Business as Mission in Creative Access Countries: Ethical Implications and Challenges
by Victor H. Cuartas
At least six characteristics/activities may negatively impact the witness and effectiveness of BAM workers.
Business as mission (BAM) has become a creative strategy to share the gospel in different countries. There are many examples of Christians doing business by using effective strategies to transform their communities through the power of the Holy Spirit. This term is based on biblical concepts, and its strategies differ from nation to nation, culture to culture, using many different approaches.
The main focus is doing ministry through business ownership and strategic investment, which can be done in either a monocultural setting or a multicultural environment. Thus, the main purpose is to advance God’s kingdom by doing business to bless the people and share the gospel.
Below I will discuss some ethical implications and challenges of doing BAM. I am convinced that missionaries are motivated by God’s love to reach the lost. It is paramount to have a kingdom perspective. This article will conclude with recommendations for overcoming a number of challenges.
The following terms have been used throughout the years, and all have nearly the same meaning and purpose: limited access, closed countries, restricted access countries, and creative access countries. The last term evolved in the 1990s from the earlier restricted access term. Michael Pocock affirms that “the term restricted-access gave way to creative-access, and the strategy of developing creative-access platforms took root” (Pocock, et al. 2005, 214). Creative access methods are used in countries in which access by traditional missionaries has been restricted for some reason.
The gospel needs to penetrate every nation. Nevertheless, there are countries (mainly in the 10/40 Window) where it is not possible for an expatriate or foreign missionary to get a visa, and church activities are seriously restricted. In addition, in some countries open evangelism by Christians is unlawful, and believers must meet in secret to read scripture or worship God.
Some researchers and missionaries refer to these nations as closed countries, thus conveying the reality that they seem nearly impossible to penetrate with the gospel. I believe the term closed is not appropriate since no country is really closed to the transformation of the gospel. God loves the nations and wants to see every person and people group coming into his kingdom through Jesus Christ (Matt. 24:14).
Jesus continuously expressed his concern for the poor. He exemplified the message of Isaiah:
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? (Isa. 58:6-7, emphasis added)
Jesus quoted from Isaiah when he began his public ministry:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19, emphasis added)
Mission workers are also called to follow Jesus’ example. The implementation of creative businesses can be used by God to bring significant changes in communities through the ministry of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 15:13).
Ethical Implications and Challenges of Doing Business as Mission
The ethical controversy regarding doing missions through the platform of a local business is a recognizable one to entrepreneurs and tentmakers. The basic question is whether it is ethical to present yourself to a host country as a businessperson without revealing your missionary vocation when the government makes illegal the propagation of Christian faith by foreigners.
Mission workers need to integrate everything they do on the field. In order to respond to the question of whether or not doing BAM is unethical, one needs to recognize the tension between internal and external factors. Thus, the answer is difficult and can be controversial. Ethical standards should be addressed when conducting business with persons of other cultures (Chaney and Martin 2004, 56).
The BAM concept can be an appropriate missional strategy with a holistic understanding of vocation, living out the kingdom, and showing respect for local authorities. Sometimes, the mission workers involved in BAM can have identity conflicts and may feel frustrated by the ethical dilemma. They may feel like they are living between two different worlds (missions and business), and both elements should be integrated. David Barrett and James Reapsome argue that
…from the Christian perspective, legality is not an ethical matter, but it is a purely descriptive term describing the secular government’s requirements, which may well be arbitrary, harsh, cruel, unjust, ephemeral, inconsistent, unstable, or even impossible to comply with. (Barrett and Reapsome 1988, 29)
Thus, creative access mission workers may be unlawful, although it does not mean they are unethical. When this situation happens, missionaries and entrepreneurs might lose their influence in their communities. Stephen Bailey suggests that the answer is a change of perspective that allows entrepreneurs and missionaries to see everything they do and say as an offering to God and a sign of the coming Kingdom of Jesus (Bailey 2007, 372). Consequently, everything Christians and missionaries do is an act of worship (Mark 12:30), and integration is vital. Below are some six characteristics/activities that may negatively impact the witness and effectiveness of BAM workers.
1. Violating the terms of the host country government. In most creative access countries, law plays a different role than it does in the West. Authority does not rest on the abstract legal system, but is placed directly in the hands of real people. These societies remain immersed in a tradition of personal power, where abuse and self interest are common.
