As I was reading in 1 Samuel this morning, I was intrigued with the events surrounding Jonathan’s confrontation with the Philistines (Chapter 14). What unfolds is paralleled in the birth and growth of the Church through the ages if we think of the participants who joined the fray against the Philistines along the lines of how successful products, services, or campaigns are adopted. In effect, this demonstrates the power of one person walking with God and the multiplying effects adhering to God’s will (in keeping with the creation model of all things producing after their own kind and multiplying to fill the earth).
Jonathan knew the character of God and knew that if it were God’s will, he would find success in going up against the Philistines. He asserts that “Nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few” – 1 Samuel 14:6. In effect, Jonathan knew, if his plan was aligned with God’s will, there was nothing that could stand against it. But, in the first part of the story, there is a big “if.” Like Gideon laying out a fleece, or the priests casting lots by the Thummim and Urim, Jonathan establishes a set of conditions by which he will recognize the will of God: “If they say to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place and not go up to them. But, if they say thus, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up. For the Lord has delivered them into our hand, and this will be a sign to us” – 1 Samuel 14:9-10.
Thus, Jonathan is, as he waits on the Lord’s leading (in the Philistines’ response in verse 12), an inspired Innovator, willing to take on the risk (another big market issue, especially for product designers and entrepreneurs) of faith. As he wades into the Philistines, his armor bearer “came after him” (v. 13), an Early Adopter. Next, apparently according to God’s whole plan, Saul and the people with him joined the battle (v. 20) as the Early Majority, and those Israelites living amongst the Philistines joined in (v. 21) as the Late Majority. Finally, those who had fled in fear of the Philistines to, and now living in, the hills, come out to also join the fray as Laggards (v. 22).
Interestingly, this same model can be overlaid on the history of the Church. Jesus is Lord, Savior, and Innovator of the Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.” His disciples were the Early Adopters and the early Church, gathered on the Day of Pentecost in the Upper Room were the Early Majority. Those coming to Christ in the centuries since I would label as the Late Majority. I can only imagine the Laggards to be those who have heard the Gospel but resisted God then finally come to Christ late in life, or perhaps those within the Church who, as Paul puts it, are still sustained by milk, unable to eat the meat of the Gospel, living with an outward, sacrificial focus, doing the works (of James’ infamous concern) that Jesus taught glorify God (Matthew 5:16).
The intriguing thing to me is that this model, which has proven to be the case in the marketplace throughout history (and political science, education, medicine, and probably every other significant field of endeavor if examined closely) seems to be a natural ordering within creation of human society and human behavior. It is just the way it works without humanly designed intervention or intention and it works similarly to the natural, predictable workings of the laws of physics, the botanic life-cycle, and so on.
What does this mean to us as we examine the business-as-mission / marketplace ministries movement? While Jesus was a carpenter and drew heavily on economic analogies in his teaching, perhaps we can still credit Paul, as a tentmaker, fully integrating his vocational life of work and ministry, as the biblical marketplace ministries Innovator. I suspect that that integration did not completely disintegrate (or at least nearly so) until the European age of Enlightenment and the rise of scientism in the last five hundred years, as there have been working missionaries (a redundancy) throughout the history of the Church. In any case, then I would suggest that those intentionally ministering through the mechanisms of the marketplace today are the Early Majority as we are witnessing the early groundswell of where we all suspect this movement is headed.
In the end, the whole of creation will be redeemed and the marketplace, as a subsidiary function within creation, will follow suit as 1) the wealth of the unrighteous will be given over to the righteous (Proverbs 13:22) and 2) as economic justice emerges from the redemption of the marketplace, sin will be diminished, and swords and spears (instruments of division and strife) will be pounded into plowshares and pruning hooks (instruments of Garden productivity and economic prosperity) – Isaiah 2:4.
The Law, the Prophets, and the teachings of Jesus focus heavily on the moral issues of economic justice, not the least of which is just scales (Proverbs 16:11), but are also concerned deeply about the welfare of the poor and marginalized and the injustice of selfish wealth. The current global social consciousness, just trade movement, even outside the Church, is demonstrative of the movement of God’s Spirit in the marketplace in terms of social enterprise, responsible consumerism, and such. The Church has the opportunity to fulfill the highest purpose of business in creation and mission, that of glorifying God. As thought and action leaders in marketplace ministries, we have the opportunity to influence and actuate the impact of the Late Majority as they join the fray as Christ-followers, doing so with the higher cause of practicing business as a means of grace to reveal the character and nature of God working in and through us such that kindness of God will draw many to repentance (Romans 2:4) . . . even Laggards.