This edition of Anvil explores the relationship between mission and enterprise. The relationship between these two things is nothing new for the Church Mission Society whose founders met as part of the Eclectic Society in a small group to discuss and dream of ways of making a better world motivated by their faith in Jesus Christ. This led to both sharing the gospel in parts of the world where Christ was not known and to campaigning for the abolition of slavery along with a whole lot of other initiatives. Slavery was big business so one of the greatest challenges they faced was developing an alternative economic imagination.
We use the term missional entrepreneurship, which admittedly is something of a mouthful but there are a few reasons why we have come to find it helpful. It avoids a few common ways of thinking about business and mission that are reductionist. One of those is that profit made in business is given to support mission endeavours. There are large numbers of foundations and trusts that are set up in this way. Whilst there is nothing wrong with that per se it easily fails to pay attention to the purpose of business itself – it’s reduced to being a means to a financial end. Another is that business enables people to travel to countries where it would not otherwise be possible to go to share the gospel. Business here is something of a Trojan horse. Again there is nothing necessarily wrong with that either but it is also a reduction of business to being a means to an end – this time an evangelistic one. And a third is to develop a ‘Christian’ business which produces products for a Christian market. Again there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that but it also reduces business – this time to a churchy sphere of life. To use the adjective missional with entrepreneurship or enterprise opens up the idea that another way of thinking about mission and business is to imagine that business in and of itself can be a means of participation in God’s mission.
Of course part of the challenge here is also one of imagination. What do we imagine when we hear the word mission? That too has at times been reduced into a private sphere of life of personal piety and church activity so that mission then becomes personal salvation and church growth rather than the healing of all things, the coming of the kingdom of God here on earth in all areas of life. And what do we imagine when we hear the word entrepreneurship? Can we imagine business that is not just about the financial bottom line, maximising profit and keeping shareholders happy?
All three articles address these questions in different ways and we are struck by how much imagination is at the heart of them - imagining what it is to be human, to image God, to look after God’s world, to unfold creation in ways that love God and neighbour and God’s world, to see trade and enterprise as part of that unfolding, to imagine a different kind of economy, and in response to the brokenness of the world to imagine business for good, business that can be part of the salvation (healing) of all things.
As with the last edition of Anvil we have also invited some articles that are shorter in length and connect directly with the area of practice of the issue. These bring some theological reflection to bear on their practice. Our hope is that held together with the longer articles these help to ground some of the ideas and theory. Our suggestion is to view the issue as a whole and make the connections between the longer pieces and the practice and see where that leads your own reflections.
In some ways this is a subject that has been around for eons, but it is also an area which is quite new in current thinking about mission. I suspect it is quite new for example that in the suite of Common Awards in Durham University used by many for ministry training there are two modules that can be selected on missional entrepreneurship. Make Good, the residential week that we run with CMS pioneers, uses one of these modules. We have found as we have developed training in the area of missional entrepreneurship with pioneers at CMS that we have had to do lots of reflecting ourselves because there still isn’t a whole lot of thinking and conversation available in this area. We hope this edition of Anvil can be a small contribution to the debate and would love to hear from you in response.
Jonny Baker and Mark Sampson