It turns out that finances aren’t the problem, and neither are language or culture. One of the biggest obstacles to mission today is access.
Perhaps I should clarify: travel is easier than ever, so Christ-followers on mission don’t have too much trouble getting to pretty much anyplace God leads them to go. But missionary access is more than just arriving, it’s moving into social positions, (called “platforms”) that allow them to proclaim the gospel and live it out incarnationally. This, it turns out, is the tricky part.
“Tourist” is only good for a short while, and brings with it a certain expectation of exploitation. Tourists visit a place not to give, but to take. They take in the sights, take photos, and take their time. Might they share their faith along the way? Of course! But is the tourist-host relationship the best for gospel incarnation? Probably not.
“Non-profit” can turn the tourist mentality on its head. A non-profit worker serves at her own expense for the benefit of others. Non-profit and charity, both religious and secular, are by far the most utilized platforms. However, these can certainly have their drawbacks. Charity is viewed differently by different cultures. India’s caste system, for example, considers poverty and suffering as the payback side of karma. A person is re-incarnated as, say a dog or a woman, as punishment for bad behavior or until an important life lesson is learned. Easing the discomfort of extreme poverty is like robbing them of their penance. In other places, charity is the work of the government, and non-profits (especially foreigners) ought not compete.
“Business,” on the other hand, is largely underdeveloped as a social-access platform. The problem, historically, is the mixture of money and ministry. Time spent building the business is often seen as competing with time in ministry. A minister’s altruism often makes him a poor businessman.
Consider the benefits of business as mission:
- legitimizes presence (everyone knows what a businessman is)
- assigns culturally-acceptable motives (you’re here to make money)
- moves you into ethic-revealing relationships
- business people are networked
- it uses gifting not often associated with ministry
- dissociates fund-raising from missions
- could assist the local economy and provide jobs for nationals
So clearly, business is a good platform.
We must consider the competitive nature of business. Anytime an outsider enters a market, he does so against existing ventures (and usually with the benefit of outside resources, knowledge, and experience). A good platform provides more and better jobs than it takes. Some examples of good business platforms:
Some typically troublesome business platforms:
- medical (maybe better left non-profit)
- retail (competition, unfair practices)
- large-scale manufacturing (working conditions)
- tourism (guides, hospitality, travel, etc. )
- agriculture (land ownership)
Business platforms to avoid:
- security (anything that involves weapons)
- banking/investing (holding other people’s money)
- religious goods/services (appearance of “selling” the gospel)
All that said, there are some interesting models out there.
Tom’s Shoes: though they’ve been accused of killing the market for shoes in their target areas, the “buy-one-give-one” model tells a great story and appears to exploit Americans’ materialism to benefit others. As a business, Tom’s definitely has earned access into many nations that would otherwise be closed to gospel influence. I’d like to see a bit more creativity in their design, a certified fair-trade manufacturing process, and maybe improved overall quality of the shoes. Tom’s has recently started selling sunglasses, too.
Unnamed (for security reasons) Coffee Roasters: Though they operate in what is technically an open-access area, this coffee roasting company provides social access to many strata of society. They import coffee from developing nations, roast the beans on site, and distribute the final product to cafes across their host country. The key to their business model is the employment of nationals (many buyers don’t realize the company was started by outsiders) and the sale of coffee to the U.S. Like the Tom’s Shoes model, taking advantage of high-demand (and high-generosity!) markets can underwrite much of the in-country business. Of course, they do compete with national coffee importers, roasters, and distributors. But cooperating with nationals mitigates the negative impact. Their presence benefits the local economy.
Finally, I like the transfer model. A junior staff member of a transnational investment firm recently put in for a transfer to a closed-access country. Inside the company, his stock went up (the business had so far struggled to find anyone to take that job). Outside the company, this Christ-follower found himself a guest of honor in the home of local clan leaders, businessmen, and politicians. His willingness to move to another country on that country’s terms put him in a very unique place of influence there.
