by Cedarville University
Is our personal brand of Christianity a noun or an adjective in the manner in which we live it? What? What difference, other than the normal class room definitions of those two words, could that possibly make? I would suggest that the manner in which we react to “political correctness” or any other pressure to have us take a back step in the name of “tolerance” has caused us to psychologically impair our notions about marketplace evangelism.
There are numerous groups, like the Christian “whatever” Association, or the Organization of Christian “you fill in the blanks” throughout the world. Notice that in each of those cases, the word “Christian” modifies, as an adjective, whatever noun that follows it – plumbers, chimney sweeps, wild animal wrestlers – whatever. Could it be that we have fallen into the practice of having God just “plug in” where we think He would best fit?
Perhaps we should understand, instead, that all the other things in life should really “modify” that which He has called us to do – be Christians (noun) who just happen to be designed (by Him) to be good plumbers, chimney sweeps, etc. “Christian” should be the subject of the sentence of our lives, not the modifier of the other things we do to complete it.
When missionaries begin preparation for a field assignment, studying the unique culture of an indigenous people group is one of their first priorities. They become as familiar as is possible with culture, language, communication style, passions, priorities, beliefs, and the parameters of whatever worldview they may have all contribute to missions planning. It is vital that they create tactical relationship-building approaches to making Christianity desirable to the people with whom they will interact. Immersion in the targeted culture is prepared for by bathing the mission in prayer and strategizing on ways to make the gospel relevant and authentic to those with whom they will work, live, and play.
To fulfill the notion of becoming a “marketplace missionary,” it is vitally important for us to study the unique culture of the indigenous people group with whom we would be interacting. We must grasp the issues facing our neighborhood, community, workplace, or nation and deal with them in a manner that demonstrates a compassion-driven life of integrity and honesty. We need to “example” Christ in our day-to-day actions and lifestyle. Having our “lives read as a gospel before men” includes being so good at employing the skills God has given us that people will naturally be interested in pursuing the authenticity and relevancy of the gospel. In today”s society many people are looking for choices and life-paths that work! Some are not yet totally sensitive to the reasons why but are sure that the life-model that they presently have is not working.
There are at least five primary characteristics of an effective marketplace missionary.
1. A Passion For the Lost.
If you had the key to entering the “eternal life door,” wouldn’t you want to passionately share it? Why is it that “evangelism” is such a difficult concept for even the most committed Christian? Perhaps because of an insidious “four-letter-word” – fear. We are afraid of being embarrassed by the potential of “not knowing all the answers” that the unsaved may require. We find meeting and greeting people we don’t know way out of our comfort zone. We are afraid of possible rejection, perhaps even ridicule. We are afraid that there may be demands on our personal time!!
We need to deal with two words here – passion and fear. First, it’s difficult for many of us to admit to a word like “passion.” We are aware of the many New Testament verses suggesting that we “say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions,” or “not in passionate lusts, like the heathen” and we tend to reject developing or admitting to positive passions about anything, much less witnessing. One of the dictionary renderings suggests that passion is “emotion, as distinguished from reason.” Another would suggest “strong feelings, dedication.” We need to look at the notion of passion from a different perspective – one of “well reasoned, strong feelings – dedication to the life changing impact that an eternity with Christ can have on our co-workers and neighbors.”
Additionally, we need to have a different perspective on “fear.” Although there are many verses like “be strong and of good courage – we should not fear or be afraid,” Scripture also suggests that the opposite of fear is not courage – it is LOVE. In I John 1:18, we find “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” If we really loved others, we would not fear “not having all the answers.” If we really loved others, we would not fear making new acquaintances.
If we really loved others, rejection and ridicule would not affect us. There should be no identity crisis – we should be known as people who care – for the poor, the widows, the helpless, children, the prisoners, and the hopeless.
We should have a love, yes – a passion – for our fellow human beings, saved or unsaved, and determine to exhibit it in every possible venue, including the workplace, not just at a place of worship surrounded by people of like mind. And, we should not be afraid to exhibit it!
