“Business leaders will be the evangelists of the 21st century.”

It’s a provocative statement brought to us by Larry James, president and CEO of Central Dallas Ministries.

What does an evangelist do? An evangelist sows the seeds of the gospel. She or he shares the good news of Christ with hope that the hearer -- whether one person or 1,000 -- will be moved by the power of the Holy Spirit to accept and follow in the way of Christ. Evangelism is an appeal to the best in each of us. It is the admission that we bear the image of God and that our task is to seek things that are close to God’s heart. It’s more than a profession of faith. It’s a way of life.

And it applies to business.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.” It is also like a ruler who wished to settle accounts with his servants. It’s like a merchant, and a farmer -- and that’s just in Matthew.

One business leader in our church recently said that the economic downturn is giving rise to leaner, smarter businesses; businesses where people know the customers by name. Hopefully so. It’s hard to bundle a bad loan for someone you know.

And that’s just it. What if we viewed businesses, from payroll to profit margin, as agents of the Reign of God? Larry James talks about one company that sets aside funding for a school lunch program, college scholarships and a housing project. What if business leaders also changed the way they did business? Imagine a world without ads that entice people to “buy today at no money down.”

What if we spread the gospel one transaction at a time? It sounds strange, but transactions affect credit scores and interest rates. Transactions sell cars and heat homes. Every transaction, regardless of the corporation or consumer, has an impact on someone you know -- someone made in the image of God.

In church we pray for the alien, the widow, the orphan and the oppressed. We even go on and give to missions, and for good reason. But could the mission of the church also incubate new business? James notes that it’s not unheard of for church capital campaigns to steer a tithe of the campaign beyond the church walls. What if a group of churches committed to a capital campaign tithe, pooled their resources and served as agents of economic development within their local community?

Evangelism is about sharing Christ with whole persons and whole communities.

It is transcendent and it is daily. It gives coherence to our fragmented existence. The kingdom is at hand. Seek ye first.

Gannon Sims is a pastoral resident at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas.