We are exploring the integration of business and mission, and the tensions this integration can produce. In Part 1 I introduced two different models of connecting mission with business: ‘Hitched Together’ and ‘Pushed Together’. Here is more about ‘Hitched Together’ and the tensions that tend to arise with this model.
The ‘Hitched Together’ Model
‘Hitched Together’ is when ministry goals/job description do not overlap very significantly with the business operation. For instance, you work in a business, but you do your primary ‘ministry’ work outside of office hours. Perhaps the business is a means to a particular end – you need it for a visa, or money, or access – but you don’t see it as the primary sphere where your missional goals and role is outworked.
Some might say this isn’t really ‘business as mission’ because it is hardly integrated. They might call it ‘business for mission’ or ‘bivocational work’. There is nothing inherently wrong with being bivocational. For many people in ministry all over the world, it is the way they make life work. However, I would suggest there are some pitfalls to this model, especially in the context of cross-cultural work, and some natural tensions that arise, including:
Tension 1: Split Thinking
The reality is that many well-intentioned people, especially those from a mission organisation background, have gone into what they think of as business as mission, but they stop at a hitched together model. Something is holding them back from considering the level of integration and impact they could have through the business. The barrier to being pushed together begins in the mind with the way that we think about what is ‘spiritual’ or ‘sacred’ and what is ‘secular’. Traditional kinds of ministry activities, missionary work and church-related activities are considered ‘sacred’, whereas working normal jobs or running a business is ‘secular’. This false dichotomy known as the sacred-secular divide permeates the way we think in the church globally. We don’t consider that the activities we do in business could really be ministry, so by default ‘ministry’ must happen outside the business context. The danger is that we never embrace the Biblical view of work and business and so miss out on what God might want to do through our life in business. The antidote? As Mike Baer shares, “We all struggle with the remains of the destructive illusion of sacred vs. secular. The good news, though is that since it’s an illusion, it only exists in the mind. Soaking your mind in the truth of Scripture and some excellent writing/teaching is the answer.”
Tension 2: Time Management Problems
Every business person will tell you that running a business is no part-time endeavour. It requires commitment and long working hours, especially in the start-up years. If your job in the business is full-time and you have great expectations for your missionary role outside the business, you will effectively be working two jobs. Your biggest tension is going to be around time management. You will feel torn in two directions about how to set priorities and how to spend your time. The danger is that you will either burn out trying to do both jobs, or neglect one or the other. People in this situation will say, ‘I am worried that I’ll suffer from mission drift and get so wrapped up in running the business that I won’t have time for ministry’. Well you will be wrapped up in running the business! That is normal. The antidote? Have realistic expectations about how much effort and time operating a sustainable business will require. And, keep pushing those circles together. Business is all about relationships, where life rubs alongside life, where meaningful conversations happen, where you can be salt and light in everyday circumstances. Read practitioners ideas about how they live out mission every day in their companies.
Tension 3: Lack of Passion
I will never forget the conversation I once had with a young missionary woman who had been working in China for some years, but now had a visa crisis on her hands. She was looking into getting a business visa and was exploring some particular opportunities. She said, ‘I really need that visa, but I wish I didn’t have to do the business.’ Our response to her candidness was, ‘Don’t do it!’ Your business has to be something you believe in, something you want to get out of bed in the morning for, dare I say it, that you are passionate about. And if you don’t actually own the business, then you will want to feel that way about your job. It’s not going to work if you feel passion about your ministry role, but lack enthusiasm for the business; you will be spending a lot of hours feeling unenthusiastic. Again, business requires a commitment, it needs you to be able to get behind your product or service and assuredly sell it. The danger is that if you don’t feel energy for the business, you will not put energy into the business. You will feel constantly torn by the demands of the company and will always feel stressed by it. A lack of passion for the company will kill it, and if your ministry is hitched to it, it will endanger that as well. The antidote? Find a business to start that you can feel passionate about – or partner with someone who does. Whatever role you have, whether in your own business or someone else’s, make sure it’s a good fit for your strengths and one that you can put your heart and soul into.
Tension 4: Identity Crisis
If you are living with tensions 1, 2 or 3, you will almost certainly also be suffering from an identity crisis. You will have two quite distinct identities, either to the people in the local community and/or to those back home; and having to manage those may be quite a strain. Of course the people around you may not see your ‘missionary identity’, they will see you as a ‘business person’. However, if you are not spending enough time running your business, or it is not really a viable, commercial proposition, your neighbours will quickly figure that out and you will have a credibility gap. The danger is that you will struggle to have a credible life or a credible message without your identity as a business person being thoroughly credible. The antidote? Make it credible. Really be a business person, in a business that has a good shot at working, and keep pushing those circles closer together!
Next Read Part 3: 4 Natural Tensions of the Pushed Together Model
Don’t Miss Part 1: Hitched Together Versus Pushed Together: BAM Integration
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.