The business as mission movement (BAM) seems to be growing both in popularity and controversy. Responses to the movement are often varied, from “Fantastic, my perspective has completely changed!” to “BAM seems irrelevant” and even “BAM is theologically off-base.”
Of course, conflict and controversy are a natural part of mission, with historical and biblical precedents. Take the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, for example, when Paul and Barnabas confronted other believers about the implications of the New Covenant. At the same, continued conflict can also be dangerous, and a divided mission community does not display the unity of the Gospel. As Jesus said, “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand” (Mark 3:25).
So why the polar reactions to BAM? It’s because BAM threatens the sacred-secular divide.
“He always felt like a third-class Christian, at the bottom of the Christian hierarchy right next to used-car salesmen.”
The sacred-secular divide is an unstated but deeply held assumption in the evangelical Christian world that ranks vocations based on spiritual impact. The most committed Christians choose vocations toward the top of the scale, even though they earn less. Christians in secular vocations earn more, but they can pray and pay and participate (i.e. short term mission trips) in more sacred vocations. That way, they are able to add more spiritual impact to their secular lives.
Quite frankly, missionaries have benefitted from the sacred-secular divide. In fact, in my own experience (I am a missionary) the sacred-secular divide has been a fantastic fundraising and recruiting tool. People give to my family because we’re doing spiritual work. Only one problem: this sacred-secular thinking is both unbiblical and harmful.
A Personal Shift
While leading a short-term team of business professionals, we read a book about conducting godly businesses. During the third day of our time together, one of the men broke down in tears. For 35 years, this man had been an insurance salesman, and although he knew this work was God’s call on his life. He always felt like a third-class Christian, at the bottom of the Christian hierarchy right next to used-car salesmen. Reading through this book, he began to finally see how his professional life and career actually held great value.
I listened intently. In my mind, this team had come to help with our BAM projects within our mission field. I was offering a way to give their time and money and participate in our spiritual missionary work. But I had not considered that God’s intent might be to work in each of them so they might return to their careers, empowered to worship God through their daily work. Could an insurance salesman be obeying God’s call in his work?
The fact that I would ask that question showed me how divided I was about sacred versus secular vocations.
Then I broke. This man had been shunned for years, even though he was following God’s mission for his life. Even more, I realized that as a missionary-pastor, I played a part in this. I was part of the professional clergy, keeping my brother in Christ classified as a third-class Christian citizen in my sacred-secular hierarchy. I began to consider, “What if—for spirit-filled believers—the secular world doesn’t exist? What if being a missionary is a heart issue, not a vocational issue?”
God began to change my heart. And perhaps this is what God is doing with the BAM movement. He is changing hearts, not just those outside the church, but inside too. God is showing where we are divided and calling us to greater unity. A divided house cannot stand, and a divided Christian community lessens the spread of the Gospel that still needs to be shared with every tongue, tribe, and ethne in our world.
Daniel Collins serves in church leadership as a WorldVenture missionary in Cochabamba, Bolivia. As a Ph.D. candidate at Regent University, Daniel is presenting his paper, “Business as Mission: Points of Division and How to Move Forward in Unity” at the Evangelical Missiological Society’s annual meeting March 6 at WorldVenture. Daniel has helped implement BAM projects, including a carpentry shop in Bolivia.
WorldVenture is involved with BAM projects in 15 countries through Transformational Ventures, a movement seeking to empower business owners, from solar projects in Uganda to typhoon rehabilitation in the Philippines.
(Photo credit: j0sh/Flickr)