by Jo Plummer
December 2018 marks four full years of the new Business as Mission website and the launch of The BAM Review blog. We have now been posting one or two BAM blogs weekly for almost 208 weeks, and with the addition of a few posts from our old website catalogue, we have now posted a total of 461 blogs on this site!
In addition, Tuesday 18th December will mark the 100th Edition of The BAM Review email, that has been going out to our subscriber list twice a month since January 2015!
With these milestones to celebrate and the end of another year approaching, I thought I would take some time to reflect on Business as Mission with an additional response to the article by Mats Tunehag ‘Why We Need the Term Business as Mission, But Maybe Not Forever!’ – continuing on from Ross O’Brien’s response of last week.
I will round out this two-part article with the suggestion that the business as mission movement is like the bricks and mortar in a wall – and that we will need more of both in order to grow to full strength in the future.
The Concept vs the Term
I fully agree with Mats in his post that affirming the concept of ‘business as mission’ is much more important than what we choose to call it. He says,
The term BAM has its merits in clarification of the concept. The term has been helpful in the affirmation of business people and the mobilization of resources. But the term is not important – the concept and the applications are.
I do think having a term is important, for reasons I will expand on below, but what Mats is trying to emphasise here is that we don’t cling to the term ‘business as mission’ particularly, it is the idea behind it that is most important. He goes on to make this clearer by saying that ‘the specific term is of secondary or tertiary importance’ – and so it should be, because of its obvious limitations.
Here are some common criticisms of the term ‘business as mission’:
- Mission and business are in themselves two very broad concepts – put them together and you get a term which is open to much interpretation and for which a universally understood definition is a challenge!
- The ‘m’ word is not helpful in certain contexts where there is hostility towards Christian mission in general.
- It could wrongly imply a ‘mission’ disguised as a business (fake company) or business disguised as mission/charity (tax evasion!)
- It’s an English term that may not translate well. Even this discussion about the term is very language- and culture-specific and it doesn’t recognise, for instance, that Asians were among the earliest pioneers of ‘business as mission’ (the concept).
Thus there is a need to continually bring clarity to our terms and to feel free to use other terms when they are more appropriate. Above all, we need to advocate and educate for the concept: that it is the intentional integration of real business and focused mission.
A Brief Side Note…
The criticisms mentioned above beg the obvious question, “Why choose the term ‘business as mission’?” While a history of the term and concept is beyond the scope of this article, ‘business as mission’ was first coined the late 1990s, and quickly gained currency among the small community that were discussing it at the time. The concept, of course, goes back much further, with ‘modern era’ BAM models beginning to emerge in the late 70’s and through the 80’s and 90’s. Missional models that weave business and mission together are almost as ancient as the New Testament church – think Paul making tents and the early spread of the gospel by traders on the Silk Road!
Despite its pitfalls and detractors, ‘business as mission’ has gained traction over the years, while similar terms have developed slightly different or narrower meanings. The simple answer is that no one came up with an alternative term that had enough momentum to supplant ‘business as mission’ as activity and discussion built around the concept during the early 2000s. So for better or for worse – and for now – business as mission is the label many of us use.
A Rallying Point and the Right Kind of Equipping
I have always felt that we need a distinctive label for two particular reasons. The first is to provide a rallying point for people thinking about the concept, since using only ‘business’, or even ‘Kingdom business’ or ‘Christian business’ is not distinctive enough to bring people together, or be useful when you Google! We call it the Business as Mission website or the BAM Conference so that people know where to look and how to connect with resources and like-minded people.
The second reason is that it is useful to have focused messaging, training and resources for the demands of this particular application of business. One may take a walk around a park, or in a forest, or on a glacier and in each of these scenarios there are some commonalities: all involve walking. However – and without making any kind of value judgement about which kind of walking is best – we know that a person should be very differently prepared for walking around a park versus a glacier. There are likely to be specialist training programs, best practices and equipment for the latter!
Ross O’Brien makes these points far better in his article:
I could open and run a chicken sandwich restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia to the glory of God, making amazing food, providing meaningful work, paying taxes, providing phenomenal customer service all in obedience to God’s call. This is a spiritual act of worship, holy unto the Lord. But perhaps God has called me to open a chicken sandwich restaurant in Ankara, Turkey, doing all the things listed above, but with the purpose of seeing the lost come to a saving faith in Jesus in a place where there is little opportunity for sharing the gospel. The general calling is the same: co-laboring with God in restoring creation through the unique gifts and abilities he has given us. But the particular gifting and specific calling is unique and requires a different set of skills, training and resources.
Scaffold or Essential Delineator?
These two advantages of using a particular label for the concept are why I don’t believe that the term is only a scaffold that will eventually not be needed; although perhaps one day a newer, better term will be commonly used instead.
However, I do certainly hope, along with Mats, that in the future when Christians think about business they instinctively incorporate the idea that business is designed by God to help individuals and communities flourish. I hope that Christians called to business will automatically feel affirmed by the Church and take time consider where and how God might be calling them to do business in this world.
Read Part 2>> Multiplication: Why the BAM Movement Needs You!
Read Mats Tunehag’s article>> Why We Need the Term Business as Mission, But Maybe Not Forever!
Read Ross O’Brien’s article>> Why We Need the Term Business as Mission, But Maybe Not Forever! A Response
Jo Plummer is the Co-Chair of BAM Global 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 and The BAM Review blog.