by Jo Plummer
Business and mission have been woven together in various ways through history since Paul the Apostle made tents in New Testament times and modelled Christian leadership in the marketplace. However, through the 1970s, 80s and 90s there was a grassroots growth of business professionals and entrepreneurs seeking to intentionally integrate business and mission, marking the beginnings of the contemporary tentmaking and then business as mission movements. At the very end of the 1990s and the early 2000s, there was a burst of activity around business as mission: consultations, conferences, books, articles, the first websites etc. – and this kick-started greater momentum in the BAM movement, which has been growing to this day.
The Business as Mission Resource Team (who develop this website and blog) celebrate our 20th anniversary this month, having been founded in March 2001. We’re in a celebrating mood!
Two years ago, to celebrate about 20 years since the term ‘business as mission’ was first used and discussed, we asked a group of BAM leaders to share their view on what progress we can celebrate in the BAM movement over the last 20 years or so. We’re reposting it this month as part of our CELEBRATION series.
What are some wins, or significant growth areas in business as mission that we should note and be thankful for?
The movement has gained traction. People now understand the legitimacy and role of BAM in particular and the calling of business in general for the Great Commission. New organizations have been founded to address the gaps in the BAM movement such as mentoring, funding, events for promoting and networking, etc. More established older organizations have begun embracing BAM ministry by starting a division, department or group focused on BAM. The biggest win for me is the wider acceptance of BAM as a way to impact the world for Christ by the global Church (with a capital C). We still have a ways to go, but the progress has been significant. God has used the BAM movement to move the needle. – Joseph Vijayam, BAM Practitioner & Lausanne Catalyst
Twenty years ago, in our Middle Eastern country, BAM was a marginal ministry that most of the mission community saw as a bit sketchy, something that may be okay, but wouldn’t really make an important difference for the kingdom. Today almost every mission organisation sees some sort of BAM or professional occupation as a critical dimension of their ministries. While a few still see it as the only way to get a visa, more and more are understanding not only the validity of the model, but the absolute necessity of living a life here to which the national church can aspire. In our country, most of the capable national believers are drawn to foreign-funded ministries and need instead to be equipped to work in the secular world, understanding they can be agents for change in a dark place. – Robert Andrews, BAM Practitioner & Mentor
The profile of the BAM movement has increased. The movement has visibility, with conferences, books, and articles and some high profile Christian speakers have spoken out for our cause. The philosophy of BAM has developed, there has been some heavy articulation of the apologetic, talking about the quadruple bottom line, attacking the sacred-secular divide, and affirming the integration of our faith with our business. Then we have come a long way in the practice of BAM. The story is being told, in the conferences, in videos, on the ground where many businesses welcome visitors. Several colleges have course on BAM or components of BAM in business courses. We now can touch-see-hear it! Naturally all of this progress reminds us that we still have a long way to go. – Larry Sharp, IBEC Ventures
One thing to celebrate from the last 20 years is that we can observe spontaneous activity on virtually every continent, demonstrating that this movement is not “of man”. There is now widespread interest in dozens of mission agencies about BAM as an essential new strategy to reach the nations. There is also general acceptance in the larger church community as we bridge the sacred-secular divide and release business people and resources into the work. The plethora of books, classes, and studies on the subject, is bringing systems and academic rigor to what began as a rogue operation in Central Asia. We can especially celebrate the thousands of successful micro-businesses launched around the world, especially among the unreached; plus the dozens of SME and OPE companies in the movement today. – Mike Baer, Third Path Initiative
I believe we have seen some of the more worrying polarisation diminish. A “multi-lane highway” of BAM – with guard-rails on either side – is being built. Business-as-platform (in the sense of business simply for a visa) and business-for-profit (only) are, I believe, widely perceived as the edges of the road, beyond which lie catastrophic cliffs over which the unwary will plunge! There is a wider recognition that from whichever perspective I am approaching BAM, I need to have a legitimate, credible enterprise. We’ve made some encouraging progress in regards to funding BAM; there’s a bit more rigour across the board and better understanding of the importance of good planning. We’ve really made progress in seeing the global Body of Christ getting involved in the movement. There’s a great deal to sort out in this, and there will be still a lot of messiness, unilateralism and lack of collaboration, but there is some good progress. We’ve made great strides in addressing a broad scope of BAM related issues, it’s now seen as “a discipline”, “a field”. The diversity of issues being addressed and the range of voices feeding into this discussion and learning is encouraging. From “freedom business” to “private equity”, from “micro-enterprise” to “scaling up”, there’s a lot going on. – Peter Shaukat, Transformational SME
Most Christian young people interested in missions and business who are looking for longer-term work and experience in our nation have good basis and understanding of BAM. There are still not enough new workers, but those that are coming have heard good things of BAM and have a good foundation. There is much improved capability to manage multiple BAM companies at one time, given digital technology, ease of travel, etc. The quality of entrepreneurship of BAM leaders has certainly improved – Dwight Nordstrom, BAM Practitioner
Churches are much more aware of BAM as a legitimate approach to missions. More young people see BAM as a welcome approach to serving in the nations. More business people / professionals are being mobilized to use their everyday gifts for the nations. It seems like there’s more of a desire for workers to be more transparent and credible in their identity, and not just faking it in business. There is more intentional planning happening in the whole process of undertaking a BAM venture, more coaching available, and more reality checks. Finally workers from the Global South are being mobilized and encouraged toward a BAM approach. – OPEN Network Field Worker
Some progress we can celebrate is that people see the potential of this paradigm much more; business is now a much more visible way to shine the gospel in unreached areas. The sacred secular divide is closing and the church has an opportunity to see things rather more holistically than simply ministry vs. work. This fits well with the millennial culture’s ideal for significance in the workplace. God has been building awareness of BAM simultaneously, and sometimes supernaturally, across a wide range of previously disconnected parts of the body of Christ which I believe will result in greater unity in the church and far greater effectiveness in mission. – OPEN Network Leader
We now have many more stories and resources. In the 20th century there were a lack of clear models that people were talking about. It felt as if 100 years went by without a single story involving an impactful, profitable business becoming a part of the missions narrative. When I began to truly dig into what was available for inspiration and learning in the mid 2000s, I found very little. There were few websites and most books focused mainly on workplace theology. Compare that to today where there are conferences, books, documentaries, college courses and programs that are focused on this topic. – OPEN Network Leader
We hope you were as encouraged by these perspectives as we were. God has been faithful and good, and we can be so thankful for all he has done in our midst. Although there is still much to do, there is also much to celebrate so far!
First published on The BAM Review in March 2019 and reposted as part of our Celebration series this month.
Compiled by Jo Plummer, with thanks to the BAM leaders who shared their perspectives. Special thanks to Patrick Lai for gathering contributions from OPEN Network field workers and leaders.
Jo Plummer is the Co-Chair of the BAM Global Think Tank and co-editor the Lausanne Occasional Paper on Business as Mission. She has been developing resources for BAM since 2001 and currently serves as Editor of the Business as Mission website.
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