least they step up. Many times I’ve thought to myself, church is so hard, isn’t it good enough that I show up and do the minimum (I just thought of the Cynic philosophers…the minimum is the optimum hahaha), a minimum that is burdensome enough as it is (leading worship and giving the message).

I’ve been humbled through the dedication that I’ve seen, even if it is out of necessity or ultimately out of pride and selfishness. They are doing more than maintenance. They are thinking ahead, thinking about the future and how to prepare for it. Especially Jake. I think to myself…man, if I could apply the same kind of motivation and attitude to church, how far we could go. At the very least, we wouldn’t be sitting around doing the same old, same old every week, getting stagnant. So I’m trying to have that attitude for YKC and Living Exodus, to take charge and really be productive. It isn’t easy…after a full day of work and then working out and then finishing dinner, it’s not easy to strap myself down again at my desk to think about more than just the upcoming Sunday sermon. This is why it’s easy to get into zombie mode (and maybe how I got into it that one week)–having one job after another to do, a constant cycle. No time to reflect, no time to breathe. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but God must make a way. The reward for business is restoring the financial health of a company or seeing higher revenues and profit. The reward for ministry is so much more than that isn’t it? But sometimes it’s just hard to be motivated. It’s hard.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? – Romans 8:32. All things…including a more active leadership capability.

Today at church was good. I am so glad to see Andrew stepping up in ways that remind me a lot of the drive I see in Jake. It is humbling. This is something I’ll have to write more about later. But little by little, we are taking charge, we are doing our best to get out of mere maintenance mode. We are trying to set a vision and work hard to reach it, with God’s help. I am learning so much. How to confront in love. How to worship even while keeping a watchful eye on the kids (playing guitar, singing, actually meaning what I sing, and scanning the audience is pretty tough). How to be stern without being impatient and rash.


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