What is Business as Missions?

Article
03.08.2013

More and more people have begun talking about combining business and missions these days, yet the concept has been slow to catch on in some circles. Why is that?

Some churches are unaware of the concept.

Others don’t think it important, preferring to focus on traditional methods of doing missions.

Still others are wary of the term “Business-as-Missions” (BAM), fearing it could distract churches from the mission of making disciples. How should churches think about business and missions?

To begin, we have to define BAM, and part of the challenge is nomenclature. There are a variety of definitions, but when we use the term, we mean building businesses that enable church planting among unreached peoples. We don’t believe business is missions, since we define missions as the making of disciples and the planting of churches. Neither do we believe that BAM is pursuing mediocre businesses to facilitate missions. Rather, we see BAM as a helpful way for business done well to enable and support missions.

THE NEED

Why are BAM and tentmaking, rather than traditional mission models, increasingly important? First, there is a gospel need: there are 2.8 billion people unreached among 6,000 people groups, so we need more laborers for the gospel.

Second, many countries continue to limit Christian witness, and Christian professionals are needed who can access such countries by benefiting and serving the country through their work.

Third, the world is urbanizing and there are correspondingly increasing numbers of professionals. As of 2008, more than half of the world’s population is now in cities. It’s forecast that by 2030, this number will rise to more than 60 percent. We need Christians who can naturally interact with these growing populations. Tim Keller has noted that there is a shared affinity among professionals in the large cities of the world that transcends culture: arguably a professional in Los Angeles has more in common with a professional in New Delhi than either of those people do with those in rural areas in their own countries.

HOW TO EQUIP MEMBERS TO WORK OVERSEAS

How can pastors best equip their members who are considering working overseas? First, members should be faithful in their jobs in the West, doing their work with excellence and for the glory of God. Second, pastors should put before their members the vision and privilege of spreading the gospel to all nations, particularly among those who have not heard (Rom. 15:20).

There is one fundamental question for Christians interested in working overseas: do they want to emphasize professional development or church planting? Done for God’s glory and with the right motives, either is a fine decision. One is not more spiritual than the other. However, one needs to be the emphasis (with one exception, which I’ll mention at the end). And the emphasis you choose will affect your preparation and expectations.

EMPHASIZING PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

For the Christian who emphasizes professional development, life abroad will probably end up consisting of shorter stints of maybe 2 to 3 years. Their role would be to serve as a faithful church member who is able to develop relationships with locals that other missionaries might not be able to meet, and to provide models for local believers of living out the gospel faithfully in the workplace.

There would be fewer opportunities to learn the language since it’s hard to do so in the midst of a full-time job. Relationships would therefore largely be with other expats or with locals who can speak English. What types of job options would be available? Sometimes multinationals offer expat packages, which provide generous remuneration terms for those in more senior positions, though it is good to keep in mind that such positions usually entail long hours. For the junior-level professional, pay will probably be lower than in the States, and could involve more competition with hungry locals.

First, though, it is most important to identify a good local church or a church planting team with which one may partner. There are many cities where this would be possible (e.g., Dubai, Munich, Grand Cayman, Singapore). One tool to help you think through a city’s suitability for this strategy is a 2 x 2 matrix, where one criteria is how unreached a city is and the other evaluates the ease of adjustment to the new culture.

However, there are also many places where a good church or church planting team might not exist. For example, a friend had a high-powered position with a US multinational in Egypt; however, he found it very difficult to be fed spiritually and was discouraged by the whole process.

Pastors should specially focus on evaluating the lives of members who are thinking about living overseas. We want to send people who are thriving spiritually in the church, at home, and at work instead of encouraging people who would be burdens to the Christians they are supposed to assist. Pastors should also help identify and vet the overseas churches or church planting teams with whom a member will partner. Absent a clear partner, we would strongly discourage church member from moving to a foreign city, regardless of how good the professional opportunity looks.

Preparation for going overseas in this manner involves being a faithful and fruitful member of a local church. In addition, it is very helpful to learn the local language ahead of time. This multiplies one’s ability to relate to locals. Also, to have a better chance of being given the opportunity to work overseas by a multinational, it is important to at least have some building blocks in the local language. College students, who have a plethora of study abroad options and time to invest, should consider language learning. Christians interested in these kinds if opportunity should especially consider learning languages that are widely spoken in the 10/40 window, such as Arabic, Turkish, Farsi, Russian, Mandarin, or Hindi.

While working overseas has a lot of potential for kingdom purposes, it also has some limitations. Being a professional will grant a Christian access to a country’s largest cities but not necessarily to small and medium ones. Yet there is need for the gospel in such places. It would be the equivalent of reaching New York and Los Angeles, but not the heartland. To bring the gospel to such places, and to have longer-term impact, we need to pursue strategies that emphasize church planting.

EMPHASIZING CHURCH PLANTING

This strategy would be longer-term than the previous one, with people looking to stay in-country for 5 to 10 years or longer. The goal here is to drive a business that also enables missionary access, helping with operations, management, and business development. Someone pursuing this strategy would first spend some time learning the local language and culture in order to communicate the gospel intelligibly.

Access Partners focuses on this end of the BAM and tentmaking spectrum. We build replicable business models that facilitate church planting in a variety of industries. Some of these strategies are new business start-ups and others are formed in partnership with existing Christian-run businesses.

As with the professionally focused strategy, it is important to join the right church planting team, and a church’s elders should help members forge wise partnerships. The local church will be more involved in this strategy since they would send the professional. Therefore, someone interested in moving overseas should talk through these issues with a pastor or elder years ahead of time. For instance, we worked with a couple who were quickly approved by their church to be sent to drive a business in the Middle East. However, the reason why this process moved so seamlessly is because they had been known by their elders for years, and had demonstrated faithfulness in many areas already.

Preparation will be primarily spiritual, including growing in one’s understanding of the nature of the church and the gospel. From a vocational perspective, it would be great to gain “profit & loss” experience, or to manage a business or team in preparation for BAM involvement.

As mentioned above, there are also opportunities for Christian business owners living stateside to be involved. They can expand their businesses internationally into regions where there are fewer believers while also employing missionaries. Pastors can encourage such businesspeople to deploy all the talents that God has given them, including their businesses, for the glory of God.

MIGRATING FOR THE GOSPEL

But what if one wants to pursue both professional development and church planting? One way we have seen this happen is when people migrate for the gospel—that is, move somewhere permanently. This was how missions used to be done since it was so hard to come back to one’s home country. For example, William Carey established an indigo plant, started a college, and founded a horticultural society. It is actually temporary overseas mission work that is the recent development.

Time committed to a country is important since it allows one to learn the language and culture of a country. Comparatively fewer people opt for this strategy, but there are some very encouraging examples. One friend moved to a formerly Communist country, started a church, and also launched the most successful business in its industry. The business has served as a model for believers in the country and has also provided employment for local Christians.

NOT A REVOLUTION, BUT AN OPEN DOOR

BAM and tentmaking are not revolutionary ways of doing missions but are increasingly useful for opening doors for the gospel. We encourage pastors to learn more about these opportunities to help their members use their skills and experience to make disciples of all nations.

The author’s name has been left anonymous for security purposes. He directs Access Partners, which builds businesses that enable church planting in areas least reached by the gospel.