Madison College

Did you know an Adventist college totally disrupted the dairy industry, had the U.S. president’s wife visit and received publicity in all major national and international newspapers?

Let me introduce you the most powerful example of missional entrepreneurship (ME) of the 20th century. Let me show you that ME works, and let me inspire you to continue with its vision today.

The father of Adventist entrepreneurship

It all started with a young farm boy called Edward A. Sutherland who later became one of Adventism’s greatest innovators. He is celebrated by many as the father of Adventist education. For many years, Ellen White had been sharing some highly innovative approaches to education that nobody seemed to be able to implement. Sutherland had pushed the educational work forward while leading Union College, Walla Walla College and eventually Battle Creek (Andrews University), yet not without resistance. So he felt the need to go and start a new college that could fully embrace this innovative approach and showcase it to the world: Madison College, Adventism’s first college of missional entrepreneurship.

Why do we need to talk about Madison?

There are a number of reasons. It’s interesting to know that out of all the institutions Ellen White could have been a board member of, she only joined Madison College.¹ It was on her heart to showcase to the world this innovate idea of eduction.

Madison became so well known for its unique approach that national and international newspapers came to learn more about it. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote about the only self-supporting college of the country.² Reader’s Digest and The New York Times published articles.³ The college received so much attention that over 5,000 applicants wanted to start in 1940 — and 450 students were accepted that year. Observers from around the globe came to learn more about the Madison concept. Even the U.S. commissioner of education came on his honeymoon to document what was happening at Madison.⁴ Never had anyone seen something like this before!

And Ellen White made a significant statement about this school. She foretold that if other Adventist schools would follow this model, “we as a people would be a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men…”⁵ The Gospel “…would be quickly carried to every country, and souls now in darkness would be brought to the light.”⁶

So what made Madison so successful?

Two things: mission and entrepreneurship. Sure, the term “entrepreneurship” wasn’t really used back then. Their graduates became so-called “self-supporting missionaries”⁷, which was just another term for missional entrepreneurs. But let’s dissect those two terms.

1. Mission

The Bible doesn’t teach that missionary work means to be a self-sacrificing westerner, trying to reach half naked indigenous tribes in developing countries. Every man and woman was meant to be a missionary — with their profession!⁸ Whatever trade or business they engage in, whether a “minister of the word, the missionary nurse, the Christian physician, the individual Christian, whether he be merchant or farmer, professional man or mechanic—the responsibility rests upon all. It is our work to reveal to men the gospel of their salvation. Every enterprise in which we engage should be a means to this end.”⁹ Missionary work should not only be an overseas activity, but something we integrate into our local, personal, family, community, and business life. At Madison, the missional part was taken very seriously. Every degree had its primary purpose to train missionaries. The only difference between each study program was the trade through which they would minister.

2. Entrepreneurship

The entrepreneurial part was the element that was totally unique to Madison. Training students to become “self-supporting” was the most important aspect of their educational method and success. But what does it really mean to be “self-supporting” and how was it taught at Madison?

450 students were paying their tuition by doing business. They used half of their day (sometimes even the full day) to work on their trade or business while continuing their studies. Over time, 27 institutional businesses were run by Madison students. Each one of them took business and accounting classes, and they used the profit to pay their tuition and forward the work. Two famous businesses were the 100-bed sanitarium which Ellen White encouraged to start, and Madison Foods, their own health food company with over 30 different soy-based products that substituted meat and were sold in 48 states across America. Furthermore, they had stores, restaurants, broom factories, construction companies, mechanic shops, and many more businesses.

All of this helped develop the student’s character. These entrepreneurs were not motivated by profit, but by the mission behind it. They learned the principle of sacrifice, diligence, and hard work. Everyone had to master at least two practical trades that would enable him to financially support himself wherever he went as a missionary. This concept goes back to Paul’s method of working, and it’s worth taking another look at it.

