The Great Divide: Is There Mission in the Marketplace?

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SventlanaIn a previous post I mentioned that some churches are taking on the challenge of helping people with employment, and otherwise helping to empower them economically.  Dr. Svetlana Papazoz and her husband, Michael, are using their business and pastoral backgrounds to plant in the Richmond, VA area “a marketplace church that integrates faith and entrepreneurship.”

The Great Divide

The Church in America increasingly occupies a place on the margins of society. Separation between the secular and the sacred spheres has become so commonplace that many people struggle to find ways to integrate their faith with their daily lives, which often occur in the marketplace. Church does not interest many people, because church has abandoned the public arena, unsure of the effects of secular involvement that may “defile” the white robe of salvation. Greg Surratt, president of Association of Related Churches, says that on any given Sunday only 15 to 20 percent of people attend church in the United States. That averages one church per every 950 people.

Only holistic Christianity that incorporates our faith in the whole life by uniting work-ministry-worship-family will have success in the marketplace. The Church must engage God and society on a new level. In recent years, the Holy Spirit has stirred the Church to recognize that He is a God of all life and that a sharp divide between the sacred and the secular does not fit His agenda.

A Place to Unite

The marketplace is where we enter economic exchange with each other. It is the environment where human beings contribute and take away material and cultural goods.

One of my favorite contemporary theologians, Christopher Wright, says that it is not so much that God has a mission for His Church, but that He has a church for His reconciliation mission. God is actively involved in all spheres of life in order to bring people to a flourishing relationship with himself. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the Church should intentionally engage the marketplace and enter all of life in order to connect people to God. The Holy Spirit forms missional communities to incarnate the gospel in particular places, to bear living witness to Jesus Christ.

If that is the case, then when it comes to engaging life in the marketplace, do we look for “missionary” works to do once in a while—or do we take all of our activities as our worship to God and as a direct reflection of our lives on mission?

The Corporate “Go” of the Great Commission

There are a number of ways people can begin to see the marketplace as their mission. I can tell you how we envision this at Real Life Church, a soon-to-be-launched church plant in Richmond, VA.

We’ll integrate faith community, entrepreneurial leadership education and small business incubation in order to affect transformational community development. We believe the intentional marketplace engagement will lend our church credibility and eventually earn us the right to influence our community’s culture. To fulfill our church’s missional role, we are looking (at time of print) to lease a retail space in a highly visible and easy accessible location, in close proximity to other cultural, social and business functions such as malls, shopping plazas, city halls, etc. People who usually don’t go to church are likely to use our entrepreneurial services.

The vision for Real Life Church—as for any Christian who is present in the marketplace—is to become a contemporary, contextualized expression of the corporate “go” part of the Great Commission. We hope to empower the believer to fulfill their unique calling in order to become a credible witness to God and a blessing to the city. During the week, we will still be the Church. Through our co-working space and our entrepreneurial incubator, our daily lives will be lived outward in the city—in commitment to godliness, stewardship and creativity. We’ll help people discover God’s purposes for them, so they can be equipped and released back into the public square to both cultivate and create cultural goods. Whether we serve the greater Richmond area by encouraging innovation or developing small business owners that create jobs, we will make sure that we actively contribute to the development of our local communities and see people transformed for Christ.

Reaching others is all about building real relationships with real people in the real world. Customers, employees, investors and vendors are all real people. Wherever you work, lead or minister, you can approach even a secular reality in a sacred way.

God isn’t just calling us to bring Christian ethics into the workplace, but also to bring his culture of light into all of life. His Church is to establish the presence of faith communities throughout the marketplace, so we can model the Jesus-way of leading a company for the benefit of the “least of these” and enter into economic exchange to be a blessing as God has blessed us. God did not create you to live in survival mode, but to thrive in doing the greater works He planned for you to do (John 14:12). He created you to live in the fullness of your potential in Him, For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13).

To check out some of the exciting work Svetlana is planning at Real Life Church, go to reallifechurchrva.org.

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Kevin Kinghorn serves as editor of the Faith and Work Collective blog. He is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Asbury Theological Seminary. His undergraduate work (Emory) was in economics and political science. His graduate work (Asbury; Yale; Oxford) and current teaching has focused on topics within philosophy of religion and moral philosophy. He lives in Mt. Sterling, KY, where he and his wife Barbara work toward community transformation, providing music and art opportunities for children.

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