Editor’s note: For further reading on this important topic, check out Larry McCrary’s book, The Marketspace: Essential Relationships Between the Sending Church, Marketplace Worker, and Missionary Team.
Mary sat in the audience of the church one morning listening to her pastor reading a request from some of the church’s missionaries. The missionaries were making an appeal for someone to relocate to their mega-city environment in order to develop a consultation business. Mary had spent the past two decades working as a consultant to small businesses, large corporations, and multinational conglomerates, and her ears perked up.
Mary had entrepreneurial gifts, significant business experience, a love for the gospel and the local church, and a missionary vision to see disciples made around the world. Until now, these passions and skills seemed disparate. However, as she heard the missionary’s appeal that Sunday, she began to see them coalesce beautifully for the first time.
Following the church service, Mary and her husband met with the pastor to further consider the request. They all agreed that it would be wise to take a vision trip to visit with the missionaries, discuss the needs in person, and assess the realities on the ground. After spending two weeks in the mega-city, both Mary and her husband had caught the vision.
Over the next six months, in concert with the missionary team, they produced a business plan for beginning a successful enterprise that would also provide meaningful employment, connections, and access for additional missionaries. Within a year their church was sending them out, commissioning them to join the team and serve as catalysts for advancing and sustaining the missionary task.
BAM In Bloom
In the previous article, I noted several ways that Business As Missions (BAM) endeavors can run into significant barriers. However, I am not completely opposed to business as a component and conduit of missions. Here are four ways that business endeavors can contribute to the strategic advance of team-based missions endeavors in many places.
1. Access Granted: A Difficult-to-Reach Socio-Economic Strata
The previous article noted that while some BAM proposals promise to provide strategic access to the unreached, it is unlikely to make good on that promise. Many of business proposals or job-relocations will not provide viable access and natural interaction with the least-reached segments of society.
“Many traditional missions teams can benefit from adding a BAM component to their strategy for establishing a long-term presence and enabling long-term disciple-making.”
However, such separation is not a reason to outright reject BAM as ineffective. Whether you’re starting a business from the ground up or taking a job-transfer to a city in which there is an existing missionary team, it is likely that the business will connect you with the upper echelons of society. Traditional missionary activity has often focused on—and excelled among—the poor and the middle classes, yet, historically it has been more difficult to minister effectively among the upper classes.
As a team member involved in BAM, you may not personally find your immediate co-workers or business connections listed among the Joshua Project’s unengaged peoples. However, by rubbing shoulders with the wealthier segments of society, you will have the opportunity to share the gospel with an otherwise elusive demographic segment. Furthermore, your business can provide the missionary team with unique opportunities to extend their ministry into new fields as you creatively use your business and related connections to help you and your teammates extend gospel reach.
2. Resource Stewardship: Financial and Energy Investments Alleviated
In addition to gaining access to a difficult-to-engage socio-economic segment of society, your business can free up and provide resources for the continued work of the missionary team. This can be true whether you start a new business or if you take a job transfer.
On the one hand, if you take a job transfer to a mega-city and are working for a multinational corporation, it is likely that you will have significantly more income than you need to make ends meet. Often your housing, transportation, and other bills are covered by your employer before even taking into account the bloated paycheck you will receive for living in a location that is assumed to be less-than-desirable. If this is the case, you could commit to use some of your extra income to support the ministry of the team that you join.
Likewise, if you start your own business you may also have the opportunity to strategically hire other missionaries to do part-time work. This work can both advance the reach of the business and provide legitimate presence for the employee. Such part-time employment can also help to alleviate some of the burden of your teammate’s financial support needs.
Perhaps more important than finances, however, your business can provide other missionaries the legitimacy that is often hard to come by. For instance, your business can provide the kind of employment that would suffice to grant a work visa for your employees to obtain legal residence in the country. Furthermore, as representatives of your enterprise, those employees can be commissioned to travel throughout the country in search of new business opportunities. Thus, you can provide your teammates with a natural reason for entering new areas with an eye to also sharing the gospel and making disciples.
As you invest time, money, and energy in building your business, you relieve some of the pressure on the rest of your team who would otherwise have to establish their own legitimate access. Though your business-focused investment may require you to invest a higher percentage of time in the infrastructure and implementation of the business, it will contribute in significant ways when you view the missions task as a team endeavor.
3. Missions as a Communal Effort: Part of a Larger Whole
A third advantage of including BAM endeavors within a traditional missions strategy is recognizing that contemporary missions is a multifaceted and increasingly complex endeavor. As such, missions efforts benefit from a variety of skills, gifts, approaches, and personalities working together towards the same ultimate goals.
When a business person joins a missionary team as a non-traditional member, he or she can contribute to the overarching ministry of the team in ways that provide unique access, perspective, connections, and resources. The heartbeat of missions is rightly focused on making disciples on the horizons of lostness. Yet the reality of gaining and maintaining access to those horizons often requires more work than one person or one family can sustain.
“When integrated into a team, BAM personnel offer unique and vital opportunities that advance the overarching goal of missions.”
Many traditional missions teams can benefit from adding a BAM component to their strategy for establishing a long-term presence and enabling long-term disciple-making, even if those who answer the BAM call are not free to dedicate the entirety of their work week to evangelism and church planting.
4. Team and Church: Shared Vision & Mission with Diverse Responsibilities
Just as local churches require various people with multiple gifts, talents, aptitudes, and constitutions to fulfill the scope of their ministry, so too does a missionary team benefit from such diversity. But a team is not de facto the same thing as a church. Some teams may find it appropriate to covenant together as a church to fulfill their shared ministry under the auspices of a covenanted fellowship of believers. Other teams may encourage their members to join national churches as a way of expanding the team’s influence and learning from local leaders.
For BAM missionaries, the search for a church body can be a bit more difficult. If language learning is not a component of a BAM missionary’s training, they will require an English-speaking church. In such situations, a team can help to provide that fellowship by covenanting as a church itself, or it can recommend local international churches that will serve as the church home for its members whose platform comes by way of BAM.
While BAM can bomb if pursued in isolation, BAM can bloom in the context of a community of believers. Traditional missions approaches are still often necessary to carry some of the disciple-making, frontier-chasing, and leadership-developing burden of missions. However, including BAM in the overarching strategy of a missions team can help create a sustainable long-term ministry. When integrated into a team, BAM personnel offer unique and vital opportunities that advance the overarching goal of missions. In so doing, the vocations, skills, and connections that BAM provides can prove to be a valuable component of kingdom growth and expansion.
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.