Business as Mission Research: Preliminary Statement of the Problem

This is submitted to ask response on the complex issues facing Business as Mission innitiatives. It is only preliminary and is in no way intended to be comprehensive but only exploratory. Please join me in this conversation.

Business as mission (BAM) suffers from a general lack of recognition and deep analysis outside academia and a relatively small community of marketplace and missions practitioners. My project focuses on particular obstacles, including that lack of notoriety, to the widespread deployment of primary resources (manpower and capital), and how those obstacles are recognized and being addressed by mission agencies launching BAM initiatives.

Mark Russell, in the “Statement of the Problem” of his 2008 doctoral dissertation (The Use of Business in Missions in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Asbury Theological Seminary, 2008) cites Ted Yamamori and Ken Eldred as saying that one downfall of the “Western missionary movement…was its failure to mobilize many business professionals (beyond using their money) for the Great Commission.” (Yamamori and Eldred 2003:7). Even as some advances are being made, that status remains relatively unchanged.

Succeeding in business is difficult. BAM initiatives are most needed in locations geographically and culturally foreign to those most able to undertake them and likely to succeed. The degree of difficulty added to business venture by these two components is raised yet again by the need to address Christian missional concerns, including the theological grounding of the actors involved and of the entire enterprise, ethical accountability, and evangelistic intent and impact.

Six areas of particular concern will be investigated through case studies of missions sending agencies, from those currently at the earliest stage of their BAM initiatives to those having accumulated significant experience and competence. These concerns are:

1) the lack of BAM awareness in the church at-large,

2) the difficulties of working cross-culturally,

3) the recruitment and training of both sent and contextual BAM practitioners,

4) the cultural, needs, opportunities, resources, and market assessments of BAM locations,

5) deployment and coordination strategies of personnel and assets to best match these resources to local needs, and

6) the organizational sophistication and capacity for BAM of sending mission agencies.

Figure 1.1. Primary Organizational Components of Business as Mission Initiatives shows twelve key elements connected with each business creation. There has been no intentional ordering of these key elements in the diagram other than that of placing Pastoral Care in a predominant position to indicate the vital importance that all BAM initiatives be carried out with spiritual and ethical accountability to the local church. The list of elements included is by no means exhaustive and considering the extent of issues subordinate to these twelve quickly reveals an intense complexity in the overall scheme of undertaking BAM initiatives. This complexity is compounded by viewing BAM as an interdisciplinary undertaking, the (re-)integration of business and ministry which have been falsely bifurcated historically as the doing of business as a Christian and the exercising of the practitioner’s Christian faith were compartmentalized both practically and philosophically.

The general lack of awareness of BAM can be easily documented anecdotally by speaking with a wide range of marketplace Christians, their pastors, and missionaries. This is likely due to BAM, as a formal proposition, having risen into the view of mission agencies and missiologists in just the past decade or two. Actual BAM work has been going on for centuries, as many cite the Apostle Paul, the tentmaker, as the first self-proclaimed bi-vocational (a misnomer) missions practitioner.

Domestic (U.S.) ignorance of other cultures around the world and the arrogance of U.S. exceptionalism often results in demeaning patronage, philosophic imperialism, and resentment among those in receiving locations. The cultural bent among U.S citizens toward addressing issues head-on and dictating solutions, too often like a bull in a glass factory, results unawares in insensitivity which renders “serving the poor” an awkward misstatement of the intended effort.

Marketplace Christians sent as BAM practitioners will require preparation and training, not the least for working cross-culturally but also in areas such as contextually appropriate business modeling and technologies. Indigenous BAM practitioners may require extensive education in business development and practices. Both groups need to be recruited as awareness of needs and opportunities for BAM are defined in a broad range of locations.

Each location targeted for BAM initiatives presents a unique set of circumstances involving local cultural, the needs and opportunities within the community, assessing available (and missing) resources, and understanding the local and national business climate, especially in relationship to local, regional, and national governance. This requires well planned and executed strategies to optimize the success of both the businesses created and the ministerial aims of the mission agency and the local church.

