The notion of marketplace ministry is not new and has in fact been around as long as the Church itself, mirroring its historical progression. Marketplace ministry, particularly today, is a significant force in Christianity. For example, the missiologist Ralph D. Winter, in referring to this movement in general, wrote that “big and sudden changes in the world of missions don’t come often. But now one is upon us.” The evangelist and founder of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization Billy Graham said he believed “that one of the next great moves of God is going to be through the believers in the workplace.” And the popular pastor Henry Blackaby believes that “Christianity in the marketplace is salt and light in a dark world.”
Marketplace Ministry Historically
Believers in the early Church used their economic skills to travel and advance the Gospel among unreached people groups. Historians Heinz Suter and Marco Gmür, in fact, argue that combining commerce and evangelism has been an intentional strategy for spreading the Gospel throughout the history of the Church. They write:
History furnishes hard evidence that business, trade and solid Christian professionalism have been used of God in order to transmit the Gospel message along the regions of the silk routes, probably starting from as early as the day of Pentecost [and] continuing up until the fifteenth century.
In the New Testament, for example, Mark 6:3 reports that Jesus was a carpenter. Joseph, and possibly also Mary, worked in trades (Matt 13:55). Matthew 4:18 calls Andrew and Peter fishermen. Acts 18:3 indicates that the Apostle Paul was a tentmaker or leather worker; making tents helped support him financially while he served in ministry. Priscilla and Aquila also worked in business while helping promote the growth of the Church (Acts 18:2-4). Acts 9 tells that Dorcas made clothing, while Lydia, one of the first converts in Europe, was a trader in purple cloth (Acts 16:14).
By the fifth century, the Nestorian church, a splinter group within Christianity, had a passionate desire to proselytize the faith and did so by supporting themselves through business. As they moved across southern and central Asia, as far east as China, they shared the Gospel, converted and baptized believers, and established churches. Their missionary methods involved both clergy and laity who supported themselves financially through commerce. Samuel Hugh Moffett notes that as a result of the sprawling geographical reach along the Silk Road that extended over 4,000 miles and connected China to Europe, Nestorian missionaries were hired to accompany Islamic diplomatic missions to China. This is essentially what people in marketplace ministry try to do today: spread the Gospel while supporting themselves through business.
A different approach to marketplace ministry was that of the British East India Company almost a dozen centuries later; from its founding in 1600 to its closure in 1874, it utilized clergy in business. Initially, the clergy were present to spiritually shepherd the English traders and were not involved with the spiritual health of the peoples encountered on the company’s voyages. Their function onboard was twofold: serving as chaplains for the crew to ensure stability and profitability for the company, as well as acting as a “rabbit’s foot,” or good luck against catastrophes. The British East India Company assumed that God would bless their commercial endeavors just because they had clergy in their employ. While we would not describe the British East India Company’s methods as marketplace ministry, not all those who claim involvement in this movement today would agree. Therefore, we present this as just an example of the different ways people participate in marketplace ministry.
The sociologist Max Weber studied and wrote at the beginning of the twentieth century about the “Protestant work ethic” among Puritans. While economists and sociologists have discussed and debated his perceptions of society for the past hundred years, they have all but ignored the Puritans’ relationship to business and missions that Weber commented on.
The planting of churches and evangelistic outreach to the Native Americans was of central concern to the Puritans, and that work was as much a “spiritual expression as it was an economic function.” Steven Pointer and Michael Cooper assert that the relationship between business and missions for the Puritans in the seventeenth century Bay Colony was a “thoroughly intimate and integrated one at all levels.”
Historically, business and mission have not come together cohesively. More often than not, mission succumbed to commerce, especially when colonization was involved. Paul Hiebert’s research demonstrates that during the colonial era there existed a “3-C paradigm” among “Christianity, civilization, and commerce.” Colonizers would seek to exploit the colony’s natural resources and create new markets for their businesses. David Bosch notes that missionaries, with their confused “ethnocentric mentality,” sometimes served, whether knowingly or unknowingly, in the exploitative purposes of the colonizers. These aims made evangelism difficult because the locals saw the missionaries’ mixed motives. Marketplace ministry has historically been used to advance mission in terms of missionaries using business—sometimes well, other times not—as a means to spread the Gospel.
