Integrating a Business as Mission Focus into a Traditional Mission Agency
by Larry W. Sharp
A case study of how CrossWorld integrated a Business as Mission focus into a traditional church-planting agency.
Most mission agencies, missional churches, and alert believers have heard the term “Business as Mission” (BAM). Reaction has ranged from a strategy of choice for twenty-first-century mission to suspicion of a profit-making business. Others insist that since the first century, the gospel has penetrated cultures through everyday workplace endeavors, so there is “nothing new under the sun.”
Mats Tunehag suggests that BAM is about “…real, viable, sustainable, and profitable businesses; with a Kingdom of God purpose, perspective and impact; leading to transformation of people and societies spiritually, economically, socially, and environmentally—to the greater glory of God” (Tunehag 2009, 10).
As such, business in and of itself is the ministry and instrument of mission. In simplest terminology, BAM is “real business” and “real mission.” Everything about a profitable business operated according to kingdom principles holds true. Everything about making disciples and bringing glory to God holds true. They are not incongruous; they work together.
It might seem that there is no challenge here. Why wouldn’t mission agencies embrace a BAM perspective? However, be assured that significant challenges will arise. It is very different from how traditional mission agencies have functioned for the past century.
At a CrossWorld kick-off discussion with BAM-experienced business people, the question was raised as to whether CrossWorld, a 75-year-old “church-planting” agency, had the capacity to move into BAM. “Is it possible to put ‘new wine into old wine skins?’” asked one of the participants. Several obstacles were mentioned at this initial meeting and our experience the past four years has validated the challenges predicted. I suspect these barriers are fairly typical and similar to those faced by other mission agencies.
The Organizational Challenge
From the beginning, business people advised us that the basic distinctions between the not-for-profit world of missions and profit-making businesses are significant. One BAM operative made it clear that “the traditional mission-operating platform is not going to mesh with BAM…an agency that tries to control is going to have problems.”
So what do such strong differences mean for agency leaders?
Structure. We were advised to set up a separate entity for BAM that would have clear documentation defining ownership and control. It was important that the CrossWorld board of directors recognize the independence and authority of this separate entity.
The research produced a matrix grid of five not-for-profit and for-profit business structures. These were cross-sectioned with twelve legal questions concerning tax status, governance, recruiting and training issues, compensation, funding models, and other relevant factors. This helped us determine a structure. (This research is available by emailing email@example.com.)
|Not-for-Profit Business||For-profit Business|
|Decision-making consensual, by committee||Quick managerial decision-making|
|Bottom line: souls saved; changed lives||Bottom line: profitability|
Emphasis on faithfulness; results ill-defined and may take a generation or more
|Emphasis on results: success needs to
happen in a few years
|Workers are volunteers or “called ones”||Workers are hired employees|
|An ethos of working together; job security||A culture of competition and accountability|
|Failure not discussed or acknowledged||Clear potential of failure is recognized|
|Financed by donations and fund raising||Financed through product and service sales|
We decided to establish and incorporate Business Group International (BGI)*, which now serves as a consulting firm to give expert consulting advice to BAM practitioners on the field. It is a not-for-profit entrepreneurial entity with no legal connection to CrossWorld.
But where does the new BAM organization fit with CrossWorld and the missionaries? For-profit business did not seem to fit the traditional paradigm. This critical issue was addressed by the creation of a Memorandum of Understanding between CrossWorld and BGI, which essentially validates a practical and financial partnership whereby:
1. CrossWorld members using BAM as a strategy are fairly independent of CrossWorld oversight and are encouraged toward entrepreneurial ventures on the field—usually a private equity company or a third party partnership. BGI and CrossWorld both agree not to own or control businesses overseas.
2. CrossWorld trains and mentors a team to ensure missional goals, personal growth, and accountability. We have learned that Mike Baer, founder of the JHoldas Group, is correct in saying, “…agencies need an integrated plan for recruiting, developing, and preparing business people.” In other words, BAM workers need a unique entry track to ministry. Table 2 is our first attempt.
