An adage says, “Words don’t mean things, people do!” Like hockey players, some will “drop their gloves and get it on!” for even a hint that the preceding might be true. I do not want to debate that, but I have intentionally chosen it to draw you into my thinking.
When you write a graduate research paper, thesis or dissertation you always have to define the significant terms you use. Laying out the connotations you attach to important words gives your reader insight into the degree of specificity you attach to the key words in your writing.
Many words have a range of meanings. Some began with a very specific meaning in their earliest usage. Others began as very broad or general terms. But often these characteristics slip over time. Words that were very narrow and technical become more general. At other times, words that were quite general begin to be used with more specificity within certain circles. “Well, what does the word mean?” someone pushes back. The better question to ask is, “What meaning does this author attach to this word or phrase?”
Let me give you a couple of examples. I am dating myself by the first one, but that is okay. “Seven-Up the Un-cola” was an advertising slogan when I was a kid. The word “Cola” was a specific word—at least in the legal world of advertising. It had been legally confined to beverages that had caramel coloring and flavoring as an ingredient. Seven-Up could not legally be referred to as a cola. Their marketers coined the slogan to play off this. Most folks today use cola without regard to these issues. Common usage dictates the direction of the shift.
Today I encountered the second example. It was a blog written by Justin Forman (here’s the link: http://www.businessasmissionnetwork.com/2009/08/wrong-definition-of-business-as-mission.html. Justin shares an experience where his efforts to minister to Americans through business here in the U.S. are not equated with efforts to begin businesses as an avenue for church planting in the 10/40 Window. While affirming that he is a huge fan of those who do cross-cultural missions, Justin is convinced this person has a wrong definition for Business as Mission (BAM). He says, “in all our rush to define what Business as Mission is and what it is not, please don’t dismiss opportunities across the street or across the board room.” (Emphasis his.) For Justin, the BAM terminology is not reserved for cross-cultural mission, but it must have been for the other person. What does BAM mean? It depends on who is using the phrase.
Recently I read several books and many articles on Business as Mission and related themes. My experience reveals the preceding is one of several debates about the proper meaning for the phrase. Nobody knows which connotation will win out, but various camps stake their claim and critique others who will use the phrase with different nuances.
Some of the struggles over this matter become evident when you read the Lausanne Occasional Paper (LOP) No. 59. This was the outgrowth of more than 70 practitioners of BAM: http://www.businessasmission.com/fileadmin/user_upload/Documents/Lausanne_Occasional_Paper_on_Business_as_Mission.pdf. This group had difficulty coming to consensus on what the definition of BAM should be, reflecting the context to which Justin’s blog alludes.
Justin’s blog is worded in a careful and measured way, but the title sets the tone for what is encountered in the subsequent comments. Evidence of at least two camps emerges in the discussion and exhibit significant passion for their divergent views. How do we emphasize the need for BAM in the 10/40 window without rebuilding a barrier that is similar to the sacred/secular?
“Words don’t mean things, people do!” Maybe this phrase sticks because it conveys an experiential truth. We want specificity when it bolsters our argument. We demand general meanings when they fit better with our position.
So what? Since this is my blog I believe I need to tell you my understanding of this matter. I tend to use the phrase in both manners, depending on my audience and my purpose, but my usage leans more heavily toward reserving BAM for cross-cultural purposes.
If I am attempting to get a local business person to be more intentional and strategic in spreading the Kingdom through work, I will talk about BAM in local terms. But even then I will usually plant a seed regarding the need to learn to do that here with an eye for taking it to a restricted-access country. It is too easy for us to use reaching the lost near neighbors as an excuse for not going to the places where people have little or no Jesus options. The ways money and missionaries continue to be deployed highlights this problem. The greatest concentrations of lost people get less than a nickel out of every $100.00 allocated for missions. Will we repeat this with our use of BAM? The staggering needs of the 10/40 window cry out for more of our attention, money and manpower. Would it be such a terrible thing if every BAM practitioner had to look toward the 10/40 window? Would that stop them from reaching near-neighbor people and building Kingdom businesses in the West as preparation for going to places with greater needs? I prefer to use BAM in the more restricted sense of reaching people in the 10/40 window. If others will not allow such, then another way has to be found to mobilize and equip ever larger numbers of business people to use their God-glorifying business skills to reach the lost in the places where there are so many who are lost!
If we have to coin a new phrase such as Business as Cross-Cultural Mission (BACCM), so be it. If we have to tag it 10/40 BAM, so be it. But be sure our fear of building another wall does not perpetuate our old blind spot—too many of our resources stay here rather than being leveraged to the lost there!