Pragmatic and Prophetic: Managing Connections to Christian Networks

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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.

By “risk-related” I mean that understanding and managing all the risks our business is exposed to is part of our stewardship responsibility. This begins with assessing your risk tolerance: what price are you ultimately willing to pay? It proceeds to risk analysis: what risks – both in terms of likelihood and impact – are you exposed to by having indiscriminate, indiscreet, or imprudent associations with certain Christian groups, organisations, etc.? It culminates in risk management: how should you maintain contact with the community, both national and international, in a way that appropriately minimises your exposure? It’s also worth bearing in mind that great risk can come from “false brothers” as well as roaring lions.

Here are some practical steps I have found useful over the years:

1. Be consistently and fearlessly identified with a local church congregation that has integrity in its message and style (just as your business should have integrity in the same way). Of course there is a spectrum of possibilities here, from relatively secret home church entities, to established national churches with a higher profile.

2. Be demonstratively prophetic in your local Christian relationships and church context such that you are graciously challenging any natural tendencies to operate with a ghetto-type mindset that separates Christians from the rest of the population (belonging to a local church does not mean you cannot belong elsewhere as well).

3. Be discerning in your international Christian associations, including for example, home-church, sending church, and, if it’s the case, sending agencies. Make every prudent effort – and track with the implementation of these efforts – to avoid language and terminology (such as “evangelism”, “conversion”, “baptism”, “church planting”, “targeting”, “onward Christian soldiers”(!), etc.) or association with events such as “mission conferences” which may well be biblical, but which are more likely than not to be perceived in a particularly hostile way. Be creative in the way your association with a sending agency is defined and executed.

4. Be particularly alert to the ubiquitous and potentially harmful nature of the internet via websites, blog-spots, email, etc. Publicity in many cultures is the norm so you must be careful to pre-empt possible associations with unintended consequences. Truth be told, it’s often our self-absorbed narcissism which loves the limelight of attention that gets us into trouble! In some cases, the use of a pseudonym can be a smart move. Change your email address if it uses “Christian-ese” language. Using a secure email provider can help; in any case, avoid indiscreet language and identifiers in your communication.

5. Take prudent steps to manage financial transactions between connections at home, yourself and your business so that you are not seen as being funded by Christian agencies. There are solutions to manage your overall financial resourcing requirements that can help to avoid undesirable conclusions – including business ownership that is separated from formal, recognised Christian mission entities. Appropriate separation of financial transactions and wider use of personal home-based accounts is not unethical; it is pragmatic. Be prepared to pay more tax as the price of greater security.

6. Have your “press release” prepared, up to date, and practised. Imagine yourself as perceived from the host’s shoes! Who are you – really? What are you here to do – really? How are you funded – given your observed lifestyle? Your answers should obviously include, worded and rehearsed in natural ways unique to your situation, a) “follower of Jesus”, as evidenced, in part, by your local and international connections with the church, b) business – as evidenced, in part, by your personal financial investment, local trading, job creation and tax paying behaviours, and c) widely dependent upon the local economic and other contextual elements, the stage of your business, and other factors – drawings from the business (already, imminent, and planned), personal savings and/or drawing on your other successful investments and sources of revenue from elsewhere, and even gifts from friends, family and other well-wishers, who like you, believe in the value of business as a service to the community in which you are now present.

And having done all – Trust God!  He is our Ultimate Security.  There will be breaches and mistakes on a human level, but He can be relied upon to over-rule where this is in His best judgement. 

by Peter Shaukat

Peter Shaukat is serving as a Guest Mentor for our Ask a BAM Mentors column this month.

More on this topic from Toby Miles:

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.”

Educating our churches was not the only area that we needed to work on. We also had to educate our local contacts (both believers and non-believers). From the very beginning, we tried to appropriately educate them on our identity. [Read More…]

Peter Shaukat has lived and worked in a professional and business capacity for over 30 years throughout Asia, Europe, the Middle East, South and North America and is a pioneer in the business as mission movement. He currently consults on business as mission all over the world and is the CEO of a global investment fund for BAM enterprise in the Arab world and Asia.

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