‘The faithful Christian cannot separate his life into sacred and secular, worship and work. As Christians we are called to do all things to the glory of God, including—perhaps especially—our work.’ – Ravi Zacharias
What is happening?
Whatever term is used, God is doing something around the world to set off a Faith and Work movement. Some call it Faith and Work, others Business as Mission, or Kingdom Entrepreneurship, or Missional Business, or Gospel-centered Ventures—the term we use at Telos for God-centered startups.1
It is not that Faith and Work has not happened before or that there are no examples of success, but it feels like the beginning stages of a global movement, not just isolated pockets of activity.
That movement finds expression in ventures such as:
- the aforementioned Center for Faith and Work (www.faithandwork.org);
- BAM Global Congress (www.bamthinktank.org);2
- Praxis Labs (www.praxislabs.org); and
- Sovereign’s Capital (www.sovereignscapital.com); as well as
- the many startups, mature companies, and practitioners around the world.
While the terms I mentioned above have their differences, that discussion is for another time. This article focuses on a high-level view of the entire Faith and Work category, seeking to discern what might be coming and how we can align our efforts with what God is already doing.
Why is it happening?
This is more of an anecdotal guess on my part than a well-supported conclusion, but it seems that this Faith and Work movement parallels the broader missional community movement’s reaction to several decades of more ‘accessible’ and ‘seeker-friendly’ Christianity, at least in the West.
There seems to be a growing group of ‘innovators’ and ‘early adopters’3 who really want to fully live out the gospel in every aspect of their lives—and work is a big part of it.
Why is it important?
At the risk of over-simplifying, this is important in my view because God thinks it is important.
In Genesis 2:2, God finished his work (creation) and rested from it, in doing so, modelling work for us. Soon after in Genesis 2:15, God put man in the Garden of Eden to work and care for it. So God worked, and in his image we work. And whatever we do, including and perhaps most especially work, as Ravi Zacharias points out above, we must do for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31).
Accordingly it stands to reason that, because God is ultimately glorified through our given core purpose of discipleship and sharing his love with others, faith and work is really about fulfilling the Great Commission. That is why it is so important.
What will happen next and why?
Two of my former professors at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Mark Coopersmith and John Danner, are currently working on a project called “The Other ‘F’ Word.”4 While most research and literature focuses on successful startups, they are looking at and learning from those that failed.
For example, in Silicon Valley, it took over a decade of varying degrees of failure in handhelds and tablets before Apple hit lasting success with the iPad—Go, Palm, Handspring, and even Apple themselves (with the Newton) all eventually failed. There is no reason to think that the Faith and Work movement will avoid this type of failure. God does not promise that we will not fail; his promise is that we can endure it (1 Cor 10:13).
Just getting this movement off the ground can be considered a success in itself, but I think we will see more failure along the way. This is not unlike our own personal faith journeys, where sin leads to inevitable failure—out of which also comes unfailing redemption:
- We will see startups collapse, companies close their doors, and investors lose money.
- Through each of these experiences, we will learn to trust God more; grow; and eventually start seeing more and more successes because we will increasingly learn to allow God to lead.
What is the longer-term outlook?
In Silicon Valley where my co-founder at Telos Ventures and I are based, there is a mature ecosystem supporting startup ventures that is unparalleled in the world.
The necessary parts of this intricate and integrated ecosystem include:
- Capital (angel investors and venture capitalists)
- Academics (most notably UC Berkeley and Stanford)
- Accelerators (like Y Combinator and 500 Startups)5
- Support services (legal, investment banking, and equity markets)
- Large technology companies such as HP, Oracle, Facebook, and Google that offer capital and expertise and also buy startups
At present there are many fragmented efforts in Faith and Work. As has happened in the Silicon Valley, we need to build an ecosystem through bringing everyone (tongue, tribe, and nation) together.
However, movements that ultimately succeed at some point have to cease being movements. For example, what started with a handful of maverick business innovators at Fairchild Semiconductor and Venrock Associates in the late 1950s has turned into the global center of business and innovation, Silicon Valley.6 And Jesus sent the apostles to start a movement toward what became the global church.
In the longer term, I hope to see things like gospel-centered ventures, Business as Mission (BAM), and Faith and Work disappear because the integration of our work into our faith becomes a natural part of what we do and who we are.
