Business As Mission: The Ultimate Guide

Business as Mission: The Ultimate GuideSo you have been throwing around the idea of starting a business as a mission, but you don’t even know where to start?  That’s where I was when I first approached the idea as well.  I felt like God was calling me to make disciples of all nations, but I wasn’t a traditional pastor, I wasn’t a natural social worker and I had never been trained in the medical field.  The one thing that I knew about and enjoyed a lot was the business world.  Could God use my gifts and motivations in business to actually make disciples?  The short answer is an obvious yes, but there were a lot of phases that I had to walk through and beliefs that I had to come to that weren’t all that common in the Church that I had been attending at the time.  I’ll address those things below, along with a LOT of resources to help you along your way as you navigate this idea of using business as your strategy for making disciples.

Questions I Had to Answer First

  1. First of all, what is a disciple?

If my main goal in starting a business as mission was to make disciples, then I needed to know what a disciple is.  From the time that I was a boy, I was mainly taught that a disciple of God is someone who studies the Bible a lot and prays. Little did I know that although this is part of what a disciple DOES, it is not who he is and leaves out a lot of important information.  Let’s look at Jesus’s disciples for a moment…what characterized their lives as “disciples?”  The main takeaway I have is that they simply followed Jesus around and did what He did. And who WERE they? Disciples of Jesus. Sounds easy enough, right?

  1. Is “Running a business as a missionary” ok? Aren’t you just feeding your greed?

For some reason, in traditional Churches there is this idea that in order to be a “real missionary,” you need to be either: 1. A traditional pastor, or 2. A medical missionary.  That’s it, unless you come from a catholic background, then ideas like social work become ok.  There are a lot of issues with the belief above, but I want to highlight a few things:  For some reason when we start to think of someone as a missionary, we throw all practicality out the door.  God has given us work for a reason (Many reasons actually), including: building relationships, using gifts to help others, giving to others, allows us to eat, have houses, clothes, etc, and most importantly, it is a form of worship to our God.   Whatever we do, we are supposed to do it to the best of our ability and dedicate it to the Lord, because He is the one that has given us the ability to accomplish whatever we do.

Going back to question #1, we can now think through the connection of making disciples and having a business as a mission. If being a disciple means having deep insight into another’s life, so that the disciple can learn how to react, make hard decisions, and learn new skills in building relationships with others, then is there a better way for others to learn from your relationship with Christ than for them to see you every day, and often times in stressful and difficult situations?  I can’t think of very many…

  1. What are you doing now?

Just a few months ago, our family was back in our hometown for a few weeks to visit friends and attend a wedding. I was speaking with one of my friends who was also planning on becoming a missionary within the next year, and we got to the topic of work.  He said something that was very surprising to me…he said “I am working very hard and long hours right now…and I will probably be doing the same when we get on the mission field, but it will be ok then because I will be doing it for the Lord. I regret not responding correctly when he told me this, but what I wish I would have said is “you are doing the Lord’s work just as fully now as you will be doing it in a different part of the world a year from now.”  If you are in the work force, no matter where you are or what you are doing, you should be doing it for the Lord!  That is your ministry! Let me repeat this one more time: YOUR CURRENT WORK IS YOUR MINISTRY. Don’t belittle what you currently do.  It is important and it is (or should be) your worship and ministry to God.

Business As Mission Books

So, now that we better understand how Business as Missions can multiply disciples, where do we start?  There are actually a lot of books out there that are very helpful on the subject, but I will keep the list as small as I can and tell you why I think you should read it.

  1. The Call

thecallThis book should be mandatory for anyone who is looking into business as mission.  It is a phenomenal book written by OS Guinness that puts work in its proper place.

Guinness gets right into the meat of the book at the beginning by laying out his definition of calling: “Calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have invested with a special devotion, dynamism, and direction lived out as a response to his summons and service”.

Soon after this, he begins to describe two different “distortions” that we commonly fall for as Christians. The first is one he calls the “Catholic distortion.” This is the distortion that your “Calling” can only be fulfilled by doing sacred or “holy work”. The other distortion he calls the “Protestant distortion.” In this distortion, words like “calling” and “vocation” (derived from the Greek word “voice” or “call”) have taken on generic and watered-down meanings–you refer to something you do well or something you enjoy doing. His argument is that whatever place God has put you, and whatever talents God has given you, that can be the basis of a highly meaningful calling.