Marketplace Ministry Today
Marketplace ministry became popular again in the mid- to late-twentieth century and has been described by a multiplicity of names. Although there is no precise, universally accepted definition of the Christian Business Movement, it has been called kingdom business, Great Commission companies, missional entrepreneurs, marketplace mission movement, and business is a calling, among other names. As of the writing of this book, the most common term to describe marketplace ministry is Business as Mission.
The phrase “business as mission” has been in use since at least the 1980s, although there is little clear evidence of when and where it first came to use. The formal term “Business as Mission,” however, is a product of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelism in Thailand in 2004. The Lausanne Occasional paper that emerged from this Issue Group differentiated Business as Mission from workplace ministry, tentmaking, and business for missions.
By the early twenty-first century, most people, at least in academia, began to refer to this movement as Business as Mission, or BAM for short. Some advocates of BAM would assert it already has adequate definitions. For example, Mats Tunehag, one of members of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization that endorsed BAM, offers the definition that “Business as Mission is about real, viable, sustainable and profitable businesses; with a Kingdom of God purpose, perspective and impact; leading to transformation of people and societies spiritually, economically and socially—to the greater glory of God.” And the Lausanne Movement itself sees BAM as “business with a Kingdom of God purpose and perspective” whose real bottom line is ad maiorem Dei gloriam (Latin for the greater glory of God). According to Lausanne, BAM can involve traditional evangelism and missions activities, but is much more than just that.
A significant contribution to the literature on BAM is Great Commission Companies by Steve Rundle and Tom Steffen. These authors cite several reasons why some people in the Church are hesitant to adjust to the concept of using business professionals to help in the expansion of the Kingdom. First, many Christians, especially professional missionaries and those working within mission agencies, believe that a business distracts from time for ministry. Second, many people believe businesses either provide a service to a culture or make money, but cannot do both at the same time. Third, some Christians cite the difficulties produced by the combination of business and missions concerning an organization’s nonprofit status with the government. When properly done, though, BAM challenges traditional views that only a few select people are called to participate in what the Church has traditionally understood as spreading the Gospel or inaugurating the Kingdom, thereby validating the notion of the priesthood of all believers.
Rundle and Steffen believe BAM should operate with a clearly articulated view of holistic mission. They identify four principles as foundational to their concept of holistic mission. First, God created people in His image to do good works, and second, opportunities to share the Gospel message develop when God’s people do those good works. Third, holistic mission is seen when believers respond to more than people’s physical needs. Finally, holistic mission endeavors to introduce people to Christ and to see them discipled in Him.
In addition, Rundle and Steffen outline guidelines for those who wish to be involved in BAM as a mission strategy. First, BAM companies should be socially responsible and make every effort to minimize costs to the country where they are located. Second, BAM endeavors should choose the right industry for their location. Third, BAM companies should help upgrade the local economy by adding to the technology and infrastructure of that community. Fourth, these companies should take steps to promote entrepreneurship by being business incubators, seeking to spin off other like-minded people and industries. And fifth, BAM companies should be generous and on time with wages, deal fairly with vendors, and work with organizations to redistribute profits among their community as effectively as possible.
Rundle and Steffen write from their economics and intercultural studies background, while Paul Stevens has written on the theological structure of BAM. Stevens writes that Christians are to partner with God in all of His ventures. There should not be a “hierarchy of holiness” with professional missionaries and ministers at the top of some spiritual pyramid, teachers and health providers in the middle, and business people at the bottom. Believers partner with God the Redeemer by mending and transforming; they partner with God the Creator, who is still creating new things; and finally, they partner with God the Consummator by working to bring the human story to a wonderful end.
All this work is commanded by God, aligned with God’s purpose, and should done in an honorable and moral way because it matters to God. Stevens points out that Christians are called by God to develop creation’s capacity in the cultural mandate in Genesis 1 and argues that business, as a corollary of the cultural mandate, is a “legitimate part of undertaking the stewardship of creation to make a human imprint on the earth.” He makes the case that business should be perceived as “full-time ministry” for the believer and nothing less.
