the shape of leadership

Integrating Faith and Entrepreneurship

How one pastor’s church is bridging the gap between the sacred and secular

Influence Magazine on May 9, 2016

Svetlana Papazov was born to a Christian family in communist Bulgaria and later immigrated to the United States. Her upbringing, diverse education and work experience have intensified her passion to see cultures transform for Christ.

Svetlana, an ordained Assemblies of God minister, and her husband, Michael, were stirred by God to plant a church in the greater Richmond, Virginia, area — an innovative marketplace church that integrates faith and entrepreneurship. Real Life Church launched January 17, 2016.

Why did you and your husband immigrate to America?

I grew up in a Christian family, as a pastor’s kid, in communist Bulgaria, preaching since the age of 14 and witnessing how faith in God, creativity and diversity were ostracized.

Maybe when a person is denied much, she ventures much. But I strongly desired to enter a free society where I can practice my faith in God without fear of persecution. So my husband and I, with our 9-month-old baby, escaped the iron curtain as political refugees and settled in America. I had one desire on my heart, and that was to enter ministry.

Recently you launched a marketplace church to train believers to minister outside the church’s walls. What is your strategy for bringing Christ into the marketplace?

My desire is to teach believers to represent Christ at work, at home and at play. Our potential in serving God in the workplace is not determined by how sacred or well-suited the work environment becomes to our faith, but rather how well our faith in God becomes integrated in what we do at work. When Christians engage the marketplace through their vocations, they introduce biblical principles and righteous living in their local cultures and point their neighbors to hope-filled communities in Christ.

Real Life is a marketplace church that serves as a bridge for the sacred and secular divide. We integrate faith community, entrepreneurial leadership, education and small business in one location in order to affect transformational community development.

How is Real Life changing the community’s perception of faith and the Church?

I’m convinced that we need to engage people long before they hear a sermon from our pulpit. At Real Life Church, our daily lives are lived outwardly in the city — in commitment to godliness, stewardship and creativity. We make sure the church is actively and thoughtfully contributing to the development of our city. We believe that our intentional marketplace engagement gives Real Life Church credibility in the public square and earns us the right to influence our community’s culture and perception of faith and the church.

What does ministry that unites work and life look like up close?

Real Life utilizes its facilities seven days a week by sharing its physical space with Real Life Center for Entrepreneurial and Leadership Excellence. Through the Entrepreneurial Center, we help people discover God’s purposes for them so they can be equipped and released back into the public square to both cultivate and create cultural goods.

We also prosper our neighborhoods by increasing economic growth, creative thinking and human dignity for all citizens. Real Life equips people to fulfill the call to create and cultivate culture in every area of the social grid. We develop next-generation global leaders by engaging our members in action learning. Members of Real Life achieve fundamental business skills and gain an entrepreneurial mindset that equips them to make a global difference in all spheres of society.

This interview initially appeared in the April/May issue of Influence. For more print content, subscribe here.


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