The following is an excerpt from our Executive Director, Larry McCrary’s, soon-to-be-released book The Marketspace: Essential Relationships Between the Sending Church, Marketplace Worker, and Missionary Team
Most missions organizations these days are talking about Business as Mission (BAM) as if it is a new venture — a new idea, and it very well may be for them. Business as Mission, however, is actually as old as the church’s mission. Consider the explosion of the early church in the book of Acts. How did it come to be? First off, we would be remiss not to begin this discussion about the expansion of the early church with the indwelling power and authority of the Holy Spirit. Jesus made it quite clear that apart from the strength and direction of the Holy Spirit, the church would simply never have gotten off the ground (Acts 1:4,8). The interesting thing, though, is who the Spirit used to grow the church and how.
The church was birthed in a miraculous display of God’s sovereign power when the Spirit fell on Jews gathered in Jerusalem from around the world. Jesus’ disciples began to proclaim his gospel in previously unknown languages so every person gathered there could understand it (Acts 2:5-11). The church grew by 3,000 people that day, and they soon returned to their homes. Thus, the spread of the gospel began. As the church grew, it was not necessarily well received. Faithful gospel proclamation and the spread of the church led to ever increasing persecution by those outside its ranks. Christians, like Stephen, were martyred for their faith, causing many early Christians to flee Jerusalem and search out new places to live.
Families left and began new lives in new cities — working jobs, meeting neighbors, and living their faith all along the way. These were not the apostles; they were still in Jerusalem. They were simply people dispersed to the surrounding nations who lived as salt and light among those who were perishing. They had families to support, houses to build, and lives to share. And the church grew in their wake.
Acts 11 tells the story of the beginnings of the church in Antioch, and it is not what you might expect. There was no great missionary or evangelist or pastor who founded the church. It sprang up from the efforts of people who were dispersed from Jerusalem after Stephen’s death. The church leaders in Jerusalem heard about what was happening there, and the thing that piqued their interest most was the fact that the gospel was crossing cultural barriers. Gentiles were coming to the faith. The church leaders sent Barnabas to check out what was happening, and he found Saul (who would later be called Paul) and brought him along.
They did not, however, create the church; it existed before they arrived.
People with regular jobs lived as salt and light and shared the good news across cultural bounds with great effectiveness, and the church in Antioch was born. So, whereas BAM may be fairly new in terms of missions organization initiatives, the practice is as ancient as the mission of the church itself.
Paul, along with his friends Aquila and Priscilla, also practiced marketspace missions. Acts 18 says of the trio:
“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. Each Sabbath found Paul at the synagogue, trying to convince the Jews and Greeks alike” (Acts 18:1-4).
Enter Paul the tentmaker, a man with a trade. According to this passage, Paul joined up with Aquila and Priscilla in their work.
In other words, Paul got a job.
He came into a new town, found some people with whom he shared a common trade, and began to work with them. So, during the week, he practiced a trade, and he spent the Sabbath in the synagogue reasoning with Jews. It can also be assumed that his work week was also a conduit for gospel interaction. Paul, it seems, practiced business as mission.
The pattern for Paul in his missionary efforts was to find an entry point from which he could launch his ministry. In this case, it was his business as a tentmaker and his status as a Pharisee, that gave him the ability to teach in the synagogue. At other times in his ministry, people and local churches brought him gifts that supported him, and he was able to exclusively give himself to preaching. Either one was acceptable to him.
What that means for us today is that we need to elevate the one to the level of the other, because our default is to value “professional” missions over the salt and light witness of the otherwise “regular” person who simply works in the marketspace and lives out their faith wher- ever they are. For Paul, there was no hierarchy; neither should there be for us.
Currently, most of our churches ask business people to undertake “business-related” tasks within the church. They help out with accounting, sit on the administrative board, or help find a viable meeting space and negotiate the price. And while those are perfectly acceptable ways for them to serve the local body, it is far from all they can and should do.
They need to understand like Paul that their work is both a method of support for their primary identity as ambassadors of Christ and an avenue for engagement with people who are in desperate need of the gospel. They need to be encouraged and equipped to take full advantage of their talents and gifts in the marketplace for the glory of God, and that means far more than asking them to contribute to the current building project in their local church. They have unique opportunities to share the gospel that others do not. Again, like Paul, they need to be prepared to take full advantage of the opportunity to work as unto the Lord in the marketspace and share the glorious gospel of Christ with those people they come in contact with through their work.
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