3. BGI consultants provide expertise in qualifying the opportunity; assessing the individual’s potential to start and operate the business; mentoring the development of a business plan; helping to draft a capitalization plan; and then as the business is established, providing ongoing mentoring to assure stability and maximize potential for success.
|Employed by Mission||Not Employed by Mission|
|1. Appointed at orientation
2. Full support and salary
3. Mission benefits
4. Full team member
5. Standard pre-field training
6. Business focus
7. Full policies apply
1. Appointed at orientation
2. Volunteer status
|1. No orientation appointment
2. Short-term—two years or less
3. Mission benefits
4. Full team member
5. Limited pre-field training
6. High-level business expertise
7. Modified policies
|1. No orientation appointment
2. Volunteer status
3. Benefits arranged personally
4. Full or part time
5. Limited pre-field training
6. High-level business expertise
7. Modified policies
Funding streams. Unlike faith mission funding, businesses depend upon their ability to create value for their product, which results in financial profitability. They must also compete in the marketplace. BGI is striving to compete in the world of free enterprise, and it is the expectation that BAM operations overseas will do likewise. Admittedly, this is a difficult challenge, but the goal remains.
It is important to clearly distinguish between investors and donors. We use the term kingdom investors but make clear that kingdom investing is the highest of all high-risk “investments.” Whether capital is loaned, donated, or risked in an equity position, those with a kingdom focus and a business tolerance for risk find this an exciting frontier.
The key issue is to structure the capitalization of the BAM effort without jeopardizing the tax exempt status of the agency or the startup (in our case, BGI). This takes careful coordination with not-for-profit tax experts. Steven Rundle and Thomas Sudyk address this well with their analysis of five different options (Rundle and Sudyk 2007).
Integrity + results orientation. Maintaining a high level of integrity with a strong desire to see the business produce results is an important business component. One key “testing ground” for integrity is the area of maintaining the business as real—not as a fake “platform” for “doing the real work.” We have tried to insist from the start that business is the work. It is not just a front for more important ministry. It is not just a Christian charity disguised as a business for the purpose of gaining a visa to enter the country. Ministry takes place continually in the workplace.
A Christian business person’s credibility is based upon his or her integrity in business. Entering a country long term as a tourist or a student destroys credibility and does not provide the foundational integrity needed for lasting impact. This has been difficult for some of my colleagues to understand, but it is something we have tried to implement.
True business people understand parameters of accountability, transparency, alignment, expectations, and performance; however, these characteristics are poorly understood in the mission community. Lack of such integrity and results can be costly for a business endeavor and should not be given a positive spin to make it look like success.
The Biblical/Theological Challenge
I recently heard a pastor introduce the plenary speaker at a large missional church. “I want to introduce to you mission president x,” he said. “We have been privileged to be part of his support team for many years.” The pastor went on to speak of the missionary’s career as an electrical engineer, until God called and said, “I have something bigger for you—a higher calling,” at which time he left his career to become a missionary.
It sounded good to many people at the conference. They are proud of their missionary leader. He and other missionaries carry the vanguard of the church on their shoulders as they seek to reach the unreached.
But this is just one example of how unbiblical we have become. It demonstrates how there is still a Gnostic dichotomy in the Church. There is good and bad; spiritual and physical; sacred and secular; clergy and laity. The unwritten behavior suggests there is a spiritual pyramid in the Body of Christ with clergy and missionaries at the top, followed by charity workers, the caring professions, and at the bottom are those making money in business.
Such thinking is not biblical. Although it was considered heresy in early church history, it still dominates our thinking and behavior, not only in the Church, but in the mission agency world as well. The implementation of BAM in an agency like CrossWorld faces this gigantic challenge. How so?
Ultimate purpose. Some people believe missionaries are considered to be “professional clergy” and they and the church think they are God’s primary instrument to reach the world. Such a falsehood needs to be confronted with biblical teaching and the principle of giftedness in the Body of Christ. At CrossWorld, we have been reminding ourselves that the last command of Jesus was to make disciples, not to plant a church. Jesus says he will build his Church if we focus on making disciples.
