Making Churches Marketplace Friendly
The future of the church will be decided by how effectively the people of God are equipped and supported to live out their faith in the world. Local churches have a crucial role to play in equipping and supporting their members for this missionary encounter. However, this vision of growing the kingdom of God in the world is larger than just growing a local congregation. It is our conviction that growing congregations alone is not a big enough vision to facilitate effective ministry in the world. However, to change our focus to pursue this larger vision towards an emphasis on weekday mission, beyond just Sunday gathering, will require a significant change in our priorities, the allocation of our resources, and the models of ministry that shape our practice.
As a group that includes a number of pastors, we recognise that the huge pressures on church leaders to produce significant Sunday events make it difficult to prioritise the significance of weekday ministry. We do not wish to see this added as another set of expectations on church leaders who are already feeling oppressed by too many expectations. Instead we see that what is needed is a change of expectations that is potentially freeing for both leaders and church members, if ministry is better shared and expanded to include the whole of our life in the world as well as in the church. We find ourselves excited by this vision, but are still groping to define clearly what this means and might involve. In humility, we offer the following observations about the challenges to marketplace ministry as well as some suggestions of strategic action in response.
(b) Examples of practices or mode of thinking that inhibit marketplace ministry
- Growth of the local church is measured by Sunday attendances as opposed to having a wider kingdom perspective whereby the results/fruit may not be seen in the local church.
- Churches tend to be Sunday-centric i.e. most of the resources, focus and energy is channelled to making the Sunday service a success to the detriment of ministry on the other six days of the week which for most people, is lived out in the world of work.
- Usually only ministries that function within the church and among church members are recognised and prayed for in our church services.
- Some churches fill their calendar with activities which require many volunteers to keep the programs running. Both church leaders and members may have differing expectations about members’ roles and involvement in these church-based activities. Oftentimes, busy marketplace people have real difficulty meeting such expectations.
- Already pressurised at work, church members may see church as a resting place - where they opt out and operate at a lower level than in their work life.
- In some cases, the pastor’s ego is stroked by ‘leading’ while church members are happy to be relieved of any ministry responsibility.
- Pastors who lack recent work experience outside of the church environment may have little or inadequate understanding of the pressures and possibilities in the world of work.
- Professionals may be reluctant to be led by less aware/educated church leaders.
- Some pastors may be intimidated by professional people or marketplace leaders.
- Bi-vocational ministry provides the pastor with excellent hands-on exposure to workplace issues but he/she will inevitably be constrained by time pressures.
- Some Christians are unwilling to identify themselves as Christians at the workplace because they have seen other Christians witness inappropriately on company time. It could be also that the Christian image in the organisation has already been tarnished by ‘super-spiritual’ Christians or otherwise, sub-Christian behaviour.
- Evangelical churches often express a dualism in relation to morality: they seem more interested in bedroom rather than boardroom morality.
- Very few songs ever pick up on workplace related themes (given that people imbibe theology through songs); some which do, have unhelpful words or poor tunes.
(c) Suggestions on how to assist churches to become marketplace friendly
- Address the sacred versus secular divide e.g. discuss films, art and literature.
- Find words or phrases which speak of God’s people in a way that reflects the emphasis on ministry in the whole of life e.g. missionary model (reaching out to the world) rather than attraction model (bringing people into the church), or gathered and scattered.
- Adopt a model and vision of church that seeks to ‘disciple and release’ rather than ‘convert and retain’. The appropriate analogy for the church is a fish hatchery, not an aquarium.
- Help church leaders explore how their responsibilities can be reconfigured to express the priority of equipping and supporting people for life in the marketplace.
- The focus on ministry in the whole of life should be taught even at Sunday School level.
- Structure the church so that the workload is shared between clergy and laity. Senior/sole pastor should be spared of extra duties and the need to be ‘everywhere’.
- To help pastors understand the challenges people face at work:
- They should visit members’ workplaces in order to build awareness concerning their work situations, and to provide support.
- During such visits, the emphasis should be on the pastor seeking fellowship in order to understand the worker’s plight rather than to give a sermon/talk.
- Pastors ought to allow and encourage the formation of workplace groups, rather than spearheading and determining the direction and course of such groups.
- Dedicate one Sunday a year as Marketplace Ministry Sunday to affirm what people do during the week outside of church activities. Alternatively, have a dedication service for what people do in everyday life at the start of the work year.
- Commission not only missionaries, pastors and those in the caring professions, but also Christians who work at other jobs including business people, craftsmen, tradesmen etc.
- Bring work symbols into church services as a way of celebrating the skills and gifts of the marketplace and to affirm the working life of church members as ministry to God.
- Identify and profile Christian role models from the world of work. Create and give a Faith & Work Award.
- During church services—
- Invite people to give short testimonies on their workplace experience.
- Present dramas that are connected to the workplace with professional ethics built in.
- Show videos of people at work including mothers and the unemployed so that the church can pray more meaningfully for them.
- Pray for Christians when they travel on business, not just when they go to Christian conferences.
- Design a discipleship curriculum that includes courses on time management, personal budgeting and stress management.
- Find appropriate forums to discuss moral dilemmas in business e.g. corruption.
- Use Word and Life Study Bible and [email protected] Bible Studies.
- Produce marketplace preaching material and application aids for pastors (like what is done by the Industrial Ministry of South Africa).
- Use media channels creatively e.g. to produce television programmes on professional ethics etc. In Hong Kong, CBN together with FGBM run a program called Happy Men’s Club which features interviews with respected individuals from public life.