Lead Article

Business as Ministry

This article will be different. You are used to reading about great nation-wide trends and global ideas. I feel a little silly sharing this story with you because it covers an area of about three kilometers and deals with only one small company. It is more about what we did wrong than about what we did right. However, in the process, we think we have seen a little of what Jesus has been up to and thought it might be encouraging.

In the Beginning, Poor Vision

I knew, over 30 years ago, that I was supposed to live in China. Just after arriving in the late 80s, I learned that foreigners could have their own businesses. I believed that I should try to use business in some way but was not sure how. I had owned a small business previously. If I had put my vision into words then, it would have looked like this: I would serve him, and the church, by teaching, using my company as a platform and my business as access to reach influential people to disciple.

Now, that does not sound too bad, does it? But, as I look back, I see that Jesus disagreed with virtually all of it.

Our Business Was the Ministry

For instance, Jesus had been showing us that our business was not about access, it was about being the core of the ministry itself. I began to see this clearly when we had about two hundred employees. At that time, I looked carefully at the stories of the talents and the minas and realized that all Christians were business people by definition. We had been given resources belonging to our master and a command to “do business until I return.” When He returns, He will look for increase or profit. Anyone who cannot offer Him any will be in great trouble. We cannot safely ignore this delegated responsibility.

So, I began to try to find out what the resources were that had been given to me. Money? Power? Wealth? I did not have much of those. Then I thought, “What is valuable to him?” Immediately, I began to think about people. They are certainly valuable to him! Yikes, I had two hundred people depending on me as my employees. What if I were responsible for them in some way? What if one day the Lord sat across from me at a table and said, “Tell me, what did you to do to invest in Xiao Chen, the cleaning lady?” Or, what if I said to him, “Here, Lord, you gave me three talents, and I have produced three more.” Then he answered, “Three? What do you mean three? I gave you six!” I became more than a little concerned.

So, I thought of a plan—it was really more of a cop out. I decided that, on that day when I would talk with the Lord, if I could say that I had brought those people to him through prayer, then, maybe it would go better for me.

While I had been told by the Lord not to actively share the gospel through words (that is another story), two other local employees were sharing the gospel verbally, and by now twenty employees were relatively strong believers and could pray effectively. I called them together and explained my problem. I needed their help. Could they each take ten names and agree to pray every day for each of those individuals? I just wanted to get their names before God every day. They agreed. So, we made laminated pages each showing about ten people, pictures and basic information. On Saturday mornings we often got together for three to four hours of prayer. We would each switch our cards with someone else and then pray for the individuals on the new card the next week.

During the next six months, people started coming to Christ until approximately eighty percent of the company confessed they were believers. There was no plan or strategy. Things just flowed together in a very natural way. Each week, between two and ten people seemed to find Christ.

Then, I realized one day, that for three weeks I had not heard about anyone coming to Christ. I was worried that we had done something to offend the Lord. I asked three people if they had heard of anyone receiving Christ lately. Those three had led twelve people to Christ that week, but none of them were in the company. It seemed we had saturated our market (our company), and the Lord was moving into other areas (neighborhoods and relatives). Jesus was showing us that the business was not access to ministry opportunities, but was, indeed, the ministry itself.

Transformation Begins

We began to teach the Scriptures, and our employees began to understand they had an obligation to their communities and families. Nightly prayer meetings developed in their community. Many groups of believers were formed. Many lives were changed.

Today, at the beginning of each work day, a handful of employees meets to sing praise songs. During lunch breaks, groups form to study the Scripture, pray and sing. At the end of the day, someone takes time to talk to the Lord about anything that came up during the day. We do not want to take home a burden that only he can handle. During times of trouble, you will find people praying in the workshops, hallways or on the roof.

Recently, I asked one of our ex-beggars if anything was happening in the community where many of our employees live. He immediately told me six stories. I will share three. In the meat market, a fight broke out and a meat seller, waving a cleaver, rushed someone. Out of the crowd jumped a man who stood between the two and stopped the fight. He spoke calmly and got the two to resolve their problem.

A girl was hit by a car. The driver fled and she was left lying on the road in pain and unable to move. A large crowd gathered to watch. Again, someone stepped out of the crowd, checked the victim, picked her up, put her in a cab and went to the hospital with her.