Just to be clear– we don’t need a bunch of pastors moving overseas to start business. We need Spirit-led businessmen to live out the gospel among the different peoples of the world.
As you can tell, I’m a big fan of business as mission. If you’d like to connect with other believers who are serving as Christ-following businesspeople around the world, join the Skybridge Community.
When I was a kid, TV and mail-order ads offered an option for C.O.D.– Collection (or “Cash”) on Delivery. In the past, one had to send in a check (or money order), and then wait for the product to be shipped. C.O.D. allowed the customer to call his order in, have it shipped without delay, and then pay for it upon receipt.
The Collection on Delivery option faded away years ago, mostly due to the widespread use of the credit card. Of course, companies had been losing lots of money in shipping to customers who, by the time the product arrived at their doorstep, either didn’t have the money or had changed their minds about the purchase altogether. The worst part of the C.O.D. was that it made mail carriers and delivery workers into collection agencies– something they weren’t designed to do.
The cost to follow Jesus is nothing less than everything. He makes this clear in Mark 8:34-35: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” But while Jesus requires everything of His followers, Paul clearly saw to it that as insofar as it depended on him, the message of the gospel should be free for all to hear: “What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.”
Are you charging people to hear the gospel?
By requiring people to enter your space, join your culture, translate your language, and overlook your hypocrisies in order to hear about the Savior, you’re charging them. Every cultural barrier is a C.O.D. for the recipient. A growing number of people know nothing about the contents of the message, but reject it for the cost of hearing it. Learning the language of the Christian subculture, opening their children up to indoctrination, sitting through hour-long sermons, identifying with hate-filled religious extremists. The price is too high.
It is the role of the missionary to reduce the cost to free.
Of course, once they taste and see that the Lord is good, people willingly exchange their lives for His righteousness. The transaction becomes a no-brainer; the cost seems like a steal. Our job is to lower the cost, to actively minimize the differences between us (followers of Jesus) and them (those who do not believe). Our role is to “pay the shipping” of gospel proclamation by translating the gospel into every tribe, language, subculture, and social enclave. We do this by making ourselves all things to all men that by all possible means we might save some. We do this by deliberately moving into redemptive relationships with those who don’t know Jesus.
You are a letter. Live sent.
While I’m on the subject of the Upstream Collective’s Jet Set Vision Trip to Prague an Budapest, I’d like to point something out: this is not more of the same. This trip is different.
I’ve already heard from a few workers on the field about the trip. As I mentioned in my last post, many are (justifiably) skeptical. A “Vision Trip?” they ask, “isn’t that just pandering to their consumerism? Aren’t you just bringing them over here to shop for their next mission trip?”
In short, my missionary friends, no. This trip is different.
Firstly, this is not a group of self-important, prima donna pastors on a promotional tour/vacation to Central Europe. The leaders on this trip are missional thinkers who are genuinely interested in leading their churches to be on mission abroad. I know many of you have put lots of time and effort into trying to “mobilize” churches to your field and work among your people group, but these leaders don’t need to be convinced of the importance of mission, or of their churches’ role at the center of it.
Secondly, when it comes to engaging unbelieving people with the gospel, they understand the need for incarnational, culturally-appropriate approaches. These guys aren’t going to come in with their “tried-and-true” methods and look for somewhere to implement them. You won’t get mimes in the mall or puppet shows in the park with these churches (unless that’s what God tells them to do!). They recognize that field workers have invaluable experience, cultural insight, and devotion. They don’t presume to know the best way to do ministry in your context. They’re here to learn.
Thirdly, these are leaders who take seriously their responsibility to lead their churches on mission. They’re not looking for opportunities that would most benefit their people, but they are looking for the Spirit’s guidance on their overseas involvement. The trip is not about shopping around for a partnership with the coolest missionary they can find, and they’re not impressed by all the insider jargon. They are truly looking for where God is working, and how their churches might fit in to that. A Jet Set vision trip isn’t a conversation between pastors and missionaries. It’s a conversation between God and their churches. Try not to get in the way.
