A Challenging Rediscovery: A Response from the UK

To facilitate a truly global conversation, we ask Christian leaders from around the world to respond to the Global Conversation’s lead articles. These points of view do not necessarily represent the Lausanne Movement. They are designed to stimulate discussion from all points of the compass and from different segments of the Christian community. Please add your perspective by posting a comment so that we can learn and grow together in the unity of the Spirit.

A response to Mats Tunehag – Business as Mission: A Challenging Rediscovery

Well Mats, you’ve set the scene tremendously well!  We need to understand those questions you ask.  I can’t answer all of them….in fact I’d like to add some more to the list! 

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, what is the Church for?  Here in the UK, in 2004 the Church of England produced a report called Mission Shaped Church.  Theologian John Hull wrote a critique of the report, at the end of which he wryly observed, ‘we looked for a mission-shaped church but what we found was a church-shaped mission’.  He tried to unravel what he saw as the theological confusion of the concepts of Church, Kingdom and mission in the report.  I think this confusion is pretty widespread.  What is the mission of the Church?  Is building the Church the same as building the Kingdom?

If the mission of the Church is simply to get more people into churches, then the churches that you describe implicitly in your questions may or may not be doing a good job, but they are doing the right job.  If (as you and I both believe) the mission of the Church is to work with God to help to build the Kingdom, transforming the world by working for justice, by loving our neighbour, by taking Jesus ‘out there’, then it might be that the churches have a different job to do! 

The questions you ask are the questions of a Kingdom builder.  Business is such a great vehicle for building the Kingdom, but you can only see that once you’ve made the jump into a new mission mindset.  By which I mean, of course, into an old mission mindset!  I agree with you that in order to move forward we should start by looking backward.

In the UK we have a great example in the Quakers, who although a very small minority in the country, none the less transformed the UK in the 19th century.  They set out to make the world a better place through business. The names of Cadbury, Fry, Rowntree, Bryant and May, Clark, Wedgwood, Barclay and Lloyd are still household names in the UK in the 21st century.  But there are also forgotten names.  Abraham Darby was an innovative genius in the early 18th century, whose metal working companies were instrumental in starting the Industrial Revolution.  A century later the Pease family started and ran the Stockton and Darlington Railway Company, originally set up to transport coal from their mines but later introducing the world’s first passenger train.  Quaker enterprises formed the basis of British Steel (now Corus) and British Rail, as well as Unilever and ICI. 

The Quaker ethics of honesty, hard work and responsibility for others produced businesses that thrived, leaving a legacy and positive example for business ethics through the centuries since.  As Joseph Rowntree’s biographer notes; ‘His father could see nothing incongruous in mentioning his stocks of sugar and the Holy Spirit in the same paragraph of a letter, and it would never have occurred to Joseph that there might be a code of ethics applicable only to commerce’. 

Quaker businesses provided good jobs for many people.  They provided apprenticeships, which are much needed these days in all countries.  And as one of our BAM business leaders in Watford says, apprenticeship is discipleship.  If people work for us or alongside us for long enough, then some of Jesus should rub off on them!  Quakers educated their workers, provided health care and pensions, and even housing.  And alongside the businesses they built schools and brought in prison reform.  Society was transformed….it all became a little bit more Kingdom like. 

I find the story of Quaker businesses very encouraging. In terms of their spiritual impact, the social reforms they spearheaded led many to become Christians, if not Quakers.  Perhaps it was their lack of desire to build their own ‘church’ that liberated them to work in the world?  Even today, when they are talked of in glowing terms by a world hungry again for ethics in business, they get Jesus a good press!   When it comes to 21st century Christian entrepreneurial businesses we needn’t worry about how few we are, just how well we do what God has entrusted us to do and how well we work with each other.  We can have an impact!

As William Penn, the Quaker founder of Pennsylvania, wrote in 1682:

True godliness don’t turn men out of the world but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavours to mend it.

And creating jobs is a great place to start to mend it!


Bridget Adams, co-author of Building the Kingdom through Business, to be published by Instant Apostle March 20th 2012.    For more information contact me on [email protected]