Soccer, or what it is more commonly known as, football, is the world’s most popular sport. This may, or may not, come to a surprise to those who live in the United States where there are many popular sports to play and to watch. The world enjoys football. The world understands football. That is why the following is so powerful.
A couple months ago, I wrote an Op-Ed for RELEVANT Magazine. In it, I called out the paradox that there are more secular development professionals and academics that are predicting the imminent end to extreme poverty than Christian church leaders or pastors. (Read the whole article here.) This idea was further reinforced by Nicholas Kristof’s recent Op-Ed in the New York Times outlining the reality that the way of life, known as extreme poverty, is ending. (Full article here.)
Kristof’s analysis may come off as overly optimistic, and maybe it is, but he is correct in pointing out that the world has made tremendous strides in reducing the “hanging-by-your-fingernails subsistence in a thatch-roof hut, your children uneducated and dying” way of life. There is, however, still work to be done. Ensuring that this type of grinding suffering ceases to exist on our planet is going to take a collective effort, an effort where the global church must be firmly planted at the center.
For those of you who may not know, I moved to Kenya this past week. I am living at the African Theological Seminary in Kitale, Kenya close to the western boarder with Uganda. My job is to evaluate the effects of a unique business training program. For those who follow this sort of thing, business training is quite common across the developing world as a means to jumpstart economic growth. What makes this project unique is that the trainings are facilitated through local churches.
While I was acclimatizing to life here, seven hours ahead of my usual time zone, I spent my mornings sitting and observing a class designed to train local pastors to be able to train their congregations in business principals that simultaneously build wealth, Kenya’s economy and society, preserves Kenya’s beautiful environment, and builds God’s Kingdom. Globally this idea is call Business as Mission. (Learn more by watching this video.) It is really a neat idea when explained correctly and done well.
One morning as one of the pastors shared his thoughts from his nightly journal assignment he articulated the following analogy. He said, “I’m picturing a football game. One team has 11 players, the other team, however, only has a couple scurrying around the field.” “This”, he said, “is the current environment of the church’s evolvement with perhaps the most powerful, and dangerous, poverty alleviation resource our world has… the marketplace.” (Which is defined in our class as business, education, and government.) He concluded, “If the Kenyan church embraced and engaged its church member’s work in business, education, and in public office; our nation will surely become strong.”
The situation he described is all too similar to reality. The world, now due to recent technologies and innovations within the last 20 years, is a level playing field. What isn’t level, however, is the number of players playing on each side of the ball. Those playing for equal progress and universal flourishing both in life before death and life after death are not utilizing all their players.
It was at that moment when I realized, at least anecdotally, that this pastor—the leader of a small rural church in Western Kenya—gets it. The idea of Business as Mission is not an easy concept to grasp. At it’s deepest; the church is publicly grappling and engaging with business and government, sectors that have undoubtedly produced much prosperity worldwide, but have also produced much pain and suffering. What if a business does not build up society? What if a supplier cheats a business? Does the business pass on the loss to the consumer or eat the loss itself? What about government corruption and bribes (a enormous issue in Kenya) how does a businessperson called to use his business to worship God and build his Kingdom operate? These are all discussions we had as a group in class. Putting all those questions aside, however, this pastor understood, just as he understands football.
I also learned something profound. When I initially wrote the article for RELEVANT I was primarily thinking about the churches in developed countries that needed to bear witness to hope for the vulnerable worldwide. I was overlooking something powerful, the capability of churches that are geographically present with the global vulnerable. After spending just a few days in a room with these pastors, it is evident they are here to make a difference.