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The Wrong Definition of Business as Mission. Its not just in the third world ... Its Everywhere.

By Justin Forman - I live in Dallas, Texas. I'm a part of the leadership team of an organization that doesn't rely upon donations, is self sustaining, it creates jobs for over 100 people, gives them an opportunity to use their passions and skills and has a completely kingdom agenda to glorify God in our office, with our team and with our customers.

The business world would define us as a publisher. Our team believes our mission is to lead others to "trade in their pursuit of the American Dream and make a difference with their neighbor across the street or around the world". We just happen to do that by producing resources, small group studies and short video clips.

Everything I've described to you fits my idea of using business itself as a tool for ministry. But the other day someone told me, "that's not real Business as mission". It wasn't the product, the service that didn't meet their definition. Rather it was our location. They thought that if we were in the US and not serving in a foreign land, Muslim country or the "10/40 Window" that it wasn't truly Business as Mission.

Let me ask us all to step away from our desks, put down the iPhone and hop on over to the real word to gain some perspective. Somewhere along the way we've gotten so caught up on terms and trying to put things in boxes that we've lost sight of the big idea.

Should business as mission companies be planted in foreign lands? ... Yes! Is there an overwhelming need for them in the foreign places? Yes! Is there also just as great of a need to do that here in the states? Yes! ... And every day that goes by that need seems to be that much greater.

Don't get me wrong. I look at my roommate from college who's moving to Africa to start a kingdom company as one of those larger than life heroes in my book. He's leaving behind some great opportunities here in the US, packing his two young children and making a leap of faith. He's the kind of guy we will regularly spotlight on this site.

But in all our rush to define what Business as Mission is and what it is not, please don't dismiss opportunities across the street or across the board room.

We've often voiced frustration of the the sacred and secular divide. Many have felt our Christian Culture told us the only way to be used by God was to be a singer, teacher or preacher to be used by God.

We've known that not to be true and have cried out for that secular and sacred divide to break down that wall. Let's not take the rubble from that wall and build another that says true business as mission happens only in the third world. We need it to happen everywhere.

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posted by Justin Forman | 8.19.2009 - 8:18 AM

21 Comments:

I couldn't agree more. We do get caught up terms don't we? I was reflecting on this very recently and truly believe that I need to re-process every stereo-type that I have about what it means to be a Christian.

When I go to a location outside of the U.S. for either a short term or extended length of time in a mission capacity does that make me a missionary? Nope, it makes me a Christian living outside the U.S. on a mission.

What's the difference between a Ukrainian Christian businessman that comes to the U.S. to start a business as mission company and an American Christian that goes to Africa to do the same? Nothing, they both have businesses dedicated to missions. The same also applies to an American doing business in the United States.

I could of course go on and on...perhaps sometime soon.
commented by Anonymous James, 5:08 PM  

Right on! Jesus cares about wherever He calls us, and today wherever we work is a mission field! I think we need to redefine for ourselves the term missionary. Not to take anything away from those who are on foreign soil, but I am a sent one whether I am in Africa or Alabama, as long as I know I am on assignment with the Lord Jesus.
commented by Blogger Carl, 1:43 PM  

Great Post!

I'm a missionary kid, living in the US, who feels just as called as my parents living on foreign soil.

BTW, Your college roommate is also my hero! I need to meet him.
commented by Blogger RoverHaus, 8:35 AM  

24/7 Christianity- Marketplace Christianity- Business as Mission

These are all terms for what God is doing in the world today- giving vision to bring our faith back to the streets and out of the 4 walls of our churches.

As God told Joshua - our promised land is every where our foot steps.. that is where we are to take over territory for God's Kingdom.
commented by Blogger tnoon, 8:38 AM  

100% Spot On! The idea that one business is more holy than another due to random values in our christian Sub Culture is NOT from God and does damage to His work of Kingdom advancement. I spend decades believing that what I was doing was "only secular" and therefore less than _____ (fill in the blank). We must remember that even some of our leading missiologists today define mission as the gospel "from everywhere to everywhere." This nation is a mess and if we devalue the work that many of us are doing here, we remove the motivation to do it with a focus on Kingdom values!
commented by Anonymous Mike Otis, 8:54 AM  

