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May 11th, 2012

Church and Business Reconciled

Christian social entrepreneur Lord Andrew Mawson was involved in a debate on Radio 4 earlier this year.  In the Beyond Belief programme examining the protestant work ethic, he made some comments about the 21st century church in this country;

“The churches in this country are in crisis.  They are not engaging with a whole generation because they got caught up with the technocratic/bureaucratic world from the 70s.  They’ve got a real problem….Faith communities need to drop some of their ways of thinking and move into the modern world.  Part of the reason we haven’t done this is because we’ve got hang ups from 70s about money and enterprise and business and we need to dump that liberal nonsense because it’s been a disaster, and move into the world that real people know.”

Liberal nonsense? Strong stuff!  But I think that those of us in the business world know what he means.  We, the Church, think we can make an impact by setting up soup kitchens to help the poor. But there is little discussion of setting up businesses which can create jobs, providing people with paid work so that they can eat soup in their own kitchen.  Not to mention giving them the dignity of labour; including meaning and purpose and a stake in society.   As Dr David Landrum, Director of Advocacy at the UK Evangelical Alliance, says;

“Our most hurting and broken communities in theUKneed Kingdom oriented businesses. When we talk about justice, restoration, and renewal of these communities, on the most practical level, alongside sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, we are talking about jobs and employment. If we want to see transformed lives, we need to see business as mission – and take a lead.”

The truth is that business provides a great way of building the Kingdom.  For me the key question is this; if it is business that shapes the world, then why can’t the Church work in and through business to shape the world for good and for God? Shaping it for good brings wealth creation in communities, with greater justice and relief from poverty for the world’s poor, with the dignity of useful labour. Shaping it for God brings ‘life in its fullness’, a life reconnected with the One who made us and loves us, bringing hope and meaning and purpose. All of that is good news and is the motivation for Kingdom building businesses.

So, can the Church make the change that Andrew Mawson calls for?  Well it seems that the tide may be turning.  The “Business asMission” movement has seen many Christians heading for the business world, choosing running a business as their way of changing the world into a more Kingdom-like shape.  We have been in touch with many of these businesses over the past few years, and this country and beyond.  But recently we’ve noticed a new trend too; churches in this country starting and running businesses as a way of impacting their local community.  While researching our new book we heard of a milkshake bar set up by a church to provide training and employment to some local youngsters, and a fun place to hang out for others who are customers. We know of several churches running coffee shops, and the leaders from yet another church have set up an estate agency on the high street. These are real, viable, sustainable and profitable businesses with a Kingdom impact, and transformation is happening.

Our country has a major economic problem at the moment, which is affecting the lives of many of the people around us.  Surely part of the good news that we offer should be real help with this problem.  And I think that the Church is grasping the vision.

Bridget Adams (co-author Building the Kingdom through Business)

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