While we can talk about the dangers of “mission drift” or the “secularization of BAM businesses”, I would argue that it is not really the mission that drifts, nor do businesses, come to think about it!
Recently, while talking to the owners of a failed start-up I was advised that the reason the “business failed” was that there was not enough customers to buy their products. I mused, “How was that the business’s fault?” You may accuse me of being too particular about the use of language. However, our use of language can sometimes be a mask that causes us to deceive ourselves. Sometimes it is easier to blame “something”, anything, before fully examining ourselves.
I would argue that any “drift” or “secularization” for a BAM company is more likely to be our drift from our personal relationship with God and His people, over any external influence.
So why did that business fail? It would help if we could apply the “5 Whys” method for getting to the core issue. We can apply this method anywhere, whether it to our mission, our business, our marriage, church, school etc. Some people ask 6 or even 7 whys, like I have here:
- Why did the business fail? (failed to plan)
- Why did the market move? (markets do)
- Why did you not see that before? (failed to research)
- Why did you not do the research? (failed to appreciate the importance of research)
- Why did you feel it was not necessary? (sales, quality, environment, staff were taking my time)
- Why did you fail to prioritize? (failed to take time for the important things)
- Why did you not do the important things? (failed to balance life)
Are We Drifting?
There is certainly no lack of temptation in business, whether it is conducted only for profit or is associated with service for God. Those temptations, if not properly managed, can seriously undermine the business and anything with which it is associated.
Scripture is very clear on the dangers of business success distorting values and priorities in relation to our devotion to God. The Bible is also clear about giving God the glory for whatever we have been able to achieve in the business environment.
One of the parables of Jesus concerned a farmer who had been blessed with a bumper harvest. Undoubtedly he had put in a lot of hard work to achieve this result, but ultimately it is God who gives the increase. His success, however, distorted his view on what was important and he considered only his own comfort and enjoyment. He forgot the role God had played.
He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”‘ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” – Luke 12:17-21
God is the ultimate priority in everyone’s life but those who are involved in business face similar temptations to the farmer. It is easy to forget about God’s role and his call on our lives and instead become preoccupied with our own welfare and profit. It is also easy to forget that we cannot rely on having tomorrow to develop our business or to enjoy the rewards of business.
Long ago Solomon recorded his wise words on this matter and they are just as applicable today as they were in Solomon’s day.
Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth. – Proverbs 27:1
James picks up the same theme but doesn’t wrap it up in the form of a story. As is his style, James gives it straight to his readers:
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” – James 4:13-15
Here we see the temptation of pride creeping in as a result of business success and we begin to boast about what we plan to do, where and when.
However, as well as warning us, James points us toward the antidote for these temptations that afflict those who are in business. We need to submit everything we do and our plans to God. Invite Him into every meeting – it’s His business!
Undoubtedly there are various ways in which this advice can be put into practice, but one proposal is to build safeguards into our business plan from the very start that will keep the business on track with its original purpose. Failure to do so runs the risk of falling foul of the many business temptations, and then discovering how much more difficult it can be to rectify the problems that arise after everything has already started to drift.
As an integral part of our business plan, we need to allocate time and make arrangements to pray about the business. That means more than a perfunctory few minutes of prayer whenever we happen to think about it. It needs to be a regular and ongoing time of waiting on God – of sharing our plans, concerns and thanksgiving with God and then listening to what He has to say to us, perhaps in some direct way or through His Word. If we can involve other people who have a genuine concern for the success of the business, both spiritual and financial, then so much the better.
When we mess up, we also need to bring our confessions to God, seeking forgiveness and then putting things right, according to the principles of true repentance.
Even our best intentions along these lines will be attacked. Business priorities will come along and urgent issues that must be attended to and therefore threaten our time with God. However, God must always be our priority number one and such pressures need to resisted.
The practical mechanism that helps us maintain correct priorities is to build in strong accountability. That means finding someone or a group or an organization that will not hesitate to call us to account for any failure in putting God first and in consulting Him in every situation.
Of course there are no guarantees, but if all else fails we should remember that there is always a way back to God, though it may be a tough road (1 John 1:9).
by David Skews
David Skews is a businessperson called to mission. In 1989, he established EDP Health Safety & Environment Consultants Ltd performing the role of CEO as he led EDP through sustained growth for over 25 years in both the UK and Asia. In 2004 he fully engaged in business as mission, as well as continuing to lead his business. Since then, David has focused his efforts into training entrepreneurs in Asia and Africa, and speaking internationally on business for good. He has also helped lead a mission agency through the process of embracing missional business. Today, he acts as a non-exec director for six successful BAM businesses and is part of the Advisory Board for BAM Global. David transitioned out of his business in 2015 and into new BAM fields! David is married to Lesley and is based in the UK.