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December 14, 2019

Business as Mission: How Two Grocers Changed the Course of a Nation

Mark Markiewicz YWAM, UK (co-founder of the Central Asia Business Consultation, CABC) • Biographies
Highlights the entreprenuerial skills some Christian men who did great things.

In the time of revival, at the turn of the last century in Britain, it was as if God poured out an entrepreneurial gift on his church and people started doing things that were unheard of. These are the people, normal people in the pews, that God got a hold of and helped them to use their entrepreneurial skills to change society, to see churches grow, and to see missions grow.

One of them was a man called Arthur Guinness. Guinness is a wonderful drink, it's a black dark beer with a white head and if you've never drank it, I don't want to encourage you to drink, but its rather nice, so give it a try. Guinness is the national drink of Ireland. You've probably all heard of Guinness but don't know his personal history. Guinness was a young Christian man who was once walking the streets of Ireland crying out to God, "God do something about the drunkenness on the streets of Ireland." Everyone was getting drunk on whiskey, there were whiskey houses, gin houses, etc. and his cry to God was do something about the alcoholism on the streets of Ireland and he felt God speak to him. In fact he felt God say this: "Make a drink that men will drink that will be good for them."


That was his mandate from the Lord. "Make a drink that men will drink that will be good for them." He then brewed a beer and called it Guinness. It's a dark stout beer. You can still get it on the National Health Service prescribed to you when you're pregnant because it's so good for you. My wife drank it throughout her first pregnancy. Guinness is exported from Ireland as a food because it is so full of minerals and natural trace elements, etc. It has incredible qualities to it. So Guinness made men a drink that was good for them.


He was an entrepreneur and, believe it or not, people started buying it and drinking it. And now it's the national drink of Ireland. Irish men don't go and drink much whiskey; they go and drink Guinness. And its almost impossible to get drunk on Guinness because its so heavy, so full of iron that you feel so full you can't drink more than a couple of pints. It has a fairly low alcohol level. (OK-The recipe has changed recently and it's a bit more alcoholic than it used to be, so don't try it.)


Doing missions through business is certainly a valid thing to do. Or should we do business for missions, i.e. should we do business and make money and give it to missions. Or should we be doing business as mission. I think Guinness is somebody who did business as mission. He didn't go into business to say, 'Lord, I'm going to go into business and I'm going to make some money so that I can help your missions.' His mission- eradicating alcoholism on the streets of Ireland- was the answer to that problem. It wasn't sending out more missionaries - the answer was to produce a drink that men would drink that was good for them. His business was the mission. I think there is lots of validity in all the different models but this is just one particular model. Doing the Business was the Mission.


The legacy of Guinness doing business and mission doesn't end with Arthur. Here we will explore the legacy of the next couple of generations of the Guinness family.


At another time a Guinness was walking on the streets of Ireland and met another young man crying on the streets. And he talked to him and this young man said," I'm crying because of all these kids living on the streets." There were hundreds and hundreds of kids abandoned living on the streets of Ireland and Guinness said, "What would you do if I gave you some money?" 'Well," he said, " I'd buy a home, a Christian home, and we'd fill it with God's love; and we'd fill it with these children who need to be parented and loved in the way God intended for them to be loved." And Guinness said, "Look, you do it and I'll pay for it." That young man was called Barnardo and he started Barnardo's Children's Home, which became one of the biggest children's homes in Great Britain, all funded by Guinness.


Another Guinness descendant met a young man who wanted to be a missionary in China called Hudson Taylor. Nobody would accept Hudson Taylor to go with their mission society so Guinness said, "Look, if you're willing to go, I'll pay for you to go." Guinness paid for him to go. Then Hudson Taylor wrote back and said we need more workers. Guinness himself said, "I'll find the next ten and send them and pay for them to come." Then Guinness decided there was a need to train people all the time to be going out to China because there was so much need, so he built a college to train people to become missionaries to China. Can you imagine a missionary society today being founded on beer money?


A Guinness was then elevated to the House of Lords because of his philanthropy and because of his wealth and he became Lord Iveagh. As Lord Iveagh, he brought about many, many changes in Britain in the legal system. We used to have dueling on the streets. You have seen it in the movies, take 10 paces and turn around and shoot each other- if you're in conflict. He said, "No." The Biblical principle is if you've got something against somebody, you have to talk to them; if they don't change or if they don't accept what you're saying, take somebody with you; legal representation, a lawyer as we now call it, and if they still don't listen, then you go to a public court and you get witnesses and before witnesses you then argue your case. And he hooked Biblical principle to the British Judicial System. He was a young entrepreneur who changed the judicial system of Great Britain through applying Biblical principle.


People like the Guinness' are heroes of the faith in terms of businessmen. They should be our heroes if we were going to do Business as Mission and also give huge amounts of money to missions and bring about social reform and build churches.


Another one of my heroes is Jesse Boot. If any of you have been to England you may have been to Boot's the Chemists. Boot's the Chemists is the oldest chain of retail shops in Britain. They are also the biggest retailers in Britain. I think about 75% of women in Britain shop at Boot's weekly. Those are amazing statistics- the biggest retailer in Britain is Boot's. If you go into a Boot's store as a business person and analyze what they do, you'll be very confused. There's a pharmacy. They sell vitamins and minerals, herbal supplements, all that kind of stuff as well. They sell pots and pans for cooking food and then they sell books and sell baby clothes and food. It's an odd combination of things to sell in one shop. If you put together a business plan and went to a bank and said, "We want to open a chain of chemist shops that also sell baby food, pots and pans and this and that," the bank manager would laugh.


