Christians starting businesses for the glory of God.

Why I Hate “Business as Mission”

Why I HateB

Recently, I have had an increasing dislike for the term “business as mission” or “BAM”. This is very significant given that my fellow ThirdPath Co-Founder, mentor, and friend Mike Baer wrote the first book called Business as Mission and coined the term. We have discussed my growing dislike, and he understands my perspective.

The Divide and Hierarchy Strike Again

At ThirdPath we talk a great deal about the “sacred-secular divide” and that there is no “hierarchy of callings” from God in life, but I am going to argue that I think we have created a divide and implemented a hierarchy for Christians in business. I have heard many Christians in business talk about “business as mission” as if it is the “sacred” way of doing business and that not using your business specifically for God’s global mission (they usually mean cross-culturally) is the “secular” way of Christians doing business. The hierarchy here is a bit more implicit in that if you are called by God to start and run a business in the mountains of Western North Carolina where I live you’re not doing “business as mission” and that starting a business in a different country is a better calling. No one would say this, but it’s almost like saying “Jesus loves you more”. I’m guilty as well of this thinking and am only now strongly becoming opposed.

I’m all for Christians starting businesses cross-culturally to love people for the glory of God, but I don’t think that it is inherently better or more “holy” than starting a business where you live and doing the same. I love the nations. I want to see more businesses started around the world and in the 1040 window by Christians, but I don’t want those Christians or any of us to view that as the highest calling from God in business. I also don’t want those Christians to think that they’re doing something inherently more important to God.

Business Glorifies God

We need to remember that business glorifies God. Business does not need to be “baptized” by poverty alleviation, church planting, marketplace ministry, workplace evangelism or missions. These are all good things from God, but so is business. By itself! Business is a morally good gift from God. It does not need to be justified by any other non-business activity. “Business as mission” is no more inherently glorifying to God than business.

Business is a high and holy calling from God. You do not have to do business in a cross-cultural context to do business to the glory of God. You do not have to call your business “BAM” to glorify God with your business. You can love and honor the LORD in business right where you are.

Big Mission, Little Business

I think the term “business as mission” has allowed many people that are big on “mission” to be very little on “business”. I have no formal business education, no MBA, no certifications in business, etc. But I do have a decent understanding of business. I acquired this by getting mentors, reading books, reading blogs, watching videos, having conversations with others in business, by working in businesses, starting my own business, starting businesses with others, helping others start their businesses, etc. If you don’t know very much about business, you can learn. You really can! Our course might be a perfect fit for you. Don’t be afraid to dive in and learn all you can about business, but please don’t use “mission” as an excuse to know very little about business. Calling your business a “BAM business” makes it no more inherently glorifying to God than putting a Jesus fish bumper sticker on your car does. Your heart and the way you love people in and through your business is infinitely more important than how you label your business.

Jesus was likely a carpenter. What kind of products do you think he made? Do you think he made poor products because he was “on mission”? No! He worked to the glory of God, just as he lived in all of his life. If you’re doing business or want to, do it well. You will mess things up like we all do, but there is grace from God even and especially in doing business. God loves you and cares about how we live all of our lives under his lordship, for his glory and the good of others.

16 Comments

  1. Kei'ta the old one on July 7, 2015 at 8:29 pm

    Actually, I wonder if you did not understand the concept initially, Elijah. “Business As Mission” is not to categorize either, nor make one more sacred than the other. But the phrase DOES help some folks (me, for example) maintain a focus on the sacred nature of the very existence of a believer. Col 3:17 “Whatever you do in word or deed…”. 1Cor “… whether you eat or drink, whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

    If whether painting a fence, or playing with a child, or buying/selling in the marketplace in Oklahoma or Bengaluru, it is all worship. It is all sacred. And all to the Glory of God.

    Even as you wrote this article. And even in my response.

    Glad we’re on the same page now. Go Get ‘Em.

  2. Larry Sharp on July 8, 2015 at 5:38 pm

    HI Elijah,
    Thanks for your comments. I pretty much agree with all your comments about the sacred/secular dichotomy and the “Big Missions, Little Business”. You are addressing a serious problem which we all have to confront continually. But I am not sure that is a reason to “hate” the BAM term. I often times have wondered if BAM is the best term (and have used B4t sometimes) but it seems to me if one hates a term then it is incumbent to suggest an alternative term. Do you have one? If we go back to the Lausanne committee and the original BAM manifesto, it is hard to argue with their passion, understanding of real business and the great commission. They called it BAM. There might be a better term but I don’t know what it is.