Deployment and coordination concerns not just to the effective ministry of particular marketplace expertise but also to the wide variety of BAM experiences and lessons learned. Sending marketplace Christians into the mission field, whether for short or long term assignments, should be well-documented such that a clearinghouse could provide vital data to enhance and expedite other BAM initiatives. Information and expertise could then be more effectively matched and deployed as the various assessments surrounding each new BAM initiative are completed. The church is a divine enterprise and its ministry outreach to the world requires organizational development and information management no less so than any other charitable or commercial endeavor.

Best practices in undertaking complex tasks are nowhere more critical than in the advancing God’s Kingdom on earth. Sadly, many church and mission agencies neglect understanding the finer points of organizational development. Lacking adequate knowledge leads to marginal success, especially when coupled with limited capacities to anticipate and handle those complexities. This is an area in particular the church can learn from the highly motivated business world to maximize the penetration and impact of BAM initiatives.


Filed under Faith in the Marketplace

27 responses to “Business as Mission Research: Preliminary Statement of the Problem

  1. David, this is a great start. You have definitely outlined the problem…As I’m sure you know, each component of your diagram has numerous layers and each could be a dissertation in and of itself. Is there an area that is of particular interest or that you have significant background in? By the way, a friend of mine, Neal Johnson, has recently written a pretty comprehensive and academic book on Business as Mission. I wonder if his work might be a resource for you as you move forward?

    • Hey, Jim. I have drafted a set of three research proposals and questions surrounding preparatory stages for BAM. The three pertain to 1) the recruitment, selection, and training of indigenous BAM practitioners, 2) the cross-cultural preparation of recruited domestic (U.S.) BAM participating marketplace Christians, and 3) the “marketing” of BAM to domestic (U.S.) Christians to invite participation (either directly through missions activity or indirectly by financial support). I may narrow the whole project to the marketing angle, that is, “packaging” and communicating the BAM message to the domestic church.

    • Jim – I think financial participation can take two related but distinct tracks. One is donated funds that can be pooled for investment in BAM projects. The second is direct investment as co-owners, at least in the beginning of projects. Ownership can then be transferred over time, either as a reward system to the indigenous operator or bought out by that operator. A third possibility is that not-for-profits can raise donated funds to start for-profit enterprises which can be win-win, that is, they support the work of indigenes in various places by being importing or wholesaling companies and the income from these companies can help fund further work of the not-for-profit. Stock ownership in for-profit enterprises by the not-for-profit functions just like stock ownership via endowments which are common among many traditional not-for-profit institutions like churches and universities.

      • Sound like you’ve thought this through…I don’t see these necessarily as traditional charity models but certainly effective and widely used methods to facilitate ministry in the marketplace.

      • I am about nine years into the research on BAM and the integration of Christian faith and economics. It has certainly been an interesting journey so far.

    • BTW, I am familiar with Neal Johnson’s book but have not acquired a copy yet. I am looking forward to it as I have read (and own) most other relevant works by the likes of Corbett and Fikkert, Rundle and Steffen, Yamamori and Eldred, Baer, Bradshaw, Bussau and Mask, and on down the line. (I even read the one I wrote!)

      • I am extremely interested in your research, this area and the books to which you refer. I have the Corbett and Fikkert, When Helping Hurts, and Livermore’s Serving with Eyes Wide Open as well as More Than Good Intentions by Karlan and Appel, but would you mind sending me a few of the titles you have that you would recommend?

        I, too, believe the church in the US is like the country in other areas, such as the news, very egocentric. We don’t even cover the weather in Canada or Mexico, and I have to keep the BBC as my homepage if I really want to know anything going on in the world.

        Great work!

      • Denise –

        Here are some titles and links that I would recommend. It should talk you longer than you have to investigate all of these thoroughly. I would advise starting with the video of Rudy Carrasco at Rudy is one of the directors of Partners Worldwide, is active in the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) where I first met him, and is active with the Acton Institute and will be speaking at the Acton University conference (which I be attending next week).