The ensuing chapters further unfold the concept of “calling.” It unpacks the ideas of types of callings, the inherent worth of work, using our gifts for others, living out your calling even when it seems tedious, along with many other useful ideas surrounding the idea of “calling.”  I believe that it would be foolish not to take the time to read this book if you are thinking of doing Business as Mission.

  1. Called To Create

71Y-A59F+JLIn this book, Jordan Raynor does a great job of showcasing the gift of Entrepreneurship specifically.  One of the most eye-opening parts of the book for me was when he mentioned that when an entrepreneur creates, he or she is simply emulating God.  At the beginning of the Bible, God’s entire creation story was about, well, creating!  He reminds those of us that love to build, create, or grow things that it is a gift that has been given to us by God, and it is a part of how we are “made in His image.”

He also answers the same question that “The Call” answers about ministry positions…He says that being an entrepreneur is no less holy than being a pastor or missionary.  I agree with this take as well, although I also believe that any entrepreneur is technically called to be a missionary as well.  Our “mission” is to make disciples…and if you are an entrepreneur then there is a great chance that you are making disciples as well if you have employees or clients that you see on a regular basis.

He also answers these questions as you move through the book:

  • Is my work as an entrepreneur and creative really as God-honoring as that of a pastor or missionary?
  • What are the best questions to ask when discerning God’s calling on my life?
  • What does it look like to create not to make a name for myself but to glorify God and serve others?
  • How can I use my work to fulfill Jesus’s command to create disciples?
  • Will what I create today matter for eternity?

In order to answer these questions, he curates stories from 40+ Christian leaders, including the founders of TOMS Shoes, Charity: Water, Chick-fil-A, In-N-Out Burger, Guinness, and HTC, as well as culture-creators such as C.S. Lewis, Johann Sebastian Bach, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

  1. Business For Transformation

71y2zaibWeLYou will not find a person who is more well-versed in BAM and B4T.  Patrick Lai and his family have lived and worked in the 10/40 Window for 23 years. They served for 4 years as regular missionaries and 19 years as tentmakers. He has written several books on the subject, but I have chosen this one because it is an easier read than the others and it gives great descriptions of the differences between some of the different kinds of “tent making.”  Being on the field, I have found it very helpful that he describes the differences between Business for Transformation (B4T) and Business as Mission (BAM). He says that BAM is a larger category that “describes any for-profit business endeavor that seeks to reach communities for the glory of God and is not artificially supported by donor funds.” A B4T is a “business strategically placed in an unreached area designed to create jobs and bless the local community in Jesus’ name, generally through transformation and specifically through evangelism, discipleship, and church planting.”

This will be a decision that you will have to make as well when starting the business. Before going on the field, I was very optimistic that I could easily blend the two and make it meet all goals from both BAM and B4T.  Although I still believe it is possible, it is a very difficult task to create a profitable business that is focused on the transformation of a community.  This is why a B4T business often has some outside help with funding, but this is ok! That is why you have to know what your focus is, or you may get down feeling like you have failed if you are not profitable or (visa versa) you are not creating as much transformation as you had originally hoped.

  1. The Missional Entrepreneur

81Rv4ER19xLThe last book on our list is very informative because it gives an in-depth review of real life examples of business as mission models.  The main takeaway that I had from this book was that the motivation behind starting a BAM business is very important.

In one of his examples, he followed a BAMer that started a coffee shop.  The idea of starting the coffee shop in itself was fine, but the attitude that the founders had was not helpful in making disciples.  They were so secretive about what they were doing that some of their employees never even knew they were Christ followers.  Many of the locals and employees couldn’t understand why they were there, and the secretiveness just fueled skepticism of those around them.  Unfortunately, this is a very common theme in the BAM world, and it is easy to get lost in “running a business” but forgetting the real reason why you are there.

In contrast, the author then talks about another individual who moved to a new area, but did not start a business right away.  His main goal when landing was to build relationships, and that is just what he was able to do.  He made friends, learned the language, and became familiar with the needs of the community.  After being there for a while, he began asking some of the people in his community what their biggest need was, and they said it was jobs.  This is when he began to do research on starting a business, and plotted out ideas for employing those people who needed jobs in the community. His did start a business then, and it grew to be very successful over just a few short years.

The lesson in this is that it is important to remember why you are moving to a new community.  We have a saying in our circles for this: “share yourself before you share your stuff.” What this means is get to know your people and understand who they are and what their needs are before you start making plans for them and their lives.  This will generally lead to better outcomes when you do start a business or any sort of venture in your new community.

