by Ross O’Brien
Like Mats Tunehag in his original article Why We Need the Term Business as Mission, But Maybe Not Forever, I hope that one day followers of Jesus whom God has gifted for business will naturally recognize their vocational call to the marketplace as a call to fulfill the missio Dei, the mission of God.
God’s purpose in the world is to redeem all creation from the effects of sin and restore all creation back into right relationship with himself. As followers of Jesus we have the blessed privilege and responsibility of co-working with God in this mission. I agree with much of what Mats say in this article and in general.
However, I question a few points, which reflects some of my own mental pilgrimage on BAM.
1. What’s in a Name?
Granted, I am an academic and we tend to try to define and describe everything, sometimes to an extreme. However, there is value in recognizing the unique similarities and differences in various phenomenon. The word “missions” for example means different things to different people. For some, going down the street witnessing to people who look a lot like us is referred to as missions. Serving food in a homeless shelter is also called missions. Going on a one-week mission trip a few states away is missions as is moving your family to a foreign country for a lifetime.
Each of these things, and more, is often referred to as missions. Each can involve showing and telling the love of God, so all are, in general, an expression of the mission of God. However, the commitment of resources and time as well as the training and gifting required for each of these expressions of God’s mission are different. It might be better to call them evangelism, ministry, short-term missions and long-term missions. One is not higher on a spiritual hierarchy than another, but by recognizing the unique requirements of the various ways of co-laboring with God in his great mission, we can better equip the saints for the ministry of the church in the world.
2. BAM or Kingdom Business?
This brings me to my second point. Not all faith and work integration should be called “business as mission.” Here I use a narrow definition of “missions” that involves taking the good news of Jesus across a border, whether geographic, political, linguistic or cultural. Companies such as Chick Fil A and Hobby Lobby, to mention two well-known businesses, operate under the influence of biblical values and the leadership of faithful men and women of God. These leaders, and many like them of whom we have never heard, seek to run their businesses in ways that honor God and reflect his goodness and integrity. They deserve our thanks and prayers.
We need more businesses like these. However, within their business strategy they do not proactively seek to take the good news of Jesus to places in the world in which his name is unknown. While some individuals in these businesses seek to make disciples as a part of their own personal call to faith, the businesses themselves do not seem to have “disciple making” as a part of the operational strategy for the company. Again, this is not a criticism. But by definition, a BAM business exists not only to operate as an effective for-profit company but also to see the lost come to a saving faith in Jesus, to make disciples and teach them to obey all that Jesus has commanded them.
I could open and run a chicken sandwich restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia to the glory of God, making amazing food, providing meaningful work, paying taxes, providing phenomenal customer service all in obedience to God’s call. This is a spiritual act of worship, holy unto the Lord. But perhaps God has called me to open a chicken sandwich restaurant in Ankara, Turkey, doing all the things listed above, but with the purpose of seeing the lost come to a saving faith in Jesus in a place where there is little opportunity for sharing the gospel. The general calling is the same: co-laboring with God in restoring creation through the unique gifts and abilities he has given us. But the particular gifting and specific calling is unique and requires a different set of skills, training and resources.
3. Different Not Better
Third, not all followers of Jesus whom he has gifted for business are called to BAM. Jesus called all his followers to make disciples (Matt. 28). However, in addition to this general call to make disciples, he has gifted each of us in different ways. Some he has gifted with the ability to more naturally cross geographic, cultural and linguistic barriers with this good news of Jesus. Similarly, while all followers of Jesus are called to make disciples in and through their work, some business models facilitate a more diverse and wide opportunity to do this locally and globally.
A small coffee shop owner in Waxahachie, Texas has many opportunities to make disciples with her employees, customers, suppliers, etc. But a large coffee wholesaler that sources coffee from various regions in the world has many more opportunities to take the good news of Jesus across geographic lines, and especially among people who have far fewer opportunities to hear the gospel.
One faithful and experienced BAM business leader suggests that before starting a new business, he considers whether the nature and activity of the business will allow for disciple making to take place naturally in the daily activities of the business. He also examines the demographics of the cities in which he is starting the businesses, seeking to start companies in the least reached places to have a greater impact for the Kingdom. Obviously, he also examines the potential profitability of the business, but all these factors must be present before he moves forward. This focus on the business model and location being optimized for disciple making is a mark of a BAM business. This does not make the BAM business more “spiritual” than a Kingdom business, just different. However, it does require different processes, paradigms and sets of resources.
In summary, while there has been much discussion about the name “business as mission,” names serve a valuable purpose. They help us distinguish various activities and purposes, not so that we can hold one above another in some spiritual hierarchy, but rather so that we can better understand the many ways in which God is working through his followers to restore creation and help equip and support each other as we co-labor with God in this work.
Read Mats Tunehag’s article>> Why We Need the Term Business as Mission, But Maybe Not Forever!
Ross O’Brien has been teaching at Dallas Baptist University since 2003. Prior to that time, he started and ran a small Internet firm in Birmingham, Alabama after working for AT&T’s Business Network Sales division as an Account Executive. Ross’ Ph.D. is from the University of Texas at Arlington in Business Administration and his MBA is from Dallas Baptist University. He began the undergraduate entrepreneurship program at DBU as well as the Center for Business as Mission, in which he serves as the Director. Through the Center, Ross teaches undergraduate and graduate classes in Business as Mission, has taken students on travel study courses to learn about business practices in Israel, Chile, Sierra Leone and Bangladesh, and helps host The Lion’s Den DFW event each spring.