Mind The Gap: Foundations for Marketplace Ministry

Academic Paper / Produced by partner of TOW
Mind the gap

Mind the Gap between the Church and Marketplace Ministry

Many may have had the experience of stepping onto a train in London, Sydney or elsewhere, to the ritualistic incantation of the words ‘Mind the Gap’ warning you not to fall between the platform and train.1 This is an apt analogy for the gap between Sunday and Monday or the Church and the work world or marketplace. This Lausanne Occasional Paper aims to:

  1. Introduce the gap, define Marketplace Ministry and explain its rise, setting it in its Lausanne movement context.
  2. Examine the main reasons for the gap developing.
  3. Propose ways for bridging that gap through a return to our biblical and theological foundations.
  4. Provide practical, alternative models of marketplace friendly churches; marketplace (not marginal) spirituality; marketplace, lay-oriented theological education and marketplace models of mission or witness at work.

We conclude with a Marketplace Manifesto and a subject sensitive bibliography, to equip churches to move into this ministry.

What is Marketplace or Workplace Ministry?

No single term is perfect for encapsulating ministry and mission in the workplace so we will use the terms workplace and marketplace ministry interchangeably. Some prefer ‘world of work’. Neil Johnson defines the marketplace as ‘the forum through which human economic commerce is conducted’. It includes the business community, the workplace of whatever kind and ‘policy-making forums’ at local, national and international levels that impact the economy and those working within it. He describes the marketplace as ‘perhaps the only institution that touches, directly or indirectly, virtually every person on planet Earth. In one way or another, it is a pervasive part of every society, culture and people group. It is found in the midst of every religion and every political system in every historic era’.

Johnson waxes lyrical about marketplaces:

‘Marketplaces come in many forms, flavours and textures, but each is reflective of the people and culture to which it belongs. Consider the almost infinite, contrasting variety: the Great Silk Trade Route of Marco Polo, the Plaka of ancient Greece, the forum of the Roman Empire, the stockmarket on today’s Wall Street, the Ponte Vecchio of Florence, the Bazaar of Istanbul, the shops and street carts of Kowloon, the commodities markets in Chicago, the factories of Nanking, Piccadilly Circus in London, the Ginza in Tokyo, the Plaza in Santa Fe, the floating market of Bangkok, the flower market in Almaty, Kazakhstan, the farmers’ market in Lonrina, Brazil, the spiced market of Tashkent, Uzbekistan, the city markets of Arusha, Tanzania, Cuzco, Peru, and Juarez, Mexico, and the flea markets and black markets in every corner of the world. In spite of their diversity, all have one thing in common. All involve people seeking to trade goods, to barter wares, and to earn money in order to survive, then thrive, with the hope and goal of positively transforming their lives at the global, national, state, and personal levels’.

To such people seeking transformation, we seek to bring the greatest transformative agent of all — the gospel of Christ.2

What about the biblical marketplace? The ancient Athenian agora where Paul walked around like Socrates dialoguing and debating (Acts 17:16-19) included both ‘town and gown’ — work places/businesses, academia and forums where philosophical discussion took place. It also included temples and idols, entertainment, politics and the court of law (i.e. the Areopagus). The medieval marketplace included the Town Hall, cathedral and market. Today in the West, the market has taken over from the other two institutions as the dominant visual presence and the new master-narrative or dominant language. Yet while the philosophical and religious aspects of the marketplace are less overt in the West today, they are still there. In the East (and parts of the West), they are more explicitly intermingled where shrines hang in Buddhist bakeries and the five-fold call to prayer punctuates the Muslim day.

In various contemporary cross-cultural contexts, ‘marketplace’ can have a more literal and narrow or more metaphorical and broad meaning. In some developing or majority world contexts, marketplace literally means those working in food markets and is looked down upon by the middle and upper classes. Various groups can use terms imperialistically and divisively as if, for instance, marketplace ministry means only businesspeople, or worse, businessmen, or only those employed full-time or employed at all. We will use marketplace ministry as an umbrella term for workplace ministry without excluding those who do not have paid jobs. 90% of unreached peoples who live in the 10/40 Window suffer unemployment and under-employment rates of 30-80% fuelled by rapidly rising populations.

We also acknowledge the enormous amount of unpaid domestic and community work, particularly that done by women and volunteers. We also note that there is a global brain drain from the developing world to the West and that the ‘care drain’ of millions of nannies, maids and prostitutes leading to a ‘care deficit’ in their own countries and families.3 Meeting in Pattaya, the centre of Thailand’s sex industry, we could not avoid the sorry trade in human flesh, even of very young girls, often by much older, predatory western males. Alternative work is essential to overcoming these moral and economic problems as The Rahab Project demonstrates in moving young women and children from prostitution to nonexploitative, gainful employment and education. The Lausanne II Manila Manifesto’s 13th affirmation states, ‘We affirm that we who claim to be members of the Body of Christ must transcend within our fellowship the barriers of race, gender and class’. In embodying this, marketplace ministry is workplace ministry to all races, classes and genders.

