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Family, friends and fools: understanding Business as Mission

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

This article by IBEC Ventures Training Director Larry Sharp was originally published in CPN On Point.


The last edition of CPN On Point presented an introduction to Business as Mission (BAM), as a means of gaining access to strategic and unreached places through building businesses worldwide. This article takes that discussion to the next and practical level.

Socrates said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Every follower of Jesus should examine how God has made him/her as unique – with interests, skills, experiences, spiritual giftedness. These attributes usually relate to a marketplace job. Os Guinness states it well, “…whatever is the heart of our calling is work that fulfills us because it employs our greatest gifts.” Or in the words of Bonnie Wurzbacher, Vice-President of Coca Cola: “You don’t get meaning from your work, you bring meaning to your work.”

Many Christians mistakenly see their work life as distinct and separate from their spiritual life. This is an old error, a remnant of first century dualism, which separated the spiritual from the secular; and the clergy from the laity. Wurzbacher noted that “What we need is to understand the Biblical worldview that says that there is no secular-sacred split and God wants us to understand that what we do should fulfill and advance God’s purposes in the world.”

Christians in business see their work as a testimony and a mission. Michael Cardone, CEO of Cardone Industries says that “service and excellence create a platform to talk about who God is and Jesus Christ.” And “I am not called to be a pastor or missionary; I’m called to be a business man and I see no difference.”

Similarly David Green, CEO of Hobby Lobby notes that “…we try in all decisions to ask what God would have us do…we don’t put our Christian faith on the shelf when we come to work.”

The idea behind Business as Mission (BAM) is to take a concept, and use business in North America as a replicable model to the world. Gil Sheehan, President and a founder of Barrington Gifts talked about his factory in China in these terms: “Everyday on the factory floor is an opportunity for discipleship.” With this business mindset, work is ministry and work is worship – and the “spiritual bottom line” is the numerous employees and community populace who are now following Christ.

Another example is entrepreneur Bill Job, who mentored Barrington Gifts, and started his own company in China which eventually employed over 600 people. He sees business as a replicable structure to reach for eternal value.

These are working models of BAM overseas. But it takes many people to build such a success story. The opportunity to participate is as broad as our business imagination.

The first way to become involved in BAM is the direct use of our business skill and experience. Bill Job once told me that he could have saved several years of his life if he had had some expertise from others to integrate into his efforts.

Business know-how is very much needed by Christian entrepreneurs overseas: management, strategic thinking, human resource management, product development, marketing, financial oversight, accounting, technology, legal, and logistics– all of these skills are needed. A good place to start such an effort would be a trip to a BAM company, to catch the vision for how to make a difference. Once a connection is made, coaching and consulting is mostly accomplished through Skype or other continent-continent communication. IBEC Ventures looks to make such connections between Christians in business and BAM companies overseas.

A second way to become involved is to become a BAM advocate. Young people with an interest in business need to be challenged to integrate faith into their workplace and to consider how they can make a difference on the international stage.

Finally, BAM entrepreneurs need investors. The top two concerns of overseas business owners and entrepreneurs are (i) Financial Capital and (ii) Human Capital.

Just as some of us can go overseas to provide expertise, some can make financial investments in BAM enterprises. Normally, investors seek safe and predictable returns. Investment in startups in countries that most need it – where there are highest levels of poverty, injustice, unemployment, and the most unreached spiritually – is high risk. Such investing is for the courageous, for those convinced that God’s work requires taking a risk.

It has been said that startup businesses get their capital from “Family, Friends and Fools.” Some call this “Love Capital”. In a sense, this is what BAM investors do.

They are family, as we are brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, adopted into one family from every nation under heaven.

They are friends, available in time of uncertainty, ready to participate.

And they are fools – fools for the sake of Jesus Christ, willing to take on high risk investments that look beyond the accountant’s bottom line to the spiritual bottom line that earns eternal dividends that can never be lost.  

