Business is Mission

As I write these words, I am preparing to speak at the 2014 HarvestNET International Summit, taking place on November 21, 2014. Harvest Net is a global alliance of Christian pastors working across broad denominational lines to advance the purposes of Jesus’ Kingdom on earth.

I have been asked to specifically address how business is emerging globally as the best stage for mission, poverty alleviation, human development, and social improvement. There is no happier assignment for me than this one, as I have spent the last twenty years inside amazing businesses around the world that are bringing transformational change to the world.

Here are a few observations “from the field.”

At a time when world food supply and health experts recognize Africa’s unique challenges in food production, including the fact that it is advancing in food production more slowly than both Asia and Latin America, an American tractor maker is pioneering solutions otherwise entirely untouched. With deep third-world development experience gathered over decades of mission and relief work in Africa, this company is inventing the tractor that will fill the void between the traditional ox-drawn plow and the much larger mechanical three-bottom plow. A business, behaving within the framework of business but thinking “missionally,” is addressing what many decades of relief aid have been unable to address, namely, improving Africa’s capacity to feed itself.

In main-land China, which we know has a gigantic challenge before it of teaching its citizenry about industry, freedom, the rule of law, and responsible civic engagement, a Chinese toy manufacturing company is on the frontier of civic education. Having recognized decades ago that young Chinese workers would not dedicate an entire career to making small plastic toy objects, this Chinese toymaker, governed by his reading of the New Testament and his commitment to Jesus, turned his toy-making campuses into centers for citizenship education. With 40,000 young people living on his manufacturing campuses at any one time, this toymaker offers courses and experiences in entrepreneurship, education, marriage and family coaching, financial literacy, and ethics. He notes that many people believe he manufactures toys, but that instead, he is dedicated to making a new citizen that is able to help guide China into a free and responsible future. All of this is done within the framework of business.

At a time in world history when human trafficking and human slavery has worsened exponentially, an American business owner is building enterprises and teaching entrepreneurship in Russia, drawing its entire student base from teenaged Russian foster kids. Understanding that many Russia orphans are captured into the dark world of human slavery, this business creates homes and families, teaching Russian teenagers how to imagine ways to bring value into the world, and providing the capital and support over the long haul to establish and grow businesses that are in point of fact “Cities of Refuge.” Acting entirely within the framework of business, this endeavor is cutting into the dark heart of one of the greatest places of human injustice on earth.

Perhaps you can see why being asked to address this subject is such a joy to me! At the heart of my work is the good news that men and women of faith, utilizing the instruments of marketplace, business and value creation, are producing extraordinary good all over the world.

When I was a young man, I was told that business is hopelessly soiled by avarice and corner-cutting. My teachers and professors 30 years ago believed that delivering value to the world, producing goods and services, hiring people and paying their wages, and making money, was a sub-par life path. Yes, it was clear from my early teachers that business men and business women could do a little good by writing checks to non-profit organizations, but their work overall was described to me as being second-string where service to God’s purposes on earth were concerned.

I have come over these years of direct immersion in several hundred extraordinary businesses to see how misguided this teaching was. Sure, there are bad businesses. As there are bad non-profit organizations, bad governmental organizations, and even bad churches. Some businesses are bad because there are bad people in the world. I have encountered those bad people in every type of organization.

It will be my joy to share with 300 or so pastors what I have learned from extraordinary business leaders. And as I have been doing now for well over 10 years, I will make some recommendations about how to do even more to unite the purposes of leaders from every sector in common cause around the mission of the Kingdom of God.

Here is a sincere question. Have you ever heard a sermon urging young people to accept the high and holy calling of entrepreneurship, business, sales, or marketing? I would love to meet the pastors who preach this way, and to enthusiastically thank them!

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