Dawn Settlement: A Vision of Church as a Business Ecosystem

I was sitting in a “yoga café” on a cold January morning in Ferguson, Missouri with two young men. One was Taylor McCall, whom I’m writing this book with, and another was Jonathan Tremaine Thomas. If the name Ferguson didn’t initially jump out at you, it has become what many now call the birthplace of the modern justice movement in the US.

On August 9, 2014, an 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed by a white police officer, and, in the days to follow, the town erupted in riots, news coverage, and national focus. Since then, citizens from cities around our country have been emboldened to stand up for a long, bloody, contentious, systemic problem of racial injustice, and all the social ills that fall between these “ghetto” issues that have plagued and discolored the Christian heritage in our country.

JT is one of thousands of young African-American leaders who have put hand to plow towards what JT calls “Civil Righteousness.” Putting hand to plow isn’t just a euphemism. Although JT travels the US facilitating prayer, reconciliation, and education around racial justice issues, he was also meeting with Taylor and I to get some coaching on starting the only coffee shop in Ferguson. JT had heard about the marketplace mission we had pioneered in the town of Alton called Lantern Network, doing business as Post Commons, and had come to see what we were up to a year prior. Taylor was the young man that coached our business for mission venture after he created a coffee network in Birmingham, AL called Seeds, which in turn started an alternative church community called Common Thread. We’ll be sharing a lot more about these new marketplace missions posts later, but suffice it to say, this morning, in a weird little yoga café, three stories were coming together for something much bigger.

The Dawning of a New Dawn Settlement

As JT told us about his journey to Ferguson, he began to share the story of another man whose legacy he was looking to follow. His name was Josiah Henson, and he was the original “Uncle Tom.”

Josiah was born into slavery in Port Tobacco, Maryland in 1789. In 1830, he escaped to Ontario, Canada and set his abolitionist calling into a community and family in Dawn, Ontario. This community was both a refuge for escaping slaves and was built out as a laborer’s school to help slaves develop a trade. The dawn settlement’s purpose statement was to “cultivate the entire being, and elicit the fairest and fullest possible development of the physical, intellectual, and moral powers, and to provide Black Canadians with the skills they needed to prosper and to disapprove the racist beliefs.” He was building a comprehensive kingdom ecosystem so that ex-slaves could live independent lives inside an interdependent community.

The Dawn Settlement grew as a school, trade institute, mill, brickyard, farm, & church. At its height, the community cared for 500 residents and served as the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s groundbreaking book, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” that was published in 1852.

As I’ve been a church planter and church planting consultant for over 60 denominations, I am now pointing new wineskins of planting efforts to look far beyond just bivocational funding models. Bivo leaders in the past tried to figure out ways to work at Starbucks or own their own graphic design business so that they could preach on the weekends. Now, I’m suggesting that we envision entrepreneurial kingdom ecosystem development… and call that church planting.

Kingdom Ecosystems

Josiah was way ahead of his time, but even before his efforts, early Trappist monks formed enterprise to not only fund their livelihood, but position themselves as the “blessers” of the towns they inhabited.

What if Proverbs 11:10 was our new church planting model and even existing church plumb line? “Where the righteous prosper, the city rejoices.” What would it look like if church was what God formed as we planted entrepreneurial ventures that brought the culture of the kingdom to bear?

In Alton, Post Commons has become the “living room” for our town. It hasn’t changed the city, but it has made a dent. A significant dent. It funds missionaries, it positions us in the heart and heartbeat of city redevelopment, and it gives us a credibility we could never earn by carrying the badge of “pastor,” “church,” or “christian.”

As you’ll see, this story is a clarion prophetic call for the church to be an abolitionist freedom movement out of the dominant Babylonian consumer culture we’ve descended to, and it forms the basis of this book and the Free Market Church as a growing network for kingdom ecosystems, or what Jesus called, The Church.

Revealing the Historical Church

This amazing picture of church as a justice movement, a family, and a marketplace network is nothing new. It has existed alongside the institutionalized empire church systems since the time of Jesus. Its seeds sprouted and re-emerged in the great Celtic revival that brought the church out of the dark ages; it reformed within the monastic movements of the 8th-11th centuries in what we call the Trappist communities whose motto “ora et labora,” or pray and work, finally settled the issues that there is no distinction between the sacred and secular vocations or functions of the church.

As you think about the future church and your future, consider your true passions, dreams, and visions for blessing the cities you live in, and find investors who want to live life and leverage their funds for sustaining works.

As you think about the future church and your future, consider your true passions, dreams, and visions for blessing the cities you live in, and find investors who want to live life and leverage their funds for sustaining works. ~ Hugh Halter Click To Tweet

About the Author

Hugh Halter

Hugh lives with his wife Cheryl in Alton, Illinois. After two church plants, Hugh & Cheryl moved from Denver in 2016, and Hugh pioneered Lantern Network, a kingdom ecosystem. Hugh now trains planters and pastors on innovative forms of enterprise both mission and business. Hugh has authored 8 books and travels extensively speaking, consulting and training leaders on city transformation.

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