Don't Quit Your Day Job: The Value of Marketplace Workers

Our Executive Director, Larry McCrary, corresponded recently with marketplace worker, Seth Kelly, about his journey in leveraging his vocation for the gospel. This conversation is an excellent example of the stories and experiences which motivated Larry's forthcoming book,
The Marketspace:
Essential Relationships Between the Sending Church, Marketplace Worker, and Missionary Team,
set to release later this year.

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Tell us some of your story. If you are currently in or planning on serving in a cross-cultural setting, how did God move you in this direction?

I have a friend who would be flown into the U.S. by the company he worked for three times a year. He would stay a couple of months before returning to the majority Muslim country he lived in. We were friends before I started running towards Christ, and then after, with him continually asking me to visit his country and stay with him and his family.  After I started walking with Christ and during a sermon at my church, I heard that a sister church of ours within the same country my friend lived in had a bomb threat against them, and I could not understand that type of persecution coming from people like my friend. So it was then that I decided to visit the country and see for myself.

The first thing I did was mention my desire to visit the country to a pastor at our church during a men's group. He pointed me to our lead teaching pastor’s wife, who has had a heart for that same country for many years. It was during a lunch with her that she found out I am a software developer. In turn, she put me in contact with an organization in the country that uses technology to get the gospel out to the people.

I corresponded with this organization and began writing software for them. It was during this time that they floated the idea of my visiting them in order to implement the software. I asked my Muslim friend, who happened to live in the same city as the organization, when would be a good time to come to visit. It turned out the times worked perfectly.

I spent the first week in country staying with a native Muslim background believer while working 9-5 to finish and implement the software. I also went out sharing the gospel, or "fishing" in the city, for the first time with traditional workers, while also learning about the tech industry as a whole in the country. The second week I stayed with my friend and his family, was exposed deeply to their culture, took an overnight sightseeing trip with my friend, and drove his car on the way back. Also along the way I got to share the gospel and learn more about him. He opened up more to me than anyone in his whole life, he told me.

In returning to the U.S. and back to my office in a skyscraper, I realized that the Lord was willing to provide me with full-time work among unbelievers—upwards of 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year—in an environment where my words and actions could make a significant impact among Muslims, a place where that was barely happening. Spending time with so many people, in so many different scenarios, whether at the cafeteria, coffee shop, office, or parties—gave me the opportunity to speak the name of Jesus. I could talk naturally about my faith and invite others to read the Bible with me. And yet I had been a marketplace worker, whom many people do not consider to be a sent one—or someone who should even consider going.

I returned to the country a number of months later, praying and meeting with companies, traditional workers, and marketplace workers. During that time the Lord audibly told me to move and be there. I also heard him through what I read in the Bible. There were also many coincidences that I couldn’t even keep up with, and it was solidified to me that I was to move to this country and work, potentially, for the rest of my life. Anything else would have been disobeying God. The Lord’s leadership has continued as I have returned back from the country, met my wife, and visited again twice times thereafter. The most recent time was for reflection and vision, with the Lord confirming the fact that we, now as a family, are to be living there. We are following the Lord’s leadership, and are going.

Sometimes when believers are called overseas, they feel pressured to fit into a “traditional” model of service. How have your church and others affirmed and supported you in the direction you are pursuing? Has anyone seemed confused or surprised when you explain your vision to them?

Great question. I have had many conversations with many different people about what the Lord has called me to do. Almost 100% of the time people completely agree with the premise of being a marketplace worker. It is in the details of how it should be done that I have experienced difficult conversations. These are all from my own experience:

First, “if people pay they will pray.” In other words, people will not pray for you if they are not financially supporting you. I cannot even begin to count the number of times someone has very seriously told me this. This is also after I tell them of the responses my wife and I have received in sending out a consistent prayer newsletter.

Second, a worker has to take two years of not doing ministry work, or any marketplace work, when first arriving in country to fluently learn the language. I consider my marketplace job as my ministry, and to take two years off is difficult to keep up with industry trends. However, to be honest, it has been done. Yet I also know someone who worked a full-time job, learned the language fluently in six years, and is now a pastor of a church and doing sermons in the native language by memory. Also when someone states that they are "not doing ministry work," I question how that works when they will be in language classes with others who need to hear the name of Jesus.

Third, there is the idea that marketplace workers should quit their job and tap into the skills required to be a traditional worker, or an ESL teacher. The option of quitting and the narrow structure of being sent makes it tempting to do this. It’s also easy, then, to default to the thought that the Lord must not be calling them to go.

Fourth, a large amount of training is aggressively suggested or required for a worker, marketplace or traditional, to be sent by an organization and/or local church. Praise the Lord for OM and The Upstream Collective’s weekend pre-field training! There always seems to be one more training to do and they are rarely in a time frame that would allow for a marketplace worker to take a vacation to attend. I was told by a director of business as mission at a large organization that there actually is no available statistical correlation for hours of training to how much a worker ends up staying on the field.

How do you anticipate work life and ministry goals can be balanced to fit into your limited schedule? Do you see these things as competing or complementary parts of life?

I want to make clear that I consider my marketplace job as my ministry, so I appreciate the second part of your question. Yes, I see them as complementary parts. I also want to steer away from aligning my life as “balanced,” as I see it more as “juggling”.

What are some pros and cons to remaining in the marketplace? What opportunities might be available to you that aren’t available to a traditional sent one?

I may have explained this some in the answers above, specifically the fact that marketplace workers have an opportunity to spend 40 hours a week, and upwards of 52 weeks a year, roughly in the same location working within the same interests as lost people. They have the ability to learn about their lives in ways that are not available to those they meet outside their vocation. These lost marketplace workers encompass a huge part of the world’s population.

Are you planning to work using some expertize you previously developed, or have you had to learn new professional skills in order to prepare for work in a new context?

I am planning on using the software development skills, expertise that I am continually building upon in past jobs and now.

Has Upstream played a part in your development? If so, what is an important lesson you have learned? How would you encourage others with a similar vision to invest their time in development?

I have learned that there is hope for the marketplace worker. There are many marketplace workers like me, but who know even more as they have already spent long periods of time overseas. My hope is topped with Upstream consolidating their pre-training into a weekend time frame. This is not being done anywhere effectively.

I would encourage people not to quit their marketplace jobs and start having gospel-related conversations within the context of those current positions. Ask people to have lunch, get to know them, be of high moral standing, and refuse to engage in talk that doesn't reflect Jesus. Take risks for the gospel within your marketplace job, it can make it more exciting! You will see big things, God-sized things, come of it!