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Thinking Missionally about the Marketplace by Brian Walck

The ratio of protestant clergy to the lay population in the United States is about 5.4 to 1000 in a nation where 26.3 percent (roughly 1 in 4) of the population considers itself to be evangelical.[1] Therefore a quick, back of the envelope calculation suggests that the ratio of trained evangelical clergy to the non-Christian population in the U.S. is approximately 5.4 to 3000 or .18 percent. Recognizing that the percentage of full time Christian workers outside the United States is far smaller, one begins to see that (humanly speaking) the prospect of such a minute workforce accomplishing the Great Commission any time soon seems quite slim. Few would suggest, of course, that the effort should be left to professional clergy alone; yet the numbers are helpful in hammering home the point: the overwhelming nature of the task of world evangelization cries out for the engagement of a much greater percentage of the body of Christ (cf. Matt 9:37-38).

Indeed, it has been stressfully argued in recent decades that “mission” is the overriding purpose of the church and that engagement in the task by every member is the biblical mandate.[2] Citing the results of the missionary conference at Tambaram, India in 1938, Leslie Newbigin said, “A church is no true church if it is not missionary, and missions are no true missions if they are not part of the life of the church.”[3] Charles Van Engen raises the bar when he says, “Missionary congregations will emerge when leaders equip all the members [emphasis mine] to realize their greatest potential for growth, maturity and service in a relationship of shared ministry and cooperative outreach of the whole gospel by the whole Church to the whole world.”[4] Unless one were to make the absurd suggestion that all believers should leave their secular occupations to become full time clergy, then some believers, and probably the vast majority of them, must pursue the missionary mandate while they are employed in other pursuits.

While many churches are busy engaging the laity in various ministry activities which include both social action and evangelism, what we know about social networks and the spread of the gospel suggests that the church might be more effective in the missionary task if it focused on enabling believers to minister within the context of their secular employment.[5] The gospel will pass most freely over networks of relationships where two or more people are part of the same social network. The social networks that people belong to may be defined by culture, language, ethnicity, class, family ties, education, occupation, etc. Two particularly useful ways of thinking about social structures are Unimax peoples and Sociopeoples. A Unimax people is “the maximum sized group sufficiently unified to be the target of a single people movement to Christ, where ‘unified’ refers to the fact that there are no significant barriers of understanding or acceptance to stop the spread of the gospel.” The Unimax people concept is particularly useful as it relates to targeting and tracking reached and unreached peoples in the cause of global evangelization. It defines the relationships needed for a full church planting movement. A Sociopeople, on the other hand, is “a relatively small association of peers who have an affinity for one another based upon a shared interest, activity, or occupation.”[6] In foreign missions, the ground strategy for a Unimax people group will target particular Sociopeoples. Likewise, when we consider personal involvement in local mission (or local church involvement), we must consider what social networks (i.e. Sociopeoples) we are already part of and which ones we might reasonably join.

For most people, the social network that has the most potential for gospel transmission, outside of immediate family and friends, is their place of business or occupation. The average American worker spends approximately forty-two hours a week on the job. Those who work full-time spend far more time at work than at any other single activity apart from sleeping.[7] This would seem to suggest that the place where an unbeliever is most likely to have a prolonged relationship with an unbeliever is in the workplace. In fact, business settings provide an abundance of opportunities for relationships to develop between co-workers, customers and suppliers, teachers and students, doctors and patients, etc. Thinking in terms of numbers again, if all American believers were to take seriously their obligation to be ministers of the gospel in the workplace the percentage of harvest workers amongst the unevangelized would rise from .18 percent to something approaching 25 per cent.