Business as Mission Companies

Kolkata Freedom Business

Our first story on this list comes from Kolkata, India. I have personally seen this business and met people that are a part of this organization, and I can truly say that it is one of the most empowering BAM businesses I have ever experienced.  The men and women who work here are truly empowered by this business and the leadership has done a great job of creating a loving and joyful culture that has outlasted the founders, which is a very powerful testament to the way it was build and run in the early days.  Anyways, I think you would rather hear from the founder themselves, so here is her post: https://businessasmission.com/giving-choice-trafficked-women-through-business/

Sunshine Nut Co

4be5b114efdfc438ff025b30e86618daThis brand is a complete inspiration to me. Don Larson was the director of Cocoa Operations at Hershey for many years before he decided to leave his corporate job and take his family to Mozambique.  They sold everything they owned to move to a new country and start a Cashew business.

Don’s business model is pretty unique when it comes to business models…they give away 90% of the profits to other initiatives in the community.  30% goes to new business ventures, 30% goes to orphanages, and 30% goes to community programs. They have done a great job setting up this brand and making it something that will be sustainable beyond Don’s years running the business. If you want to read more about it, check out the link below.  (You can even buy some nuts while you’re at it!)

https://sunshinenuts.com/sunshine-approach/our-story-2/

Partners Worldwide

51a9f408-dd2c-11e8-9403-0e02a4ab13d6The last business on our list is actually not a business itself, but the mission of the organization is to empower other businesses around the world. After being on the field for two years myself, I have found that there is a significant lesson to be learned from this organization.  One of the goals that our team holds very highly is that any business or organization should trend towards localization over time.  Why? Because it is impossible to create sustainability if there always needs to be an outsider that is running the organization.  The problem is that although trending towards localization sounds great, it is actually more difficult than it sounds to make this transition. There are often times cultural differences, mindset changes that need to be made, and very clear communication that rarely happens in any small business.

Having said all of this, Partners Worldwide is an organization that finds locals that have a vision to start some sort of economical venture, and they empower and back them so that they have a chance at getting off the ground.  I love this model because the difficulties that come with foreigner-led businesses are taken away from the start.

This does not have to get you down though if you are someone who is planning on starting a business in a different country.  Transition can successfully happen, it just takes time and a lot of intentionality.  I would also urge you to think about what it could look like if you were to simply find someone in the country you are going to and empower that person to start the business instead of you.  This can be hard on our egos and frustrating because we cannot make final decisions, but in the long run it may be good to put the vision in the local’s hands from day one. Just something to think about as you are on this journey and learning about business as mission.

http://www.partnersworldwide.org/

Business As Mission Ideas

Finally!  The most fun part of this blog post…Business ideas!  Business ideas are a dime a dozen, and I would recommend studying your community first to find strengths, resources, and opportunities that are in that place specifically, but it never hurts to throw some ideas out there to get a head start! Below are just a few ideas that I have had since living in India, but there are thousands of opportunities out there!

  1. Cut and sew manufacturing

This is the industry that I am currently in.  It isn’t sexy by any stretch, and it isn’t overly profitable either because there are huge companies that can do this stuff at scale.  Having said that, it can be a great business if you are employing men and women who do not have a large skill set.  Sewing is an easy and relatively quick skill to learn, so it is a very good opportunity for those that are working in red light districts, and slums, and villages.

  1. Café

I know that this idea is often overused as well, but there is no denying that it is also a great way to get to know the community and hire locals that may not have an expansive skill set.  The downside of a café, though, is that generally it needs to be in a well-off part of a town or city, which means that it may not work if you are living in a poorer community.

  1. Gym or Exercise Area

This is an idea that I have personally been playing around with since we landed in India.  For me, it has been the one thing that continually shows itself as a need in the culture that we live in.  Health and exercise is something that is not understood well at all, but it is also something that everyone wants to learn and wants to take part in.  There is a lot of misinformation in the health and wellness world in India, and there is a huge need for people to teach others how to live healthy lives.  Another benefit to this idea is that it builds connection with others and is a natural start to a discipling relationship because you are already challenging someone to be healthy physically. When you start adding to this and you begin to challenge them to grow spiritually, it will not be a surprise to them and you will already have a process on how to grow.

  1. Digital Agency

This is also a common BAM business.  It generally works well because places like India have great developers, and the foreigner generally has the connections for work in richer countries.  Foreigners generally have to travel a lot as well, and because this business is virtual, the foreigner can continue to help in the business even when he or she is gone for a while.  Like the café idea, this idea is generally not suited well for poorer areas, with one caveat. If you are willing to teach local teenagers how to code, then you can create your own workforce, and generally this means you are also building up the community.  This is a lot of work, but is a great endeavor should you choose to take it on and have the capacity to make it a reality.

