The Vital Place of Mission Agencies in the BAM Movement

by Jo Plummer

Mission Agencies have long been a crucial player and partner in the contemporary BAM movement.

Many early pioneer BAM practitioners of the 80s, 90s and early 2000s either came from a missionary background or were members of a mission agency. These agency workers- turned-BAMers were at the forefront of the early wave of BAM companies because they were already at the front lines. Sent out with a call and vision to see people and communities transformed by the gospel, they discovered that business could be a powerful means of integral mission – meeting spiritual, social and economic needs in communities.

Looking back on 20 years and more of recent BAM history, we see that companies with missional goals embedded within their business model, business culture, company values, working relationships and so on, have often proved to be the most fruitful way for agency workers to pursue their work. But it has not always been easy.

Business failure – already a high possibility for seasoned entrepreneurs in home cultures – became a common experience for missionary-run startups with the additional hazard of being in environments often hostile to both mission and business. Many missionaries are by nature pioneering and somewhat entrepreneurial, however most early agency-related BAMers lacked the know-how and practical business experience they needed to create sustainable, scalable companies. Early BAM companies had few models to follow and lessons were learned the hard way.

Those hard-won fruitful practices are now being passed on, benefiting the current generation of BAM practitioners. They are able to stand on the shoulders of a host of early BAMers (from both business and mission backgrounds) because those pioneers heard the Lord and were willing to go, they were willing to innovate, risk and persevere. In turn, these early BAM pioneers stood on the shoulders of many generations of traditional missionaries that passed on their own hard-won lessons.

Beyond ‘Business as Visa’

Necessity is the mother of invention. In some parts of the world, starting a business has long been the only viable means to establish a settled, credible role in a community. William Carey, right back in the late 1700s, took a management position in an indigo factory when he first arrived in India because missionary visas were hard to come by in the days of the East India Company. And like William Carey*, modern day mission workers soon discovered that the power of a business model extends far beyond a means to getting a visa. (Read more on how it extends here).

Thankfully most agency workers who are getting into business now have many more resources to draw on. They understand that to have a credible, sustainable role in a community, their company has to be credible and sustainable. That means aiming towards excellence in business practice and the true integration of holistic missional goals into every aspect of a company – from business plan, to daily business life.  Read more

Four Constituencies in the BAM Movement: Business and Beyond

It is stating the obvious to say that a major part of the international BAM community is made up of businesses and business people. This is business as mission. We see the great commission and the great commandment to love our neighbour fulfilled in the daily context of company life; lived out through business men and women faithfully sharing the love of Christ in word and deed. Businesses and business people are a core constituency of the BAM movement.

However, these companies and business people will not thrive outside of a healthy ecosystem made up of many types of individuals, skills, perspectives, and institutions. We will not reach a tipping point for macro impact through business as mission unless our business constituency is connected to and supported by a much broader network. Therefore, we see that the BAM global community is made up of four major constituencies; leaders from business, mission, church and academia.

BAM thought-leader Peter Shaukat expresses this same idea as the 4 As: 1

  • Academy: scholars and educational institutions
  • Agency: mission agencies, yes, but also other kinds of entities with specialist functions
  • Assembly: local churches and congregations
  • Actualizers: the business people who run business as mission enterprises

The Four Major Constituencies in the BAM Movement

 

At the same time, we are part of a broader movement of God’s people following Christ in many arenas. The BAM movement should also be more broadly connected to, and overlapping with, like-movements, such as ‘Justice as Mission’, ‘Education as Mission’, ‘Art as Mission’ and so on. Business as mission is not a “silver bullet” and we should see our place among those that the Lord is raising up in all spheres of society.  Read more

Why Do BAMers Give Up & Go Home? The Top 4 Reasons for BAM Attrition

We asked seven BAM mentors to share the reasons for BAMer attrition that they most commonly see. By attrition we mean negative factors that erode a BAMers ability to stay in their job and thus cause them to leave their location or their company – these could be gradual or cataclysmic.

Here are the top four factors the BAM mentors shared and some observations about each one:

1. Commercial failure

As expected, the most commonly cited factor was commercial failure. This covered a very broad area, but there were two strong themes within this category: money and market.

“Money” included both inadequate capitalisation and lack of financial control leading to cashflow problems. “Market” included lack of adequate business planning to determine whether there is a market for the product or service, and lack of ability to pivot to changes in the market.