There can be no false sacred/secular divide. For this movement to die and no longer just be a movement, we have to bring all aspects of our life, and therefore work, to Christ.
How will this affect our operations?
The Faith and Work movement should change how we minister and disciple:
- Congregants will want to serve in a different way. They will look at their businesses and workplaces not only as mission fields but also as vehicles for their own spiritual growth. Are our pastors ready for this? They will need to learn a new language and add new competencies. Seminaries and other resources will have to prepare our leaders to equip others for this new ministry context.
Missionaries will want to go into the field in a different way:
- Business, as opposed to fundraising, will gain more traction—and not only as a way to raise support but also as a platform for sharing the gospel. In his recent study Does Donor Support Help or Hinder Business as Mission Practitioners? An Empirical Assessment,7 Professor Steve Rundle of Biola University concludes that missionaries who enter the field using business as mission are more successful overall in both business and ministry than those who only raise support and do not generate income from work.
- The question arises whether sending agencies are ready for this. We have to ensure that they are able to support this new generation of BAM missionaries.
But perhaps the most important change is that our organizations have to develop more of a Kingdom mindset. To build an ecosystem, we have to work together: coordinating, collaborating, creating common language, and possibly consolidating individual efforts. In practice, many of us are too internally focused on survival and growth. However, for the movement to ultimately succeed, we need to break down barriers and start communicating and cooperating across and among all of us.
What should we do?
We need to practise obedience, sacrifice, and love.
Obedience—The Great Commission commands us to make disciples through teaching others to obey everything that God commanded: to love him, to love our neighbors, and to love each other. We spend over half of our waking hours at work. This begs the question that if we are not making disciples there, where are we doing it? We have to be obedient to Jesus’ commands—and we must do so where we spend more time than anywhere else. It is not a matter of if; it is a matter of how. We must live out our faith at work.8
Sacrifice—In several of the gospels, Jesus said that whoever finds their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for his sake will find it. We must be willing to walk away, as the disciples did, from the things of this world and hand all of ourselves over to Jesus.
There will need to be professional, financial, and personal sacrifice: executives will have to risk their professional reputations, entrepreneurs to risk funding, and investors to risk losing capital in order for us to move toward putting the Kingdom first. As we saw with the Pharisees, there will be those who surprisingly (to us) might not be willing initially to join the movement. Integrating work with our faith is not easy, but it is necessary. What is the sacrifice God is calling you personally to make?
Love—We can do anything, but if we do not have love, we are nothing (1 Cor 13). Our ability to love comes because God loves us first (1 Jn 4). True Faith and Work cannot fundamentally exist without love. So we must understand and embrace how much God truly loves us, not just in order to do something, but more importantly to be someone, in him.
So in conclusion, let us start this movement together . . . and then kill it.
1 With acknowledgement to our friends at Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s Center for Faith and Work in New York City for the term.
2 Editor’s Note: See ‘Business as Mission: Building a movement that can bring lasting societal transformation’ by Mats Tunehag in the November 2013 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis at https://lausanne.org/content/lga/2013-11/business-as-mission-building-a-movement-that-can-bring-lasting-societal-transformation.
3 Geoffrey Moore’s ‘Crossing the Chasm’ refers to the innovation adoption curve (bell curve), which starts with ‘innovators’ (in the smallest number) followed by ‘early adopters’ in greater numbers. It is somewhere in this part of the curve where an innovation must ‘cross the chasm’ to gain widespread adoption from the next levels of ‘early majority,’ ‘late majority,’ and ‘laggards.’
5 Accelerators are firms that bring in entrepreneurs and startups, and surround them with resources, mentors, and office space. Companies generally give up around six percent of their equity and get about 25,000 USD in capital as well as an opportunity to learn, grow, and compete for more funds.
7 http://www.omsc.org/searchibmr/(search for Steve Rundle under author). His talk at the BAM Global Congress is at http://crowell.biola.edu/blog/2013/dec/11/do-economic-incentives-help-or-hinder-business-mission-practitioners/.
8 Editor’s Note: See ‘Mission in the Workplace: Encouraging access and transformation through workplace ministry’ by Will Messenger in the June 2013 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis at https://lausanne.org/content/lga/2013-06/mission-in-the-workplace-encouraging-access-and-transformation-through-workplace-ministry.