Menu

News

LEADERSHIP: PRACTICE

Marketplace Missionaries

Four ways to prepare believers on Sunday for their work on Monday.

By Svetlana Papazov

The excitement was palpable as pastors and marketplace leaders began filling our church for a one-day conference on whole-life discipleship and the value of work. The morning training focused on the redemptive mandate of every Christian in the workplace. The idea that any work can be evangelistic challenged my new friend.

He had walked in with his mind made up to quit his job and go into full-time ministry. My friend enjoyed his work as an inventor, but thought the only Kingdom value was in the tithes he gave the local church.

Because of what he had heard — and hadn’t heard — from the pulpit, this sincere believer was struggling to see a connection between his faith and his calling. My friend’s attitude toward his Monday-through-Friday job reflects that of many congregants who faithfully attend church on Sundays.

A week has 168 hours. On average, people who work full-time spend fewer than two of those hours on religious, civic and organizational activities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But they devote about 44 hours weekly to their jobs — more time than they spend on any other waking activity.

Every day, churchgoers work alongside people who are skeptical of religion. According to Pew Research Center, 54% of U.S. adults seldom or never attend services.

The American Church has sent many missionaries abroad, but there is also a vast mission field in our own backyard. To evangelize anew those who might not otherwise hear the gospel, we need to empower our congregants to become marketplace missionaries.

Believers have an opportunity to build a bridge to grace for people who never hear from a pastor. But they may not recognize their potential to make an eternal difference without the support and encouragement of their local churches. Barna Group reports that 72% of Christians “don’t fully connect the importance of their faith to their mission at work.”

To help parishioners begin to see their workplaces as mission fields, pastors should regularly affirm Monday work as a calling that’s just as important as Sunday work. Here are four ways to do that:

1. Intentional Language

What you say as a leader matters. If you associate God’s calling only with the work of full-time pastors, missionaries, and church staff, you communicate that these are the God-chosen and blessed vocations. What about the truck driver, mechanic, office manager, farmer, chemist or business owner?

Intentionally acknowledging on Sunday the redemptive value of vocations outside the church will change the way your people think about what they do on Monday.

2. Workplace Visits

Arrange to meet up with congregants for lunch at their office buildings, construction sites, and factories. Ask permission to deliver coffee and bagels for the entire office or work crew. Pray with police officers and hospital workers before they begin their shifts. Show up to support a military family when a member deploys. Bring several church staff members and some colorful baskets of supplies to help a teacher prepare, and pray over, the classroom before the start of the school year.

When pastors build into their weekly schedules this vital function of shepherding, it allows them to connect the two worlds — the church and the marketplace — and convey to congregants, “Your work matters to God.”

3. Celebration

People often sit in church for decades before they see someone from their profession on the platform. Set aside a special time to recognize and celebrate God’s call on marketplace workers. Give it a creative name, such as Monday on Sunday or This Time Tomorrow.

Ask parishioners interview questions that focus on their workplace mission: What has God called you to do this time tomorrow? What are the joys and challenges of being a follower of Jesus where you work? How can we pray for your work?

4. Commissioning

To help congregants integrate faith and work, consider commissioning them during a service.

Labor Day is a natural time to recognize the work congregants do. You may want to commission teachers and school staff in the fall.

Just as you might do when sending out vocational ministers, invite those who agree to be marketplace missionaries to come to the front of the church. Then have elders, pastors and members of the congregation extend hands and pray over them. Release these workers to advance the purposes and presence of God outside the church walls.

I’m happy to say my inventor friend left the conference encouraged that most Christ followers preach from behind the desk, not the pulpit.

Pastors can make a pivotal difference by affirming the unique contributions and callings of Christian lawyers, baristas, architects, forklift operators, doctors, and teachers, and sending them out as marketplace missionaries.

These workers can translate the gospel for the unchurched in word and deed, reaching their respective mission fields with the hope of Christ in ways no one else can.

This article was first published in the November-December 2020 issue of Influence magazine and appears here by permission.

Pastoring in the Age of Unemployment

The pastoral challenge is helping people rediscover their specific Kingdom purpose using their God-given gifts and abilities.

By Jamé Bolds

Earlier this year, I received a call from an exhausted physician who was laying off staff because patients were not showing up. That same day, I met with a distraught restaurant owner who asked me to pray over spreadsheets after her business shut down as a result of the pandemic. Then another parishioner, a c-suite executive, told me he had lost his job.

This is the reality of ministry in 2020.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, nearly 31.8 million Americans were receiving unemployment benefits in early July, up from 1.7 million at the same time in 2019.