    However, I presume it is not so much about the term that bothers you (and me too) but it is the abuse of it. To me it is abominable when people look to business as a means to an end (such as a way to get visas, etc.) and minimize the powerful impact of business. Patrick Lai calls these people “job fakers”. I agree that anyone in business whether in the USA or overseas should be able to show the Quadruple Bottom Line and with regard to business that means jobs are created and profit and sustainability is being pursued.

    I agree that from the perspective of the grand scheme of history this period of the last twenty years may be identified as playing at BAM (with some great exceptions which we both know). IBEC consultants work with numerous mission agencies and most of them still just want to do a minimalist approach so they can get a visa, try to be trendy and just tweak the mission industry, which really needs to be seriously overhauled (another subject). Could it be that the world will be reached with the gospel through business people who will no longer feel marginalized in their churches, but rise to the occasion and take back the “preaching Jesus” as in the book of Acts? Think about it – it was the common man in the work place that spread the faith in the first century.

    I agree with you that to put foreign business development for the glory of God as a greater or higher calling than business here in this country is a biblical and practical error. However from a missional perspective we do have to agree that 2 billion people have not heard of Jesus. And that is why I work hard to help businesses in the missiological 10/40 window. If you look at some of the U Tube videos out there of USA kingdom businesses (David Green, Michael Cardone and John Beckett to name a few) who I would say “get it”, they have an understanding how their business is integrated with the kingdom calling which includes a “missionary” component.
    Anyway – thanks for the stimulus – blessings to you and Third Path,
    Larry

  3. ThirdPath on July 10, 2015 at 10:46 pm

    Thank you for your comments and feedback. The word “hate” is a bit strong. I used it in part for emphasis to grab attention and because I do have an increasing dislike for the term and what it seems to imply.
    -Elijah

  4. James on July 13, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    I think Elijah, you got the idea or the meaning of the term Business as Mission wrongly. First you need to understand the differences between “Mission” and “Missions”. Missions referred to those Christian activities which promotes the spreading of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. This includes opening of school, hospital etc. But when it comes to Mission, it referred to a task you are assigned to accomplish; in this case to evangelize in a business. By implications: your business is the mission field. Normally Missionaries are sent by congregation or self sponsored. Those who do business as mission are mostly self sponsored and are so expected to use their businesses as a means to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. The idea, base on my understanding, is never to make it more sacred or being in the other of priority but a reminder that your business is where you should share the gospel of Jesus. One other thing is that, there are those who do business in mission. They are totally different from those who do business as mission. May be they are the one you are resisting.

  5. Chris on July 14, 2015 at 1:11 am

    Be careful friend, I understand your ideals and agree with them completely. The divide should not be there. But I think you run the line of sounding like someone who doesn’t understand his identity and thus spends too much effort and energy defending himself.

  6. Grant Small on July 14, 2015 at 6:43 am

    Hi Elijah

    Thank you for your interesting article and perspective. I am a newcomer to the idea of BAM. I recently moved to another country to start a work with anti-human trafficking. In the process I have registered a foreign office of my business, as it is our intention to create business / revenue generating opportunities together with the beneficiaries of our foundation.

    I have considered your comments and the other below. My perspective is that the “concept” of BAM aids the communication of the value of being able to see business as an opportunity to impact the world for Jesus’ Glory. When I meet with businessmen back in SA, I encourage them to have a similar perspective in their own country. I do not see BAM as having to be a concept of leaving one’s own country, but it is rather a matter of intentionality.

    I do believe that we need to be aware of BAM being seen as a higher calling. However I do think that there is still a need (mostly outside of the USA) to challenge business people to see themselves “on mission”, irrespective of where they live.

    I would like to hear whether you are able to provide a clearer description for encouraging business owners to see the purpose of their businesses as something other than profit generation. Such a description could include issues as fair labour practices, equitable wages and social development.

    Thanks for keeping the conversation going as I believe that this continues to be an important subject.

