God’s Marketplace Mission Movement
The Urbana 2012 Mission Conference, held in St. Louis during the last week of the year, had over 16,000 university students in attendance. This week-long gathering, sponsored by Intervarsity, is held every three years and has an incredible history of assembling the ‘best of the best’ Christian thinkers to invest their time and talents into the next generation of mission and ministry leaders.
This was my second time attending Urbana, so as I compare the workshops offered, as well as the main presentations, there was definitely a ‘swing of the pendulum’ in what the organizers were attempting to guide students to consider. In 2009, there was a heavy emphasis on social issues and justice causes. Sex trafficking, HIV/AIDS and poverty alleviation were high on the list of seminar offerings as well as presentations from the platform. The theme was built around incarnational ministries, which was emphasized by the title He Dwelled Among Us. This year, however, the theme carried a more evangelistic emphasis The Great Invitation based on Jesus’ parable of the great banquet.
There are two observations from Urbana which work in tandem. First, there was an overwhelming attempt to communicate that the “center of gravity” for the world Christian movement has shifted. Today, the majority of Christians in the world is non-white, non-western, non-wealthy and non-male. To put it another way, the typical Christian is a poor, dark-skinned woman living in an urban slum somewhere south of the equator. As an example, in 1910 the continent of Africa was only 9.4% Christian. Today, 48% of Africa is Christian, and some have predicted that by 2025 there will be over one billion Christians on the ‘dark continent’ (a term that was previously used to describe the spiritual condition).
With this new understanding, we see that some of our terminology is changing. We no longer call this area of the world ‘third-world,” which is a remnant from the cold war, rather we call these regions ‘global-south’, ‘developing-nations’ and more accurately the ‘majority-world’ which is a great descriptor that helps rich, white, western Christian men understand they are now in the minority.
What this shift of the ‘center of gravity’ means for us in the church of the western world, is that we are no longer the primary sender of missionaries and full time Christian workers. Countries like Nigeria, China, South Korea, India and Brazil are sending out missionaries all over the world in astounding numbers. Operation Mobilization reports that they have over 6,000 workers in more than 100 different nations, and 70% are from non-western countries.
Actually, one of the workshops which I attended was entitled Western Christians in Global Mission: What’s the Role of the North American Church? Paul Borthwick spoke about his work with majority world mission agencies and cross cultural workers. He commented on how he had expected to see the church in North America take the lead of the ‘global church’ into the new millennium. However, after all of his exposure to what the global south church is doing, he has changed his prayer to “Lord, please don’t leave the church in North American behind as you move powerfully into the world.”
This leads into my second observation from Urbana 2012. There was a very clear message from the organizers in helping college students prepare for cross-cultural mission service for the next great movement of God in the world. They are no longer being encouraged to just train in a traditional seminary or to get degrees in Bible, Theology, Church Planting, etc. Mission strategists at Intervarsity are steering young people to consider studying for degrees in these fields:
· Film making
· The Arts
These seminars were specifically designed to encourage students to obtain vocational degrees which can be used on the mission field. Out of the 144 workshops offered, 41 (28%) were on the topic of Business as Mission, Vocational tracks, and other marketplace alternatives to the traditional missionary route.
Mission thinkers understand that someone with a degree in Bible or Theology will not be allowed access into countries like Mali, Yemen, Bhutan, Myanmar or the 56 other R.A.N.s (Restricted Access Nations). However, western business people are already in those nations conducting trade on a regular basis. This perspective not only makes sense practically speaking with regard to gaining access (Visa issues are one of the missionary’s greatest struggles), but it also makes financial sense. When this next generation is gainfully employed, either as an entrepreneur or as an employee, they will not require as much support from churches, agencies and individual partners, thus allowing for more people to be sent out with less financial commitments.
