This case study from the new BAM and the Church Report published by BAM Global showcases the process that one denomination in Ethiopia took to implement a workplace ministry throughout the denomination, following key leaders embracing the need to overcome theological challenges inherent in the church’s understanding of work.
The Ethiopia Kale Heywet Church (EKHC), with 10,000 churches and 10 million members is Ethiopia’s largest evangelical denomination. In 2017, Pastor Yoseph Bekele was appointed to be the ‘Business as Mission Director’ for the Kale Heywet Church. Yoseph had previously worked in youth ministries across the country, even while running several businesses of his own.
When he started, Yoseph shared that businesspeople were considered ‘sinful people’ in his setting. There was no understanding of the purpose of business from a godly or biblical perspective. He also shared that while Ethiopia has a rich heritage and culture, it is poor economically. Therefore, sharing about work as worship and business as mission would be critical for Ethiopian Christians to understand the biblical call to work and how to do business that honours God, which can allow them to grow economically and to flourish in God’s way.
Outcomes to date
In the first three years of the program, from 2018 to 2021, Yoseph and his team of BAM trainers reached nine of the eleven regions of Ethiopia with the message of church-based business as mission. There are teams of trainers who help pastors understand the call of the local church to equip their members for the work of the ministry from Monday to Saturday. The leadership of the headquarters church of the Kale Heywet denomination has agreed that every local church should have a workplace ministry, just as they have a youth and women’s ministry.
In addition to working through the local church leaders, BAM trainers are also bringing this message to youth leaders, women ministry leaders, children’s ministries, prison ministries, mission departments, and the many Kale Heywet Bible schools, while also passing on the teaching and training to other denominations. As part of the training, everyone learns that there are one or more critical outcomes from the three Great Directives—the Great Commitment, the Great Commandment, and the Great Commission.
The Great Commandment outcome is social. Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is about loving God whole-heartedly and loving our neighbour as ourselves. The Great Commission outcome is missional. Jesus tells us to go and make disciples, beginning in Jerusalem and reaching the whole world. But the outcomes of the Great Commitment, a universal call, is economic and ecological. For many Ethiopian Christians, this often comes as a surprise.
Yoseph reports the following:
- New practices or ministries are challenging, but the attitude of most pastors/elders is becoming positive toward BAM; pastors are now starting workplace ministries with their own budgets and assigning full-time coordinators at regional levels.
- Businesspeople gather in the local church and marketplace once per week, praying together, sharing, helping each other, and motivating other businesspeople. Their time spent in those gathered groups helps them practically work out how to be salt and light in the marketplace. They are working out their quadruple bottom line (missional, social, economic, and environmental goals) in their workplaces and understanding how to be marketplace ministers. They are paying taxes and contributing to the government, which is also allowing them to impact society. They are also getting more involved when the church gathers. In short, their attitude is ‘totally changing’.
- In a city called Wolaita, 500 businesspeople from various local Kale Heywet Churches have come together regularly to pray and encourage each other. They realised that most local churches send one missionary, but they decided to challenge themselves to each send one or two missionaries. They have already sent 150 missionaries, 140 within Ethiopia and 10 to Kenya and South Sudan.
When the leaders of EKHC said yes to BAM, Yoseph knew that he would have to work hard to get all the regional leaders on board. He set up retreats for those leaders to go through a foundational workshop to understand the theological foundations of business. He then spent the next two years traveling throughout the country, preaching and teaching at local churches, regional meetings, and conferences to build awareness for this ministry and how it can be implemented. He recruited trainers in each region who resonated with the message and had the passion to help teach.
When a local church says yes to this ministry, it is expected to do a ‘business month’ every year, in which they preach four times on the call to ‘work as unto the Lord’ (Col 3:23). Trainers also offer members basic and advanced business classes.
Yoseph is quick to say that this is not a fast process. You can train denominational leaders, and then there is a new election, the leaders change, and you have to train them all over again. But with several offices and a training centre at the headquarters, business as mission is firmly entrenched in the denomination, and the churches, regions, and denominations are seeing immense changes for the good. Glory to God!
Case study excerpted from the new BAM and the Church Report – one of six case studies offered in the report. Download the full report free on the BAM Global website.
Renita Reed-Thomson is the President and founder of Discipling Marketplace Leaders. She served as the lead Facilitator and Report Author for the BAM and the Church Consultation. Renita has her MBA and is completing her PhD in Sustainable Development. DML is a product of her experiences in Africa where she has lived and worked since 2005.
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Image courtesy of Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church Communications