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The Problem with "Marketplace ministries"

On the Singapore edition of the Christian Post, a news piece had been put up which attempts to showcase one particular "marketplace ministry."[1] The idea of marketplace ministry stems from the basic premise that every church member is to be salt and light in their particular workplace, in reaching out to friends and colleagues and others for the Gospel. This particular "marketplace ministry" has it seems manage to tie in the idea of work together with the idea of "ministry." As a financial planning agency, the director of this agency trains staff "to be 'pastors' to their clients." Financial planners are to treat their clients as sheep, to care for them and aid them in their struggles. In this business endeavor, business and ministry fuses together, and these financial planners have the satisfaction of earning money and at the same time doing "ministry."

As Christians, we are definitely to be the salt and light in the world (Mt. 5:14). We are to witness for Christ and share the Gospel with everyone (Mt. 28:18-20; 1 Peter 3:15). But does Christ's mandate to witness mean that such a "marketplace ministry" is biblically warranted? I would suggest not.

The three main errors that such a "marketplace ministry" engage in are confusing vocation and ministry, supplanting the Church, and giving grounds for the accusation of using religion for profit.

Confusing vocation and ministry

The director Doris Ng is very clear that she sees the job scope of her agency as being a ministry in its own right. She sees her ministry as an integration of faith and work, of how Christians could "see their work as their calling." According to her, Christians do not "integrate faith and work" for a few reasons.

Firstly, many people are too busy and engrossed in their own work. As a result, many view integrating faith and work as an ‘extra’. They feel that it is enough for them to attend church on weekends.

Secondly, they are not prepared to pay the price for being Christians in the marketplace. They do not want to face mocking by others for organising Christian activities in the workplace.

Thirdly, there is insufficient emphasis on marketplace ministry in preaching.

Should Christians view their work as a calling, as something they do for Christ? Certainly. But the question comes as to why the idea of vocation must be a ministry of any sort. God calls various peoples to various callings in life. We see John the Baptist for example endorsing the vocations of being a tax collector and a soldier (Lk. 3:10-13). We note here that they were not called to join John the Baptist in his ministry, or help him out in one form or the other. Rather, they were called to do justice in their respective vocations. In other words, they were called to, as Paul later commanded, live a "peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Tim. 2:2). They were called, as Christians are called, to live a life of good works in shining for Christ (Mt. 5: 16).

Christians witness for Christ in word and deed. In word, believers shares the Gospel of Christ. In deed, believers glorify God in their deeds and works. God is the God of creation, and a carpenter putting his effort into making good wooden furniture can do so for God's glory. Practicing justice, integrity and honesty in one's dealings for a believer glorifies Christ.

There is therefore no need to "engage in ministry" if one desires to "integrate faith and work." The integration comes in standing for Christ in word and deed wherever one is at. One does not need to be in "ministry" in order to integrate faith and work!

The impetus for "engaging in ministry" therefore must lie elsewhere. It lies in the confusion of vocation and ministry. It stems from a total erasure of any sort between the common and the sacred, an idea that there is no essential difference between officers in the Church and "laypeople." In such a democratized and egalitarian society, such a confusion is sadly common, but it is a confusion that comes from the culture rather than from the Scriptures.

It does not need to be proven that there is a distinction between the common and the sacred in the Old Testament. The argument for democratizing egalitarianism normally stems from the supposed egalitarian passages of the New Testament in erasing all such demarcations. Passages such as Gal. 3:28 and Col. 3:11 supposedly prove the essential equality of all believers in Christ. 1 Peter 2:9 teaches the priesthood of believers in calling all believers a royal priesthood. Pastors and elders and deacons therefore are merely functional officers, of which mature believers are chosen to fill these officers to serve the churches.

The egalitarian impulse however fails to account for the specific context of these passages as well as the broader teachings of the New Testament. First of all, passages such as Ga. 3:28 and Col. 3:11 are passages dealing with salvation — that salvation is given to all in the same manner. At the foot of the Cross, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave, free or any class. But such passages do not teach whether there are other ways in which they differ. For example, there is no male or female in salvation, but nobody is going to deny that therefore we should erase all differences between men and women and just have unisex washrooms (and by that I am not referring to those with an occupancy of one, and yes, I know some places have experimented with such practices)!

Similarly, 1 Peter 2:9 cannot be interpreted as promoting equality in all respects. The context shows that the priestly office of believers is that of offering spiritual sacrifices to God (1 Peter 2:5). It alludes to concepts such as that seen in Rom. 12:1 and denotes the idea of presenting one's life before God and praying to God without an earthly intermediary, something which was not available under the Mosaic economy where there were priests which one has to go to who will offer prayers to God on one's behalf.

