The Emerging Role
of Business in
Steve L. Rundle
and Tom A. Steffen
204 pages, $16
Everyone in the stands that day nearly a century ago thought they knew exactly how the game should be played. Tens of thousands watched—sometimes cheering, oft times criticizing—the team of exhausted players on the field.
And then it happened. When the first forward pass went up, so did the cry: "Hey, you can't do that—that is not how it is done!" But the game of football was changed forever.
Great Commission Companies is about a handful of 21st century men and women who believe something revolutionary ought to be done to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of missions—and have set out resolutely to prove that it can be done. They may change missions forever.
The concept of business missions, once commonly thought to be an oxymoron, is growing into its own. Businesspeople around the world are eager to add eternal significance to their temporal success. Mission agencies and evangelical churches are beginning to take their approach seriously. Business and trade opens doors to relationships that may be closed to traditional missionaries. Moreover, the authentic witness of lay professionals often has more credibility for host-country contacts in the marketplace than that of traditional missionaries.
The authors believe that globalization may have the same gospel-disseminating effect in the beginning of the third millennium that persecution had in the first millennium, and that exploration and colonization had in the second. They argue persuasively that powerful forces of worldwide material and financial interdependence—commonly called globalization—have created unprecedented opportunities for taking the message of the Cross to all nations, tribes, and tongues.
Business corporations directed, led, and staffed by Christians with a biblical worldview, they say, may be uniquely suited vessels for carrying the priceless cargo. GCC personnel play golf and dine with those who influence the lives of thousands, sometimes millions. Host-country counterparts often have difficulty escaping, ignoring, or explaining away the attractive differences they see in GCC practices and the lifestyles of GCC employees.
The first half of the book explains how and why today's global economics are so conducive to the formation of Great Commission firms. The second half defines and describes five different kinds of such companies, and then captures our imagination with heroic examples of each. These entrepreneurs abandon the comforts and security of business at home to begin companies in cultures where modern business practices and the love of Christ are little known. One such entrepreneur started a company identified as the SR Handicraft Company (the authors have prudently disguised most names of the firms, executives, and their locations). After a rocky start, it has grown to two factories generating $3.1 million in revenues. About 90 percent of its 300 employees have become Christians. These employees in turn are reaching out to their communities and have planted eight churches—one with 400 people.
I have seen 27 families resign their high-paying jobs, sell their homes, acquire cross-cultural and language training, get inoculated against typhoid, typhus, and other diseases, and fly 8,000 miles to start a GCC. They created opportunities to share the gospel with thousands and encouraged and trained local believers. And they financed or spun off a dozen other equally effective ventures.
This book is, above all, about such true stories. One of the book's most remarkable features is that the writers and the written-about permit us to take a look into their hopes, fears, struggles, failures and pain, as well as their successes. For every example of a relatively successful GCC, we are left with little doubt that there are many failures.
What then has made the difference between success and failure for Great Commission enterprises? Which type of GCC is most effective in what market circumstances? The authors searched for answers via field observation and intensive interviews. They share some preliminary conclusions, including the priority of teamwork with local believers for business and gospel success. They also find that the most successful professionals are those who have previous ministry or missions experience.
For those business-minded players who are looking for practical guidance, there certainly is a need for more in the way of evaluating performance. For example, in the preface the authors say they had access to at least some of the financial information about some of the companies they studied. It would be helpful to have at least the essentials of two or three years of audited profit-and-loss statements. Similarly, it would be interesting to have more data about people exposed to the gospel, converts, and new fellowships.
I recognized most of the disguised players in the book. They are not just ordinary men and women distinguished only by their faith and determination. Some have exceptional business or technical skills. Some have extremely rare cultural and language skills. All are entrepreneurial. So these questions arise: Could a group of highly dedicated Christians without these skills replicate what these have done? What kinds of spiritual and business aptitudes, knowledge, and skills are needed, and how does one acquire them?
Furthermore, are any of the companies described in the book franchisable? Are there any experts from successful ones able and willing to provide consultation? I suspect there will be thousands of readers who hope the authors are even now putting the final touches on that sequel.
In spite of Great Commission firms' specialized niche, this book is not just for a narrow band of skilled professionals. It's designed for a wide audience: mission leaders, pastors, and lay leaders; Christian businesspeople; Christian university students thinking about missions; students thinking about careers in business. It's written for those standing on their seats, eyes and ears straining to catch the exciting things happening on the playing field, aching to get into the action.
If you don't fit into the traditional way the missions game has been played, sit down with Great Commission Companies and see if your heart is not quickened by Rundle and Steffen's story of the forward pass. Mine was.
John P. Cragin, Cargill professor of business at the Paul Dickinson School of Business, Oklahoma Baptist University, is a contributor to On Kingdom Business: Transforming Missions Through Entrepreneurial Strategies (Crossway, 2003).
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More on the intersection of missions and business includes:
Compassionate Capitalism | How Christians are using fair trade to help the world's poor, missionaries, and shoppers. (Nov. 12, 2003)
The 40 Best Christian Places to Work | What makes them so good? (Hint: Not money) (Feb. 28, 2003)
When Business Aims for Miracles | Minneapolis-St. Paul business professionals are some of the inner city's most effective "social entrepreneurs." (May 25, 2001)
Coffee That Cares | A Costa Rican church underwrites an urban outreach effort with premium coffee sales (Oct. 5, 1998)
Coffee Sales Perk Up Ministry Support | Pura Vida has donated $10,000 to missions and aid organizations (From the CTLibrary)
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