Making a Difference in the
How can Christians make a difference
in their diverse marketplaces?
Apart from everything we have said so
far, our attitudes and responses in three key areas will influence
the kind of people we become and whether we are truly likely to be
effective as God’s people in our marketplaces. These are: the
way we define and evaluate
vocation and work, the way
we understand and apply
power relationships; and
how we esteem people.
We need practical, Biblical insights, free from the language of
religious exegesis, so that we know how to be victorious Christians
and reflect the light and life of Christ.
1. A Right Approach to Vocation
Jesus said, “As long as it is
day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no
one can work”. (John 9:4)
I met Julie (not her real name) at a
diplomatic function in Singapore. She told me she had an “important
job”, representing her country. Holding her drink with a
studied poise she confided that she couldn’t elaborate about
what she did, because it was “classified” (probably
connected with the intelligence community). She enjoyed meeting
“important people” and passing back “important
information” to her home government. She sounded truly
important. Suddenly, she burst into tears and complained bitterly,
“I hate my …. job”. Pressures in her hitherto
important position had just contributed to the breakdown of her
second marriage, life was boring and repetitive; all she wanted to do
was go home and get everything together (which she did within a few
weeks). Suddenly it sounded as though her status didn’t amount
to a proverbial “hill of beans” in the context of what
mattered in the long term. Had she missed the point?
In the marketplace in which I operate,
people often bury themselves in their jobs the way Julie did. They
become compulsive workers, almost legendary “workaholics”.
The best hours of their days become traps and they have almost no
life outside of being busy. (Check out Ecclesiastes 2:17-23; 3:22).
Like her, they work to be frenetic and mask their problems. There is
nothing wrong with being busy; it is when busyness becomes an end in
and of itself that the problems start. Like the colleague who once
kept a straight face when he told me he was “too busy to start
What is “work” anyway? I
once heard someone define it as a “product of the displacement
of the body and the component of the force in the direction of the
displacement”. Uh? No wonder Julie found work boring. How
about, "work equals force times distance"? None the wiser?
“What do you do for living? Ah,
the “identity” question. Society values people on the
basis of what they do, how much they earn and where they live. So
much hangs on our responses to these questions.
In the Dominican Republic I once
visited what was left of an auction house for slaves. Before the
abolition of slavery, men and women kidnapped from Africa would stand
naked on the stage, to be evaluated according to their age, physical
strength, beauty, even the condition of their teeth. “How much
is this man worth? Will he work hard? In India I have seen the
caste system at work; in any caste system the work people do defines
their relative worth in a clear social pecking order from which there
is no escape.
Too many people derive their sense of
worth from work, but ignore (or can’t discern) the underlying
purpose of life. If you look to work for meaning you will eventually
find it is meaningless. There has to be more.
“Vocation”, on the other
hand, is a way of life. It is more than exerting effort for wages or
salary, for profit or fees, or for payment in kind. Sometimes it
feels like a “calling”. Christians sometimes call it
“ministry”. Referring to what we do as a calling is one
way of attributing worth.
However, vocation alone doesn’t
don’t define you. You can strive all your life to serve
others, use your skills, “climb the ladder” (the term
“greasy pole” is apposite), only to realise you are at
the wrong wall (or pole) and you have wasted your time and effort.
Some jobs are interesting and intellectually challenging. Others are
boring, dehumanizing, tedious and alienating. Rank and prestige
don’t define you (even surgeons and Nobel Prize winners get
bored). Believing it does so is a crippling philosophy that sets you
up for disappointment.
God’s valuation is what really
defines you. Your dignity and worth as a person do not come from
your title, the type of work you do, or how much you earn. You are a
man, a woman, designed in the image of God, made for a purpose. God
says, “I love you”. He wants to fill your life with
meaning. That statement can come across as a cliché, but it
is true. Once you were nobody; now you are a child of God;
everything is new (1 Peter 2:9, 10).
Why do we work?
