Can you name a company—or country for that matter—that has lasted 1500 years? Neither can we. Yet one Entrepreneur of the Spirit, St. Benedict, built an organization that has stood the test of time.
Arguably one of the most influential figures in Western Civilization and Church history, St. Benedict of Nursia was a great leader, innovator, and entrepreneur. His enterprise—the religious order of the Benedictines that he founded in 529—is still thriving to this day with over 400 Benedictine monasteries around the world and 20,000 current members. But where did he start? How was St. Benedict able to accomplish so much in his short life? The answer to these questions is often simpler than we expect. Let’s peek under the hood a bit into how St. Benedict became such a successful Entrepreneur of the Spirit.
Founding Story – Focus on the Need
In the 6th century, the Roman Empire had collapsed and much of Europe was in turmoil. The culture strayed far from Christian values and promoted a life of pleasure and immorality. Benedict witnessed this corruption firsthand during his studies in Rome as a young man, and felt called to be a hermit—living in total seclusion in a cave deep in a mountain valley. Following three years of prayer and mortification, Benedict emerged and began building a series of monasteries governed under a common rule, which was to become his seminal work: “The Rule of St. Benedict”.
The Rule was like a “constitution” or “playbook” for religious life—direct and specific enough to follow, but flexible and adaptable enough to work with different people in different places and times. Through the structured and ordered community of the Benedictines, God used St. Benedict’s work to counter the cultural breakdown in both the Church and society. And it all began with Benedict’s awareness of the world around him and the realization of the deep spiritual needs right in front of him.
Living an Integrated Life
Entrepreneurs, leaders, and ministry folk alike often want to dive headfirst into grand schemes and plans to “fix” the world. But St. Benedict teaches us that great balance is required in the life of an Entrepreneur of the Spirit.
The Rule which guides Benedictine monastic life upholds two main pillars of prayer and work (ora et labora), but also includes time for community, rest, and recreation. Benedict understood that a balanced, integrated lifestyle is exactly what God intends for human beings, so he built this into the community horarium (schedule).
Monastic life of his time was extremely harsh—imagine desert hermits living on only bread and water as the norm. While Benedict still maintained an incredible rigor that would shock most monks today, he simultaneously lightened things just enough to be able to replicate and grow his approach. When advising abbots on how to correct other monks, he advised gentleness so as not to “break the vessel” when he said, “And even in his corrections, let him act with prudence and not go to extremes, lest, while he aim to remove the rust too thoroughly, the vessel be broken (Rule of St. Benedict, Ch. 64).”
Intimacy with God First
So what is the “secret sauce” that allowed Benedict to accomplish so much, such as founding thirteen monasteries while he was still in his twenties? It wasn’t just his leadership, innovation, or operational acumen. It wasn’t some tremendous persuasive ability to convert young men for Christ.
Benedict succeeded in his efforts because he created space in his day to listen to the Lord, and thus was able to routinely say “yes” to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in his daily life. By striving to live a life of holiness in all things, Benedict could recognize and respond to the needs in front of him.
Insights for Today
St. Benedict teaches us that when we seek intimacy with God, when we routinely invite the Holy Spirit into our lives, then His life and love will naturally flow through us. During a time when worldly desires consumed the culture, St. Benedict helped reorient people’s lives back to God. May we, who are in a similar situation in the world today, respond faithfully to the mission that God has for each one of us and thereby contribute to renewal within the Church and society.
Click here for a short video and article on St. Benedict & check out the videos below to learn more about this great Entrepreneur of the Spirit!