Mercy entrepreneur Bryce Butler energizes local ministry efforts with business as mission
While serving as a U.S. Army officer in South Korea, Bryce Butler witnessed a depth of darkness and isolation, from human trafficking to poverty, awakening a concern for the broken and hard to reach. A decade later, Butler has combined a heart for missions and mind for business into an outpouring of mercy through his entrepreneurial roles in Louisville.
“I would never, ever, ever, have chosen to go to Korea, but the Lord opted to send me there, and it was awesome,” Butler said in an interview with Southern Seminary News. “My wife Bethany and I adopted from Asia because of my experience in Korea.”
Butler said the Lord transformed his life in college, and he felt a call to ministry. Growing up in the Methodist church, Butler thought his only ministerial option was as a pastor. But he would soon learn how the business acumen he developed in the military could open an avenue to missions.
After two years of service in South Korea, he was transferred in 2007 to Fort Knox, Kentucky. While living in Louisville and commuting to Fort Knox, Butler began attending Sojourn Community Church. By November 2007, he entered into a full-time role as executive pastor at Sojourn. After graduating from Southern in 2011 with a Master of Arts in Theological Studies, Butler founded Access Ventures in 2012.
Butler says his “growing team” at Access Ventures “strategically invests in businesses and initiatives that create community value and human flourishing.” In addition to private equity investments and small business loans, the organization also commissions community art projects, all in an effort to rebuild relationships in neighborhoods like Louisville’s Shelby Park.
In 2011, a member at Sojourn asked Butler to join the Louisville Rescue Mission’s (LRM) board during a time of financial crisis. One of the oldest rescue missions in the nation, LRM serves an average of 140 different people each day.
“When I first came on in March 2011, the mission had no money in the bank and was in the red as far as bills that it’s owed,” Butler explained. “It can’t keep the lights on, it has no money, and that’s my first board meeting.”
Over the course of the next six months, the board did all they could to keep the doors open. At the end of six months, LRM had $500,000 in the bank. While it wasn’t completely out of the woods, he said the mission had enough room to breathe.
Because of Butler’s efforts in saving the rescue mission, LRM board members honored Butler with an inaugural award celebrating his gift of mercy at the 2015 Mercy Banquet.
“In God’s kind providence, someone joined our board that not only had a love for this ministry, but possesses some of the rarest gifts I’ve ever seen,” said fellow board member and Auburndale Baptist Church pastor Brian Croft in his presentation of the award to Butler. “He joined the board, once he regained his composure over the shambles he saw that our ministry was in after his first board meeting, he rolled up his sleeves and said he wanted to help. I do not believe it is an overstatement to say this ministry may not have survived without the unique service this man provided at this pivotal time.”
The Holcombe Mercy Ministry Award — named for Louisville Rescue Mission founder Steve Holcombe — will be given annually to an individual in the community who best exemplifies Holcombe’s vision of helping Louisville’s hurting and homeless. Butler was presented with a commemorative picture to serve as a symbol of Holcombe’s own ministry aboard riverboats that followed his dramatic conversion from a gambler and murderer.
LRM hired Southern student Cory Bledsoe, who is pursuing his M.A. in Theological Studies, as the new executive director in January 2015.
“By God’s grace, Bryce serves well and wants to honor the Lord, and loves the ministry of the LRM,” Bledsoe explained. “His contributions are not only going to impact now, but his contribution will have an impact for decades.”
Current board president Jeff Dalrymple, Southern Seminary’s vice president of hospitality services, said many building renovations took place because of Butler’s dedication and networking. Since 2013, renovations have been made to the laundry rooms, showers, restrooms, a brand new commercial kitchen, and a new security system.
“He could envision the old, tired, dilapidated building and take it and turn it around,” Dalrymple said. “And then he uses the relationships to bring people together to help make it happen. But not just to turn the building around, but to make a difference in the community for the gospel. That’s what I love about Bryce.”
Dalrymple credits Butler with rescuing the mission’s vision in addition to its finances. Once Butler helped stabilize the mission’s finances, he provided a path for the board to overhaul the mission’s constitution and governing documents to make them distinctly Christian and gospel-focused.
Butler rotated off the board in April 2015 after three and half years of serving LRM in order to focus on another local nonprofit, Scarlet Hope. Exposed to human trafficking while in South Korea, Butler said his service there is partly why he is passionate about ministries like Scarlet Hope.
The nonprofit organization was founded by Rachelle Starr in 2008 with the mission of “sharing the hope and love of Jesus Christ to women in the adult entertainment industry.” The ministry estimates about 2,500 people in Louisville, Kentucky, work in the sex industry.
Butler joined Scarlet Hope’s board as chair two years ago when the ministry created a new board to develop a strategic plan. Butler oversees budget structure and community partnerships, working with Starr to help execute her goals.
One of those goals has been for Scarlet Hope to offer women in the adult entertainment industry employment with a safe environment as well as transferable job skills. This is becoming a reality with Butler’s help in establishing Scarlet’s Bakery, not only by helping develop a business plan but also through a partnership with Access Ventures. Scarlet’s Bakery plans to open this winter at 741 E. Oak St. in the Shelby Park neighborhood of Louisville.
“Bryce is wearing two different hats,” Dalrymple said. “He is the board chairman, which means he is interested in seeing the ministry succeed, but I think his hat is more in the Access Venture category where he is helping bring this all together.
“It’s just classic Bryce Butler. He is a catalyst to make it all happen. He has brought in the funding, he brings in the contract workers to renovate the space, he bought the property through his company, and he wants to see it succeed.”
With a passion for business as missions, Butler desires to impact the kingdom of God for the glory of God. And with a burden for spreading the gospel, Butler challenges Southern students to impact their community.
“The Great Commission is a call to the nations and it’s a call to mission,” Butler said, noting how he hopes more Southern and Boyce students will “get plugged in” at the Louisville Rescue Mission or Scarlet Hope.
“I think they are amazing ministries of the gospel here in our city and always in need of people to come and help. It doesn’t have to be money, it can just be where you come and be present and talk to people who just desperately need a friend to listen. I can’t think of any other ministries in Louisville that at their core have the gospel and take it to the people we desperately want to welcome as brothers and sisters.”
Annie Corser is a writer for Southern Seminary and a Master of Arts student. For more information about LRM or Scarlet’s Bakery visit their websites, louisvillerescuemission.org and scarletsbakery.org. Catering orders can be placed by visiting https://scarletsbakery.org/catering/.
Read more about Southern's involvement with Scarlet Hope.