Transforming the Church, One Engaged Business Person at a Time

by Larry Sharp

Over the years I have had various business owners and executives travel with me as I’ve coached and supported companies around the world. On one particular trip, the VP of a Fortune 500 company came with me and some others to a former Soviet Republic country. He had gone on many mission trips, built churches, passed out tracts, and tutored English – all good things! But in Kazakhstan he helped Kazakh believers and expats with business mentoring on topics like making financial projections, contract law, and international marketing. On the trip home he told me that he finally saw how his skills can be used to build the kingdom of God. “Where are we going next?” he asked, after a short time of reflection at home.

I have had many experiences like this, witnessing firsthand the moment business people have felt affirmed and become engaged in using their skills and experience in business as mission. They go from seeing their contribution as limited to PRAY or PAY, and start to realise they can be actively involved – i.e. PLAY! And there are multiple ways for people to get engaged.

For the first time she saw that her business ability and position was a God-given asset.

A young fellow about 30 years old heard me speak in a large mega-church in Pennsylvania. He asked to meet with me and said, “All this is new to me and I don’t think my wife will want to move outside the state, what can I do?” After finding out he was the owner of an SEO company with 14 employees, I said absolutely – and you don’t even have to leave your computer. He has been a wonderful contributor to business startups in unreached areas of the world.

On another occasion, I spoke in a church in the Philadelphia area one Sunday morning. The pastor seemed open to all I spoke about that morning but the real encouragement was talking to several business people afterwards. One woman was a chemical engineer, a former Proctor and Gamble manager who supervised the development of Pampers. She joined our team and helped us with our “product development” when we were just getting going as a BAM consulting group. 

Michelle is the CEO of a large placement company in western Canada. While I was teaching a seminary course on BAM it dawned on her that “my business is my ministry”.  She had been a faithful church-goer all her adult life and went on many mission trips, but for the first time she saw that her business ability and position was a God-given asset. Now she is involved in kingdom business startups in Central America.

I was discouraged when a senior pastor informed me that the apologetic for BAM which I had taught in the Saturday seminar was not biblical and in opposition to how God works in the world. But the next day, the phone started to ring and one after another business people were calling. One asked me to come and talk to a gathering of about 30 of his employees, some who were not believers. One woman was an attorney with her own firm and she said she and her husband, a business guy, wanted to get involved. She is still a consultant with us today.

The Not So Encouraging Stories

As well as business people, we have another vital audience, namely church leaders. Many are affirming and open to business as mission, like the pastor in Philadelphia, but as that last story attests, others are not. Unfortunately, that experience wasn’t an isolated incident!

My colleague and I recently arranged to present a BAM seminar in a church in Alabama. We always request that the pastor attend these one and a half day workshops. About 40 church leaders and business people showed up. When I asked the coordinator, the missions pastor, when the senior pastor would be arriving, he replied, “Oh, he will not be coming; he believes BAM is a passing fad.”

Whatever you are good at, do it well for the glory of God, and do it somewhere strategic for the mission of God. – JD Greear

I have had pastors tell me that work is a result of the fall in Genesis. I have had church leaders say that spreading the gospel is the work of those called to the ministry (meaning seminary graduates who are the professional clergy) and not for the everyday lay person. I have written BAM curriculum for two seminaries, only to have the final decision-makers axe the course saying it is of lesser importance for budding pastors and missionaries. None of these stories are isolated, nor an aberration, nor unique to any place – but they describe a problem we face today.

What’s the Problem?

Today, in many evangelical church settings, it is the pastors and missionaries who take responsibility to preach, spread the gospel, and interpret the scriptures for most believers. This particular church milieu is not unlike the days of the pre-reformation when it was solely the monks, priests and clerics of the Latin church who were responsible to spread the gospel and interpret the scriptures. The common man could not read the Bible and considered his role to pay his tithes (and more) and to confess his sins to his priest. Lay persons were dependent on the church and not active in ministry themselves.

The priesthood of believers did not make everyone into church workers, rather it turned every kind of work into a sacred calling. – Veith

Today’s sacred-secular divide is a post-modern expression of an ancient dualism whereby “spiritual” work is considered superior to “secular” as the highest form of human fulfillment.  We in the west have Plato, Augustine, Constantine, Aquinas and others to thank for that, and it was not until the 16th century that the reformers sought to restore unity to mission.

Luther (among others) affirmed that it is a, “…false assumption that there is a special calling, a vocation to which superior Christians are invited… there simply is no special religious vocation since the call of God comes to each at the common task.”

Veith has stated it clearly in our times, “…the priesthood of believers did not make everyone into church workers, rather it turned every kind of work into a sacred calling.”