Bob Roberts asserts, “In kingdom work, we make a mistake when we start with ecclesiology. We should start with Christology….If you focus on mission, churches will follow, but if you focus on churches, mission often gets lost” (Roberts 2009). While this is still a hot discussion point with my colleagues and will take years to work through, it is starting to dawn on people that the workplace is the primary place for relationship building. Disciple-making is all about trusted relationships with people. It therefore makes sense to go where they are—to the workplace.
Kingdom theology. If agencies are going to be relevant in the future, then they need to develop a robust theology of work and ministry based upon a holistic understanding of the gospel. Much is being written these days about kingdom theology and the evidence in Matthew’s Gospel that the Kingdom of God is both “already” and “not yet.”
The top leadership of CrossWorld began to understand this more clearly when we invited a theologian to share his studies on kingdom theology. We brought in experts on the simple church movement, and as a result we began to think about what disciple-making really is. All of this has helped us to place a better balance on the whole gospel, one that respects and values that our task is to take the whole gospel to the whole person in the whole world. It has become okay to quote Martin Luther: “A gospel that does not deal with the issues of the day is not the gospel at all.”
Love your neighbor. If a mission agency or church is going to do BAM, it is important that it understand that the Great Commandment goes hand in hand with the Great Commission. Most people came to Jesus with emotional, physical, and social needs and he consistently met those needs. BAM asks the question, “In the twenty-first century, what does love look like where there is massive poverty and unemployment?” Based upon a robust understanding of the theology of work (not developed here), the logic goes like this: God created work—people need jobs—jobs meet human need, alleviate pain, and demonstrate Jesus’ love—God works to bring glory to himself.
We are still struggling with doing mission as transformation, but like missionaries centuries ago, we want to move into society, live among the people, meet human needs, and share the truth of Jesus. In short, we want to love them into the Kingdom of God. Table 3 attempts to demonstrate how business, humanitarian approaches, and traditional missions can all have a focus on ultimate purposes.
The Missiological/Historical Challenge
One of the great challenges for us was to understand more profoundly how the gospel has spread cross-culturally throughout history. As we again read the Gospels, the Book of Acts, and church history, it became clearer that for much of history the gospel spread because people lived out their faith in the marketplace.
Just as in Jesus’ time, BAM deals with real-life issues (farming, labor, investments, money, construction). BAM application seeks to address people’s needs in the marketplace and bring together the “here and now” along with the kingdom “not yet.”
The first Gentile church came about by way of radically transformed believers who simply told others their story and lived it out in the daily workplace (Acts 11:19-22). Even Paul worked as an artisan as he obeyed the command of Jesus to make disciples. The Moravians began ministering to the Indians in North America in 1741, and assumed that the entire program would be supported by economic activities, something John Wesley praised. William Carey integrated sustainable economic activity with the missionary focus; he saw how steam engines, medicine, savings banks, and education were a holistic part of the gospel.
Certainly, the twentieth-century paradigm of doing missions is an aberration on the world stage. Two World Wars, the fundamentalist controversies of the 1920s, the red scare, the atomic age, and dispensational eschatology all contributed to the Bible school movement and a theology that Jesus is coming back very soon and we have time only for evangelism. True disciple-making was minimized and holistic kingdom values negated, while our evangelism focused on the soul.
At CrossWorld, we are starting to understand that real disciple-making has everything to do with the human condition, loving people where they are, with real life issues. This is foundational to BAM. Many of us read books like Glocalization; some of us even took note when Bob Roberts Jr. suggested that “there are no closed countries in the world today…instead it’s more accurate to say many nations are ‘closed to our methods…’” (Roberts 2007, 105). He specifies that for Jesus’ followers, “…their message is their life, and their service and the context in which they minister is their vocation. Faith as program is intrusive. Faith as a lifestyle and principles to live by is powerful and engaging” (2007, 105).