One quote from Dr. C. Neal Johnson helped me see the necessity of embracing this new way of thinking. He said that “Business is the only human institution that affects every person on earth. All people, everywhere, are seeking a better life. Therefore, missiologists are putting out lots of resources for the next generation to begin preparing for a new method of world evangelization. There are over 1,500 books through Amazon on Kingdom Business.” You will find titles like:
· Business as Mission (BAM)
· Business 4 Transformation
· Vocational ministries
· Marketplace Mission Movements
· Enterprise development
· Great Commission Companies
· Bottom Line Faith Integration
· Micro-enterprise / Micro-finance
· and the list goes on…
Previous mission attempts to do BAM in restricted access nations produced negative results due to a fatal flaw in missional thinking. Missionaries set up shell companies that were not doing ‘real business.’ An example could have been a coffee shop in a city that served as a meeting place for believers, but did not make a profit by selling coffee. When government officials looked into the accounting books, they became suspicious because there was no profit for the business. Frankly, as I think about it, if something like that were in my neighborhood, I would be suspicious too. Shell corporations are how drug dealers launder money, organized crime syndicates restructure their unlawful gains and white collar criminals shelter funds in off-shore accounts. Why would God’s people engage in that kind of activity?
Dr. Johnson, who wrote the book “Business as Mission: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice” said that there are three different ways of doing business in C.A.N.s and R.A.N.s (Creative Access Nations / Restricted Access Nations): Job Makers, Job Takers and Job Fakers. Job fakers are what I described above. Job makers are the entrepreneurs, and job takers are those who have accepted a position in a company doing business overseas. Here is a brief sketch of the five broad categories which he has identified as Kingdom Business:
1. Tent Making
a. Biblical example – Paul earned a living apart from the church
b. An employee, not necessarily an entrepreneur
c. Modern example – Teaching English overseas, Finishers / Retirees
2. Marketplace Ministry
a. Biblical example – Zachias (after Jesus)
b. Business owners, CEO, and managers
c. Kingdom Companies which are led for the good of the Kingdom of God
d. Faith integration with multiple bottom lines and managed with biblical principles
e. Modern example – Chick-fil-a
3. Enterprise Development
a. Biblical example – Deuteronomy 15, Gleaning, Sabbatical Year
b. Poverty alleviation, or ministry to the poor
c. Includes micro-enterprise / finance
d. Development in the majority world
e. Modern Example – Grameen Bank, Kiva.org, group lending
4. Social Enterprise
a. Biblical example – Daniel (Prepare for the famine), Jesus (Widows, orphans, etc)
b. Focused on social justice issues (i.e. disaster relief, homeless, disabilities, orphans)
c. Usually has a hybrid finance model (donors + external support)
d. Modern examples – Goodwill, Salvation Army, Red Cross
5. Business as Mission
a. Biblical example – Joseph
b. A for-profit business venture which is Christian led and devoted to holistic mission operating in a cross cultural environment
c. Modern example – Business 4 Transformation (OM – Nepal), Hodge family (Honduras)
Kingdom Business is not a fad. All indicators are pointing to an integration of faith with the marketplace. We are no longer seeing a divide between the sacred and the secular, the spiritual and the physical. Rick Warren, who did a six week sermon series in October 2012 entitled Doing Business with God said, “Some people actually think that work is punishment from God. It is not… because there was work for Adam and Eve to do in paradise.” People want to use their creativity for employment gains. A proper biblical worldview should promote a seamless and holistic view of life, therefore business as mission should be a natural expression of this assimilation. In his book “Developing a Biblical Theology of Vocation,” Darrow Miller says:
The biblical worldview provides a framework for work being sacred, for labor having dignity. This concept of work is that it is a vocation – one’s calling… This biblical concept understands that God is at work in the world building His Kingdom, and that, among other things, He calls us to participate in the building of His Kingdom through our work.
There are a few implications for a church becoming involved in kingdom business. This means that the whole church, takes the whole gospel to the whole world. Because of a warped worldview that separates the sacred from the secular, many business people check their business brains at the door along with their hat. They conceal their ability to negotiate a deal, leverage their assets and network with colleagues for the glory of God. As a mission pastor, I want to affirm and mobilize business people within the body of Christ. I want to release them to use their gifts, talents, skills and abilities to bless people living in difficult places, transform communities through entrepreneurial strategies and to carry the good news of the gospel with them as they travel to the ends of the earth.
The goal of BAM is to reveal Christ through business, and the bottom line is for the greater glory of God the Father. Here is a great little addition to the old adage about giving a man a fish:
Give a man a fish, feed him for a day
Teach a man how to fish, feed him for a lifetime
Help a man start a fishing business
Feed many families, and their community for generations
So that one day they will drop their nets and follow Him!
Want to get in touch?
Subscribe here to join our mailing list