One of my favorite movie lines comes from the 1994 Robert Zemeckis classic “Forrest Gump.” After learning that he had come into enormous wealth after being heavily invested in Apple (what he referred to as “some fruit company”)—he casually remarks, “That’s good. One less thing.”
We can all appreciate Gump’s simple-minded, naïve conception of money. But in reality, money is more than an uncomplicated task to be checked-off a list. This is particularly true when it comes to funding and resourcing various ministry and mission related efforts. Many ministry projects, for example, never make it off the ground unless they are properly resourced up front.
We have been told since we were kids that “money doesn’t grow on trees”—so if funds are required to finance a trip, sponsor a family, create a program, bring clean drinking water, or fund a payroll, etc.—from where should we look?
Traditionally, many have looked to the church to funnel much needed financial support for mission-minded endeavors. However, economic fluctuations and other influential forces are beginning to change the funding landscape. As a result, many practicing Christians have decreased their charitable giving over the last several years, presenting resource challenges to various ministries.
New Opportunities; New Methods
The recent trend in charitable giving may seem discouraging. But other trends hold the promise of hopeA recent Barna Group study found that 44% of practicing Christians under 40 years of age believe that they had a responsibility to solve global poverty (this proportion is higher than practicing Christians over 40). Interestingly, this same study asked participants how they intend to “help next year.”—presenting choices such as donations, lowering carbon footprint, volunteerism, advocacy, or prayer.
Undoubtedly, these are important initiatives for enacting positive social change. Furthermore, noChristian is excluded from the Biblical mandate to love their neighbor by having a sensitive heart and a ready hand to assist those in need. Yet are these the only instruments in the Christian’s tool bag available to express the love of neighbor both locally and globally? Are there other avenues to serve?
It is here that the ubiquity of the marketplace provides a way for the hopes of greater Christian service to the poor to be realized.
Mission & Market
The idea that markets can be harnessed for missional purposes is hardly new. However, using business as a mission mechanism is perhaps more prevalent than ever before. Business ventures creatively address rising problems in funding and access to people groups while providing a viable means to tackle pressing concerns in social justice across the world.
Let’s look at a few applications.
First, there is the rise of bi-vocationalism. Ed Stetzer suggests that this approach needs to be seen as the preferred option for church planters. Stetzer, himself, was blowing insulation while he was planting his first church. Money aside, bi-vocationalism provides access to a network of people not readily available before. I once had a conversation with a church planter who was applying to Starbucks for employment. Side income was not his only motivation though: “As a church planter, I want to be at a place where I can meet and interact with people in the community on a daily basis.”
Other applications of business for ministry include business startups created as an explicit funding mechanism for ministry. I recently heard an entrepreneur from Ghana describe how his various businesses (his largest being a hotel) were used to fund over a dozen different church plants. Similarly, a friend recently launched a bistro whose profits will eventually be used to resource a non-profit center for drug addiction.
Finally, many businesses do not exist simply to fund a ministry, but to be the ministry. There are no shortage of firms (for profit; non-profit) whose raison d’etre is to shape culture, alleviate poverty, equip families, serve employees, educate the uneducated, or various other Kingdom-minded applications.
It is important to mention here another important element that the business mechanism brings to the ministry mindset: sustainability. Understanding business principles and the creation of value within the marketplace not only allows a business or a ministry to operate—this understanding helps to ensure that it thrives well into the future. Sustainability should be important to people of faith so as to ensure the long-term growth and success of the vehicle that is driving their ministry.
To conclude, business is indeed a vehicle to make money (since most of us cannot describe the access to money like Forrest Gump: “One less thing”). However, businesses—and the larger marketplace that they operate within—are avenues of service to others.
Our dynamic global marketplace has created an array of new challenges today. But new challenges bring new opportunities for ministry, many of which can be capitalized upon in the marketplace of commerce.