Businessmen view marketplace as mission field

Businessmen view marketplace as mission field

FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – “Is it any wonder in this globalizing world that God would use the marketplace to move in a really new and fresh and dynamic way?”

Posed by keynote speaker Neal Johnson, this question served as the overarching theme of the Kingdom Professionals Conference at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Nov. 1-2. Johnson, chair of the Business and Management department of Hope International University in Fullerton, Calif., addressed students, professors, missionaries and businessmen, encouraging them not to choose between missions and business but to do both, reaching people for Christ in the marketplace.

“Our concept is that you can be called to business the same as a pastor is called to the pulpit or a traditional missionary is called to the mission field,” Johnson said at the conference’s opening session. “This is not something that is in addition to traditional missions; it's something that is augmenting it.

“God has explicitly called [business people] and anointed them. They can bring transformation to their jobs, to their companies, to their cities, to their nations.”

The conference, the second to be hosted by Southwestern’s Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement, educated attendees about the marketplace mission movement—methods by which business intersects with faith to accomplish missions.

Noting the importance of learning the context before entering a mission field, Johnson said the marketplace is a context just like any other.

“The marketplace is really the place that people go to raise their standards of living,” Johnson said. “The marketplace, in that sense, is very interesting. It’s really the only human institution that touches, directly or indirectly, virtually every person on the face of the earth. That’s been true in every era in every society and every political system. If you eat, if you wear clothes, if you use a car, you are being impacted by the marketplace.”

As Johnson pointed out, this concept is not new. The Apostle Paul, for example, worked as a tentmaker to support his ministry. Likewise, William Carey, the father of modern missions, began his ministry by opening a printing business in India.

This movement comprises two foundational elements: (1) reading Scripture through marketplace eyes (such as noting the numerous business references in Jesus’ parables) and (2) following the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers.

“[This] is foundational to where we are because it's talking about the mobilization of laypeople,” Johnson said. “It’s from the laity, by the laity, for the laity. It’s been outside of the basic church. Business can be a vehicle for ministry.”

The movement encompasses five camps: tent-making, marketplace ministries, enterprise development,  business as missions (BAM), and social entrepreneurship.

Johnson, a practitioner of BAM, wrote the field’s leading textbook on the subject, Business as Missions: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice.  Johnson said a business in this field must be a “kingdom company” (managed by biblical principles), operate cross-culturally and focus on community development. To illustrate this concept, Johnson related the proverb, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Johnson amended this proverb by adding the line, “help a man start a fishing business and you will feed many families and their communities for generations.”

“I'm passionate about Christ in the marketplace,” Johnson said, “because there are so many isolated Christians out there in the marketplace at every level. They can be owners, CEOs, executive managers; sales clerks, workers in the field or lawyers; bankers, engineers, secretaries … whatever. They haven't heard the message that they can, in fact, be in ministry right there in the workplace, right where God has planted them, with those people in that place at that time. They haven't heard that message, and in not hearing it, they've been denied the fellowship and the support and the encouragement of other Christians in the marketplace. And they've been denied the privilege of actually seeing how important their jobs are to the people that are around them.

“No matter how menial the jobs are, they're important. They’re in contact with people that no one else can be. And it's a tragedy because they're in ministry 8 to 10 hours a day, and they don't even know it.”

In addition to Johnson, conference speakers included BAM practitioners, marketplace professionals and IMB missionaries.

William Goff, professor of Christian ethics at Southwestern and one of the conference’s organizers, said one of the best markers of the event’s effectiveness was the networking that transpired.

“It was telling that at the end of the day on Friday, as well as at the meal times, the conversations were vital and engaging regarding the roles that different participants play in this world evangelization concentration,” Goff said.

Johnson’s prayer for conference attendees, as well as for all members of the marketplace mission movement, was that they would “have lives of significance so that we can say, ‘Thank God it's Monday. I can go to my mission field.’”

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