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Fall 2003 · Vol. 32 No. 2 · pp. 173–183 

Ministers in the Marketplace

Ron Toews

Paul’s Dilemma. It was to be a significant meeting. A decision was required that would impact the long-term future of the church. The pastor urged strong attendance. “Change your plans if possible. Please come,” he said. As soon as the service was over, Paul hurried to find the pastor. “I have a dilemma. I recognize the importance of this meeting but I’m on call. What should I do?” To which the pastor responded, “Paul, thanks so much for coming to talk to me. While it is true that this meeting is important to the church, it is more important to the church that you serve your patients. You are doing vital kingdom work. In fact, it seems apparent that God has placed before you an open door that no one else in this church can walk through. Can I pray for you? Right now? I want to ask God’s blessing on your ministry.”

Local churches and their leaders do well to invest greater energies in equipping marketplace ministers for their marketplace ministry.

Pam’s Predicament. Her voice was calm but her question urgent. “What do I do?” she said. “We’re twenty thousand dollars into a contract and have just discovered that we’re providing a service for a person whose business is in direct violation of biblical teaching. If you were in my shoes, what would you do? What do you think are my options as a Christian?” After listening long enough to have some grasp of the issues, the pastor prayed with Pam on the phone and said, “I can’t {174} make your decision for you, but give me time to pull together some Scriptures and some authors who have thought through similar issues. I’ll drop the material by your office later, and then in a couple days, once you’ve read it, we can talk.” 1

LOCAL CHURCH VS. MARKETPLACE?

It is not uncommon for an unhealthy tension to exist between the local church and marketplace people. Businesspeople suspect that the local church—particularly pastors—views them as little more than wallets for ever-growing church budgets or financial salvation for struggling ministry projects. They suspect—probably with cause—that few pastors understand the nuances of free market economy, competition, or entrepreneurial enterprise, and feel misunderstood, even offended, when easy-answer sermons fail to grasp fully or to grapple with the myriad of complex problems businesspeople face. They all too often feel guilt—or are at least inwardly torn—when work commitments keep them from regular attendance or participation in the services, meetings, and programs of the church.

Sometimes the preaching that businesspeople hear attempts to place the local church and its programs at the center of the marketplace person’s universe. While few committed businesswomen and men minimize the significance of the local church in God’s economy, or their own worth to the life of the church, their struggle concerns how to have integrity both with the local church and with their occupation.

For their part, pastors sometimes suspect that making money is the marketplace person’s primary motivation, that businesspeople tithe an insufficient amount of time and energy to the local church, and that the workplace is too often devoid of overt or intentional spirituality. Sometimes churches and pastors fail to recognize the natural opportunities marketplace people have for incarnating the kingdom of God. While few churches or pastors would ever openly denigrate the significance of the marketplace in God’s economy, their attitudes and actions occasionally communicate the opposite.

HOW MARKETPLACE PEOPLE ARE THE CHURCH

Let me clarify that occupation is not to be confused with vocation. Vocation for the Christian is a matter of responding to God’s call on all believers to live out their Christian faith, whereas occupation (or career) is the specific skill or job one selects in order to make a living. To be Christian throughout one’s entire life is a believer’s vocation, and God calls all believers to this vocation. To be a plumber or pastor is one’s occupation. 2 {175}

In reality, the ministry of marketplace ministers contributes directly to the fulfillment of God’s purposes for the church. 3 Women and men whom God has inclined towards occupations, such as plumbing, interior design, or engineering, are ministers who use their careers to bear witness to the reign of God on earth. Christians who install faucets, sew window coverings, or design bridges are at the same time the church and representatives of the reign of God. They are living laboratories, parables for pagans, vital links between the church and its mission. What that means is that the equippers described in Ephesians 4 have a responsibility to develop a theology and praxis large enough to outfit people whose ministry venue is the marketplace. Pastors must take the initiative in understanding the marketplace and God’s purposes for it, and they must help marketplace workers understand the significance of the opportunities God has placed before them.

