Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. – Philippians 2:15-16 (The Message)
I love how The Message renders this exhortation from Paul in Philippians. The more traditional ‘shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life’ is brought to life as an encouragement to be a breath of fresh air to people, showing them what good living is in relationship with the living God.
What a reminder and challenge for each follower of Christ that our own relationship with the Lord is central to our mission! For how can we be a breath of fresh air to others and help people glimpse the living God if we are not experiencing that vital life and connection in our own lives? But we live in the real world with real businesses to run. How can we be ‘light-giving’ when we are under great stress, dealing with the pressures and realities of running a company, often in hostile or difficult circumstances?
This is the question that we put to 12 BAM practitioners. We asked them about the greatest challenges to nurturing or maintaining their spiritual health as a BAMer. We also asked them what had been their most useful habits, practices or resources for nurturing spiritual health.
BAM mentor and author Mike Baer shared the following:
I can tell you that over the past 30 years in BAM this has been a constant question, challenge, and, at times a roller coaster. There is not one of us who can honestly say, “I’ve got this. No problem.” Apart from the usual suspects of stress, overwork, cultural pressure, relationships, customer relations, financial stress, spiritual warfare, prayerlessness, isolation, lack of sleep, what can I add? These challenges are true for everyone. Any Christian seeking to follow Jesus is going to face them. The comfort in this is that we are not alone. Frankly I wish BAMers would spend more time discussing these issues in much the same way I wish more Christians in church would be more open about their issues.
So what insights did our 12 BAM practitioners share? In this Part 1 we identify the four main threats to spiritual health that they identified. Almost everything they shared as a challenge can be broken down into these four main areas. Then in Part 2, we will share the useful practices and resources that they have found have helped them nurture their spiritual health.
Four Threats to Spiritual Health
1. The Tyranny of the Urgent
There is never going to be a quieter day! That is the truth for business owners everywhere. We are time-poor, with a never-ending stream of urgent issues to prioritise and deal with. This is an ongoing challenge to nurturing spiritual health, the most frequent threat mentioned by the BAMers we asked.
One of greatest threats to my spiritual health has been contending with the tyranny of the urgent in the face of the need for daily intimacy with God. – Henry, South Africa
A real challenge is poor perspective: not seeing physical and spiritual health as essential and important, thereby allowing these elements to be displaced by technical or pragmatic urgencies. – Liam, Australia
The demands of emails etc. often urge me to just get this one job done, knowing that my friends in the USA will get a reply ‘today’ if I reply to it before I start my time with the Lord. During times of prayer, I find ‘digital discipline’ hard to maintain. I get distracted too easily when a Whatsapp message or email comes in. – Duncan, India
Something that is particularly destructive is prayerlessness. Martin Luther once remarked that he was so busy he had to pray at least three hours a day! Most of us can understand the “so busy” part but pray for three hours? The fact is that we are busy. We are rushing. We are naturally doers (the meaning of the word “entrepreneur”) so prayer is difficult. Being still is difficult. Our tendency is to either pray on the way to a meeting or slam a few quick upward phrases before we launch for the day. The result is that we accomplish less than we could and exhaust ourselves in the process. – Mike Baer, USA
Balancing family, business and ministry has been a huge struggle. They overlap almost constantly and sometimes one overwhelms the others. If my Bible reading and prayer doesn’t happen in the morning before everyone else is up, it often does not happen. It has also been a challenge to take “spiritual disciplines” like prayer and seeking God from “ministry” into the business arena. It is a mindset change that is sometimes hard to achieve. – M., Egypt
2. A Lack of Routine
The lack of routine brought on by erratic or long work hours and the need to travel was a problem often mentioned by the BAMers we asked about spiritual health. An inconsistent routine is the unhelpful twin to the number one threat of time pressure and distraction. Together they can be fatal to spiritual vitality.