Fortune magazine, reporting 42.6 million unemployment claims between the start of the pandemic and the end of May, noted that this figure is greater than the combined population of America’s 22 smallest states.

Let those numbers sink in. They represent real people — our friends, family members, neighbors and congregants — many of whom were doing well before COVID-19 struck.

As pastors, we are facing a sobering situation. We are not only navigating a pandemic, but we are also leading in an age of mass unemployment. The impact on our church members goes far beyond finances.

Loss and Lament

Unemployment isn’t just a loss of income. Many have lost professional relationships, an outlet for their skills, and a sense of vocational clarity.

One definition of the word “vocation” is “calling.” Every person who is a follower of Jesus Christ has been entrusted with a unique set of gifts and talents to invest in service to God and others (Romans 12:1–8; Ephesians 2:10).

Pastors don’t have a corner on “calling.” God calls parishioners, too, to serve in areas like education, law, medicine, entrepreneurship and government. Believers who know their place of service have vocational clarity. But when unemployment strikes, it may cause them to pause and reevaluate their calling.

The challenge that lies ahead is helping our people lament and then rediscover their Kingdom purpose as they find a place to use their God-given gifts and abilities.

The reality is, some of those jobs may never come back. Some people will need to retrain, relocate or reinvent. Whatever lies ahead, they will need pastoral support and guidance.

We can disciple our people to be faithful to their calling but flexible to their work. Before we engage in these things, we must first take time to lament with them and offer compassionate care.

In Latin, compassion literally means “fellow-suffering” or “to suffer with.” Immediately after a loss is not the time to try to fix things for those who are suffering. It is a time to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). Our American theology often glosses over pain, suffering and loss. However, these things are part of the human experience, so we must create space for them.

As Pentecostals, we rightly trust the Spirit to empower us to do the impossible. Yet the Greek word for the Holy Spirit, Paraklētos, starts with the preposition of para, which means “to come alongside.”

The Holy Spirit is One who helps by consoling, encouraging or mediating on our behalf. John 14:26 calls Him the “Advocate” (NIV), “Helper” (ESV), or “Comforter” (KJV). We can following the Spirit’s example by coming alongside those who are in pain.

To do this well, we must rediscover how to pray and lament. In Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: The Grace of Lament, Mark Vroegop suggests a simple framework: honest complaint, bold request, and decision to trust. Vroegop uses Psalm 13 to illustrate this.

The Psalmist begins with an honest complaint (verses 1–2):

How long, Lord? Will You forget me
forever?

How long will you hide your face
from me?

How long must I wrestle with my
thoughts

and day after day have sorrow in my
heart?

How long will my enemy triumph
over me?

Teach your people it’s OK to have an honest complaint before the Lord. There is nothing wrong with asking, “Lord, why did I lose my job? Will there be work for me? What is my part in all this?”

Of course, prayer shouldn’t end there. Next, the Psalmist makes a bold request (verses 3–4):

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.

Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in
death,

and my enemy will say, “I have overcome
him,”

and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

We can boldly ask God to open up new kinds of employment or new ways to use skills. We can pray, “Spirit, lead me to that new business where I can glorify God and help people. Give me wisdom and strength to flourish and do well in my new job.”

Finally, the Psalmist acknowledged his decision to trust God (verses 5–6).

But I trust in your unfailing love;

my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing the Lord’s praise,

for he has been good me.

Pray with your people that they will trust in the Lord to provide new opportunities for work and relationships. Ask boldly on their behalf, and encourage them to approach God with confidence.

Faith and Work

Job loss is a traumatic event. Beyond the financial implications, it can take a toll psychologically, socially, physically and even spiritually. As we walk with people through this valley, it’s important to realize there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

However, I do believe God has uniquely positioned your church in your community. You may be in an inner city with all its socioeconomic complexities. You may be in a growing area where jobs are somewhat easier to find. Or perhaps you pastor in a rural community where the closing of a single factory is devastating. Regardless of your location, job opportunities change, but God’s faithfulness remains constant.

I think of career issues in terms of calling, vocation and work. Our callings are divine, our occupations change, and our work depends on our location. As we disciple people, we can help them discover what God has called them to do. This brings vocational clarity, a constant north star of God’s calling and purpose.

If our people know what God has called them to do and can hone the skills to pursue their calling and apply them in any environment, work activity simply becomes a matter of location.

Every believer needs to hear from God about his or her specific purpose in the Kingdom. Each person has unique gifts and talents. We have a divine design that benefits us, our families, and our communities as we seek the common good.

