BUSINESS AS MISSION VS. MISSION AS BUSINESS
A TEACHING LETTER FROM LOREN CUNNINGHAM
NOTE: Before looking at this topic, I believe it would also be helpful to remind ourselves of ‘Who is YWAM?‘
This teaching letter from Loren was developed and edited with input from YWAM leaders with Business as Mission experience.
God has called YWAM to be a missions movement—a not-for-profit and, in our case, voluntary organization—which is very different from a for-profit business. Our particular mission mandate places our YWAM staff primarily in the sphere of religion/church. The sphere of economics/business is also a force for discipling nations, but with a different kind of authority and mode of operation.
There are wonderful business people who have a heart for YWAM but don’t have a YWAM heart. By that, I mean that they have not been called to embrace the vision, beliefs and values of YWAM as the basis for how they operate and make decisions. They operate primarily in a different sphere. (Isaiah 49:1 “Before I was born, the Lord chose me and appointed me to be his servant.” Romans 11:29, “For God does not change his mind about whom he chooses and blesses.”)
When we consider how YWAM and business should relate to one another, we must have a clear understanding about how these two spheres and domains of authority differ and how they interact. The authority of economics/business is transactional with material consequences. The domain of missions/religion is more about transformation through mercy and grace, and leadership by influence, which appeals to our relational dimension. A simpler way to say it is that missionaries operate primarily within the realm of “giving and receiving” and business operates in the realm of “buying and selling.”
Business is transactional. A business produces a product or service that commands payment. If the payment results in good value, the buyer and seller are content. Ministry leadership is not transactional; it depends primarily on influence. There is rarely any place for transactional authority in ministry. When a mission leader is primarily transactional, they do not adequately represent God’s loving kindness. When a business leader is not fair, or is overly generous, their business will not thrive.
When a ministry leader engages in business with workers in the mission or members in the church congregation (for example, employing ministry team or church members in a for-profit business), the two different kinds of authority become mixed, often leading to confusion; that mix can also become oppressive.
When God gave us understanding of the seven spheres in 1975, He warned us to wait to try to influence the sphere of business or we would have great failures. I become sick at heart when I hear YWAM leaders discuss business, property development, etc., with serious plans to engage in what I call “Mission as Business” (MAB) without awareness of the darkness and grief we have known in YWAM and caused others to endure.
STORIES FROM OUR HISTORY
In one country YWAM leaders tried to do Mission as Business. During that time, more than 30 years ago, YWAM lost almost every property it had acquired (YWAM had eight properties in that country at the time). In the years that followed they engaged in another business venture that almost bankrupted what was left of YWAM and ended up in court. When the problems were finally settled by the High Court, the Christian judge said to our YWAM leaders, “Don’t ever try to do business again. YWAM is doing a great work and I don’t want it destroyed, but you know nothing about running businesses.” The judge saved YWAM great disgrace with his kind and respectful ruling in that nation.
In the early 2000s, during the years when Darlene and I returned to rebuild the Lausanne base, the leadership in Kona decided to make money by developing part of the property that the Lord had provided for the UofN training campus. A business consultant wanted to move us from the mission sphere into the business sphere so that we would not be dependent on others for finances. They began to build and sell condominiums for profit. The resulting legal and financial crisis served as a stark warning from God for us to stay within our missionary sphere and authority.
This happened during a season of development on the Kona coast when virtually every business person in Kona was making a profit. Property developers were making millions. The YWAM development enterprise lost millions and led to years of confusion and heartache. A non-Christian Hawaiian at a small business downtown said it best to one of our staff, “Don’t you know you’re not supposed to be doing business? You’re missionaries!” One member of a businessmen’s club in town said, “Why do you at YWAM, a non-profit, compete with us who pay taxes? It’s not fair.”
BUSINESS AS MISSION
However, we know there are circumstances where YWAM staff do engage in business for a particular missional purpose. Business as Mission makes the mission objectives primary, with the business model itself one of the ways to reach or assist people. YWAMers have, for decades, run many types of business as a means of developing evangelistic opportunities or for assisting the poor to make a living or escape exploitation.
We are called to go into the whole world and there are many parts of the world where the Gospel has not gone. (2.7 billion people have never heard the Gospel and most of these live in nations hostile to traditional missionaries). Where a business venture can enable YWAMers to engage in roles that the government and community recognize, then YWAMers may start businesses to create contact with unreached people or to provide an environment for outreach. For example, a YWAM-led company in Egypt provides connections with middle class Muslims. Another example, for many years, two different skateboard distribution companies enabled outreach opportunities within the skater subculture in both China and Australia.
There are many other examples where missionaries create businesses to provide income for the poor or marginalized. For example, a venture by a YWAM team in Nepal is helping villagers create income streams so they are not forced to sell their daughters into prostitution. Another in Thailand is helping former prostitutes make and sell handmade products.
YWAM can also serve, facilitate, train and disciple those called into any sphere, including business.
Business as Mission strategies should therefore clearly align with one or more of our core ministries: evangelism/frontier mission, mercy ministries and training. By keeping our BAM initiatives clearly focused on missional goals, they should enhance, not reduce, the fervor and sacrificial commitment of YWAM staff in their ministries.
We need a clear understanding of what we mean by Business as Mission and should ask and answer a few important questions:
– What anchors and guidelines do the Scriptures provide for Business as Mission?
– What does 2,000 years of Christian history and another 4,000 years of Bible history say to us about the subject?
– What does 60+ years of YWAM history say to us? What are the words of the Lord, our vision, beliefs, and values? And what has our experience taught us?
