Ask a BAM Mentor: Tensions in Integrating Business and Mission

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Dear BAM Mentor,

I am feeling some tensions as I begin to integrate mission and business goals together in my business operations. What tensions have you felt and how have you overcome them? What practical tips or principles have you found helpful?

~ Tense in Tashkent

Dear Tense,

This is a great question and a common one. You are in good company!

First, let’s think through where the tensions may be coming from. For example, if your business partners or key managers are not believers or do not understand Kingdom Business that creates one set of tensions. Or, if you are burdened with the hangover of the “sacred-secular divide” that creates an entirely different set of tensions. Another source of tension is simply not being sure how to do solid business planning with a missions or kingdom purpose.

Second, let’s think through each option.

My Partners/Managers Don’t Get Kingdom Business
If there isn’t alignment on this foundational part of your business at this time don’t despair. Take a discipling approach – patient education and demonstration can go a long way to helping your team see the eternal picture. Perhaps some reading and discussion meetings. Perhaps video training. And lots of prayer. Lots of prayer.

I’m Not Comfortable with Integration… Not Totally
We all struggle with the remains of the destructive illusion of sacred vs. secular. The good news, though is that since it’s an illusion it only exists in the mind. Soaking your mind in the truth of Scripture and some excellent writing/teaching is the answer. Books like Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller and Business for the Glory of God by Wayne Grudem are great places to start.

I Just Don’t See Integrated Goals Working
This is the simplest tension to address. I generally advise BAM entrepreneurs to start with a Kingdom Purpose/Impact Statement rather than the traditional Mission or Vision Statement. Tell me how your business is going to make a difference for the Kingdom. From there I advise that you limit your overall goals to no more than 5; goals need to be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Recorded, and Time Oriented). Some of your goals will be financial (revenue, gross profit, net operating profits, etc.); some will be territorial (geography to be served, number of locations, etc.); some will be service or product oriented (new products to be introduced, etc.). And some will be kingdom oriented (disciples launched, victims rescued, businesses started among the poor, etc.). By blending these various types of goals you have moved toward integration and by limiting them to 5 or fewer you have moved toward achievement.

~ Mike

Dear Tense,

In every BAM company there are inevitable conflicts between “business” and “kingdom” interests. My recommendation is to resolve such conflicts through prayer and faith, according to the measure of faith imparted by God.

In the year of inception of my business with just four employees, we were struggling to survive.  Then a government agent approached me with the offer of a dream project worth half a million dollars. I accepted gladly and reserved my ticket to go abroad to buy the software tools needed.  Then surfaced a table of kickbacks that we were expected to pay to all who were involved on the government side of the contract, right down from the minister of state.  It still left an ample profit margin for my company. Finding me unwilling, the agent pitied my youthful ignorance of “normal business routine” and sought my father’s help to persuade me. My father refused and added a strong rebuke. If we had forsaken the fear of God and accepted the project offer, my business would have stabilized immediately, but we would have forfeited our Christian witness in the marketplace and our character as a kingdom business. The growth that God in His faithfulness gave us subsequently reminds me of Tolstoy’s famous maxim, “God sees the truth, but waits” – and I guess we have to wait, too.

Another example from my own experience explains how we are sometimes required to choose a less efficient or unprofitable option that defies conventional wisdom but follows the path of the kingdom. Our company accountant, an orthodox Hindu, fell sick with what appeared to be an incurable condition of the liver that was rapidly deteriorating. There was little chance of his returning to work, let alone returning quickly. I had to decide whether to replace him in order to ensure smooth work or whether to wait and appeal to the board members, management and staff for prayer, and have the company pay in part for his treatment. The latter was done. At first we rejoiced to see an apparent miracle of instantaneous healing, and the decision seemed to have been wiser even in business terms, because it saved time and the problems entailed by a transition. But while convalescing he took worse and died of complications soon after. Was all the waiting and the risk-taking worthwhile? We have had the satisfaction of standing by an employee in a difficult time in his life. We made an investment in kingdom values that the company could afford and we leave the results to time and to God.

In summary, when the conflict between kingdom values and business interests becomes unresolvable, count the cost in advance and resolve to choose the kingdom.

~ Joseph

Dear Tense,

Tensions tend to arise when we take our eye off the ball. We need to be constantly asking the questions, Why are we here? Why are we doing what we are doing?

Because we are in business and are employing business methods, it is easy to allow our motivations to become aligned with the world’s motivations, e.g. to make profit for its own sake or only increase shareholder value. There may be nothing inherently wrong with these goals but they do not reflect the primary aims of a BAM business. The focus should be on the benefits generated for people and for pleasing God, which then results in profits and shareholder value.  When our motivations become hijacked, our priorities become distorted and tensions arise, particularly between stakeholders.

Specific actions we have found to be valuable in combating these dangers include:

Clearly define the mission, vision, values and objectives
Spend time to ensure your mission, vision, values and objectives are all very clearly and precisely defined and documented. The idea is that when tensions, arguments or disagreements arise, these clearly defined statements become the arbiters against which differing views can be evaluated.

Set up accountability structures
Accountability operates in conjunction with documented statements to challenge and correct any wrong thinking and attitudes. In our case we set up a ‘Christian Accountability Board’, to operate alongside the Management Board. The Management Board were responsible for the day to day business decisions but these decisions were subject to scrutiny by the Accountability Board who were one step removed from the day to day activities and therefore able to be more objective.

Put prayer and relationships first
Good relationships play a major role in the smooth operations of such organisational arrangements. We found a practical way to establish and foster these good relationships was to have a regular prayer gathering of everyone involved. Prayer included times of sharing, when difficult situations and decisions could be aired in a forum where confidentiality was guaranteed and where they became subjects for prayer and often for Holy Spirit inspired insights.

Reduce tensions around money
Not all tensions encountered in business are financial matters, but many are. When money is tight, the temptation is to find it from anywhere possible. It is good practice, therefore, to incorporate the financial aspects of mission in the overall budget for the business, i.e. an costs for ‘missional activities’ are specifically identified and set aside for that purpose.

There is no foolproof setup that will guarantee resolution for all tensions that arise. Different arrangements may be appropriate according to the business circumstances. However, we found the four measures above, working in combination, helped us through many difficult situations and decisions over more than twenty years in business. […Read more]

~ David

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