From what I’ve learned, there are an array of views of what Business As Missions (BAM) really means.
On one end of the spectrum, BAM is seen simply as Christian business people, living their professional lives attempting to reflect Christ, and if given the opportunity, willing to share the gospel with the people they come across in the course of their work.
On the other end of the spectrum, BAM is viewed as Creative Access. Meaning the business is simply a front for traditional missionary activity, and isn’t expected to be successful or influential professionally. It exists only to allow missionaries to gain access to normally closed countries.
Both of these views are flawed — right at the very definition.
Webster’s defines business as “a usually commercial or mercantile activity engaged in as a means of livelihood.” This precludes the business existing as a front for traditional, church-supported missions.
A missionary, as defined by every Christian teacher I’ve heard from in the last couple years, is someone who fulfills both parts of the Great Commission: to go, and to make disciples. (See this article for an explanation of why that definition is important — but no, you are not a “missionary” if you go to church down the street from where you grew up — or even if you run that church.)
In fact, it would seem that Business as Missions bears the burden of the definition of both words. In order to have a successful BAM ministry, one must be successful in business and successful in global evangelism and discipleship. BAM is not the easy way out — rather, its a larger challenge. There are plenty of successful Christian business people. There are plenty of successful Christian missionaries. People who have and can develop skills in both worlds — those seem to be few and far between.
So let me posit my own, hopefully clearer, definition of what BAM is: Business as Missions is the growth and development of successful global business, with the express intent of creating more and better disciples of Jesus through the influence and activity of that business. It is business and it is missions — not one at the expense of, or paying lip service to, the other.
And just so I’m clear, this does not de-value either traditional missions, or traditional Christian business people doing their work ethically and with a moral standard that reflects Christ’s work in their lives. Both of these things are noble, worthwhile, God-honoring pursuits, obedient in their own right, if that’s what an individual’s calling is. But to label something BAM, to me, means a union of these two callings. One that marries two very different worlds, disciplines, support networks, equipping and experiences into something uniquely… His.
How one arrives there… well, that’s a longer story that I don’t know how to write yet.