Upstream has always been a voice in the conversation of helping churches and organizations consider alternative pathways to mission. The last decade of experience has led to our Executive Director, Larry McCrary's, forthcoming book
Essential Relationships Between the Sending Church, Marketplace Worker, and Missionary Team.
Below is an except from the book as Larry outlines the 3 Spaces of Mission from Acts 17.
Wherever we are and whatever we do, we are meant to be witnesses.
When I served in Madrid, our team’s journey was not only depicted in the experience of global professionals, it was seemingly prescribed by the Bible. In Acts 17, for example, Paul utilized the marketspace as a strategic part of his mission: “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him” (Acts 17:16-18).
The Spirit had led Paul on quite a journey prior to this point, and his time in Athens would prove to be no less spectacular. As soon as he entered the city, he was immediately troubled. He made his way through the city and up to the temple of Athena, situated on the city’s highest point. ere he began to notice the count- less idols for honoring and worshiping various gods. His spirit, the Scriptures say, was provoked within him. He was keenly aware of the spiritual blindness, and he grieved along with the Holy Spirit. us, Paul was driven to action, reasoning with all of those around him concerning what he saw in the city.
There are a number of things we could consider regarding this passage, but I’d like to point out three distinct spaces in which Paul engaged the Athenians with the gospel:
THE RELIGIOUS SPACE
It was quite a normal occurrence for Paul to engage the Jews on their own turf. Having been an exemplary and zealous Jew himself, he understood their beliefs and practices. More importantly, he recognized that Christ was indeed the one for whom they were all waiting. So he consistently engaged them in their place of prayer and sacrifice. In Acts 16, we read of Paul’s experience in Philippi: “[A]nd from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together” (16:12-13).
Paul was simply contextualizing, meeting people where they were and communicating the gospel in ways they could understand. As he spoke with the women about the finished work of Christ, one of them, Lydia, believed. She and her family were baptized, and she invited Paul and Silas to stay in her home, where a church was eventually planted.
In Acts 17, Paul employed the same practice. He went to the synagogue and reasoned among the Jews gathered there to worship. Utilizing his knowledge of the law and experience as a Pharisee, he was able to proclaim the good news with credibility. He knew the space. He knew how to exist there. Thus, he was able to preach the good news there.
THE STORY SPACE
Not only did Paul engage the Athenians within their religious context, he also made his way into their social circles. He went to the place where people loved to hang out and discuss the meaning of life. That was where you could find the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers. They loved being on the cutting edge of new thought, and Paul knew it. As he discussed the lordship of Christ and his resurrection, it was news indeed, and irresistible to the debating, high-minded philosophers.
You’ve seen this situation before, right? Every small town has a Hardee’s or McDonald’s where old men hang out in the morning to talk. They discuss life and love and loss and fishing and baseball and whatever else might be the flavor of the day. They are usually not a quiet bunch, so now and again some outsider may walk by and throw an idea in the mix. But no one sits down unless they are invited to do so.
In Madrid, it is Cafe Gijon, where the men gather and talk about literature, philosophy, or some other topic that draws their attention as they sip thoughtfully on their cafe con leche. In Athens, talkers convened in the Areopagus. In fact, the Areopagus was actually an official gathering place where legal cases were heard. In this instance, however, they invited Paul there to talk about their gods, and this new God whom he was referencing. Paul was able to communicate the gospel strategically in another “space” of the city.
The third place Paul connected was the marketspace. He was able to do so because he was familiar with it. In fact, you could say he belonged there.
This passage is a narrow window into Paul’s daily life. We discover how he made his living: “After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:1-4).
See it there? Evidently, Paul had been a tentmaker by trade. He was a tentmaker — not in the gurative way we use the term in missions now, but literally. Paul made and sold tents. That means that at some point, he supported himself in the mission work he was doing by way of a profitable trade. I think we can assume he had learned his trade along the way and practiced it at some point as his means of support. When Paul arrived in Corinth, he connected with Aquila and Priscilla, and was able to stay with them and use his skill set.
When people practice a trade, they share common ground with others who do the same. ey have a common a nity. ey speak the same language. In Paul’s case, he could identify with others who worked with their hands and depended on the profits from selling their goods to put food on the table. People readily identified with his theological treatises. They expected him to communicate deep theological truths to the churches with whom he partnered.
Can you imagine his conversations in the marketspace, though? He talked with others, like Priscilla and Aquila, who worked with their hands. “What kind of fabric are you using in your tents?” he might have asked of someone selling tents close by in the marketplace. “The purple color is fit for a king. In fact, let me tell you of my king for whom I am making this tent. He owned nothing so fancy...”
Paul could connect with others in the marketspace because he shared their experiences. He understood a hard day’s work, a sweaty brow, and a livelihood based on his ability to create a desirable product. He knew how to trade and sell his goods, and he invariably knew the struggles of a profitable market versus a weak one. His work gave him credibility and entry into a tribe which otherwise may not have accepted him.
LIVING ON MISSION
It is estimated that today there are more than 8.7 million U.S. citizens who live abroad. For the sake of ease, let’s assume a conservative estimate that roughly 10% of those expatriates are Christ followers. That would mean there are more than 800,000 believers who are in the worldwide marketspace. This is a staggering number, especially when compared to the relatively meager numbers of full-time Christian missionaries that missions organizations are able to fund.
What if those 800,000 people lived out their lives strategically as God’s people on mission?
What if they built relationships with people from their new host countries — relationships with people in the marketspace — to which full-time Christian mis- sionaries may not have access?
What if they were trained and equipped to take advantage of the opportunities to share the gospel in natural settings as global workers?
What if they believed they were there for God’s glory and to make disciples?
What if they were able to start Bible study groups with those new believers that eventually led to new churches?
I can tell you from personal experience that many expatriate believers are doing exactly that. They are not missionaries in the traditional sense of being full-time paid Christian workers, but they are living their lives on mission. They are living out the Great Commission through the marketspace, and they are seeing results as their friends and co-workers come to faith in Christ.
Imagine the impact of infusing the existing missionary workforce with 800,000 missionaries who have already rooted themselves in community, a purpose for being there, a sustainable means of income, and have natural access to people in desperate need of the gospel. The church needs to learn to identify, network, encourage, and equip these marketspace workers and elevate their role in Great Commission work to the same level of validity as any commissioned missionary. Because they absolutely should be.