(By Stan Smith)
The church is catching a vision for marketplace ministry. The church can’t contain everything God wants to do, for He is pouring out His Spirit on all flesh — and many people don’t go to church. So God is teaching us to work with the outpouring of His Spirit in the marketplace.
A new year is starting, and many of us will be thinking about what we’re doing with our lives. Most of us, whatever our ministry, have to work part-time or full-time to support our families. Is this work a distraction from our real calling?
If we are like Peter, it is; if we are like Paul, it isn’t.
For years, the church has been following Peter’s model. Peter made a living as a fisherman, but Jesus called him to forsake his nets to become a fisher of men. For Peter, fishing was a distraction from his destiny.
So we placed ministry in the hands of a few professional clergymen. We gave tithes and offerings so pastors and missionaries could afford to leave their nets to become fishers of men. We saw our jobs merely as a way to finance the kingdom.
But God is teaching us that every Christian is called to ministry. We still need ministers like Peter, but we also need full-time ministers like Paul, who make tents so they can take the gospel outside the walls of the church.
Paul’s tent-making may not have been at the heart of his calling. His letters don’t tell about spiritual experiences he had while making tents, or divine appointments he had when selling them. But the church fathers taught that he received revelation while working in Tarsus; this revelation became the foundation for his teachings when God later released him into ministry.
Paul was not alone. We can assume that Peter’s experiences as a fisherman became parables of what he was called to do as a fisher of men. And Jesus worked as a carpenter during the years that He “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”
God puts us in the workplace to finance the kingdom — so we can give to people like Peter, and so we can finance our own ministries as Paul did. God also uses the workplace as a school of the Spirit, where He disciples us and gives us revelation.
Many excellent teachings about discipling and character-development in the workplace are available online or in the Christian bookstore. It is harder to find teachings about God’s willingness to speak to us at work.
My own ministry is prophetic, and part of my job description is that I must take time to hear from God. This includes prayer and Bible-study. But God has often spoken life-changing words not in my prayer time, but when I was roofing a house or painting a bathroom.
Sometimes my work was a parable. I lost a seven-dollar tool while working on my pickup truck. It seemed miraculous when I found it months later on the frame of the truck — after weeks of stop-and-go traffic on Detroit’s pockmarked streets. God spoke to me: “If I can keep a tool that cost seven dollars, how much more will I keep My people, whom I purchased with My own blood?”
Sometimes God spoke to me about my work. I was remodeling a small house I had bought. I had to cut a small square of flooring to raise the ceiling above a stairway, turn one deep closet into two usable storage cabinets, and hide a plumbing vent in the new walls. I couldn’t draw a picture of what I was trying to do — it was too complex. But God showed me, step by step, how to do the framing and plumbing. I never had to retrace my steps, and the finished job was perfect.
Sometimes my work had nothing to do with what God told me. I was on the last row of shingles on a roofing job when God showed me how to buy a $110,000 church building when we had $73 in the bank. We used the building for years.
Others had similar testimonies. A lady at church used to tell of divine appointments with customers in a department store where she worked. A man in the machine tool industry used to receive words of knowledge that enabled him to design new products to suit the special needs of customers. A bank official testified that he was often sent to resolve personnel problems in branch offices, and God would tell him how to get to the bottom of the problem.
Sometimes these divine encounters lead to our promotion.
God will speak to us at work. His words can solve a problem, create an invention, bring God’s touch to people, or reshape our own lives. We will discover that financing the kingdom is only a small part of marketplace ministry.
Look at Cornelius. He was a military man, not a preacher. He had cultivated godly character, serving God with fasting, prayer, and giving. It was to Cornelius that the angel appeared, instructing him to call for Peter. His immediate obedience, carried out as crisply as if he had heard from his commanding officer, led to a revival and made history as God took the gospel to the gentiles.
God might have called a rabbi or one of Jesus’ disciples instead of Cornelius. But as Jesus suggested in the parable of the Good Samaritan, would he have been as quick to respond? I can picture the typical overworked pastor of today, pulling out his Day-Timer and telling the angel, “I’ll pencil it in…”
I don’t mean to lampoon pastors. I haven’t met one yet who wasn’t overworked and whose calendar wasn’t full with appointments and meetings. I was a pastor for seventeen years; it was hard enough to find time to pray and to take time with my family.
But this is the point of marketplace ministry. There are jobs God wants to hand out to those who are not in full-time ministry. Cornelius wasn’t necessarily better than the priests and the Levites around him, but he was prepared to obey God’s voice and he was connected to the people God wanted to touch.
You are in the right place at the right time. You may feel you are in a rut; you may be in a time of transition; you may have landed yourself in a mess because you have made wrong choices. But if Christ lives in you and you are acting on what God is telling you, you are where you’re supposed to be.
Listen for God in the workplace. Don’t break your life into two categories — sacred and secular. Give your whole life to God, and begin to expect Him to speak to you in every part of it.
Marketplace ministries take many forms.
Some people find more opportunity to minister to people at work than they would ever find in church. For most of us who work for someone else, this isn’t an option. But the self-employed find opportunities to share Christ with customers and clients, and sometimes to disciple new converts by hiring them and teaching them a trade. Many people have gone into business for themselves so they will have these opportunities.
Some people find that God gives them ideas about their work. God will show us how to invent, produce, and market new products. He will give us ideas for the arts and the media — recently, Mel Gibson’s The Passion created an opportunity for all of us to share Christ with people outside the church.
A dentist (who doesn’t ordinarily preach to his patients) told of a woman with a jaw problem nobody had been able to treat. God showed him in a vision that the root of a tooth had chipped but not shown up on the x-rays. He looked for it, found it, and treated it. The woman was healed.
Modern stories of marketplace ministry echo the biblical stories of Joseph, Moses, David, Daniel, and Esther — people who affected governments and the secular world around them. They serve our generation with their prophecies and testimonies, but served their own generations with a lot of administrative work.
God has placed many people today, like Esther, in their positions “for such a time as this.” Their secular career is God’s way of getting them to the right place at the right time, to be God’s instruments in the earth. How can the church equip and support them in their mission?
First, we need to acknowledge that the workplace is a mission field. It may be an opportunity for evangelism. But it may also be an opportunity to shape society by changing people, industries, or governments. We need to recognize that God has called some Christians to make an impact outside the church, and is pouring out His Spirit to empower them to do so.
Second, we need to train the church to invest in competence. This includes everything from ongoing education to networking with the right people. This all takes time, and will mean that ministers in the marketplace don’t have time to participate in all the programs of the church.
Third, we need to teach the whole church to hear from God in everyday matters. We all need to know His voice. And several disciplines come into play when we start hearing from God: learning to prove all things, learning to obey promptly, and learning to obey appropriately.
Fourth, we need to support marketplace ministries. They need our prayer support, and sometimes mentors within the church who can help them discern God’s way in their work.
Marketplace ministry is not just a way to earn money to send others to the mission field — it is a mission field in itself. If God has put you in the workforce, ask Him to help you see the opportunities for His kingdom where He has put you. Who knows if He has brought you to the kingdom for such a time as this?