Because the leaders on the vision trip are different from the usual missions tourists, they must be treated differently.
They want to part of a big-boy conversation. These are practitioners, not newbies. They want to talk about missiology, strategy, and methodology. They don’t need you to baby-sit them, and they know when they’re being “prayerwalked” because you don’t know what else to do with them. When they ask why you do or don’t do things a certain way, they’re not questioning your competence. They’re looking for a dialogue. (In case you’re not aware of this, dialogue is big among the missional set.) They will consider what their churches might have to offer in a given situation. These are not “volunteers,” they are partners and peers on God’s global mission.
That said, they will evaluate the ministries they encounter through the lens of scripture. As pastors and leaders, it’s their job to ask whether what we’re doing is God’s best. Missionary, if you can’t handle a bit of scrutiny, you need to check your pride. This is true accountability, and it’s a good thing. Would that all missionaries on the field had a high level of direct church supervision.
Finally, the Jet Set Vision Trips are not about the cities they visit. Those places are just the background, the classroom, for an intensive missiological discussion. The trip participants aren’t there to learn about how you’re being a missionary, they’re learning about how their churches can be missionaries. Practitioners like Michael Frost, Ed Stezer, and Daniel Montgomery are gifted communicators and vision-casters (and frankly, better than most of you at relating to, challenging, and inspiring these church leaders). Their participation in the trips keeps things from being about any one particular city, people group, or setting.
So the good news is that there are churches who “get it.” And not just a few. You just didn’t know about them because they’re not coming through your channels and programs. The bad news is that if you want to partner with these churches, you’re going to have to adjust the way you view their participation.
Missionaries, I hope you’re paying attention. These churches are the future of mission, and that is very good news indeed.
So the Upstream Collective is leading another of its Jet Set Vision Trips, this time to Prague and Budapest. I encourage you to follow along over at the Upstream blog, and on Twitter under #js2011.
Vision Trip, or Missions Tourism?
But I want to mention something that the trip leaders aren’t likely to. Something that most field workers would like to say, if they weren’t worried about offending churches or losing partnerships or support:
Churches, you’ve got something to prove. And no pressure, but this might be your last chance.
See, missionaries on the field are skeptical of your supposed interest in the work. And not without reason.
Nevermind the Great Commission. It takes a celebrity to get you to come to the field. You’ve been ignoring the Holy Spirit’s guidance for years, but when Ed Stetzer or Michael Frost come calling, you’re all in. And what happens when the next trip is to Tokyo? You forget all about Prague, Budapest, and the missionaries you met there.
Which brings me to another point: Rome? Marseille? Barcelona? London? Paris? It’s not hard to find pastors who would be willing to sit around in coffee shops in these European cities. Try Bangkok or Mumbai– those cities will get you out of your comfort zones. If the goal is to challenge the way you see church, God, and mission, these are the cities you need to visit.
Let’s be honest, there have been some complaints about the attitudes of past Jet Set Trips toward the missionaries who hosted you. Kind of a know-it-all condescension. No doubt this comes from your “success” in planting and leading churches in the United States. But surely you recognize that “what works” back home doesn’t necessarily “work” in other contexts. Even if your methods did actually work here, the truth is that we really don’t want to import a spectator, resource-intensive, attractional American megachurch model. Setting up franchises is not our goal.
Missionaries around the world are watching these vision trips, looking on with curiosity and cynicism. They hear you say that you want to be actively involved in all aspects of the mission, from selection to training to strategy. But no matter what you say, those missionaries don’t believe you. The truth is that they haven’t actually seen churches doing those things (at least not very well, anyway). So forgive them if they’re a little jaded, but they’ve heard all this before. Now, they’re just looking for reasons to write you off.
So you see, dear pastor and church leader, you’ve got something to prove. You say you’re serious about God’s global mission, but we want to see it. We want to see you lead your churches to think and act like missionaries, so that when you do come to the field, you come as peers– partners on mission– rather than as consumers, shopping for the next big thing.
