Steve Rundle of Biola recently published an article in the International Bulletin of Missiological Research on the effectiveness of donor supported versus business supported cross-cultural workers. I want to give you a few of my thoughts on this study but before I do I must unequivocally state that I LOVE BUSINESS AS MISSION (BAM).
However… Rundle’s article makes a few presumptions that I believe are downright harmful to the discussion. Since the article is behind IMBR’s paywall, let me quote this section and then respond:
|missionary-sending organizations < ———–> “regular” business|
|Practitioners are donor supported.||Self-supported.|
|Spiritual fruit is the only thing that matters.||Holistic view of ministry.|
|Business can distract from “ministry.”||Business itself can glorify God.|
|Business is a means to an end.||Business success is essential for any meaningful impact.|
The problem with this table is that it is a biased view of what missionary-sending organizations think about BAM. This representation about BAM starts off in the wrong place by creating an unnecessary dichotomy. I know hundreds of missionaries and I don’t believe any would say “Spiritual fruit is the only thing that matters.” Words like “holistic” can be code for “we don’t have other standards for what it means to be spiritually effective – for us, just being a good influence is enough.”
There must also be recognition that BAM can create problems in a culture if it’s not missiologically well thought out (see this article, BAM: The New Colonialism).
Rundle compares two groups of BAM practitioners: those practicing BAM who are donor supported versus those that are business supported only. His conclusion: “This study found that, compared with fully donor-supported BAM practitioners, those who are fully supported by their business report significantly better results in the economic and social arenas, and are no less effective in producing spiritual results.” Note that the study could easily be mistaken as a comparison between BAM practitioners and non-BAM practitioners. It is not that.
Missing from this analysis is a working definition of “spiritual results.” The questions suggested by the article suggest that this was limited to “making ones faith known.” From my perspective, the best missionaries are not out there “making ones faith known.” They are working with cultural insiders to assist them in making their faith known. This indirect influence has a far greater and more indigenous impact than direct evangelism by foreigners. This is just one example among others that cause me to question the premise behind the BAM-supported versus BAM-for-profit dichotomy. The study would be better if it defined “spiritual results” (to be fair, few agencies do this sort of analysis on their own work either!).
Until we leave behind the either/or dichotomy represented in Rundle’s paper we will not realize the full potential of BAM. The best definition of BAM is not one in which profits are a requirement: we should embrace the spectrum of BAM opportunities. The doors of BAM are opened widest when we see it as one more tool in the toolkit and not an end in itself. The same is true for full-time, donor supported missionary service: they are not the end, they are a means.
The best BAM work I have seen on the field happens when full-time, donor supported (non-BAM) missionaries work hand in hand with team members who are tentmakers and with BAM practitioners in for-profit enterprises. This model captures the best of all models and provides a way forward that the current BAM evangelists seem to ignore.