The story proves a fascinating one because Boot's father was an apothecary, a chemist, to the wealthy families of Britain. He used to make these herbal remedies and coat them in gold leaf and these very, very wealthy people would then have these gold leaf covered tablets that they would take when they didn't feel quite 100%. Jesse Boot's was a Christian young man and he was appalled at what his father was doing. "You're making medicines for the people who don't need it. What we need is someone to make medicine that the poor people can afford to buy and use." So Boot set about starting to make medicines as cheaply as possible and selling them as cheaply as possible to the poor people who really needed them. He had a cart that he used to wheel into the market at Nottingham and he used to help the poor people that came along. He would diagnose what was wrong with them and sell them what they needed. They were just basic medicines in these huge big jars and he'd dispense them the best he knew how and he made medicine available to the poor people in Britain.


He got married and his wife said one of the problems is not just that they need medicine but they need a good diet throughout the whole year. So they started processing foods. Foods that were good for people and processing it in such a way that it would be preserved and they could sell it throughout the year. That's why they added food to the medicines they sold. She said another thing we need to do to is teach people how to cook this food properly. So she used to run little cookery classes and then added pots and pans to what they sold. Then she was concerned with illiteracy- she was really the driving force behind Boot's. All these people that were coming to the cookery classes were illiterate, so they started helping people to learn to read and write and they added books in these little libraries. All the lending libraries in Britain come from Boot's. They started these little lending libraries where people could come and they were in shops by this time and they could come to learn to read when the shops closed and borrow books when they needed to, etc. The children were in bad condition so she started making children's clothes and selling children's clothes alongside these things.


It was a very holistic approach to business and that business was their mission. They were effecting change in society through their business- they weren't doing business for missions. Boot's company grew- as I said, it's now the biggest retailer in Britain- it grew to such an extent that at one point he decided to start training people to do what he was doing. He set up a small college and he recruited people to train them to make medicines for poor people that they could afford and to expand his company. That became Nottingham University, now one of the biggest medical universities in Britain. It trains thousands of people to go into medicine. He built Nottingham University with the profits from his company and the aim of Nottingham University was that half of the people they trained would end up making medicines for poor people and be pharmacists. He invented the whole pharmacy system in Britain. The other 50% were trained to be pharmacists and chemists and go out overseas to those who haven't got medicines. So half was to train people for missions and the other half was to train people to effect change in the UK. This isn't very long ago, yet when we look at some of these nations we are working in, some of them actually need business people who will go with the mission to be the solution to the problems.


A couple of hundred years ago there were two Christian grocers in London who ran market stalls. One of them said to the other (this is what I imagined to have happened) "You know as Christians, we're supposed to have honest scales. It says so in the Bible. So how should we do that?" "Well, I'll tell you what, I'll come and check your scales on Wednesdays to make sure their accurate and you come on Sundays and check mine, we'll make sure their accurate. There is a Biblical principle here that we'll make part of the way we do business." As these two grocers met together, they came out with a list of twelve principles that they felt were the guiding Biblical principles of the way that they should do business in London.


Then something interesting happened. People preferred to buy from them because they knew they would get a good product, at a fair price, with honest scales etc, etc., etc. They preferred to buy from these grocers. And other grocers who were Christians said this isn't fair, we need to be honest. "So the two grocers said, "OK, if you sign up to these twelve principles and we hold you accountable for these twelve principles, then you can join our association of Christian grocer's." In those days it wasn't called exactly that, but it is still in existence today, and is called the Most Worshipful Company of Livery Merchants. And the Master of it is the Grand Master of the Most Worshipful Company. It's very odd and peculiarly British.


And then the bakers came along and said, "Yeah, these grocers are doing so well by applying Biblical principles, we're Christians, let's apply these same principles to our baking business." And then the saddle makers, and the fan makers. There were twelve original companies. There were thirteen separate trades in the city of London and twelve of those trades agreed to live by a set of twelve biblical principles to govern their businesses and they were the most successful businessmen. The thirteenth trade was the masons, and the masons became known as the Free Masons because they were free from the principles of the other twelve companies.


Very interesting. So anyway, the twelve great companies of the City of London are still known this way today. Now there are 300 companies in the City of London registered as Livery Companies. The latest one was the Most Worshipful Company of Information Technologists. So everybody that joins one of the companies in the City of London, even today gets a list of the principles they have to sign up to. There are 36 Biblical principles to guide your life. And they call the book Some Rules for the Conduct of Life to Which Are Added A Few Cautions.


The livery companies re-formed as companies that would live according to these biblical principles. And they effected change and what happened was that the rulers of the nation in Britain began to see the effect of these companies and said "What we need to do is make it a law for the whole nation. So instead of just these grocers having their honest scales, every scale in Britain needs to weigh accurately." The government Weights and Measures Department which we have today can trace its history back to the day when these two grocers decided to keep themselves accountable for Biblical principles. The government, the King, then adopted that principle and said this should be an issue of law- every scale in Britain should be honest. Every product should be a good product at a fair price and all of the government institutions that we have today in Britain can trace their history back to the Christian Grocers Association of 1600 and something or other.


Each trade in the City of London appointed what they called a foreign officer. His job was to manage the import of products from overseas to make sure they adhered to the same principles and standards that are set out in the 36 principles. So the whole thing of fair trade came out of that. If they were using slave labor to produce something, and we were not, then they were not allowed to compete against us because that was unfair trade. And the governments of the twelve companies each had their foreign officer and they used to meet in a place called the 'foreign office.' And the government of England's foreign office today, which deals with all our international politics out of London, is the historic home of these foreign officers who managed trade. Weights and Measures, the Health and Safety at work, all of these things come from these companies."

Visitor Comments (1)


I did not know that. Just the telling of this 'history' adds a keel to all the development and mad rush towards successfully competing.

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