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:

Tension 1: It Can Get Messy!

In business you are dealing with money and managing people all day long. Sure, difficulties will arise! Suppliers won’t deliver, staff will behave badly, cash flow will be a challenge and officials may try to bribe you. Tensions will come because the moral standards you want to uphold in the business do not match those in the prevailing business climate. There are many decisions to be made in business every day and some of them will be difficult and stressful. The danger is twofold. On one hand you may be tempted to do something you know is morally questionable because that is the norm in the culture, or your survival seems at stake. That does happen. However, the much more common situation is that it’s hard to figure out what the ‘right’ thing to do is in any given circumstance. Is this really a moral issue, or just a cultural preference? What is the risk if we go down one route, or another? How should we hire and fire? The antidote? Have clear company values and apply them to clearly articulated policies and procedures. Understand good business practices and have systems and checks and balances in place. Use contracts. Get receipts. Write it down! Make sure you are in the right role; not everyone is cut out for the risk associated with being a CEO. Dig into what the Bible has to say about right business conduct. Find out what the Scriptures really say about paying a bribe. And pray. Pray a lot and act on God’s word to you and the measure of faith He imparts.

Tension 2: Making Trade-Offs

Related to Tension 1, some of your difficult decisions may be related to how to prioritise your various goals. The need to be commercially successful, for instance, may at times seem to conflict with desired social or spiritual outcomes – or vice versa. This relates back to Peter Shaukat’s Golden Gate Bridge illustration and his point that multiple bottom lines, and multiple measures for success, will naturally result in managing tensions. If the tension management is successful, great loads of impact in multiple areas can be carried across the BAM model. The danger is that we don’t effectively manage the tension and either we get mission drift on the one hand, where the only concern becomes the business making money, or commercial failure on the other hand. The antidote? Have a clear vision, purpose and objectives for your business and articulate these into a written plan that is regularly evaluated by the management team. Set goals around all areas of hoped-for impact and review them; ask your advisory board to keep you accountable to them. Create an advisory board if you don’t have one. And, pray some more.

Tension 3: Identity Crisis

Yes there can be an identity crisis in the pushed together model too. This is a little different. Perhaps your supporting church back home just cannot grasp what you are doing. How can you be doing mission, aren’t you just out there running a company? Maybe the mission organisation you are affiliated with wants you to leave because you aren’t doing ‘real ministry’ any more. Perhaps Christian staff or partners don’t really ‘get’ the strategy. The danger is that you become isolated and unsupported, or experience regular conflict within your team or with wider stakeholders. Essential support functions like pastoral care, prayer support and accountability structures may be removed. You feel a lack of moral support or sense of belonging, which can be a serious discouragement. The antidote? One is patient communication. As Mike Baer puts it, “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.” A second antidote is to find a community. Find like-minded others that can understand, support and encourage you. Intentionally plug-in.

Tension 4: Conflicts of Interest

This may not be a tension that you feel, but those around you do. If you are the boss and the mission team leader, or the boss and the leader of an emerging Bible study or church, you may face some conflicts of interest. How do you go about setting the pay for your employees, or indeed yourself? How do you assign roles? Who do you hire? The danger is that too much power is concentrated in one person and that can be open to abuse, or even just foolish decisions. Another danger is prejudice in making hiring decisions and the result is the modern day equivalent of ‘rice Christians’, where people realise if they profess faith they can get a job, or break through a glass ceiling at your company. The antidote? Be careful, use wisdom. Just because something is open to abuse, it doesn’t mean it will be abused. Proactively protect yourself and your team. In some cases it is appropriate to bring a clearer distinction between your roles. Have someone else lead the Bible study or teach at church. These issues are at the level of heart motivation, so bring those motivations out into the open. Air things. Build in checks and balances into your company operations. Keep decisions as transparent as possible. Have more than one person looking over the payroll. Have your accounts audited. Consider yourself a steward of your team member’s strengths and skills as you make decisions about their job descriptions and schedule. Make sure your staff can talk to someone about you who is able to advocate for them, and that they are free to raise difficult issues. Make yourself accountable to others – your management team, your board of advisors or a mentor who can speak to you honestly. Remain teachable. And pray!

Read Part 1: Hitched Together Versus Pushed Together: BAM Integration

Read Part 2: 4 Tensions to Avoid of the Hitched Together Model

Jo Plummer 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. 

With special thanks to the practitioners who have lived the integration over years and who have freely shared their wisdom.