Are you a businessperson with a longing for Christ’s glory, a heart for people, and a willingness to go to hard places? Then you could do what Ken Crowell did in Israel or what “Jim” and “Helen” are doing in Chile or what “Keith” is doing in India.
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An electrical engineer with several patents and Christ’s heart for the world, Ken said “Yes” when asked to work for Motorola Israel. As the only American and the only Christian, Ken was totally accepted as un-threatening and came to be called “our Baptist engineer.” He was very open about Christ and warm personally. Co-workers often asked questions and Ken regularly had natural openings to share. In the evenings, secretaries, engineers, and marketing people attended Bible studies which Ken led.
During this time God gave Ken and Margie the vision of building a business to bless Israel through the Good News of Jesus. After five years working for Motorola U.S., saving some capital, and meeting his children’s needs, Ken returned to Israel to manufacture antennas for the growing digital market. He set three goals: to share Jesus, the Messiah, especially in a city with no Christian witness, to provide jobs to Jews, Arabs, and Christians, and to bless Israel through high quality “Made in Israel” products for export. When Ken openly shared his goals and Biblical reasons with the Israeli consulate in Atlanta, they were totally amazed. But they told Ken they would support him because “we need your engineering and we need your business.”
Ken chose Tiberius, a conservative, fanatical rabbinic center in Israel. They struggled for years experiencing great financial hardship, protests, injury of Margie by a rock, and an attempt to burn them out. Local leaders also slandered them before the government and nation. But Ken’s character, love, and godly leadership won his workers respect and they helped protect them. Ken started a company volley ball team which began winning and gave Tiberius a sense of pride. As the company grew, many benefited from the jobs and commerce it provided. Over time these led to wide respect and appreciation, and national awards.
Also, a church grew along with the company. When there were 30 in the company, there were about 30 in the church, and when the company grew to 300, so did the church, though not all the same people. Ken and the company not only blessed Israel economically, but also had a big impact spiritually.
For the sake of the gospel, “Jim” envisioned a high culture coffee house and specialty coffee (rated 80 points or higher in the cup). They had three goals—to become self-sustaining, to find new ways of being the church and penetrating society, and to engage their community by meeting felt needs in cooperation with the community.
They found a corner store to rent just two blocks from Santiago city center. This provides a neutral place to connect with people and walk with them on their journey toward Christ. Jim and Helen endeavor to make Coffee Culture indispensable in the community. They work hard to perfect their trade so that their coffee is rated 80 points or more in the cup. By comparison, Starbucks premium coffee scores 75 points on average. Already Jim was invited to judge in Chile’s first national barista championship.
Also, they serve, care for, and listen well. Jim and Helen have made connections for some to get jobs and have provided a place for emerging artists to perform. People feel comfortable to engage in meaningful conversations about profound issues. Activists, politicians, and others enjoy coming and talking. These new friends are surprised by a very different Christ than they had known, often contrary to their prejudices. An embryonic church is beginning to develop.
Raised in a missionary family in Ecuador, “Keith” had a heart for unreached peoples, but wanted to integrate missions with business. After college he worked with Accenture (formerly Anderson Consulting), IBM and Panduit. This gave him lots of global experience in technology and business process consulting, but it meant constant travel and little ongoing contact with clients or colleagues. So after investigating multiple options, Keith launched his own technology and process improvement business in northern India.
Keith consciously built Biblical moral standards and worldview into his business core values and practice. Several are very counter to Indian culture, but lead to greater righteousness and blessing for employees, clients, suppliers, and others. And they bring change in people’s thinking and relationships as well as draw them toward Christ.
Integrity is one of the company’s core values. This has been hard for employees, …More…
especially when they fell behind on a project. Culturally, they wanted to tell the client all was well. But with Keith’s leadership, they began to be honest with clients. This enabled clients to deal with and adjust their plans to reality. Though difficult, employees found that clients appreciated this and gained trust in the company, despite any frustration with delays.
Keith also had to deal with one employee’s mishandling of funds. This was tough, but the company’s commitment to integrity had to be maintained for the employee’s sake and for the whole company. So, Keith had to dismiss him. But he did so very graciously without humiliating him and instead helping him toward finding other work. Keith and Jean continued to care for him and his family and his wife continued to work there. This deeply impacted him and his whole family. He genuinely owned his wrongdoing and over time Keith brought him back into the company as he worked to repay his debt and proved himself. He told Keith that his treatment of him had changed his whole thinking and that he never would have understood his wrong if Keith had not handled him the way he had.
Another company value is servanthood, very counter to India’s rigidly class-structured society. This value has strongly impacted employees. One day during the company’s optional Bible study, one woman broke down in tears when they were studying Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet. Very concerned for her people asked what was wrong. Was her mother sick or something? She said, “No. Nothing’s wrong.” “Well something must be wrong to be crying like this,” Keith responded. She answered, “Do you remember the other day when you brought be a clean glass of water when I couldn’t find a clean glass?…No one would ever do something like that for me in India, especially the boss.”
Employees are being drawn to Christ. Several are seeking further, asking for Bibles, studying and discussing Scripture. The way the company is run, commitment to what is right, care for employees’ welfare and development, and Keith’s example have been so powerful, that when the company went through tough times and had to cut some employees, no employee responded negatively, but rather tried to help find more business. Some continued to come to the office while looking for new jobs. And they wanted to return when business turned up again. This kind of morale and attachment is unheard of in India.
BAM holds great power to make disciples and to change culture, if Biblical standards and worldview plus witness to Christ are consciously integrated into the business. On one side the business must be real. It must make a profit margin to sustain itself and provide a model of effective business. On the other side, it must be deliberately Christian (Biblical) in how and why it operates including drawing people to Christ inten-tionally. The secular-sacred and clergy-laity divide make this difficult.
Missionaries trying to do BAM often do well on the disciple-making side, but not on the business side. Businesspeople attempting BAM typically do well on the business side, but not on the disciple-making side. But effective BAM can be done as shown by the stories above. And BAM tentmaking has multiple advantages over PAM (Profession as Mission) for those God has fitted for it. But challenges are often great:
- Onerous government bureaucracy
- Oppressive taxes
- Political volatility
- Poor infrastructure
- Bad worker ethics
These can be daunting, but also provide opportunity to show the divine difference Christ makes. But the biggest challenge is to be effective in making disciples and impacting culture through the business as em-bedded in its DNA.
But if God gives you heart for BAM, don’t let this deter you, but rather let it fuel your resolve to build the understanding, business skills, ministry skills, and business-discipleship-ministry integration to do what Ken, “Jim,” “Keith,” and others have done. Global Opportunities helps prospective BAM tentmakers along the whole journey.
Some Helpful Resources
More about Tentmaking and BAM
The Tentmaking Model – 2 Paths
Tentmaking as PAM and BAM
Tentmakers, whether businesspeople or professionals, go as everyday, workplace Christians working for a living in order to bring Christ to peoples who do not know him. They integrate work and witness demonstrating the gospel in everyday life and communicating Jesus through natural contacts in the workplace and in the larger community. Through hospitality, they gather those who respond in to study groups to investigate Jesus in the original record. In time, these grow into discipleship groups and then into churches as God works.
Tentmaking includes both running a business, Business as Mission (BAM), and Profession as Mission (PAM, “profession” used very broadly including study abroad as a university student). Either of these done for the purpose of reaching another people group with the good news of Christ is tentmaking. Since far more people are fitted by God to work for others, the vast majority do PAM. But BAM provides some powerful advantages on top of the core benefits of tentmaking.
The Core Benefits of Tentmaking
- Legitimate access to the most restrictive nations on earth. But tentmaking does much more. In fact, New Testament tentmaking had nothing to do with access, but with other benefits.
- It gives the church a much larger pool of missions workers at little or no cost.
- It raises the level of discipleship by calling everyday Christians back to full engagement in God’s mission and to serving him in all of life.
- It provides a model of unpaid witness and leadership. Tentmakers validate the gospel as unpaid witnesses and show that it works in everyday life. This is an indispensable, but often missing, compliment to full-time missionaries.
- It shows the power of the gospel in the face of Western culture’s shriveled sacred which sees God as irrelevant and unnecessary. No amount of professional ministry tweaking can ever solve this because the question is whether the gospel is relevant to people’s everyday life. Only everyday Christians can demonstrate this. So rebuilding this pattern is vital for the church and the gospel.
- It sets a model of everyday Christians carrying serious leadership alongside full-time leaders, mak-ing it normal for lay Christians to provide comparable leadership to full-time leaders.
- The tentmaking model removes the issue of support-raising for indigenous workers and gives the church wings to grow rapidly. This provides a great remedy to paternalism-dependency.
Advantages of BAM
- BAM done well provides quality products and services, jobs for others, and a better workplace.
- By providing such blessing to the people, BAM often allows businesspeople to stay indefinitely rather than having to leave or find another job as employed tentmakers.
- BAM provides more freedom for sharing the gospel, offering Bible studies, etc.
- BAM creates multiple relational networks where the gospel can spread—workers, customers, sup-pliers, government officials, etc.
- BAM provides greater freedom to establish godly work ethics and worldview patterns.
- BAM built consciously on a Biblical worldview influences people to become more honest, produc-tive, creative, caring, etc. Over time, this begins to change the larger culture.
These advantages can give BAM an edge over PAM, though both are always needed to penetrate all sec-tors of society. Also, certain professions like education have tremendous power to impact the culture for good because of their role and influence. But BAM offers great opportunity to bless both the company networks and the nation.
BAM combined with other tentmaking options offers tremendous potential to the kingdom. In the New Tes-tament, it was the primary model of church life and leadership and made all Christians carriers of the gos-pel by life and word. This is why the Christian faith spread so rapidly. David Wright, Emeritus Professor of Patristic & Reformed Christianity at New College, University of Edinburgh, says, Christianity traveled through business-men, soldiers, students, teachers, refugees, pilgrims, doctors, lawyers, prisoners, slaves and hostages, Christian lay people of all kinds: bearers of the Christian mes-sage as they traveled. So largely, expansion was not the work of pastors, but of Christian men and women in their ordinary routines of life. (condensed)
Rodney Stark affirms a similar conclusion in Cities of God. He shows that rank-and-file believers who trav-eled for various reasons caused the huge expansion of Christianity through person-to-person conversion by their example and witness. So building a tentmaking culture into the church offers great promise.
”Oh, Lord, how long before that glory is yours which has so long awaited you?” Jim Elliot, 1 of 5 martyred in Ecuador