Bridging the gap between church and marketplace is necessary and possible. Four biblical understandings point in the direction of the marketplace as a significant locus of God’s reign.

The Kingdom of God is Present

In the Gospel of Mark Jesus establishes that the kingdom of God is coming, that the kingdom of God is almost realized, and that the kingdom of God is present. 4 While the kingdom of God will be fully realized with Jesus’ second coming, it is already present in his first coming so that wherever Jesus by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is present in his people, the kingdom of God is already realized.

The designations sacred and secular are as unhelpful as they are unbiblical and have done a great disservice to marketplace ministers. Where is the kingdom? Wherever God reigns. Where marketplace Christians plumb, sew, and build for God’s glory, there is God’s kingdom. Although a body of believers gathered for worship is a very important facet of the church, it is by no means the only dimension. That marketplace venue where believers spend the majority of their productive energies is of great significance for the accomplishment of God’s purposes, for it represents yet another occasion for the inbreaking of the kingdom of God.

While the local church is not the kingdom of God, it is a visible expression of the reign of God. Believers sometimes limit the sphere of God’s activity to that which is overtly “religious,” prescribed by the church, or directly related to the program of the church. Churches tend to talk more about prayer, tithing, and evangelism than they do about taxes, entrepreneurial enterprise, and the challenge of retaining highly {176} skilled workers in a competitive market. But Jesus was equally at home shelling grain (on the Sabbath, no less) or visiting with taxation officials as he was in the synagogue. There was no divide between sacred and secular. The earth is God’s domain.

Pastors who recognize that the reign of God is coming, is almost realized, and is present in the marketplace find ways in their preaching and teaching to elevate marketplace ministry. The Bible is replete with marketplace stories and images. These old stories need telling for they inform each new generation. But modern marketplace stories need telling, too, so that the pulpit becomes a connecting point between stories old and new. Inviting a wide variety of marketplace ministers, on an ongoing basis, to tell their stories in the weekly gatherings of the church makes the link between church and marketplace credible and natural. As the church learns to know the opportunities and challenges its people face, it becomes more informed and able to serve and support them.

It is fashionable in some churches, particularly among pastors, to talk of “one’s call to ministry.” 5 The inference is that God’s “call” to pastoral occupation is of greater importance than a “call” to any other occupation. Yet in the kingdom of God all of life is ministry, and pastors who understand this also find ways to recognize and affirm God’s call on his people to marketplace ministry.

Work Is a Privilege

Which is more important, preaching a sermon or plumbing a house? Preaching interacts with biblical history and text, and brings godly counsel to our times. Through preaching, people are enabled to understand God and his ways. Through preaching, unbelievers hear the Gospel and are won to Christ, sin is forgiven, lives are changed, and relationships are reclaimed as people find hope and purpose in living. But plumbing is vital, too, affording safe water, good hygiene, and responsible stewardship of the earth. Plumbed houses in which Christians live out the reign of God become homes in which children hear godly counsel for their lives, where people are enabled to understand God and his ways. In Christian homes, unbelievers hear the Gospel and are won to Christ, sin is forgiven, lives are changed, and relationships are reclaimed as people find hope and purpose in living. So which is more important, preaching a sermon or plumbing a house?

In reality the Bible never asks the question in this way. There is no evidence of a hierarchy of roles, gifts, or occupations that require the assigning of greater or lesser status. Although they do so in different {177} ways, both preaching and plumbing accomplish God’s purposes. 6 Though one attracts greater prominence, both are important for the accomplishment of outcomes vital to the kingdom of God.

