a Business as Mission Network:: Turn Good Business and Missions into Great Ministry: Is BAM worthy of its own Degree? A Conversation with Dr. Steve Rundle <body><script type="text/javascript"> function setAttributeOnload(object, attribute, val) { if(window.addEventListener) { window.addEventListener('load', function(){ object[attribute] = val; }, false); } else { window.attachEvent('onload', function(){ object[attribute] = val; }); } } </script> <div id="navbar-iframe-container"></div> <script type="text/javascript" src="https://apis.google.com/js/plusone.js"></script> <script type="text/javascript"> gapi.load("gapi.iframes:gapi.iframes.style.bubble", function() { if (gapi.iframes && gapi.iframes.getContext) { gapi.iframes.getContext().openChild({ url: 'https://www.blogger.com/navbar.g?targetBlogID\x3d27430628\x26blogName\x3dBusiness+as+Mission+Network::+Turn+Go...\x26publishMode\x3dPUBLISH_MODE_BLOGSPOT\x26navbarType\x3dTAN\x26layoutType\x3dCLASSIC\x26searchRoot\x3dhttp://businessasmission.blogspot.com/search\x26blogLocale\x3den_US\x26v\x3d2\x26homepageUrl\x3dhttp://businessasmission.blogspot.com/\x26vt\x3d6117473324771524729', where: document.getElementById("navbar-iframe-container"), id: "navbar-iframe" }); } }); </script>
Business as Mission Network:: Turn Good Business and Missions into Great MinistryTurn Good Business and Missions into Great Ministry with News, Resources, and Tools from the leading businesss leaders, authors, pastors around the world

Is BAM worthy of its own Degree? A Conversation with Dr. Steve Rundle

This address was given at the Christian Business Faculty Association’s annual conference on Oct. 23, 2010 by Dr. Steve Rundle, co-author of the book Great Commission Companies - 

The term “Business as Mission” first began to appear in the Christian business lexicon about ten years ago. Since then, many Christian universities have created courses, convened seminars and conferences, and organized student trips around this theme. So it’s natural for us to start asking whether BAM has reached a point where we can consider it an academic discipline. My response is “not yet, and let’s be careful.”  I’d like to lead off this discussion by breaking that question into two parts. The first part is “What do we mean by BAM?” and the second is “What qualifies something as an academic discipline?”

The first question – “What do we mean by BAM?” – is one that I have found to be absolutely essential to any rational conversation about the subject, because there is a bewildering range of definitions.  For example, not long ago I received an email from a well-known missions leader who expressed concern about whether and when BAM would “live up to its promise.”  For this person, BAM is a new frontier missionary strategy, a vehicle for planting churches in unreached parts of the world. For people in this camp, the business itself is largely a means to an end, and the relatively small number of business professionals assisting or joining those church planting teams has been disappointing.  Others in this “means to an end” camp complain that the relatively small number of new churches associated with those business-missionary teams has been disappointing, and calls into question the very legitimacy of BAM.

Others see BAM as a long overdue theological correction in that it recognizes business as a divine calling and as a legitimate ministry. In addition to concern about people’s spiritual condition, these people see business – and the widgets they produce – as God-pleasing ends in themselves. They understand that the redemptive, divine purpose of business goes beyond its potential as an evangelistic tool, and includes all manner of economic and social transformation. For this group of BAM advocates, the disappointment has been the slow uptake of this concept in many churches, and the still relatively small number of Christian business professionals who are publicly identifying themselves with the movement or plugging into BAM-related networks.

Finally, there are those who, when they hear the term BAM, instinctively think about business-related efforts, like microfinance, that are aimed at helping Christians in the poorest parts of the world grow sustainable businesses. As those businesses achieve financial sustainability, so too will the churches those business owners belong to. So in this case too, BAM is seen as more than an evangelistic strategy, and instead as a means of promoting economic, social and spiritual transformation in those communities.    

In case you don’t believe me about these different definitions, consider two currently existing BAM networks. Both are invitation-only networks that hold about two meetings per year. One invites only BAM practitioners, which, by its definition, means those using business as a vehicle to plant churches among unreached people groups. Usually they are donor-supported missionaries who are affiliated with a missionary sending agency. The other network also restricts participation to BAM practitioners, but by their definition, the donor-supported church planter is almost never invited. Instead, members of this network are owners of small multinational corporations who have no formal links to a mission agency and have a broader understanding of what it means to advance the cause of Christ in the developing world. Some are working in close partnership with evangelists and church planters, but others are sharing the gospel in other ways.

