Part of what inspired James Fumbanks to attend a three hour seminar on starting your own business at Living Word Christian Center is the name of the ministry sponsoring the event – the Joseph Center for Business Development.

Fumbanks has been employed by the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the last 14 years providing disaster relief, he said. Having received a vision to do the same work, but as a self-employed businessman, he was looking for information on how to get started. When he saw “Joseph” in the name of the sponsoring ministry for the June 21 lecture, he said he knew he had found the right event.

“Basically, what Joseph did [in the story told in Genesis] was to plan for disaster,” Fumbanks said. “That’s what I do for a living as a manager. The Lord has given me a vision for what I could do to be a real blessing.”

That’s part of what motivated the other 15 people who attended the seminar that Saturday morning – to be a blessing. The businesses they want to start ran the gamut from education for ex-offenders to a hair salon, etiquette schools, a Laundromat and real estate. What they had in common was a sense that each could serve God in their entrepreneurial ventures.

Lois White, who has taught for 10 years at the Joseph Center and led the seminar, began in typical Living Word fashion by quoting Isaiah 48:17, “Thus says the Lord … I am the Lord your God, who teaches you for your own good, who leads you in the way you should go.” The following verse says, “O that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your prosperity would have been like a river, and your success like the waves of the sea.”

After leading a prayer, she surprised some of those attending the event by largely setting Scripture aside and attending to the practical nuts and bolts of starting a business.

Mark Muse, the director of the Joseph Center, explained that in the center’s teaching they try to strike a balance between teaching from God’s Word and secular knowledge. In the case of this seminar, the emphasis was on the secular.

White, who has done graduate work in psychology and has worked in and out of corporate America for 20 years writing business plans and working with human resources, launched into her presentation by challenging the participants to ask the hard question, “Am I ready to start a small business?”

She said that if anyone thinks they can lighten their work load by owning their own business, they’re living in a fantasy world. Twelve-hour work days, weekends, holidays and a load of other commitments can be a serious stress, White cautioned.

She also made the distinction between a business and a hobby. Talking from experience as a business owner herself, she said that following your bliss is all well and good, but if it’s not profitable what you have is a hobby, not a business. White discussed feasibility and market studies, the importance of advertising and being aware of the competition. Business plans, partnerships and liability are also important considerations, as is financing, said White.

“It’s easier to improve an existing business than starting from scratch,” White said. “And financing may be easier than with a start-up.”

White spent a lot of time talking about funding and warned that many businesses fail. For that reason, you have to be up front, both with yourself and others regarding the financial risks.

“Life happens,” she said. “It just does.”

Having sobered the hopeful business owners, she ended her presentation by reminding the attendees that the Joseph Center provides ongoing support for entrepreneurs in the form of one-on-one counseling, classes, seminars, an online business magazine and consulting services.

“I got a sense of direction for what I needed,” Fumbanks said at the end of the session. “The materials, insights, nuggets that I could actually apply; a lot of good information, it’s all going to help me.” He added that he would have liked more Scripture in the presentation.

Louise Sprawls wants to open an etiquette school for young men and women in addition to a sort of half-way house for women just getting out of prison.

“I came here today because this is a spiritual place, and I would get a greater understanding of my calling of how to start a business God’s way,” Sprawls said.

She said she appreciated White’s emphasis on networking, having integrity, having a good lawyer and putting together a business plan.

Betty Trigleth came to the morning session with a vision of publishing a newsletter in which she would encourage Americans to restore the nation’s greatness by “coming together praying for our soldiers, praying for our public employees, praying for politicians and people in neighborhoods.”

A member of Living Word Christian Center, Trigleth has already taken a class in the Joseph School. The June seminar, she said, made her realize she needs to stop procrastinating on her project.

“You just kind of get beyond yourself when you come to this church,” Trigleth said.

The mission of the Joseph Business School, according to its own advertising, is to help Christians become successful entrepreneurs using biblical principles. Members of Living Word, like Trigleth, see the congregation’s pastor, Bill Winston, as embodying that message of prosperity.

Winston brought his church to Forest Park 20 years ago with only a dozen members and rented a storefront on Madison Street. He was, in effect, starting a small business. Now, Living Word claims to have 15,000 members, and in 2006 Crain’s Chicago Business estimated the church’s annual income to be $10 million.