The following is an excerpt from the introduction of Larry McCrary's soon-to-be-released book,
Essential Relationships Between the Sending Church, Marketplace Worker, and Missionary Team.
There was a formula for creating good worship events, and I had it down. Loud music, engaging video clips or drama sketches, excellent preaching, quality childcare, a cool website, flashy signs, and good coffee — these were the keys to catching the interest of church seekers. My wife, Susan, and I had begun planting churches in the northern suburbs of Atlanta and then in Dallas/Fort Worth. If I’m honest, we were good at church planting — at least, that’s what we thought.
In many ways, I became as much of an event planner as I did a church planter. Even though we knew all the working parts, putting them together still took time. Sunday mercilessly came around every seven days, so Monday morning brought the arduous task of evaluating, streamlining, and planning for the next worship service. We were really good at creating an experience, an exceptional church service. The problem was that we had become pro cient at the wrong thing.
Unfortunately, all my event planning had gotten in the way of the core of the Great Commission: making disciples that make disciples to the nations.
There was no doubt in our minds: top-notch services didn’t necessarily equal making disciples. Do not get me wrong: we valued the gathering of the saints in worship, Bible teaching, and prayer. However, the things that seemed to be often emphasized, like good coffee, comfy chairs, and casual greeting times to avoid awkwardness (well, most of it) weren’t teaching people to obey everything Jesus commanded. In fact, doing all those things really well kept us from accomplishing the one thing we were explicitly sent to do. We weren’t training followers of Jesus, much less disciples who discipled others with the entire world in mind.
That isn’t to say we weren’t seeing people come to Christ, or that our efforts were in vain. That’s not true at all. We served a gracious God who multiplied our feeble efforts. But if I had a mulligan, just one do-over, I would go back and change our focus. From the very beginning, I would implant within the hearts and minds of every church member the same desire that rests in the heart and mind of God: people from every nation, tribe, people, and language worshiping around his throne.
It had finally begun making sense to me while at one of my last church plants in the States in the 90s. My wife and I together began to ask the question, “How can we start making disciples who have the nations in mind?”
Let me take a moment here to offer some clarity. I am not writing any of this to rail against churches or methods or excellence or any of the things listed above. Good teaching is a good thing- for adults and children. Finding people with the potential to lead the local church in worship, equipping them to use those gifts, and then setting them free to do so — even really loudly, is a good thing. Good coffee, well, that’s a great thing! My point is not to say that those things in themselves are not good. Yet if they detract from the best thing — declaring the gospel in word and deed, growing people in the image of Christ, and sending them as kingdom representatives both locally and globally — then, yeah, I’ll rail against them. I know what it’s like to settle for less than God’s best, and I don’t want anyone to repeat my mistakes.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, bap- tizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
If you’re reading this, you are likely familiar with this passage we call the Great Commission. You’ve heard it taught in your local church and at missions conferences and on podcasts, and you’ve seen it on coffee mugs, websites, and headlining every piece of missions literature, ever.
Yeah, me too. I memorized the passage as a kid and studied it in seminary and preached it in the churches I was planting.
So, how could the Great Commission have possibly caused us problems?
Susan and I were committed to going somewhere, though we weren’t really sure where we might end up. We had experienced an undeniable call to go together. Meeting each other at the altar of a missions conference was our very own burning bush ... an “aha!” moment for each of us. We believed God had sent us to Atlanta and Dallas. But sent us for what? To what end?
In 2001, we moved to Madrid, Spain. Viva España!
It wasn’t that we felt forced to move overseas in order to make global disciples. In fact, the term “global disciple” is actually a redundancy. The word “disciple” alone, when used in the Christian context, carries with it the full weight of God’s desire to fill the earth with the knowledge of his glory as waters cover the sea, including the integral part his people play in achieving it. Every disciple of Jesus should by nature have a global outlook.
For us, that meant setting out for Spain with our two young children in tow. We worked with an organization called the IMB (International Mission Board), and I soon became a strategist overseeing engagement with urban professionals. We were so grateful for that first church that had long ago given us the opportunity to work among young business professionals — and to the God who had foreseen that we would need such a skill set. In so many ways, it was my dream job.
We immediately got to work — and there was a lot to do. It was going to be an uphill climb, but thankfully I had a strategy. I was certain I could build a team that would totally change the landscape of Christianity in Madrid. I would recruit high-performance missionaries who would learn the language and culture together, pray and worship together, and connect with young urban professionals in order to make in uential disciples across the city.
Flawless plan. You know, except for the huge, glaring flaws.
We were limited in several important areas. Needless to say, my dream was short-lived. I bitterly realized I was not going to be able to do this on my own, nor alongside the team we assembled. Our teammates were amazing, but we ran into several factors that slowed or, in some cases, halted our work completely.
