It is easy to be confused by how success in business as mission (BAM) is defined today from a spiritual perspective.
Once-upon-a-time the core concept of BAM was to have a spiritual impact. The reality that a business needed to be profitable should also have been a given, after all, a business that does not make money can’t survive or, as we say in BAM, cannot be sustainable. Even with this relative simplicity, being able to measure spiritual impact seemed elusive.
Early definitions struggled between Business AS Mission and Business FOR Mission both of which held that a central purpose was spiritual transformation. Early theological debates centered around the secular-sacred divide, could business even be spiritual? There were common perceptions of money and profit, often portrayed as evil and exploitive among Christians, that needed to be overcome. Business AS Mission assumed that when operations aligned with spiritual values, businesses could and would produce spiritual results when driven by the influence of the Holy Spirit. Business FOR Mission simply used the profits of a business to support traditional missional activity.
Today the definition of BAM has expanded to include an emphasis on poverty alleviation and job creation etc., issues that are also popular in the secular social enterprise world. However, one danger we face is that while we are expanding, we might also lose what makes us distinctive, appearing to put less and less emphasis on spirituality or spiritual impact. Yet, without intentional spiritual impact BAM is not any different than any well-meaning secular program.
Twenty years on from the early days of the business as mission movement, we continue to wrestle with this topic of spiritual impact in BAM!
Without intentional spiritual impact BAM is not any different than any well-meaning secular program.
From my experience, the movement criteria to measure success in BAM is often confusing and could be construed as overly religious or pious, or at the other extreme, reduced to simply “doing good”. This distracts us from a real need in the BAM community and I feel it is a disservice to those operating BAM companies.
If the original definition of BAM was to have a spiritual impact in the course of doing business it would seem that those involved need to be abiding in Christ along the way. Abiding can be complicated and difficult for many of us and yet it is the linchpin for spiritual impact in our work.
To quote a veteran BAMer on this pressing issue, if in fact BAM companies are Spirit-inspired then we would expect to see the kinds of activities that flow out of experiencing things that can’t be explained without God’s presence in the situation. These everyday miracles are the Holy Spirit’s signature. While these types of things are happening in the BAM ecosystem, they are not a substantial part of the current dialogue.
Many BAM operations seem to be headed toward an unsuccessful ending. Why is that? It could be the imbalance we often see in ministry-oriented BAM companies that lack business success on the one hand, or have too much business focus without enough ministry success, on the other. If we are agents of the King how do we provide support at both ends of this spectrum? Where does divine intervention intersect these efforts?
Of course, divine intervention should not be a talisman for bailing us out of a crisis. Rather it is an outgrowth of intentionally integrating our enterprise with our spiritual beliefs and purpose under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is a reflection of our abiding in Him along our way, both in business and in life.
If the original definition of BAM was to have a spiritual impact in the course of doing business it would seem that those involved need to be abiding in Christ along the way.
In 20 years of BAM we have inspired, promoted and created funding channels, for instance, but as a movement have often left the spiritual aspects behind and not made them a primary topic of discussion. We try to “measure” spiritual impact and other good things using our human perspective. However, are we doing a good job of spiritually walking alongside our brothers and sisters in the trenches, helping them abide in Christ? This surely should be a foundation for our movement. That is not to say no one is doing such work – they are! But it is a small part of the BAM ecosystem, mostly happening though informal personal connections and a few focused BAM funding entities.
Walking alongside BAM owners does not mean giving them over-spiritualized advice. For the BAM practitioner who feels she/he is a steward of God’s company such an approach can feel superficial and therefore easily discounted. However, I do believe there are lessons that have been learned through years of BAM activity that need to be shared in a way that other BAM operators can benefit from. Not just a single method or strategy but many ways to be faithful in the calling.
A statesman of the BAM community puts it this way:
My experience operating a BAM company poorly in the early years actually revealed my unhealthy approach to the Christian life. I wanted to live for God, so therefore, I wanted to “run my business for God”. It was not totally useless, but it was exhausting and lacked evidence of the presence of God that is associated with abiding in Christ. Many of us live this way and our metrics will reflect that approach. We call on God when we get in trouble and sometimes He bails us out. We try hard, we suffer, we get wounded, we can claim some “success”, usually based on objectives we control.
If I have a BAM operation, I can choose to explore the abiding approach in various ways, but as in the church, it seems it is not the normal way to do things. Recently I heard a friend explain that he has begun to start his board meetings with a couple of hours of first listening to the Lord and asking Him as the “Head” if He has anything He wants to say. This would be a good step in the direction of wanting to abide, however the norm is usually to pray a bit and then without actually engaging God start checking off agenda items.
One other curious area to me is the question of “assignment” of a BAM operation and whether or not it can be delegated to others, a board or a church. I have seen several companies that could have been quite successful end up failing because leadership was handed off to a church by the individual that God gave the original idea or technology to. Looking back, I wonder if it was wise for the leader God worked through to pass that authority on to someone else.
I think each of us needs to know clearly what we are accountable to the Lord for and retain that responsibility while surrounding ourselves with the best advisors we can find to support us and our decision making process. All the while we do not relinquish our own responsibility of staying connected to the “Head” and we fight for his voice and follow his direction.*
Being on an assignment from God creates a high level of accountability and a duty to listen to the One who assigned you! How can the BAM community support these practices of listening and abiding among its family? How do we help BAM operators incorporate abiding in their corporate lives? There is no simple answer as we are all at different stages of spiritual maturity and experience, particularly in the practice of abiding, and for many of us it runs counterintuitive to the things we “feel” we should do “urgently”.
If bearing spiritual fruit is a central and distinctive outcome of BAM then the practice of spiritually abiding must be foundational for BAM enterprises.
With all the growth in BAM, the ever expanding networks and supportive resources, I believe now is the time to revisit this issue of who the owner of our businesses really is. I believe we need to help those BAM practitioners who are in the midst of the struggles of day-to-day business operations renew a spirit of abiding in Christ at a deeper level. There is a need to move this idea to front and center in our dialogue and operations. First we need to redefine the idea of abiding in Christ so that it is not limited to the personal aspects of our faith, but extends to an overarching practice for the whole of our life, business included. This will then naturally place the real leadership of our companies back into the hands of the Lord.
A parting thought from our BAM statesman:
I want to say that all of the various methods bring some kind of good and therefore they are all good. But, I am also reminded from the letters to the seven churches in Revelation that Jesus doesn’t see it that way sometimes. He is not reluctant to close down a church – just as I suspect he is not reluctant to close down a BAM operation – if we insist on operating without him at the center of everything. Perhaps some of these closings we are experiencing might be orchestrated by God? Five of the seven churches were warned of closure if they didn’t correct themselves.
Although this is not an easy message, it should resonate with men and women who are called to BAM. If bearing spiritual fruit is a central and distinctive outcome of BAM then the practice of spiritually abiding must be foundational for BAM enterprises. If faithfully remaining in our God-given assignments, being guided and sustained by abiding in Christ, is a measure of our “success”, then this message surely should be prioritized in the BAM ecosystem.
Tom has been a BAM practitioner for 20 years
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.
*Shared in a personal conversation.