Living in Thailand, we are surrounded by houses built on pillars. This picture hangs in our house, a constant reminder of the importance of strong foundations. I think of a BAM business being like a house built on pillars. No matter what shape the house is, what it looks like on the outside, the pillars (or foundations) must be strong to support the structure.
Each individual launching into BAM will have different experiences and a different journey of preparation. BAM models and strategies will naturally be diverse. God is creative and He has made each of us to be creative. There is no single BAM model that will work for everyone, everywhere. However, there are at least four common areas that need to be intentionally built to form a strong foundation for any BAM business. Like the pillars supporting a house, if one of these areas is weak or missing the whole structure will be unstable. If you are getting ready for business as mission, be intentional about building up these four pillars of BAM preparation:
Pillar #1 – Personal Character and Spiritual Formation
Jesus said, I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5, NIV). We will not magically become godly business as mission owners or employees that bear much fruit. Right where we are now, let’s be committed to walking closely with Jesus in everything we do, growing in the fruit of the Spirit as His disciples. Prayer, ethical business practice, healthy marriage and family life, the way we relate to others, our attitude to money, the leading of the Holy Spirit, these are all essential areas to nurture and cultivate for healthy lives – and healthy BAM practice. Neglect or outright sin in these areas will destroy our credibility and quite possibly our business. Weak character or immaturity in Christ will be a hidden fault line in our BAM foundations. Although all of us fall short – and our efforts and resources alone will not please God – we must be quick to repent, patient to seek God and be committed to keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5: 13-25).
Pillar #2 – Biblical Foundations
Ideas have consequences. The way we think and what we value will shape our actions, behaviours and what we build. Whether our thinking about business has been moulded by secular ideas, or by unbiblical attitudes from our church heritage, we need to make an honest evaluation. Many of us need to dismantle the way that we think about business and intentionally develop a biblical worldview of work, business and the economic sphere (not to mention, mission, relationships and human flourishing!). In 2 Thessalonians chapter 3, Paul the Apostle unpacks one of the reasons he was in the business of making tents. He explains that he worked hard in order to give the Thessalonians an example to imitate. Paul was teaching, but also modelling, the Bible’s view about work and business. At the time, the prevailing Greek-Roman culture had a low view of the material world, manual labour was disdained and there was a sharp divide between what was considered sacred or secular. This sacred-secular divide is very prevalent in our churches today and influences the thinking of many Church leaders and Christians in business, weakening our foundations. All work, all vocations have the potential to glorify God and business has an innate power to transform lives and communities for good. Business as mission is merely an expression of that power and potential, and one that should be built on strong Biblical foundations.
Pillar #3 – Business Excellence
As we launch into business as mission we cannot neglect the sound business practice that applies to any business. The business and economic sphere is governed by natural laws, just as gravity is. We wouldn’t dream of going to the top of a tall building, praying with our prayer partner and jumping off, expecting an act of spiritual devotion to save us! Yet too often in business as mission we have prayed and hoped for the best whilst neglecting fundamental business principles. Business startups have a high failure rate in general, BAM startups face a whole range of additional challenges. We must gain the business skills and experience that we will need to understand our industry, business model and business context. We need to crunch the numbers, do the financial planning, conduct market research, develop an HR plan, manage our risk and so on. We cannot neglect the expertise we will need to put the necessary systems in place as our business grows. If we don’t have the experience and expertise we need, we must diligently build a team, develop partnerships, take a course, find a coach or mentor, engage a board of advisors, hire a lawyer and so on. Let us be committed to do business with excellence.
Pillar #4 – Business as Mission Best Practice
We are building on the shoulders of a generation of business as mission pioneers. There have been successes and failures that we can learn from. There is a growing body of resources dedicated to unearthing BAM principles and fruitful practices. Let us learn from those and avoid reinventing the wheel or making unnecessary mistakes. Take time to build up your understanding of fruitful BAM practice: read stories, research BAM experiences in a particular industry, visit BAM companies, go to a BAM conference. In whatever way possible, learn lessons from others who are willing to share them. Here are some helpful resources to start: Practitioner Toolkits, BAM Think Tank papers, Stories, Books containing case studies.
Can you think of another pillar essential for BAM preparation? Contribute your view in the comments below.
With thanks to Bill for the ‘prayer at the top of a tall building’ illustration!
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.
This post is also featured in the ‘Get Ready’ section of our Get Started page. Visit Get Started for more introductory resources.