SHAUN recognised the distinctive red cross in the prison visiting room. He was visiting a mate inside and hadn’t expected to see someone from the Jesus Army there. Arthur, from one of the Jesus Fellowship’s community houses, was also visiting a friend. Shaun had been homeless for some time, living on a hill in his home town of Baldock. The cycle of prison, heroin and homelessness had been impossible to break and Shaun was desperate to escape.
As a result of that “chance” meeting, Shaun went to stay in Christian community and slowly found freedom from his addictions. However, he desperately needed to apply himself to something in the daytime to avoid the temptations drawing him back. TBS, the Jesus Fellowship’s builders merchant business, was able to provide an opportunity for Shaun to help as a driver’s mate. This led to Shaun working at Goodness Foods, another Jesus Fellowship “kingdom business” (so called because of the vision of “taking” money from the world and channelling it into the kingdom of God).
“I was immediately hit by the sense of belonging and brotherhood within the businesses and soon found a strengthening of my desire to end the drugs. The love and acceptance has made me confident; I’ve now been able to become a responsible person within the church”.
Shaun had found it impossible to break out of his cycle of homelessness before. “When you’re an addict you become stereotyped and no one wants to know. But now I feel that I’ve broken out and can help others in the same situation.”
Shaun has found a “ministry” within the church businesses and regularly leads worship and prayer times. “I love the sense of equality – everyone here earns the same wage. I appreciate the freedom to talk to visiting drivers about God and I also value the way that I’m no longer wasting my energies, but giving to something worthwhile.”
The Jesus Fellowship began kingdom businesses in the 1970s. Our vision was born out of a desire for close relational brotherhood. We felt that our working lives were wasted working for the “fat cats” of this world. We longed for a way of working together and for the profits to be channelled into something that contributed to changed lives.
The first kingdom businesses began to serve the Christian community which had sprung up in Bugbrooke. A shop to sell the produce from the farms we had purchased. A garage to repair the cars. A construction company and builders merchant to repair the houses.
The businesses were set up on the same principle as the community houses: “All the believers were together and had everything in common” (Acts 2:44). So there is an equality of wages – the cleaner earns the same as the Managing Director. What you earn is irrespective of the skills and ability that you have.
In the Old Testament, we find a “year of jubilee” (see Leviticus 25): every fifty years, all debts were cancelled and everyone started again on an equal footing. The principle of equality is also advocated in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 8:14). We follow this principle of equality throughout our businesses and community.
This enables people to start again. For some the cycle of poverty, homelessness and unemployment has been impossible to break out of. The businesses and community have provided a way out of this cycle by providing employment for people regardless of the skills they have.
“The devil makes work for idle hands”… So runs the old proverb – but it’s still true today. Addiction to alcohol or drugs is often found through boredom. Kingdom businesses have provided an excellent opportunity for those struggling with addictions to work in the day time. Even if they cannot cope with the pressure of a full time job, they have benefited from an afternoon fruit-picking on the farm.
Working with Christians offers many opportunities for ministry. All of our businesses have a weekly “brotherhood time” where teaching can be given and there is an opportunity to worship or receive prayer. Living and working in the community allows us to be “24-7 church”.
Kingdom businesses are noticeably different to those in a secular environment. In the neighbouring car park, next to Goodness Foods, the Managing Directors arrive in BMWs with personalised number plates. Our Managing Director arrives in an old Volkswagen camper van. Most of our employees arrive for work in Jesus Army minibuses, a far cry from single driver rush hour traffic! Probably one of the funniest differences is the lack of graffiti within the toilets (with the exception of the few misguided “Praise the Lord” s!)
Profits generated by kingdom businesses are not used to line the pockets of the wealthy, but to fund the church’s work for the gospel – such as Jesus Centres. In one year, our businesses were able to donate over £1million to the work of the church and the Jesus Centres, as well as employing over 200 people.
Kingdom businesses release people for ministry. The businesses have committed themselves to seconding some employees to work at the Jesus Centres for half a day per week. Likewise, staff are released for many evangelistic campaigns throughout the year.
There is another helpful spin-off that comes from having church businesses. In a national church, the businesses offer a central network for communicating faith, prayer needs and direction. The miracles that God does in one area of the country can quickly be communicated from one area to another (I call it “holy gossip”) via the businesses. This causes the church to be encouraged and faith rises. And of course, employees are able to form strong relationships across the church, which they can draw strength from in difficult times.
With the national retirement age set to reach 70 in the future, the next generation of employees will work for over 110,000 hours in their lifetime. For many, work is just a necessity with little intrinsic enjoyment in it. Life is spent looking forwards to the weekend or planning summer holidays. However for those choosing to work in a kingdom business, their career can be much, much more fulfilling, more purposeful and more worthwhile.