Work

The problem with ‘mission in the workplace’

What does the term ‘business as mission’ say about the intrinsic value of the particular business in question? What is the worth of the work which is done in the workplace?

We hear of ‘business as mission’, ‘tentmaking missions’, ‘mission in the workplace’, ‘medical mission’ and so on. Two words come to mind when we hear these terms: ‘work’ and ‘mission’. So, does that mean ‘mission at the workplace’ or ‘doing mission work while at work’? Yes, but it is not as simple as that. While the usage of the words may be the same, the understanding can be very different between two or more persons.

The understanding of mission is not the same for all Christians. Take the debate on the terminology, for example. Some say that it should be called ‘mission’ while others say it should be ‘missions’. That debate is long and unresolved and while which side you are in makes a difference , the focus of this writing is a little on the side.

Let me go straight to the problem area that I see. While those who write books and those who wrestle with the terms mentioned above may see things differently, there is a problem with the popular understanding of how those terms are understood. When we say ‘mission in the workplace’, the understanding is ‘oh, so I have to evangelize non-Christian colleagues in my office and try to convert them’. ‘Business as mission’ is popularly understood as ‘preaching to my business partners so that they can have born-again experience’; or ‘using the profits of my business to support a missionary’. Tentmaking is understood as getting a job in a place where I can support myself and covertly or overtly become a missionary.

What is wrong with that understanding? While it includes all that – evangelism, conversion, missionary work, missionary support – the work, business, or the job in this understanding is only seen as a tool or a vehicle for something else. The goodness of the business in this understanding lies in the possibility that it brings for missionary work to happen.

The job or profession is a support system to do real mission work. But what does the term ‘business as mission’ say about the intrinsic value of the particular business in question? In ‘mission in the workplace’, what is the worth of the work which is done in the workplace? In a tentmaking mission, what is the profession or the job which is taken up, and how central is it to the mission? Isn’t the work in itself a part and parcel of the mission?

  • Is there goodness, creativity or beauty in the work?
  • Is there purpose or meaning in the work?
  • Is there evil at work in the work which corrupts the work?
  • Is the work in need of redemption?
  • Is there hope that the work will last into eternity?

When mission agencies call us for a medical camp (under the banner of medical mission), they say, ‘when you do medical camp’, it becomes easier for missionaries to do evangelism work. But I think, ‘what about the goodness of the medical camp in itself?’ Is relieving suffering, making the sick healthy again or healing bodies, only an enabler to do the real thing? Isn’t healthcare an integral part of what mission is about?

Isn’t this low understanding of work or profession responsible for the problems we see today?

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(Stephen Neil said, ‘If everything is a mission, nothing is mission’. Not everything is mission. An obvious example is that I am not a missionary. But evangelism or gospel preaching is not synonymous with mission and should not be used interchangeably. To me, evangelism or missionary gospel preaching to non-Christians in the other culture groups is vital, essential, or core component of mission, but mission of God is bigger than that component)

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