Vocational clarity brings dignity and meaning to work, but it goes beyond employment status or positions. It’s about who our people are at their core, whether they are big-picture visionaries, detailed analysts, relationship builders, or natural contributors.

Within that divine design, there is room for occupational flexibility. For example, someone with exceptional creativity could use that gift in construction, corporate problem solving, or legal analysis. It could find expression in laying tiles, designing spreadsheets, identifying financial solutions, or doing landscaping. It’s a matter of honing practical skills and being willing to learn new ones.

Work activity then becomes a matter of location and preference. It is the location and context of what and where people want to spend their time.

Practical Help

When people give you pastoral permission to get involved in their lives, it is a privilege. You may need to coach people to file for unemployment, relocate, or seek a new job. In some cases, the church may be able to help with some bills or network with someone in the congregation to find a position.

God designed us to work and create. Granted, not all work is a perfect fit. Nevertheless, sometimes people need a gap job to provide an income source, even if it doesn’t line up with skills and passion. When pastoring in an age of unemployment, shepherding people to start working is important. It’s often easier to find a job when you have a job.

Here are five things to consider when helping people find solutions:

1. Networking. As a pastor, you know a lot more people than you think you do. Now is the time to leverage that network. Think about what your people do for work and what their skills are, and identify individuals you know outside your church. You may be able to help match workers to potential employers.

For example, perhaps a talented, outgoing church member lost a sales job. With that person’s permission, you might send a few emails to the church’s insurance company, bank, and other vendors inquiring about openings.

2. Services. Think about the talent you have in your church and the skills others need. Do you have an unemployed parishioner who previously ran accounts payable for a company? Maybe that person could do bookkeeping for two or three small business owners in your congregation.

3. Bartering. I pastor many entrepreneurs, all of whom are a little eccentric and wildly creative. Instead of two businesses hiring each other, they sometimes do a straight trade.

Say a small accounting firm owner needs an office bathroom remodeled. Instead of paying for it, the contracting business remodels the bathroom, and the accountant does their taxes for them. Do your people have skills they could barter?

4. Relationships. What are the needs in your congregation, and what relationships do you have in the community?

Our church doesn’t have a food pantry. Instead, we support the local food banks and have a relationship with them, which makes it easier to refer our people there for help.

5. Benevolence. Every Communion Sunday, take up a special offering that goes directly to help those in need, helping with food, clothes, utility bills, etc. As in Acts 6, let the deacons manage and oversee that ministry.

Biblical Perspective

Colossians 3:23–24 offers a Kingdom perspective of earthly work: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

When everything we do is in service to God, work becomes an act of worship. It also benefits the local economy, which is a service to others.

We can see a connection between work and worship in the Old Testament in the Hebrew word avodah. First, it means “work” in contexts such as “there was no one to work the ground” and in God’s intent for Adam to “work [the Garden of Eden] and take care of it” (Genesis 2:5,15, emphases added). Elsewhere, this word means “worship”: “Let my people go, so that they may worship me” (Exodus 8:1).

All work can be worship if we offer it to God.

God called you not only to your church, but also to your community. This includes the marketplace where people work. What would happen if we discipled people to think of work as worship and creating an income as secondary?

What if every member of the congregation sought to honor God wherever they are right now — whether working a less-than-ideal job, learning a new trade, filling a volunteer role, caring for children at home, or seeking employment?

This is not to dismiss the real struggles people are facing, of course. But even in difficult times, we can trust that God is working in and through us. When He is the focus, fulfillment no longer depends on a particular position. We can use our gifts to glorify Christ and point others to Him in all we do.

May we lead creatively and prayerfully as we pastor our churches and communities in an age of unemployment.

This article was first published in the September-October 2020 issue of Influence magazine and appears here by permission.

What if My Work is Becoming Obsolete?

By Travis Lowe

“The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give.” Isaiah 2:2 (ESV)

I sometimes wonder what the world’s greatest VCR repairman from the 1980s is doing today. I wonder where the factory workers are who made typewriters, alarm clocks, or printed phone books. In our increasingly digital world, obsolescence is no longer a potentiality, it is a planned progression. Constant change is the new normal, but as much as we anticipate the next iPhone launch, few of us are prepared for changes that could affect our perceived identities.

It is natural that we find identity in our professions. This has been true throughout history. People have always been known as farmers or shepherds. However, when our identity is intermingled with a profession, what happens when that profession becomes obsolete? Who am I if I lose my job? Who am I when I retire?