According to American psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908-1970), the
basic needs we face are to
breathe, have access to water, eat, dispose of bodily wastes and
regulate body temperature. But life is about more than organic
minimalism. We have deeper needs that distinguish us from animals,
plants and minerals. We
make money for a living, to meet our expenses, fund education,
travel, marriage and home life, a reasonable level of financial and
physical security and comforts we believe are essential. But there’s
more. There is always the “why?”.
The driving force for Jesus Christ was
to do the will of God. Whatever you do professionally, your life can
count because you are important to your Heavenly Father. He made you
with the capacity to be creative, to solve problems and to use your
knowledge, skills and abilities for good. The key is to monitor your
lifestyle, so that over-scheduling, materialism and busyness don’t
limit your fruitfulness. It is easy to become so busy that you are
left with no time for God, family, personal growth, or energy to
serve those in need.
Former British Prime Minister Winston
Churchill once said that, “We shape our buildings; thereafter
our buildings shape us”. But that’s not true. We are
not the unwitting captives of our work environment. We can be
instrumental in changing the world around us.
The ability to work, to earn enough to
pay for life, without becoming materialistic, can be a gift from God.
I have heard people identify work as a curse, a consequence of the
fall of Adam and Eve, however if you read the Biblical account
carefully you will discover they were given physical jobs before the
Fall (Genesis 2:15). God created us with wiring that finds part of
its fulfillment in realizing our individual callings; as we do so in
submission to Him we discover His “wisdom, knowledge and
happiness” on the job (Ecclesiastes 2:24, 25; 5:18-20). The
solution is not to avoid work (“If a man doesn’t work,
neither should eat”, 2 Thessalonians 3:10), but to ask the Holy
Spirit for understanding about how what you do makes sense in the
long run and find God’s blessing in it.
“Work” is more than
perfunctory attendance at a place of paid or unpaid employment. You
don’t necessarily need more meetings, activities or overtime to
The bible commands:
you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not
for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the
Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
The Christian has a different starting
point. Work is about honouring God with what you have and who you
are. It isn’t an “add-on” to your Christian
commitment, but an expression of who you are, serving God. That
shows your true priorities. Your work can be a gift to God (whether
or not you do “religious” things at work), based on
making the right choices. You can be like many people, for whom the
workplace is characterized by control, coercion and competition, or
you can be a servant of Christ, even if you are the boss or a sole
operator. Wherever you are, what ever you do, give it your best shot
bring up children, work in a factory, office or school, you can be
like a breath of fresh air in other peoples’ lives, with
Biblical perspectives about the environment, justice, fulfillment,
priorities, wealth, prosperity, altruism, servanthood and sacrifice.
Christians have access to power to be different in the workplace. We
don’t need to be consumed by non-Christian values.
The Bible teaches that our ultimate
vocation (to which everything else is subordinate) is knowing God’s
will and living for Christ.
prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the
calling you have received.” (Ephesians
your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this
is your spiritual
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be
transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to
test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and
perfect will.” (Romans 12:1, 2)
Paul described the Christian life as
being “Christ’s Ambassadors”. Over the years I
have had a lot to do with the diplomatic world. In the New
Testament, when Paul made this statement, Consuls were important
go-betweens between empires and between subject people and those who
ruled them. It is more or less the same today. The Bible says that
“our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). Just
as diplomats represent their countries, we represent God’s
Like Jesus, we have small windows of
time to use our vocations to touch people with God’s presence
and the message of His love.
2. A Right Approach to Power
“By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my
judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent
me.” (John 5:30)
A leading Christian minister in Sydney
once told me of his disappointment that the Australian Prime Minister
had backslidden from his Christian faith because of power politics.
“I have known him for years. He should have stuck to teaching
at Sunday School. He may be one our longest serving Prime Ministers,
but he has left God.” Power (and the quest for power, usually
over others) can replace God in our lives. It can be like a magnet,
irresistibly drawing people to itself.
