by Gary Corwin
Underwriting dot.coms and then going public is but the latest winning formula for hundreds of venture capitalists who have known decades of success in numerous fields. Where are the counterparts to these investors and entrepreneurs in world mission?
Underwriting dot.coms and then going public is but the latest winning formula for hundreds of venture capitalists who have known decades of success in numerous fields. Until recently, price momentum for stocks has been practically unstoppable, and instant millionaires have been as common as bug-splattered windshields on hot summer evenings.
But where are the counterparts to these investors and entrepreneurs in world mission? Unfortunately, few think their skills are needed or wanted. Most have never been encouraged to consider how their financial prowess could help overseas church leaders and missionaries. Send money? Yes. Use your business skills in missions? Perhaps as a board member, or maybe in the finance department. But to soften the soil on site and create resources to support a healthy church-planting movement? Never thought of that.
We usually limit tentmaking to getting theologically and missiologically trained individuals into restricted-access countries. But it can also be designing an entrepreneurial outreach to strengthen the economic base of poor and oppressed churches, thus undergirding the healthy multiplication of churches in their own communities and beyond. The demographics of poverty make plain that the opportunities are all too plentiful.
Of course, few in missions want to return to the early 19th century theme of “Christianity, Commerce, and Civilization,” recognizing its imperialistic and ethnocentric overtones. Who would want to argue today that modern Western culture equates with either Christianity or civilization? Nevertheless, we do need to help business-savvy world Christians participate in the extension of Christ’s church.
Sadly, there seems to be too little visionary leadership in the mission community to make this happen. We are slow to see the opportunities and seize them. Entrepreneurial involvement seems one step removed from the task of taking the gospel to all peoples and to the ends of the earth. Medicine, yes. Education, yes. Well-drilling, yes. Agricultural assistance and reforestation, yes. Maybe even not-for-profit English language programs. But encouraging profit-seeking business enterprises? No, we seem to think that’s a betrayal of the gospel and of our calling. (We may also fear, wrongly, that an entrepreneurial emphasis could capture the imaginations of too many of our supporters, leading them to cut back on traditional missionary support.)
It’s a global economy, as they say. Why shouldn’t it be a global outreach economy where God’s people use business skills to strengthen other people of God and their outreach to still others? Why shouldn’t we encourage Christian entrepreneurs to use their skills to raise the living standard of poor Christians and their unbelieving neighbors? And why shouldn’t we expect them to make a profit while doing so? We celebrate such people in our Western churches. Why shouldn’t we encourage them to do their work for the health and growth of Christ’s church internationally and in our own urban centers?
Strategic investment that meets human need with dignity, and that enhances long-term financial stability for church extension, should be celebrated. So how should mission agencies address this opportunity?
First, they can prayerfully seek ways to bridge the gap between world Christian entrepreneurs and those people in a myriad of struggling gospel outposts who need help. Knowing where to begin is the biggest obstacle on both sides of the equation, and mission agencies are uniquely positioned to assist each side in understanding the other.
Second, they can work with churches to develop the mission vision of the entrepreneurs and business experts who sit in the pews every Sunday. These folks must be challenged to see the significance of their gifts and abilities in world missions, and their hearts must be stirred to do something about it. It is hard to imagine a more promising, or less utilized, resource in the church today.
Third, the agencies must communicate their interest in this kind of ministry clearly. They must commit the necessary time and resources to make this happen, and their rationale for doing so must be well-articulated and real. Mental assent to the idea without a corresponding adjustment of structures and commitment of resources will not get the job done.
Fourth, they must document and share models of successful enterprises. When what has been done is more visible, what can be done will become more evident to the next wave of practitioners. I may be poorly informed, but I don’t know of a single traditional agency that has made such endeavors part of its top tier agenda. Who wants to be first?
Gary Corwin is former editor of Evangelical Missions Quarterly and a special representative with SIM in Charlotte, N.C.
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