Everyone’s heard all about your “missional” approaches to ministry. About how you’re concerned with incarnation and contextualization. But it’s time to put up or shut up. If you’re truly serious about your role as sending and being sent, let’s see it. We want to hear you asking the difficult questions. Let’s have some informed discussion about world events. Let’s consider together how we might engage people in redemptive relationships and proclaim the gospel to all.
You want to be on mission? Prove it.
“Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.” –Acts 16:6-8
Here we read about the kind of connection we need in order to walk in obedience. Unfortunately, we’ve come to expect only missionaries, and not regular Christ-followers, to be so in tune with the Spirit. Most Christians in the west would not fit into the story:
“Rob and Kristine left Phoenix for the Portland area because of Rob’s job transfer. Wanting to feel safe and comfortable, they were drawn to the suburbs. Because Gresham schools were notoriously bad, they moved to Beaverton, and a neighborhood where they got a great deal on a great house.”
For some reason, Christians often use the world’s criteria to make decisions about where to live. The familiar list (cost, square footage, neighborhood, good schools, low crime, return on investment, etc.) is heavily informed by the American Dream and sometimes in conflict with Kingdom values. When we adopt the world’s values, following Jesus is entirely accidental.
That’s not to say that God doesn’t direct His people to move into safe, quiet neighborhoods; He does. I’m also not trying to over-spiritualize the decision-making process. Paul seemed determined to go “where the gospel had not been proclaimed,” and it took supernatural intervention to change his plans.
When believers are faced with a decision about where to live, we need to add a few things to the list of values that go into our decision making process. Three come to mind:
Be a Blessing– Since the first covenant, God’s people are blessed in order that they may be a blessing to others. As we decide where to plant our lives, we need to ask, “Where can I be a blessing?” The truth is, we’re all exiles. Our citizenship is not of this world. Jeremiah 29:7 tells exiles to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” where we live.
Community– The world’s values push us toward isolation. It takes some intentionality to insure contact with neighbors, but our commission is to make disciples, and discipleship is a relationship. Where we live can either help or hinder our efforts to get to know people and build community.
Incarnation– Christ is our model of incarnation. Our role- our very purpose on this earth, is to be meatspace representatives of Jesus. It’s not about showing non-believers how it looks for us to follow Christ; our role as sent-out ones is to model what it would be like for our neighbors if they were to have a relationship with Him. This almost always requires us to give up some of our preferences in order to minimize the differences between us and people in our communities.
If we add these Kingdom values to our decision-making process, they may replace some of the other things on the list. We may end up in a small apartment rather than a big house. We may not get the biggest “bang for our buck.” We may have to tutor our kids to supplement their educations. We may have to learn a new language, develop new habits, or enter a new culture, but isn’t that what missionaries do?
Let’s be mindful of what goes into our decisions about where we live.
Sharing a hookah. Smoking a peace pipe. Drinking to a toast. Dressing in ceremonial robes.
Missionaries constantly face the edges of contextualization. Incarnation requires that she constantly ask herself: “What should I do to minimize the difference between myself and those to whom I want to minister?” Every cultural difference hinders the communication of the message, and serves to emphasize the “foreign-ness” of the faith.
Of course, contextualization means looking for ways to say and to show, “I’m like you, but different.” I’m like you— in that I’m human, sinful, and in need of a savior, but I’m different— in that I’m in Christ and therefore have purpose, hope, peace, and salvation.
Some cultural adaptations may not be the most comfortable, but are expected for the missionary. These are rarely controversial. Most missionaries eat local food (in public, anyway), learn local language, follow social norms. In Europe, they greet with a kiss (or two, or three). Western believers living in the Middle East often wear a burqa or head covering. In Asia, they avoid open conflict, show respect, and eat with chopsticks. These things say, “I want to join your culture.”
