God is at Work by Ken Eldred, Regal Books, 2005. 336 pages, hardcover; ISBN-10: 0830738061, ISBN-13: 978-0830738069; $13.59 at Amazon.com
Reviewed by Brian Williams
Whether you are new to the Business as Missions (BAM) movement or have years of experience, this is a book that you will find of great help. Ken Eldred has written both a theological and practical framework for how Kingdom business is being used by God to transform individuals, communities and nations. For Kingdom-minded business people that are looking for ways they can bless China, no other BAM book to date has this breadth and depth.
Speaking both as a practitioner and as one who has studied many Kingdom businesses, Eldred establishes a set of working definitions, outlines a KB framework, points out the theological foundations and historical examples for the movement, suggests metrics for measuring holistic impact and finally, includes a section on “outrageous visions” that encourage us to set out long-term objectives that, if accomplished, the Father would clearly get the credit.
While this book offers much more, for this review I will only highlight two areas which by themselves are of great value”Defining Kingdom Business” and “Successful Capitalism and Spiritual Transformation.”
Defining Kingdom Business
What is Kingdom business? How do we relate business and cross-cultural ministry? What are the outward characteristics of a true Kingdom business? What role might I take in a Kingdom business strategy? With so many different ways of doing Kingdom business, it is essential that we develop a set of commonly understood definitions. Eldred begins by suggesting the following:
Kingdom business is for-profit business ventures designed to facilitate God’s transformation of people and nations though the practice takes many forms, what unites these efforts is a commitment to sustainable transformation, captured by a three-fold object: 1) profitability and sustainability, 2) local job and wealth creation and 3) advancement of the local church Kingdom business pursues each of these simultaneously.
He then identifies three very different views for relating business and cross-cultural ministry: “business for missions,” “business and missions” and “business as mission.”
Business for missions: These businesses are set up to serve solely as a source of assistance to cross-cultural workers. There are several variations:
- Support function for cross-cultural ministry—providers of the professional and technical expertise needed for worldwide evangelism. (for example: computer consultants, publishing companies, etc.)
- Front for cross-cultural ministry—the business’ primary purpose is as a vehicle for gaining entry and obtaining/maintaining residence. It is also believed that the title of “business person” can be helpful. Profitability, sustainability and local job creation are all seen as low priority and therefore receive little to no attention.
- Funding source for cross-cultural ministry—the sole redeeming value of business is its ability to provide funding for cross-cultural ministry.
Business and cross-cultural ministry (tentmaking): Here the business or job is valued for how it provides people the funding and the legal status to remain in a country where they can do ministry outside of work hours. Ken highlights the following challenge for this approach when he writes: “Operating in a framework that ascribes little eternal value to their jobs, tentmakers often view their nine-to-five work as a hindrance to ministry.”
Business as cross-cultural ministry: Here the business activity itself is considered cross-cultural ministry, a strategic opportunity to demonstrate the gospel in action.
Kingdom business does not consider commerce and ministry as separate spheres of operation.
The concept of Kingdom business sees business as mission. It considers the business activity itself the mission work. Kingdom businesses are for-profit businesses that meet spiritual, social and economic needs. Kingdom business professionals work with real-world problems with which they can demonstrate the gospel in action. Perhaps most importantly, Kingdom businesses provide a powerful platform of respect for the furtherance of the gospel both within the enterprise and outside of it.
Individuals engaged in Kingdom business see their role as job-makers who provide work opportunities for those who are desperately lacking them (frequently, these are local believers). Their companies produce valuable goods and services. They create long-term value for all stakeholders: employees, partners, customers, investors and community members. And they effectively further the gospel in the local community in which they operate at no cost to the local or worldwide church. They are missions’ vehicles for sustainable transformation.
So how do you recognize whether a business is being operated as a Kingdom business (KB) or not? Just as Jesus taught that a tree is known by its fruit, a true Kingdom business should have outward characteristics that everyone can see. The following three are part of a list of ten characteristics that were developed by R. Paul Stevens and quoted in the book.
- A mission or business purpose that is larger and deeper than mere financial profit (though including it) so that the business contributes in some way to the Kingdom of God.
- The product and service is offered with such excellence that it suggests the presence of the Kingdom and invites the opportunity to witness.
- All aspects of the business are considered to be potentially a ministry and the subject of prayer.
One final area of defining Kingdom business is to identify the many different roles that need to be filled. Just as there are many “parts to the body” there are also many opportunities to be involved in Kingdom business. While there is a need for the entrepreneur who can move to a developing country and found a successful business, there is also the need for:
- Mentors and financiers of Kingdom businesses
- Lenders to the poor (micro-loans)
- Trainers in KB
- Short-term consultants
- Expert advisors
- Sales partners
- One-off support for KB
- Investors in KB
- Managers of KB funds (venture capital)
Much additional work is needed in developing a common set of working definitions for the KB movement, but God is at Work will help both the newcomer and the experienced practitioner to better identify both what Kingdom business is and what it is not.
Successful Capitalism and Spiritual Transformation
Douglass North, a secular economist, won a Nobel Prize for his work demonstrating that an economic system cannot be separated from its political system and its moral-cultural system. He showed that economic outcomes are significantly impacted by the formal rules of the political system and by the informal rules of the moral-cultural system. Because of this, nations must seek after solutions that recognize how closely the three systems (economic, political and moral-cultural) are connected.
Eldred takes this research and highlights the unique opportunity and obligation Christian business people have to model and teach developing nations the connection between capitalism and the biblical moral-cultural system that made capitalism so successful in the West.
We put the nation at a distinct disadvantage if we only teach principles of capitalism and fail to ingrain principles of the Bible. We must equip the nations with the transforming power of the gospel, which leads to growth of their spiritual capital. Spiritual capital is the base on which successful businesses must be built.
He goes on to define spiritual capital as:
The concept of spiritual capital explains why there is a relationship between economic prosperity and the pervasiveness of biblical values in the culture. Think of spiritual capital as the faith, trust and commitment that others will do what is rightnot only what is right in their own eyes or what benefits them the most, but what is right in the eyes of God. Showing integrity, being accountable and honest, offering hope, being loyal and trustworthy, loving and encouraging others, exhibiting good stewardship, being fair, creating order and serving othersthese are not, for the most part, covered by the laws of the land. We have no legal compulsion to love others, exhibit good stewardship, create order or serve each other.
Those who build spiritual capital do what is right and do it to the best of their ability because they are doing their work “as unto the Lord.” They perform to God’s standard rather than to society’s standard.
Eldred gives over fifty pages to the links between successful capitalism and biblical transformation of the individual and of a culture. He summarizes it with:
Corruption and self-seeking institutions are significant barriers to development, and many developing nations need reform on both the political and economic fronts. But focusing on the government and laws first is looking at the problem backward. The place to start is in changing the hearts of mentransformation starts with one person at a time and spreads. A nation’s moral-cultural system is the foundation for its political and economic systemsfirst modify beliefs, values and attitudes that are holding them back. A culture that is conformed to the pattern of God will see lasting economic and political reforms.
In this review I have tried to briefly show the depth of two sections of God is at Work. I have not even touched on the excellent sections showing the theological foundations, historical examples and the tangible metrics for measuring holistic impact or the suggested long-term objectives. This book is “must reading” for anyone who is serious about understanding and implementing a Kingdom business strategy that will transform individuals and communities.
Image credit: shenzhen panorama by Jesse Warren, on Flickr