by Derek Christensen
Sherman and Hendricks summarise neatly what I want to talk about.
The first reformation was when the word of God was given to the people of God. The second reformation is when the work of God is given to the people of God.
I want to talk about the work of God as understood through the movements known as marketplace Christianity and tentmaking, bound by the common theme of mission.
One or two things by way of introduction.
Firstly, this is a paper about the practice of mission in today’s world. It springs out of the climate of activity, not the climate of research or academic discovery. It has theological and missiological roots but I am approaching it because of its implications for practice.
Secondly, I need to clarify some of the terms.
Tentmaking I use as a shorthand term to refer to that form of cross cultural mission characterised by the use of secular occupation or study as the platform from which mission witness is carried out. In other words I am talking about people who intentionally engage in mission in a culture outside of their own but who are not professional or career missionaries. Their identity for entry is secular. Their visa is secular. Their support in many cases comes from self-funding. As Appendix 1, I have attached a simple chart suggesting one way of placing these definitions within a continuum of approaches to mission instead of confining it to a single watertight definition.
Mention tentmaking and people immediately have questions. Some concern the ethics of a few who enter a country for one purpose but whose intention is different. There are blurred boundaries between tentmaker and career missionary at times. There are horror stories floating around regarding what some who would describe themselves this way have done to the integrity and reputation of the mission enterprise in some localities. All of these questions are largely outside of my aim today. I am looking at the big picture of trends and examining some of the theological roots that the tentmaking movement has in common with the marketplace movement.
Now the marketplace movement I define as that broad stream of studies and ministries that explores the way Christianity operates in the world of everyday life – Monday to Friday life of the workplace especially but more widely, that whole range of activities which lies outside of direct family life and outside of specifically church-related and church-based activities. Marketplace Christianity is focused on helping us live in the marketplace and especially but not exclusively, in the world of work.
Over many years of involvement with both movements I have become painfully aware that the very first question most people want to ask is: “Why use such archaic, obscure and unhelpful names to describe each movement?”
People today don’t talk about the marketplace except when they want cheap vegetables at Otara on a Saturday morning. People don’t talk about tents except at Christmas when the family is heading for the beach. Neither definition captures the essence of what we are talking about. However I have probably been to more conferences in each area than most of you. Many of them begin by looking at alternative names. Obviously none have succeeded.
In Appendix 2 is a brief article from Pete Hammond regarding names for the marketplace movement. As a personal comment on the tentmaking movement, the name itself has in fact only been used with its present meaning since the mid 1960’s probably through the work of Christy Wilson although the week in which I planned to contact him to confirm this, I received an e-mail to say he had died. So the secret lies with him still. But many names have been used – non professional missionaries, bivocational missionaries, Christian professionals abroad, God’s new envoys, Kingdom professionals, Christian laity abroad – and many more, all of which have created as many problems as they have solved. I once received a letter from a Christian woman who made wigwams for the homeless around Whitianga congratulating me on my interest in tentmaking and I remember too the look of bewilderment from my daughter’s father-in-law who had no idea I was in the manufacturing business.
My own long term view of the matter is that within the next twenty to twenty five years, the terms will have disappeared because they will have served their purpose. They are shorthand references to movements within Christianity that remind us of things we have largely forgotten. Once we have responded, their task will be over – as too may be the task of the words “missionary” and even “mission”. Just in passing, one of the ironies of the name “tentmaker” is that it comes from Paul’s employment as tentmaker along with Priscilla and Aquila in Corinth and this is normally taken as the biblical starting point for tentmaking. In many ways it is a very poor one for Paul is not your common, garden variety tentmaker and there are real problems of exegesis in the Acts 18 passage. I have noted a fine starting point study in the footnotes but for a far more practical starting point for what I am talking about, I find Acts 8 instead of Acts 18 a lot more helpful. :
So back to the main task.
The three things I want to address are these:
1) What are the basic roots of each movement in the modern era?
2) What are the key issues they seek to address?
3) What are the implications for mission if these issues are taken seriously?
