So you want to start a Missional Business, a BAM, a B4T, a tentmaking business… insert whatever term fits your marketplace positioning best. The question many people ask themselves at this point is, how do we embed our vision for ministry in a business model?
In the West we have this sacred-secular divide in our minds that separates our faith from our work. Further still, isn’t there also a separation of church and state, and don’t most countries have designations for religious entities that are separate from commercial entities? The answer is yes. Yes, they do. So how do we lose the divide?
I want to be the first to tell you (if the lines have been blurred for you so far) that if you are considering launching a missional business, you need to do it legally. Your ministry will be greatly hindered – no, moreover, you will probably lead people away from Christ if you take money from investors for one purpose and use it for another or if you tell the government you are doing one thing but you are actually doing another.
There are many examples of businesses throughout the world that have engaged in “job faking,” and the owners have ultimately landed on deportation flights with many of those they led to Christ recanting their faith in utter dismay.
We often say that there are three kinds of Business as Missions (BAM): job taking, job faking, and job making. The first, job taking, is kind of like your modern version of the Acts 18:3 tentmaker. Paul took his job with him as he shared the gospel. You might think of the relatively new term “digital nomad,” where someone takes their job with them via the internet as they travel the world. With globalization on the rise and multinational corporations (MNCs) having greater and greater demand for business people that are willing to live abroad, it is becoming increasingly viable to reach the lost in a closed country by simply taking a job at an MNC and sharing Christ with those you work with and live around overseas.
Job faking, as described above, is, by and large, illegal. Let’s call it what it is. Don’t do it. If you are planning to start a business in name only, create false paperwork, launder money to your ministry, and lie to the government, I want to encourage you that you serve a God who is bigger and more able than you are allowing him to be.
Finally, there is job making, and that is the kind of missional marketplace modeling I want to present to you here. If you want to reach the lost, further the Great Commission, engage the unreached people groups (UPGs) of the world, preach the gospel where it is illegal to be preached, let me emphatically say that there is a legal way to do it! That way is BAM, but it is not fake BAM.
As we have noted, globalization is interweaving the world more and more every day. Countries are increasingly becoming incentivized to open their doors to business and international trade to improve their economy, the lives of their people, and, let’s be honest, bring in tax dollars. That means that, whether you are a Christian or Muslim or Buddhist doesn’t matter when you go to start a business in an otherwise “closed country.” You can start that business. You can be a believer. And in most cases (not all), you can even share your faith in your business without legal restrictions. There are three ways to do this.
#1 Employees as Mission
Your business model does not need to be an evangelistic tool to every person who comes in your doors. Your employees can be your mission field. This is specifically helpful in very restrictive countries, but I also recommend the model to many entrepreneurs in the West as the day-in-day-out discipling relationships can be important in that context. Now, profitability is incredibly important for sustainability, but the end goal is eternal profit, not financial profit, so we are not looking for the next unicorn business model.
That being said, without some profitability, it will be hard to scale your business to the level where you are having growing and regularly discipling more people in Christ. In this case, it doesn’t even need to interface with a lot of people. Manufacturing, wholesaling, agriculture, and IT service centers are primary examples of common “employees as mission” businesses. If you are looking for a way to grow a business in a highly restrictive place, you may want to consider a model that employs as many people as possible and gets you in front of them day-in and day-out. Your employees are your mission field. As you live out your life in front of them and share your faith with them, you will not only be feeding their financial needs but also their spiritual needs. What a great ministry!
Think of how many times Jesus met someone’s physical, financial, or emotional need before they responded to the gospel. He healed the blind (physical need), he put a coin in the mouth of a fish (financial need), and he “ate with tax collectors and sinners” (emotional need). It is biblical to invest in the lives of others financially, assist and pray for their physical needs, and talk with them daily to help them work through their emotional needs.
I often say that my work as a manager is 80% psychotherapy and 20% actual management of tasks. When you address people’s emotional needs, they work better, but it also helps them get out of fight-or-flight mode and into a mindset that is able to wrestle with eternal principles.
