Many mission agencies have a goal of equipping the national believers for the work of the ministry. They accomplish this by teaching lay believers, casting a vision, modeling ministry and passing the baton. The assumption is that when the national church is mature it will take on ministry responsibility, and the missionaries will leave to enter the next field of service.
Missions Models Can Fall Short
MDE member Luke*, was a missionary in Eastern Europe for a total of eight years, first as a single and then returning with his wife and young children. He speaks of the challenge of working alongside believers who saw family, faith, and church as areas devoted to God, but work and daily life were disconnected from faith. This sacred-secular dichotomy is not difficult to find in many cultures. In this instance, it was calcified through 50 years of living under an atheist government which marginalized Christianity.
One of the antidotes to this dichotomy is scripture’s teaching on the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9). All believers in Christ are members of a holy priesthood and have spiritual service to offer in the places God has put them–be it church ministry or their jobs in the marketplace.
Luke modeled this teaching by using football (soccer) to build relationships in the community and share his faith. Church members took notice, and a few chose to join him on a regular basis. After five and a half years, it was time to turn the ministry over to national believers who had caught the vision. This transition would prove to be a challenge.
Luke had come to their country as a supported missionary, which meant his family depended on the financial backing of churches and friends in the west. National coworkers did not have these contacts, and therefore their opportunities were limited. When Luke’s organization was told of the challenge, they encouraged him to fundraise on behalf of the national believers.
A Paradigm Shift
“I realized that in missions, we had missed the boat. We were relying on one way to support missions. In some ways, we perpetuated the philosophy that ‘if you don’t join my organization and raise support, then you are not in full-time ministry.’ That underlying idea was holding back the national church from moving forward in ministry,” explains Luke.
At the same time, Luke’s sending agency was wrestling with how to take their work into countries closed to gospel witness. Their missions agency’s brand was too well known on the internet. Might there be a way to do sports ministry on a global scale but independent of the mission agency?
Luke’s mission approved him to start a prototype BAM football academy in a neighboring Muslim country, which is known for its international community. The idea was that individuals from closed countries could train with Luke and duplicate a pay-to-play football academy model in their location. This new BAM model appeared to be a success. In three seasons, the academy had grown to medium size and was well respected as a recreational academy.
Sharpening the Business Model
Luke is working with MDE to develop the football academy as an independent for-profit business. To be self-sustainable in the global marketplace, the BAM model must make a real profit and bring needed services to the community.
In Luke’s words, “We desire to envision, mobilize, and train everyday football people to go and make disciples in the world of sport. On the global level, the model has to be a for-profit business.”
*Name changed for privacy.