Should Christians in business have a Jesus centered mission as they do business? Or should they just try to do good ethical business but play down Jesus in their business relationships and activities?
Some like the term Business as Mission, others dislike it – even with a passion. It doesn’t matter to me. It is just a term in English. But the concept is important: we believe that business should aim at more than just the three bottom-lines, often cited in Corporate Social Responsibility: Economic, Social and Environmental. Business as Mission, BAM, includes these but goes beyond, based on a Kingdom of God theology. That includes Jesus and the Great Commission. The Kingdom of God is our mission.
Some use the term Business for Transformation, and that also reflects our belief and mission: businesses can and should be instruments for holistic transformation of people and societies. Business on a transformational mission!
Transformation – good and lasting change – takes time. So can we learn something from missionaries and Christian cross-cultural workers of the past? Is there a difference in long-term impact between different kind of missionaries?
The results of a 14 years long research project* have surprised many, but the evidence is clear and overwhelming: there is a correlation between Jesus centered conversionary missionaries and democratic development, better health, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment and a stronger civil society.
The sociologist Robert Woodberry and about 50 research assistants spent many years gathering and analyzing material from several continents. They assumed that missionaries might have contributed towards a positive long-term impact. But they were wrong: the missionaries were not just part of the process, they were central to it; they were the most crucial factors for the positive developments. To date, over a dozen other studies and reports have confirmed Woodberry’s facts and conclusions.
But wait – there is more to this story: it wasn’t just any kind of missionary or Christian aid worker. The above mentioned positive effects of missionary work only applied to “conversionary missionaries”. These Jesus focused missionaries were not linked to colonial authorities. They unashamedly believed that people should hear about Jesus. They tried to meet physical and social needs and they engaged in justice issues and fought oppression. Missionaries who had been hired by the state apparatus or linked to power structures have not had this long-term impact.
That said, not all missionaries or mission initiatives have been good or are exemplary. But the good and long-term influence on the macro level cannot be denied. The evidences of causal correlation between conversionary missionaries and holistic transformational impact are powerful and numerous.
Woodberry’s study also shows that these missionaries in general did not set out to reform societies. But driven by love for Jesus and people, their work had a far greater impact than they often dreamed of. There is of course a need for more research, and this report does not mean that we should uncritically celebrate all missionary activity.
But these findings should cause us to review and further discuss our mission, whether we call it Business as Mission, Business for Transformation or nothing in particular.
There is not one-size-fits-all approach or just one way of being a follower of Jesus in the marketplace. We need to be tactful and also mindful of culture and security related issues. But at the same time we should learn from those who have gone before us: Jesus centered missionaries were instrumental in bringing about holistic transformation.
We mustn’t be or do business without a mission.
* The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries: They didn’t set out to change history. But one modern scholar’s research shows they did just that
Tags: aid workers, BAM Congress, BAM think tank, Business as Mission, Business for Transformation, conversionary missionaries, Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR+, holistic transformation, long-term impact of missions, Robert Woodberry, transformation