The following article was written for the Brethern 150th Anniversary Book, 15 April 2014.
Until and unless churches and Christians see the marketplace as the primary place for evangelism and missions, the gospel will be lost on the vast majority of people.
Ed Silvoso, who is one of the earlier proponents of marketplace ministry and who wrote the book “Anointed For Business”, defined the marketplace as the combination of business, education and government which are the three arteries which flow into the heart of a city. The marketplace thus includes all institutions or bodies or corporations and markets other than church and parachurch organisations, i.e. all the professional and business enterprises providing goods and services in both the public and private sectors.
The term may be used more narrowly by some to focus more on businesses. Michael Baer’s book “Business As Mission” has inspired many Christians and Christian organisations to set up businesses for missions both locally and cross-culturally.
Marketplace ministry (MPM) refers to the missional role of Christians as God’s redemptive agents as salt, light, witness, ambassador and disciple maker in obedience to both the Great Commandment (Mark 12:29-31) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Thus defined, MPM is clearly not a new issue since the early Christians made the marketplace the focal point of their ministry. In fact, most of the followers of Jesus in the early church remained in full-time business and saw the marketplace as their parish.
But in recent years, Christians worldwide,Singapore not exempted, have become more aware of the strategic importance of MPM. Christians, including the Brethren, have long regarded that God has a specific call, plan and purpose for every Christian to accomplish for the greatest glory of God and blessing to man. A Christian may be called to be a full-time and fully supported Christian worker, whether in his church, a parachurch organisation or a missionary organisation. Or he may be called to be a business owner (whether in a professional practice, industrial or commercial enterprise), or an employee, or even a tentmaker like Paul supporting himself while he serves actively in church or in the marketplace. It is certainly encouraging to see today more elders and church members who are business owners or tentmakers.
Henry and Richard Blackaby’s book “God In The Marketplace” defines the Christian’s call as simply and solely to be like Jesus, i.e. Christ-likeness. Christians are to honour God in every aspect of their lives. “God is equally entitled to receive honour from us, whether we are teaching a Bible study, attending a board meeting, making a sales presentation, embarking on a business trip or relating to our family.”
The real measure of a Christian’s ministry is thus – how am I doing as a Christian, a servant of God, a witness and partner in the gospel, a member of the body of Christ and a neighbour in the community?
How I do professionally as a boss, employee or practitioner is really a secondary matter. However, how we conduct ourselves and perform work is very important since the most common accusation against Christians is hypocrisy and inconsistency, i.e. Christians not walking the talk. But the Christian’s conduct and work performance is not sufficient if he does not witness and share his faith, i.e. not talking the walk.
IMPORTANCE OF MPM
The importance of MPM is twofold.
Firstly, in terms of numbers and percentages, the majority of children and adults are in the marketplace (education and work) and they spend a large part of their days and their lives in the marketplace. Going by statistics, only a few per cent of students and working adults will ever step into a church to hear the gospel. The overwhelming majority will have to be reached for Christ in the marketplace, if at all.
Secondly, the marketplace is where most Christians spend their days and their lives and where their Christianity is to be lived out. Every Christian worker is a “kingdom professional”, a term used by Peter Tsukahira in his book “My Father’s Business” which provides guidelines for ministry in the marketplace. A “kingdom professional” would intentionally advance the cause of the gospel through whatever means possible.
“Kingdom” teaching has been around for decades, but it gained further attention with Lance Wallnau’s thesis that society needs to be reclaimed for God. The seven mountains to be reclaimed were spelt out as Family, Religion, Government, Media, Education, Business and the Arts.
Not all churches and Christians have bought into this. This article merely cites this as a “view” which has driven some churches, while others lay greater store on Jesus’ words that His Kingdom is not of this world and His Great Commission’s emphasis is on making disciples and not changing society.
Irrespective of whether we hold the view that our primary task is to transform lives, or to transform society, we should move away from seeing the marketplace as intrinsically evil to be avoided and survived day by day.
It is also not sufficient to be passive or defensive and keep our faith hidden and our mouths shut. We should all seek at least to be an influence and do our best to lead people to Jesus. Those who are able to do more as business owners or leaders should seek to advance the gospel and transform lives and the spiritual landscape of the whole organisation.
This article will cover the following:
- The Christian’s place and role in the marketplace.
- The agenda or type of ministries already being done and the potential for new ministries.
- The challenges Christians and churches face in the marketplace.
