By Colin Crawley
Business is a primary moving force of the love of God in human historyDallas Willard
Understanding what is, and isn’t, Business As Mission (BAM), is key to being successful in this genre of Kingdom impact. Here I cover some essential terms and concepts, gleaned from years of experience, as a quick-start guide to Business As Mission.
If you’re looking for an in-depth review of BAM, there are several very well written articles you can find online.
Click Here for an example of a great, detailed, website with several resources to help you learn more.
In this article, I cover some key concepts that are difficult to find together concisely elsewhere.
Multiple Bottom Lines
A primary principle to understand, is that Business As Mission projects are used to meet multiple bottom lines.
‘The bottom line’ in a conventional business is all about the profit. BAM projects love profit too, but what makes a BAM project a BAM project (as opposed to a conventional business), is that BAM projects are concerned about other goals in addition to profit. These are referred to as the ‘other bottom lines’.
The core bottom lines BAM projects are concerned with are:
- Profit – If it’s a business, it needs to have a realistic plan to make a profit.
- Spiritual – If it’s delivering mission, it needs to deliver Christian spiritual results.
- Social – If it’s bringing the Kingdom on earth, people’s lives should be positively impacted.
- Environmental – If this is God’s project, it should be mindful of His Creation.
These bottom lines are based in what scripture calls the Church to achieve, but business can deliver in a unique way.
Essential to note: BAM projects do not need to deliver all the bottom lines equally. Most BAM projects deliver significantly more results in some bottom lines, but might not deliver at all in others.
The concept of multiple bottom lines is a very helpful one when evaluating the impact of BAM projects. It helps to clarify that for a BAM project, it is necessary and even good to sacrifice profit, in order for the project to deliver the other core bottom lines.
Two ‘Business As Mission’s.
Another very helpful distinction is that BAM is used in two different technical terms:
- The whole movement of Christians wanting to use business to further ministry/missional objectives is one of them. “I work in BAM” would indicate that I do something relating business and ministry but little else. This is the general sense of the term. (I would personally advocate that we change this term to be Business AND Mission, but again, I may be biased.)
- Confusingly, there is also a more technical and specific term for Business-AS-Mission, which is to contrast it to the term Business-FOR-Mission. Business-AS-Mission would also be used to indicate a business venture that is much more inclined to reach social or spiritual goals, than it is profitability. Business-FOR-Mission would be the other end of the spectrum–a business which has almost no spiritual or social impact, but the profitability of it is being used to fund mission/ministry. In other words, a Business-FOR-Mission project exists to fund ministries that deliver the ‘other bottom lines’. Still a worthy cause!
This is a useful distinction because as one gets more familiar with BAM discussions, it can be helpful to distinguish whether a project is more towards the Business As Mission side of the spectrum, or the Business For Mission side of the spectrum.
This is referred to as a spectrum because, practically, all BAM projects (in the general sense–point 1 above) fall between Business-AS-Mission (in the specific sense–point 2 above), and Business-FOR-Mission. All businesses are concerned with profit, which points them towards Business-FOR-Mission. However, even Christians in secular work want to help people. Meaning that even a very profit-centric project will have some elements of the ‘Other Bottom Lines’ in them. Therefore, they are all somewhere on the spectrum. We are just using these two poles, As/For, to delineate their focus.
For example, a business that runs a bakery in an impoverished area, with a meager profit, but provides jobs, Bible studies, and environmentally and ethically sourced bread to the community, would be closer to the Business-AS-Mission side of the spectrum.
An import-export business, that makes a huge profit, but it makes that profit in order to fund outreach and ministry somewhere, would be at the Business-FOR-Mission end of the spectrum.
The first BAM project I was connected with was a 4-star hotel in Eastern Europe. It generated up to USD$500,000 a year that was pumped into funding thing like dental clinics in impoverished communities. Was there mission happening in the hotel? I’m sure there was to an extent–people getting jobs, the gospel being shared. However, the primary reason for the business, and the place it delivered its most impact was through the subsequent ministries it funded. That’s where the ‘Kingdom was coming’ so-to-speak. So we would consider this a BAM project that was nearer the Business-For-Mission end of the spectrum.
Looking for where ‘the Kingdom is coming’ is usually a good evaluator of whether a BAM project is more Business-AS-Mission vs Business-FOR-Mission. If the mission happens in the course of running the business, it is a Business-AS-Mission project. If it project exists to facilitate ministry, but facilitates it by funding it to happen elsewhere, it is a Business-FOR-Mission project.
Some More Definitions
It might be helpful to clarify some terminology at this point. It appears obvious when explained, but it is helpful to explicitly state that to consider a project a business, it needs to have self-sustaining profitability as one of its goals.
