Gleanings – Business as Mission

Strategicresourcetraining   -  

by Dr. Gerald Chester

Business as Mission 

About thirty years ago, Billy Graham said: “I believe one of the next great moves of God is going to be through the believers in the workplace.”1 Many pundits agreed.2 There were numerous models proposed for this new or reinvigorated initiative that became known as Business as Mission (BAM). Some focused on evangelism within the organization, others on evangelism to those outside the organization (venders and suppliers), and others on evangelism to customers. There are also combinations of these models. So, what was the best model? Perhaps church history might help us.

During the first three hundred years of Christian history, the ekklesia(church) grew in a persecuted environment. The Roman Empire was pluralistic but required all people to show loyalty to the Roman emperor by acts such as burning incense at least once a year. Christians viewed this as idolatry because Jesus was their Lord. Those who refused to pay homage to Caesar were persecuted.

The early Christians adopted a method of evangelism that fit their theology. They viewed Matthew 28:18–20 as a mandate given to the original apostles, including Paul. And the early ekklesia believed this mandate was fulfilled by the original apostles. Following is church historian Alan Kreider’s theological explanation:

Early Christian preachers do not appeal to the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28:19–20 to inspire their members to “make disciples of all nations”; they assume that the “apostles” (Jesus’ eleven plus Paul) had done this in the church’s earliest years and that it had already been fulfilled in the church’s global expansion. When writers referred to the Matthew 28:19–20 text, it was to buttress the doctrine of the Trinity or to address the issue of baptism, not to inspire missionary activity.3

Furthermore, there were no evangelistic organizations and no evangelistic programs. In other words, there were no evangelistic meetings as are common today. Rather, evangelism was effected by the testimony of the lifestyles of the early disciples—most of whom were occupied in the workplace. Quoting Alan Kreider again:

The churches grew in many places, taking varied forms. They proliferated because the faith that these fishers and hunters embodied was attractive to people who were dissatisfied with their old cultural and religious habits.4

For the early ekklesia, evangelism was not a strategic initiative that involved massive people and resources, rather evangelism was the by-product of their lifestyle. It was accomplished by living in hope—hope in the gift of eternal life through Jesus. To live in hope required holiness. Holiness is the by-product of persevering through suffering, as Paul explained:

We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3–5 ESV)

Hope produces holy living. In a world under the judgment of sin and death, there is no hope. So, when one lives in hope, one may be asked to explain why. Peter mandated that Christians should live in hope and be prepared to answer questions from those who want to know why. He said

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15 ESV)

For Peter, the predicate for sharing truth was living truth. This means that works precede words.

In explaining the gospel of the kingdom, Jesus said that his disciples were to be light to the world:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14–16 ESV)

The light is manifest through good works—works aligned with the will and ways of God. In other words, evangelism is affected through lifestyle.

All Christians come out of a lifestyle of sin. Regeneration is the first step in the salvation process. The next step is sanctification—the process of transformation to a lifestyle of holiness. The validation of regeneration is sanctification. The apostle John stated this unequivocally:

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:3–6 ESV)

Perhaps the theology of evangelism embraced by the early church was inspired by Paul’s example:

He withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. (Acts 19:9–10 ESV)

In response to the rejection of truth by some of those in the synagogue, Paul withdrew from them and focused on discipleship through daily training for two years. The result was that “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord.” In other words, evangelism was accomplished through discipleship. How did this happen? As we grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, we are transformed. This means our lifestyles will change. True disciples of Jesus progressively think like Jesus, talk like Jesus, and act like Jesus. In this way, they became light for all to see.

Paul’s teaching of these early disciples was probably better than any seminary program today. It was far more profound than the teaching most Christians receive in a lifetime. The training was intense—every day for two years. The fruit of this training so transformed the disciples that all of Asia heard the word of the Lord. The light of transformation was shining brightly—evangelism through discipleship.

Paul’s model of discipleship in Ephesus would be difficult to follow today, but perhaps it should be considered. It might be the most efficacious way to build Christian holiness that would facilitate Christian living that would be light to the world. Could there be a more effective evangelistic program? Proponents of BAM should take note—evangelism through discipleship—what a strategy!

One of our challenges today is to realize that the biblical way is the best way. Building disciples as Paul did in Ephesus during his two-year intensive discipleship training may be the best way to make disciples who can impact the world. To duplicate this model would take sacrifice. The question is whether we are willing to pay the price to become so rooted and grounded in Christ that we would become unequivocal light to the world. If we made the sacrifice, the fruit might be similar to that recorded in Acts 19:10: “then all of Asia heard the word of the Lord.”