Over the past few years, there’s been a lot of talk in Evangelical Christianity about being a marketplace or missional Christian. The former term is used more widely while the latter term is used mostly in Emerging Church circles. Whatever the nuances between these terms, to be a marketplace Christian or missional Christian basically means living out one’s faith in everything one does.
More specifically, the marketplace Christian is one who lives out his faith where he works – i.e. in the marketplace. Very similarly, the missional Christian is one who sees himself as being a missionary in his daily life.
One can derive two basic beliefs from marketplace or missional Christianity:
1) One can live a faithful Christian life without being in what is traditionally called full-time ministry (e.g. pastoral ministry). Indeed, lay people too with their many talents and gifts have an important role to play to further God’s kingdom. The implication that seems to be put across in all this is that it isn’t particularly more spiritual if one were to be a “full-time” minister. This isn’t something to be aspired to by all Christians – as if going “full-time” meant reaching a higher plane of spirituality.
2) Every Christian is a missionary and not just those who go overseas to do mission work. Indeed, we are all missionaries bringing the message of Christ wherever we are and through whatever we do – even if we do not go to a foreign land. There’s thus less of an emphasis on the need to go to a foreign land to serve God. After all, the point is that we’re all missionaries in whatever we do and in wherever we are. Therefore, there really isn’t anything special about going overseas to serve God and preach to the lost. We are to do that wherever we are. And the Christian who lives a faithful Christian life in his workplace is as much a missionary as the Christian who goes to Africa or Asia or the Middle-East.
What are my thoughts of this new way of thinking? I believe that, like any new ways of thinking, there are both positives and negatives. New ways of thinking occur because previous ways of thinking were lacking in some areas. The positive thing about this new way of thinking is in correcting such a lack and emphasizing the importance of something that was not emphasized before. However, a negative can result when the new thing being emphasized is overly-emphasized at the expense of other important truths. Responses to the lack in something can thus easily become over-reactions, the result being we remain unbalanced in our thinking in precisely the opposite extreme manner as compared to before.
In regards to the focus on marketplace and missional Christianity, the positive thing is that we’re being told we ought to live out our faith in everything we do, everywhere we go. Emerging Church proponents of missional living like to say that we shouldn’t be thinking of bringing non-Christians to Church. Instead, we ought to be bringing our faith and Christianity to the non-Christian – wherever they are. I think this way of thinking of Christian living cannot be anything but positive. After all, we aren’t called to live as a Christian just on Sundays or only in Church! We’re to live as Christians every single second of our lives! That exhortation couldn’t be more obvious on any reading of the Bible.
Furthermore, we don’t have to be a full-time minister to live a faithful Christian life. If everyone were to be pastors and full-time ministers, then how are we going to be in contact with and reach out to those who do not come to Church? Indeed, there is a role for Christians to continue to work in the so called secular world – there is nothing unspiritual or wrong about that per se.
Here comes what I see as a potential danger in the above kind of thinking. The danger is this:
As we start to recognize the possibility of living a faithful Christian life in our homeland and in a secular (i.e. non-Church) workplace, we can very easily lose the sense of urgency in what we traditionally call overseas mission work.
Indeed, as such a thinking becomes more widespread and accepted, many Christians are going to justify their lack of interest in going to where the much greater need is – i.e. in the developing world – by insisting that they are already a missionary in their own country and in their present workplace. And of course because of all this, it’ll be harder to tell whether such an indifference by Christians towards overseas mission work stems from their fear of sacrificing their high standard of living as enjoyed in the developed country they are living in or from the fact that God truly wants them in their country they are now in.
If the danger before was in thinking doing overseas mission work was the height of Christian spirituality, the danger now would be the opposite: thinking that doing overseas mission work is no big deal at all. And I think anyone who realizes the magnitude of need out there in developing countries – in terms of the the number of poor to bless and lost to reach out to – will definitely not think it’s ok to just be a missionary in one’s homeland.