How the Sacred-Secular Divide Influences Attitudes to Business in the Americas

We asked people engaged with BAM around the world to share how they see the sacred-secular divide affecting thinking in the Church in their country – and how this influences engagement of Christians the business sphere.

Perspectives from North and South America

João Mordomo – Brazil

My day-to-day experience in both mission and business, as well as my academic research concerning business as mission, have convinced me that the sacred-secular divide is one of the greatest challenges facing not only Latin American missions, but the Latin American Church at large.

Latin America can be divided broadly into two major regions, based on language. Portuguese-speaking Brazil comprises roughly half of South America’s landmass and population. The other half, as well as most of Central America, is Spanish-speaking. While there are significant historical, cultural, linguistic, economic and religious differences, for the purpose of these brief observations concerning the sacred-secular divide, we will consider Latin America as a whole. Read more

What Does the Sacred-Secular Divide Look Like Around the World?

We asked people engaged with BAM around the world to share how they see the sacred-secular divide affecting thinking in the Church in their country – and how this influences engagement of Christians the business sphere. Here are some of their responses and we will be posting more in the coming two weeks.

Patrick Kuwana – South Africa

In South Africa there is a church on almost every street in residential areas (especially the poorer township areas) and in fact in some areas it’s two to three in the same street. The latest statistics show that about 80% of the population profess to be Christians and yet South Africa is listed 67th on a list of 175 countries/territories on the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. So why would a nation that claims to be 80% Christian have this prevailing situation that more resembles the fruit of darkness in society? It is because most of the 80% claiming to be followers of Christ have compartmentalized their Christianity into a “church box” and have left their “business and workplace box” void of the principles and practices they adhere to while in the “church box”. The missing link is that there is a huge void in understanding that God’s statutes and ways are the foundation of every area of life and hence we see almost no biblical influence in determining the culture of business and the overall structure of the economy. Read more

Breaking Down the Sacred-Secular Divide

by Mike Baer

Adapted from material first published on the Third Path Blog, as part of a series, reposted with kind permission.

What is the Sacred-Secular Divide?

You don’t have to go very far today to hear some reference to the ‘sacred-secular divide’ or the ‘sacred-secular dichotomy.’ It’s in all the books, blogs, conferences – and occasionally in a sermon. And it’s always in a negative connotation.

So what exactly is the sacred-secular divide? In one sense, it’s impossible to define. It’s a kind of culture, a nuance, an entirely too subtle way of looking at life, vocation and ministry. It’s a shadow that covers many other aspects of our lives. It seems innocuous, but it’s not. The divide is a false dichotomy, a false worldview, an infection in the minds of Jesus’ followers that has done incalculable damage to the cause of the Church.

However, we can at least approximate the meaning of the divide in this way. It is a view of life built on a separation or distinction between those things, people and places someone believes to be sacred (holy and of God) and those believed to be secular (worldly and not of God). Certain callings are holy (missionary, pastor) and others are secular, i.e. of the world and therefore unholy (business, medicine, construction, etc). Certain places are sacred as well—church buildings, graveyards, seminaries while others are secular—my house, your house, schools, and athletic stadiums. I know you might like the sentiment, but a candle lit in a church building is no more holy or special to God than a candle on my 2 year old grandson’s birthday cake. Caution: if that statement offends you, then you are living in the divide. In short, it is all about distinctions and separations and classes and castes. Read more

What is the Sacred-Secular Divide? Watch 3 Short Videos

The sacred-secular divide is an unbiblical way of thinking about the world that pervades the modern church globally. It deeply affects the way we think about business and work and is one of the most frequently mentioned barriers to understanding and engagement in business as mission. In the coming weeks we will hear stories and teaching that will help to break down the sacred-secular divide. These three short videos, each just a few minutes long, will help answer the question, What is the Sacred-Secular Divide?

Mark Greene: Imagine – London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

The sacred-secular divide is the pervasive belief that some things are really important to God, and that other things aren’t… 

Read more

Is My Business Going to Be Fruitful This Year? Ask Me in 24 Years

by David Stone

What is the great divide? We categorize certain activities as sacred and others as secular. Orphanage ministry or business activity. Sacred or secular? We are still stuck in the divide!

On a recent trip to Kathmandu, Nepal, I was visiting with a small expat short-term missions team on outreach. Two of the team members felt called to business AND missions. I inquired about their business AND missions activity on outreach. They said they had researched (via the internet) Micro-Enterprise Loan organizations in Nepal for a local Business As Mission company. The BAM company is fighting sex trafficking at the source – the families.

