The idea of Business as a form of mission has been around since Paul formed a joint venture with Priscilla and Aquila to make Tents in Corinth. While Paul wrote several books, none of them was a “how to” on tentmaking or business as mission or kingdom business. About a millennium and half later the Mennonites used business as part of their mission, copying Paul and many of the ancient Silk Road Christians. But again, their “how to” books are lacking. Then finally in the late 20th century we started to get the kinds of handbooks that tell us what to do with techniques and explanations and models to follow.
Paul was trained as a tentmaker and when he found some fellow believers shared his trade he joined in their work. My guess is he made pretty good tents. He wrote later that he supported himself while he laboured among the Corinthians so as not to be a burden among them. We can only assume that his business worked, that he earned a decent income and that he spent a lot of his time helping the church and preaching the gospel.
What Paul didn’t do was move to Corinth and set up a business platform where he looked like he was making tents, but had arranged for Priscilla and Aquila to run the business and make it look like he was working there. He also didn’t ask the church back in Antioch to subsidize his losses so he could make the company look good. He executed his trade, engaged in commerce and was effective in reaching the community with the good news while he did it. I’ve never heard anyone suggest that Paul could have done so much more if only he hadn’t been burdened with that business. Paul used his trade and commercial skills as part of his life, which was always ministry.
So why do we have so much trouble with this simple concept? I think we’ve gotten used to dividing our world up into spheres and within the church we’ve gotten used to putting Ministry (in upper case letters) on a pedestal as something that holy people do. Rather than letting our ministry be part of our normal lives of commerce, trade and family we feel the need to have special ministry time and ministry focus.
To me these are wrongheaded ideas that have hurt the church and impoverished our lives. Rather than expecting pastors and teachers to “equip the saints for works of ministry” (check out Ephesians 4) we banded the saints together to subcontract the works of ministry to pastors who then burn out.
We are called to live quiet lives of service (read “ministry”) while we proclaim the good news of the kingdom through our words, letters, relationships, work and recreation. Our families declare the love of Christ to anyone who gets to know us closely. If they don’t then our families need help. If my work doesn’t reflect the glory of Jesus then I’ve missed something fundamental to my faith. We are to do all things to the glory of Christ. That includes writing business plans, bathing children and doing the dishes, going to a movie and preaching a sermon. It even includes writing a blog.
Robert Andrews – a long time BAM’er living in Turkey