    Grant

  7. Gea Gort on July 15, 2015 at 9:07 am

    Hi Elijah. Bad news (joke!) I’m working on another book, and plan to call it ‘Business as Mission’. 🙂 first in Dutch (with lots of stories of Dutch folks) than a global version, in English, of course. In my part of the world, BAM is hardly known, I find it a good way to describe it’s ingredients and help people be intentional about God, and (holistic) mission. In my view entrepreneurs see opportunities, and can create them. How can they use this gift for God? In the book, I’m interviewing about 20 people, who are in some way active with BAM (or whatever they like to call it) in either a developing country or in a Western context. These people come from different backgrounds and contexts – some from a mission or church planters background, others are ‘real’ business people who seek ways to bless society, and/or show in some ways Gods Kingdom.
    Thank you for your blog. It makes even more clear that I think these different stories and perspectives are needed, showing different giftings, backgrounds and contexts. Not ‘measuring each other’, but appreciating lots of people with integrity, with a desire to follow an inner calling. Showing the whole Body of Christ ‘at work’. Blessings! Gea

  8. Elijah Elkins on July 21, 2015 at 4:16 am

    Let me try to clarify a bit.

    I think that mission is inherent to being a Christian. The Father sent the Son. The Father and Son sent the Holy Spirit. We have been given the Holy Spirit and are to live as sent ones. We have the Great Commission (Matt 28) and the picture of people of “every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9b) that communicate our identity as Christians to live on mission as sent ones. Being on mission with God is part of our core identity in Christ as a Christian. The term “Business as Mission” is not needed because we already have been given a “life as mission”. If ALL of our lives are under the Lordship of Christ and are to be lived for God’s glory, then why would business be any different? I don’t think it is. Maybe many Christians have realized that they haven’t been doing business to the glory of God and with a love for others, and they feel a need for a term to help them feel compelled to do that. I don’t know. I do know that mission is inherent to being a Christian, business is not. When God gives someone new life, they join his mission. It just happens. It’s what he does. Whether we realize it or not, God is using us in his mission for his glory. It’s a part of the new identity that we have in Christ. Being in business is not part of the new identity. Since mission is a part of our identity in Christ, then that flows out into our callings to business, education, etc. I don’t want to keep using the word “mission” as an enhancer or descriptor for the way that Christians do business because it separates it from our identity. It makes it sound like there’s a choice for Christians to do “normal” business or “business as mission”, but we’re not given that choice. The mission is inherent to being a Christian. There is no “normal” business or “normal” life for Christians.

    Mission = Identity for ALL Christians
    Business =Calling for SOME Christians

  9. Paul Dass on August 26, 2015 at 4:44 am

    In many ways I do fully agree with the thoughts of Mr. Elijah. Christians in particular Christian business men cannot take BAM as tag attached to their business. My recent experience. Early part of this year BAM arranged a meet in Bangalore India. I was invited both as one of the participant as well to do a presentation about my work. These are the following experience I went through:
    1. When I went to pay the fee for the meet the organizers did not accept my organization cheque payment. They wanted only cash.
    2. After much discussion they agreed to take my cheque but no one knew in whose name the cheque should be written to.
    3. After much discussion and clarification among themselves, they told me to give a blank cheque so that when they find out they will write the name in favor to.
    4. I trusted and gave my blank cheque (the amount mentioned but the beneficiary’s name blank) I was promised that as soon as they write the beneficiary name they will let me know so that I can write in counterfile for my office record.
    5. Very sadly months passed till this day no one bothered to write and tell me where my cheque went to, what name it was drawn to.

    This is very sad. We try to teach people the Christian ethics in Business, but when the organizers, teachers and preachers practice such thing, in what way they are different from the others so called “Non-christian business people”. I have never written till this day to ask them, because it is their responsibility, and practice what you preach. This is very sad and people all those who got to know this incident from my experience are not interested in using the name BAM.

    • Elijah on August 27, 2015 at 10:33 pm

      That is very sad. Thank you for sharing your story, so that others may learn from your experience.

  10. Timo Plutschinski on October 17, 2015 at 10:37 pm

    Dear Elijah,

    many thanks for your comments. I very much appreciate your approach to see “Business as Mission” in the way of “Business is Mission”. Too often BAM is still serving a dualistic worldview not honoring the business itself as a God-given way to express HIS creativity, HIS love and passion for others, HIS created world, etc. – Business does not need any sanctification through some added “missionary” action-steps.

