ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar – As I sit here in awe at the fruitfulness of a business as mission (BAM) program in its sixth year of growth, Biblical Entrepreneurship, I ask myself, “How did this work 25 hours away by plane, and worlds away in culture and language, ignite our church to get serious about the faith and work movement?”
At the turn of the twenty-first century as American theologians and pastors began to marinate in the writings of David Bosch and Leslie Newbigin, two things occurred in the American Protestant church.
First, The Purpose Driven Life lost its drive. After great success and impact, the 40 Days of Purpose series had run its course. This California Warren-ization of church structure and ministry focus had done as much as it could to apply business and leadership principles of the 1980s and 1990s to tired, creaking buildings, lay structures and worship styles. Some church lay leaders (and pastors) needed the ‘Purpose’ kick in the pants, and it helped them thrive. Much of the church planting success we see today around the country still operates with Warren’s sense of focus, efficiency, and cultural relevance at all costs to theology, tradition, and practice.
But other leaders soon found their white, pudgy pastor wearing a Hawaiian shirt, quite far from Hawaii, and began to ask, “Have we gone too far? Or, is there another box-set program that can save the day?” Two to three all-church programs later and the church leaders realized they were still tired and creaking; the lipstick on the pig hadn’t worked. There were deeper issues. The leaders had to begin facing the deeper issues of the modern American church in a postmodern age: weak discipleship, pitiful soul formation, Biblical illiteracy, relief-based mission without long term development, and worship centered around reinforcing cultural idols. What to do?
Enter the second dynamic. In the late twentieth century, we saw the huge success of parachurch, marketplace ministries. As is often seen in Protestant church life, when the ecclesiological structure doesn’t evolve quickly enough to meet the demands of the day, parachurch ministries will rise up to chart a new path. Marketplace ministries found their focus in workplace evangelism, workplace ethics, and leadership development. As these ministries succeeded, business men and women soon crafted the Business as Mission movement (BAM).
BAM brought the best of American free-market capitalism (and sometimes the worst) to places of dire economic need and developed a formula for sustainable, fruit-bearing ministry. Americans witnessed the kingdom of God breaking out in handcrafted shoe shops in Haiti, water treatment plants in Dominican Republic, and jewelry workshops in Malawi. Co-ops formed to mass produce goods that would populate boutiques and Christmas catalogs galore in the States. Suddenly it was fashionable to buy a goat for a friend’s birthday (the goat went to the impoverished farmer, while you got a card with a goat’s picture). Business leaders knew all along the power of enterprise; then pastors woke up and witnessed dignity, fruitfulness and no-longer-impoverished families, and began to look more deeply.
The deeper issues exposed by 40 Days of Purpose and the success of BAM in the field led theologians, pastors, and Christian thinkers to recognize the refreshing criticism, insights, and solutions suggested by Bosch, Newbigin, Hirsh, Jenkins, and more. The missional movement was born.
More than lipstick, the missional resurgence of the early 21st century has quickly matured across various platforms. As more and more have become convinced of the missional concern and corrective, leaders have begun to disseminate a renewed approach to formation, worship, ministry and evangelism through seminaries, colleges, and publishing houses. Foundations and major donors have lined up, and networks embracing rapid technological reformation have enabled wayward and hungry church leaders to find one another and fan their ember of conviction and passion into a flame. Tim Keller, Tom Nelson, Steve Garber and others have laid the praxis and theological groundwork for the faith and work effort within the missional movement, and we are off.
Who knew while I watched Obama being sworn in that my Malagasy brothers and sisters were just beginning a horrific journey that would ignite and wake up some sclerotic Presbyterians in Orlando? God knew, and God is mightily at work through the faith and work movement, bringing renewal and depth to the church. Hmmmm, I wonder if others will look back and note the late twentieth century combination of church stenosis, burgeoning new ideas in theology and praxis, and a communication revolution and say these times are Luther-esque. Time will tell. Time will tell.
Dr. Case Thorp leads The Collaborative, and serves as the senior associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando.