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The Historical Impact Of Business As Mission 

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In the previous article Can Business Be Mission? it was argued that the driving force behind the expansion of God’s kingdom is not  human-centred initiative, but God’s mission (missio Dei). God’s agenda is “to glorify His name by blessing the nations, advancing His kingdom through the redemption and judgment of all creation, which He orchestrates through both supernatural and natural (human and non-human) means”.[1]

In other words, all Christians (not only preachers or missionaries) are called to be participants in this great mission, which is more than the “saving of souls, but rather God’s total involvement with the whole of his creation”.[2] This realisation underscores the need for business as mission (BAM) – because most Christians spend most of their time in the marketplace. BAM recognises that mission relates not only to what happens at church gatherings on certain days of the week, but also to what God is doing during the rest of the week through Christians as they are scattered engaging with all of God’s creation.[3]

This article highlights a few examples of how Christians have lived out their mission in the marketplace over the course of history since New Testament times.

BAM and the early Church

It is well-known that Jesus worked as a carpenter until the age of 30. Of his 132 public appearances, 122 were in the marketplace. Of his 52 parables, 45 concerned people’s work environments, including construction, winemaking, farming, management and labour, and the misuse of money.

None of his disciples were leaders in the temple or synagogue. Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen. Nathaniel was probably a farmer, and Matthew was a tax collector. Of the 40 divine interventions recorded in the book of Acts, 39 were in the marketplace, and the four Gospels were written by laymen: Luke (a medical doctor), Matthew (a retired tax official), John (a fisherman), and Mark (part of a wealthy family).

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, Phillip was sent by the Spirit to the desert road that goes from Gaza to Jerusalem to meet “the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the Kandake, the queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship” (Acts 8:27). As a result of this encounter, this senior politician became the gateway to the good news of the Kingdom reaching Africa. The church in Africa is therefore older than any other church outside Palestine.

The apostle Paul worked as a tentmaker to fund his own travels and ministry, and he exhorted other believers to follow his example.[4] He ended his life economically self-sufficient, doing what he loved best: “For the next two years, Paul lived in Rome at his own expense. He welcomed all who visited him, boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. And no one tried to stop him” (Acts 28:30–31).

BAM in the Middle Ages

A few early Protestant denominations viewed productive economic activity as the foundation for international mission outreach.[5] The Moravian Brethren for example, founded and operated communal economic enterprises in Europe: salt processing, clothing production, and even a brewery. When the Moravians sent people to minister to the Indians in North America in 1741, their assumption was that the mission would be entirely supported by economic activities: textiles, pottery, a tannery, and again, a brewery.

Though John Wesley disagreed with them on matters of doctrine, he praised their economic endeavours: “you are not slothful in Business; but labour to eat your own Bread; and wisely manage the Mammon of Unrighteousness, that ye may have to give to others also, to feed the Hungry, and cover the Naked with a Garment”.[6]

Religious orders such as the Franciscans, Jesuits and Benedictines also used productive economic activity to finance their activities and placed a high value on work: “I worked with my hands and moreover wanted to work, and I desired that all the other Brothers be occupied with honourable work. And those who could do not work must learn it, not for the desire of remuneration, but to give a good example and not be lazy”.[7]

Examples of BAM in modern times

In the last 300 years missionaries were mostly professionals travelling long distances at great cost (both financially and as a family), while non-missionaries stayed at home and gave their “support through prayer and finance”. This unhealthy division has led to the limited view of God’s mission distinguishing those who go and those who stay.

The examples of business as mission below are believers who demonstrated their obedience to the three commonly understood imperatives of Christian mission:

  • the Creation Mandate (Genesis 1:28)
  • the Great Commandment (Galatians 5:14)
  • the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18–20).


I will add a fourth imperative often overlooked in our vocation-driven culture:

  • the Great Promise (Genesis 18:18–19), raising families that promote justice and righteousness


  1. Arthur Guinness


An interesting case in point is the story of Arthur Guinness and the founding of the Guinness Brewery (find more information in The Search For God And Guinness). Arthur was deeply concerned about his Irish countrymen’s addiction to hard liquor and the devastating impact it was having in the community, and felt a burden to create a healthy drink that people would enjoy. He was convinced that “brewing could be done as a holy offering, as a craft yielded to the service of God”, and the family dynasty continued in this vein for more than 200 years. Succeeding generations became bankers, writers, and preachers. Some influenced global high finance, others enabled the work of reformers and missionaries such as Thomas Barnardo, Hudson Taylor and John Wesley.


  1. The Royal African Company and Dutch West India Company


European business expanding into Africa was considered a key enabling factor for Christian mission. For example, in 1720 the Royal African Company requested the Society of the Propagation of the Gospel to send chaplains to their factories in Ghana (then known as the Gold Coast).[8] The governor took it upon his office to underwrite their room and boarding, and to pay them an allowance. Thus the chaplains were sent to serve the interests of this publicly listed trading company, which was backed by the British government. While today church historians tend to think of this as “the beginning of [the] Anglican mission to the Gold Coast, it was, in actual fact, a chaplaincy to serve the interests of the company, and the foreigners at the trading post.”

European businesses played a significant role in the spread of Christianity in 17th century West Africa.[9] For example, the charter establishing the Dutch West India Company in 1621 had an explicit clause requiring the company to make the spread of the Reformed Christian Religion one of its principal objectives. (The position of chaplain was the third most important in the company.) The Western chaplains sponsored by these companies[10] were instrumental in the recruitment and training of Africans such as Philip Quaico, who graduated in theology and was ordained by the Anglican Church and served as a priest, chaplain, and schoolmaster for many years.[11] Business financed religious expansion.


  1. Henry Venn


It can be argued that the Anglican and Roman Catholic missionary schools in Africa provided education and the development of skilled labour that laid the foundation for today’s African middle class and the wealthy elite. The health institutions they founded improved their local communities’ quality of life, and reduced infant and maternal mortality. But one Anglican clergyman, Henry Venn (1796–1873) had a different view of the role of missions than most of his colleagues. He described the role of the Church Missionary Society and similar agencies as that of ‘scaffolding’ – their task was to establish local congregations and then be decommissioned when the work was done.

Believing education to be the foundation for political, economic, and social development,[12] he insisted that the Africans should be trained to assume full responsibility for government and commerce. (One of the first West African medical doctors was Africanus Horton, whose training in Britain was arranged for by Venn.) In setting up his mission model, he did not simply depend on donations or on his government.[13] He “encouraged Manchester merchants to establish a cotton industry in Sierra Leone and Yorubaland” and invested his own “capital in machinery, seeds, and the training of Africans for the cotton industry.” His interest in economic development stemmed from “his conviction that if people’s economic needs were met through constructive and legitimate commerce, evils such as slavery would be eliminated”.[14]


  1. Bishop Samuel Ajay Crowther


This same period saw the emergence of the first African Bishop, Samuel Ajay Crowther, who as a freed slave began his missionary work in the first settlements for former slaves in Sierra Leone. His impact grew significantly when he was able to link back to Yorubaland (his birthplace) and began working with enterprising liberated Africans who banded together to buy confiscated slave ships and began trading from Freetown. This spawned an indigenous missionary movement by Sierra Leonians, and the mission to Yorubaland marked a “turning point in bringing about a well-grounded church in inland Africa”.[15]

Towards the end of Crowther’s life, the British imperial power was growing, and with it the Royal Niger Company. Missionaries, who were then sent by the Church Missionary Society, questioned the spirituality of this model and undermined the Africans who were propagating trade. The African traders had by this time morphed into selling large quantities of “whisky and gin” (ibid.,107). Even so, what could have been a positive missionary model supported by commercial activity was once again undermined by missionaries.


This article has given examples of how marketplace people have promoted God’s mission, beginning with the life of Jesus, and followed by the apostles Philip and Paul. Self-supporting missionaries were the norm in the Middle Ages. In the modern age we find enterprise once again being an instrument of wholistic redemption of society through addressing societal challenges in Jesus’ name. I am convinced that the next great wave of mission is now beginning – led by Christians living out their faith redemptively in the marketplace.

Dennis Tongoi is the Executive Director of Root-to-Fruit, a leadership development consultancy in Kenya. He holds a DTh. in Missiology from the University of South Africa, is the founding International Director Emeritus of the Church Mission Society (CMS) Africa, and coordinated the Samaritan Strategy in more than 40 African countries from 2001 to 2014. He served as the business leadership manager for the Executive MBA program run by the Copenhagen Business School in collaboration with Mount Kenya University and was part of the Navigators for almost two decades, serving as their Kenya Country Director from 1995 to 2000.

[1] Tongoi DO (2016). “Business As Mission and Mission As Business: Case studies of financially sustainable Christian mission ventures with a focus on Anglican Dioceses in East Africa”. Doctoral dissertation: University of South Africa

[2] Hoekendijk (1952). The International Missionary Council at the Willingen Conference

[3] Bosch DJ (1991:10). Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. New York: Orbis Books

[4] 1 Thessalonians 2:9, 2 Thessalonians 3:7–9, 1 Corinthians 9:6 and 18, Acts 20:34–35

[5] Steffen T and Barnett M. “Business As Mission: From Impoverished To Empowered”. Evangelical Missiological Society No. 14 pp103–104

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Pobee, JS (2000:154). Invitation To Be An African Christian. Accra: Anglican Asempa Publishers.

[9] David NA. Kpobi, writing in Kalu OU (ed.) (2005:154) African Christianity: An African Story. Department of History: University of Pretoria

[10] Ibid.

[11] Kalu OU (ed.) (2005) African Christianity: An African Story. Department of History: University of Pretoria

[12] Anderson GH and Horner NA (eds.) (1977). “Occasional Bulletin of Missionary Research”, April, Vol. 1 Issue 2, pp16–19, available [Viewed 7 July 2013]

[13] Schwartz GJ (1991). “From Dependency To Fulfilment”. Evangelical Missions Quarterly, July, available [Viewed 15 March 2014]

[14] Anderson GH and Horner NA (eds) (1977). “Occasional Bulletin of Missionary Research”, April, Vol. 1 Issue 2, pp16–19, available [Viewed 7 July 2013]

[15] Walls AF (1996:105). The Missionary Movement In Christian History: Studies In Transmission Of Faith.

New York: Orbis Books

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Rev. Dr Dennis Tongoi 

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