On a walkway, a bike rider came too close to a girl who was walking. A peddle hit her in the leg, cutting her and ripping off her skirt. A couple was approaching and saw the incident. The husband took off his jacket, wrapped it around her and took her to a hospital to care for the cut.

My friend then said all those who acted were from our company. I began to believe Jesus when He indicated our business was the ministry for us.

Two- to Four-Second Windows of Opportunity

Another thing Jesus taught us was that to be ready to seize investment opportunities, we needed to be ready to act. Sometimes, these opportunities came in two- to four-second windows of opportunity.

One day, I parked my car at the company and noticed a dwarf-like gentleman who said, “Hi Boss.” I explained I did not know him and I was not his boss. He answered, “You will be soon. I have been looking for this company for a long time” (apparently we have a reputation in the beggar community). The clock started ticking, and I had to decide on the spot if I was going to do anything. When he spoke, he revealed some sort of mental handicap. I decided it was an investment opportunity from the Lord. It took us three months to help him get his ID straightened out. Eventually, he landed a trial position. He quickly became a believer.

People from the street often have no work experience and find it difficult to learn how to conduct themselves in a working culture. One individual in our factory, when he saw me walking down the aisle, got up from his position to come over and talk with me. I explained that he must stay in his position and continue working to add value, and if not, he could not stay. However, he wanted to do things differently. Sorry, I said.

Then, he asked to be allowed to talk to each group leader, one day at a time. He noticed that they often had tasks they did not like to do. He wanted to be able to do those tasks for them—to serve them. I agreed to try this for a while. Six months later he was elected the most valuable employee in the company. His language difficulty disappeared. I even overheard a mature Christian say she liked being in Bible studies with him because he had such great understanding of the Scripture. He has one big smile and is often heard singing hymns as he works.

His Company, Not Mine

Another of my vision misconceptions was that I would use my company to serve Christ. The stories of the talents and minas helped me see that the resources never belonged to the servants. They were stewards. I began to see that I too was only a steward. The company was, indeed, his.

When I started believing this, it brought many, many changes. For example, when I viewed it as my company, and my accountant left, I prayed: “Lord, please help me. I need a good accountant, and you know good accountants are very hard to find. Please help me!” As a steward, I began to pray, “Lord, your accountant got married and is leaving town. You need a new accountant.” It is much easier when we take our correct position and let him handle the rest. He did promise an easy yoke, right?

Once I understood the company was his, He began to assemble a team to run his company. One of the wonderful team members he brought was a man who had spent many years in a city several hours away doing poverty relief work. He joined us, and we planted a daughter factory out in the mountains where he had been doing his relief work. Our thought was to take some of our factory work to that area. He has managed it very well and the community is being transformed through the financial input of our employees. Now, there is a thriving church there.

True Religion Cares for Orphans and Widows

My partner also had a passion for helping orphans. In his past work, he had started a foster care program that brought handicapped orphans out of institutions and into homes in the community. It has been entirely managed by local believers. We had been praying for our local orphanage, perhaps because it is a good place to see kingdom activity happening. However, for years, we could do nothing. Then, one day, the local orphanage director just happened to meet our folks at the hospital because we were sponsoring operations for orphans from another city. Intrigued, he visited our company and is now allowing us to help the local orphanage. There are many children with cerebral palsy. We have started a special needs program in which we locate and train people to care for these children. It has been so successful that we have taken it to one other city and are now preparing to take it to another one.

So, Jesus has shown us that while we may be a small company, if we are willing, through us He can:

  • plant a factory and a church hundreds of miles away in a very poor community
  • lead a majority of our employees to faith in himself
  • transform the lives of beggars through work and a viable identity in the body of Christ
  • raise up a trained force of Christians to help orphanages care for children with cerebral palsy and other handicaps and provide foster care for many handicapped orphans who can then live in a normal home
  • raise up a large group of faithful people who will invest hundreds of hours in prayer for the kingdom of God in their neighborhoods
  • cause many people to live out the characteristics of Christ

So, what has Jesus been showing you?

Image credit: Chinese autoworker at work by ILO in Asia and the Pacific, on Flickr.

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Patrick Lee

Patrick Lee has been in business for 26 years. While in the collectible market, his company was recognized as the best in the world in their particular market segment which they innovated into existence.View Full Bio