Business as Mission: A Survey of Recent Publications

In this article published in 2007 in the Mission Round Table, Ian Prescott offered a thematic review of recent literature connected with the interplay between business and mission and offers insights on the themes and emphases covered by different writers.


Ian C.H. Prescott is the Director of Evangelization at OMF International. He and Anne-Marie, his wife, served in the UK and Philippines before his current position.

 

 

Business as Mission: A Survey of Recent Publications

A Thematic Review

Mission Round Table Vol. 3 No. 1 (April 2007): 26–27

“Business as Mission” (or Kingdom Business) is increasingly being heralded as “the new paradigm” for missions in the twenty-first century. As a result, OMF International (OMF) is being drawn into this debate. Creative access countries in East Asia are increasingly open to foreigners to come, not just as experts, but so that they can contribute to economic development by setting up businesses there. OMF does not want to miss these opportunities. In fact, there are already more than a dozen businesses connected with the organization. However, we urgently need to understand what we are getting involved in to make sure that we do it well.

A good place to start deeper reflection is with what has been written about “business as mission.” This short article does not aim to be a typical book review, but rather a quick survey of recent books that have been written on the subject of “business as mission.”

The first one, William Danker’s Profit for the Lord (1971) reminds us business is not a novel approach to mission but was practiced extensively by the Moravians in the eighteenth century through the Basel Mission Trading Company. There is still much we can learn from them.

Although this book was first published in 1971 and has passed through the hands of several publishers, it can still be found, and provides a valuable analysis of one historical model of “business as mission.”

Another earlier work on the subject is Suter and Gmürs’ Business Power for God’s Purpose: Partnership with the Unreached (1997). It is brief and patchy, but makes a good start at reflecting on key issues. However, it has never been easy to obtain and it is not clear whether it still in print.

The opportunities for business in China increase as it steadily transforms itself from a socialist country to a capitalist one (a recent report noted that it is now much less socialist than most of Western Europe!). A major marker in that pilgrimage was its accession to the World Trade Organization in December 2001. In response to that Kim-Kwong Chan and Tetsunao Yamamori put out a slim volume entitled Holistic Entrepreneurs in China: A Handbook on the World Trade Organization and New Opportunities for Christians (2002). This provides basic information on the topic.

The following year saw two more books on the subject: Yamamori joined Ken Eldred in editing On Kingdom Business: Transforming Business Through Entrepreneurial Strategies . This is a write-up of the presentations made at a consultation on Business as Mission held at Regent University in October 2002. They introduce a variety of perspectives and case-studies. Like many such compendiums, the result is valuable but uneven, though certainly worth dipping into. Meanwhile, Steve Rundle and Tom Steffen produced Great Commission Companies: The Emerging Role of Business in Missions. Of all the books that are in print, this is the closest to a “how-to manual” setting out how to go about business as mission. It merits careful study for anyone thinking of going in this direction, while recognizing that there are other perspectives on how “business as mission” can bedone.

Finally, in 2005 there were three significant publications under the rubric of “business as mission.” The firstof these, Patrick Lai’s Tent Making: Business as Missions has provided the missions movement with a comprehensive book to help prepare the would-be tent-maker for effective service. He examines the particular issues felt by those working as tent-makers as well as general issue of cross- cultural living as they apply to tent-makers. However, although the book is subtitled “Business as Missions” it is not especially focused on using business compared with other forms of tentmaking. If you get it for fresh thinking in this area, you will be disappointed. However, although the book is not a ground-breaking work, it is a very valuable and usable summary of thirty years of work as a tentmaker in the company of other tentmakers. As such, it is worthwhile reading for anyone preparing for service in a creative accesscountry.

If you want to feel the pulse of the new things that are being said about “business as mission”, the “must-read” book is the second book from 2005, Ken Eldred’s God is at Work: Transforming People and Nations Through Business. Eldred is an accomplished and experienced businessman. He was a co-founder of the computer supplies business Inmac, which he built up to annual revenues of US$400m before selling it to Microwarehouse. His thesis is that Kingdom business will be a primary tool that revolutionizes missions in the twenty-first century by providing an economically self-sustaining vehicle that will enable an increasing number of missionary Christians to be welcome in any country. The book provides a readable and reasonably comprehensive introduction to what “business as mission” means as seen through the eyes of an entrepreneurial businessman who is passionate about mission. That perspective is very different to that of the traditional missionary, but that is the very reason why we need to read it and reflect on how we should respond to the ideas hepresents.

Finally, the third book on the topic, published in 2005, Lausanne Occasional Paper No. 59: Business as Mission was published. This is one of the products of the Lausanne Consultation held in Pattaya, Thailand the previous October (2004). Written by a committee, it inevitably fails to be quite as readable as Eldred’s God is at Work. However, it is a valuable summary of evangelical thinking on the subject and an essential reference (a plus point—you can download it for free off theinternet!).​​​

BOOKS REVIEWED

William J. Danker,  Profit for the Lord: Economic Activities in Moravian Missions and the Basel Mission Trading Company (Pasadena, CA: William  Carey, 1971).

Chan Kim-Kwong & Tetsunao Yamamori, Holistic Entrepreneurs in China: A Handbook on the World Trade Organization and New Opportunities for Christians (Pasadena, CA: William Carey, 2002).

Ken Eldred, God is at Work: Transforming People and Nations Through Business (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2005).

Patrick Lai, Tentmaking: Business as Missions (Wynesboro, GA: Authentic, 2005).

Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, “Lausanne Occasional Paper No. 59: Business as Mission,” Produced by the Issue Group on this topic at the 2004 Forum for World Evangelization hosted by the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization in Pattaya, Thailand, 29 September to 5 October 2004, https://lausanne.org/content/lop/business-mission-lop-59.

Steve Rundle & Tom Steffen,  Great Commission Companies: The Emerging Role of Business in Missions (Downers Grove: IVP, 2003).

Heinz Suter & Marco Gmür, Business Power for  God’s  Purpose: Partnership with the Unreached (Greng-Murten: Switzerland: Verlag für kulturbexogenen Gemeindebau (VKG), 1997).

Tetsunao Yamamori & Kenneth A. Eldred, On Kingdom Business: Transforming Business Through Entrepreneurial Strategies (Wheaton: Crossway, 2003).

 

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