        God is at Work – Ken Eldred – business as missions foundations, including key models
        Business as Mission – C. Neal Johnson – the BAM textbook, so to speak (comprehensive)
        Business as Mission – Michael Baer – a foundational text on BAM values
        Bridging the Gap – Bruce Bradshaw – connecting evangelism and BAM
        Eden’s Bridge – David Doty (HEY! That’s me!) – theology of the marketplace – BAM initiative and organizational (partners links) of the Acton Institute – Acton Institute – think tank, integration of faith and economics – BAM links and organizations – YWAM, Youth with a Mission is one of the most progressive missions organizations in BAM – a very sophisticated missions organization that is highly focused on BAM – one year global BAM think tank of the Lausanne Committee – Christian Community Development Association, predominantly focused on domestic inner city redevelopment but starting to go global

        Let me know any questions or thoughts that you have. I love to talk about the integration of our faith and economics, and especially BAM.


  2. David, this is excellent. I wonder if you can take these three and narrow them down even more. As you know, you want your thesis statement or question to be laser sharp, with the ability to add new knowledge to the body of existing knowledge in the area you are considering. I like the marketing approach. It is somewhat evangelistic in nature, partnering with the Holy Spirit to examine ways to reach Christians with the vision. One question though, would it “violate” BAM principles to utilize a charity model of providing financial support in order to get participation? Can these two revenue models effectively work together in a successful business model?

  3. Sounds like you have a solid background for this research. Like you, I have been involved with BAM for many years. I’ve spent the better part of the last 20 years in academia housed in business schools as a professor and a dean. I look forward to reading your research…

  4. Using business as a witness and a tool to reach people, help people, and expand the Kingdom is a great mission. Including a local church as a “pastor” is also an excellent design. So many of the US’ Christian business aids are independent and, as a result, loses the resources that a local, 24/7/365 presence can provide.

    Personally, my heart is for reaching business people here in the US, creating business people in the US, and, thereby, bringing Christ into US business.

    So, is your research directed to less economically developed areas or even highly developed like the US?

    Will your result be in the form of a “package” that a local church could to create a team from its membership?

    God speed.

    (PS While I agree and understand the general perception and accuracy of describing US business as “arrogant,” the way you stated it was almost a put-off to me as an American businessman who found interest and anxiousness in business people abroad to learn what I, as an American businessman, knew. Typically, they expressed admiration for the American way. True, though, we must be aware that there is more than one right way, especially in consideration of culture.)

    • Jim – I, too, recognize deep needs domestically as well as in foreign, developing economies. My focus for a dissertation seems to be moving more toward communications models (marketing BAM) which will be relevant to both. One outcome may well be how to invigorate local churches to action so your question re a “package” is a good one. That will likely come as a result of the research, or at least be deeply informed by it.

  5. David: You are investigating an interesting research topic. I have never thought of the concept of business as mission. I thought I saw something in either your original post or one of the replies about St. Is BAM following that path?
    Tent-making ministries are once again on the rise (there was some interest in the concept in the 1969′ and 1970’s that fizzled out). The contemporary TMM trend has much to do with the “impoverished” American Christian Church committing itself to mission activity in the inner city. My son has two seminary classmates were were called to a tent-making ministry in inter-city Kansas City, KS. Their work is partially funded by a local congregation and the rest of their funding comes from part-time employment in the neighborhoods they minister to.
    Is that something you have in mind?

    • Dale – The tentmakers model is one of several “standard” within the business as mission movement. I think there are others that do not get as much recognition that should probably be included as well. All in all, I consider and the business AND mission movement as an interdisciplinary and integrative movement which covers the whole of redeeming the marketplace for God’s glory.

      I also appreciate your comments about domestic inner city. Most U.S.-based mission agencies think only of working in impoverished nations somewhere “over there.” There is also great need and potential domestically. I know many folk affiliated with the Christian Community Development Association ( are moving more intentionally toward using business starts to create jobs, stabilize neighborhoods (and even small towns among the rural poor), and provide sustainable funding for their ministries / community development projects.

