I have been visiting, observing and providing consulting services to cross-cultural businesses proclaiming to be authentic missional businesses for more than ten years. I have observed three dangers for those leading such businesses.
First, what is a missional business? In 2016 I wrote the following on this blog site:
A Kingdom business can be defined in various ways. In a study I did several years ago, reviewing the primary authors defining these businesses (Baer, Rundle and Steffen, Eldred, Mulford, etc.), I discovered that every definition includes:
- Development of employees for their full potential; and provision of products or services which are a true benefit to their markets, treating all stakeholders with dignity and respect.
- A product or service that is offered with excellence.
- Profitability, but with a Christian ministry purpose equal or bigger than financial profit.
- Servant leadership that seeks to glorify Christ in all aspects of the business and seeks to help others to follow Jesus.
This is not just theory; this is the real thing. This is living out the theory of Ephesians 2:10. It is doing “good works.” Another biblical author, James, in James 2:17 states, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” All of this is something that can be replicated – not only around this country but also around the world in different cultures, social contexts and languages – in any business anywhere – for the greater glory of God.
So, with something like this in mind, what are the dangers?
Danger #1 is to be all business with little/no mission.
Because these businesses, like any business must be profitable in order to be sustainable and to gain credibility in the community, owners can place an inordinate focus on the business to the detriment of the mission – the spiritual and social component; i.e. making followers of Jesus and transforming communities.
It is very easy to be a good person, honorable in every way, yet for others to not realize that it goes beyond being good, honest and fair in the marketplace. To be missional is to be intentional in living out gospel values in both incarnational and proclamational ways. This requires a plan for both the business and the mission.Bill Job, who has provided a model of a great balance between business and mission in his community in China tells the story of a person who came up to him after a speech he gave in Florida. The person indicated to Bill that he longed for the day he could retire and have a ministry. Bill asked him how many employees he had and the answer was in the hundreds to which Bill replied, “those employees my friend are your ministry field.”
Such stories are not rare at all with many Christians failing to live an integrated life remembering and applying who and what they are at work is the same as who and what they are in private or at church. It can be the same for those attempting Business as Mission overseas, overwhelmed by the business, cultural factors and learning to live abroad, they give little or no time to making the business missional.
Danger #2 is the opposite: trying to be a professional missionary with little time for the business.
The net result of such perspective is that the business fails. Oftentimes the owners may have a good business model and have potential for success, but they fail to give the time to the business and are giving most of their time and attention to people and their social or spiritual condition. Essentially they are doing the work of a Not-For-Profit.
A few years ago, more than one hundred people like this were expelled from a Middle Eastern country. Many of them were prepared to operate a business and had a great opportunity to meet customer needs, but they failed to maintain the balance so the business could succeed. The national government soon determined that they were not authentic; they were not creating jobs nor contributing to the wealth creation (Deut 8:18) of the country.
I once visited a legitimate business in a former Soviet republic. The senior partner was a hard-working guy who had a balance in word and deed. However, his partner told me he only wanted to spend three hours a week in the business. He stated he was there for spiritual purposes and he wanted to contribute to the business in minimal ways. This is Danger #2 and the net result will be like this business – it failed and the team is no longer in the country. They were out of balance.
Danger #3 is similar to Danger #2 but even less honorable and more sinister.
These people never intended to have an authentic business but they are missionaries who are “job fakers”. They seek a business visa to gain access to the country but they never really start a business; never employ people; and never make a profit. They lack integrity!
IBEC provided consulting services to a south Asia company who raised a sizable amount of capital, made investments in the country and the owners learned the language. After three years, the senior partner wrote a letter confessing that running a business was not what he wanted to do – he was really a Bible teacher and that was what he intended to do.
Such fakery should have no place in the Business as Mission world. These people are dishonorable and despicable. But the facts are that all of us who have traveled the world and made observations, have seen numerous of these types of fake businesses.
Real Business as Mission strives for a profit and sustainability; seeks to create jobs, and finds ways to live like Jesus and help their community to follow him; doing all of this as good stewards of God’s creation and the human resource. It is called the Quadruple Bottom line of BAM.
Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures