The following 7 models are currently available and so far tested out broad models for interpreting the role of business and professions in God’s economy as a calling:
1. The Marketplace as a target for evangelism – there are ‘marketplace ministries’ focused on evangelism of business leaders and professional elites.
2. Tent Making – with a focus on sending Business Professionals as Missionaries to difficult to penetrate cross cultural contexts as an alternative to traditional missionaries
3. Business for Missions – or Corporate Philanthropy with a Christian twist to support specifically Christian Mission organizations as donors.
4. Business Ethics approaches stressing ethical business practice based on Christian values
5. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) approaches that look at a broader purpose to business responsibility to society and the earth. In practice this means donating/ supporting not traditional cross cultural missions but projects of social and community development and environmental causes like the Green Earth project undertaken by the company through its own foundation or usually through a NGO. The triple Bottom line approach of social auditing is a common method for measuring CSR.
6. Business as Missions – Instead of single professionals moving to impenetrable cross cultural settings here an entire business is set up in a cross cultural context for evangelism, discipleship or ‘great commission fulfillment’ ie. Business as church planting but also increasingly for wholistic entrepreneurship/mission – means real business product or service to cater to the community too in addition to evangelism and discipleship priorities.
7. Business for Wholistic Transformation understood under the Mission as Transformation paradigm.
All of these have weight to recommend them at various points and they have much good in them. My experience in marketplace ministry is situated very close to the seventh model. But we must move on deeper as the Spirit leads continually into deeper waters for Kingdom adventure ! Where does this lead us ?
One answer is that the problem area is also defined by the newer academic discourse on economic and political ideologies of capitalism, communism, socialism etc and the corresponding institutions of society. This area relates to the tacit value assumptions Christian entrepreneurs hold regarding the larger issue of the political-economy and the capitalist and market form of organizations. It is assumed this will strongly affect the paradigm or models (from the first section or beyond them) that Christian entrepreneurs will choose to operate under or it may seek to transform current economic organization itself as an eschatological task. It includes the following:
a. Sociology based studies on Sociology of Economic Behavior, economic sociology and post-modern approaches to economics of late capitalism anticipating the post-capitalist society, including recent efforts to move beyond CSR and look at transforming capitalism in secular and Christian forums– including ‘kingdom capitalism’, Arun Maira’s reflection on ‘Transforming Capitalism’ in Indian context etc.
b. Serious recent efforts to approach the realm of economics and the market from a fully orbed theological perspective say using the doctrine of God itself as the starting point for economic reflection instead of a marginal Ethics perspective.
The Symposium on Marketplace Theology that I am helping organize with MIIS in January 3rd to 5th right here in Chennai is a unique effort to enter through the help of the Spirit of Truth into such deep waters in the business and entrepreneurial world. This conference marks a first for Indian theology - there are other efforts to engage economics in India but this one does it in the world of corporate, professional life for living out business as a calling in the Kingdom . So it also marks a first for Indian businessmen and professionals as it is India's first start at a fundamentally theological approach to business. That calls for deep tranformations in 'marketplace ministry'. It goes beyond popular workplace ministries which are the current rage in town . As my friend Benedict puts it so well, we start to learn for first time, the art of ' Theologically enabled Strategizing '! These are exciting and innovative times to live in and seek the Kingdom. You are invited to seek the Kingdom with me!