The first book of the Bible establishes the worth of work and that understanding is sustained throughout. To Adam, God entrusted the entrepreneurial work of naming animals and birds (Genesis 2:19). To Moses, God gave the responsibility of leading captive Israelites out of Egypt (Exod. 3:19). To the disciples Jesus entrusted the work of distributing bread and fish to a hungry crowd (Matt. 14:16). To Peter, God gave the task of explaining Pentecost to Jerusalem residents and visitors (Acts 2). According to 1 Timothy 5:8, providing for the daily needs of one’s relatives and family is a natural outgrowth of Christian faith. Proverbs in various ways proclaims the worth of work: “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (14:23 NIV, passim); “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men” (22:29); “He who works his land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty” (28:19); “Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate” (31:31). The last citation, Proverbs 31, devotes significant space to enumerating the virtuous woman’s skill and capacity for work; it is readily apparent that she is at home in the marketplace. Work is part of God’s design for people and is therefore inherently worthwhile to the kingdom of God.

One quickly gains a sense of a church’s value system by the stories it tells, the people it profiles, the causes it addresses, and the issues it elevates. The church demonstrates its understanding of God’s design for the marketplace when it takes the efforts of marketplace ministers seriously, when it gives voice in its corporate life to faithful marketplace laborers and their stories, and when it grapples sincerely with the various dilemmas (e.g., financial, ethical) which businesspeople face.

God’s People Need to Be Equipped

Some Christians are of the opinion that in the church, the pastor is the main doer and all others are part of the passive, supporting cast. The words “lay people” or “laity” are sometimes used to differentiate between nonpastors and pastors. But the Bible never uses the word in this way. Rather, laos is a term of honor to describe the whole people of God. Peter says, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a [laity] belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a [laity], but now you are the [laity] of God; once you had {178} not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet. 2:9-10). In God’s economy, the laity is comprised of all believers, making pastors part of laity.

Pastors are not special in a set-apart sense. They simply have a specific role to play in believers’ lives—to equip them for useful kingdom work. Nor are pastors to equip people to do church work or to lighten the pastor’s load. Pastors, together with other under-equippers listed in Ephesians 4:11, are called of God to equip (Eph. 4:12) 7 the chosen people, royal priests, and fellow laity “for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (4:12-13) so that each part can do its work (4:16). According to Ephesians 4, it is the job of some laity—that is, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers—to make themselves useful in equipping other laity—that is, plumbers, interior designers, and engineers—for kingdom purposes.

The role of the equipper is that of teaching, though not necessarily in a sermon sense. Equippers aim to present people with the power and the substance of the word of God (1 Thess. 5:14). Equipping has to do with repairing and preparing all laity to be effective kingdom laborers (Heb. 13:20-21). These spiritual equippers construct a biblical foundation for living so that whether the issues being faced are ethical, relational, financial, or something else, marketplace people find themselves equipped to respond in kingdom ways.

And they do so mindful that equipping is inherently relational and does not occur in isolation. One indicator that people have been well equipped is always the understanding that they are part of a community, that they are not alone. Their individual occupations are important to their community of faith, and the body of Christ of which they are part recognizes them as vital components (1 Cor. 12:11-31). Knowing that equippers and the church are deeply interested in their lives and occupations gives marketplace ministers courage, joy, and fulfillment in their work.

Pastors and Members Need to Understand Each Other

Understandings gained in isolation are one-sided at best and are rarely accurate or durable. True understanding occurs through intentional relationships forged through sustained interaction. It is this sort of interaction that needs to innervate churches—particularly pastors—and their marketplace ministry laborers. Marketplace workers have an obligation to round out the understandings of their spiritual equippers. {179} Plumbers, interior designers, and engineers can take the initiative in ensuring that their spiritual equippers grasp just how complex and demanding the marketplace can be.

Pastors need to understand the marketplace and believers who work in it. While they cannot be—and should not try to be—experts in every field and occupation, they can become knowledgeable by simply taking an active interest in the issues marketplace people talk about. What makes a market bullish? How does the global economy affect local manufacturing? How does SARS affect hospital staff morale? How exactly does one find oil deep underground or under the ocean floor? How do competition, the presence of a labor union, or a shortage of capital affect a business leader?