Given such divergent understandings of the definition of BAM, is it possible to classify BAM as an academic discipline? If a student were to receive a degree in BAM, what exactly has that person been trained to do? Use business to plant churches in “creative access” countries? Manage and grow a multinational company for the glory of God? Or mentor and train small business owners in the developing world?

In the interest of full disclosure I’ll admit to falling in the second group, although I’m also very excited about the work being done in the third group, and I have many good friends who are in the means-to-an-end category. But fundamentally, I believe that what’s new and exciting about BAM is that God is raising up a new generation of missionary, and many of these missionaries are receiving their training in our business schools and they see no contradiction between the calling into business and the calling into ministry or missions.

Let’s assume that my definition of BAM is the one that prevails and there is no longer any disagreement. Would that make it a legitimate discipline or field of study? Scholars have long debated the question of how and when something can be classified as a discipline.  In their discussions, many refer to Thomas Kuhn’s influential book about the nature of scientific paradigms. In fact, the terms academic discipline and scientific paradigm are often used interchangeably.

According to Kuhn, a paradigm is essentially a set of assumptions, values and approaches to a subject that are shared by a community of scholars. Within this community of scholars there is a widely accepted theoretical framework and methodology, and a tacit understanding of the areas of scholarly inquiry that are most important. Disagreements certainly exist, but they are usually resolved by using the accepted tools and assumptions of that paradigm.

Does BAM enjoy this status? Not yet, I’m afraid, but I think it soon could. Much depends on who takes the leadership. I love my friends in the missions world, but if our schools of world mission take the lead on this, I’m afraid the definition – and measures of success – will be narrowed considerably and most business people will stay away.

My hope has been that the CBFA would show some leadership in this regard. For example, I’d like to see these annual conferences include at least one or two sessions devoted to recent research in the field. But CBFA participation is only part of the answer. BAM is clearly an interdisciplinary field, so the existing conferences and existing journals are probably not ideal for developing this new discipline. There needs to be a multi-disciplinary, big-tent association of Christian scholars that are united in their interest in this subject. Such an association would include anthropologists, theologians, missiologists, political science scholars, sociologists, and many others. Within the business discipline there is a need for scholarship in the areas of entrepreneurship, business ethics, and economic development, to name a few.

In conclusion, I’d like to speak to the question about creating a BAM degree. Many schools are starting to think about this, and I must say that I have mixed feelings about it.  On one hand, I believe BAM is an important and extremely fertile area of scholarly inquiry. It truly is evolving into its own academic discipline because it’s different from accounting and different from marketing. The scholars who are advancing our understanding of BAM ought to be promoted and tenured on the basis of this research, as it is a legitimate field of scholarly inquiry.  

On the other hand, I cringe at the thought of making students choose between majoring in, say, marketing or BAM, or accounting or BAM. Imagine if your undergraduate students had to choose between ethics and accounting, or ethics and marketing as separate majors. What message does that send? I would prefer to see BAM, like business ethics, woven into the very fabric of everything we teach.  

So there’s my answer – I believe BAM has strong promise as a discipline, but I’m wary about creating undergraduate degrees in the field. 


posted by Justin Forman | 11.17.2010 - 5:55 AM


I support Dr Rundle on this. BAM is more a mindset that should permeate the way we do business. Its actually the way we should approach all disciplines. The secular-sacred divide needs to be broken down and our faith should be reflected in all we do.
commented by Blogger Goops, 10:49 AM  

Dr. Rundle hits on a very important point regarding the definition of BAM. In my mind, and taking a cue from Ken Eldred's God Is at Work, there's a reason it's called "business as mission" rather than "business for mission" or "business and mission."

Eldred says the business for mission view is essentially the first definition of BAM that Dr. Rundle describes. Business is a means to an end, whether as a support function for traditional missions or as a front for traditional missions.

The business and mission model is essentially what's been understood as tentmaking, supporting oneself via a profession in another country for the purpose of pursuing one's real mission of evangelism and discipleship.

I agree with Dr. Rundle that business as mission really views the business activity, its products, and the ensuing economic development as a key part of the ministry and mission. And that's the view Eldred takes as well in his book.
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 11:47 AM  

Add a comment