Missional business (or Business As Mission) has been developing as a concept for mission for centuries, but has seen a reinvigoration in the last twenty years. One of the key questions facing those involved in deciding on missional business is: what type of enterprise is best?
Maybe you’ve started thinking and praying about how you could use the skills and experience God has given you in business or the trades. Maybe you have been convicted that God can use you to cross cultures to where the church isn’t yet present, in the UK or overseas? Perhaps you’re a church planting organisation or mission agency, thinking strategically about how you might cross barriers into a community, building relationships to enable a church to be planted.
So does it matter what type of enterprise is chosen?
The simple answer is yes but, as always, set in a framework of a biblical and gospel-centred view of missions. Thus the type of business is less important than determining the Lord’s path for you and following it: learning to love the people you’re seeking to reach and serve, and seeing them with His eyes. The goal is not a FTSE 250 company, but a wise sustainable business which serves people and communities, allows Christ to be shared and gives opportunity for discipleship.
The answer to this question therefore fits into the “shrewd and wise” categories of biblical living and missions, rather than absolute principles which must be followed. If you are not shrewd, you may have love, but could fall flat with an unsustainable enterprise.
Everything doesn’t have to happen immediately. But the following elements should be viable in the type of business and model chosen.
- serve the community in love (through job creation, added value products/services, addressing injustice etc);
- model Kingdom living and Christ-like behaviours, acting with integrity;
- bring sustainable presence, allowing long term relationships to be built, which means a viable medium-long term business or enterprise must be planned out;
- enable Christ to be shared, and people to be biblically discipled – possibly as part of a team approach.
So with these thoughts in mind, here’s some business types for contexts and communities where the church isn’t:
- Small service businesses allow relationships to develop over time. Relatively common options include coffee shops, hairdressers, bakeries, gyms, and so on. Positively, these give excellent opportunity to build relationships. On the downside, sustainable value may be difficult, and they tend to be “lifestyle” businesses, meaning the founders are heavily engaged in the business’ success and continuity. Time for discipleship may be hard to carve out.
- Consultancy or training brings relationships with a wide mix of people, often at all levels in society. Sustainable value will depend on the value of the offering. The downside of consultancy or training is the transitory nature of relationships, as projects or clients change.
- The training of tradespeople (similar to National Vocational Qualifications) brings opportunity for a different set of skilled business people to be missionaries – plumbers, carpenters, welders, agriculturalists, and so on. Allied to a micro-equity model, this can serve communities by training workers and giving them the means to start micro-businesses. It may need a small team of people to be successful. The advantage of this model can be the period of time over which relationships can be built and people discipled, as the training (or apprenticeships) develop over the course of 2-12 months or more.
- Manufacturers (or product providers) can bring clear value to the community, and create significant jobs. Long-term relationships can be built with workers, suppliers and the community. If owned by a missional business-person, the business can showcase Christ-like behaviours and values. They are valued eg by authorities, as they bring GDP to a town or region, and potentially import/export advantages. However, factories or workshops can be more difficult to start, and may require significant capital investment. They are less flexible or adaptable, meaning if you don’t get it right the first time, there could be high risk.
- Hospitality businesses. Excellent for creating a range of jobs, allowing day-to-day relationships to be built up with the community you’re serving. The enterprises can range from tour guides to hotels, resorts to B&Bs. On the downside, running a medium-large scale hospitality business is a lot of work, and not for the faint-of-heart. Capital investment may again be required at start-up, which evidently brings risk.
Of course, there’s no single right answer. It’s dependent on opportunity, context, skills, market, and above all, our Father’s leading.
As much as the business type matters, it’s worth saying again in conclusion that a love for the people you’re aiming to reach remains key. Pray for it. Focus on it. And ask the Lord of the Harvest to send more workers, possibly starting with you.
Post first published on www.missionthroughbusiness.org on 8 January 2018.