Other customs are avoided by most missionaries because participating in them would only validate the lies, idolatry, and sin within the culture. Missionaries do not participate in ancestor worship, sexual rituals, or pagan ceremonies. (Neither should they ride those little scooters through the dangerous streets of Bangkok, but that has more to do with sanity than contextualization.) Doing these things would undermine the vital differences between life in Christ and life apart from Him. Conspicuously abstaining shows what redemption within culture would look like.
Which brings us back to the edge.
The Bible isn’t silent about these “edge” issues. In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul teaches the church about the contextualization problem of eating food that has been sacrificed to idols. Though idols have no real power, he says, we should not eat food that has been offered to idols if it would cause someone else to think that by eating the food we were somehow honoring those idols.
The principle is the same for other “edge” practices that we may not have any particular conviction about. Though you have every “right” to kiss your wife in public, don’t do it if that’s considered sinful in your context.We can see pretty clearly that contextualization of the gospel is likely to require us to deny ourselves of some things that we otherwise would be free to do.
But contextualization works both ways. It sometimes (often?) requires us to do some things that we may not otherwise do. Some of those things, like eating rotten cabbage or growing a beard are simply matters of taste. Others, however, aren’t so cut-and-dried. Should a follower of Jesus prostrate himself alongside Tibetans? Bow toward the East during the call to prayer ? Pay a bribe? Does it matter how these things are interpreted by local society?
And this is where things get sticky: when someone presumes to know the cultural meanings and spiritual implications of particular actions in a context they know nothing about. The truth is, finding the edges of contextualization is a difficult, energy-intensive endeavor. It can be fun, scary, and dangerous. Some people do, in fact, fall over the edge of contextualization, and this is very unfortunate. But being a missionary is a dangerous thing. Jesus likened it to being lambs sent to the slaughterhouse.
I’ve been watching an interesting, if asymmetric, discussion on Ed Stetzer’s blog about MissionShift, the book he co-edited with David Hesselgrave.
Participants were given copies of the book and asked to post their thoughts on their own blogs and discuss them in the comments section of Ed’s post. We started by reading the first section of the book, written by Chuck Van Engen, and the accompanying response essays written by various missiologists and theologians.
The book itself is a thoughtful discussion of mission past, present, and future. It begins with an exploration of the definition(s) of mission. Though it seems like a simple thing to do, defining the mission has proven very difficult for evangelicals to do; interpretations of “therefore go” have ranged from social justice work with no gospel proclamation to open-air evangelism with no contextualization to baptized syncretism with no transformation.
Some reject the idea of missions. Others carry on under a new title (Van Engen refers to a church that replaced its “missions” program with “global outreach”). Others still hold tightly to the word, but apply it to everything from feeding the homeless to cleaning up the local schools.
What’s a missionary to do?
Part of the problem in defining the mission is that we’ve elevated it to something that is, for most of the church, (and, ironically, for most missionaries,) out of reach. As an academic discipline, missiology sits somewhere between theology, sociology, anthropology, and communications theory. The words we use to talk about our motivations and methods in mission can be pretty intimidating. The result is a church that has a fuzzy picture of what missions is or else doesn’t talk about it at all.
For some time now, more culturally-aware churches in the U.S. have been talking about being “missional.” This conversation has, for the most part, happened without any meaningful input from practicing missionaries on the field. The missional church has therefore been left to learn the hard way, missiological missteps and all.
It’s time for a more accessible missiology. It’s time to stop using lofty words that prove we know more than everyone else and start wrestling with what God is currently doing around the world and how that fits into our understanding of the scriptural mandate to “go unto all nations.”
I’m thankful for Ed Stetzer (don’t tell him- it’ll go to his head) and what he’s doing to further the conversation by bridging the gap between academic and armchair missiologists. I’m proud of all the missionaries who are mindful to share lessons from the field with the people in the pews.
You don’t have to be a scholar to talk about God’s global purposes or how you fit into it all.
Most missionaries see themselves as having been sent to a particular people group or population segment. This makes sense, as each subculture requires a unique methodology to church and gospel translation.
