By Doug Priest
In the Majority World, formerly called the Third World, one comes into contact with abject poverty, particularly in urban areas. In many such places, income is less than $2 a day. Youth roam the streets as their parents have succumbed to HIV/AIDS. Unemployment is rampant. There is sewage, toxic waste, hunger, despair, and a lack of hope.
How can the good news be communicated in the midst of such squalor? Can anything be done? As the church, do we have a role? The answer is a resounding “Yes!”
Rich, an elder serving with a church in Colorado Springs, had recently retired and wanted something meaningful to fill his days. Trained in chemical engineering with Samsung Petrochemicals, he had once been manager of a plant in Korea. Since he and his wife, Carol, loved Asia, they wondered if there might be a way to use his background in business for the Lord. Rich’s story is not uncommon. Many people want to move from success to significance.
Rich and Carol made the appropriate contacts through their church, and soon they found themselves in Eastern Asia where he served as voluntary construction foreman for a new manufacturing facility being built. This facility grew out of the vision of Christians who wanted to be involved in business and the spread of the gospel in this part of the world, a place where missionaries are not welcome. Located in a city of more than 6 million people, and using state-of-the-art technology, the company became profitable within a few years by making products that are needed in the developing country. The company provides employment for dozens of people.
Best of all, because it is a business run by Christian managers who follow Christian principles, half of the factory workers have become believers and Bible studies take place on the premises. Miss T, a Georgia Tech-trained engineer who is working in this new Great Commission company, discipled these new believers to understand Jesus’ heart for the poor. This led them to adopt a nearby migrant worker’s children’s school. Assistance is lovingly provided for the underprivileged students.
What is Business as Mission?
“Business as mission” has been defined as “the utilization of for-profit businesses as instruments for global mission.” It is “a holistic mission strategy that aims to create jobs and wealth for the local people as well as address other physical, social, and spiritual needs.”1
There are three financial levels of business as mission.
Microenterprise and microfinance help individuals rise above poverty by providing small loans to help them create small businesses. Elizabeth’s story, which follows, is an example of this level. Loans, usually less than $50, are provided to those in need who demonstrate a desire to help themselves and who have an idea for a small business. The small business owner pays back the loan, which means others can reuse the same capital. Or the initial borrower, who has demonstrated initiative and accountability, can apply for a second and larger loan to further grow the business.
The second level is assisting small- and medium-size enterprises that have the potential for creating jobs for many members of the community. These businesses resemble small businesses throughout the world; they have a payroll, corporate structure, and provide a variety of services or products. Loans to help establish these businesses are generally in the $20,000 to $50,000 range, though they may be higher. The following stories about the fitness center and the milling factory illustrate this level of business.
The third level of business as mission refers to big business that may be local or even global. Such businesses “arise out of a deep concern for the least-developed and least-reached nations of the world” and “proceed from a compelling desire to see the Gospel taken to places where Christ has never been preached.”2 Investments of at least $200,000 are the norm. The manufacturing facility in East Asia that Rich helped construct exemplifies this level of business. This third level of business as mission has been heralded by many in the past five years as a chief strategy for missions in the 21st century.
The Bottom Lines
What is the difference between the more well-known tent-making strategy and business as mission? The flippant answer is that tentmakers make tents while business as mission people build skyscrapers. The difference between the two is the difference between job-takers and job-makers. Nor does business as mission involve job-fakers. Businesses are not established as fronts for ministry, which is unethical. Wobbly platforms make poor foundations for building a church.
The business of business is business. The business of business as mission is advancing the kingdom. The bottom line of business is simple to understand: profit. But there is a quadruple bottom line in business as mission.
• First, there is profit, because this approach is not about unending subsidization nor about sympathy markets, such as when a missionary takes homemade crafts and sells them to supporting church members.
• Second, there is contribution to ministry, which can take many forms—ministry to vendors, employees, the community, the local church, and profit-sharing with mission efforts.
• Third, there is the deliberate attempt to holistically address issues in the community, such as job creation for the poor.
• Finally, business as mission sees that an implication of understanding God as the Creator of the world has a direct bearing on being stewards of the creation. In other words, the kingdom businesses we engage in—the Great Commission companies we start—need to be environmentally sound.
Neal Johnson, former professor at Hope International University in Fullerton, California, provides some helpful distinctions, using examples from America3. Mission to the marketplace involves efforts where those in the church would intentionally step into the corporate world to help advance the kingdom. A minister who leads a Bible study over lunch for insurance agents is an example of this type of ministry, as would be a church in Manhattan taking a prayer walk along Wall Street.
Mission within the marketplace is quite different. Christians who are already working champion the gospel through outreach to nonbelievers or in discipling those who are already in the household of faith. When a doctor shares her faith with her patients and a nurse, when she prays before surgery, and when she voluntarily serves the indigent, she is ministering within her marketplace.
Mission through the marketplace seeks to leverage the power, networks, and resources of the market for kingdom purposes. Through the power and guidance of the Spirit, business as mission seeks to harness the secular power of the marketplace, baptizing it to touch people’s lives with the love of Christ and to help alleviate their pain and poverty.
The Chinese proverb says, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Business as mission goes a step farther. “Teach a man how to run a fishing business and his entire village will have supper every night, and it will not have to be fish!”
1Tom Steffen and Mike Barnett, eds., Business as Mission (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2006), 25.
3“Toward a Marketplace Missiology,” Missiology, 31:3:91.
Doug Priest is executive director of Christian Missionary Fellowship.