For believers, the highest obedience is to God. In Acts 5:29, Peter states, “We must obey God rather than men.” However, Christians are also called to submit to authorities (Rom. 13:1).
Furthermore, Christians need to make every effort to follow the laws of the government. Nevertheless, when the laws are contrary to the expansion of God’s kingdom, missionaries may decide to act unlawfully (e.g., in scripture, Daniel and Paul). There is a real tension in this matter, and it is necessary to ask the Holy Spirit for boldness and wisdom.
Example: A missionary went to Africa to start a food company and the government provisionally approved the initiative for six months. After six months, the missionary was required to contact the government to pursue the process. The missionary failed to file the administration petition, and the permit was denied months later. All the effort was in vain because the missionary was not able to follow the guidelines from the local government.
2. Lack of testimony. Kingdom principles are reflected in the missionary testimony by words and actions. However, sometimes workers do things not reflecting kingdom principles. The relationship with the host country can be affected by actions and false promises. In addition, the daily relationship through businesses in the marketplace encourages missionaries to share their authentic lives.
Believers are called to be salt and light in the world (Matt. 5:13-14). The missionaries’ platforms, their vocation in the host country, gives a legitimate rationale and the awesome opportunity for sharing the faith among the nations. Therefore, workers are called to be examples of Jesus Christ through everything they do on the field.
Example: The pioneer of a business in Europe left the pharmaceutical world to focus on developing a “business as mission initiative.” He decided to start a business in India to bless the community while also facilitating church-planting work. He contacted some churches and friends who quickly supported the initiative. He was charismatic and a great business man; however, due to a lack of character, he began to have troubles with the local community. This situation caused many problems, and the entrepreneur needed to receive mentoring. The leadership of his denomination advised him to postpone the business initiative.
3. Failing to develop a holistic mission. When mission workers fall short in developing a holistic mission, some aspects of the process are neglected and they fail to see the whole picture. BAM and creative access platforms are strategies to address the spiritual, physical, and social needs of the people by doing kingdom business activities.
Business provides daily opportunities to build authentic relationships in the marketplace. There is no better place to know the people as they are and love them with authenticity. For that reason, it is important to consider the different aspects of the community in order to become more effective.
Example: A group of missionaries in Nepal started a company. When it began, they were excited about the initiative and enjoyed putting the plan together. However, because their main goal was evangelism, they soon became consumed with the daily activities. They had not assessed the most practical needs of the community and realized they were not meeting those needs. Thankfully, they were able to partner with other organizations and began to meet those needs.
4. Having the wrong motivation. Motivation plays a paramount role in everything we do for Christ. One of the problems mission workers may have in doing BAM is to become more focused on profit than on loving people and meeting their needs. The result can be catastrophic. Love and compassion allow mission workers to continue the journey by creating job opportunities and meeting the most important needs of the people.
Example: A congregation decided to send a business-oriented team to North Africa with the purpose of establishing a restaurant. Everything began well, the business was profitable, and the missionaries started to connect with the people. Soon, however, some of those involved in the business began to focus more on profit than on people. They increased prices and paid lower salaries to the locals. They started with good motives, but ended up more focused on profit.
5. Lack of accountability. Lack of accountability is a common tendency today. It can also affect mission workers by creating a spirit of self-sufficiency. Fostering an independent spirit in such a battlefield is risky since accountability and mutual submission to leaders are essential. A clear line of accountability must be established. This process includes churches, mission agencies, entrepreneurs, and overseers on the field. Even the Apostle Paul encouraged submission to one another (Eph. 5:21).
Example: A church from Latin America began to partner with several churches in the United States. They agreed to send several businessmen to West Africa. The men started a computer business to bless the community. Two years later, the churches’ leadership discovered that the missionaries were planting a church—and that the business no longer existed. The churches had put much effort in raising funds to start the business. However, the missionaries never sent reports and there was no accountability system in place. Even though the missionaries were doing a great job among the people, the lack of accountability and stewardship was a major issue.
6. Driven by personal interest rather than kingdom principles. When mission workers begin to stray from biblical principles and values, they may become driven by personal interests rather than kingdom principles. In addition, their practices and strategies are unclear because of sinful and ungodly motivations (see Gal. 3:3). Workers and entrepreneurs must test their motivations. “Any motivation based on selfishness, pride, or greed will bear bad fruit” (“Guidelines for YWAM on Business as Mission”). It is good to allow God to continually search our hearts to make sure our motivations are right according to his perfect will (Ps. 139:23).