THE CHRISTIAN’S PLACE AND ROLE
The cultural mandate given to Adam as representative man is well accepted belief and work is regarded as good and sacred. However, while the institution of work is good, not all occupations are moral or God-honouring. Also, over time, the economic rewards of work have become more prized than the intrinsic value of the work such as how beneficial it is to society. Success is almost wholly measured by income and profits and wealth accumulation. The Singapore dream is defined as the 5Cs and even multiples of them, e.g. two condos, two cars. Instead of just moving with the current, Christians need to remind themselves of Biblical priorities (what shall it profit a man who gains the whole world and loses his soul) and look at work as a means to fulfill God’s plan in the light of the Great Commandments (to love God and our neighbour) and the Great Commission (to make disciples).
Ed Silvoso identified four lethal misbeliefs which have weakened the Christian witness and hampered the advance of the gospel:
- There is a God-ordained division between clergy and laity.
- The church is called to operate primarily inside the building much like the Old Testament temple.
- People involved in business cannot be as spiritual as those serving in traditional church ministry.
- The primary role of marketplace Christian is to make money to support the vision of those in the ministry.
The truth lies in understanding God’s plans for mankind and for earth. Henry and Richard Blackaby’s book “God In The Marketplace” presents an integration of the Christian faith and work. It covers six general categories of the Christian’s life – personal, family, business, devotional, church and community. The key point made is that the Christian’s calling is to be like Jesus Christ, i.e. Christ-likeness. Christians are to honour God in every aspect of their lives, including their work. And what is “work”?
Work is what we do to glorify God and bless man, and consists of paid work and voluntary work. The “good works” mentioned in the Bible (Matthew 5:16, Ephesians 2:10, Titus 3:8, Galatians 6:9) may imply voluntary work (labour of love) but surely paid work is not excluded if it glorifies God and is a blessing to man. After all, we work as unto God and not man (Ephesians 6:5-8, Galatians 3:23-24). We are God-pleasers, not man-pleasers or eye-pleasers.
From the wages we receive, we are to share with others who are needy (Ephesians 4:28). Neither do we want to burden others in having to support us if we are able to work (1 Thessalonians 2:8-9). We also pay our taxes and other dues and are exemplary responsible citizens.
Christians who are employers are to be fair and loving, not withholding wages, exacting too much or exploiting workers, not using deceit (inaccurate weights and measures), not abusing their power (James 5:3-5, Proverbs 11:1).
Christians must stand out from their fellow workers at their workplace by their lives and conduct and speech, which must be characterised by the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), i.e. love, joy, peace, forebearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control and the eight-fold wisdom of God (James 3:17-18), i.e. pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
Christians must have the attitude of serving their bosses and fellow workers and Christians bosses must exercise servant-leadership. They must not seek self-fulfillment like their non-Christian colleagues, but self-denial. Terms like self-love, self-expression, self-confidence and self-fulfillment have largely replaced the “self” words from the Bible like self-surrender, self-sacrifice, self-denial and self-control. Besides an exemplary life of Christ-likeness, the Christian must not only be prepared to give an answer when asked about his faith (1 Peter 3:15) but seize every opportunity to share Christ (Ephesians 5:16).
THE CHRISTIAN’S MARKETPLACE AGENDA
Apart from obeying God’s teaching on how he should conduct himself as a Christian and be a worker worthy of his employment, a Christian needs to think about how he wants to advance the gospel and fulfil the Great Commission.
The majority of workers in Singapore, whether Singapore citizens, permanent residents, or on employment passes, would not step into a church for a variety of reasons – no relevance, no interest, no time, no urgency, etc. If they are to be reached for Christ, it would have to be in the marketplace or arising from relationships built at work or in social networking.
KINGDOM BUSINESS, COMPANY AND PROFESSIONAL
This point is not lost on Christians, especially the Brethren, who have been in the forefront of evangelism at workplace right from the time of their founders inEurope. The Brethren movement was primarily a lay movement and the first Brethren inSingapore, Philip Robinson, was himself a businessman. Besides founding the first assembly at Bencoleen Street, Philip surely would have been a keen witness in his business as well.
The Brethren’s emphasis on the “priesthood of all believers” and the regular teaching of God’s word would equip their members well to be salt and light of the world. Many Brethren leaders and members had been active in marketplace ministry but often unobtrusively as they live out and share their faith in their various professions, businesses and employment. In the mid-1900s up to the 1980s, there were rather more in the public sector and professions like medical, dental, legal, architectural, engineering and educational but in the last few decades, we are seeing more leaders and members starting businesses.