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

A tale of three businesses: the importance of life-long learning

Monday, October 20, 2014

Once upon a time four business people flew to a faraway country in Asia to observe and encourage three kingdom businesses. They came as learners but also ready to share suggestions and consulting expertise as requested.  They represented a cumulative 90 years of business experience, a recent MBA graduate among them and all four were involved in coaching, training and mentoring business startups.   Three were men, one was a woman and they came with robust experience in entrepreneurship, marketing, leadership and finance.

One of the businesses visited was well established, fiscally mature and served the community well with job creation, fiscal and tax responsibility and social engagement.  They had been in business for 15 years and in the startup phase they brought in qualified managers and sought help from business people experienced in the country.  Local mentors provided counsel in the language, culture, social conditions and Business as Mission integration.  There were ups and downs but they consider their success to be closely linked to their willingness to be life-long learners.

The second business also had been in-country for about 15 years. It had created jobs for many people and was making a clear difference in the community where it had respect and credibility with the locals. The owners had built their business model on proven models in other places.  However upon arrival in 2004 the visiting team found that the business was facing significant challenges.  The market had changed and their customer base was changing.  Their cash flow was at risk and they were worried about the future.  They asked the team of four for advice. They knew they needed to learn, wanted help, asked for it and appreciated two days of good counsel.

The third business gave evidence of much success in the social and spiritual sector, however the business model was being challenged and finances and management were in disarray.  This and more was evident to the visiting team.  However it was not equally evident that this business owner wanted help.  He seemed detached from the realities of where the business was headed.  Being a learner was not a concept he had internalized.  His business seemed to be at high risk.

Why is it important to always be learning?

1. Speed of change:  Moore’s Law describes the driving force of technical and social change, increased productivity and economic growth in exponential technical terms.  For example, four exabytes of unique information will be generated this year, more than the previous 5,000 years.  The top ten in-demand jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2014 and it is estimated that by 2035 50% of the jobs on the planet today will not conceptually exist.  The amount of technical information is doubling every two years.  The speed of change in the world today demands that managers always be learning. 

Hall of Fame hockey great, Wayne Gretzky, when asked what makes him different, suggested that he does not go where the puck is but where the puck will be.  Such logic is prophetic of a manager who has learned to keep growing and learning.  Zig Ziglar once said, “I’m a constant learner.  You need to be a constant student because things change and you have to change and grow.  And I emphasize the word ‘grow’.” This 4-minute video provides a sense of how much change we are facing now  -- and what it means for lifelong learning.

2. Complexity of Kingdom businesses:  Some evidence suggests 80% of US businesses fail within the first five years of operation (Why 9 out of 10 Small Businesses Fail). Now add the complexities of a foreign culture, different language, factors of integrating the Triple Bottom Line, international law, trade issues and financial/accounting issues -- one would think the failure rate would be much higher.  In order to succeed such complexity demands owners, consultants and coaches to be constantly learning.  In the words of Sidney Poitier, “I have always been a learner because I knew nothing.”

3. Common Wisdom: A wise man 3,000 years ago reminded us of the importance of counselors in decision making: “Make plans by seeking advice…many advisors make victory sure…plans fail for lack of counsel…”(Solomon in Proverbs 20:18; 11:14; 15:22).  Henry Ford said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”

Yes, it's true, just as this blog from The Under 30 CEO explains: Great Entrepreneurs are ALWAYS Learning.

To be successful in any business and to be successful in Kingdom business overseas, striving for the Triple Bottom Line of profitability, job creation and social Kingdom disciple-making results requires owners and managers to always be learning, open to new ideas, seeking counsel from others and with the counsel of others making plans for tomorrow.


Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

What does Christopher Columbus’s life teach us about business leadership?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Columbus Day is celebrated the 2nd Monday of October – a memory of the first non-native American to come to our shores and stay with a permanent presence, paving the way for European expansion.  Columbus was an interesting and colorful character demonstrating some admirable qualities but also some qualities that are detractors for any successful endeavor.  What can business entrepreneurs and developers learn from dear old Chris?

Three positive characteristics demonstrated by Columbus necessary to entrepreneurship today

  1.  Columbus was determined and persistent. Not only did his native Italy and powerhouse Portugal decline his requests for resources for his voyage, but Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain were engulfed in a war, so refused Columbus until after the war.  After hanging around the Spanish court for years, waiting persistently, Columbus was finally resourced for the vision.  He did not give up.
  2. Columbus knew how to cope with failure.  The Santa Maria ran aground and sank on the first voyage, his first colony experienced a massacre, he was marooned in Jamaica for a year and he failed to bring spices and other valuables back to Spain.  He was a masterful leader and sea captain and was able to move beyond the failures, keep the goal in mind and accept failure as a part of life.
  3. He was a man of faith, seeing himself as called to spread the faith to the new lands he discovered. As a man of prayer, he depended on a higher power for strength for the day and wanted the inhabitants of the Americas who were unaware of a sovereign God to come to know him.

Three negative facts about Columbus which cause us to learn from him

But Columbus was far from perfect, and there is much to learn from his mistakes.

  1. He failed to focus on what he was good at. It is well known that Columbus was a skilled navigator, sea captain and visionary; however when the King of Spain offered him the governorship of the new colonies, he accepted it.  This representation of what later became known as “The Peter Principle” was a disaster. His skills did not include administration and he was eventually arrested and returned to Spain in chains.  He was not gifted, trained, nor skilled in the world of governance and politics.  He should have stayed with what he was good at.
  2. He lacked integrity and made promises he could not keep - telling his crew that they would all get rich.  He promised the first person to sight land a sizable reward but when Rodrigo de Triana sighted what is now known as the Bahamas, Columbus did not reward him but kept the reward to himself.  As with all of us, such a character flaw eventually catches up with us and ruins our relationships and our business.
  3. He did not see nor treat all people with respect.  In fact he saw the peoples of the Caribbean as potential slaves and brought some to Spain proclaiming them to be his biggest discovery.  Thankfully Queen Isabella rejected the idea.  Columbus did not see people created equal before God nor did he treat them fairly with equality, justice and respect.  He has a legacy as a slave trader.

As an important historical character, we remember Columbus this day on our calendar, but we can also learn about life, leadership, good and evil, our humanity, and character which glorifies God or character that brings Him disgrace.  The challenge for all business entrepreneurs, developers and leaders is to learn from history; even from the story of Christopher Columbus.

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

There is no better ‘boss’ to work for: manage well

Monday, October 06, 2014

Dave Kier is a business owner in western Iowa in the agriculture sector.  IBEC Ventures is blessed to have Dave as a board member. He contributes much wisdom and hard work to IBEC, as well as demonstrating what “Business as Ministry” really is.  He writes daily devotionals for members of his family and his employees.  Here is a recent one which may bless you as it did me.  --  Larry W. Sharp

.. and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 

Genesis 1:28b NASB®

Don’t you just love this time of year? The cool nights, the trees turning yellowish gold, the shadows becoming long, dragon flies zooming about, the birds congregating - it’s a grand time of the year. Soon the wondrous time of harvest will be in full swing as farmers see the fruit of their labor and the result of God’s majestic creation as one seed replicates itself many times over. As I look over the sea of corn and soybeans maturing in fields carefully tilled by the farmers, I have a sense of pride in what good stewards they are over the land God created. 

Do you realize that when the creation story begins, it begins stating the earth was “formless and void” or in the Hebrew this means it was a wasteland or literally, a garbage dump?   Yet because of His great love for us, He made it beautiful and productive and He allowed a lesser being than the angels, mankind or you and I, to manage His wonderful creation. What an awesome privilege -- but what a responsibility -- to manage the property of the King of Kings. Yet, since the day man gave way to temptation, man has the tendency to get his role mixed up.  Many a person succumbs to the temptation of thinking he is the owner and not the manager. Instead of managing to give God the glory some exalt themselves thinking they are more than they are.  

You know, I don’t mind being the manager or the steward over what He has entrusted to me. I believe it’s a great plan that He is the owner and I work for Him. There is no better “boss” to work for. Oh, and by the way, our Heavenly Father is not an absentee landlord. He is ever present. Manage well this week!

“Thank you Lord for this beautiful world you made for us. Thank you for entrusting to us the privilege of managing your land but more so the time and talents you have given us.”




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