Let’s stop playing defence and start playing offence

By Colin Crawley

Warning: Shameless sports analogy coming.

I recently had the privilege of reading an insider report on what I would consider to be a very impressive Business As Mission (BAM) operation.  This company—which shall remain nameless—is valued at several 10s of millions of dollars.  It has an annual revenue of over $10 million and is currently in a new round of raising BAM monies having raised over $5 million already.  It employs hundreds of workers, and looks remarkably successful in many areas. 

When you look at the Four Bottom Lines, as mentioned, the profitability bottom line seems to very healthy.  By forming partnership with competent and experienced outside organisations, they’ve also done some remarkable things for the Social and Environmental Bottom Lines. For example they pay their workers at a higher rate, and they actively work to make manufacturing sustainable and environmentally friendly.

So what about the Spiritual Bottom Line?  That’s when thing got interesting, (at least for me).

The report asked the leadership this amazing question which was basically this: ‘How does your business further the gospel of Jesus Christ?’

Remember, we are talking about Business As Mission enterprise here.  A company that was created specifically to further the gospel and has raised money from investors under the promise that it would be trying to do so.

I instantly had two first impressions to the answer:

  1. I noticed that the answer to this section of the report was perhaps 3 times longer than most other sections of the report.  This led to me to wonder: ‘Is someone feeling insecure and trying really hard to show they are achieving something?’.  It’s like that exam question that you don’t really know the answer to; and you spend 3 pages writing all the related information you DO KNOW in the hopes of getting something right.  I think the technical term for this here in England is ‘waffle’.
  2. I also noticed they opened their answer to the question of ‘how does your business further the gospel’ with a quote from a well-known pastor that said something along the lines of ‘Work is making God’s creation a better place’ [my paraphrase]. 

Let me be clear, in this section they had a lot of wonderful things to say, and some cracking theological points that I thoroughly agree with.  There was just one important thing missing: they really had no explicit plan at all for a way the gospel could move across the hundreds, (perhaps thousands) of relationships this BAM project generates.

Was evangelism happening at all?  Yes. They had some anecdotal stories of people coming to Christ.  Which is fantastic, but I respectfully point out, that Christians in regular businesses should see this.

Had they put effort into the Spiritual Bottom Line?  Yes. Although, when you read the part of the report that specifically asks the leaders: ‘What measurable activities have you set up for gospel proclamation?’  Many of the answers started with ‘We are in the process of…’, or ‘we are seeking to…

Which would be appropriate if this was a brand new BAM project. However, given the other metrics, clearly this one had been around for some time.  So why are these things still a ‘work in progress’?

Again, from what I could see, these are good, godly people who have a desire to see the gospel move.  So what’s the problem, and more to the point, what’s the solution?

The Problem

My observation from the report was that the leaders of this project really don’t trust that the gospel can be shared appropriately and effectively throughout the business. 

I have a lot of sympathy for this position.  We’ve all seen terrible evangelism done, and we intuitively know, that not only can that hurt the gospel message, but it can hurt our business too.

However, if we don’t pursue finding ways to share the gospel appropriately and effectively, we inevitably spend our time doing what this company seems to be doing.  We will run some discipleship events for the Christians, we may introduce a chaplain here and there, but the net result is that nowhere near the number of people who could come to Christ, will.

Perhaps more worryingly, history tells us over and over, that projects like this inevitably lose their Christian ethos.  If the gospel isn’t central, it’s too easy for the social agenda, over time, to be the overriding theme.  This, then, is a cycle that reinforces itself: Staff are recruited and investors found who are in it for the social bottom line.  They, in turn, can start to put up resistance to those who want to reinvigorate the Spiritual ethos of what is supposed to be a Business As Mission project.  This is classic Mission Drift, and it can happen slowly over decades, but it can also happen quickly too.  I’ve seen it happen in a matter of 1-2 years.

The Solution

For this particular project I would suggest a two-fold solution: 

1) Up-skill in evangelism.  The missionary world is full of amazing people who God has revealed simple and effective ways for the gospel to be shared.  Explore those methodologies and find one that fits for your company. 

We equip people all the time with ways they haven’t seen before that can help people feel confident and relaxed about how to share the gospel, (and perhaps just as importantly, how NOT to share the gospel). 

Once you learn these skills, it can transform how you feel about evangelism, and also how you see the problem/solution.

(If you don’t know where to look, a great resource is mission365.org.  Start there.)

2) Appoint someone who can act as a Chief Spiritual Officer (CSO).  A great gift of BAM to the world are the Four Bottom Lines, but that same structure makes for a great deal of complexity too. 

If someone has to worry about making money and achieving spiritual results at the same time—guess which one will win when the bills need to be paid?  A BAM project of this size can certainly afford to have a distinct CSO role.  (Smaller BAM projects may opt to have a Fractional CSO.) By appointing a CSO the BAM project will have someone with the appropriate influence to make the necessary changes, and it will allow the leadership to hold someone accountable for the results.

I suspect if this BAM company takes steps like these, it can see a huge uptick in the delivery of the Spiritual Bottom Line, and bring its results there, in line with the other remarkable things it is achieving for the other bottom lines.  However, if they don’t find a solution, it seems it may easily go the way of so many other amazing Kingdom causes, and become, at best, a social enterprise with some Christians employed; or simply just another profitable business that started out with higher aspirations that it wasn’t able to achieve.

Time To Win

This is where the sports analogy comes in.  As an Englishman, it’s taken me many years to appreciate the American version of our beloved football.  I’m now a big fan. A uniqueness of American football is there are really two sides to every team.  A set of players who only play defence, and a set of players who only play offence.

It’s not uncommon, when watching a game, to hear a player or coach say ‘we need to get the offence back on the field’.  Perhaps the analogy holds with the English version too; the general statement to make is this:  Let’s stop playing defence, and start playing offence.

Let’s stop making excuses for why we don’t have a plan for the gospel to be maximised through our BAM projects.  Let’s stop only telling anecdotal stories, or limiting our Spiritual Bottom Line to expressions of ‘Jesus is in all that we do’.  Let’s stop putting our resources into only discipling people who already know Jesus instead of putting resources into efforts to see the gospel shared widely and well.  There is no Kingdom without a King, so let’s introduce people to Him!

We need to remember how good the gospel is!  That we have a BIG God, who loves us, and who loves those who don’t know Him yet.  That the Father is drawing people to Jesus all the time, we just need to find them!

We need to remember that BAM is His idea, and He has an agenda for it.  God is a winner, so let’s play some offence.  Let’s intentionally set out ways we can effectively share about Him wherever possible in our BAM ecosystems.  Let’s get some wins on the board!

Shameless sports analogy over.

[Related article: Check Yourself, Are You Behaving Like A BAM Company?]