What are the basic roots of each movement in the modern era?
Neither movement is new of course. It is arrogance to assume they have sprung up over the past half century for in fact their roots and their rationale lie in Scripture itself. And throughout the Christian era there have certainly been many examples of both tentmaking and marketplace interests even if these have not been the names used. But in the second half of the twentieth century, both have come alive.
The tentmaking movement in its modern form really began with requests from Afghanistan to the US State Department for teachers. Several Christians were amongst those accepted for positions including young Christy Wilson, son of missionary parents and a man whose lifelong ambition had been to engage in mission to Afghanistan. He worked there for over a decade until the Communist takeover forced him out and closed down the International Church he had started in Kabul. The story goes that after his departure bulldozers began digging way below the foundations of the demolished building and when asked what they were doing, replied they were now looking for the underground church.
Christy Wilson returned to a mission teaching position in the States but in 1979 wrote the book, Today’s Tentmakers, which laid the foundations for the current movement. Wilson was also a founder of the Urbana movement, its first secretary in fact and through both book and Urbana, the movement now known as tentmaking began to grow. A number of small organisations started to help place people, including Intercristo and Global Opportunities. Other key figures were people like Ruth Siemens and Don Hamilton, whose research on the qualities required of tentmakers was published, in popular form in the book Tentmakers speak.
The movement had a rough start. It was prime territory for lone rangers , for those who not only operated outside of normal mission agencies but also at times operated against the best interests of those agencies and missions as a whole. However the forces that led to its emergence in its present form were too strong to deny. My own research has concluded that the five most prominent reasons are as follows:
Ø globalisation – which has greatly increased the speed of travel and the opportunities of a jobs in a global economy
Ø the rise in the number and nature of closed countries, forcing a change in the way missions try to access many countries – normally reckoned today as about 70 nations.
Ø the high cost of career missions, forcing some to look at alternative ways of financing mission
Ø the emergence of new emphases in mission including church planting, people group focus and attention on the 10/40 window – these emphases in many places can only be accessed by people in a tentmaking role and the favourite hunting ground for this is the Muslim world closely followed by China.
Ø the rise of new ways of thinking about the role of the laity and about work in both the church as a whole and in cross cultural mission in particular
So the scene is changing, very slowly but changing nonetheless. The tentmaking movement remains for many people the hobby of the few like myself and fails to get serious attention from leading missiologists and theologians. The number of serious books on tentmaking is tiny, literally a handful and even these are at the popular level only. Huge segments of the mission world carry on as though tentmaking does not even exist although a number of major missions are now paying far more serious attention to it.
For many years there were not even estimates of the number of people who were engaged intentionally in a role that could be seen as tentmaking. David Barrett has consistently excluded such figures from his annual charts of global mission data though just this year, Todd Johnston, his heir apparent has stated that his estimate is that there are currently some 200,000 and that number is expected to rise to 400,000 by the year 2025, a number on a par or slightly above that of career missionaries.
Now very briefly I need to sketch something of the history of the marketplace movement, a very complex movement but one that Alistair Mackenzie has traced particularly over the past fifty years, the same period as that examined for the tentmaking movement. He starts his work on the movement’s current form with J.H.Oldham’s book on work published in 1950 , exactly the same year the US State Department began advertising positions in Afghanistan. Pete Hammond in a brief history of the US marketplace movement gives it a far longer history, but all agree that pivotal to the whole movement was the work of Luther and then of Calvin as they tackled questions about vocation or calling. These two reformers both aimed to critique the two tier classification of spiritual worth, most easily summarised as the contemplative and the active streams of life or the clergy and the laity if you want to put it in structural forms. Their work gave rise to two main themes, that of vocation and then the nature of work itself, related themes to be true but each taking a slightly different direction.
