the shape of leadership

Marketplace Missionaries

Preparing congregants for reaching their workplaces

Shannon Polk on February 21, 2024

Upon graduating seminary, I expected to become a lead pastor. Instead, I accepted a marketplace leadership position that required relocating to a new city.

I knew God was guiding me in this, but I had no idea what it would require of me.

A month after my move, I was at a work-related dinner party.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a world with no Christians?” one colleague asked.

The question didn’t seem to surprise or bother anyone else in the room. In fact, the conversation continued along the same lines for several minutes.

“All religion is awful,” another person said, “but I think Christianity might be the worst.”

I sat quietly in shock, having never before encountered such hostility toward my faith.

The following week, I was at a local bank. While waiting, I had a phone conversation with my pastor.

When I stepped to the counter, the teller asked in a hushed tone what church I attended. She whispered that she was a Christian, too, and named her local congregation. As I leaned in to hear what she was saying, it was apparent this woman was afraid to discuss her faith out loud.

Such encounters left me feeling like an outsider in more ways than one. Nothing in my seminary training or previous ministry experience in a heavily churched area had prepared me for this.

As I reflected on these things, I thought about the biblical theme of exile. I reread the Old Testament stories of Jewish captives surviving and thriving in Babylon as they prayed and sought the “peace of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7). I sensed that the Lord had brought me to this community as a marketplace missionary.

I also serve as associate pastor of a local Assemblies of God church. Managing bivocational roles as a CEO and pastor has made me more aware of the challenges churchgoers face. Consequently, I have carefully considered how churches can help parishioners navigate the marketplace in a winsome and wise manner.

Ministers often forget what life is like for those working outside the Christian bubble.

Many congregants are spiritual minorities in their workplaces. They are modeling Christ in a world that often seems negatively predisposed toward Christianity. How are we equipping them to shine God’s light in dark places (Matthew 5:14–16)?

When these believers leave our worship gatherings, we are sending them out as marketplace missionaries. They need discipleship, including a solid foundation of Bible engagement, to prepare for their workday mission fields.

Additionally, they need Christian community, emotional and spiritual wholeness, a Kingdom perspective, and love for lost people.



Ecclesiastes 4:9–10 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”

Most missionaries recognize the value of establishing relationships with others in the field. Those who treat their calling as a solo mission will end up feeling lonely and isolated — especially when difficulties arise.

Marketplace missionaries need one another as well.

As a pastor, I regularly stress the importance of building healthy relationships with other believers. We all need friends who will pray for us and encourage us in our faith. For those working in secular fields, such relationships can be a spiritual lifeline.



Guiding believers toward healing and wholeness in Christ is an important part of discipleship.

Many congregants are spiritual minorities in their workplaces.

Many churchgoers are carrying unresolved childhood wounds, bitterness from challenging family relationships, or areas of significant spiritual immaturity.

Such issues create space for the enemy to wreak havoc in the lives of Christians and damage their reputations among nonbelievers.

To prepare congregants for marketplace missions, we must help them deal with their brokenness. Developing spiritual disciplines — including prayer, fasting, and Bible reading — is certainly part of that.

Some may need counseling as well, particularly those dealing with past hurts or relational problems. Maintain a list of Christian counselors to whom you can refer congregants.

Hebrews 12:1–2 says, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”



As Paul discovered in Corinth, reaching people for Christ requires adaptability — and a Kingdom perspective:

To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some (1 Corinthians 9:20–22).

For Paul, these adjustments weren’t just about fitting in. Paul’s motive was fulfilling the Great Commission, so that some might come to a saving faith in Christ.

Before 2017, I had never rooted for the University of Michigan. In fact, it is my college alma mater’s rival. But after moving to Ann Arbor, I learned the U-M fight song and made peace with the maize and blue team colors.

While I might attend a game alongside lifelong Michigan fans, however, they know I won’t drink beer with them. There is no harm in representing my current hometown, but my calling is representing Christ and pointing others to Him. That is the kind of Kingdom perspective marketplace missionaries need.

This might seem like a trivial example, but it illustrates an important principle. That is, congregants must learn to navigate their cultural contexts without embracing unholy behaviors.

We are to be in the world, but not of it. We won’t win anyone to Christ by living duplicitously.

Daniel had to navigate the culture of Babylon. But he also led with integrity and wisdom. God’s people must do the same in today’s world.



Before they can reach their workplaces for Christ, congregants need to develop love for their co-workers.

The Lord loves nonbelievers enough to send His ambassadors to work among them. When Christians see the lost as God does, it will change how they view their jobs.

Pray with congregants, asking God to grow their love and compassion for people at their workplaces who don’t know Him.

Effective ministry flows from love for God and others. Just as such love sustains and motivates vocational ministers, it can keep congregants focused on their calling to be salt and light where God has placed them.

The offices, factories, hospitals, and schools in your community are mission fields — full of individuals who are desperate for a genuine encounter with Jesus. Send forth your congregants not just as career people, but as workers in Christ’s harvest fields.


This article appears in the Winter 2024 issue of Influence magazine.

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