Sometimes it’s a failure to do suitable and effective research and planning. Is there a need for the product or service? Simple as that. – DS

I’ve got a couple of businesses that are hanging on by the skin of their teeth, and I think it’s problematic. And, in these instances, because they aren’t the type of owners who are the typical risk takers, they don’t make decisions to change their business model easily. – NH Read more

Education and Identity: Managing Connections to Christian Networks

Once a month, our panel of mentors answer your practical business questions. Send us your questions!

Dear BAM Mentor,

How do you manage your associations with Christians and Christian networks – both national and international – in light of security concerns? My ideal is to maintain my relationships with churches and Christian organisations (and indeed receive vital support/services from these); and I want to be well connected into the local church. However, I am concerned about how those connections may endanger my business. How have you managed both the relational side and other more formal associations you have with organisations or churches?

~ Feeling Cautious

Dear Cautious,

I personally believe that there are two key areas that you need to focus on as you consider your associations with Christians and Christian networks while working in a hostile environment. You should concentrate on education and building a strong identity.

Ever since we moved into a restricted access country, we have been working on educating all of the different parties involved in our lives. Most of our sending churches had only dealt with traditional missionary models, so we had to talk with them about:

  • How they communicate with us in email
  • What they could post about us online
  • How they should refer to us during their services.

During the first few years, we had to be vigilant about what they were writing in their online bulletins and websites. Over time, they have come to understand the seriousness of their actions. One simple way to make your point clear is to share real life stories of people who have been questioned because of “church mistakes.” Read more

Pragmatic and Prophetic: Managing Connections to Christian Networks

Once a month, our panel of mentors answer your practical business questions. Send us your questions!

Dear BAM Mentor,

How do you manage your associations with Christians and Christian networks – both national and international – in light of security concerns? My ideal is to maintain my relationships with churches and Christian organisations (and indeed receive vital support/services from these); and I want to be well connected into the local church. However, I am concerned about how those connections may endanger my business. How have you managed both the relational side and other more formal associations you have with organisations or churches?

~ Feeling Cautious

Dear Cautious,

This is first and fundamentally a theological-missiological issue, secondly a relational issue, and thirdly a risk-related issue. Let’s tackle the question in this order.

By “theological-missiological” I mean that the question takes us to the core issues of spiritual warfare, identity with the Kingdom of God, and the often overlooked and neglected matter of suffering for the sake of righteousness, in fulfilment of God’s purposes. The point is that, ultimately, our security is not our concern! We are engaged in a spiritual warfare, in which the advance of the Kingdom of God is often painfully slow and subject to setbacks, and that suffering, even to the point of shedding blood, let alone expulsion, is the New Testament norm. It’s commonplace, but profoundly erroneous, to assume that because we are doing something as value-added as business, we have therefore some sort of iron-clad guarantee that we’ll be exempt from the same tests, trials and trauma of any other missional effort.

By “relational” I mean that our being blood-bought brothers and sisters in Christ by definition implies a willingness to be associated with this community, to take pride in our shared identity, and to find meaningful ways to engage with other Christians. Our businesses should not be seen by the host country as discriminatory (i.e. don’t hire all Christians!) or a cover for activities that may be illegal at worst, or at least misunderstood (i.e. avoid associations with certain styles of activities or messaging that can be counter-productive). But we should resist any fear or shame in being identified with the local and global Christian community which shares the Name of Jesus, just to protect our business – which, while important, is of secondary importance to the Body of Christ. Read more

7 Internet and Email Security Tips for BAM Practitioners

1. Basics

Do the absolute basics of making sure you have a reputable: firewall, antivirus, anti spyware and anti malware programmes. Sometimes these come as all-in programmes, do a lot of research to find out what is best at the moment as the market changes rapidly.

For a more in depth look at what security steps you can take click here and for Windows users a list here called “Probably the best security list in the world”.

2. Email Security

Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail are not secure enough email options for people working in the non-secure world. At the very least they are vulnerable to passport hijackings. At worst it is quite possible for security agencies within the government to be regularly reading your emails.

Good secure email options, unfortunately, usually cost money. Many organisations give a secure email options. Otherwise you could use something like Swissmail.

If you use Mailchimp to email newsletters, be aware that the newsletter is effectively a web page. Yes it is secure on their server but all servers are vulnerable to hacking. For more advice, and a warning, for missionaries serving in non-secure parts of the world regarding email communication see here. Read more

10 Things That Will Help or Hinder BAM Mobilisation

How do we multiply and scale the number of fruitful BAM companies around the world? One of our key tasks must be to envision and mobilise a new wave of would-be business as mission practitioners from every country on the planet. Some of those will come from a corporate or small business background, envisioned with a broader perspective on their skills, experiences or companies. Others will come from a non-profit or mission agency context after seeing the need for business as mission firsthand. Still others will be the next generation coming through schools and colleges, growing up with an integrated passion for business and God’s work in the nations.

There are many strategies and models for mobilising and equipping future BAMers. Whatever your strategy, here are 10 things that will help or hinder you:

1. God is at work

Perhaps our most important opportunity is that God is on the move in the global marketplace. God is at work among business people and business people are hungry for this message. Christ-followers in the marketplace around the globe are sensing God’s call to impact the world in and through their vocation. Our message must affirm business professionals and exhort them to use their vocational experience and expertise for God’s Kingdom work. Since we are co-workers with the Holy Spirit in the work of mobilisation, prayer must be considered vital work in the BAM community. We cannot have fruitful advocacy and mobilisation without this partnership between our efforts and God’s work in people’s lives. This is not another program for us to deliver, but a movement of God. Read more

Apples to Apples: Measuring Progress Across an Organisation

We interviewed Timothy, a consultant with a mission sending organisation that has been developing a metrics tool to evaluate businesses across their organisation globally.

How did this metrics tool come about?

I work as part of a team that consults to and supports BAM-type entities across Asia and we were looking for a way to evaluate how those entities were performing and started to develop this benchmarking tool. At the same time another region was working on a similar idea and we realised that it would be far more effective to work on one tool that could be applied globally across our organisation. We want to be able to compare ‘apples to apples’ and get a better read on what is working well worldwide.

What is the tool’s purpose and how has that shaped its design?

Well first of all we wanted it to be a tool that would help business owners identify areas in which they could grow and improve. It has to serve those on the field at the sharp end of doing business so we have tried to make it straight-forward to use and informative. For instance, we have limited the number of questions practitioners have to answer so that it is not an unwieldy time-waster. The reports are laid out in a user-friendly way using various charts and formats so that areas for growth can be quickly pinpointed. It’s a tool that we’ll use when we are consulting with individual companies as a way of focusing on strengths and weaknesses. The results will be part of the ongoing conversation with the business owners, providing a framework for accountability and planning. Read more

4 Natural Tensions of the Pushed Together Model

We are exploring the integration of business and mission, and the tensions this integration can produce. In Part 1 I introduced two different models of connecting mission with business: ‘Hitched Together’ and ‘Pushed Together’. In Part 2 I unpacked some of the tensions that occur when you ‘Hitch Together’ business and mission. Here is more about ‘Pushed Together’ and the tensions that tend to arise with this model.

The ‘Pushed Together’ Model

Business as mission is where the goals and roles of business operations and missional life are aligned. The ‘ministry’ happens in the context of life in business and out of the activities of the business itself. Although it’s all ‘mission’, it is legitimate to consider different kinds of goals and impacts: commercial, social, environmental and spiritual – because we measure along multiple bottom lines. Specific activities will be focused on producing results for one or more of those bottom lines.
Pushed Together graphic 2
Those pushing the circles together will not, however, be immune to tension. Here are just a few of the kinds that will be encountered:
Read more

4 Tensions to Avoid of the Hitched Together Model

We are exploring the integration of business and mission, and the tensions this integration can produce. In Part 1 I introduced two different models of connecting mission with business: ‘Hitched Together’ and ‘Pushed Together’. Here is more about ‘Hitched Together’ and the tensions that tend to arise with this model.

The ‘Hitched Together’ Model

‘Hitched Together’ is when ministry goals/job description do not overlap very significantly with the business operation. For instance, you work in a business, but you do your primary ‘ministry’ work outside of office hours. Perhaps the business is a means to a particular end – you need it for a visa, or money, or access – but you don’t see it as the primary sphere where your missional goals and role is outworked.Hitched Together graphic
Some might say this isn’t really ‘business as mission’ because it is hardly integrated. They might call it ‘business for mission’ or ‘bivocational work’. There is nothing inherently wrong with being bivocational. For many people in ministry all over the world, it is the way they make life work. However, I would suggest there are some pitfalls to this model, especially in the context of cross-cultural work, and some natural tensions that arise, including: Read more