  1. Business Incubator

Another great option is to start a business incubator.  This would probably look very similar to the “Partners Worldwide” business model above. You would basically supply business advice and maybe startup funding for small businesses in your community.  This could be done as an NGO, but because we are talking business ideas it can be done in two ways: 1. You can set it up as a small business loan that would have to be paid back over a period of time or 2. You could become a part owner in the businesses that you invest in.  This means that you will have to be more hands on and you will probably have less capacity than if you set them up as loans, but both options have their pros and cons.

Business As Mission Agencies

So, you are interested in business as mission and you want to know where you can you go from here?  If you have been spending a lot of time in prayer about this and you believe that God is calling you to be a light to a community other than the one you are currently living in, then a good place to go next is to speak with a sending agency that supports Business As Mission.  They will help you navigate the preparation process, and will also help you discern a place and a team for you to join.   It is very important that you work with an organization that can help you avoid a lot of the pitfalls that can come with inexperience.

YWAM

YWAM-1Here is an excerpt from the YWAM website about who they are:

“Youth With A Mission is a global movement of Christians from many cultures, age groups, and Christian traditions, dedicated to serving Jesus throughout the world. Also known as YWAM (pronounced “WHY-wham”), we unite in a common purpose to know God and to make Him known.

Back when we began in 1960, our main focus was to get youth involved in missions. Today, we still focus on youth, and we also involve people aged 9 to 90. We currently have tens of thousands of staff (called “YWAMers”) and we work in thousands of teams and locations.

One of the joys of participating in YWAM is to work with people from many nations. YWAM’s staff come from nearly every country in the world, including places like Indonesia, Nepal, Mozambique, and Colombia.

We invite you to join us! Type a city name or a ministry idea into the search box below. Discover how you can use your gifts and callings in the YWAM world.”

The link below will take you to all of the resources that YWAM offers to those who are interested in BAM.

https://www.ywamcos.org/business-as-mission

Pioneers

Pioneers-Web-PhotosHere is a small excerpt from the link below of how the Pioneers organization views business as mission and how they get business people involved in disciple-making around the world:

Pioneers may fill key administrative roles. They may put those CPAs and MBAs or skills in management, bookkeeping, IT and more to work in positions that make everyone else’s work possible. These faithful servants keep operations all over the world afloat.  Some Pioneers start off with business plans and years of related experience. Others, though, are just getting started. Either way, we can help navigate through starting and operating a business and finding job opportunities among the least reached.

Where can you picture yourself?

Pioneers would like to talk to you about using your education and experience to share Christ among those with least access to the gospel.

If you want to read more about Pioneers, check out the link below!

https://pioneers.org/2018/06/08/building-bridges-business/

IMB

IMB_BlogIMB also has a similar outlook on professionals, and here is what they say on their website about BAM:

Sometimes, the best missionaries aren’t “missionaries” at all.

To establish a powerful gospel witness among unreached peoples and places, we need engineers, web developers, freelancers, doctors, teachers, accountants, and other professionals in the work force.

They then go on to say that currently there are openings for “professionals” in large cities such as Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, London, and Shanghai.  If you feel called as a professional to make disciples in any of these large cities, then you should check out IMB below!

https://www.imb.org/training-for-professionals/

Operation Mobilization

OpMobThis last organization does not normally focus on BAM as often as some of the other agencies on this list, but there is a specific opening in Greece right now that is focused on helping vulnerable women find employment and training opportunities.  If you are not sure about starting a business yourself, but you would like to help others find their place in the marketplace, then this might be the right fit for you!

https://www.om.org/en/opportunity/business-ministry

 Business As Mission Conferences

https___cdn.evbuc.com_images_88763033_170063498303_1_originalAnother great resource (and the last on our list) for learning and connecting with other BAMers is to attend a BAM conference.  The largest BAM conference by far is the one that is put on by Businessasmission.com.  This year will be the 9th Annual conference, and it will be held in Chicago from October 2nd– 4th.  There will be a lot of great speakers there, from Peter Greer (President of Hope International) to Aimee Minnich (Co-founder of Impact Foundation) and many more.  You will not want to miss this conference if you are wanting to learn more about BAM.

https://bamconference.com/

Well, that brings us to the end, but if you have any other specific questions about BAM, please email me or leave a comment below…I look forward to hearing from you!

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