IDENTIFYING THE RISKS
God and society have warned us against the oppressive and negative outcomes of carelessly mixing spheres and confusing the domains of authority. As outlined above, business and mission leaders have different types of authority. Combining these authorities into one role can cause loss, hurt, confusion and unhealthy domination by leaders. James Mitchener’s book Hawaii magnified the mixing of domains to the world by exposing missionaries who originally engaged in business with good intentions but drifted away from their mission purposes, becoming rich and creating oppression instead.
Usually we must set up a for-profit company, separate from YWAM, to provide the legal/financial entity required to run a business. As the businessman in Kona noted, it is not fair for a non-profit entity to compete with for-profit companies because they have an unfair tax advantage. It is usually illegal for a non-profit to engage in profit-making enterprises unless they directly contribute to their mission goals and are under a defined financial threshold.
A business usually requires substantial effort and careful management to be successful, so it can be easy to neglect the mission objectives in the process of keeping the company afloat.
Thus, YWAMers involved in Business as Mission will need to put safeguards in place to avoid mission drift, abuses of authority, identity confusion and unfair competition. It is my conviction that if we are confused or naive about these subjects, we will miss what God wants to say to us regarding Business as Mission, which has the potential to be a strong influence in discipling nations.
OTHER KINDS OF BUSINESS ACTIVITY IN YWAM
We can better understand Business as Mission (BAM) if we also think about what it is NOT:
– BAM is not a missionary doing part-time YWAM and part-time work/profession – e.g., a dentist who takes a number of days per week or weeks per year to serve through YWAM as a dentist, although this is commendable!
– BAM is not doing business-type activities as a base or individual related to our call and allowed under our non-profit legal entities, e.g. book publishing and sales, selling T-shirts, charging fees for seminars and courses, cafés within YWAM bases. We already do this.
– Nor is it a YWAMer who takes months off from YWAM to set up an income stream. Some YWAMers already do this.
– BAM is not YWAMers or bases generating passive income e.g. owning and renting a house or apartments or buying and selling stocks. We already do this.
We can do the above appropriately and with care within the sphere of mission. And when I warn against “Mission as Business” I do not mean these activities.
DANGERS AND TEMPTATIONS OF “MISSION AS BUSINESS”
Here are some of the most common dangers or temptations related to YWAM and business:
YWAM has been entrusted in many locations with the stewardship of residential, dining and meeting facilities. It can be appropriate to rent facilities for meetings or weddings or sports activities if they are compatible with our faith. But we must guard against pressuring our staff and/or students into extensive service for these events. We must also be careful that we do not hinder our own use of these facilities in the quest for revenue.
A business started to generate income to support ministry is self-defeating if it becomes the major focus of our time and energy rather than our ministry. It is important to consider: What is your major heart interest? What do you spend the most time thinking about? What do you want to put your time and energy into?
Our value to Practice Dependence on God (Value 16) is extremely important. We depend on God for financial provision no matter what the source. We are in danger if income generation schemes prevent us from following God where He is leading us or from building vital relational networks for prayer and support. Volunteerism is core to our mission and hearing God’s voice should drive us. We cannot become money driven.
For some, the promise of substantial income, even if it is for the ministry, can become a major temptation. Money isn’t the problem, but rather the love of it. Remember that there are millions of businesses in the world owned and run by Christians. There are less than half a million full-time missionaries counting all Protestants and Catholics. They live a special life and calling, they are “not-for-profit.” Everyone knows they did not become missionaries to make money and that perception must not be altered. Money can be a tool for ministry but is not the goal or motivation. Each YWAMer should be accountable to others in matters of income generation and how profits from business activities are used.
When a missionary engages in profit-making business projects, it changes their identity in the eyes of others. Some YWAM leaders have been convinced that they have the ability and a calling to do a more substantial sized business, and they want to pursue that calling while remaining in YWAM. Other leaders have decided to leave YWAM and move out into the sphere of business. We should take care in the way this is done and communicate with clarity and transparency. Both these scenarios create uncertainty with regard to primary identity and role that has the potential to be confusing and damaging.
It is also important to note that most business investments carry a measure of risk and the directors of a non-profit, or charitable company, are not allowed to put the mission’s assets at risk in business ventures.
We have often seen how God gives us favor as missionaries. If that favor is exploited for profit, it damages trust.
It is not unusual for businesspeople to think that YWAM could be a “ready-made, global marketing network.” There have been several attempts to sell a product or service through the YWAM relational network. By the mercy of God, all have failed.
YWAM leaders have sometimes been approached to give YWAM contact information so a businessperson can market their service or product. In some cases, they have offered incentives to the leader. For example, a travel agent saw that YWAM could provide more income for his agency, so he offered the YWAM leader free flight upgrades in exchange for his recommendation of that agency. This non-transparent arrangement seriously undermined the reputation of the YWAM leader.
At times, donations have been made to the ministry as a means of adding pressure to accept a business proposition. YWAM leaders must avoid “being bought” by feeling pressured to agree to a donor’s requests.
The unwise mixing of spheres and domains can destroy the reputation of YWAM. Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, loving favor rather than silver and gold.” We must guard our good name!
There is no doubt that the business as mission movement is growing and making an important contribution to completing the Great Commission. We celebrate the many fruitful BAM initiatives and trust God for many more. We have seen that there are also several risks associated with this development, though we can overcome them by attending to the Scriptures, and lessons from history, and by listening to wise counsel.
May the number of missionaries “going into all the world” increase at an unprecedented rate and may the business as mission movement impact the lives of millions with the gospel!
Loren Cunningham and others, July 2022
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