Along with poor perspective is poor planning and poor practice. By not having a good perspective regarding spiritual and physical health, poor planning then results in inadequate time, energy and effort to maintaining health. Poor practice is then not persevering in what you hope to achieve; perhaps initiating some renewed effort to establish holistic health practices, but giving up after a few days of wanting to create new habits. – Liam, Australia
Time pressure squeezing out time for God and working across time-zones with long hours, a head preoccupied with whether we will survive or not, these have all been challenges. – MH, Asia
Travel often means that I am staying in a place where I cannot shut the door and pray to my Father in secret. Often I cannot find anywhere just to be on my own, which makes prayer difficult. – Duncan, India
For us, lack of consistency and travel complicates this ability to maintain spiritual health and I have not really found a key or answer to this that helps us. – James, Indonesia
My perspective is from someone who travels extensively consulting with BAM businesses. While traveling it is easy to get off schedule in terms of daily quiet time. Its both people pressures and frequent time zone changes that interrupt sleep and natural rhythm. – NH, USA/Asia
3. Stress and Anxiety
Coupled with the tyranny of the urgent is the slow build-up of stress and worry that can plague BAMers. Family, business and culture stresses are an inevitable part of life. Every Christian will experience the temptation to give in to anxiety or allow the stress of life to damage spiritual health. However, for the BAMer, the relentless pressure of a business, often in uncertain circumstances, can be a particularly potent threat.
A big challenge has been dealing with disappointment – asking ‘Why God?!’ – and learning to press through this. – MH, Asia
The focus on trying to become profitable in a quite competitive market combined with the steep learning curve as fairly new BAMers presented new challenges we had not dealt with before. This, in an environment not so open to the gospel, probably typical for BAM ventures, where opportunities to speak openly about Jesus were infrequent, took its toll. At the time we thought we did fine and included team prayers as an important part of the routine. In the long term, however, I have understood that my spiritual life slowly declined compared to what I was used to. The combination of a harsh environment where you do not see much fruit, together with the financial and practical business pressures should not be underestimated. – HS, Europe/Middle East
My greatest challenge to spiritual health is worry. My wife and I have the habit to read the Bible and pray together, go to church and even fast with the team when things get rough, so this was okay. But the pressure to start a project from scratch in an underdeveloped and corrupt country was so big that many nights I couldn’t sleep. And in the midst of pressure and worry you don’t hear God’s voice so well. – Hans, Angola/Brazil
We have lived for many years in some very difficult places under Islamic law. This includes raising our children under these conditions. We also lived in the middle of a civil war for 7 years. This has probably been the greatest challenge to spiritual health that we have faced. However, our spiritual health will be the strongest, as God’s grace is sufficient, when we walk and remain in the center of His will for our lives. Knowing that this is where God wanted us, not just made living there survivable, but as a family we were more than able to thrive. – James, Indonesia
A lack of fellowship and/or a lack of accountability was a commonly identified threat to spiritual health for the BAM practitioners we asked. Not being able to build life-giving, honest relationships or experience fellowship with other believers was a real danger to spiritual vitality.
A challenge I’ve faced is contending with a pride that downplays the importance of maintaining a healthy relationship with the local and global church due to pressing personal goals. There is also the tendency to forget to keep accountability with my spouse, board and mentors. – Henry, South Africa
Another major challenge is isolation. Loneliness got Elijah and it will get us. It’s a leadership thing. It’s lonely at the top, as they say. I have personally found myself feeling that no one understands or I shouldn’t be a burden or I’ll do my doubting in private or some such rubbish. Consequently, I walk alone with no close brother to share the burden with and I end up off track, in self pity and, once again, exhausted. – Mike Baer, USA
I think political instability in Haiti and a stressful environment affects spiritual life as it diminishes fellowship time together. Church time and bible studies are reduced to a minimum. This does not mean folks are in siege, but seeing and hearing the cases of robbery and different political turmoils make people want to stay at home so they can avoid getting caught in the wrong place at the wrong moment. – Daniel, Haiti
A struggle has been feeling that I don’t connect that well with traditional church organisations and structures and as a result questioning my own spirituality and faith. I have found that being in smaller, home-type church groups has been the answer. – MH, Asia
One thing that is difficult is finding a church service or worship/sermon that meets all the needs of a very diverse international community, and this has been a challenge. Sometimes I simply don’t connect well with others around me for spiritual guidance and mentorship, so that creates a hole that is hard to fill. However, I have good support back in the my home country and have been able to find the right people in different seasons to hold me accountable and walk through life with.– Jacob, Nepal
So what are the solutions and antidotes to these very real threats in the life of a BAM practitioner? We share ideas from BAM practitioners in Part 2: 5 Ways to Nurture Spiritual Health: Tips from BAM Practitioners
With special thanks to all the BAMers who took time to give us input for this series.
Jo Plummer is the Co-Chair of the BAM Global Think Tank and co-editor the Lausanne Occasional Paper on Business as Mission. She has been developing resources for BAM since 2001 and currently serves as Editor of the Business as Mission website.
Join us for our BAM Endurance series on The BAM Review Blog, looking at principles and habits for long-term fruitfulness. Have your say on social media on this topic by following us on Twitter or Facebook.