C. Neal Johnson, one of the leading voices of BAM today, defines BAM as “the intentional utilization of for-profit commercial ventures as instruments for global, including cross-cultural, mission,” and has subsequently added the word “holistic” to his definition to specify what he means by “mission.” And of all the definitions of BAM that we have seen, we like Neal’s the best.
Unfortunately, everybody seems to have their own definition of BAM, so no matter how fond we are of Neal’s definition or appreciate its robust theology and business savvy, it does not matter because there are so many other definitions and models in circulation (other than Tunehag and the Lausanne Committee, Rundle and Steffen, Stevens, and Johnson all agreeing that BAM is mission and a calling for any and all believers, not just a select few ordained clergy).
There is no objective way to measure companies engaged in marketplace ministry because there are no precise definitions or ways to manage this term, nor is it possible to know the intent or motives of anybody engaging in business. That being said, we offer as examples here of three representative senior managers and companies that conventional wisdom would say are engaged in marketplace ministry.
Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, is one of North America's largest privately owned businesses. Forbes magazine called David Green, the founder and CEO of the arts and crafts company, the “largest evangelical benefactor in the world.” Green said that everything in his $3 billion empire belongs to God and that “[y]ou can't have a belief system on Sunday and not live it the other six days.”
Tyson Foods, Inc., based in Springdale, Arkansas, is one of the largest meat and food production companies in the world with $39.71 billion in sales. Donnie Smith is not just the company’s CEO, but also a Sunday School teacher. Smith says the Bible is his favorite book and that his “faith influences how I think, what I do, what I say. There are a lot of great biblical principles that are fundamental to operating a good business. Being fair and telling the truth are biblical principles.”
Forever 21, Inc., based in Los Angles, California is one of the largest specialty retailers in North America. It began as a 900-square foot store in Highland Park, CA in 1984 and has grown to be rated #96 on Forbes’s list of top private companies, with $4.4 billion in revenue in 2017. The company's owners, Korean immigrants Do Won and Jin Sook Chang, are born-again Christians who credit their success to direction from God. The couple attends a 5:30 a.m. prayer meeting at their church, have contributed millions of dollars to missions around the world, and regularly go on missions trips themselves. In addition, in black letters on the bottom of every bright yellow Forever 21 shopping bag reads “John 3:16,” a reference to one of the best-known verses of the Bible: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (ESV).
Criticism of BAM
We do not like the acronym BAM (or the full spelling of business as mission, for that matter) for several reasons. First, it just does not sound right—however catchy or easy to remember, it seems a bit informal for a supposed movement from God.
Second, since BAM is not trademarked, copyrighted, or regulated in any way, many authors and practitioners disagree over a precise definition of BAM and code of conduct associated with it. This causes problems for growing the movement, as it is difficult to be part of a movement if no one knows precisely what it is. For example, although Forever 21 is engaged in marketplace ministry, it is often viewed by socially responsible investors as a company that pays sweatshop wages to its employees and copies the intellectual property of other designers. This begs the question of what pleases God more: Proclaiming His name and making as much money as possible by any means necessary or not proclaiming His name as blatantly and conducting business in a manner that it is more consistent with biblical principles.
But primarily, we think the concept of BAM is flawed because the way it appropriates the missio Dei. Consequently, we refer to what others might call BAM as marketplace ministry.
In a similar vein, some writers such as Richard C. Chewning take a narrower approach to BAM and see business as a form of missions work or as a missiological strategy. Some leaders in the field of marketplace ministry have abandoned the term BAM altogether. For example, a group of 30 international leaders in theology, missions, business, and NGOs issued the so-called “Wheaton Declaration,” deciding to refer to this practice instead as “Business as Integral Calling”  a view that encourages doing business in a manner that promotes the way God calls all Christians to do business, rather than developing a new way of doing business. Business, therefore, becomes a part of God’s mission on earth rather than humanity’s mission to God. Based on distinctions like this one, I think it is appropriate to say that BAM is fundamentally concerned with missio Dei, not missions.
For example, in the early 2000s, we had several friends involved in a BAM venture in China. They were selling a telecommunication product and had great plans to share the Gospel, impact society, and make a profit while staying under the radar of the Chinese government, which was notorious for stopping Western missionaries.