One missiological challenge relates to the propensity for mission agencies to think in terms of giving “aid” and relief as foundational to planting a church. The U.S. Federal Government mandates such as “Grants to Foreign Nationals” accountability requirements, and research such as Dambisa Moyo presents in her 2009 book Dead Aid (linked with solid evidence on the debilitating effects of creating dependency in church planting) has propelled agencies like CrossWorld to close down institutions abroad.
The challenge continues, but the dialogue is a healthy one focused on one central clarion call: How do we make disciples in a timely fashion, do it well, and do it where most needed? Clearly, BAM is seen to be a part of that answer.
Practical Reasons BAM Is Important
As we grappled with integrating BAM into our traditional “church-planting” agency, we realized that some of the reasons are simply pragmatic.
1. Poor accessibility. Half of the world is simply not accessible to traditional missionaries. However, the opportunities for operating businesses as Christians are endless as we create value for them and do it as Jesus followers. Plenty of stories validate this as a disciple-making paradigm.
2. High cost of missions. Today, individuals and churches are questioning the “bang for the buck” and asking for measurable results from the high costs of maintaining families overseas. However, a short-term funding strategy that capitalizes a business for a few years may have more appeal than supporting a missionary in perpetuity. Many believe that traditional agencies that depend solely upon donor giving may be obsolete in a decade or so.
3. Growth of the Two-thirds Church. Churches in the West need to listen to what the Two-thirds Church suggests is the role of Western missionaries in their countries. They likely want foreigners who will address human needs, listen to the hearts of their leaders, and come alongside them in their struggle. In discussing the “theology of presence” for the Brazilian missional Church, Joao Mordomo affirms, “The BAM model is a ‘no-brainer’ for Brazilians because it allows them to strategically place themselves among ‘real people’ and then put one of their strongest traits—their relationality—to work for the glory of the King” (Mordomo 2009, 20).
4. The desire for business. Just as literacy and the eradication of disease were much needed a century ago in Africa, so today the world wants what business can bring—globalization, wealth creation, and higher standards of living. Why wouldn’t Christians see this as an opportunity?
5. The impact of small to medium enterprises (SMEs). While micro-enterprise is a valid strategy and much in vogue today, and tentmaking likewise is an excellent strategy for making disciples, true BAM addresses small to medium-sized businesses which employ several people. SMEs generate more than eighty percent of a nation’s employment and tax base. From a missional perspective, they provide a natural forum for disciple-making.
6. The importance of mentoring. We know that a large element of missionary activity is mentoring. Missionaries develop that skill and use it in a myriad of ways. Business people “mentor” their subsidiaries overseas, thus they know a similar skill. It is a fairly pragmatic thought to use the common skill to kingdom advantage. Such mentoring has great potential in a SME where several employees work together.
While it has been an immense challenge to integrate BAM into our traditional agency, and we are still in process, it is well worth it. I believe that agencies that do not attempt this will be increasingly marginalized and irrelevant in the future.
* Name changed for security reasons.
Mordomo, Joao. 2009. “Bossa Nova, the Beautiful Game and Business as Mission.” Connections 8(2):20-21.
Roberts, Bob. 2009. “We Aren’t About Weekends.” The Christian Vision Project. Accessed March 28, 2009 from christianvisionproject.com.
Roberts, Bob Jr. 2007. Glocalization—How Followers of Jesus Engage a Flat World. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan.
Rundle, Steven and Thomas Sudyk. 2007. “Funding a Kingdom Business.” Evangelical Missions Quarterly 43(4):442-448.
Tunehag, Mats. 2009. “The Mission of Business: CSR+.” Connections 8(2): 9-12.
Larry W. Sharp is vice president of strategy, research, and development for CrossWorld and executive director of BGI*, a BAM consulting firm. He served twenty-one years in Brazil with CrossWorld and sixteen years as CrossWorld vice president of operations. Larry has a Ph.D. in comparative sociology of education and administration from the University of Calgary.
EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 1, pp. 40-47. 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.