by Svetlana Papazov – svetlanapapazov.com
THESE DAYS I FIND MYSELF JUGGLING MUCH ON MY PLATE. I’m a wife, a mom, a business consultant for entrepreneurs and a church planter. But a church planter not of the conventional type. First, I’m a female. And if that isn’t enough to raise a brow or two, the church I started, called Real Life, is what one may call an insideout-church. At Real Life, we open our doors to entrepreneurs seven days a week. We integrate a faith community and a business incubator all in one package in order to make real difference in our city’s economy and effect social, economic and spiritual lift.
But I wasn’t always a church planter. Neither was I always a pastor. My path to pastoral vocation took, what it felt like to me, a “detour” route through the marketplace in order to shape my heart to serve. Here are lessons I learned along the way of pursuing God’s call on my life and finding its expression in mission in the marketplace.
1. There is mission in the marketplace
After my husband and I, with our nine-monthold baby, escaped the iron curtain and settled in America, we began to pray that God would bring to pass one of my childhood dreams — to be in ministry in order to preach the gospel. As a family, we began praying for God’s strategy on how to get into pastoral ministry. And as God often does, He clearly answered, but not as we expected.
This is what I heard the Holy Spirit impress on my heart: “There are many people willing to work on the inside of the church, but very few minister outside the church walls. I need you on the outside of the church’s walls.” I guess that was what Jesus meant when he told His disciples to pray to the Lord of the harvest for workers.
The harvest is outside of our church walls, profusely maturing in vast, white fields, but the workers willing to leave the comfort of airconditioned sanctuaries and go into the scorching heat to bring in the sheaves are few and far between. God was going to teach my heart to love His harvest as He loves it by having me be with the harvest in the marketplace for the first 13 years of my work life in the U.S.
2. Go slow to go fast
I considered myself to be a willing harvest worker, but I found out I was an impatient one. Have you rushed to do something good for God only to find yourself being calmly slowed down by the Holy Spirit’s hand on your shoulder? Have you ever been there? I have.
What the Holy Spirit whispered during that prayer as God’s strategy for my ministry vocation looked like a long detour to reaching my dream. I already had worked out a plan. Pastors who work in church ministries have degrees in theology. I fully expected that as I prayed my heart out, the Lord would give me green light to go for a Bible college degree. And why not? I had successfully escaped to my new country of chosen citizenship. Finally, I could do something that I couldn’t do freely in my country of origin — preach the gospel from the pulpit without persecution.
Instead, God had another plan. He wanted me to go slow in order to go fast. God was setting my pulpit in the marketplace, so I would build an integrated life of faith and gospel proclamation. There, my actions, my words and my attitude toward the lost could preach some of the strongest messages that I would ever proclaim. He knew that He would lead me one day to preach behind a pulpit set on a church stage, but for the foreseeable future, my preaching opportunities would be interacting with my future clients.
God wants all of us to steward faithfully the opportunities for mission in the marketplace, because this is where his harvest lives and hurts. We are His open epistles of love and healing to the broken world in our work places, our government, our schools and our entertainment. If we exit the public square, then we are leaving the blind to lead the blind.
3. Detours are God’s straightest paths to wins
In my zeal to pursue God’s call on my life, I thought that the fastest way to get from the place I was to the place I perceived that God wanted me to be was to draw a straight line through the circumstances in my life and follow it. But I discovered that often, on the way to the new destination, God allows us to zig-zag through relationship obstacle courses, meander through the dark nights of our souls, slow down because of strategies gone haywire — all in order for our hearts to transform, so we can lead in a new way at the new place. Our new destinations, together with our new dreams, are not only about new wins, but about the new person that slowly emerges from the zig-zags of life. We become new creations as God’s grace transforms us with every foreordained step we take. Our detours become God’s straightest paths to wins.
4. Work as worship to God
Somewhat surprised, maybe even a bit disappointed that my Bible college dream wasn’t going to materialize right away, I had to admit that what God was leading me to do made sense. My husband and I decided to put my landscape architecture degree and my husband’s skills for building beautiful yards into God’s kingdom mission and started our first small business, a design and build landscaping company. We took our work as worship to God by discipling our unchurched employees, by leading missional conversations, servicing our customers in excellence, praying for them and giving them Bibles as gifts. God blessed our business and we went on opening three more.
All our work was done “as to the Lord” (Colossians 3:23, KJV). He taught us much about how to reach unchurched people and eventually began to stir our hearts to start a marketplace church that integrates faith, entrepreneurship and work and trains believers to reach the lost outside of the church walls.
Doing real life with real people, connecting them to the real God.
After training my heart to love His harvest, God released me to get my biblical degrees in preparation to see my dream of opening a marketplace church become a reality.
In 2016, after much prayer, our family moved from Maryland to the greater Richmond area in Virginia in order to start Real Life Church and Real Life Center for Entrepreneurial and Leadership Excellence (Realliferva.com). Doing real life with real people in order to connect them to the real God is the mission we find in the marketplace and the desire of my heart!
This is one believer’s journey of integrating faith, entrepreneurship and work. What is yours?