2. A Nature of Adaptability
Marketplace missionaries must have a remarkable ability to be flexible and adaptable. Adapting to the people, certainly not their practices, is the key! To share their experiences, hopes and dreams is foundational in relating to our co-workers through meaningful and comfortable interactions. We must make Christ attractive and desirable through our lifestyle. The notion that others can think differently, but not necessarily “wrongly,” is important to keep in mind. This notion is similar to overseas mission approaches where language can be learned, but most importantly, culture must be understood. We must get to know where the “water cooler conversations” take place and show interest in as many discussions as are possible without compromise.
Others’ life motivations may be how much money they can make, how many hours they can work, how many personal sacrifices they may make to “climb the ladder.” We need to understand their priorities and add “salt and light” into their life equation. “Master” should be preceded by the word “The,” instead of followed by the word “Card.” We need to explain the Gospel in language that is understandable to those who don’t attend church and that is compassionate and non-condescending in delivery, “so that in every way they (we) will make the teaching about God, our Savior, attractive.” We must be able to transfer the reality of our God to others that He loves, so that they too, can meet Him “face to face” and not be left wanting.
3. An Appreciation of Community
Marketplace missionaries find areas of “commonality.” The workplace environment can be saturated with off color comments, suggestive innuendo, questionable use of time and resources and, occasionally, a serious lack of integrity and honesty in communication or practices. Find ways to build upon positive experiences and activities without compromise. Not appearing to “throw the baby out with the bath-water” is a necessary step in building bridges across sometimes very large divides. Attending off-site or after-hours events with individuals, groups, or co-workers’ families is one way to develop meaningful community. Evaluate the balance of time you spend with believers or non-believers. Could spending time with co-workers at their family’s barbecue on Sunday evening be more important than attending your Sunday evening service?
When your neighbor has their annual Labor Day pig roast, complete with some rock and roll or country music, do you accept the invitation? Philip Yancey says “Christ attended three day long wedding feasts, went to dinner at almost anybody’s invitation, and had friends, ranging from rich people, Roman centurions, Pharisees and tax collectors to prostitutes and leprosy victims” and He went where they were. Can we do less?
4. A Dedication For The Long Haul
The ability to persevere beyond initial rejection or even disdain is another characteristic needed by a marketplace missionary. Understanding that to be “salt and light” requires that there may be some tensions when lifestyle differences are manifested. Matthew 5:11 suggests that we rejoice when that happens. Over time, friendships develop that help break down communication walls, allowing discussion of spiritual concepts.
Many “missionary updates” recount the months, even years, before seeing the first fruit of their labor for the Lord, often after a long period of “cold reception.” We must be prepared to invest – really commit to investing – for the “long haul.” In the grand scale of things would several months, perhaps years, be worth an eternity with Christ for our friends? Sometimes “events” created for evangelism may not be as effective as a lifestyle dedicated to an ongoing process. Certainly our co-workers, our neighbors, are worth a long term investment.
5. A Sensitivity to The Holy Spirit
All of the previous four points will not have a chance of contributing to effective marketplace mission work unless bathed in and empowered by the Holy Spirit of God. We will not be able to live such lives before our fellow workers and neighbors “that they will see our good deeds and ultimately glorify God” without an intense sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading. Philippians 1:27 would suggest that “Whatever happens, conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” Ah there’s the rub! The “whatevers” are the challenges that present opportunities in the workplace for us to either be led by the spirit of God or succumb to our natural selves and tarnish the worthiness and relevance of the Gospel before men. Our workplace lifestyle should demonstrate self-control, a desire to do good, respect for all, and an appropriate fear of and reverence for God. Investing in a day-to-day, long-term, passion for developing a positive, Spirit-led, Christ-centered life, will ultimately have the best impact in the sphere of our personal marketplace.
If we appropriately make these characteristics a part of our life sentences:
* A Passion For The Lost
* A Nature Of Adaptability
* An Appreciation Of Community
* A Dedication For The Long Haul
* A Sensitivity To The Holy Spirit
they will become the adjectives that modify our noun – Christian.