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5 Questions to Ask Yourself About Business, Language and Church Planting

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Dear BAM Mentor,

I can see that language acquisition is going to be essential to both business and church planting efforts in my target area, but it is a lot to think about. How have you seen language learning combined with business development and start–up? What has worked? Any other tips for successfully putting together business strategy and church planting strategy?

~ Planning to Plant

Dear Planning,

This is a good question and there are no easy answers. Your approach will depend your goals and your constraints.

Here are a few questions to consider:

1. How do you define business: one where you will be totally supported by your operations or one in which you will still receive outside funding to support your living expenses?

If you are okay with being subsidized through outside funding and able to raise such funding, even if for an initial timeframe, this will allow for more options. One option could be to spend more time learning a language for a period while you do some business-related work. Another benefit if you started a business would be that this support could sustain a period of losses, before profitability is reached.

However, if you wanted to be totally supported by your operations, you would be more constrained by time. It would be very difficult to do intense language learning at the same time as working full-on in the business.

2. What do you see as your role: primary church planter or a support to church planting efforts?

If you see yourself as the lead church planter on a team, then you should definitely have fluency in the heart language of your people. This means you should have high language acquisition goals, and this could even mean that you need to learn multiple languages: the trade language and the heart language. On the high end of the scale, it could recquire around 4 years of learning a couple of difficult languages full-time.

However, if your role is more a support to church planting efforts, then you could have lower language goals. Certainly, you should still learn the language but instead of doing an intense period of language acquisition you could study it over a longer period of time.

3. How long do you see yourself staying in-country: only a few years or for an indefinite period?

If you are only thinking of being involved in business and church planting for a few years, then language is less of a priority. It would still be important, but much less so. That being said, if you don’t plan for being in location for more than a few years, you should know that you will likely have less impact, longevity is important for seeing churches planted.

But if you might stay indefinitely, or at least be in a country long-term, then language learning should be a priority for you. It would be important to learn the language well so you could thrive and also be effective business-wise.

4. Do you have entrepreneurial gifting such that you should start the business yourself or should you be an employee?

If you are starting the business by yourself or otherwise leading it, then much more of a burden will fall on you to make sure the business is profitable. This will limit your capacity to do language learning.

If, however, you can just be an employee in a business, you could be more flexible to have time to learn the language.

5. Are you single or are you married, with kids?

Another factor is your life situation. If you are single, you will have a lot more time to balance church planting and language learning. It is more difficult if you are married, and much more if you have children.

In an ideal situation, if you are looking to do church planting long-term, you would have two to three years dedicated to learning a language and then work in a business. But life is often not ideal. So if that is not possible, then it is good to consider how your answers to the above questions could shape how you balance language learning with business goals.

If you want or need to be somewhat self-supported from the start, think creatively. One idea could be getting a job in a place where you can learn the language, then transition over to starting a business once you have a better grasp of the language and of the opportunities in-country. Another idea could be working in a business and using your free time and vacations to do language sprints.

More Responses on this topic:

From André Mann:

I find it impossible to think of ministry that could be in any way divorced or separated from what is happening in the course of everyday work during an entrepreneurial phase of starting a business. Ministry in this context must flow through the day to day activities of getting the business off the ground. You develop relationships with potential clients, government officials, employees, etc. It is these people you are able to reach with your witness, it is these people you do life with, and are able to share the Hope that you have in your Savior. However, having said that, I think it would be impossible to work on a church plant alone, and also successfully start a business. It is essential that a new entrepreneur be part of a church planting team where the rest of the team is not at the same stage of early development of their business. Otherwise there won’t be the capacity do everything that needs to be done in church planting and the business. One or the other will flounder. […Read more]

From Dwight Nordstrom and Nathan Chester:

We’ve seen that for 10/40 locations – such as China, India, the Islamic world – the statistics for BAMers wanting to stay more than 5 years are clear: you have to get to working proficiency in the local language!

Among PRI’s several hundred non-nationals (since 1990), 90% of those who made it to working proficiency in the local language achieved this proficiency prior to working in a job of 40 hours per week. There are exceptions to the rule, but very few BAMers get to working proficiency after starting working full-time on the field. If they do manage it, it is by bringing in a tutor from 7:30 to 9am in the morning – not recommended! Instead we recommend financial support from donors for the language acquisition period. It’s not current 2015 market reality to ask to ask the company to pay for it. […Read more]

The author is a BAM practitioner working in Central Asia and the Middle East for more than 10 years and now mentors and connects other BAM companies.

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