The Puritans are credited with or blamed for, the Protestant work ethic, depending on the way you interpret it. The Industrial Revolution gave the entire world of work a different structure and a fresh urgency and then Hegel and Marx gave even that a new twist and a new challenge. But it is in the twentieth century that the writing has escalated, a trickle in the first half and a flood in the second. Pete Hammond and others are currently working on an annotated bibliography of the six hundred best books on marketplace thinking whereas tentmaking is lucky to reach six very average ones. Americans have a host of organisations, writers and magazines in the area. The Canadians have Regent College with its marketplace thrust led by Paul Stevens and the British in a far more understated way have a number of key organisations and writers, such as Mark Greene, Richard Higginson and David Prior. Interestingly several I have spoken to see the most innovative thinker worldwide being a Slovak Christian called Milan Cicel, whose thinking was hammered out in the transition from Communism to its more capitalist replacement.
The nearest formal study centre to us is the new Institute for Christian Studies set up at Macquarie in Sydney under the leadership of Robert Banks, formerly at Fuller. If you want to see something of the size of the popular movement, web sites such as Scruples, WOWI, Ministry in Daily Life and Faith at Work give links to an amazing range of resources.
The thrust has not all been from the evangelical wing though. The World Council of Churches also recognised the importance of emerging work patterns in the Evanston Assembly of 1954 with its report on Christian Faith and Daily Work though has done little more in this field since.
The Catholics have played been a major part of two debates, namely that about the place of laity in the church and on the nature of work within the purposes of God. Vatican 2 in particular produced a number of key documents under the leadership of Pope Paul VI. And we need to remember also the pioneering impact of the worker priest movement in France which has also had slight echoes in Britain in particular.
I don’t have the time to trace all the forms of a theology of work emerging within that period or the organisational forms they took. It is enough to say that the rise in formal theological approaches to marketplace issues runs alongside the massive changes since the Second World War that include factors like: the change in the role and place of women in both society and the workforce, the emergence of globalisation and multi-nationalism, the end of colonialism and the emergence of economic colonialism, the ages of protest, the boomers, the busters, the rise of the technological society, the fluctuations in the place of unionism, the rise and collapse of eastern European communism, massive problems with unemployment as technology, IT and corporate culture begin to bite, the growing sense of alienation and disempowerment for many in the work place, urbanisation, planned obsolescence, the oil crisis and the shift in the balance of economic power … so many changes in such a compressed time. If the Church did not respond at all to these factors impacting its people it must have been blind indeed.
It did respond but the amazing thing is, despite the massive response in literature and modest response in organisation, some would say there is still only minimal response in terms of structural change in church life. But we need to bear in mind that during the same period, the church was coping with challenges such as secularism, pluralism and the fresh prominence of pentecostalism and the charismatic movement. It was absorbing new approaches from left and right – the rise of the fresh liberal theologies following the death of God movement and the emergence in evangelicalism of new forms of evangelism including the church growth movement and what I would call the Guru movement as megastars hit church stages with the impact that rock stars hit concert stages – your Wimbers and Hybels and Yongi Cho and others.
So with secular society holding open the back door and the new gurus holding open fresh front doors, the average church has struggled hard enough to survive, let alone work through the full implications of marketplace theology, despite the wealth of material available to it.
Not to mention such issues as post modernity, post evangelicalism and post denominationalism which are hard enough to agree upon let alone face.
Now that is all very confusing and unproductive in that twilight zone of the day between sleep deprivation and hunger so lets start to draw it all together.
As a single statement of the impact of all this, I want to claim that when we take seriously a marketplace approach to the theology of mission it alters the way we view the context of mission, the content of mission training and the configuration of the mission work force. That statement needs to be held there in our minds as a refrain as I tease out a number of other issues.
What are the key issues these movements seek to address?
Let’s move now to the deep conviction I have that both tentmaking and marketplace theology share some common theological interests and foundations. They normally operate separately. When we draw them together, there are some interesting dynamics take place.