Due to the smaller percentages of evangelicals among the overall population in Western Europe and other parts of the post-Christian West, the increase in the numbers of believers actively engaged in mission would be less dramatic yet still significant. But what of less “Christianized” parts of the world? What about unreached peoples? Can a marketplace strategy be effective in these places? The answer is yes, albeit for different reasons. While in the West it is true to say that almost everybody has a job and this is likely to provide a context where both Christians and non-Christians work side by side, in less developed parts of the world (which include the vast majority of unreached peoples) it is true to say that everybody needs a job and this provides opportunity to create contexts where believers and unbelievers work side by side. Christian entrepreneurs, business people, and financiers can start and operate businesses in other cultures which not only can create jobs for local people but provide for the long term contact and relationships with unbelievers which are necessary for the transmission of the gospel. The emerging Business as Mission movement (BAM) is providing a growing body of literature which describes how business people can do just that.[8] However, the primary consumers of this literature, apart from missionaries themselves, appear to be that small subset of the Christian population that is already engaged in missions by sending and supporting missionaries. For these believers, BAM represents a new opportunity to use their business skills in service of the Kingdom. As positive as this development is, the vast majority of the people in evangelical churches have no real concept of how God might use them to advance the gospel in the workplace here or around the world. If the truth be told, there has been a vacuum in teaching on the subject of work in our churches. Most evangelicals hold views of work that are similar if not identical to their unbelieving coworkers. These views are largely unbiblical and decidedly militate against the possibility that most Christians will be useful to the Kingdom in the work place. It to the task of exposing these faulty views and correcting them we now turn.

Brian Walck is an Entrepreneur and thought leader on the movement of Business and Mission. In addition to being a regular contributor on the Business as Mission Network site, he’s heavily involved in supporting God’s work around the world through Business as Mission Efforts, Missions Agencies and the local church. If you’d like to continue the conversation, email him at bwalck@yahoo.com.


[1] Theodore Caplow, Recent Social Trends in the United States, 1960-1990 (Montreal & Kingston: Mcgill-Queen’s University Press, 1991), 280; The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Religion and the 2004 Election: A Pre-election Analysis, 8. Accessed online at http://pewforum.org/newassets/misc/green.pdf March 1, 2008.
[2] Charles Van Engen argues this persuasively in God’s Missionary People: Rethinking the Purpose of the Local Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991). Some might object that worship is the ultimate purpose of the Church. However, these are not in conflict. As John Piper has so aptly pointed out, “Worship… is the fuel and goal of missions…. The goal of missions is the gladness of peoples in the greatness of God.” John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, a division of Baker Book House Co., 1993, 2003), 17.
[3] Anna Marie Aagaard and Lesslie Newbigin, “Mission in the 1990s : Two Views,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 13 no 3 (Jl 1989): 102.
[4] Van Engen, 151.
[5] This is not an argument against the pursuit of various benevolence ministries in the church. It is simply an observation that these activities, unless intentionally designed to do so, rarely produce the kind of long term relationships that facilitate the transmission of the gospel.
[6] These definitions come from Ralph D. Winter and Bruce A. Koch, “Finishing the Task: The Unreached Peoples Challenge” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, 3rd Ed. (Pasadena: The William Carey Library, 1981, 1992, 1999), 514.
[7] Bureau of Labor Statistics, “American Labor in the 20th Century” (originally published Fall 2001) accessed online at http://www.bls.gov/opub/cwc/cm20030124ar02p1.htm#18 on Feb. 29, 2008 and “Time Use on an Average Work Day for Employed Persons Aged 25 to 54 with Children” accessed online at http://www.bls.gov/tus/charts/home.htm on Feb, 29, 2008.
[8] For example, Tom Steffan and Mike Barnett, eds. Business as Mission: From Impoverished to Empowered, Evangelical Missiological Society Series No. 14, (Pasadena, William Carey Library, 2006), Ken Eldred, God is at Work: Transforming People and Nations through Business, (Ventura, Regal Books, 2005), Patrick Lai, Tentmaking: Business as Missions (Waynesboro, GA: Authentic Media, 2005), Steve Rundle and Tom Steffen, Great Commission Companies: The Emerging Role of Business in Missions (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), Tetsunao Yamamor and Ken Eldred, eds., and On Kingdom Business: Transforming Missions through Entrepreneurial Strategies (Wheaton: Crossway Books, Good News Publishing, 2003).

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posted by Justin Forman | 11.30.2008 - 3:19 PM

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