Example: Thomas, an entrepreneur, had some personal conflicts with other missionaries in Asia. He was very successful in starting business initiatives in the 10/40 Window; however, the conflicts with other missionaries prevented him from continuing to develop new projects in the local community. Thomas didn’t realize the importance of working with others and became more interested in having a good reputation than considering what was best for the people. He lost his compassion for the community.
Ed Silvoso identifies six social gaps based on Ephesians: ethnic (Eph. 6:12), denominational (Eph. 3:16-21), ministerial (Eph. 4:1-6), gender (Eph. 5:21-33), generational (Eph. 6:1-4), and the marketplace (Eph. 6:5-9) (Silvoso 2002, 87).
Tentmaking and BAM are biblical and are based on God’s kingdom principles. Mike Pocock points out that one of the most important trends in world missions today is the fact that we are moving from making tents to developing platforms (Pocock et al. 2005, 212). For instance, Daniel, Priscilla, and Aquila are good examples of entrepreneurship using kingdom principles to transform their communities.
Daniel is a great model for godly living in creative access countries. He and his three friends were able to influence the minds and hearts of King Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian kingdom (Pocock et al. 2005, 230). He had God’s grace and favor and was chosen as “ruler over the entire province of Babylon” (Dan. 2:48). Furthermore, he was able to live in a hostile environment with integrity and purity of faith. He was humble and a worthy messenger of God (Dan. 10:11-12). See sidebar above for recommendations to overcoming the six challenges stated above.
Ultimately, every believer needs to play an active role in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20). BAM is a resourceful strategy to share the gospel around the world. Since missionaries are motivated by God’s love to reach the lost, this motivation needs to be focused on maintaining a close Christ-centered relationship with God. Great sacrifice is paid by faithful mission workers who are on the field sharing their faith daily, using different platforms. God loves the nations of the earth, and more than half of the world’s population still needs to be reached with the gospel.
Bailey, Stephen. 2007. “Is Business as Mission Honest?” Evangelical Missions Quarterly 42(3):368-372.
Barrett, David and James Reapsome. 1988. Seven Hundred Plans to Evangelize the World: The Rise of a Global Evangelization Movement. Birmingham, Ala.: New Hope.
Chaney, Lilian H. and Jeanette S. Martin. 2004. Intercultural Business Communication, 3rd ed. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.
“Guidelines for YWAM on Business as Mission.” YWAMConnect. Accessed December 26, 2009 from https://www.ywamconnect.com/ubasicpage.jsp?siteid= 29315&pageid=328906
Pocock, Michael, Gailyn Van Rheenen, and Douglas McConnell. 2005. The Changing Face of World Missions: Engaging Contemporary Issues and Trends. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic.
Silvoso, Ed. 2002. Anointed for Business: How Christians Can Use Their Influence in the Marketplace to Change the World. Ventura, Calif.: Regal.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR OVERCOMING CHALLENGES
• Focusing on God’s kingdom by promoting the study of the topic in scripture
• Differentiating between legal and ethical issues
• Preserving integrity in the middle of pressure
• Starting real, viable, sustainable, and profitable businesses with clear mission, vision, and core values
• Understanding different cultural attitudes toward ethics
• Maintaining a clear and consistent communication with all the people involved in establishing kingdom business
• Examining our personal motivations by involving other people in the process
• Writing and developing a list of best practices
• Establishing an effective accountability system
• Developing a strategic plan to make sure it is profitable, ethical,
high quality, kingdom centered, culturally relevant, and holistic
• Designating mentors and mature leaders who can provide pastoral care and oversight for staff and missionaries
Victor H. Cuartas (DMin) has been involved in pastoral ministry and church planting for nearly twenty years. He is instructor in practical ministry and global missions at Regent University in Virginia and founding pastor of El Mundo Para Cristo Church of God in Chesapeake, Virginia. Victor serves as director of research for COMHINA, a missionary movement that mobilizes Hispanics in North America for ministry to unreached people groups.
EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 3, pp. 296-302. Copyright © 2011 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.