So what are the common factors?
v Obviously each has an interest in a theology of work. Tentmakers are first of all workers and if they are not true workers then in my view they are not true tentmakers. And the marketplace writers obviously major on the Monday to Friday bit of life. In looking for a book called Thank God its Monday, I found Amazon listed thirteen books of that title but not the one I was looking for. There is almost a glut now of fine books that explore the nature of work, its biblical roots, its place in God’s economy, workplace ethics and the role of Christians in business. One of the best titles I have come across is one on the role and impact of Christians in business called Roaring lambs.
v Both movements also have a vested interested in a theology of the laity or whether in fact there is such a thing as the laity. Careful attention has been paid to the layers of church government and structure. A key figure in this whole movement is Paul Stevens of Regent whose latest book is called in Britain The abolition of the laity but more circumspectly in North America, The other six days.
…we look in vain in the New Testament for a theology of the laity. There are neither laypersons nor clergy. The word “laypersons” (laikoi) was first used by Clement of Rome at the end of the first century but was never used by an inspired apostle in Scripture to describe second-class, untrained and unequipped Christians. It ought to be eliminated from our vocabulary. “Laity” in its proper New Testament sense of “laos” – the people of God – is a term of great honour denoting the enormous privilege and mission of the whole people of God. Once we were not a people at all but now in Christ, we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people (laos) belonging to God.
v Closely related to the question of laity obviously is that of call or vocation. We look back to the Reformation for a frontal attack on the two class view of the citizens of the Kingdom, distinguished in some schemes by the fact that one group has a special call from God and the other doesn’t.
Another quote from Paul Stevens:
The loss of vocation in the modern and post-modern world is further indicated by the fact that almost the only people who speak of being “called of God” are ‘full-time’ missionaries and pastors.
Yet although theologically we are happy to look back to the Reformation for that attack, our practices still reflect the two class view of call. In the College where I teach, students applying for the pastoral leadership track must start by proving they have a clear call of God on their lives while students in the diploma track simply have to show they are capable of handling the study. Many mission societies act in like manner as the voluntarism movement of the mid 1800’s translates into two class mission in which career missionaries rate three stars and a red carpet return while tentmakers rate two at best and get more questions about their salary in Dubai than about their Christian witness.
So both movements have an interest in re-examining the call of the Christian so that the gap between the “professional and amateur” is not based on some form of selective favouritism on the part of God. I raise this not to get involved in the tangled question of ordination but to signal that the nature of God’s call is being examined in a fresh way by those who have long been neglected in that process.
v This also raises discussion about our theology of the Church. What is the Church? Who peoples it and how and when does it operate? Do we truly believe that the Church is the body and is just as active on Monday as scattered community as it does on Sunday as gathered community? Pete Hammond commenting on a study of the book of Acts that of all references to “church” in the book of Acts, one third refer to the gathered church and two thirds to the scattered church. If this is anything of a pattern, why is it we measure only the activity of the gathered and not the scattered church?
v Which leads on to a theology of mission. Who does the work of the Church? The whole people or the special people? What is the relationship between pastoring and ministering? Is the pastor not only pastor but also minister? And if so, what do all the other people do?
Yves Congar once commented acidly:
There will always be laypersons in their place in the church, kneeling before the altar, sitting under the pulpit and having their hand in the purse.
Gabriel Fackre makes a profound statement regarding the relative task of pastor and congregation:
Clergy have the ministry of identity. They empower the church to know who it is. As stewards of memory, they protect the church from amnesia.
Laity have the ministry of vitality. They are the church serving the world. As stewards of its resources and power, they protect it from anemia.
Both marketplace and tentmaking movements want to echo the catchcry of the Lausanne movement that the whole gospel is given to the whole world by the whole people of God.
v Both movements also have an interest in ethical issues that arise out of the workplace. There is some difference in emphasis. Tentmaking has a number of issues that precede the actual work. “Have I told the truth in my visa application?” “Is my work a genuine attempt to serve the people of this nation or a shopfront to fool the authorities while I distribute the four spiritual laws out the back?” “Do I perceive mission as something that takes place within the workplace or only after I clock out at five?” “Am I working cooperatively with local expressions of the Kingdom or working in my own interests as a sole agent?”
