Faith-at-work movements have been popular at least since the 1857 businessmen’s revival in New York City, in which noon-hour prayer meetings were so full of the city’s professionals that many businesses closed during the gatherings. But churches have typically kept business people at a distance, needing their money but questioning their spiritual depth. With the business as mission movement, that has changed. In 2004, the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelism, founded by Billy Graham, featured a track on business as mission. At a recent missionary conference in Hong Kong, Doug Seebeck says mission leaders apologized to the business people present. They had been guilty of asking for their money while keeping them in the foyer of the church, outside of the sanctuary.
Mr. Seebeck is executive director of Partners Worldwide, a Michigan organization that provides mentoring relationships for business owners in the developing world by connecting them with business people in the U.S. Mr. Seebeck was a missionary in Bangladesh and Africa for nearly 20 years, but he saw the limitations of all the good work church people did. Now Mr. Seebeck says, “Business is the greatest hope for the world’s poor.” He sees business profits as consistent with God’s purpose for humans. Profits, unlike activities that are donor dependent, are sustainable. Making a profit, he argues, is a better stewardship of God’s resources than pleading for funds, spending them, and going back for more.
While advanced economies question capitalism, Christians who work in developing countries see how essential business is to provide jobs and health care, build communities and even minister to souls. For these business owners, a desk job overseas has become a full-time ministry.