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Back to the Drawing Board: Business as Mission 200 Years Ago

A Case Study of the Moravians. A case study that demonstrates the positive impact such a missional perspective of work can have on the advance of the Kingdom is that of the Moravians. Although the origins of the Moravian Church predate Luther’s ninety-five theses by about sixty years, these followers of John Hus are best known for their mission efforts around the world during a time when no other Protestant churches were sending out missionaries. In fact, their missionary efforts predated William Carey by sixty years as well. Given the relative sparsity of their numbers then and now, their record is truly astounding. During the forty year period from 1732 to 1771 they planted mission station in the Virgin Islands, Greenland, North America, Lapland, South America, South Africa, and Labrador.” [1]

Not only were they ahead of their time in terms of missionary zeal but they were pioneering in terms of missionary methods. The expenses of missionaries on the field were borne through various business and tentmaking enterprises. In fact, for over 100 years the cost of mission station expenses was covered by indigenous resources.[2] These business ventures (trades such as shoemaking in the early years and later, trading) provided not only the resources to finance the mission but the platform for mission as well. They found that business provided a natural means of sharing the gospel and naturally earned them good will from the people and local authorities.

According to William Danker, the Moravians from the beginning rejected clericalism and recognized that every believer is in ministry. The notion that any activity was more Christian than any other was denounced. “The most important contribution of the Moravians was their emphasis that every Christian is a missionary and should witness through his daily vocation. If the example of the Moravians had been studied more carefully by other Christians, it is possible that the businessman might have retained his honored place within the expanding Christian world mission beside the preacher, teacher, and physician.”[3]

The Moravians viewed their primary mission to be expansion of the Kingdom. Everything else was instrumental to that end. They chose crafts rather than agriculture because it would give them greater mobility in reaching people. Evangelism and discipleship was the primary goal, both at home and abroad. At home, during periods of slow economic activity, artisans would “go out in pairs and witness to the gospel, earning their living as they went.”[4] In Surinam, the missionaries employed slaves (there was no other way to witness to them). “Sitting on a tailor’s bench together it was easy to converse about the gospel.”[5] It is clear, however, the Moravian missionaries thought that work had value in its own right an tried to impart this value to those to whom they were witnessing.[6]

Service was also a high value, “Economic activities were a means of sharing a better physical and material life with the people of mission lands. Moravians did their best to ease the transition of less advanced people into the crafts and industries of a technologically more progressive culture.” Moreover, they often acted to prevent unscrupulous traders from taking advantage of the native population. They did this by effectively competing against them and in the process established patterns of ethical business that transformed the entire society.[7] In short, the Moravians demonstrate that it is possible to hold a missional perspective on work, advance the gospel and the Kingdom, and make a profit at the same time.

Brian Walck is an Entrepreneur and thought leader on the movement of Business and Mission. In addition to being a regular contributor on the Business as Mission Network site, he’s heavily involved in supporting God’s work around the world through Business as Mission Efforts, Missions Agencies and the local church. If you’d like to continue the conversation, email him at bwalck@yahoo.com.

[1] Ruth Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), 69.
[2] William Danker, Profit for the Lord: Economic Activities in Moravian Missions and the Basel Mission Trading Company (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1971), 72.
[3] Ibid., 73-74.
[4] Ibid., 32.
[5] Ibid, 52.
[6] Ibid., 32.
[7] Ibid., 46, 139.

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posted by Justin Forman | 2.01.2009 - 3:14 PM


The Moravians built what is now the conservation village of Fairfield, in Manchester. It had an Inn, a School, Bakery, Laundry, Farm, Doctor's surgery and a Fire Service...in 1790! As an architect I never cease to be amazed that Planning text books trace back new towns and garden cities to the early 'utopian' villages and they stop at New Lanark. Few seem to have studied a little further and noticed that Robert Owen, the man behind New Lanark, spent 11 years in Manchester and was influenced by the construction of Fairfield. Unfortunately Owen copied the outer shell of community life at Fairfield but missed the Spirit behind it. Yes, the Moravians were the 'liquid' church people of the day.
commented by Anonymous Doug Flett, 4:17 PM  

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