Most missionaries establish themselves as advocates for their people. They promote their work by highlighting the needs, both spiritual and physical, of the group. They present statistics demonstrating their “unreachedness” and relative separation from Christ.
I’ve written before about the need to love your city. But I would love to see missions advocacy take a more positive turn. Why not set up a website promoting what your people group has to offer the world? Rather than focusing on their great need (let’s face it, the vast need is overwhelming), emphasizing the potential contribution of your group?
Perhaps your long-lost tribe in the Amazon could teach hunters in Arkansas a thing or two about bow hunting. Or maybe the women in your village in Sudan would give a mean seminar on basket weaving. The Yi of southwestern China are expert nomadic cattle herders, and could advise on land-sharing initiatives. From art to cooking to justice to living in balance with the environment, every people has something to offer humanity. Why not advocate for your people group by promoting their assets rather than lamenting their lostness?
To be clear: I’m not talking about exploitation; you should not be making money off of your people group. I’m not talking about starting business ventures, either. Some groups may be interested in this sort of thing, but many entrepreneurial Westerners have sold out their people in the name of community development.
Instead, I’m talking about establishing a platform from which those who do not know your people group might be able to relate to it. If you were to promote your work among the gemu otaku in Tokyo as having a tremendous ability to build and interact in virtual worlds, you’re building bridges for interested churches to connect with them. The Adyghe in the Northwest Caucasus all carry swords yet live peaceably with one another. Churches could ask them to speak into the U.S. gun control debate.
Leading with the need may raise awareness and pull at the heart strings, but advertising a people’s skills provides a starting point for dialog. It would truly serve the church on mission if advocates would help them see people groups not at projects, but as people.
Now that it’s 2011, many missionaries have embraced the 2000s and started blogs. Fortunately, there are hundreds of opportunities to stay in touch with what’s happening on the field. I try to monitor lots of these blogs in order to know what God is doing around the world (and so that I can make fun of missionaries).
As I scan the missionary blogosphere, it seems like they tend to take one of four distinct approaches to blogging. I summarize each of them here for your information and entertainment:
1.) Newsletter blogs. In the missionary snail mail era (pre-2004), missionaries took great pains to fire up Microsoft Word and put together a collection of thoughts, updates, Bible verses, clip-art and low-resolution photos. They would then print these out, fold them into thirds, and mail them to everyone in their address book (which, back then, was an actual book). The newsletter served as a sort of “don’t forget about us” message that hardly anyone read, but nobody had the heart to opt out of receiving them.
So when email came into regular use, workers everywhere started sending electronic versions of their newsletters (sometimes literally printed out and scanned back in to the computer). And when Geocities started offering free web hosting, missionaries around the world jumped at the opportunity to save some postage by transitioning their newsletters into map-themed websites with large hit counters and animated GIFs.
You can still find these sites, but now most of them use Blogger. The idea is the same– snapshots of the missionaries and their eight children, eating strange food, singing during a worship service, celebrating a birthday. The stories included are carefully selected to show that the need is great, they’re making progress, but the work isn’t done yet. They almost always conclude with a list or prayer requests and a reminder of where to send a check.
Look for blog names like: “Come 2 (Country Name),” or “ (Country Name) for Christ,” or anything with words from the local language.
2.) Every post is a theological treatise. These missionary blogs are easily identified: no images (with the exception of the occasional stock photo to illustrate a point) and lots of theology in a sea of text. Maybe it’s because they used to be preachers and still need to put together a sermon each week; maybe they’re working through a personal study of the book of Ecclesiastes and just thought the world would be interested. Whatever their motivation, treatise bloggers use their blogs like long-winded preachers use their pulpits– to bore their audience with content that we’d feel guilty to disregard publicly.
It should be noted that Missions, Misunderstood has always fallen into this category. Nine-part series. Lots of scrolling to get to the end of a post. Preaching to the choir. At times, even I was bored with my posts.
Look for URLs that include Ancient Greek, the name of an obscure Biblical place, or a veiled scriptural reference.
