Business As Mission – The Church In The Marketplace

It’s another busy morning in Upper highland Reserve. At the heart of the new community parents drop their children off at day care, the café barista fires up the coffee machine and trucks drop off fresh supplies for the supermarket. A common sight at many suburban community hubs except this one is different: the entire centre is owned by Crosslife Baptist Church who have embraced the challenge of developing communities and placing themselves at the centre of the market place. On Sunday the day care centre morphs into a facility hosting a church plant. Crosslife have partnered with Queensland Baptists for funding in this venture seeking to place themselves at the heart of new communities in partnership with a major developer.

Increasingly churches and Christians are moving beyond the traditional base of the church property towards a more incarnational approach to being a witness to the Gospel within their local communities.

There has been much talk in recent years of intentional or missional business ventures that enable believers to be at the heart of communities. The typical example is of ‘third place’ ventures such as coffee shops, which provide a unique way to connect with people. The Crosslife example is on a bigger scale, extending beyond just a few individuals who take on the risk.

Some don’t understand the fuss (and I’m with them) given that Christians in business or in the workplace have been witnessing for generations. Some however point to a clear definition between Christians in business and ‘business as mission’. A Lausanne paper attempts to clarify the definition as follows:

Workplace Ministries are primarily focused on taking the gospel to people where they work, preferably through the witness of co-workers and professional colleagues. These ministries encourage the integration of biblical principles into every aspect of business practice, to the glory of God. Business as mission naturally includes these elements of workplace ministry.

When a workplace ministry is initiated in a business owned by believers to intentionally advance the kingdom of God, there will be substantial overlap. Workplace ministry can choose to limit its focus solely “within” the business context itself. Business as mission is focused both “within” and “through” the business. It seeks to harness the power and resource of business for intentional mission impact in the community or nation at large. Workplace ministry may occur in any setting. However, business as mission is intentional about the “to all peoples” mandate, and seeks out areas with the greatest spiritual and physical needs.

Joe Maxwell writing in Christianity Today defines ‘BAM – Business As Mission” as follows:

BAM practitioners use business ventures not only to make a financial profit, but to act as an avenue for the gospel. They administer their companies like any Christian running a business: ethically, honestly, and with concern for the business’s neighbors.

Yes, they exist to provide jobs and services and to make profits. But BAM companies are more than examples of Christian capitalism. The business itself is a means to spread the gospel and to plant churches. BAM companies increasingly have a global flavor, creating jobs in developing countries (unlike traditional aid or missions work) and making disciples who carry the gospel to the larger, hard-to-reach community.

I lived in Birmingham in the U.K. and was intrigued by the history of the suburb of Bournville, built by the Cadbury brothers Richard and George. The Cadburys were Quakers and this shaped the way they did business.

The suburb is testament to their faith and values. The Cadburys were particularly concerned with the holistic well being of their workforce, incorporating park and recreation areas into the Bournville village plans and encouraging recreational activities which they provided for by way of sports fields, swimming pools and walking tracks. The brothers believed in fairness for workers. The houses of the suburb were never privately owned, which meant their value stayed low and affordable. Bournville provided an alternative for the workers to the poor living conditions of the urban environment. Here, families had affordable houses with yards, gardens, and fresh air. The manner in which the Cadbury brothers treated their workforce reflected their faith and convictions.

There are plenty of stories of Christians who have used the world of business and industry to be a witness to their own workers, customers and the world around. With those acknowledgements of the many who have gone before in this field of ministry in mind, I present my own reflections on my experience:

I am in my second year of my own venture: a suburban gym. I work three days a week in a ministry role and in my second role I run my own personal training and run coaching business operating out of a 24/7 gym that I own. It has been a year of learning and an opportunity to test out expectations and to see how effective ministry can be in the context of a business that is essentially not about mission.

I chose a gym because it is an area of skill and passion for me, and because it was an opportunity to be a part of my new local village. A McCrindle research report into future shopping habits of Australians found that:

“Core to the Australian identity and experience is the local community, and the local shopping centre has become Australia’s new village green – the local gathering place. A place of connecting with friends and neighbours, the local shopping centre will increasingly be positioned as much more than just a place to shop.”

The_Future_of_Fresh

A new development in our area created something we’ve never had: a village. It’s into this context that I felt called to move. It was a step of faith that involved a huge deal of risk, but with the promise of plenty reward. Here’s some of what I’ve learned so far about the challenge of doing mission through business:

  1. Connectedness

I have never been so connected to my local community as I am now. Moving the locus of my ministry outside the walls of a church has enabled me to connect with groups of people I haven’t previously connected with. It has enriched my life immensely and I have learned a lot from these new connections in my life. Life inside the bubble of church sequesters us away from the world.

Our church life is busy, and we constantly call people back inside the bubble for yet another meeting, yet another service, yet another practise. It’s hard to be salt and light to the world when we’re hardly ever out there because we’re ‘in here’.

  1. Entrepreneurs

Many of my clients own businesses, and some of them are very rich. They’ve taught me much about faith, vision, risk and courage. I’ve picked their brains and learned a lot about seeing possibilities and making them happen. Although their faith is not in God, it has made me realise how little I have hung out with these kinds of people.