The BAM company wants to provide economic opportunity to keep the families from selling their daughters. The BAM strategy includes opening up new trekking routes into the region. That would require hostels and cafes on the routes. Local families can start businesses that would provide an economic alternative to selling their daughters. The new businesses may require small loans, and they need to know what local lending organization are a good fit.

The two young missionaries identified one local Micro-Enterprise Lending company that warranted further consideration. The following dialogue took place. Read more

Business as Mission: What Do I Have to Offer?

by Larry Sharp

Post first published on the IBEC Ventures Blog, reposted with kind permission.

This question is sometimes asked me by North American kingdom business persons who own or manage businesses: “What can I offer as consultant, advisor, mentor or coach?”  It is a natural question for business persons living and working in a very different context from a business startup in Asia, Africa or the Middle East.

What is business anyway? Is it not something like this: an organization with appropriate management that provides a good or service and is created to earn a profit, serve customers and create jobs, community value and increase wealth? That is universal. Followers of Jesus have an integrated kingdom perspective in all they do (1 Corinthians 10:31) so they operate businesses for the glory of God. Faith is integrated into daily work.

A person who has owned a small or medium-sized business (or has worked in the management of such) has likely learned a great deal about one or more of the following. The things that have been learned can be passed on in a consulting, coaching, teaching or mentoring venue. Read more

The Right Ingredients: 10 Essential Characteristics of a BAMer

Interview with Peter Shaukat – Part 2

With 15 years of experience recruiting for, mentoring, and investing in BAM companies all over the Arab world and Asia, Peter has a unique perspective into Human Resources for business as mission. Continuing our interview, we asked him to share what he sees as essential characteristics of a BAMer.

Tell us more about those character traits or criteria that you identify and look for in a potential BAMer.

This is where the rubber hits the road. We have developed an interesting questionnaire for potential BAM practitioners which get to some of these criteria. Here are ten of the top ranking criteria in our experience:

1. Well-rounded thinking
We look for a genuine, thoughtful understanding of work as ministry, with the experience and capacity to grapple with ethical issues, able to live with a certain degree of ambiguity – i.e. they are not black and white in their thinking.

2. Servant leaders
BAM practitioners, fundamentally, are called by God to a ministry of exercising servant-leadership in the marketplace – the arena which is, in our time, the most influential, agenda-setting nexus of human activity.  Understanding how to be an agent of redemption and transformation in such a context – and bringing some tangible experience to the table in doing so – is indispensable. Read more

In the Shoes of a BAM Practitioner Part 2: More HR Challenges

Last week we unpacked the Top 3 biggest HR issues in business as mission – as related to us by 25 BAM Practitioners. We asked them:

What have been the most important HR issues in your BAM business experience?

Here are the rest of the Top 10 most frequently mentioned Human Resource challenges and some of the comments that business owners shared with us.

4. Lack of required skills in employees

The need for significant training and staff development when hiring locally, especially when targeting job creation for a specific group.

We employ adults with low literacy skills and chronically poor, with very complex lives  – this presents nested and multiple challenges – in a sense though this is why the business exists. – David, Asia

My biggest HR challenge is the critical thinking and problem solving skills within my Kenyan employees. They grew up in the rote educational system that didn’t develop it and they lack that capacity. There are few Kenyans that do have these skills, but they are typically already successfully running businesses and I can’t compensate them, or give them ownership stake in a way that will motivate them to join my company. – Brian, Kenya

Another challenge is building soft skills such as communication, creative thinking, team spirit, etc., among the staff. – Joseph, India

 A significant challenge is poor technical training. Usually it’s their first job. – Hans, Angola Read more

In the Shoes of a BAM Practitioner Part 1: Unpacking the Top 3 HR Challenges

What have been the most important HR issues in your BAM business experience?

That is the question we put to 25 BAM Practitioners. These are the three most frequently mentioned Human Resource challenges and some of the comments that business owners shared with us.

1. Finding the complete package

The issue that kept coming up again and again was finding people with the right mix of business skills, character formation and mission-motivation. This was by far the most frequently mentioned challenge among the BAMers we asked.

The biggest issue is finding employees who are followers of Christ and have the skillset required for the job. I usually run into people who have one or the other of these two qualifications, but seldom have both. – Joseph, India

A challenge is finding management level people with the faith maturity and business skills. Another is locating skilled expats willing to live and work in a remote location to build local capacity. – David, Asia

Read more

10 Critical Human Resource Challenges in Business as Mission

We asked 25 BAM Practitioners one simple question:

What have been the most important HR issues in your BAM business experience?

Here are the Top 10 issues that they mentioned the most:

 

1. Finding the complete package
Recruiting and hiring people with the right mix of business skills, character formation and mission-motivation.

 

2. Cultural differences
Dealing with different cultural norms between expat staff or business owners and national staff, that significantly impacts the business Read more