3.) Diary blogs. Sadza and cabbage for dinner. What the kids got for Christmas. The contents of a recent care package.Diary bloggers spare no detail to give you a front seat in the action of their daily lives. They want you to feel the frustration of a trip to the post office and to know the humiliation of language mistakes. These blogs walk the fine line between and LOL and TMI.
Look for blog URLs that include the word life– as in “Life In Ecuador,” or “The So-And-Sos In Someplace“.
4.) Devotion blogs. Somewhere between the Treatise blogs and the Diary blogs are the Devotion blogs, where every interaction is an object lesson and every life experience has deep spiritual meaning. Posts start out as an entertaining account of some daily-life experience, but then quickly take a turn for the spiritual, where the author reflects on what happened and how God must be using it to teach him something. Finally, Devotion blog posts end with a prayer, scripture, or both.
Look for blog titles that include the words: ramblings, musings, rantings, thoughts, or something to do with coffee.
To find all types of missionary blogs, visit the appropriately-named missionary-blogs.com, where you’ll find lists of missionary blogs according to country of service. Also, be sure to follow the link-trails from one missionary blog to another. Missionaries’ blogs are part of an ongoing conversation among workers around the world. The more missionary blogs you follow, the more you’ll be able to see the big picture.
…or is it Pepsi?
Surly you’ve heard this rumor repeated as evidence the the widespread and subversive influence on American culture. It was repeated to me recently during a conversation about missionary businessmen. Several church leaders were talking with a young man who is starting an internet research company so that he and his family could live wherever God sent them without having to raise support or look for a job. A noble concept, for a businessman. As soon as he’s up and running, I’ll post a link to this entrepreneur’s website.
The church leaders were intrigued. The idea of developing a business that would make money while fulfilling the Great Commission seemed like the silver bullet to “getting the job done.”
That got me thinking. If the rumor that Mormons own Coke was actually true, how awesome would that be for, you know, the Mormons? A single share of the Coca-Cola Company is worth over a billion U.S. dollars. That would buy enough white shirts, black ties, name tags, and bicycles to put pubescent Latter-Day Saints elders in every city in the world (with enough left over to keep their families in trampolines and special underwear).
The biggest problem in missions today isn’t a lack of willing workers. In this economy, any eight-year seminarian would jump at the chance of a full-ride to missionary superstardom. Nevermind what the Bible says, the problem isn’t people, it’s money.
Missions would be a lot easier of the churches didn’t hold the purse strings. Churches who get no say in what happens on the field, or even who is sent, but are expected to bankroll every initiative missionaries want to push– clearly, they are the problem. If churches are too stingy to fund strategic requests (church planting among some people groups require a Range Rover), I say we go Silicon Valley on them.
Why not start a business (or network of businesses) that would support the work around the world? Something that would fund missionaries while allowing them the flexibility to travel, plant churches, and disciple nationals. A legitimate business that would secure access into closed places and help develop community in positive ways without requiring them to do any actual work. Something like Google, but without all of the programming; like Coke, but without the overhead. Like Amway, but respectable and not so predatory.
Insurance comes to mind.
Why don’t we own anything that might help fund our missionary ventures? Why don’t regular old missionaries get in on the business-as-mission game? Banking, for example, would be an obvious choice. Or stocks– shares of Google, Apple, or even The Clapper, would buy a lot of plane tickets and ship a lot of peanut butter (everyone knows that Skippy is the key to retention of field personnel).
The answer is simple: most missionaries on the field today (and nearly all of the students coming out of the seminaries) are not business people. Many are talking about business as mission. It’s a great way to show businesspeople that what they do can have kingdom value. Whether it’s coffee shops, agricultural irrigation specialists, or pharmaceutical consultants, we need more businesspeople on mission. Folks who run and own companies naturally think strategically. They tend to be very good at networking (business often depends on it), and, except for the occasional used-car salesman or investment banker, they understand the need for a good work ethic.
Missionaries, not so much.
“Start a business” is not the answer to decreased giving, a right relationship to the sending church is.