Power can create hunger and drive
people to achieve noble or ignoble things. Robert Green claims that,
“The ultimate power is to get people to do as you wish. When
you can do this without having to force people or hurt them, when
they willingly grant you what you desire, then your power is
untouchable. The best way to achieve this position is to create a
relationship of dependence. Crush your enemies as they would crush
you. Ultimately the only peace and security you can hope for from
your enemies is their disappearance. If you are not ruthless with
your enemies you will never be secure.” How cynical!
There are physical and spiritual
dimensions of power. For the Christian, the only power that counts
is the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:5). Without that resource we
can easily be sucked into the vortex of the world’s or Satan’s
ways of doing things and lose our way, along with the capacity to
God’s power was constantly in
evidence in the ministry of Jesus, to enable Him to do good to those
under the influence of Satan (Acts 10:38). We need the power of the
Holy Spirit, not for our own sake (cf Acts 8:14-24), but to network
with integrity and live effectively for Christ.
Do you feel powerless at times?
That’s OK. God’s power is best demonstrated through your
weakness (1 Corinthians 1:18-25, 2 Corinthians 4:7; 12:9, 10). Jesus
said we can have everything in the world for which people aspire and
end up losing our souls (Matthew 16:26).
It is essential that we understand the
real nature of the world around us. The notion that, “There is
a bit of good in everyone” is faulty theology. Read Romans
3:10-18 and the daily newspaper you will see why. Dealing with power
relationships at all levels requires wisdom and discernment because
what is really at stake is usually not apparent to those who are
We need to learn how to recognise and
cope with stressful and unhealthy relationships, difficult bosses,
treacherous colleagues or competitors, ambitious and unfaithful
friends, toxic workplaces, pressures and stresses, to reject
corruption, manage difficult decisions, make honest judgments,
forgive those who injure us, rise above fear about the future, pursue
ethical pathways, work hard, be effective, manage our time sensibly,
keep our heads and deliver results of excellence. That’s all a
tough order. The end result is up to God. We live for His glory.
Christians can make a difference where
they are. At one end of the human power spectrum, that can include
political leaders (Parliamentary Christian groups exist at the
highest levels), business leaders, lobbyists and opinion-makers. If
you have opportunities to influence men and woman in authority,
sooner of later you will run into major ethical debates. At times
you will experience conflicts between obedience to human institutions
(legal barriers will be thrown up; restrictions inherent in political
correctness will appear, along with opposition to Christian influence
in the political realm) and knowing what you believe to be right, by
God’s standards. Some Christians have dual-track callings. If
that is you, seek all the training you need to do both competently.
Jesus taught that we should carefully
evaluate who our opinion makers and masters are. He said that no
person can effectively serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). If our
Master is Christ, even if He is not our paying employer, He can help
us to live His way. We can pray for God’s wisdom, innovation,
favour and strength on the job, so that we can do our best and be
productive as we represent Him. We need the capacity to distinguish
between a Christian culture and market philosophies at variance with
what we believe. We need to be led by the Spirit (Romans 8:`14).
Men and women of Godly vision,
commitment, character and courage are making differences in
leadership roles all over the world. God’s presence is at work
in the lives of those personally committed to Christ, contrasting
with superstitions, fears and insecurities that would otherwise
pervade those same marketplaces.
People need to see that our faith is
built on an enduring relationship with God, not faith in faith,
functional knowledge or relational connectness. The irony is that
real power in God comes from being surrendered to Him.
3. A Right Approach to People
Jesus said, “Whoever
wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever
wants to be first must be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not
come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for
many." (Matthew 20:26-28)
“Loving God and Loving
People.” It seemed
like a good logo. After half a day of soul searching, plotting,
strategizing and writing endless versions of Vision and Mission
statements, the Church Board agreed that these five simple words
encapsulated everything they stood for in the community. If they
went through the usual motions on Sundays, but failed to connect with
people, they would miss the mark in terms of being Jesus to their
world. If they loved God and loved people they were fulfilling
life’s highest objectives: That’s always easier said
than done, but the most important part of a worthwhile journey is
Jesus said, “Love
the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with
all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the
second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and
the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
(Matthew 22:37-40) There is no higher mark of a Christian and their
church than the extent to which the logo translates into fact.
