Economic issues rank high on the agenda for much of the world today. For good or ill, commercial priorities and the behavior of business leaders are shaping global events, in some notable cases far beyond the capacity of traditional centers of influence, such as governments, to control or match. In many countries unemployment rates are skyrocketing, and the plausible solutions to this and other apparently unrelated issues, such as HIV/AIDS or human trafficking, require a business-oriented response. The church on the other hand has unfortunately not been thinking about business in its strategies for fulfilling its great commission task. The church may need to choose between responding to business with ambivalence and antagonism, or engaging positively with a holistic understanding of the gospel.
Biblical and Missiological View of BAM
How business is viewed in the church is part of a larger set of issues, including the debate over distinctions between sacred and secular, the nature of work and ministry, and in the missiological space, the nature and role of tent-making. Business is sometimes taken to be merely a sub-set of tent-making. However, an important overarching concept in mission is the prophetic call to love justice, practice kindness, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). The larger issue of profit-making is in fact addressed in Scripture. Many of Jesus’ own teachings use business examples, often favorably, to illustrate Kingdom truth.
Over the years, we are seeing a re-awakening in understanding what it means to be a Christian in business in our day and age. There has been remarkable growth of people engaging in business for God and for the common good. If we take a look some years back, there are things we have today that didn’t exist then. Now, we have a greater common understanding globally of this idea that we call ‘business-as-mission’ (BAM), which is not a technique, but a worldview centered on following Jesus in the marketplace.
Unfortunately, the sacred-secular divide is deeply entrenched in our churches and in our thinking as Christians around the world. So, we can’t just do a minor tweak in our business techniques. No, there is a need to completely re-align our thinking with the Bible’s view on work and business.
This worldview, shaped by the Bible, includes seeing wealth creation as something good and creativity in business as being something that is helpful for people and society. It involves affirming, equipping and deploying business people into service as they do business unto God and for the common good.
In recent times, there has been an unprecedented global connectedness of people involved in BAM; not just business owners and other business professions, but also those that provide support services. There is a growing recognition by mission agencies, churches, and academics that businesses are needed for holistic impact. There aren’t just individual expressions of business-as-mission around the world, but a global movement. People are working together and having a broader impact, and that is a significant change.
Impact of BAM on society
Apart from possible missional impact through BAM, the strategy also has a unique contribution to offer society as we address some of the severe problems faced around the world. For example, one of the biggest challenges we are facing is unemployment, under-employment, and the lack of jobs with dignity. This is beyond mere job creation. This is about creating jobs with human dignity, that honor God and are good for people and society.
Another global issue is endemic corruption that keeps people and nations in poverty. Business-as-mission is also about doing ‘business as justice’. That means – like the Old Testament prophets before us – we take a stand against bribes, labour exploitation, and cheating customers and suppliers on products, services or payments. How can we shape our businesses, and connect our businesses, to create momentum for fighting corruption? There is a need to keep increasing that connectedness, and build a critical mass of Christians in the marketplace that are involved in business as mission – regardless of what they call it or what terms they use, or what business or industry they are in.
Reconsidering BAM’s role in missions leads to three novel realizations: First it provides fresh perspectives on missions and financial sustainability; second, BAM influences development outcomes positively in society; and third, BAM is a significant global movement and not just an individual or organizational expression of interest in starting businesses.
BAM is crucial to a dynamic economy. Missionaries under BAM create employment opportunities not only for themselves but for others as well. And their activities may influence a country’s economic performance by bringing new products, methods, and production processes to the market and by boosting productivity and competition more broadly.
About the Author
Abdul Bundu Conteh (ABC as we call him) is from Sierra Leone and has been connected with OM for many years, first with OM Africa Projects and Ministries based in Pretoria, South Africa, and now with the GSI Project Team. Before joining OM, he had professional work experience in Project Management, and Monitoring & Evaluation, and has been a Private Sector Development Consultant with the UN and several international organizations across Africa and Asia. ABC is passionate about leveraging evidence-based approaches to private sector development, and about using effective stewardship practices in missional business development to enhancing the self-sustainability of Global South missionaries, projects, and ministries.