Should I shut my business down if I’m not seeing spiritual fruit?
This is a very important question, one that leads to some other questions and observations:
- How do you know if there is fruit?
- Why am I not as successful as others?
- Things to think about while sowing
Let’s talk about each of these in turn:
How do you know if there is fruit?
One of the problems with coming from the West is that we are often too short-term results oriented. This is especially true when we apply a cause-and-effect mentality to the work of the Holy Spirit. It is not up to us to dictate what the work of Holy Spirit will do – we certainly must do our best in sowing and cultivating and praying but in the end we must give it over to the Lord to grow the fruit. We must do all we can in ‘preparing the soil and planting the seeds’ and let the Holy Spirit work on the person’s heart.
What does seed-sowing look like in my context?
It is likely we all admire the ability of some brave souls to valiantly proclaim the gospel in every situation imaginable. We might even be tempted to compare our ‘spiritual success’ to that of others. This brings up the very important point of, “What does seed-sowing look like in my context?” I will never forget the time that I attended a conference on evangelism given by a gifted evangelist, and at the end of the day, along with the other one hundred attendees I felt like a complete failure. This fellow gave many examples of saving the souls of people seated next to him on airplanes and other unlikely situations. Finally, in a desperate measure of trying to get something positive out of this whole day of meetings I stood up and asked, “How long does it typically take to establish a relationship and win a soul for Christ?” The evangelist (a good friend of mine and I currently sit on his Board) looked a bit surprised that I would ask such a question. After thinking about it for a while, he replied, “Oh, about seven years.” There was a stunned silence in the room and rejoicing in my heart and other’s hearts. This person had hoped to encourage us into more fervent evangelism efforts by giving all these stories of “victory”. It had exactly the opposite effect.
There are two things to learn from this story. The first lesson to learn is that people that are gifted in one type of activity often wonder why everyone else can’t do it as well as they can. They often feel that somehow they are ‘cheating’ because it is so easy for them. I once remarked to a gifted scientist friend how I so admired his ability to discover new things. He was totally shocked and told me anyone could do what he did, but he couldn’t understand how anyone could do as well as I did in business (by God’s grace). If your Board member, to whom you are accountable, gets on your case because you aren’t able to what they do so easily, then remind them about this fact!
The second lesson to be learned is that we all are gifted in our own way. God has made you into your own special shape. You must determine this shape and use it. There is no excuse for laziness. I personally think that it will be more ‘fruitful’ to be in ongoing relationships that enable you to be a witness. This is why business as mission is so important. It gives us these long-term relationships that enable us to rub shoulders with the same folks every day. It’s up to you to figure out how to establish the relationships and to be sensitive the leading of the Holy Spirit as you build them.
We all have our own gifting and it is important to find out this gifting and use it to sow the seeds for the gospel. The ‘seed sowing’ you do is how you react to various situations in the everyday life of the business. This not only demonstrates Biblical values, but earns you the right to share the gospel, which you must be prepared to do with those that the Holy Spirit sends your way. Do not be discouraged about not meeting others’ expectations in the short-term – they are not where you are. They don’t know what the Holy Spirit is doing there. However, your job is to be diligent and persevere.
Things to think about while sowing
The fact that you are in a different culture than your own and are willing to do the Lord’s work is commendable – bless you for this. Regardless of location, however, it is my opinion that it is all about relationships and expectations. Expectations are the cultural filters that relationships operate through. If you aren’t building relationships you significantly restrict your ability to sow seeds. Here are some things to think about:
Are we on the same page?
One of the biggest hurdles I have had to face working cross-culturally is how non-Westerners perceive the West. Based on my direct experience, non-Western cultures form their opinions based on the scant information they have about us. We are often no different in learning about their cultures. Here’s what happened to me… I was in a Muslim country trying to set up a branch of my business there. One day fifteen women, complete with burkas, came over to my desk at coffee break and asked me, “Mr. Garry, how many times have you been unfaithful to your wife?” After I picked up my mouth off the floor, I replied, “Why none, of course, what would make you think I have been unfaithful to my wife?” “Well,” they replied, “all Westerners are unfaithful to their wives – we see it on Western television.” Wow! This was an important lesson for me! Before I could sow any seeds with these folks I had to show them I was on the same page as them when it came to moral values. This conversation helped me in that regard. I recommend that in your context, seek out local or foreign expert counsel on how relationships work in the local culture.
You are being watched – live with it
Don’t forget this. The biggest problem that many missionaries or BAM practitioners have is that they enter a culture as a privileged foreigner or as the boss. You must first find out what they expect from these two positions. It may totally inappropriate, or it may totally be expected, to take your workers out for dinner, for example – I don’t know, it all depends on your culture! Learn about this so you don’t make any major blunders. It only takes a second to do significant damage to a relationship.
How you react in the business setting will be carefully watched and talked about by your clients and/or staff. This is where you are sowing the seeds. This is where you establish the relationships. This doesn’t mean you have to be nice and sugary sweet all the time. You have to run the business. At times you will have to make tough decisions and do things you don’t want to do, like let someone go. I know of one business in a culture where the whole population, from childhood, has been trained to avoid accountability and responsibility. Many of the staff were bone lazy and figured that since they were working for the rich foreigner, who wouldn’t dare fire them, they didn’t have to be accountable or diligent. The staff will watch you as you deal with this. If you don’t deal with this in a Godly but senstive way you will lose all credibility and your chance to sow seeds may be gone. Beware of the idea that “we are all part of a big happy family in this business.” This never works.
Beware of relationships based only on desire for personal gain.
This is extremely common and very discouraging. Managing expectations in this regard is very important and difficult. If you don’t, then the inevitable uncomfortable moment will arrive in which they ask you for money. Be ready for this. Be as gracious as you can in refusing and have a good reason not to lend them money. From their point of view you are a very rich foreigner, you have all the money you need and why can’t you share it with them? It’s hard to sow seeds in this situation, but it can be done.
To summarize, try and look at any situation from the local cultural point of view. Their world view is likely very different from yours. Be gracious, cognizant of their cultural perspective and be long-suffering in order to earn the right to share the gospel with them. However, you must also run the business effectively and be a good steward of the investments made. Therefore, you must be firm and fair with your employees. Everyone will be watching you to see how you deal with everyday life. Be a good witness in all situations.
Garry is part of the ‘Ask a BAM Mentor‘ panel of mentors. Garry is a retired businessman who has been mentoring small businesses for the last 20 years. He has been involved in cross cultural business activities for the last 10 years and has visited 20 countries during that time. Garry and his wife are doing small business training and funding in a restricted access country in Asia. Having started, grown and sold his own business he understands the trials, potential pitfalls and necessary success factors of day to day business activities. He continues to learn and share about the cross cultural aspects of business and especially the need to learn about and manage expectations in the local cultural context.
Submit a Question to the mentors panel via the Contact page, select ‘Ask a BAM Mentor – submit question’ as the subject.