These are questions the marketplace thinker doesn’t face but once those are out of the way, all the normal marketplace questions kick in. Am I giving my employer full dues as unto Christ? Is the flow of money that I control totally transparent and honest? Do people at the other end of the consumer chain get good value? How do I treat people around me and what sort of image do I convey? How do I handle questions of bribery, financial shortcuts, fancy accounting and favouritism? How do I handle race and gender issues where I work? What is my attitude to those of other faiths and none?
The questions are endless. But ethical issues are common between the two fields.
v And so too are wider considerations about the theology of the Kingdom. What is the highest task of a Christian working in someone else’s country? To win people to Christ? To plant a church? To further the best interests of the nation in the name of Christ?
In fact there is so much of a shared theological interest that I personally see the relationship as one of parent and child. I normally sum it up by saying that a tentmaker is simply a marketplace Christian with an air ticket.
Marketplace Christianity is the theological and missiological foundation of which tentmaking is a cross-cultural expression. The theologies are common to each. Mission is common to each. The core elements of character and gifting are common to each. Tentmaking simply adds the cross cultural dimension and operates outside of home culture instead of within it.
What are the implications for mission if these issues are taken seriously?
That’s where I go back to the original statement.
The second reformation is when the work of God is given to the people of God.
I want to talk about four critical areas in which the consequences of such thinking need to be worked through:
Ø changes in the way we think about mission in both its broad and its cross cultural sense
Ø changes in the way we organise church life
Ø changes in the way we teach and counsel regarding call and career
Ø changes in the way in which we do at least some of our training
Firstly it brings change in the way we think about mission.
If we take seriously the Lausanne Covenant claim that mission is the task of the whole people of God, it changes the ways we measure the mission force and the way we view the location of mission.
In theory in evangelical circles at least, we talk about all of God’s people being witnesses to Him wherever they happen to be. And in Catholic circles this awareness also has a very long history although it expresses itself in different ways. But when it comes to our practice, the tendency is still to act as though the professional is the key to mission and the church building and organisations are the location of that mission. We talk the talk on all-member mission but rarely walk the walk. Yes, there are exceptions, of course there are. But to illustrate this deeply entrenched thinking let me give an example.
During one semester I marked three research essays that explored ways in which the local church could be more effective in its community. All did the demographic profiles, the church profiles, looked at gift analyses, asked questions around the community and so on. But all came back with a final package of responses that were entirely church and programme-based. Not one mentioned the workplace as a venue for mission. Not one talked about training the people in the pews for their Monday to Friday existence.
Now we could debate all day whether this is a fair picture or not, debate issues of ordination, church structure, mission strategies and the rest.
The fact is that if we accept a theology of the marketplace that views the whole people of God as the workforce of the Kingdom and views the whole of life as a venue for that work, then it alters the way we measure who we have available to get that work done.
With the lordship of Christ, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the dawning of the end/last days, the whole church according to Scripture is the true ministerium, a community of prophets, priests and princes or princesses, serving God through Jesus in the power of the Spirit seven days a week. All are clergy in the sense of being appointed by God to service and dignified as God’s inheritance. All have a share in the power and blessing of the age of the Spirit. All are laity in the sense of having their identity rooted in the people of God. All give ministry. All receive ministry. That is the constitution of the church. But when we step into the modern church we see something different.
If we talk about tentmaking, it means that we not only recognise and equip tentmakers as a natural part of the global mission workforce but consider tentmaking as no longer a strategy to overcome some roadblocks in mission but a natural and normal part of the way the Church is and the way mission operates.
Tentmakers are no longer an odd little bunch that nobody can quite understand but they become one of the normal ways the church does business with the world and when that happens we will certainly not need such an awkward and misunderstood name.
The same is true of marketplace Christians and the mission of the church will be a continuum of influence and activity that moves seamlessly between church and surrounding culture.
A quote from an older work of Paul Stevens states:
The pagan Celsus admitted in the second century that it was the ‘wool workers, cobblers, laundry workers and the most illiterate and bucolic yokels’ who carried the gospel forth, even more than the bishops, the apologists and the theologians.
Secondly there may be changes in the way we organise church life.