Excellent post! It is sad than in his zeal for the uttermost he lessened the importance of near neighbor work. However, as the body of Christ we do need to strategically prioritize the 1/3 of the world’s population that lives without any witness. Why should we prioritize them? Because Jesus did! The great commission has both quantitative and qualitative elements. Quantitatively, we (the church) have neglected 1 in 3 people on the planet: only allocating about .05 % (a nickel of every $100) of our giving and about 2% of our personnel to the 6500+ ethnic groups that are unreached. Mt 24:14 and 28:19 clearly delineate the “all ethne” part of the great commission. The qualitative part of the great commission is seen in verses like, “Let you Kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Clearly we need to work simultaneously in our Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth, and we need Kingdom business in each! I would like to see three things: Let’s begin allocating more (perhaps 10% or even 30% to the unreached) and be more effective with the 60%+ that should be used at home. Finally, let’s figure out a way to bring attention to the huge deficit of effort among the unreached without devaluing the work at home.
commented by Blogger Jason, 9:08 AM  

Well said. Every Christian business person has the potential to live a life of significance. They can use their passions, creativity, and drive to build a business that reflects Christ in Dallas or Dubai. That's much more exciting than simply keeping score with quarterly profits.
commented by Anonymous Marty, 9:21 AM  

The problem I have with this is that is every opportunity is a "missionary" one and every field is a "mission" field that really none are. Stick with me here, for years I have tried to get people to understand that sharing your faith wherever you find yourself, looking for ways to serve others daily, not just when doing "ministry", seeking to live a life that leads others to the truth of Jesus does not make one a missionary, it makes one a Christian. These things are all inherent to our calling as followers of Christ. When we set them up as something "extra" or label them as more than what is a basic part of discipleship, we miss the boat.

So what, then, is a missionary? Simply someone who walks in all the basic elements of the Christian life, but chooses to seek out and to do it in a culture and place where there is little or no Christian witness.

There is a difference.
commented by Blogger Raysaway, 9:53 AM  

The problem I have with this is that is every opportunity is a "missionary" one and every field is a "mission" field that really none are. Stick with me here, for years I have tried to get people to understand that sharing your faith wherever you find yourself, looking for ways to serve others daily, not just when doing "ministry", seeking to live a life that leads others to the truth of Jesus does not make one a missionary, it makes one a Christian. These things are all inherent to our calling as followers of Christ. When we set them up as something "extra" or label them as more than what is a basic part of discipleship, we miss the boat.

So what, then, is a missionary? Simply someone who walks in all the basic elements of the Christian life, but chooses to seek out and to do it in a culture and place where there is little or no Christian witness.

There is a difference.
commented by Blogger Raysaway, 10:01 AM  

As I have been researching the biblical basis for business as missions for some years now, many of its underlying principles are to be understood as local to global rather than just strategically applied to impoverish places or restricted access countries.

I may be wrong but I think the reasons why BAM is not widely adopted for local/home missions are mainly because it might upset the hard-won taxation status of existing social enterprises.
commented by Anonymous Kokyiang Khew, 10:15 AM  

Perhaps the bigger question is "what IS a BAM company?" I agree with the posts stating that "when every place is a mission field and everyone is a missionary" then really no one is. As I former church Missions Director, I argued that point numerous times. But I also have to take the stand that BUSINESS as mission is a lot bigger than whether or not I locate a company overseas. For me, the question is "does my business have a MISSION to further the Kingdom of God?". If it does, then I'm doing BAM whether my company is located in the US or "the uttermost".

Beyond that, does my business work strategically to enable the work in "the uttermost"? If my business activity (located in the US) enables workers to stay on the field and BAM businesses overseas to be successful because of my business dealings with them (not my donations TO them), am I not also doing BAM? I think I am.
commented by Blogger Glenn Fadner, 10:28 AM  

My frustration with these definition problems and sacred / secular divides goes one step further. In my understanding of our calling, it is equally "missional" to be creating value for people as a business itself as it is to respond or even create opportunities to share the message of Christ's atonement. There is a lot of stuff to do that makes the world a better place through honest and faithful service that is on no way overtly "evangelistic" and it appears to me that God has gone so far as to gift people with skills, sometimes even deposit revelation, and put a passion for these missions in our hearts. I don not belief all of that is just setup so that I can share the good news - its part of the good news.
commented by Blogger Greg, 10:55 AM  

Justin does a great job of translating "publisher" into "change maker".