Paul's model of entrepreneurship

Paul could go to any city, set up his tent manufacturing business, reach some people through the shop and make quite a bit of extra money. Then he would use it to fund his (and his entire team’s) travel, food and housing during his mission trips. This is how he started churches all over Asia minor, without being supported by tithes.¹¹ Imagine integrating this concept systematically — all church members would work for God’s cause without being a financial burden to the church!

“All our denominational colleges and training schools should make provision to give their students the education essential for evangelists and for Christian business men.”¹²

The setting

It’s important to note that Madison College succeeded during the time when there was still extreme poverty in the southern part of the United States. During the 1930s and 1940s, World War II raged and America experienced a devastating stock market crash. So the concept of a tuition-free college came in handy. A higher education that didn’t require you to go into debt? That allowed you to learn the skills to get out of poverty? That enabled you to follow your calling? This was very attractive and timely, not only for Adventists but for the world! So they all applied to go to Madison College.

The realization

At first, missional entrepreneurship seemed like a novel idea to me. But thinking about it a bit more, it hit me: Ellen White wrote entire books about different business models that could and should be used to advance God’s work. Restaurants, health food stores, hospitals, sanitariums, colporteur ministry, publishing work, even educational work — all were designed to offer something valuable (books, treatments, food, etc.) to their customers in order to reach them with the gospel and at the same time be financially sustainable. So missional entrepreneurship is all over the place, it’s part of our heritage, it’s who we are.

The concept of this college became the center piece of Adventism’s missional strategy puzzle. It was the “production facility” of all new entrepreneurs who got sent out to become a “bee” in a city with a “beehive” of missional ventures. Sutherland and Ellen White knew that the most effective and sustainable way to advance God’s word was through missional entrepreneurship. There is no better way to run a school. To reach a city. To change the world.

Even though Madison as we know it does not exist anymore, the concept and the ideal lives on.¹³ At Hyve, we are excited to continue the story as we build The Hyve Business School and The Hyve Academy. We want to assist our educational institutions around the world with high quality course work on missional entrepreneurship. We want to empower you to get professional training to fulfill the Great Commission.

Find out more.

We’re currently working on a new educational program called The Hyve Business School. If you would like to get notified when this program is being launched, make sure to subscribe to Hyve’s biweekly posts. We will email you.

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1. Arthur White mentions this in chapter 26 “A Trip Into the South” of Ellen White’s biography entitled The Early Elmshaven Years: 1900-1905 (vol. 5) on page 347.
2. You can read her full article here: Eleanor Roosevelt, “My Day, October 7, 1938,” The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Digital Edition (2017).
3. Weldon Melick wrote a Reader’s Digest article in May 1938 entitled “Self-supporting College” (pages 105-109). As a result, thousands of inquiries came to college.
4. P. P. Claxton was writing about Madison multiple times, over a span of many years.
5. First published in Pamphlet 119: “An Appeal for the Madison School”, page 2.
6. Pamphlet 119: “An Appeal for the Madison School”, page 2.
7. Ellen White described very clearly the two points of mission and entrepreneurship: “The school at Madison not only educates in a knowledge of the Scriptures, but it gives a practical training that fits the student to go forth as a self-supporting missionary to the field to which he is called.” Pamphlet 119: “An Appeal for the Madison School”, page 1.
8. In her famous book called “The Ministry of Healing,” Ellen White shares on page 395 that “Every son and daughter of God is called to be a missionary; we are called to the service of God and our fellow men; and to fit us for this service should be the object of our education.”
9. Ellen White: “The Ministry of Healing”, page 148.
11. Acts 18:1-21 describes Paul in Corinth. Although some scholars debate whether or not Paul was making lots of money with his tent making business, the text clearly shows that Paul spent quite some time on it, made enough money to sustain himself while being there and had the funds to continue traveling to Ephesus, together with Priscilla and Aquila.
12. This statement is part of Ellen White’s Review & Herald article “The Work of Our Training Schools” from October 15, 1903.
13. The answer to why Madison had to shut down is not that simple. There are multiple facets. A primary one was certainly that the leadership taking over after Sutherland didn’t fully understand the entrepreneurial part of the model.