David Westcott notes an interesting study:
A 1993 report by the Selly Oak based organisation, Christians in Public Life, showed that while 92 per cent of those questioned by it saw their ordinary work as their Christian vocation and 84 per cent saw their work as part of the mission of the church, only 17 per cent said worship affirmed their work to any great extent, only 9 per cent said pastoral care supported them in their work and only 3 per cent said their local church educational and study programmes addressed their faith and work concerns seriously.
If mission includes marketplace then that means the local church will need to incorporate in its gathered activities, both equipping for and recognition of, that part of its people’s lives.
One of the people who has worked effectively in this area is an American steel executive, William Diehl who set out to train his Lutheran church and his Lutheran pastor about equipping people for the workplace in particular. One of the pungent observations he makes is that every time the church got a new pastor, he had to set to work and retrain that pastor.
He also stated that:
In the almost thirty years of my professional career, my church has never once suggested that there be any type of accounting of my on-the-job ministry to others. My church has never once offered to improve these skills which could make me a better minister nor has it ever asked if I needed any kind of support on what I was doing. There has never been any type of inquiry into the type of ethical decisions I must face or whether I seek to communicate my faith to my fellow workers. I have never been in a congregation where there was any type of public affirmation of a ministry in my career. In short I must conclude that my church doesn’t have the least interest whether or how I minister in my daily work .
This same task extends also into cross cultural mission settings especially where there are career missionaries in the same location as tentmakers. It is neither easy nor automatic for the two groups to be able to work together and it is little wonder in the early 90’s, one major global mission had a policy that no tentmaker would be sent to any place where there were career missionaries.
If we accept the results of both marketplace and tentmaking movements, over this past half century, then there are significant consequences for the way in which we “do church”.
When we scale this down to individuals, it also affects the way we talk about call and prepare people for their career. Luther’s work led to the concept of call being expressed within the estate in which we found ourselves, an early form of “bloom where you are planted.” The world is not as fixed as that any more. Current thinking indicates that the average person is likely to have three distinct career phases in their lifetime and may in fact hold up to fifteen jobs.
It means we have to engage in far clearer teaching than has been the case about the nature of call, the subtle distinctions between the general call to discipleship and specific calls to specific tasks. We will have to work hard to overcome the view that only a small minority are in fact chosen or called of God to tasks that are important for the Kingdom. We need to clarify what constitutes vocation.
Os Guinness writes this:
The notion of calling or vocation, is vital to each of us because it touches on the modern search for a basis of individual identity and an understanding of humanness itself.
Bernbaum and Steer offer a healthy corrective too:
Christians are in the habit of saying such things as “I feel called to be a nurse” or “God has called me to be a minister.” We speak of a calling in life and usually equate it with such terms as career and vocation. In one way this concern for calling reflects a commendable desire to be true to the will of God for one’s life, but at the same time it is a potentially dangerous half-truth. By equating the biblical notion of calling with careers we run the risk of implying every individual needs to discover the one occupation that has been divinely appointed for her. This leads to unnecessary anxiety in the choice of career and a constant questioning of whether one is in the will of God.
And if the marketplace is highly significant as a place of mission, we may need to pay attention to the areas of the marketplace into which we encourage our young people and the support structures we provide for them once they are there.
It has an effect on training.
It affects who we train, the level at which we train and the way we deliver it to people.
If we seriously consider that the Church is composed of one people, some of whom exercise pastoral leadership within the life of the church structures and the bulk of whom engage in mission within the structures of the marketplace, then we need significant training for both groups and not just one.
We are talking about people who must live authentically and effectively within business and education and government, people who spend the greater portion of their time in structures which are based on a different world view, where they live as resident aliens and try and be Christ’s people in that setting.
Very few can do that effectively without some form of training. None can do that without wise support systems of pastoral care and affirmation.
Now they are already busy people in most cases, people who have trained for the work they do, sometimes to very high levels. Many have to do ongoing training. They are simply not going to take three years out in most cases to do a theological degree which may or may not help them anyway. John Naisbitt in Megatrends 2000 mentions the Motorola Company spends 1.5% of its payroll on employee training, just to maintain its staff at basic competency level.
They need training that is appropriate to their level and their opportunities. During their lifetime they may well operate at a number of different levels of opportunity and Christian activity. The training they do must recognise it and those who advise on training need special skills in discerning the training needs for this season of life. It is not one size fits all.
And how they access it is critical.
In theory it would be nice to think this is simply a function of the local church. And to some extent that is true. The present reality however is that little of the activity of church life is directed to equipping people for the times they are away from the church.
The future reality is that even if the desire were there, it would be physically impossible for the pastoral team in every single church to have the task of equipping all of the people in all stages of life for all the settings in which they spend the rest of their week. That is too large a task.
Some teaching institutions and organisations are responding to this need. Regent College in Vancouver began with something like this in mind and has something of that focus still. However it was interesting to note in conversation with one of their staff a fear that the training now has such a reputation that many pastors are coming to get their training at Regent and pushing out the marketplace people for whom it was first designed. There is a message in there somewhere about the way we train pastors.
Biblical Graduate School of Theology in Singapore offers high level biblical and theological training outside of work hours to graduate professionals in the workforce. It aims to help people integrate faith and work, theology and profession. Last year on study leave I visited similar schemes in Malaysia, Korea, Norway, Britain and Canada.
However many others are slow to catch on. They are slow in subject choice, slow in delivery method and slow in faculty focus. Too often it is simply more of the same on a more devotional level – often residential, always expensive and sometimes does more to disorientate the marketplace Christian so that they have to readjust to work culture again afterwards.
To me the three keys of the marketplace training exercise are accessibility, adaptability and appropriateness.
Open learning, distance delivery, programmes in which one can take as much or as little as circumstances allow – these programmes are vital. No matter how good my courses are, I first need to ask, “How is the person for whom it is designed going to get here?’
The internet is offering new ways of doing this. Distance delivery advances now provide highly interactive and attractive materials. Summer schools, evening sessions, intensives, modular approaches – these are the way of the future. Costly, difficult and a lot of hard work I know and in the early phases quality is a real problem as people learn new delivery and preparation skills. But accessibility is the first priority.
Adaptability is the next. How can we serve this person, this unique individual whose needs are not quite the same as anyone else? And how can I offer that adaptability that makes them feel unique and special without sending the accountants into a frenzy?
And appropriateness is the third. What we teach this person somehow must be so designed that they can apply it to their needs and their setting. That setting may change and later they may need to do other training too. And appropriateness includes freedom from paternalism in what is offered.
A theology for the laity is normally considered as communicating to the ‘ordinary’ Christian untrained in academic theology how the great truths of the faith impinge on his or her life. Sometimes this amounts to a watered down systematic or biblical theology – putting the cookie jar on a lower shelf.
So if we accept that a marketplace theology has something to say to the present day church, then training is one of the areas it affects.
And the tentmaking end of training especially raises some fascinating questions I can only mention but not expand. How much of what we teach a career missionary is appropriate for a tentmaker, not just in volume but in content? How do you teach, especially those who go to sensitive areas and whose curriculum vitae are closely scrutinised? If a tentmaker expects to plant a church amongst an unreached people group with no career missionaries allowed anywhere near, how can we even think of sending them off if they have no ecclesiology or any systematic biblical training?
You get the idea – move towards a marketplace theology and a whole raft of changes loom before us – in the way we do church, in the way we treat the question of call and career, in the way we measure mission and in the way we train people for marketplace and tentmaking.
New Zealand must rank as one of the best places in the world to explore these dimensions – great access to overseas job markets, so good we export half our population. Small size meaning we can make changes quickly and a desperate need to take our mission out of the church building into the marketplace. Let me close with a quote from George MacLeod that summarises the big picture in what I have been saying:
I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the centre of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan they had to write his title in Hebrew, in Latin and Greek…at the kind of place where cynics talk smut and thieves curse and soldiers gamble. Because that’s where he died. And that is what he died about. And that is where churchmen ought to be and what churchmen should be about.