Over the past fifteen years I have focused my work on what many refer to as “Marketplace Ministry” (MP). That was even the name of our team within InterVarsity Christian Fellowship up until four years ago. It is also the name used by a variety of other ministry organizations around the country in places like Boston, San Diego, Colorado Springs, Dallas and Spokane. I have struggled with the limitations of the phrase. It tends to only describe the financial or retail dimensions of our nation’s workplaces. You see it as one section of the Wall Street Journal or as the name of a shopping mall. But a new term is beginning to surface in this movement. I belong to a coalition that seeks to identify itself with the term “ministry in daily life.” (CMDL, or Coalition for Ministry in Daily Life). Another popular title is used by the oldest publication in the field—“Faith At Work” (FAW).
But all three titles require explanation. None of them captures and communicates the vision quickly. Descriptive terminology is a struggle for every leader in this field of the church in the world. But, at second glance, the terminology struggle is a reminder that the Christian faith is so profound that slogans, bumper-sticker language or modern sound bites just don’t do the job. Capturing what it means to be loved and forgiven by Christ, and then invited to grow and serve Him in every dimension of life cannot be fully done in cryptic language. As a matter of fact, if it were that simple—the Bible would be a lot shorter!
But I am convinced that this struggle hints at the problem of long-term neglect in this area within the church. Few “pewsitters” are encouraged to view themselves as bold agents of the kingdom of God in their workplace. Passivity in the pew is reinforced by the localizing of power in the pulpit. Pulpit and pew have sadly become contrasting points of identity among Christians. The more we unjustly exalt our clergy, the more at-risk they are to being addicted to their positions as well as victims of burnout, while the rest of the congregation almost unconsciously off-load all the work of the kingdom on the professionals, and develop their own addictions to religious passivity. This dynamic is devastating to both clergy and laity.
Another complicating factor is that the church can become an institution that tends to be preoccupied with its own preservation. All its resources can too easily be directed inward. Hence, its presence in each community is often no more than that of being just one more organization competing for space, loyalty, support and significance. Outsiders often suspect its motives. Members tend to be drawn further inward for its own benefit. Thus, service outward toward the city, our jobs and other organizations becomes weakened, or even quietly resisted. I’ve heard too many clergy oppose ministry outside the congregation, unless it is overseas missions. The challenge of Christian living in the world is marginalized, oversimplified or diminished.
No wonder we struggle for terminology to capture the vision of the church in the work world! As I have listened and labored to find ways to turn this around, a variety of descriptive options have surfaced. Often they are illustrated by key terms of our faith language. At the end of this article you will find my working list of phrases that describe important pieces of this vision. I have italicized key words that are used in more than one phrase or slogan. After each italicized work I’ve attached frequently attached phrases that spell out the fuller meaning.
While this process of labeling might feel complicated, it also hints at the richness of the subject. There is much food for thought about how every follower of Christ is to learn and live out their faith in every dimension of life—including their jobs. If we can begin to affirm that truth, I think the church will become much “saltier” in our culture and our witness will become much more powerful. It could also relieve our pastor-teachers and release them back to their primary role as internists in the body of Christ who specialize in “equipping all the saints for ministry” (Ephesians -12).
What are you thinking about the life of faith for Harry and Sally pewsitter? What terminology moves you toward whole-life discipleship?
The Linguistics of Faith Key words and phrases that shape our vision
Calling… for all God’s people; for the rest of the church; for the non-ordained.
The church… in the world; scattered; Monday through Friday; at your workplace.
Discipleship… at work; during the week; everyday; in all of life; for everybody.
Ministry… in daily life; for the rest of the church; at work; of all the baptized; of the laity.
Ordained… laity; pewsitters; or ordination for every believer; all the baptized.
The Priesthood… of all believers; or priests at work; on the job; in the workplace.
Reconnecting… Sunday & Monday; faith and work; worship and work or career.
Spirituality… in everyday life; in the workplace; in your job; in citizenship.
Worship… at work; in your job; through your career.
Pete Hammond is a husband, daddy and grandpa. A senior veteran of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USAä and leader of its Ministry In Daily Life work, he is the creative developer of the Word In Life Study Bible and a PC(USA) elder. He and wife Shirley live in Madison, WI.
When Muslim employees at Ford Motor Co. needed a place to perform ablution, a ceremonial washing before prayer, they knew who would help. The Ford Interfaith Network, a company-funded religious employee group, played the role of ombudsman and had certain restroom sinks designated for ablution at the Product Development Center in Dearborn, Michigan.