I want you to know that in Christ, you have an identity higher than any earthly label. Paul says there is neither “slave nor free,” meaning you are more than what you do or who you work for. Jesus even called men to lay down their nets and this change of profession did not produce a loss of identity but the birth of a greater one. In Christ, you can celebrate that you are a great brick mason or a gifted programmer, but if all of that is stripped away, your identity remains as who Jesus says you are. God has given you a new name.

Prayer: God, help us find our identity in you and in your Word. Remind us of your promises and let us anticipate with gladness the newness that you bring.

This article was originally published on December 10, 2020 at Made to Flourish.

Homeless with a Twist of a Homemade Lavender

by Svetlana Papazov

I was visiting Southern California and heard of a coffee shop that offered uniquely crafted flavors and a faith and entrepreneurship story as touching as the fragrant petals sprinkled in their lattés. As a coffee lover I had to see the place. As a pastor I had to interview the church leaders who started that enterprise. I drove to Rose City Church in Pasadena to meet with the leadership and hear their story of neighborly love and economic impact.  

Church and Homelessness

When Pastor Dan Davidson re-opened Rose City in 2009, he became concerned about the group of homeless youth who camped out on the church’s grounds. With one of the largest community colleges in Southern California just a block away, he was not surprised to find homeless youth sleeping in the church parking lot.

He began to engage the teens by offering food and clothes, but this increased the number of youth coming—and that upset the neighbors. Realizing he had to help in a better way and that there was a gap in supportive services, Pastor Davidson found an old coffee cart on the church property and began training the youth to get jobs in the area’s growing gourmet coffee industry. They lovingly named this coffee cart Rosebud.

Church and Homemade Lavender

Rosebud traveled around LA, empowering homeless and transitional-aged youth as they practiced their newfound craft—serving an amazing cup of coffee. Rosebud’s work has led the church to establish a permanent cafe in Pasadena, which they named after their little cart. Today, the body of believers continues to persist in their mission of crafting coffee, community, and cause. Pastor Davidson says:

Our story matters deeply to the residents of Pasadena. A progressive city with more than 1,000 nonprofits, we had no trouble finding our loyal and supportive customers as the first social enterprise cafe. And though our story may draw them to the shop, it’s our hospitality that keeps them coming back. Not only do we seek to be one of the best coffee shops in town, but we also, and more importantly, seek to be the most beloved coffee shop in town. It’s our gift of hospitality and community served alongside a beautifully crafted latte with homemade lavender syrup that keeps our sales numbers growing.

Homeless youth are taught job skills in a caring, hands-on mentoring environment. Rosebud pairs one barista to volunteer his or her time with youth, anyone from eighteen to twenty-five, who then trains at the brick-and-mortar location for four-to-six months. Through the training, Rosebud works with its partner nonprofits to help find housing units to keep the young employees off the streets and to identify additional vocational training opportunities.

Church, Craft and Human Dignity

The youth-trainees take special pride in learning the flavor profile of the different coffee beans and crafting a delicious cup of java. It is often something profound that happens when the transitional-aged youth make their first cup of coffee for a client who then pays and thanks them for their services. It is as though a rebirth of their human dignity ensues.

These young people often have been given necessities for living, because they have lacked fundamental resources, but they have never been asked to contribute. The moment they are recognized as bona fide creators and contributors of value in the marketplace, something within them is unleashed. They can see themselves as givers instead of takers, as producers of goods and services that others appreciate, and that helps them dream of a hopeful future.

Pastor Davidson sums it up well: “These youth have been given many hand-me-downs, but that only have exacerbated their low self-esteem. When they were asked to contribute at the Rosebud Café by creating specialty coffees, using their training to recognize complex coffee flavors that is when they have come alive. They take pride in being able to work and contribute value to society.”

Church—a Bridge to the Sacred and Secular Divide

Rose City Church bridges the sacred and secular divide in the marketplace. Asking the transitional-aged youth to work and create value in the local economy honors both their human dignity and their creative streak, which bears the image of Creator God. There is nothing more empowering to a person than to be given the opportunity to create cultural goods and services, and to shape the economy by doing honest work. Rose City Church models the practice of integrated faith.

A Revolution in Discipleship

by Charlie Self and Johan Mostert

Pastors face a daunting task on a good day. In these rapidly changing times (and in light of a pandemic and social upheavals), making healthy disciples that will enable the local church to have a positive impact in the community requires courage, strength and wisdom. In this moment is an opportunity for reimaging Christian discipleship. What is needed is a new vision that conveys Christian discipleship in light of clear and direct outcomes. Put simply, a clear vision of what healthy disciples look like will transform our evangelism and discipleship, equipping for mission and outreach, both local and global.

