Tensions Between Faith and Work
One of the great privileges of traveling and working internationally is the frequent opportunity provided by long journeys for prayerful reflection on the goodness of God and the adventure of a life walking with Him. A few years ago, on one such long trip, I took some time to reflect on my life in the previous 7 years since becoming a Christian, in particular, on my journey towards integrating faith and work, mission and business.
I came to faith in my late twenties in the midst of the busiest time in my working life. I worked as a strategist and management consultant in one of the leading financial services companies in the UK. I was being stretched like never before in a senior management role, responsible for leading and implementing major organisational change in my department and at the same time completing a part-time MBA. That God chose this time to stir my heart still amazes me.
Like many of my peers who were raised in Christian homes, and schooled in Western sacred/secular split- thinking, I struggled to reconcile my new found faith and my work. The particular church I was attending wasn’t really much help.
This struggle to reconcile my faith and work was exacerbated all the more as I began to have a real sense of the Lord stirring my heart for mission, for the nations, and for the poor and needy. Operating from my current paradigm and the expression of mission I was hearing about, I could only see this happening through training in pastoral ministry or church planting.
Have you ever felt as a businessperson, or professional, that you’re nearly the only person in church who doesn’t have something to offer mission? I certainly did.
I can remember watching teachers, builders, medics, plumbers, electricians, cooks, parents, social workers and all other manner of people being exhorted to get involved in short-term mission trips. Along with the others who were seen as ‘business people’, ‘office workers’, ‘consultants’ or ‘professionals’, I was exhorted to get involved too, but only by contributing money. We were left with the sense of being second-class, good for nothing but tithing and bringing work colleagues along to church events. Little did I know of the journey ahead, the journey of learning all that God had in store for me.
A Breakthrough in Thinking
A family illness and bereavement became the catalyst for me to step back from my work and actively begin to get involved in mission.
My first forays into short-term mission trips and visits overseas fit more into the traditional model of missions I was used to; a church planting team in Cambodia, a charitable project in Sierra Leone and a Bible training school in Sri Lanka. I was humbled by the servant heartedness I saw in these different contexts and encouraged by the way the gospel was lived out. However, I sensed that God was drawing me to be a part of something different. I had left work thinking that my business education, skills and experience weren’t going to be relevant to my future. Yet the more I journeyed, the more I sensed God showing me that they were going to be central, He wanted to use them in new ways and in different contexts.
It was during a mission conference that I first heard a speaker put the words business and mission together. My spirit soared as I listened to him talk about the people he worked with and the part that business had to play in establishing the Kingdom of God in the nations.
Within weeks I had the chance to go back to SE Asia, this time I was in the role of the strategist, consultant and business professional I was graced to be. It was my turn to discover that sense of anointing, which, until then, I had only seen in other people. Since then, I have had the privilege of working with a number of missional businesses and enterprise-based projects during a series of extended times in Cambodia and Laos. I also invested time doing a cross-cultural training program with a small mission organisation.
My eyes were opened to the important role that business and economic activity must play to lift the poor from poverty, to provide jobs and dignity. I began to understand why economic deprivation is one of the biggest causes of human trafficking and to see that God’s promise of salvation is not just something spiritual. It’s not just about becoming churched; it’s about holistic transformation of people, communities and in time, whole nations.
Since I’ve become involved in business as mission, I have seen lives being transformed as people are given jobs; the opportunity to work, to provide for their families. I have seen people coming to faith and real discipleship take place as employees are invited to seek God, invited to wrestle with difficult questions concerning bribery and corruption and to learn how to treat each other with dignity and respect. I’ve had the opportunity to work with persecuted Christians who had been excluded from other work opportunities because of their faith. I have caught a vision for business as an expression of the Kingdom of God; a place where faith can be lived out in very real ways, where discipleship happens all week.
However, I have also encountered situations and practice that jarred my spirit. I have seen a lack of business rigor as people have become reliant on donor support to cover business expenses whether the business had a good month or not. I have observed businesses unable to implement good practice or grow beyond employing one or two people because ‘the real ministry’ constantly diverted them. I have met people that wanted a business visa but resented the business that came with it. I found myself questioning the integrity of mixing business and charitable donations and its impact on local competition. I’ve seen some great things happening and some incredible people boldly pioneering in places where it was tough to do business, but not always with what I felt were the right motives or in the most transparent way.
It was in this context that I embarked on the BAM Course training in Thailand where I had the opportunity to spend a few weeks with a fantastic group of diverse people, a great team of staff and some of the most challenging, inspiring and knowledgeable speakers I have ever had the privilege to hear. What an amazing opportunity it was to wrestle with similar questions, to have a safe place to voice concerns and feelings of unease. Here were a group of people who shared my love of God, renewed my passion for the lost, yet shared a hunger to consider business not merely as a platform or ‘cover’ but as a holy and anointed expression of faith and a demonstration of the creative goodness of God.
A Like-minded Community
My BAM Course experience was a rich one in so many ways. We had the scriptures opened and taught to us in new ways by biblical scholars. We had the opportunity to ask why we believe the things we do and to explore those things together in discussion and prayer. We saw the pervasive ways that our ways of thinking were ‘split’ and began to dismantle the sacred/secular divides in our own lives. We heard first-hand the experience of brokenness and failure in business and explored what success really means in business as mission. It was affirming and challenging to discover that BAM isn’t only about entrepreneurs but about business builders with many skills and resources coming together.
The BAM training took us out on field trips to see missional business in action first hand, both locally and across the region. We heard inspiring stories of people involved in missional business, seeing people come to faith in the workplace, living discipleship day in day out, impacting government officials, staff, suppliers and customers. The experience helped me consider the difficult reality of doing business as mission and to appreciate that it’s easy to be a purist in in the classroom, but it’s a lot harder to put that into full practice in the workplace. It was provoking to hear people acknowledge that it is unhealthy to rely on donor money to sustain their business, but also to recognize that without it local people were going to lose their jobs.
The staff and speakers were willing to explore questions rather than present opinions as fact. We encountered people willing to share their perspective and listen as we wrestled with the complexity of issues of corruption. We also heard the first hand reality of spiritual warfare in some of the darkest places to live and work as a believer. The BAM Course introduced me to a multi-national community of friends and fellow pilgrims who brought their wealth of knowledge and experience, and most importantly their love for God, to our time together. Networking is a business phrase that doesn’t do justice to the shared experience and relationships that were built during the course and which continue to today.
I came away not only with a vision for business as an expression of the Kingdom ’to the ends of the earth’, but also with a heart stirred to see missional businesses in my country and elsewhere in the Western world. I was stirred to pray that the shattering of the sacred/secular divide that had taken place in my own thinking would be amplified in churches throughout the UK and beyond. My prayer is for Christian business people to be affirmed in their gifting and anointing in their churches and supported in their important and vital role in a society into which the Kingdom of God is bursting forth. I long to see businesses in the West that have as their goal righteousness and justice, as well as profits, that aim to create jobs that provide opportunities to the poor wherever they are. I am encouraged that I am not alone in this journey, that there is a stirring in the hearts of many other business people and professionals to embrace the holy calling that they have in their churches and communities.
JC is part-owner of a business in the UK and serves as a business as mission Consultant and Coach helping business people and organisations engage in missional business with effective practice and greater business rigor.
The 3 week BAM Training Course runs every year in Chiang Mai, Thailand from mid February to early March. Visit BAMTraining.org for the next course dates and details.