    Recently I have read a good quote:
    “It may be an overstatement to say business (itself) is the best hope of the world, …, but it is certainly a major hope. There are enormous implications for the marketplace, which is now seen as not merely a place to evangelize but as an arena, if not the most strategic one, for the full-orbed mission of God. The primary locations for spiritual growth are not church services. The marketplace is the most significant arena of spiritual formation.”

    Wow – that highlights the meaning of business itself where no additive like “as Mission”, “Kingdom …” or “Christian …” is needed.

    All the best & blessings

    Timo Plutschinski

    • Elijah on October 19, 2015 at 6:48 pm

      Hello Timo,

      I completely agree with your thoughts brother. I really like your statement “Too often BAM is still serving a dualistic worldview not honoring the business itself as a God-given way to express HIS creativity, HIS love and passion for others, HIS created world, etc. – Business does not need any sanctification through some added “missionary” action-steps.”

      Great quote! Thank you for sharing!

      It would be a blessing to be able to connect with you further at some point brother.

      Grace and peace,
      Elijah Elkins

  11. Neo on February 10, 2016 at 10:12 pm

    Honestly I think that those who cannot think for themselves and always need validation and justification as well as those who understand business for what it is a selfish endeavor in order to make money want to use religion to support this and when once one has made up their mind as to what they seek to do, than comes pretext and any amount of justification, self-deception and rationalization necessary for themselves and others will occur.

    • Elijah Elkins on February 10, 2016 at 10:27 pm

      I agree that people should think for themselves and with your general premise that once people make up their mind they often seek to justify and rationalize.

      I disagree that it’s always self-deception and even more strongly disagree that business “is a selfish endeavor in order to make money”. I also disagree with your notion that I or anyone else am trying to “use religion to support this (business)”.

      It is probably unhelpful to continue this conversation in a public format given the general lack of context that we both have for the other’s approach, worldview, and general logic. We can setup a call to discuss further if you would like. You can use our ‘Contact Us’ form to reach me.
      -Elijah Elkins (Co-Founder of ThirdPath)

  12. Steve Cleary on March 23, 2017 at 11:33 pm

    Elijah, as I read through all the comments I am also writing a pitch deck for a Film I am working on for my presentation at “The Lion’s Den” which is specifically for those seeking investors for “Business as Mission”. Maybe you heard of it. When I was asked to submit my application it was actually the first time I heard the term “Business as Mission” and I confess I probably don’t clearly understand it.

    I own a couple businesses. I am a Christian. And I have done lots of mission ventures (meaning being a witness, serving, etc in an effort to advance God’s Kingdom.) I have always wondered how to reconcile my entrepreneurial spirit and my mission ventures. When I first heard the term “BaM” I thought someone had finally figured it out. But now not so sure.

    As I stated I own a number of businesses. I market for my clients. I hire employees and I make money. I strive to do all of this with the highest integrity and Christian witness. I don’t consider this anything special. I don’t consider this Business as Mission. I consider this being a Christian. if I make a profit I can then use it on myself, my family, etc. or for one of my mission ventures or charitable contributions.

    Now I am working on a Christian Film project. It has a Christian message. But again I never considered this “BaM”. Lots of people make Christian Films. In the process of making the Film we realized there is so little quality content that goes to the mission field (whether inner city America or Syrian refugee camps).

    So we re-focused or Film project and we determined that we will serve the mission workers first and foremost. So we raised money for translation and our Film will be free to the missionary. This meant we also had to re-think our distribution as a Studio would not like us giving our Film away to free to anyone. However we are putting ministry ahead of money and committed that the Film will go free to missionaries around the world and we will seek to translate into their languages. Obviously this also changed our investor approach as the investors need to know we will be doing this free distribution as well as traditional retail distribution. (Hence why we are presenting at The Lions Den.)

    This we defined as Business as Mission. It is not better or more Godly or on a higher level, it is just what we felt led to do and the path we chose for this business venture. A path that actively serves the advancement of the kingdom even if at financial loss to us. Not sure if there is a term for that. 🙂 or if there needs to be.

    But soon I will present with 13 other businesses our plan to conduct Business as Mission. Should be interesting. I’ll follow-up if interested.

    Steve

    Our Film is The Pilgrim’s Progress

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