Around the same time, we accompanied a friend to China who was involved in manufacturing project. All of us were both committed Christians, but neither had any agenda on our trip but business. Our BAM friends tried to get their business up and running, never recouping their investment, impacting society, or converting anyone to Christianity. We, on the other hand, had a government chaperone and a driver. One day we were playing basketball with them and had tank tops on. The friend with us had a large cross tattooed on his bicep. They asked if that was our god. We explained it was a symbol and told them a quick story about who Jesus was and what He did on the cross. They asked how they could know Jesus. We prayed with them, they accepted Christ, and we baptized them in the bathtub that afternoon.
Our business deal went well. It generated well-paying jobs in both China and America. A lot of the profits went to Christian causes. And people came to know Christ. We accomplished more in two weeks than our other friends did in two years. We there doing what we did vocationally—business—and God used us organically, just like he did with businesspeople in the early Church and how Jesus said to do it in Matthew 28:19.
We wonder what the outcome would have been if we went to China for our own agenda?
Ralph D. Winter, “What is Kingdom Business?” in Mission Frontiers (November-December 2007).
Forum for World Evangelization and David Claydon, A New Vision, A New Heart, A Renewed Call (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2004).
Henry T. Blackaby, Richard Blackaby, and Claude V. King, Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2008).
Heinz Suter and Marco Gmür, Business Power for God's Purpose: Partnership with the Unreached (Greng, CH: Verlag für kulturbezogenen Gemeindebau, 1997), 21.
One of the biggest problems with this movement is its lack of clear definition or focus; often the differentiations among the myriad definitions are arbitrary. For example, are these individuals mentioned in the New Testament engaged in marketplace ministry or tentmaking (in the contemporary sense)? We would argue the former, since we do not read in the biblical text that they were using their work as a means to travel to foreign lands; rather, they used their work to support themselves. But either way, differentiating between these two camps becomes arbitrary at best.
Samuel Hugh Moffett, History of Christianity in Asia / 1500-1900 (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2007).
Sen-Fu, A History of Nestorian Christianity in China, translated by Herbert J Hatcher (Charleston, SC: BookSurge, 2007).
John Stewart, Nestorian Missionary Enterprise: The Story of a Church on Fire (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2007).
Moffett, History of Christianity in Asia, 139.
Brian Gardner, The East India Company: A History (New York, NY: McCall, 1972).
Louis B. Wright, Religion and Empire the Alliance Between Piety and Commerce in English Expansion (London, UK: Octagon Books, 1973).
Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (New York, NY: Scribner, 1958).
Steven Pointer and Michael Cooper, “Seventeenth Century Puritan Missions: Some Implications for Business as Mission” in Business as Mission: From Impoverished to Empowered, edited by Tom A. Steffen and Michael Barnett (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2006), 170.
Paul G. Hiebert, Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994), 176.
David Jacobus Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), 302.
Arthur F. Glasser, Charles E. Van Engen, and Dean S. Gilliland. 2003. Announcing the Kingdom: The Story of God’s Mission in the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.
The origin of the term “Kingdom Business” is disputed, but it was popularized by Ken Eldred in God Is at Work: Transforming People and Nations Through Business (Boise, ID: Elevate Faith, 2016).
Steve Rundle and Tom A. Steffen, Great Commission Companies: The Emerging Role of Business in Missions (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011).
Mark Russell, The Missional Entrepreneur (Birmingham, AL: New Hope Publishers, 2009).
C. Neal Johnson, Business as Mission: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009).
Michael Novak, Business as a Calling: Work and the Examined Life (New York, NY: Free Press, 1996).
Mats Tunehag, Wayne McGee, and Josie Plummer, eds., Business as Mission (Lausanne, CH: Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, 2004), 1.
While there is no universally accepted definition of workplace ministry, it connotes the idea of being a Christian in the world of work or vocation. For example, at one extreme, some interpret this as proselytizing their faith or starting Bible studies at work. On the other hand, others see this as quietly being a faithful employee working as unto God, being a good coworker, and living the holistic Christian faith out every day of the year, not just on Sunday morning, wherever they live.
