The workplace. It is the least reached place in the world.
Likely you have heard of the 10/40 Window, a geographical region extending from 10 degrees to 40 degrees north of the equator with very few Christians. For many years, churches and Christian ministries have focussed their energy and attention on getting missionaries into this region, and rightly so.
However, you may be surprised to discover that there is a region much closer to you that is also classified as an “unreached” region for the gospel. I call it the 9-to-5 window.
Many Christians spend between sixty and seventy percent of their waking hours at work. Think about that for a moment—we spend most of our day at our workplace, but how many of us could honestly say that we encounter Jesus in a significant and structured way where we work?
It is even more disconcerting when one asks how many of us, as Christians, deliberately work toward “taking Jesus to work” with us so that others can encounter him.
What do you think Jesus meant when he taught his disciples to pray, “Let your kingdom come, let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven?” (Matthew 6:10). I’m fairly certain Jesus was not thinking only about what Christians would do in church services on a Sunday.
He was thinking about what his followers would do with every moment of their lives during the week, in every place where they live their lives. Jesus was praying that his followers would live with him and for him every moment of every day of every week.
A Big Question
I was a minister in various churches in South Africa for fifteen years (for the past two years I have been serving as a corporate chaplain). Every Sunday, I would preach impassioned sermons trying to lead people to Christ, calling my congregation to service and action. Together with my leadership team we would pray and strategise for the growth of our congregation and the salvation of our neighbourhood.
One day a thought struck me…What if they all turned up? What would you do, if by some move of God, all of the one hundred (or one thousand) members in your church answered the call to serve, and all of the inhabitants of your city came to salvation?
You arrive at your office one Monday morning and suddenly all of the unsaved inhabitants of your city are at the church, waiting and ready to accept Jesus. Even more amazing, all of the saved members of your church are waiting and ready to serve.
I realised that I wouldn’t know what to do! Like most churches, the model of ministry I had developed simply wasn’t aimed at dealing with this kind of revival. We didn’t have enough seats in our church to have all of the members of our neighbourhood attend a single service—let alone enough programs to truly disciple them as Christians. Moreover, we simply didn’t have enough ministry opportunities to match every one of our members with an area of ministry that suited their gifting.
This was quite a challenging realisation!
Example from the South African Context
The results of the 2001 national census in South Africa (the last full census) showed that nearly eighty percent of the people in South Africa indicated they were Christian1. However, as we travelled the towns and cities of South Africa with the Global Day of Prayer, we came to realise that this figure was highly improbable.
How did we discover this? It is a simple matter of balancing the numbers. First, we found out how many people lived in a municipal area. Next, we looked at how many churches are in the town or city and the total seating capacity of those churches. We discovered that in the towns we visited (most of the towns in South Africa), there was no town in which more than twelve percent of the population could be seated in church buildings. When we polled the pastors, priests, ministers, and leaders of those churches, we discovered that most churches were only about half full at best. Therefore, the real statistic for church attendance was probably somewhere between three and five percent of the resident population.
This statistic is likely a fair reflection of church attendance in many nations across the world. This claim is certainly substantiated by Philip Jenkins’ research in The Next Christendom.2
Ministry in the 9-to-5 Window
When we put these two points together, we realised that we needed a new model of ministry. Much of our ministry was focussed in the wrong direction. Ed Silvoso sums up the shift we needed to make well when he says, “The target of the church should be the world and not the pew.”3
First, we needed a model of ministry that would meet people where they already are, instead of expecting them to come to where the Church is. The simple reasoning was that when someone comes to faith in Christ, he or she can be discipled and nurtured by the Christians around him or her, and taught right from the start that faith must be shaped within all of life (including work life).
Second, we needed a model of ministry where people could serve Jesus every day by doing things they were already good at, capitalising on existing skills and existing networks of relationships. Moreover, we realised that we would extend the influence of the church if we could drive kingdom values and principles into the secular world through Christians who already occupy positions of influence within those systems. Christian educators could transform education. Christian politicians could impact national laws. Christian business people could transform wealth. And so on.
What we needed was a model of ministry that arose and operated within the workplace. Of course, this model is nothing new. For the first few centuries of the Church’s existence Christians met and served in the marketplace (see many examples of this in the book of Acts)4. In fact, I was astounded to discover that of the forty miracles recorded in the book of Acts, thirty-nine of these occurred in the marketplace. Only one occurred within “the Church.”5
So I began working with one particular company (which had many of its employees worshipping in my congregation), and over a period of years we’ve made headway in the sphere of ministry in the workplace.
The good news is that our company (and many others across the world) is learning to take our kingdom responsibility seriously. We’re no longer just focussed on delivering products and services in order to generate profits; we’re in ministry! God’s desire is both to reach individuals in a business and transform systems and powers through business.
Every day of the week you will find Christians gathering in some way or another to honour Christ in the centre of the marketplace; to share the good news with others; and to pray for each other and their employer, clients, and colleagues. In doing so, they grow in their faith and find ongoing opportunities to serve.
Examples from the Power Group of Companies
Here are some of the simple things we have done at the Power Group in order to offer ministry in the marketplace.
First, we have understood that our work can be an act of ministry and worship. Paul writes, “Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, working for the Lord and not for your masters, since you know that you will receive your reward from the Lord; you serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23). We have understood that each our two thousand employees, and the company as a whole, can glorify God through our work.
We have humbly asked God to show us what our company must achieve for his kingdom. God showed us that we are to “transform the lives of people in Africa through infrastructure development.” So whenever we build houses, hospitals, roads, schools, business centres, or whole towns, we are serving God’s kingdom purposes by transforming people’s lives in tangible ways. Of course we’re a business, and so we are profitable in our work. However, we always provide quality that reflects godly standards.
Moreover, we tithe on our profits, using ten percent of our company’s profits to bless our community and nation (through involvement in HIV/AIDS work, feeding schemes, economic development, etc.).
Second, we have realised that we are to be the good news of Jesus inside and outside of our company. This means that we care for our employees and their families. Part of my role as the company chaplain is to pray for our staff and their families; to visit them in their workplace; and to offer counselling, teaching, and support. However, we don’t stop there; we seek to be good news to our nation and our clients by providing the best quality work, always striving to operate with unquestionable values and ethics.
As a result, we were the founding signatories of the “Unashamedly Ethical” campaign and have committed our organisation to operating by the principles of Unashamedly Ethical6. It is our firm belief that we cannot eradicate systemic poverty until we have eradicated systemic corruption. Please consider joining us in standing for values, ethics, and clean living in your work life.
Our fundamental intention is that God would use the individuals, and the company as a whole, as instruments of transformation and blessing in the world.
We still have a great deal to learn about what it means to be a kingdom company that ministers in the marketplace. However, our desire is to find creative and effective ways of reaching the most unreached place in the world with the love of Christ.
How can you become more effective in bringing Jesus into your work life and workplace? God has a purpose and a plan to use your love for him and your gifts and abilities to transform the people and the place where you work. What then can you do now to begin to reach your workplace for Christ?
1. For a more detailed discussion of these statistics, see Dion Forster. 2008. “God’s Mission in Our Context—Critical Questions, Healing and Transforming Responses.” In Methodism in Southern Africa. A Celebration of Wesleyan Mission. Eds. Dion Forster W. Bentley, 70-99. Kempton Park, U.K.: AcadSA Publishers.
2. Jenkins, Philip. 2002. The Next Christendom—The Coming of Global Christianity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 55-63.
3. Silvoso in Power, Graham and Dion Forster. 2010. Transform Your Work Life—Turn Your Ordinary Day into an Extraordinary Calling. Cape Town: Struik Christian Books, 89.
4. Silvoso, Ed. 2002. Annointed for Business. Ventura, California: Regal Books, 115-118.
5. Power and Forester, 106. Also, ibid., 115-118.
6. For an overview of the “Unashamedly Ethical” campaign, visit www.unashamedlyethical.com.