There are certain advantages that Christian business owners have over Christians who are employees. Firstly, they can decide to run their businesses in a “Christian” way. Secondly, they can hold meetings and programmes like Alpha to advance the gospel in small groups and hold evangelistic meetings during the Easter or Christmas periods. Thirdly, they can appoint a chaplain or pastor to mentor or build up Christians at their workplace.
Peter Tsukahira’s book “My Father’s Business” relates stories of how Christians have started businesses intentionally in overseas mission fields to employ locals and to evangelise them. Some churches have also found it necessary to establish businesses to have legitimacy in the mission fields especially in Creative Access Nations. Michael Baer’s book “Business As Mission” gives examples of entrepreneurs establishing businesses specifically for missions. Michael Baer’s book “Business As Mission” used the terms “kingdom business” and “kingdom company” which are defined as “a business that is specifically, consciously, clearly and intentionally connected to the establishment of Christ’s kingdom in this world. In other words, it is directly involved in making disciples of all nations – beginning at home but with international involvement, too.”
A few elders have been able to serve as elders while being tentmakers, i.e. running their own businesses and being able to respond to the needs of their church ministry and other Christian ministry, when necessary. Others have been active in providing leadership in organisations established to strengthen Christians in the marketplace, e.g. Christian Businessmen Committee (CBMC) and Centre for Christian Entrepreneurship (CCE).
It is also encouraging to see a handful of active Christians in the workplace who had served as lay elders going into full-time service as pastors. (Their working experiences especially in leadership and management have stood them in good stead and their churches have been blessed with growth.)
Among Christians, Brethrens have several things going well for them in MPM. Their belief in the “priesthood of all believers” and their commitment to learning God’s word faithfully equip them well to share the gospel. However, there still seems to be an overreliance on church-based programmes for outreach, e.g. kindergarten, student care, neighbourhood evangelism (e.g. community adoption), evangelistic meetings like Alpha and Just Looking.
There have been attempts at encouraging personal evangelism and courses like Lifestyle Evangelism by the Eagles and the Navigators and Campus Crusade training have helped somewhat, but MPM is still undertapped and underdeveloped.
What more can be done by Brethren churches and Christians?
There are three challenges Christians will have to grapple with.
- Define how he is going to live his life and do his work so as to glorify God in secular, materialistic and multi-ethnic and multi-religious Singapore.
Surveys and research show that generally Christians can scarcely be distinguished from non-Christians in regard to values and conduct.
How would a Christian living his life in obedience to the word of God be like? How would a Christian who obeys the word of God be like at work?
Christians in Singapore have thousands of workers of different nationalities right at their workplace and neighbourhood – a mission at our doorstep.
- Decide how to witness for Christ in the marketplace.
What are the strategies and means and activities? Is it necessary to form a fellowship of Christians for prayer and for organising evangelistic meetings, e.g. lunch time meetings? Would one-to-one or a small evangelistic Bible study group be better?
A few companies have formed fellowships with programmes much like church programmes but with the only difference that these meetings are held in the office.
We must try all means to reach some (1 Corinthians 9:22).
- Decide how to follow up:
a) on seekers who are willing to come to church;
b) new Christians won; and
c) those who are unchurched.
Is it necessary to have a pastor to oversee MPM and equip members and to do the follow up?
To The Church
There are also three challenges to the church.
- Determine the Biblical teaching of the place of the church in the marketplace and teach their members accordingly.
- Deploy resources to improve the effectiveness of outreach in the marketplace. This might include training members to be effective witnesses. It might include having a pastor or missionary to help the church members to be more effective in their outreach.
- Encourage members who are business owners and entrepreneurs to use their existing businesses or start new ones as vehicles for missions.
Could churches and Christians collaborate to set up businesses as missions both in Singapore and overseas? Could Brethren Network Fellowship be the platform for such co-operation?
Kingdom Christians, kingdom professionals, kingdom companies and businesses must all “seek and save the lost” like Jesus who ministered in houses, villages, seaside, hillside, markets, synagogues, dinners and watering holes. Paul and the other apostles did likewise. Until and unless we do likewise, the gospel will be lost on the vast majority of people in the marketplace.
David Choo has been an elder in Bethesda Church Bukit Arang since 1984. He is a tentmaker from 1985 to date, founding Promiseland Independent Pte Ltd, now a licensed financial advisory company. He is currently Chairman and Managing Director of the company which has a Christian fellowship called Vineyard Fellowship and organises evangelistic programmes for its staff and representatives.