Fulfilling Marketplace Ministry

In my previous post I sketched out the significance of work from a Christian perspective:

  1. Work is part of God’s original design for humanity.
  2.  The Fall brought toil and frustration to work but did not diminish the significance of work.
  3.  Understanding work in the light of our primary and secondary calling enables us to engage in all types of work for the glory of God and the good of our neighbors.

In this post, I want to explore some implications of this perspective of work for marketplace ministry, focusing primarily on one’s attitude towards the workplace. Although I will refer specifically to what missionaries often call tent-making or business as mission, the implications extend to every believer who holds a job not considered “full-time ministry.”

First, we need to abandon the false dichotomy between “sacred” and “secular” work. As we saw in the previous post, work is part of God’s original design for humanity. All work has dignity, reflecting God’s image in mankind. The Puritan vision sought to display the holiness of God in all aspects of life. All work done by Christians should be done for the glory of God and the good of our neighbor (Colossians 3:17). Yet the dichotomy is still with us.

… the prevailing notion is that the tentmaker’s job is mainly a source of income, or a “cover” for access and ministry, rather than a legitimate ministry in its own right. Put another way, they see the job as a necessary evil rather than an indispensable part of a healthy church planting strategy. In fact, one commonly cited disadvantage of tentmaking is that the requirements of the job leave little time for ministry.

Business as Mission, 2006, ed. by Tom Steffen and Mike Barnett, p 22.

If one sees work as part of God’s design, then one will engage in it for God’s glory and the good of one’s neighbor. One’s marketplace job is not getting in the way of “ministry” but is part of ministry. In speaking to Christians in the workplace, Tim Keller writes:

Your daily work is ultimately an act of worship to God who called and equipped you to do it – no matter what kind of work it is.

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work, p 80.

Second, one needs to acknowledge and accept the frustration that one finds in work. There are frustrations and drudgery in all types of work in this fallen world. Os Guinness reminds us that fulfillment in one’s work is not a right but a blessing. There will be times in which the only fulfillment in a menial job will be the joy of putting food on the table. Yet there are challenges unique in marketplace ministries where one is crossing cultures for disciple-making purposes. The marketplace job may not be the heart of one’s calling but can be viewed as part of one’s calling. Os Guinness comments on Paul’s tentmaking:

This tension created by the Fall lies behind the notion of “tentmaking.” Needless to say, there was no advertised job that was perfect for Paul’s calling: “Apostle to the Gentiles: $50,000 per annum.” So Paul, not wishing to depend on wealthy Corinthian patrons, earned money by making tents. Doubtless he made tents well because they too were made to the glory of God. But tentmaking was never the heart of Paul’s calling, it was only a part, as all of life is. As a part of our calling such “tentmaking” at worst is work that frustrates us because it takes time we wish to spend on things more central. But at best it is work that frees us to get to that which is central. By contrast, whatever is the heart of our calling is work that fulfills us because it employs our deepest gifts.

The Call: Finding and Fulfilling God’s Purpose for Your Life, by Os Guiness, p 50,51.

One’s attitude toward the job as part of our calling largely determines whether it frustrates or frees us. We can ask God to give us joy in our marketplace job. He is the one who gives the ability to find joy in our labor (Ecclesiastes 2:24,25). Furthermore, marketplace jobs provide an opportunity to relate to and love local people. Keller writes:

One of the main ways that you love your neighbor is through the “ministry of competence.” If God’s purpose for your job is that you serve the human community, then the way to serve God best is to do the job as well as it can be done.

Keller, p 76.

So, rejecting the false dichotomy between “sacred” and “secular” work is part of coping with potential frustration in marketplace ministry. And if one sees the job as part of one’s calling that enables relating to and loving one’s neighbor, one will be well on their way to minimizing frustration in marketplace ministries.

Third, those who work cross-culturally in marketplace ministries can become models for all Christians in the workplace. Doing one’s marketplace job for God’s glory and the good of one’s neighbor is the practical application of the biblical understanding of work. The cross-cultural worker does so to extend disciple-making in unreached parts of the world. All Christians who do their jobs for God’s glory and the good of their neighbor should also develop disciple-making opportunities where God has placed them.

In sum, those involved in marketplace ministry have the opportunity to display that all work should be done for God’s glory and the good of our neighbor. They can navigate the potential frustrations of balancing the heart of their calling and the parts of their calling by doing their marketplace jobs well. They can model that all Christians are called to disciple-making.

 

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