Business as Mission 101

Tom Steffen

Just as Gutenberg changed the world forever when the printed word challenged the spoken word, so globalization and the Zuckerberg generation are doing the same in this millennium. One of those changes has been in business as mission (BAM). Tired of just writing checks to advance missions, business people—non-professional missionaries—have seen their opportunity to personally participate in global missions through marketplace ministries on the macro level.  


BAM Is Not New  

Business within missions has been going on in Christianity since at least Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18). Using business, this entrepreneurial couple became responsible for three house churches in three different cities: Corinth (Acts 18:26), Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:19), and Rome (Rom. 16:5). 

William Danker’s classic Profit for the Lord tracks some of the more recent Western efforts (Moravians and Basel) to wed business with missions. J. Christy Wilson’s Today’s Tentmakers (1979) takes us beyond smuggling Bibles into countries closed to Christianity to living and working within them long term. 

BAM Has Multiple Names  

Multiple names represent business as mission, demonstrating the complexity and risks involved in this young, but fledging movement. Oft-heard terms today include tentmaking, transformational business, business for blessing, missional business, great commission companies, kingdom entrepreneurs, kingdom business, and business4blessing

Creating comprehensive terminology that weds business with holistic missions is no easy task. Countries that require creative access will want to avoid the “m” word. Former terms that now represent the misuse of platforms to gain an entry (e.g., tentmaking) carry too much baggage and should be replaced.  

BAM Definitions Clarify Focus

Emerging from tentmaking, BAM definitions attempt to clarify and contrast the distinctions. One of the key distinctions is focus. While tentmaking definitions tend to focus on individual contributions, BAM definitions prefer to place the spotlight on the business contributions. 

For example, in Great Commission Companies, Steve Rundle and I provide a concise, yet comprehensive definition of BAM: 

A Great Commission Company is a socially responsible, income-producing business managed by kingdom professionals and created for the specific purpose of glorifying God and promoting the growth and multiplication of local churches in the least-evangelized and least-developed part of the world.

BAM Has Multiple Purposes  

BAM models are as diverse as the global needs that require them. BAM:

•  Provides lay business people a frontline role in missions
•  Provides holistic hope for the least-reached peoples of the world
•  Provides new ways to create sustainable wealth—wealth given by God (Deut. 8:18)
•  Creates jobs rather than takes them or fakes them
•  Moves beyond gaining family riches to wealth creation for kingdom expansion that glorifies God
•  Moves beyond microenterprise to the macro, providing better sources of income
•  Funds missions at home and abroad
•  Trains expatriates and locals in sustainable, profit-making BAM
•  Transforms society through establishing God’s reign in all areas of life, within and without the workplace

Companies that integrate their Great Commission plan with their business plan set the stage for societal transformation. Evangelism, discipleship, and church multiplication take place naturally within the workplace and homes of employees, not to mention those who service the business from outside and the surrounding communities. 

Rather than taking resources from the environment to make a quick profit, BAMers seek ways to steward God’s creation, modeling this practice for all to observe. Bible-based business morals and ethics within and without the business become a natural part of daily business. 

BAMers care for their employees. They tend to pay slightly higher salaries than the going rate, and provide well-lighted, well-ventilated environments that do not endanger the health of employees. 

Where BAM is successful, “redemption and lift” (lives transformed through Christ tend to experience an increased standard of living due to changed behavior1) often follows. Income gained through employment, along with conversion to Christianity, tends to increase wealth. The plight of the poor improves economically. The middle-class has a chance to move up the social ladder. Upward mobility often results because of BAM. 

Upward mobility creates a new challenge for the employees who have followed Christ. How do they glorify God through this newly acquired wealth? Wise BAMers will address “redemption and lift” in their discipleship training. 

BAM Is Risky  

There is little if any room for amateurs in BAM startups. J. I. Packer put it this way: “The blunderings of sanctified amateurism, impervious to the need to get qualified in the area where one hopes to function, are neither good Christianity nor good business.” 

Too many well-intentioned, but uninformed cross-cultural Christian workers have started businesses that have blown up in their faces. Take the time to get the preparation necessary to become a successful cross-cultural business entrepreneur. Find successful BAMers and learn from them. While you may not be able to fill their shoes, you can follow them.

BAM Entrepreneurs Are Creative  

The type of businesses created by BAM entrepreneurs is as varied as their imaginations. Here are a few examples:

•  Engineering company in the Middle East
•  Ferry system company in Uganda
•  Motorcycle mechanic shop in Indonesia 
•  Web development and design company in India
•  Business incubator in Kenya
•  Adventure expeditions (kayaking, hiking, skiing, and caving) in Norway
•  Deodorant stone manufacturing in Thailand
•  Ice cream manufacturing in Central Asia 
•  BAM center (multiple BAM companies in one facility) in Mexico
•  Real estate development in Albania
•  Staffing company in Cambodia
•  Business consulting in Australia

BAM Provides Excellent Resources  

Those seeking to enter BAM will find a plethora of helpful resources. Here’s some that will get you started:

Websites: 

Business 4 Blessing: This website is for for-profit-businesses that wish to work with other businesses to bless the employees, customers, suppliers, communities, and extended influences. It takes the biblical mandate to bless the nations seriously.

Business Professional Network: The mission of this website is “nurturing business in developing countries to benefit communities, churches and employees.” 

Booklet: Lausanne Forum Occasional Papter #59

Books: 

•  Eldred, Kenneth. 2005. God is at Work. 
•  Johnson, C. Neal. 2010.
Business as Mission. 
•  Rundle, Steve and Tom Steffen, 2003/2011.
Great Comissions Company.

Opportunities: 

Global Opportunities: This website will keep you appraised of key events related to BAM on a global level. It covers churches, mission agencies, and professional organization. 

BAMmatch: If you have business experience and are looking to network with those with a BAM mindset at home and/or abroad, here is your source. You’ll be able to connect with BAM thinkers and practitioners. 

Preparation: 

•  Third Path: Here you can find a 12-month process that will equip you to be an entrepreneur. It offers training, action plans, and ongoing support.

•  Okionomia: Through a network of theological educators and Evangelical seminaries, this website is designed to assist pastors in equipping “people for whole-life discipleship, fruitful work and economic wisdom.”

Ram Gidoomal said this about the business world: “There’s no other field that so closely matches the global nature of God’s mission.” Globalization has provided lay business people in this generation an opportunity to not just support missions, but personally participate and practice business as mission at home and abroad. 

Endnote

1. In The Reformation of Machismo: Evangelical Conversion and Gender in Colombia, Elizabeth Brusco (1995) documented how Evangelical Protestant conversions among Colombian men transformed the entire family. This bottom-up model transformed women, children, males, marriage, collectivism, and therefore society because it short-circuited the machismo complex. Drinking (20-40% of the household budget), smoking, gambling, prostitutes, extramarital affairs, individualism, physical prowess, now forbidden, provided new resources for the family, thus raising the standard of living.  

Reference

Brusco, Elizabeth E. 1995. The Reformation of Machismo: Evangelical Conversion and Gender in Colombia. Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press.

. . . .

Dr. Tom Steffen is emeritus professor of Intercultural Studies at the Cook School of Intercultural Studies, Biola University. He specializes in church multiplication, orality, honor and shame, and business as mission. He and his family spent fifteen years in the Philippines in church planting and consulting. 

EMQ, Vol. 53, No. 2. Copyright  © 2017 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism.  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.

Questions for Reflection

1. What roles could BAM play in twenty-first-century missions?


2. What strengths does BAM offer to the missions community? The local community?

3. What weaknesses does BAM offer to the missions community? The local community?

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