Many of these issues can be understood through reading. In fact, the business section of the local newspaper should be required reading for pastors. But reading must be augmented with relationships, and pastors equip their people best by getting out of their own offices and into the offices, factories, shops, fields, and other ministry settings of marketplace workers.

A man in a church I pastored invited me to visit his workplace, a chassis-producing factory. An eye-opener indeed! Hundreds of workers elbow-to-elbow like so many robots, nondescript metal taking meaningful shape in their hardened hands. Their ears were covered with protective mufflers to defend them from dangerous factory decibels. Some hands had too few fingers, evidence of battles won by razor-sharp metal. Goggles shielded eyes from flying debris and sparks, but did little to protect against the pervasive pornography affixed to dozens of private workstations. The work was evidently mindless and monotonous—anything but life-giving. Yet the Christian brother who toured me through his ministry setting took pride in his workplace, introduced me to people with whom he had relationships, and had a deep sense that his work provided a service to people who would eventually use the fruit of his labor to drive families to vacation destinations or church, carry the sick to hospitals or summer Bible camp, or deliver bread to grocery stores or street people.

A two-hour visit to a chassis-producing factory opened my eyes more than a year’s worth of newspaper business sections! I thought differently, studied the Scripture differently, preached differently, and—especially—cared differently for my brother. My visit gave our subsequent brief after-church foyer visits a new depth and immediacy. My marketplace brother became my equipper!

The apostle Paul evidently became credible in the marketplace. In {180} Acts 17:17 he can be found interacting in the synagogue with Jews and God-fearing Greeks, “as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.” Pastors and businesspeople grow to understand each other best away from the four walls of the local church. Businesspeople can contribute in many ways to the ongoing education of their pastors. As pastors demonstrate their eagerness to understand the marketplace, marketplace workers and leaders ought to entrust to pastors the joys and challenges they face in business.

TAKING THE INITIATIVE

As a farmer-turned-pastor-turned-professor, it is my contention that the burden of responsibility rests on pastors for entering and understanding the world of their marketplace members. Leaders are servants (Mark 10:42-44) and pastor-leaders must find ways to serve and support marketplace ministers.

My “call” to pastoral ministry occurred when I was a partner in a family farm. Deciding to leave was difficult, for I viewed farming as a sacred occupation. Whether generating foodstuffs to fill empty stomachs, tithing grain to Canadian Foodgrains Bank, or using profits to support world missions, farming was kingdom ministry.

Though I eventually left the farm, I never lost my respect for businesspeople or the challenges and difficulties of the marketplace. Businesspeople risk funds on unproven ventures, pay employees and bills with borrowed money, even tithe from a line of credit to support the local church and its causes. Hard decisions or seasonal demands mean their nights are sometimes sleepless. They do their business in a context that is sometimes cutthroat and competitive. They often find themselves interacting with businesspeople whose values are relative and godless. Adhering to biblical standards often appears—this side of heaven—to disadvantage believers in business.

It was my delight, early in my first pastorate, to discover Mennonite Economic Development Agency (MEDA). I was impressed by three planks of the MEDA platform: micro loans for entrepreneurs in developing countries; meaningful service opportunities for North American businesspeople; and supportive networks for persons engaged in marketplace ministry. Given my own marketplace background, MEDA was easy to appreciate, respect, and promote.

Whereas seminary taught me to exegete biblical texts, MEDA and marketplace ministers in general taught me to exegete places such as factories, oil fields, and business offices. I learned that good exegesis of the marketplace involves identifying with marketplace ministers, {181} listening to them to learn as much as possible about their occupation. I discovered a pattern and pastoral strategy: the path to the heart of a marketplace minister begins with demonstrated, genuine, and sustained interest in them and their occupation. There was a correlation between my understanding of marketplace ministers and their ministry, and my ability as a pastor to serve them. And I learned that the latter rarely preceded the former.