#2 Customers as Mission
Alternatively, your customers may be your mission field. I have started many businesses where we were legally able to hire exclusively from our community of believers, pray together as a staff team each morning, and train employees to be “on mission” with us. The business model in this case should be highly relational and forward facing in the community. While the former business type may be a manufacturing facility that hires dozens of people and hardly ever sees a customer, this is probably a coffee shop, barber shop, or personal trainer business that interfaces with dozens if not hundreds of people daily and necessitates high relationship building to sustain the business.
Remember that your business does not have to say “Jesus loves you” on the front door, to be a missional business. In fact, it is probably illegal for anything in your business to say anything religious if you are in a closed country, but, again, it is not illegal for you to be a believer. That is a personal conviction. And isn’t that what good ministry is anyway? This is why evangelists and missionaries often talk about sharing your “personal testimony.”
It may be offensive for some people to hear you tell them why they need Jesus (and I’m not saying there isn’t a time and a place for that), but few people can fault you with expressing your personal testimony, nor does anyone relate who you are personally to the business you are affiliated with. The business may be a commercial entity, but you are a spiritual entity with a story of God’s grace to tell.
If you are launching a business where the customers are the mission field, there is really little emphasis on “scaling.” The business needs to be a manageable size and allow you leeway in each day to spend time interacting and building relationships with many who come through your doors. These relationships may be regular customers that build over time, but often it will be what we call a “testing of the soil” and moving on. Jesus talks about the four different soils in scripture. Some are receptive, and some are not. Customer as mission businesses are the perfect way to minister to many people without wasting time on those who have rejected the word of God. “Shake the dust off of your feet,” and love on your next customer!
#3 Philanthropy as Mission
Philanthropy is something you may consider doing personally, but businesses are increasingly seeing the need to incorporate charitable giving as a line item on their regular budget, too. Large corporations are seen as evil black holes that suck the life out of communities and they are fighting back by giving back.
Well, as it turns out, that is a pretty effective strategy, and its one we all should use both personally and in business. Yes, Jesus said to give, but giving is not only good for your soul, it is also good business. If you want to influence and impact your community, consider investing in their lives. What needs do nonprofits have around you? Can you create events that engage the community and give back? Greater still, can your business grow to the size where you can begin allocating a percentage of the profits to be donated to missions organizations around the world and investing in bringing the gospel to UPGs financially?
I’m using this as an example for businesses in Christian nations, but I want to switch gears back to BAM. If you are in a closed nation, it is probably acceptable to share your faith at work even if it is illegal to be a religious business. However, you have probably considered that sharing your faith very overtly could be perceived as deceptively creating a normal business that is actually a religious one. I want to challenge you to embed yourself in your community. A lot of Christians in closed nations shy away from being on the government’s radar or seen by anyone too much because they are scared of religious persecution.
Alternatively, however, you might find that investing in your community, supporting local sports events, giving to homeless shelters, sponsoring medical research, etc. embeds you deeply in the lives and hearts of your community. You should be loving on these people anyway! If God has called you to live around them, see what their needs are and invest in them, and if you can do that as a business owner, even better!
Multiple stories have been shared with us of businesses that employed so many people and invested so heavily in their community that even though their ministry impact was just as great as the missionaries around them, when the government decided to kick out all missionaries, they were allowed to stay while the others were sent home. If you want to have a sustainable impact in your community, invest in it, and share Christ with that.
In the West, there are many examples of businesses that see their role in missions strongly in this model. Our sister company, CRF Affordable Housing, has committed to giving 50% of its profits back to missions. If you are a business owner in a predominantly Christian nation, I want to challenge you to commit to giving a percentage of your profits toward the Great Commission, and if you haven’t yet, we’d love if you reach out to us so that we can plug you into encouraging and coaching our BAM partners through specific industry challenges they face. You might just have the information they need to get their business on track so that they can again turn their attention to the unreached around them.