Tentmaking, according to Lausanne, “takes up the Pauline and classical missionary (Moravian, William Carey) model of using one’s skills to gain access to mission fields (local or overseas) and maintain support as a means of ‘being all things to all people in order to save some’ (1 Corinthians 9:22).” Tunehag, McGee, and Plummer, Business as Mission, 9.
Business for missions, according to Lausanne, is “using business ventures to fund other kinds of ministry” as opposed to “Business as mission [which] is for-profit businesses that have a Kingdom focus.” Ibid.
Mats Tunehag, Business as Mission: An Introduction (Stockholm, SE: Mats Tunehag, 2006), 9.
Tunehag, McGee, and Plummer, Business as Mission, 37.
Steve Rundle and Tom A. Steffen, Great Commission Companies: The Emerging Role of Business in Missions (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011).
R. Paul. Stevens, Doing God's Business: Meaning and Motivation for the Marketplace (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2006).
Johnson, Business as Mission, 26.
Brian Solomon, “Meet David Green: Hobby Lobby's Biblical Billionaire” in Forbes (October 8, 2012).
Forbes Magazine, “#127 Tyson Foods” in America's Top Public Companies, https://www.forbes.com/companies/tyson-foods/.
Scott Kilman, “Tyson CEO Counts Chickens, Hatches Plan” in Wall Street Journal (September 7, 2010), http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703431604575468041244773052.
Susan Burfield, “Forever 21's Fast (and Loose) Fashion Empire” in Business Week (January 20, 2011).
To be honest, whenever we hear someone talk about BAM, we visualize chef Emeril Lagasse shouting “BAM!” as he adds spice to his Andouille-crusted redfish—and we cringe.
For example, when looking for a new home, one usually employs the services of a real estate agent. Aside from local statutes, if any, there is no official description of a real estate agent, what they can and cannot do, what they charge, etc. The same is true of BAM: there is no regulation of the term. On the other hand, the term REALTOR® is a registered trademark of the National Association of REALTORS® and includes a “strict Code of Ethics that protects clients, the public, and other real estate agents.” See NAR, “Top 5 Things You Need to Know About the REALTOR® Trademarks” https://www.nar.realtor/logos-and-trademark-rules/top-5-things-you-need-to-know-about-the-realtor-trademarks (May 17, 2013).
United States Department of Labor, “US Labor Department seeks enforcement of subpoena issued to Forever 21: Recent investigation reveals evidence of wage violations among Forever 21 apparel contractors and manufacturer,” https://www.dol.gov/opa/media/press/whd/WHD20121989.htm#.UIrdYfmfG31 (October 25, 2012).
Melanie Hicken, “The Secret Behind Forever 21's Dirt Cheap Clothing,” http://www.businessinsider.com/the-secret-behind-forever-21s-dirt-cheap-clothing-2012-2;Elena Parrish, “Understanding Forever 21’s Unethical Practices” in Uloop.com, https://www.uloop.com/news/view.php/215329/Understanding-Forever-21s-Unethical-Practices.
Unfortunately, from our personal experiences, most Christian in business choose the former, not the latter.
Missio Dei is a complex subject. A simple explanation of our argument is that missio Dei, as interpreted in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, has come to refer to a theology of mission to accompany the modern mission movement, instead of considering God as the true source of mission and showing what that means, an integral part of his being. Or to say it another way, we think most people today approach missio Dei as a way to do missions as opposed to letting God allow missions to flow out of Himself through us naturally and organically. See John G. Flett, The Witness of God: The Trinity, Missio Dei, Karl Barth, and the Nature of Christian Community (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub, 2010).
Richard C. Chewning, John W. Eby, and Shirley J. Roels, Business Through the Eyes of Faith (Leicester, UK: Apollos/IVP, 1992).
N. Ewert, “God’s Kingdom Purpose for Business: Business as Integral Mission,” in T. Steffan and Mike Barnett, eds., Business as Mission: From Impoverished to Empowered (Evangelical Missiological Society Series 14, 2006: 65-78).
Wheaton Declaration on Business as Integral Calling, A Global Consultation on the Place of Business in God’s Purposes (Wheaton, IL: Wheaton, 2009).
H.J. Alford and M.J. Naughton, Managing as if Faith Mattered: Christian Social Principles in the Modern Organization (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001).