Charlie sat in the audience of the church one morning when he heard a new idea: “If you work for a multinational company, you could transfer to a place with little to no gospel witness. The only thing that is stopping you from getting to the mission field is the artificial idea that you need to raise funds, join a sending organization, and be commissioned as a vocational missionary.”
As an employee of a huge multinational company, Charlie was convinced this was a message directed to him. After church he talked to his wife and kids. Then, excitedly, first thing Monday morning, he asked his boss for a transfer to a mega-city in the middle of vast swaths of lostness. Joshua Project informed him that this city contained several unreached people groups and over ten million people with only a few churches among them.
Six weeks after having relocated his family, however, Charlie was quickly realizing that the marketplace missionary life he’d imagined would prove an unlikely reality.
Charlie is not alone. Many who have been excited about Business as Missions (BAM) as the “missions strategy of a new era” are finding it fraught with new challenges and unforeseen barriers. Though BAM can, in some places, support a healthy missions strategy, below are three reasons that we must be cautious about putting all our eggs in the BAM basket.
1. Access Denied
Over the last several decades as missions work has focused in on the 10/40 window, one of the perennial problems has been gaining legitimate and stable access. Finding ways to engage in long-term living in gospel-hostile countries has been on the minds of most missions agencies. Some have opted to open businesses legally, but many fail to actually do the work they claimed to be doing once the visa has been stamped in their passport.
“Many who have been excited about Business as Missions (BAM) as the ‘missions strategy of a new era’ are finding it fraught with new challenges and unforeseen barriers.”
In response to the ethical issues this presents, some BAM advocates have proposed taking real, meaningful employment in strategic locations as a way of gaining the access that is otherwise difficult. However, though one might establish residence in a strategic country, at least two other factors continue to make meaningful missions access elusive:
A. Culture and contact
The first reality that an employee of a multinational corporation will confront upon moving to their new home is that they are still separated and segregated within a multinational-though-highly-Western world. Even though they are nearer to the unreached people groups they long to engage geographically, the offices of IBM in Silicon Valley will not be radically different than the offices of IBM in Delhi. This means that one’s 60-hour-per-week job will continue to consume time and energy and it will do so using the forms and systems native to the business, not necessarily adapting to the context. This plays out in two detrimental ways.
B. Language and location
First, these big companies have no need to operate in the host language. The coworkers with whom you will be sharing cubicle space will operate in English and will likely not be from the unreached people groups that prompted the strategic move to this city. You will have little time and no encouragement to learn the national language due to the fact that your job will not require it. It is unlikely that you will have natural contact with folks who will have the time and patience to teach you.
“The biblical precedent for missions reveals teamwork to be the modus operandi of missionary engagement.”
As a result of not being able to learn the language, your ability to learn the culture and its rhythms outside the walls of your company’s headquarters will be significantly limited. Though you may have the opportunity to share the gospel with your co-workers, it is not likely that you will be regularly engaging with the unreached people groups for whom you relocated in the first place.
2. Resource Allocation
Another aspect of BAM that can inhibit the missionary task is the fact that you are endeavoring to take on two full-time jobs while also juggling family responsibilities. Your resources are limited even if your passions are boundless. Consider these following two limitations:
If you are putting in 50-60 hours a week for someone else you’re already low on time. Where will you find opportunity to get out into the frontiers of lostness in your spare time?
Not only is your time limited, but your energies will be doubly-depleted as you navigate unfamiliar neighborhoods, culinary options, sicknesses, and culture. The amount of pressure that you feel working your job in the US will not decrease—it will almost certainly increase.
3. What happens when you succeed?
When undertaking such a lofty task as cross-cultural missions it is tempting to be overwhelmed by the fear of failure. However, perhaps more pertinent to the BAM endeavor is the question of success: what happens if many come to faith? Who will disciple these new believers? Who will lead the new church as it forms? Where will the time and energy that it takes to invest in a community of baby believers come from if you are a full-time employee outside of your ministry target?
4. Who is helping keep you accountable?
And the most pressing question that rarely gets asked in these settings is, “What sort of Christian community will I be a part of?” The idea that missionaries are lone-rangers who don’t need fellowship, encouragement, and accountability is something of an American fantasy rather than a biblical truth. Though you may be able to move to a place inundated with lostness through your multinational employer, that doesn’t mean that you should do so without being sure that you will at least have some other like-minded partners endeavoring with you. This may take the form of a healthy international church, or it may be that you join a traditional team of missionaries.
Whatever the case, the biblical precedent for missions reveals teamwork to be the modus operandi of missionary engagement.
You may come to the end of this article thinking that I am totally opposed to Business as Missions endeavors. However, that’s not the case. In fact, I think that if they are integrated into a larger missions strategy, they can be of incredible benefit to the kingdom. In the next article, we will look at several ways to overcome the barriers presented in this article and discuss how BAM can be a valuable component of a broader missions strategy.
Matthew Bennett and his wife, Emily, served with the IMB for almost seven years. He holds a PhD in missiology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and he currently serves as an assistant professor of missions and theology at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio.