Business as MinistryBy Dion Forster
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.
Dr. Dion Angus Forster is a minister and academic. He is the former dean of John Wesley College, the seminary of the Methodist Church of southern Africa, and a research associate and lecturer in systematic theology at the University of Stellenbosch (BUVTON). Forster serves as a chaplain to the Global Day of Prayer and the Power Group of companies in Cape Town, South Africa. His most recent book on ministry in the workplace is entitled Transform Your Work Life: Turn Your Ordinary Day into an Extraordinary Calling (Struik Christian Books, 2010).