Too often, well intentioned ministry leaders start a project that charges people for something somewhere, and they then proudly declare they are running a Business As Mission or Kingdom Business project.
The trouble is, the leaders of this project have never written a business plan, and if they had, they’d realise that there was never a chance this project was ever going to break even, let alone make profit.
A BAM project that achieves good things, (those ‘other’ bottom lines), but never makes money, is really called something else. It’s called a ministry.
A charge to a customer, a BAM project makes not.
Ministries are awesome, but they are really designed to do two things: achieve Godly results, and burn money. Which is totally fine. If you’re running a ministry, raise the support to fund the brilliant results your ministry achieves. Just don’t call it a BAM project. A charge to a customer, a BAM project makes not.
On this theme, it’s worth exploring what mission is too. Again, it may sound obvious once explained, but for something to be achieving mission in the sense intended by BAM, it should be achieving some spiritual result. Something that contributes to God’s mission to the world (Missio Dei).
Like the word ‘business’, the word ‘mission’ gets used, all-too-often, by well meaning Christians doing really valuable social work. Running food banks, or debt counselling services, even through a church, are worthy things to do. But are they Christian?
In my opinion, that all depends on how they are set up. They certainly can be Christian if there is some place where Christ is part of the process. I like to ask the following question to help people discern whether or not their project is a Kingdom project, or simply just a social project:
If the local Mosque or Hindu temple took over the work your project is doing, would anyone notice a significant difference?
By answering this question it’s easier to see whether the project is achieving simply social needs, or is it in fact delivering significant Jesus centered spiritual needs.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with running social projects. They are good things to do. However, if a Mosque could take it over and no one would notice, I would question whether it was Christian. Similarly, I would measure a prospective BAM project by the same standard, and if it didn’t pass the requirement, I’d call it a social enterprise not a BAM enterprise.
Order of Magnitude
There’s one more evaluation I recommend people make when measuring up a prospective BAM project. This is about order of magnitude.
Over the years, I’ve heard people explain, (often when seeking Christian investment), that they are running a Kingdom Business or Business As Mission project. When probed about what ‘other bottom lines’ it achieves, they confidently explain that in their country they are different because they don’t take advantage of their workers, they pay all their taxes, and they run an honest business.
I understand where they’re coming from. Having lived in several different parts of the world, I can appreciate how in many cultures, taking advantage of your workers, keeping a separate set of books for the tax authorities, and swindling suppliers or customers is commonplace. So I understand why these leaders think what they are doing is different for their context–and make no mistake it is different.
The concern I have, however, is that as Christians, we should be doing those things anyway. Therefore, being an honest Christian business leader running a business, also, a BAM project makes not.
I believe a legitimate BAM project delivers an order of magnitude greater the impact of those ‘other bottom lines’. When talking about a BAM project we need to see a level or more above what one would expect from an honest Christian business leader working in any business.
Of course, this is a relative comparison. Some Christian business leaders will be so gifted and intuitive at helping people that without thinking about it, they achieve more by being naturally generous or helpful than a fully fledged BAM project. True as that may be, the converse does not hold. A project that chooses to live up to common Christian morality, but not much more, in my opinion is not a BAM project.
Conclusion and Application
God loves business. He invented it after all.
God is speaking to His Church about partnering with Him to see business as a major vehicle for the coming of His Kingdom here on earth, as it is in heaven. To that end, Business As Mission, well implemented, is a significant contributor towards the Missio Dei.
There have even been theologians that argue that Jesus, as the eldest son of a carpenter father (who was believed to have died when Jesus was young), who started ministry at 30, was likely a small business owner for life before ministry. The discussion stems from the greek word used to describe Jesus’s work as a master craftsman–but that’s a discussion for another article.
A well implemented BAM project is one that understands how it is contributing across multiple bottom lines, at an order of magnitude greater than honest Christian living, using a profit making business to achieve effective Christian mission.
Understanding these guiding principles, and avoiding some of the pitfalls stated, can help leaders evaluate what they, and others, are doing; and whether the project in front of them is able to deliver Kingdom Impact as a true Business-As-Mission enterprise.
Furthermore, using these terms to evaluate a project, can empower a leader to know what needs to change, in order for a project that is intended to be a Business As Mission enterprise, deliver its stated purpose.
For example, you might spot that a project is actually more of a social enterprise than a BAM project. That might prompt you to add more Christian spiritual impact to it so it can deliver a more Christian mission.
Alternatively, you might realise that a project is actually a ministry and not a business, even though things are being sold within it. Consequently, you might start to formally fundraise to sustain it rather than fret about the monthly losses.
Finally, understanding these terms and concepts can keep those who are eager to join what God is doing through business to stay anchored to the principles that make them successful and impactful for Him.
May God get the glory.