Marketplace Ministry Within Lausanne Forum 2004

Within the Lausanne and wider Evangelical movements, what then is the relationship of Marketplace Ministry to the Holistic Mission, Tentmaking and Business as Mission Issue Groups at Lausanne 2004? Certainly there is much overlap, both theologically and practically. There has been some discussion and cooperation between us, but there needs to be much more. As Neil Johnson puts it,

‘The distinctions between and among these camps [excluding Holistic Ministry] is far from clear even to the participants and there is often a blurring of the lines among them. Nonetheless, each camp is currently operating independently of the other two camps and all three are operating with only the loosest ties to the ecclesiastical Church. Each camp has its own associations, its own conferences, its own literature and its own leadership. There is little, if any, communication among the camps and there is little awareness of what is transpiring within the rival camps’.

While the tone and terms like ‘rival’ and ‘camps’ may be too strong, Johnson is right to see confusion and competition as an inevitable by-product of the embryonic marketplace mission movement(s).4 However, we should not be complacent about this and should see our meeting together at the synergy groups of Lausanne 2004 as the beginning of greater communication and coordination without developing one mega-organization or movement out of keeping with the dynamism of the Holy Spirit or the marketplace.

Holistic Mission addresses the whole person within the whole world of creation.5 Marketplace ministry applies to all workplace areas by laying down certain theological foundations that others have built on and applied to their more specialized areas. Tentmaking takes up the Pauline and classical missionary (Moravian, William Carey) model of using one’s skills to gain access to mission fields (local or overseas) and maintain support as a means of ‘being all things to all people in order to save some’ (1 Corinthians 9:22). There is some debate, but the best tentmaking theology6 sees the tentmaking activity of a range of occupations, business and non-business, as God-glorifying and worshipful in itself (Romans 12:1-2, 1 Corinthians 10:31). Similarly, Business as Mission, while again involving a spectrum of views, by the very name, sees business itself, as a form of mission in itself not merely a means to mission.7 Tentmaking and Business as Mission tend to be focused more, though not exclusively, on cross-cultural settings; marketplace ministry more, though not exclusively, on local settings. We also see important links with the International Student Diaspora stream as a way of reaching students and preparing them for the above strategic ministries.

Marketplace Ministry Within the Lausanne Movement

It was said at the Forum in Thailand that Lausanne 1974 ‘gave us people groups’, Lausanne in Manila in 1989 gave us the 10/40 Window (the area between the 10th and 40th parallels north of the Equator, ranging from Africa to East Asia). We ask now, will the Forum give us Marketplace Ministry among other essential mission tasks? Marketplace workers are among the great forgotten people groups. Today, many marketplace missionminded Christians are focusing on 'the 9 to 5 window'8 of the workplace as much as the ‘10/40 Window’. Lausanne founder Billy Graham said: ‘I believe that one of the next great moves of God is going to be through the believers in the workplace.’ In stressing the ministry of ‘the whole church’, the Lausanne II Manila Manifesto (paragraph 6) noted that whilst some are called and equipped to be pastors, teachers and evangelists, all God’s people are called to be witnesses and the privileged task of pastors is to equip God’s people for this ministry. It affirms that ‘lay witness takes place, by women and men, not only through the local church …, but through friendships, in the home and at work …. Our first responsibility is to witness to those who are already our friends, relatives, neighbors, and colleagues.'9 The workplace is where ‘most Christians spend half their waking hours and work is a divine calling. Christians can commend Christ by word of mouth, by their consistent industry, honesty, thoughtfulness and by their concern for justice in the workplace. When others can see from the quality of their daily work that this work is done to the glory of God, then the Christian worker is being a witness in deed and needs to pray for and look out for the opportunity to express the gospel in word.10 This mobilisation of marketplace Christians is essential if the Sunday-Monday gap and the goal of world mission is to be accomplished. As Pete Hammond, former director of InterVarsity’s Marketplace Ministry arm said at Lausanne II, ”This immobilization of 99% of God’s people is both unbiblical and discriminating, while making our task of world evangelization impossible.”

Businessman, Ford Madison’s informal census at Lausanne II in 1989 found that the majority of the participants came to Christ through the witness of a layperson. This is confirmed by Australian Church Life Surveys.11 Lee Yih drew the analogy of clergy as frogs and laity as lizards:

‘This is how the church goes about its business. Vocational workers normally have their work brought to them [like frogs]. If they are going to preach the gospel, a church or hall is booked in which they stand to speak. Other people drag in the populace…. The lizards, the lay people, go out into their daily occupations, they meet the general public in the form of their neighbours, friends and workmates, fellow club members in the course of their lives…. [T]he lizard is unthreatening, and always there, ready to take the opportunity to talk about Christ when offered. This is real full time Christian service.'12

Though Marketplace Ministry has charted encouraging growth of over 50% in the last decade, yet there remains a gap between the ministry and the church. Mike McLoughlin of YWAM Canada and Scruples Faith at Work online network issues an appropriate challenge:

‘It is becoming a popular sport in the Faith at Work Movement to point out the flaws in the Church and the professional clergy with respect to workplace ministry and the lack of calling and commissioning of every believer in the marketplace. However, while it may be easy to point out the problems,.. it is incumbent upon this movement and the leaders to propose solutions… The 2004 meeting is the Faith at Work Movement’s opportunity to start addressing this lack of overall strategy.'13