Challenge and Opportunity

Although many preachers and sermons try to explain a biblical approach to discipleship, they often fail at delivering measurable outcomes. Answering what it means to be a disciple at work or in the home is difficult because those aren’t things that are easily measured. At least until now. Pastors desire effectiveness, and, by God’s grace, they are serving their congregants with sincerity and truth. A fresh picture of whole-life discipleship and assessment resources will help stimulate a culture of responsible action among congregants.

For example, there are many great resources that touch on some aspects of discipleship and should be part of every leader and member’s kingdom treasure chest. The challenge is coordinating them into a cohesive whole and helping believers walk in a hopeful realism. In one sense, we already have a feast-table of resources for Christian growth. The challenge is offering a framework and innovative systems that will bring the feat to the hungry believers and seekers.

A First Step: The Discipleship Dynamics Assessment

Developed by a team led by AGTS Professors and ministry practitioners Drs. Johan Mostert and Charlie Self, the Discipleship Dynamics Assessment is a one-of-a-kind tool that helps people understand their discipleship journey by breaking down measurable aspects of discipleship. The test breaks down discipleship into five dimensions and 35 outcomes. The online test (www.discipleshipdynamics.com) has excellent psychometric properties (reliability and validity support) and provides Christians a real and measurable understanding of their faith in real time.  The tool serves as a whole-life “diagnosis” that identifies areas that require attention for discipleship growth to take place.

The result is that pastors, leaders, churches, and church members can see exactly how they’re living and growing, and they can also see areas in which they need to grow.

A particularly powerful tool in this process is the Pastoral Dashboard. When a pastor or leader purchases a number of assessments, he or she can set up a group. Individual results always remain confidential, but the leader can see an aggregate score of the group on each outcome. This is very helpful is seeing the strengths and weaknesses of the community. Equipping resources and strategies can be targeted toward the areas needing work and potential leaders that are strong can be recruited as mentors.

The Assessment has been used across the country and across a variety of Christian traditions. It is also designed and tested to be used across cultures, so it has the potential to be translated and used anywhere. It is rooted in biblical, consensual theology (Lausanne, Nicene Creed, etc.)

The Five Dimensions of Discipleship

Rooted in Scripture and affirmed by history and testimony, a believer’s life is not a check list, but dimensional, with all aspects of our person and activity mattering to God. And here is a bonus: these dimensions help create spiritual conversations with pre-believers, for they offer a picture of wholeness that is attractive to the thoughtful. Here are the Five Dimensions:

  • Spiritual Formation – loving God with all our being and participating in the Mission of God and the life of the local church.
  • Personal Wholeness – healthy self-respect and being liberated from our history and growing in hope.
  • Healthy Relationships – loving others deeply and wisely, discovering healthy boundaries and strengthening families.
  • Vocational Clarity – knowing our personal purpose and the gifts and resources we possess. We are always more than our current job.
  • Economics and Work – serving God with our whole hearts and skillful hands, understanding that our daily work is a divine assignment.

A Childrens Pastor summarized these dimensions for elementary kids under their care: “I am close to Jesus, feel good about myself, get along with my family and friends, know what I am good at, and I do my chores and schoolwork for Jesus.”

A Revolutionary Vision

Generous grant funding, years of research and experimentation, and listening to hundreds of Spirit-filled leaders has yielded as resource immediately useful for spiritual leaders:

  • No more “sacred” and “secular” part of life – all of life is under the reign of Christ (Romans 12:1-2; Colossians 3:17).
  • No more “spiritual” and “practical” divides – all of life is spiritual and will yield fruitful practices (John 15).
  • Clergy and laity are now united on mission, with all vocations and occupations honored as service to God. Praise God for our spiritual leaders. And praise God for every member of the Body being mature and effective (Ephesians 4:1-16).
  • A picture of true biblical maturity declares that spiritual maturity is inseparable from emotional and relational maturity (Ephesians 4:17-5:1 and I John 2).
  • The goodness of rest and work, participation in church and social change, care for the marginalized and our planet are integrated under the Great Commission to make disciples whose lives are shaped by the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40; 28:18-20).
  • Every member of the church or organization becomes a resource to all the other as they mature (Ephesians 2:10; 3:10).

Let’s Get Started!


Dr. Charlie Self

Dr. Charlie Self has been a pastor, professor, public intellectual, and leader in faith-work integration for over four decades. He is currently Director of Learning Communities for Made to Flourish and Visiting Professor of Church History at AGTS. He is married to Kathy and they have three adult children and three grandchildren.