Monday, December 2, 2013

What's the point?

When one starts on a trip, the destination can sometimes be unclear.  Where are we going?  What is going to happen when we get there?  How exactly will we travel?  What will the route be like?  Who will accompany us?  What will the weather be like on the journey?  How will this journey be funded? and the all important question, What is the point of the journey?

While I know I have written about West African roads and Kenyan roads, this time I am actually referring to the theoretical road or journey of the ICM Marketplace Ministry.  This journey began when I was still in Ghana (May 2012) and had begun to recognize the need for business development work that was being done through NGOs (non-profits) to be brought under the umbrella of the Church.  I came to believe that was the route or the road, but the rest of the questions were still very much unclear.  The last eighteen months have brought a bit more clarity, as we [International Christian Ministries (ICM) and I] have started down this path, but there is still a good deal of fog and unknowns.
When you look at all the pieces that need to come together to make this journey possible, it can feel overwhelming.  But day by day, with thanksgiving and trust, things start to come together.

Who is on the journey is becoming more clear. The Church, made up of many denominations and pastors, is the body of the vehicle. ICM and the Africa Theological Seminary are the front tires (this car happens to be front wheel drive), and joining that partnership are Partners Worldwide and the Christian Reformed World Missions, as the back tires.  Jeff Bloem, as research assistant and Alfred Kibairu as Marketplace Ministry Coordinator, join me as part of the engine, making this vehicle run on a daily basis; a team of people from Grand Rapids who pray with me weekly for this work and support the ministry in a number of different ways:  David Graf, Jackie Venegas, James Nowell, Judy King , Michael Thomson, Mary Springer, Mary Katerberg - these people help to keep the engined oiled and running well, with the help of the Holy Spirit; then there are many individual supporters and several churches who pray regularly or give monthly/annually to this work - this is what puts the gas in the vehicle to keep it going.  Without any of these components, this work would grind to a halt quickly.

So the car has come together and is moving down the road toward the destination.  But the destination has been a bit fuzzy.  We know that the calling is to reclaim the redeemed Marketplace and to do it through the Church, the bride of Christ.  We (we being ICM but also the Business as Mission Mandate as written by the Lausanne Commission) believe that the Church is to take the first step in this, by affirming, equipping, encouraging, and sending out business people as Marketplace Ministers. 

But what does a redeemed Marketplace look like?  How will we recognize or measure success?  What is the point?

There are those who measure success in business development by counting the number of jobs created or sustained.  There are those who measure success in business development by measuring an increase in business profit.  But those, in and of themselves, can occur without having ANY impact on reclaiming the Marketplace for Christ.  People can create jobs and yet pay inadequate wages or exploit workers.  People can increase their profits through all sorts of "creative" (read "crooked") ways.  How do we measure success through the work of Marketplace Ministry in the Church?

As we are engaged in a research project, we have been wrestling with these questions for a number of months now.  And finally, as we wrestle and talk, and talk and wrestle, a destination emerges for a moment that is clear.  The point lies in the motivation for doing business.  The measurement is job satisfaction or joy in the work.

"Huh?" you might ask?  I'm glad you did.  Let me tell you how we got here.  For years I have been interviewing business people.  One of the questions that I ask them is, "What do you love about your business?"  The most common answer, that occurs probably about 95% of the time, is this:  "I love my business because it puts food on my table and keeps me busy."  Neither of these activities connotes any joy or satisfaction in the work.  I have been teaching a Business as Mission class for about eight months now.  I use the definition of the purpose of doing business from God's perspective from Jeff VanDuzer in his book, Why Business Matters to God (and what still needs to be fixed).  He says that the two main purposes for doing business are 1) to provide goods and services that allow individuals and communities to flourish, and 2) to provide jobs that allow the creativity of God in each one of us to come out.  He notes that profit is NOT part of the purpose for doing business.  It is necessary, yes, even critical to the survival of the business.  But he notes this:  we need to eat in order to live.  But if we begin to live to eat, it becomes a problem.  The same with business:  Business needs a profit in order to survive.  But if a business survives to make a profit, it becomes a problem.  The end now justifies the means.  And it negates the very important calling that we have been given in the Creational Mandate to be fruitful and multiply - to fill the earth and subdue it.  The reason we do business is because God has called us to do it!  We are gifted with His creativity, being made in His image and likeness to take the resources, generously provided by the Creator, and make good things from it, to support a world of seven billion people!  That is what motivates us!  That is what should drive us in doing business!

When we reach our destination, I want to be able to ask business people, who when they started this journey with stated that they do business to put food on the table, to now say something like this, "I love my because it is what God made me made to do, and I get so much joy and satisfaction in it!  My work is my act of worship!"

I believe that when that shift in perspective happens, meaningful jobs will be created.  Businesses will grow - they will become light in a dark place.  When God is the owner and is kept on the throne, and money and wealth are kept in their proper place, the Marketplace will be reclaimed and Churches will be transformed.  But do you know what I've realized?  Even if profits are not increased or jobs are not created, it doesn't mean failure because people will be affirmed in their calling, find joy in it, and do it to the glory of God. 

I know the picture will get cloudy again.  I know there are road hazards that must be avoided.  And as we approach the year-end, there is always the call for the necessary gas to keep this vehicle running.  But I am thankful for those glimpses...and for getting the point of the journey.

For those of you who have joined this journey with me, even just by reading the blog, I am truly thankful.