Believing Professionals and Marketplace Ministry
by Bill Zipp
Two commands given by God to his people stand at prominent junctures of human
history. At the dawn of time, God told his people, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill
the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over
every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28)
And at the dawn of the church age, Christ told his disciples, “Go and make disciples of
all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19, 20)
The first command, labeled by scholars as the Cultural Mandate, would best be referred
to as the Creation Mandate; and, of course, the second command is the Great
Commission. As we stand at the dawn of the 21st century, we must recognize that
neither command has been rescinded and rediscover how the integration of the two
allows us to reach the world in unprecedented ways.
The Creation Mandate
This command was given to the first human beings placed on the earth. They were told,
in no uncertain terms, to populate the earth and to subdue it. Though part of Godʼs
creation, they were placed in a role distinct from it as its ruler and steward. The earth
was theirs to fully utilize and wisely manage.
In other words, God made this amazing, complex puzzle teeming with life and has given
us the job of solving the puzzle. Artists do this and so do scientists, teachers do this and
so do engineers, business men and women do this and so do doctors and nurses. And
still we have not cracked the code. We stand in awe as Godʼs created order continues
to surprise us about himself.
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The Great Commission
Most of us have been taught that the sole imperative in Matthewʼs version of the Great
Commission are the words “make disciples.” No other action in the passage is stated by
Christ as a command, but derive their meaning as the means for obeying the command.
That is, we are commanded to make disciples, and the way in which we do that is threefold:
by going, by baptizing, and by teaching.
This command is issued by the risen Christ who has “all authority” and therefore is not
optional for any of us. It is to be carried out in “all nations,” which we understand to be
distinct people groups as opposed to arbitrary geographical boundaries. And the
command is not finished at conversion, but extends to complete life transformation as
we teach “everything” Christ has taught us.
The Creation Mandate given to Adam and Eve in the garden as the first citizens of the
human race extends to all citizens of the human race. As believers, we too are citizens
of this earthly realm by virtue of our physical existence. We, then, have a sacred
responsibility to make the most of this citizenship.
But in the tragic course of human history Adam and Eve fell into sin, making a second
citizenship necessary. So we as believers are given another sacred responsibility,
engaging with those who come across our path in such a way that they may become
disciples of Jesus Christ, or citizens of heaven.
Those of us whom God has gifted and called to the world of business, live out our first
citizenship in the marketplace. We subdue the earth by creating products and services
that are trustworthy and reliable. We are fruitful and multiply by providing people with
jobs at a reasonable wage that allow them to support themselves and their families. And
we rule the earth by utilizing its resources and managing them wisely.
Take the relationship an employer has with his or her employee for example, theologian
Wayne Grudem writes, “Employer/employee relationships provide many opportunities
for glorifying God. On both sides of the transaction, we can imitate God and he will take
pleasure in us when he sees us showing honesty, fairness, trustworthiness, kindness,
wisdom, skill, and keeping our word regarding how much we promised to pay or what
work we agreed to do. The employer/employee relationship also demonstrates proper
exercise of authority and proper response to authority, an imitation of the authority that
has eternally existed between the Father and Son in the Trinity.” (On Kingdom
Business. Crossway, p. 135)
But this is not enough. The Gospel is demonstrated by our actions in being good
citizens of the earthly realm, but the Gospel must also be declared. Our works lay the
foundation, or set the platform, upon which we may speak words. Words of hope and
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healing, words of grace and truth. So those of us whom God has gifted and called to the
world of business must discover ways we can be faithful to our citizenship in the
heavenly realm by making disciples in the marketplace.
“Fulfilling the Creation Mandate is not the same as fulfilling the Great Commission. If I
fulfill the Great Commission simply by making widgets, then telling others about Christ is
merely an elective add-on, something better left for zealots. Kingdom entrepreneurs are
not merely ʻsilent witnesses,ʼ but people who are ready and able to verbally give an
account for the hope that is within them,” writes Associate Professor of Economics at
BIOLA University, Steven Rundle (On Kingdom Business. Crossway, p. 229)
A Model for Ministry
These principles have powerful international implications. Nations stricken by poverty, or
taking their first tentative steps to emerge from it, are hungry for tools and resources to
help them become productive and self-reliant. Business experts are able to cross
international barriers that have kept missionaries at bay for decades. Micro-loan
programs, job skills mentoring, and even venture capital start-ups have opened the
doors for believing business professionals to minister in almost every nation on the face
of the earth.
Those of us with business skills and abilities must take seriously the call of the Great
Commission to reach every people group. We must look for opportunities to do work in
underdeveloped countries and seek out projects that place us in contact with people
from so-called “closed” countries like China, Iran, North Korea, and Cuba.
Even here in North America, in our increasingly unchurched culture, the only place a
person may ever meet a Christian will be at work. Certainly, waking hours spent at work
for most North Americans exceeds waking hours spent anywhere else. And as
globalization continues its relentless pace, more and more of our coworkers are
engineers from India or graduate students from Beijing.
The fact of the matter today is this: a believing co-worker has more access to an
unbelieving co-worker than any pastor, evangelist, or missionary would ever have. In
this context it is our responsibility to demonstrate the Gospel by being good citizens of
the earthly realm and to declare the Gospel as the Spirit provides opportunity.
Re-thinking the Sacred and the Secular
In this model there is no such thing as “secular” work, as if what I did at my job were
unrelated to any spiritual purpose. What I do at my job is sacred because it is the
fulfillment of a God-given command to be fruitful, multiply, and subdue the earth.
It is also sacred because it lays a foundation for words I may have the opportunity to
speak in obedience to the command I have been given to make disciples,
demonstration paving the way for declaration. Ministry attempts in the workplace are
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often scoffed at, not for the attempt itself, but for the lack of consistent actions that
accompany it. Too frequently they come from the lips of those who do not work hard and
give their best effort, assuming somehow that such work is beneath them (or not
Finally, my job is sacred because I do not do it for an earthly supervisor or an earthly
wage, but for the Lord Jesus Christ himself and the reward he offers in eternity,
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men,
since you know you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord
Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23, 24).
Three Essentials for Marketplace Effectiveness
So here are three essentials that, in my opinion, are needed to be effective as a
At the small college I attended, the deanʼs birthday was unofficially declared Clash Day.
All of us guys wore garish clothes with conflicting colors and patterns, and we tramped
around school all day in our outfits. As fun as it was, everyone was glad when Clash
Day was over for the year.
A lack of credibility at work is like Clash Day at my college, except it takes place every
day of the week. When a believing professional raises their flag as a person of faith,
fairly or unfairly, expectations are set. Some expect perfection, cynically setting us up to
fail. Most however, just expect consistency. They simply want us to do what we say and
practice what we preach. Whatʼs wrong with that?
“We trust--and follow--people who are real, who are consistent, whose behavior, values,
and beliefs are aligned,” write Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee inResonant
Leadership. “We trust people whom we do not constantly have to second-guess.”
Do your coworkers trust you? This is a critical question, a question of credibility. For if
your coworkers do not trust you, how in the world will they trust what you have to say
about God? And whileResonant Leadership was not written for a Christian audience, I
find the paragraph above to be some of the best advice for any believing pofessional.
Bottom line: lead with your life.
The verses immediately prior to the declaration of the Genesis mandate have an
important repeated phrase in them. After each creative act, God reviewed his actions
and pronounced them to be “good”. In fact, six times in a row at the end of his work day,
God was able to say that what he had done on that day was “good,” wrapping up the
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end of a work week with the words “very good.” The conclusion is obvious: what God
does, he does well.
Those of us who bear his name must do the same. Unlike God, however, excellence
doesnʼt mean absolute perfection, but it does mean doing our best in whatever job we
accept. Simply put, excellence glorifies God because it reflects his nature to a watching
world. Jesus put it this way, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your
good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
There is a rhythm to excellence in this story, modeled by the Creator. Action and
reflection. Action and reflection Action and reflection. Reflection occurring at the end of
each day and at the end of the week. Sometimes we allow the pace of our life to
progress in such a way that it is all action and no reflection. How would we know, then, if
any of our actions were excellent? Without reflection, how can we celebrate those
actions, which God seems to be doing here in Genesis 1. Without reflection, how can
we correct our actions when they arenʼt excellent?
On of the most important disciplines of my life is the hour I spend once a week
reviewing the past seven days and planning the next seven days. During this time I
examine all the areas of my life, both personally and professionally, to see if the actions
Iʼm taking are in line with my values and priorities. This is a discipline, for me, that is
rooted in the rhythm of creation.
As we demonstrate the Gospel through credibility and excellence, opportunities become
available to declare the Gospel. But we should not interpret the word “declare” as
indiscriminately blasting people with the latest sermon. The sensitivities of workplace
relationships, especially if we are in a position of authority, and the intricacies of cultural
dynamics require a generous measure of discretion.
The most helpful guidance I have found in this regard is the story of Philip the evangelist
in Acts 8. In obedience to the Lord, Philip leaves the busy city and goes to a desert road
that runs south from Jerusalem to Gaza. As he does, an official from Ethiopia is
traveling down that road. Again, in obedience to the Lord, Philip runs up to the chariot.
As he draws near to the chariot, he hears the man reading from the Old Testament book
of Isaiah. Philip asks the man some questions and gets invited to ride with the prince.
Ultimately, Philip is asked to tell the “good news about Jesus” and the Ethiopian comes
to faith in Christ, stopping the entourage to get baptized.
Here are some helpful principles from this story. First, be where God wants you to be,
even if that place is an abandoned desert road. That is the path where he has placed
people who are ready to hear the Gospel, sometimes people from other nations.
Second, begin simply by coming alongside the people on this road. Run up to their
chariot by having lunch with them, going out for beer after work with them, going fishing
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on the weekend with them. In response, you too will receive invitations to join them in
their “chariot.” In short, start where Philip started: the relationship.
As these relationships grow, discover what God is already doing in their life and begin
tracking with it. What are they reading, listening to, or watching? Ask about it. Be open
to their perspective and learn about their point of view. Ultimately, you will be invited to
share your perspective and will have earned the right to speak. When that time comes,
be ready, as Philip was, to “tell the good news about Jesus.”
Our Global Village
These are exciting times. Advances in travel and technology have made our planet a
true global village and all its inhabitants our neighbors. Sometimes these neighbors
come to us, sometimes we go to them. Either way, believing business professionals
have unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate the Gospel and, upon that platform of
practical demonstration, to declare the Gospel to those along the path. And the Gospel
will change their life forever because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone
Author, speaker, and business leader, Bill Zipp is the President
of Summit Small Business, a consulting firm that specializes in
helping independent business owners master the skills
necessary for building a successful small business. Bill also
graduated with honors from Western Seminary in Portland,
Oregon with a masterʼs degree in exegetical theology.
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