We asked Doug Witzig, one of TEAM’s business-as-mission experts, to share his thoughts on current trends and challenges in the BAM movement. This column appears in the spring 2014 issue of Horizons magazine.
By Doug Witzig
“To do business in this country, you have to be like a wolf! But you are a missionary, a pastor, so you act like a sheep!” My friend and business partner was right to warn me before we launched a factory project using business-as-mission (BAM) strategies. I was a shepherd by training, concerned about the souls of the people I meet and wanting their families to have a better life. Would I be able to play hardball at the negotiating table? Would I have the courage to stare down bribery and corruption? Would I have the tough love required to discipline employees, even fire them?
These are basic questions that any Christian in the marketplace has to confront. But they also raise deeper questions about a “sacred versus secular” divide that my friend was perhaps slipping into, a divide that is pervasive and has a profound effect on how we view ministry. One of the most important needs for the future of the BAM movement is eliminating — or at least shrinking — this divide.
Consider: Church and mission leaders may believe they are the only ones who have been called and equipped to do evangelism and start churches; businesspeople just need to donate their money. Similarly, I wonder if Christian businesspeople sometimes believe that they are the only ones who have been called and trained to work in the marketplace; clergy and missionaries just need to pray for them and prepare lunch-time devotionals.
But these exclusive attitudes are neither accurate nor helpful. For example, while not many missionaries have experience leading for-profit companies, they are often involved in what I call business activities. Hospitals, educational institutions, camps and guesthouses all require basic skills in business functions like accounting, budgeting, human resource management, marketing, government relations, staff development and leading meetings. Living and serving in a cross-cultural context, it is often the long-term worker who identifies a viable for-profit business opportunity. With their knowledge of the language and the culture, and many personal connections, the missionary can be a valuable member of a BAM team.
Working in a team is the best approach. Why should we expect one person to possess all of the business skills and the spiritual gifts to make a BAM venture successful and fruitful? The management team of a BAM initiative can have a healthy mix of people from different backgrounds, with different training and skill sets. Consider the BAM church-planting team that launched a movement in Corinth in Acts 18. There is Paul, Aquila and Priscilla, and Silas and Timothy. Aquila and Priscilla made tents and showed hospitality by opening up their home. Paul made tents and preached the word. Silas and Timothy provided support and service. Everybody was needed.
What the BAM movement needs today is more people who are willing to mix and match their business and ministry skills with others who have a like-minded passion to impact under-reached areas of the world. We often speak of BAM ventures as having a triple bottom line: being profitable, spiritually transformative, and sustainable. Maybe the best way to accomplish these multiple bottom lines is to make sure multiple members, each with multiple gifts and abilities, are a part of BAM management teams.
Doug and his wife Jennifer served as TEAM missionaries in Hong Kong and the surrounding region for 16 years. With experience in business as mission, Doug now helps TEAM launch new and innovative projects worldwide, opening doors to the least reached.