Let’s face it, the Baptist movement of churches doesn’t do well at attracting entrepreneurs. We by our nature are safe and even timid. Some of my most substantial projects as a pastor were getting churches to agree to installing air conditioning. Things move slowly in our churches, we committee too much and decide too little. Things that are really small fry are treated as if the world depended on it. Whilst we use the language of vision and choose snappy titles for our sermon series, we often aren’t all that good at being Spirit empowered entrepreneurs. We will do well to attract this class of people into our congregations – and harnessing their entrepreneurial experience and perspectives. Only a few degrees separates these people from faith in God.

  1. Questions

I can’t call the members of my gym to gather in the weights area to listen to a sermon or a presentation. If I did the business would fail. My gym is a gym, not a church. I need to respect those boundaries. There is however nothing wrong with me getting to know people. Herein lies the key change in my ministry: I’ve spent my entire ministry life speaking to audiences. Now I am the audience and I’m taking an interest in the lives of my clients. Australians don’t like feeling that they are being ‘preached’ at. They can sniff you out from a mile off if you take that approach. This morning a client of mine asked me if I had been a pastor. I replied that I was still a Baptist minister working part time. He then revealed that at the outset of his training with me he had Googled my name and found this out. Since then he had been evaluating my conduct. I’m glad I didn’t confirm any negative preconceptions he may have had. He did confess to being worried about his language, which under stress can be colourful…

For me now talking about spiritual things is an entirely natural exchange, given that it’s done in the context of trust. Perhaps the way forward for evangelism in our churches doesn’t lie in the next best resource. We may well see great blessing come from simply asking questions, and then more, and then more.

  1. Overcoming Fear

It’s hard for your average person to walk through the door of a gym. Likewise it’s hard for an average person with no connection to church to walk through the doors of a church. Many people feel intimidated by gyms and their perception of the people who belong. Taking the first step for many is a giant leap. We need to understand that this is often the case for people stepping inside a church.

I’ve had to work hard in business to overcome this reluctance to walk into a gym and the attendant feelings of inferiority and often embarrassment that people often confess to. We try to do this through new language and new concepts. We would get nowhere if we fixated on telling people just how bad their physical state is. If we insisted on primarily telling people that their bad habits have resulted in them being overweight and obese or grossly unfit we would struggle to pay the bills. It is important for them to understand the consequences of their habits but that comes after trust is won. I need to get a hearing first before I can deliver any bad news. (I usually find that people don’t need convincing that they have had bad habits).

It seems to me that often in the church we have insisted that front and centre of evangelistic endeavour is the message of how sinful people are and the extent of their guilt and shame. We often can’t get people past first base to hear anything because of our approach. The full extent of the problem of sin does need to be understood by any believer, and this is an important part of evangelism. We must however keep the Good News of the Gospel ‘good news’. An approach that proclaims “I’ve got good news for you!” wins more of a hearing than the inverse.

Being in business has made me aware of how hard you need to work to win trust, and to win an audience. With regards to evangelism in the Australian context perhaps we need to adjust our language (without watering down the essentials) otherwise many will simply ignore us.

  1. Hard Graft

I have a new found respect for the many people who are the backbone of employment in Australia: small to medium size businesses. There is a lot of complexity to running a business, and the financial burden can be crippling at times. After a long day trying to ensure your business is surviving, paper work awaits. In amongst this all there comes the challenge of ministry. I have personal expectations I am trying to meet in business as well as ministry. What may seem like a great idea is hard work. The burden of costs weighs heavily, and trying to break even is a constant struggle. Anyone putting their hand up for this ministry is going to have to count the financial cost and the daily mental, emotional and spiritual burden. There is as much need for prayer as any other ministry endeavour.

  1. Rewards

The great reward for me comes from the enriching of my life by the people I connect with and the new opportunities in life and ministry that it has afforded me. I view each of these significant people as gifts that God has sent my way, whether they share my faith or not. I haven’t laughed as much as I have in the last year since my carefree days at school. This venture has stretched my faith and ensured that I need to trust in God more than ever before. Through my work as a trainer I am able to help people live a better quality of life and in many cases help people to live longer. Watching the personal transformation of people is tremendously satisfying, whilst recognising that the ultimate transformation needs to be a spiritual one.

I’m convinced that within our churches there is an endless supply of talent, people gifted uniquely by the Holy Spirit. The world of business provides an inviting mission field of endless possibilities. The reach of the church should extend into the centre, nooks and crannies of our suburbs and towns.

Recently a friend (who is not a Christian) remarked to me that wherever he went, and whatever he did he seemed to be constantly connecting with Christians. He joked that God was out to get him and that it was a sign. This observation speaks well of the church and of Christians who are embracing the ‘go to them’ as well as the ‘come to us’ nature of evangelism.

Stan Fetting is the Operations Manager for Crossover and the owner of a 24/7 suburban gym and training business.

Sources:

#Business as Mission

Lausanne Occasional Paper No. 59

http://www.lausanne.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/06/LOP59_IG30.pdf

The Mission Of Business, Christianity Today, Joe Maxwell/ November 9, 2007 http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/november/24.24.html?start=1

McCrindle Research Survey, July 2014; and future projections from Professor Jan Recker, QUT – http://www.woolworthslimited.com.au/icms_docs/137928_The_Future_of_Fresh.pdf