Jesus loved people. He didn’t
sit in judgment, waiting for them to stumble. He wanted men and
women to change and He gave them the power to do so. He didn’t
insist they become like Him before they became His disciples; what he
asked them to do was count the cost. His ministry wasn’t about
counting scalps of converts, but leading people into long-term
discipleship. That takes good people skills, starting with love,
acceptance, patience and empathy.
Most of us function in marketplaces
where people assign economic value and personal worth to one another.
“What can you do for me?” If we want to follow in Jesus
footsteps, we have to start by loving people, on a one-to-one basis.
That means loving non-Christians, even when they act in non-Christian
ways. (After all, where would we
be without Jesus in our lives?)
It is easy to become holier-than-thou
and alienate people. I discovered this when I started in my second
job. I was full of zeal and determined to be the best Christian
witness I could. I bought supplies of tracts and foot-slogged the
hills around the Weather Bureau where I worked, pinning up weather
maps, finding people to talk to about Jesus and filling letterboxes
with Christian literature.
When I took over from a colleague
named “Bevan” I discovered pornographic magazines in my
work area. Some of my colleagues used to come and read it during the
lunch hour. In a burst of righteous indignation I declared war on
porn and trashed the lot. I told my colleagues they shouldn’t
be reading such material. When they discovered I had acted this way
because of my Christian convictions they became angry and drew
graffiti in Christian books I had ensconced in the drawer. Score
I had not calculated the extent of
their anger with my “purge”. I was branded a zealot, an
avenging crusader. I learned the hard way that doing “God’s
work” according to our definition doesn’t reach peoples’
hearts. It never occurred to me to consider how Jesus would have
responded. I found people were suddenly closed to me and it took
months for them to open up again.
As a corollary, when I first visited
Saudi Arabia years later, and saw “Mutaween” (religious
police) beating people with sticks for arriving late at mosques for
prayer I was reminded of the need to temper our “crusades”
Much of what is available in the
Christian sphere (churches, books, CDs, websites) is geared to
Christians who are comfortable in traditional church settings. While
these resources are invaluable tools, Christian living in the world
requires more complex people-skills sets than isolation. Life is not
just about obtaining a wage, retirement, home and status, with church
on Sunday, but acknowledging eternal values and seeing God’s
perspective. Jobs, business life, goals, education, family life and
purpose are all part of a bigger package.
Living as a Christian in non-Christian
marketplaces has enabled me to share the Gospel with military leaders
in Arab dictatorships; teach the Bible to wealthy business people in
Europe and Latin America; and preach in “closed”
countries. (It is God who opens doors.) We have to be dependant on
Him, not on our abilities or past successes. You are ideally located
to influence people the rest of us have never met. As they open up,
identify God-given opportunities to do so.
We also live in a religiously
pluralistic marketplace, where Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and others
dress religiously and have prayer rooms. Christians alongside them
are the only active models of Christian faith most of them will ever
experience. They may not know how to navigate nuances of theology,
but they speak volumes with their lives, disappointments, victories,
frustrations, limits, break-throughs; explaining in simple words why
they are Christians and why faith in God works for them.
There is no “one-size-fits-all”
model for Christian relationships in the modern marketplace. Every
work environment is unique. We need God to help us see how He values
people we work with. We also need to understand how non-Christians
think (read 1 Corinthians 1:18-31). Our message is not based on
man’s wisdom, but the power of God. Such a perspective may
appear fatuous and foolish to some people, but it is the wisdom of
God and it transforms lives (Romans 1:16). This is our roadmap, our
From Holy Water to the Water Cooler
Marketplace ministry involves reaching
beyond the church vestry to the water cooler, the laboratory and the
child care centre, where “the rubber hits the road”.
Friends who will never come to your church (why should they?) are
waiting to see that happen. Get hold of God’s priorities.
Better still, let Him get hold of you. Find your marketplace and
touch people with Jesus’ power and life.