Business as Mission: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice
Christian colleges and universities are filled with a diverse body of students and faculty who are dedicated to the great commission (Matt. 28:19-20) and to the greatest commandments (Matt. 22:37-40). Many in this diverse group eventually will find themselves operating in the global marketplace, perhaps the last great frontier of missions. Functioning effectively in this arena will require a holistic view of mission, with a focus not only on evangelism, but also on economic development.
Historically, the task of fulfilling the great commission has been dependent on professional missionaries who have gone into foreign lands supported by their denominations and/or donors. Missionaries arrive on the field with, from the locals’ perspective, invisible funding from elsewhere, and an explicit purpose of doing religious work. Often, humanitarian endeavors are part of this approach. With increasing numbers of countries restricting or forbidding traditional missionary activity, vast areas of the world, particularly within the 10-40 window, have become nearly impossible for missionaries to access.
This is where the Business as Mission (BAM) movement fits. BAM is an approach that sees business as a vehicle for ministry, a sort of “all-terrain vehicle” for advancing the Kingdom to the ends of the earth. Proponents of BAM argue that business provides jobs, technology, and economic growth which are welcome in environments where an overt message of the gospel is forbidden. Furthermore, BAM proponents encourage the profit focus of business.
Over the past 15 years, a number of currents have developed at the intersection of business and spirituality, notably marketplace ministry, tentmaking, Christian microenterprise development, and BAM. Books focusing on each of these areas have attempted to shape and direct conversations in these areas. There is a lack of consensus about the distinctions between these various approaches because the definitions and the terminology are still in flux.
Neal Johnson’s book, Business as Mission: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice, is critical to the development of this particular field. This book presents definitions, theories, and best practices, and truly it is comprehensive. It provides a framework for operating in the global marketplace for those of the Christian faith.
Those working in mission are asking the “effectiveness question.” The developed nations of the world have funneled billions of dollars to places such as Africa, without any improvement in health and economic statistics.1 In fact, some believe that mission organizations have done more harm than good.2 The BAM movement believes that reaching the lost, while improving lives, can be accomplished best by combining business and mission in a holistic manner.
Johnson’s book begins by defining BAM. As noted above, there are many related, but not identical, currents in the marketplace mission movement, all of which are defined and discussed in the book. The author is careful to state that there are many models for fulfilling God’s calling successfully, and it is critical to remain open about how the Holy Spirit may be leading. The book is useful to any discipline that accesses global markets.
Further, the book provides a couple of scales (Patrick Lai’s t-scale and Ralph Winter ’s e-scale) to determine how particular organizations fit. BAM, like many other market mission techniques, is in an embryonic stage where testing is critical. Microfinance is the only related area where significant testing indicating success has been completed.3 Those looking for results in the BAM areas should keep in mind that it could be a couple of generations before results materialize.
The author discusses the basic biblical beliefs and market philosophies of people involved with BAM. Built on a solid biblical foundation, BAM pays careful attention to the Apostle Paul, who preached the gospel without cost to those he hoped to disciple (see 2 Cor.2:17, 11:7-9, 12:14-18, 1 Thess. 2:9). We were impressed by the seriousness of the disciplines of the Christian faith that were discussed, including fasting and prayer.
Perhaps the most important doctrinal statement for BAM is the strong reliance on the priesthood of all believers, where each person has the freedom to work on his/her calling.4 Often, BAM is done in areas without a local church and lands where Christianity is illegal, where the only manner of access to the country is through a legitimate, profit-generating business. While a long-term goal may be to achieve a church plant, that is not usually possible in the short run. Johnson’s discussion of this doctrine is critical not only to BAM, but also to those who may gain access to a non-Christian area through music, education, and so on.
Next, the book presents the challenges of BAM and helps readers decide if they should be involved. Anyone who lives in the secular world knows the challenges of integrating one’s Christian faith. The book is specific about issues, including the difficulties of the BAM worker and his/her family attempting to live in a new culture. This is similar to a family of any other missionary living overseas.
Jesus spoke of the person who started building a tower and, once the foundation was laid, ran out of money (Luke 14:28-30). There is a significant part of the book on planning. Multiple chapters are dedicated to writing various plans for operating a BAM enterprise. Not only are there business plans, but there are also country analyses and strategic plans needed for both mission and business. While there are many great books in existence on business planning and mission planning, seldom are the topics put together or instructions provided for alignment.
The author spends time on the issue of stewardship, which is critical to BAM. Long-term viability is vital to the success of BAM, since the interest is making disciples of all nations. Making disciples is a long-term process. In addition to the focus on stewardship, the explanation of other bottom lines is covered. Clearly, it is necessary to make money, because that is the only way of staying in business. However, there must also be a Kingdom bottomline if it is truly a mission. There also could easily be bottom lines in the areas of environment and society.
The book is comprehensive. Those who have a desire to participate in BAM will find it necessary to read the entire book, work through the exercises, and put together the variety of business plans. Those who are curious about pieces of BAM can read appropriate parts of the book and gain understanding. There are a plethora of topics discussed relating to business and mission.
The claim has been made that athletics is the best way to reach people for Christ. Clearly there is a transcendence that occurs on a field of competition, and a Tim Tebow or KurtWarner can garner the attention of a crowd. The same could be said of musicians. However, the power of business is significantly greater. It has the impact to evangelize and is the only mission technique that can provide jobs and transform a society that can help lift people out of poverty. BAM’s impact is long term.
In one sense, this book does not add a lot of new information to the literature on BAM, particularly as it discusses, defines, and describes BAM. The scriptural support for the inherent goodness of work, the priesthood of all believers, the approach of being “salt and light” in the marketplace – all these have been examined in other works.
This book is a comprehensive guide that unites the thoughts of many writers and practitioners of the BAM world in one volume. Admittedly, the book is lengthy. Thankfully, Johnson writes in a very readable style that communicates well to scholar and practitioner.
The book also provides a practical set of tools for persons pondering the potential of BAM, but who do not know where to begin. The second half of the book focuses on planning and implementation – and Johnson has practical experience and knowledge. All BAM-related books contribute to the developing field. However, if we had to pick just one book to read before starting a BAM business, this is the one.
Cite this article
- Giles Bolton, Africa Doesn’t Matter: How the West Has Failed the Poorest Continent and What We Can Do AboutIt (New York, NY: Arcade Publishing, 2008).
- Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts:How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor andYourself (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2009).
- Herschel H. Hobbs, You Are Chosen: The Priesthood of All Believers (San Francisco, CA: Harper and Row, 1990).