  6. David, am thankful for your work and desire to define and work through the difficulties of BAM. Also, appreciate your point that Paul was truly the original “tent maker” a term we use loosely, sometimes forgetting he was an actual tent maker. I do think it is important our work is indigenous, that it works with the native people, especially in areas that are “creative access countries.” If we look to the book of Nehemiah, we see another example of BAM through Nehemiah, he was a business person, a lay person. Have been involved with business that supports missions and spreading the gospel for over 10 years, it is difficult and the hardest obtacle to overcome is the church that still looks as doing missions the same way, do not see the need for business as mission, instead, they think the two should be seperated when really, the two should partner hand in hand.
    Communication to the local church is crucial, they need to understand but often do not, until we truly HAVE to have business as missions, a term by the way I do not use much in my work because of the mixed thoughts it can bring, it will not be used. I partner with mission organizations but the last thing you want is a missionary, who is looking at BAM as a way to instantly bring in capital or a mision organization that thinks that way. Am blessed, the organizations I work with are “top light” they don’t have large corporate payrolls or mass mailings that are not effective and are costly. Look forward to following your research and appreciate your efforts.

    • Thanks, Mark. As I interact with the responses here I find myself moving more and more toward the communications issue to and within the domestic (U.S.) church. I think we have three critical issues to communicate: 1) foundational (marketplace) theology, 2) awareness of needs and potential, and 3) opportunities for participation (including going to offer expertise and supporting financially).

  7. Glad to find this conversation. I see lots of people wanting to start a BAM as a new way forward but usually young with no business experience, no international experience. I wonder if mission groups should be looking at the hardened entrepreneur – the guy / gal who has done business and international stuff – start ups / shut downs / success and failure in the business arena. I did about 18 years in the Oil Industry in many cultures, Bible College, NGO Christian mission (actually in Hydro Power, then 5 years of NGO work in Mongolia before starting our BAM. From what I have seen so far I’m not convinced most missions have the capacity or capability to “train’ folk for BAM.

    • Bill – I would agree about the current capacity of many missions organizations and the need to target those with the gifts, talents, education, and experience in business. I noted these issues in Eden’s Bridge. I am aware of some agencies that are working with or even hiring veteran business people to take up key roles in their BAM programs and individual projects. Obviously, these organizations need to also utilize legitimated expertise for training those starting new projects, even possibly to offer ongoing coaching / mentoring / consulting.

  8. I know you are on the right track. God bless your every stride!

    • Thanks, Jim, for your affirmation and your blessing!

      • There’s a wide range of opinion on what constitutes BAM. I could say much if time allowed. In summary, BAM in my view grew out of the need to establish a valid reason or identity for “missionaries” to either enter or remain in a restricted access country. So they began searching for ways to “legitimize” their presence. Oftentimes, they started a business of some sort that had little opportunity for success even if they weren’t so ill-equipped to run it. “Platform” is a term commonly used for these. They fooled no one but themselves in my view.

        Real BAM engages real business and professional people who are mature followers of Christ to use their skills, gifts, and experience to launch businesses throughout the world prinicipally focused on least-reached peoples that operate under Biblical principles and allow faith to be lived out in real-life settings, bringing peoples of what would normally be very divergent views and backgrounds together in a place of common ground. It engages the entire body of Christ in the endeavor – not just religious professionals – to make disciples who then make disciples.

        I left 30 years in corporate to join an agency that had been doing this on a one-off basis. They had 19 projects around the world of various success, but realized they could never scale without paradigm shift change. Over the past 18 months, I’ve been helping lead that change. Working with key leaders inside and outside to launch an entirely new entity – a business, that will identify, recruit, assess, mentor, equip, deploy and support disciple-makers from all professions using a sustainable business model…

      • Excellent input, Jim. I visited the web site. I will be looking further into it as I go along. I will also being praying for your ministry and may very well follow up with you re the crossworld program. Thank you for jumping in.

  9. Wow. David Doty cited my dissertation.!

    • Mark – Seeing as how, so far as I know, that you are still the only one to have written a dissertation on BAM, your’s becomes the foundation from which we all can build. I am actually constructing my proposal on the same model you used. My working title is “Marketing Business as Mission: Motivating Action in the Western Church” (or some such).

    • It’s a compliment for one’s work to be the foundation for another’s. Congratulations, Mark. Where can one read your dissertation?

  10. pst fred njenga

    Business for missions is the way to go. It creates assurance of resources, confidence and ability to plan a global mission. Compared to waiting donor funds which is so frustrating and humiliating the waiting and some time never coming.

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