Further, there was a correlation between the effectiveness of my preaching and teaching and the amount of time I spent understanding marketplace issues. When I sat in a hospital worker’s office Wednesday, poured over oil-saturated core with a geologist Thursday, or walked the factory floor with ironworkers Friday, people listened differently, more intently, to my preaching Sunday. I suspect this was the case for two reasons. First, we had spent time together and that time together forced me to take seriously their ministry setting in my sermon. Effective sermons truly are the result of good exegesis.

I also discovered that marketplace ministers desire intentional relationships and that periodically my role was simply to facilitate their first contact with other like-minded marketplace ministers. Time and again, in listening to an individual, I heard themes emerge that had also surfaced in listening to other individuals. Themes such as how to share one’s faith in the workplace or the role of prayer in decision making became the occasion for groups of believers to begin meeting together for discussion and mutual support. 8 Sometimes, my role was little more than serving as a matchmaker for bringing isolated individuals together.

CONCLUSION

This high valuation of marketplace ministry in no way minimizes or devalues good programs which originate from within the four walls of the building in which the church meets. Instead, it simply recognizes that before the church establishes a single program or church-based ministry, its marketplace members are already engaged in kingdom work. That makes the marketplace sphere of work, business, and employment a natural venue for incarnating the kingdom of God.

The marketplace is a vital ministry setting, and partnership between the local church and its marketplace people is crucial. Pastors who understand this will take the initiative in equipping the people of God for their kingdom ministry. {182}

NOTES

  1. The interactions with “Paul” and “Pam” took place during my years as pastor at Dalhousie Community Church in Calgary, Alberta.
  2. Though God may in some unusual instances “call” some to a particular occupation, he generally gives Christians considerable latitude in selecting work that suits their spiritual gifts, aptitudes, and interests. Selecting an occupation to express Christian vocation is also often a matter of corporate discernment, and perhaps the most accessible illustration of this is the church selecting some to be pastors.
  3. Based on common usage in the Christian community, “ministry” has come to be identified with church-related work (i.e., pastoral ministry or worship ministry). In the biblical text, the noun diakonia (ministry) simply refers to the aid or service that one renders to another (e.g., servants to masters or hosts to guests, Luke 10:40; deacons to the church, Acts 6:1; and authorities to God, Rom. 13:4).
  4. The NIV in Mark 9:1 fails to adequately convey the meaning of elelythyian (a form of erchomai). The NIV reads “some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power” [emphasis mine]. Elelythyian, however, is in the perfect tense so that a better rendering would be “some who are standing here will not die before they see the kingdom of God having come with power.” The kingdom of God is coming, is almost realized, and is present; it represents all three conditions at the same time.
  5. Garry Friesen, in Decision Making and the Will of God (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1980), says that all believers are called to be servants and disciples of Jesus, but that God gives freedom to choose how and in what ways we will serve him. This is consistent with a kingdom worldview which understands one’s whole life as ministry.
  6. This point in no way denigrates preaching. Kerygma (preaching)—consisting of the proclamation of the crucified and resurrected Christ as Savior and Lord followed by an appeal to respond to Christ in repentance and faith—is a vital commission given to the church to which Rom. 10:13-17 well attests (David Watson, I Believe in the Church [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985], 203).
  7. R. Paul Stevens, in Liberating the Laity: Equipping All the Saints for Ministry (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1985), retraces the {183} etymology of katartismos in Eph. 4:12. Though the word is most often translated “equip” and “complete,” it also includes notions of repairing and preparing (cf. related terms in Matt. 4:21; 1 Cor. 1:10; 2 Cor. 13:9; Gal. 6:1; and 2 Tim. 3:17).
  8. For example, a Christian businessman who had a passion for prayer and nurturing younger business leaders formed the “Elijah group.” The group met in downtown Calgary with considerable frequency and had as its goal the establishment of supportive and nurturing relationships between Christian businesspeople.
Ron Toews, D.Min., is Assistant Professor of Leadership Studies at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary-ACTS, Langley, British Columbia. Ron’s love for the church led him to leave his pastoral occupation in 2002 to devote the next segment of his life to training effective pastors.

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