Despite this, in matters of mission, the majority of the body of Christ has inherited a lack understanding of Missio Dei because of this division of the “secular” from the “spiritual”. This has largely resulted in an outsourcing of spiritual matters – including “mission” – to the pastor, the mission agency and the “called ones”, replacing the biblical call to all believers in all professions. Unbiblical perspectives on work and money perpetuate around the world, bifurcating Sunday and Monday life. As a result most business people find themselves marginalized from involvement as “active priests” and consider their only valuable contribution is to give away money or pray.

Until now I never dreamed that my job was my ministry.

Cedric Brown, a former professional football player and now a business person, told me that he and most other business people do not readily see their part in the Great Commission. A graduate student in a seminary where I was teaching, told me after class one day, “…until now I never dreamed that my job was my ministry”. An attorney in Anchorage, Alaska, who owned the largest law firm in the state and was an elder in his church, told me at breakfast one day, “I really don’t see what I have to offer in making a difference for the kingdom of God.”

Where do we go from here?

The BHAG highlighted in a previous post sets out that an essential goal of the global Business as Mission movement must be to ‘transform views of business in the church worldwide’.

History suggests that significant change in the church has been associated with radical intervention such as church persecution (Acts 8), the Edict of Milan, and the reformation. While none of us will hold our breath nor pray for such to happen, Clayton Christensen, a professor at Harvard describes disruptive innovation, a term that describes how gradual disruption at the bottom of the market (think Sony radios, micro-computers, Japanese cars, online education) is discovered by early adopters and eventually takes over giant industries.

What will it take for God’s people at the “bottom” of the “missiological market” to usher in disruptive mission innovation in our day? How can business people – a currently large and greatly underutilized segment of the church – be mobilized to create jobs for those marginalized by poverty and do so as disciple-makers in the name of Jesus?

Looking back twenty years from now, will this time be described as the beginning of innovation and early adoption? I hope so! After all the church is composed of individuals and individuals change more quickly than institutions.

As Christians we are called to do all things to the glory of God, including – perhaps especially – our work. – Ravi Zacharias

There are encouraging signs, with the rise of advocates for this ‘kingdom calling’, like Mats Tunehag, Dallas Willard, JD Greear, Tim Keller, Mike Baer; and authors gaining traction like Dale Losch, Bob Roberts, Paul Stevens, Os Guinness, Tom Nelson, Amy Sherman among others. Additionally, the Faith-Work movement and BAM websites like this one add significantly to the encouraging signs. People are starting to get it: The faithful Christian cannot separate his life into sacred and secular, worship and work. As Ravi Zacharias has said, ‘As Christians we are called to do all things to the glory of God, including – perhaps especially – our work.’

How will this change gain momentum and grow exponentially? It will follow what has already been started, with God’s people in the pew continuing to realize that John Stott was right when he stated, “…evangelization requires the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world” (The Lausanne Covenant). The whole church is every worker with his or her skill and profession; it is the whole gospel including job creation as a means to fight poverty; it is the whole world, to the unreached where “missionaries” often can’t go but business people can. This is disruptive and disruptive innovation starts with the innovators and the early adopters – and it is beginning now.

Let us continue to tell inspiring stories of how business people are making a kingdom difference, let’s come alongside churches and church leaders to humbly serve them as we teach and train, and let us continue to preach JD Greear’s missive, “Whatever you are good at, do it well for the glory of God, and do it somewhere strategic for the mission of God.” The tipping point for macro impact through business as mission is still to come – and towards this we affirm, work, pray, and serve – for the greater glory of God.

 

This post is  part of a series of blogs in May 2019 looking at limiting issues that we still have to overcome in the next decade of business as mission.

The BAM 2.0 Series

Over the coming months we will go into greater depth on each of these key issues.

In March we will continue with our introduction to the series, looking at how far we’ve come and some of our ‘big hairy audacious goals’ for the future.

In April we’ll take a deep dive into our ‘Why’ – what are some of the pressing global issues that BAM can address, including poverty, unreached peoples, the refugee crisis and human trafficking.

In May we’ll look at some limiting issues such as the sacred-secular divide, our definition of success, our geographical depth and our connectedness; issues that we must overcome for future growth.

In June we’ll look at resource gaps to overcome, including human capital, financial capital, mentoring, prayer and continuity planning.

We hope you enjoy this series! Follow us by subscribing to The BAM Review email or on FacebookTwitter or Instagram.

larry sharpLarry Sharp is the Founder and current Director of Strategic Training and Partnerships of a Business for Transformation (BAM, B4t) consulting firm, International Business and Education Consultants (www.ibecventures.com). Larry served 21 years in Brazil and then 20 years as Crossworld VP of Operations and as Vice President of Business Partnerships. He is currently a VP Emeritus and consultant with Crossworld. Since 2007 he has devoted energies toward Business as Mission (BAM) and currently is a consultant on BAM and education themes. Larry travels within North America speaking and teaching in conferences, colleges and churches on themes related to Business As Mission (BAM, B4t) and missions.  His travels abroad relate to BAM, crisis preparation and management, and team building.