LIMITED NUMBER OF WORKERS
There was no way I could build a fully-funded missionary team that was large enough to accomplish my goals. Eventually, I realized we shouldn’t have even tried. Though we did need a few full-time vocational Christian workers, at the end of the day, a few were more than enough. Limits on this resource forced us to partner with local, national marketspace workers who loved Jesus, followed Him daily, and were willing to live with gospel-focused intentionality. They provided their own resources simply because they worked full-time. Obviously, they had less time for planning, strategizing, and goal setting, due to their daytime jobs, but they quickly became valuable members of our team for a number of reasons that we will examine soon.
LIMITED ACCESS TO THE PEOPLE
At first, my entire team was full-time Christian workers. Our days were filled with meetings, language study, and the daily grind of cultural transition. Even though we lived in strategic parts of the city, we simply did not work alongside the business people we were trying to engage with the gospel. At best, we were teetering on the edge of cultural acceptance. Sure, we could strike up conversations with strangers, but those opportunities were sorely lacking when it came to the people we were strategically trying to reach.
Think about it: many people spend the majority of their adult lives inside the workplace — and that was the one place to which our team did not have open access. We didn’t have jobs that gave us significant and prolonged reasons to be in their office buildings and factories and stores. Furthermore, we found out that in our European context it was a regular practice to hang out with co-workers outside the office. So, for our purposes, the significance of connecting in the marketspace wasn’t just important — it was imperative.
We had very little credibility in the marketspace. Most full-time Christian workers are theologically trained and often have little business experience. That’s my story, too. I’m not ashamed of my seminary education nor ministry experience. It’s simply the reality for much of my generation of professional Christian workers.
However, the challenge for our team was that business people were our specific people group. Many of our teammates often found themselves at a loss as to how to even begin a conversation with people whose entire existence revolved around their profession, along with their unique subculture and jargon. Simply put, we were out of place in the marketspace.
Of course, God’s power is always made perfect in our weakness, and he caused our fumbling attempts to bear a little fruit. Yet Jesus is clear, his will is that we bear much fruit (John 15:8). Engaging fruitfully in the marketspace required navigating the language and culture of the marketspace. It demanded the experience and credibility we didn’t have.
The things our team were discovering then have been reaffirmed over and over to me in the years since. Having met many Christian marketspace workers around the world, it amazes me how regularly they are invited to homes, family gatherings, and other social settings after hours. A place within the market not only secured access to people during work hours, but a place within the social order as well.
After about a year in Spain, I realized I had made several friends from all over the world who happened to live in Madrid. They were all business people, working jobs in the marketspace. Most of them had been transferred by international companies and found themselves living in Madrid. They loved Jesus and wanted to tell others about him; they wanted to live as salt and light. They were in the marketspace and knew how to relate to other workers there, so they had access and credibility in places I could not reach. They wanted to live on mission, yet they did not know where to start.
So I took advantage of the long Spanish lunch hour, and we started our journey toward engaging their workmates with the gospel. Each of us was involved in a church, so our time together was not meant to be that. We prayed for one another, encouraged one another, held each other accountable, and addressed issues about settling our families into a new culture. In fact, we began to get our families together to share meals and hang out. Our main purpose, however, was to wrestle with how they could leverage their careers for the sake of the gospel. We talked about building relationships with co-workers that would offer opportunities to share the good news of Jesus with them.
I realized very quickly that these men and women had greater access than I did to the very people I was sent there to engage. They worked together on a daily basis, so they had the opportunity to go to coffee or share a meal with them. They had a reason to get their families together. Sadly, that was just not true for me — at least, not to the extent of my friends. They enjoyed a credibility among the local workforce that I simply did not. We often talk about taking the gospel wherever you live, work, and play. I could only function with credibility where I lived and played. I didn’t have a workspace that made sense to the people we were trying to engage.
At the end of the day, I worked for a non-profit organization that wanted to plant the gospel among the people in the city. The average person on the street could not comprehend why in the world my family and I were in Spain. We did not work in the same way they did. Our schedules were not the same. Our priorities were not the same. Many of our neighbors asked why we were even there. They could not see a reason for our presence in their city. On the other hand, my friends who worked in the marketplace instantly connected with locals because they were involved in business together. They kept the same hours. They ran in the same social circles. Their reasons for being there were immediately obvious.
I soon realized that this group of men and women were just as legitimately on mission as I was. They wouldn’t necessarily use that moniker, but they were missionaries nonetheless. And the best part was that they all had a viable pathway to mission. In fact, they really had far better access to the people I was there to reach than I did. Though I was the only one who was paid to do ministry and the only one who bore the title “missionary,” they were far from second-class witnesses. They were doing what Christ followers are meant to do and have always been doing. In the words of Mike Barnett, the late Dean of Intercultural Studies at Columbia International University, said,
“We are not innovators. God has been using businessmen and women for centuries to take the gospel to the nations.”