What other examples do you know of companies that are reaching beyond their ACTIVITY to their PURPOSE for a business definition???
commented by Blogger Wayne Cerullo, 11:03 AM  

Great post Justin!
commented by Blogger John Coghlan, 12:15 PM  

Very good points Justin.
Unfortunatly, this attitude goes even deeper, in that the same mentality seemingly persists in the general attitude seen amongst Christians to any sort of ministry.

For example... for the last 3 years, we have been living in Greece and advertising for a couple to come and set up an English language service and ministry in our town as there isn't an English language service of any description or denomination for within 200 miles of here!!
Yet, despite there being over a thousand needy English speakers within a 20 mile radius, without any sort of services or ministry, although we have had around 10 serious enquiries from the USA, when we have gone deeper into details with the applicants, it transpired that because we are in Western Europe, we are not seen as 'viable mission' material worthy of raising support etc!!
What a crazy situation to find ourselves in!
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 2:51 PM  

The point needs to be made repeatedly--all business (as all of life) is lived under the Lordship of Christ (regardless of geography). As such, if a business is connected to Christ's mission (not missions) of discipling the nations and bringing them into obedience to him (and there are many ways to accomplish this), then it is business as mission (or perhaps we should say business ON mission. The first battle is to break out of the sacred-secular dichotomy that makes business less than ministry; now we have to break out of the home-foreign land dichotomy that makes living for Christ overseas superior to living for Christ...period.
commented by Blogger Mike Baer, 3:52 PM  

What is a business that was created from the ground up to do two things: deliver a great product/service in the pursuit of as much profit as possible; and, the re-purposing of said profit toward the furtherance of the gospel, the creation of jobs, and the support of local/foreign missionaries to reach others for Christ?

Does it matter where it is located and does it matter who it is reaching/serving?

While definitions are fun to debate, we all need to get busy running our businesses 'with a mission.' No matter the location. The kingdom is no respecter of 'borders' as we have either politically or economically created.

Let's get to work. Let's make a difference. OK?
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 4:50 PM  

Thanks, Justin.

I have long despaired that the majority world is far ahead of the "developed" world in business as mission. Would that many of the hard-learned lessons among the least reached would teach us better how to do it here!

@Raysaway, I think you're right that there is a distinct vocation and call and gifting (apostleship) of what we often call 'missionaries.' So my questions is: How would you distinguish domestic BAM from least reached BAM? What nomenclature would make this more clear (if there is a significant difference)?
commented by Blogger Graham, 9:34 PM  

Perhaps the problem is just with semantics. I agree that "if everything is 'missions' then nothing is 'missions'". I think that anyone who has sacrificed half their life (or more..) and all the nice things we enjoy from our comfortable homes, to minister in a foreign land would agree that "missions" means being sent to another culture. Perhaps we should use "business as Ministry" for those who minister through their business in the same culture they live in, to avoid hurting those who have really sacrificed a lot. Hey it takes a whole lot more initiative to pack up your family and move around the globe, especially to a developing country, than it takes to minister out of your business in your home culture. EVERYTHING is multiplied when you are in a foreign culture... the pain, the emotional stress..the list could go on and on
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 9:41 PM  

If we read the Hebrew then would know that the word for business and ministry is one and the same. We don't usually say, "I ate the orange fruit" as most folks know that when we are talking about eating an orange, we are speaking about eating fruit, not crayons. We seldom say, "I am wearing a jean pant" ...
Business, done for the right purpose and in the right way, is missions, whereever you do it.
Having said that, I empathize with those who "go" and have little alignment with those who cannot get mobile because they are reaching the people across the parking lot. God is the God of AND... not or. Jerusalem AND Judea, AND Samaria AND the USA ... AND other nations. When did we get the right to only do business-ministry where we felt we should be?
commented by Anonymous rep, 6:56 PM  

Your blog remarks are carefully crafted, but the title contains a value judgment much like the person who refused to view your work in America as BAM. Many of the comments go much further than you do, though. They were baited by your title. Maybe that was quite intentional as a way of getting your audience involved. If so, I salute you.

But has this dialogue helped to bridge the divide? The Lausanne paper (LOP #59) reflects that 70 BAM practitioners could not come to full agreement on how BAM should be used.

How do we prevent our fear of building a new wall (comparable to sacred/secular) perpetuating our old blind spot—too many of our resources focused on the Western world rather than being leveraged to the lost in the 10/40 window?

Which is the greater danger? Which will produce more adverse effects?

I addressed this in my most recent blog. Thanks for stirring the pot!
commented by OpenID johnkking, 9:08 AM  

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