In the broader context of the New Testament, we see that the concept of special offices have not been eradicated. The Apostles appointed deacons with the "laying on of hands" (Acts 6:6). The issue of "laying of hands" shows forth the setting apart for special office, as we can see from Acts 6:6 and from its Old Testament background in Num. 27: 18-19 and Deut. 34: 9. Timothy was similar ordained as mentioned in 1 Tim. 4:14 and he was in turn instructed not to be hasty in the laying of hands (1 Tim. 5:22).

The laying of hands therefore is the biblical and apostolic procedure for ordination to the special offices of elders and deacons. Elders and deacons have been given the keys to the kingdom (Mt. 16:19, 18:18) and thus they are set apart by God in their ordination. By virtue of their office, they are in order (t????) different from other Christians.

Ministry in its strictest and most particularist sense has to do with the Church. Therefore, while all Christians are called to witness, not all Christians are called to Ministry. One can loosely term the service one does as "ministry" in a loose form, but that is not the same as the Ministry of the Church

The idea of marketplace ministry therefore is in error by confusing vocation and ministry. Reaching out to others, sharing with them the Gospel, standing up for Christ are all good things, but they are not technically speaking Ministry, which brings us to the second point.

Supplanting the Church

The Church is where the officers of Christ's church do ministry. Officers of the Church are set apart and called by God to their sacred tasks.

"Marketplace ministries" supplant the ministry of the Church by acting as a surrogate church. Such a blatant usurpation can be seen in Doris Ng's statement that her agents are to be "'pastors' to their clients." It matters little whether Doris and her agents have pastoral oversight or their "ministry" is approved by their pastors. It matters little also whether the clients have their own pastors. The problem is that none of the agents possess special office and are ordained, and the financial planning agency is not a church. None of them have any authority from God to do what they are doing. By all means if they desire to love and help their clients, they are certainly free, indeed encouraged to do so. But such is not "shepherding" or being "'pastors' to their clients."

Here we see the hyper-spirituality in "marketplace ministries." What is wrong with simply helping people and loving people without the need to spiritualize everything as a "ministry"? Is God more sanctified merely because one thinks one is doing "real Christian work"? There is nothing wrong with merely living the Christian life in this world without dreams of grandeur or "doing ministry," as if not "doing ministry" is a lesser form of Christian living, whereas it isn't. In fact, such a hyper-spiritualization has Gnostic tendencies in its denigration of the mere material realm, as if doing creational good is an inferior work compared to seeing everything as being "spiritual"; more like the Anabaptist idea of 'Grace overcoming nature' rather than the Protestant notion of 'Grace renewing nature.'

As a side note, it must be said that seeing this as a Ministry makes it in blatant violation of Scripture in 1 Tim. 2:11-15, where Paul specifically prohibits women from exercising authority over Man in spiritual matters and leadership. Doris therefore is in clear violation of Scripture in what she is doing.

Giving grounds for the accusation of using religion for profit

The last major concern has to do with the synthesis of business and religion in Doris' financial planning agency. While certainly Doris appears sincere and has the best of motives, yet such is not sufficient to allay the charge.

1 Tim. 6: 5 warns against those who imagine that godliness is a means to gain. In the history of the Church, there have been many charlatans who used religion to enrich themselves. Perhaps the most notorious in Church history is Johann Tetzel, the Dominican seller of indulgences whom Martin Luther railed against. The issue of using religion especially for financial gain has one that dogged the Church anytime it has gotten involved with financial issues.

By synthesizing business and religion so closely, the question comes as to how Doris' financial planning agency can exonerate itself from using religion to further one's financial interests. After all, it is almost a truism that people who feel loved and cared for will be better customers and more inclined to invest with you. Conversely, the opposite question comes as to how this "marketplace ministry" can exonerate itself from the charge of taking advantage of people's weaknesses to push one's religion, noting that agents "bring spiritual solace to clients in their time of crisis." It is one thing to be a friend who does that, and it is another thing when one has a business relationship in which one's livelihood depends on clients' investment in investment products.

Conclusion

The idea of "marketplace ministry" is fraught with problems. While being engaged in outreach to others in one's workplace is certainly commendable, it is another thing altogether to make one's job one's "ministry." Such "marketplace ministries" usurp the authority of the Church and violates God's rule and order for His people. They are not the way Christians should go about "integrating faith and work," but rather is a backward step towards the old Constantinian order of the Medieval period.


References:

[1] Edmund Chua, "Director Trains Staff to be 'Pastors' to Clients," Christian Post, Nov 27th 2010 (http://sg.christianpost.com/dbase/ministries/1454/16%7C37%7C56%7C68/1.htm)