Recently a lawyer told me that he was considering leaving his legal practice to pursue a church-related vocation. He had a heart for working with youth. He also felt that he had given too much of his life to temporal work already. Those who know me will know how I responded to what he said. I told him to go into church work by all means if that is what the Lord is calling him to do but not to do it because he thought that law practice is somehow less spiritual than church related work. Practising law may be temporal work, but until Jesus comes back to usher in the new heavens and the new earth, this world is all we have and the Lord needs all sorts of people doing all sorts of work to maintain this world. I asked the lawyer whether it was important that there were God-fearing people in the justice system, people of integrity, compassion and wisdom. He answered in the affirmative. Well, we can extend the same principle to all spheres of human life.
When I was back in Penang recently, at least two people asked me what one should do in the area of marketplace ministry. I replied that we needed to organise support structures so that Christians in the marketplace can find the support they need to live out kingdom values in their daily work. Indeed the church needs to take seriously her duty to equip the saints for both their work in the world and their work in church. In addition, we need to draw out a basic framework for marketplace ministry. I suggested that any such framework should have at least three components.
First we must eliminate any clergy-laity divide when it comes to the spiritual significance of our daily work. We cannot expect folks who work in the marketplace to take their roles seriously if they believe that what they do is of less spiritual significance than work done by those who serve directly in church related work. Pentecost was the great leveller. Before Pentecost the Holy Spirit was specially given to special individuals (e.g. prophets, kings) at special times. Now the Spirit was poured out on all of God’s people. Some of us may be called to serve the Lord in the context of church related vocations but the majority of believers will serve Him out in the world. All believers are called to bear witness to Jesus by word and deed but not all of us are called to church related work.
Next, we must help marketplace Christians apply biblical values in their daily work. We are called to be salt and light. We both bless the world, and help to reveal something of the reality of Jesus when we bring His values into all we do. For example, I serve as the honorary chaplain of the Christian Medical and Dental fellowship here in Singapore. What does it mean to bring biblical values into the practice of medicine and dentistry? At the very least it means to guard our hearts from the evil side of money, sex and power. Positively it means bringing values like integrity, compassion, a concern for the sanctity of life, creativity, aesthetics, and a servant spirit into how we do medicine and dentistry. We need to do a similar exercise for whatever it is that God has called us to do. (I know a hairdresser who has wonderfully integrated biblical values into her work.)
I am particularly concerned to help marketplace Christians discover and practice biblical values in their daily work because many Christians in the marketplace see their daily work solely as a means to reach people with the gospel. Or they see their daily work primarily as a means to raise money for missions and evangelism. But they do not see any significance intrinsic in the work itself. When soldiers and tax collectors came to John the Baptist to ask him how they could prepare for the coming Kingdom, they were not asked to leave their professions. (Luke 3:12-14). Instead they were asked to do their jobs properly. Among other things, the world needs honest civil servants and constabulary who do not abuse their powers. God needs all sorts of people doing all sorts of things to maintain and bless His world.
Thirdly, the workplace is indeed a strategic place to bear witness for Christ and to make disciples. That means that equipping believers for the marketplace will also include teaching and showing them how they can evangelise at their workplace. As they seek to bless the people they meet at work, they can also look for natural ways to bless them with the gospel. Indeed, if marketplace Christians have already been fleshing out the values of Jesus in their work and in their relationships, the Jesus that they eventually talk about will not be a complete stranger to their hearers.
These then will be three components at least, of a curriculum for a marketplace ministry. Help marketplace Christians understand the spiritual significance of their work, teach them how they integrate biblical values into their daily work, and show them how they reach the folks they meet at work for the Lord.
I am not sure if my lawyer friend will decide to leave his legal practice and to go into church work. I am cool either way. We need God’s people everywhere. We each have to ask the Lord where we should be, and where we should be at the different chapters of our lives. But I do hope that more and more Christians will understand the heavenly value of their earthly work.