An Overview of Marketplace Ministry (MPM) Models

Eleven Integrated Models, Transforming the World through the Marketplace

(Please also read Bridge Ministry: The Twelfth MPM Model.)

As awareness grows and conversations increase concerning God’s current movement in the global marketplace, diverse strains of ministries are emerging into eleven distinct but integrated forms. This proliferation and resulting integration are grounded fundamentally in the underlying biblical and theological understanding of business as an institution created by God in the original order, now tainted by the universally corrupting influence of sin, and vital to our understanding the advancement of God’s Kingdom as we participate in God’s mission in the world.

Varying levels of integration, such as crossing the boundaries between workplace ministries and leadership discipleship, or between business as mission (BAM) and microfinance, will become increasingly evident as disciplines and protocols developed to pursue a particular agenda will be applicable in others.

The aim here is not to delve into the biblical or theological underpinnings of these models, nor is it to investigate the various interconnections between models. The purpose is merely to offer some differentiation and work toward a comprehensive listing of models. This last is the motivation to invite readers, aware of any marketplace ministry initiative, to examine these model categories and suggest other models that may not be represented. Also, readers are encouraged to address any key elements missing from these brief, introductory descriptions. Treat this document as a “first draft” and, please, contribute your comments to flesh it out.

My identification of this entire movement as marketplace ministry (MPM) is motivated by seeing some unifying effort to help make practitioners in one pursuit aware of others such that the lessons learned across the spectrum can be shared and understood by all, whether applicable directly or indirectly. Given the grandeur of God’s mission in the world and the universal scope of marketplace participation by all humankind, this is a very, VERY large conversation but one that can be most helpful if we can bring it to greater clarity by establishing some framework of order for analysis and planning.

I.                 Tentmaking (TM)

Generally, tentmaking is focused on individuals who take work in a particular mission context to facilitate their presence for the purposes of evangelization in their local communities. Their vocation may supply all, part, or even very little to none of their actual support. This model, particularly when used as a guise to enter countries otherwise closed to Christian evangelism, may be perceived as deceptive (which it is to varying degrees) and can contribute to deepening political and religious persecution of the indigenous church where they take up residence. That is not to say that all tentmakers practice deception or are hiding behind a “front” to gain access to their neighbors and cities. But it is a model that especially should be approached with a great deal of prayer and wisdom.

However, in a very real sense, all Christians working in the marketplace are tentmakers if our normal work provides our support for daily living and contributes to our ability to perform ministry, whether inside our professional life or through volunteerism and such outside work hours.

II.              Business as Mission (BAM)

BAM initiatives are businesses started specifically to fulfill multiple purposes simultaneously but specifically as Kingdom-oriented and outreach endeavors. These businesses typically plan for and execute according to a quadruple bottom line: people (fulfilling an economic / market need in the community), planet (creation care), program (relational evangelism and discipleship ministry) and profit (sustainability).

Typically, BAM is understood to function through three basic models, including microeconomic development (MED), small-to-medium enterprises (SME), and overseas private equity (OPE). MED is proliferating rapidly among the poor as small investments or loans (microlending) supply enough working capital to create a small business designed to support just the entrepreneur and / or their family. SME’s require more capital and typically create more jobs within a community. Unlike many MED initiatives, which can fly under the radar of local and national governmental regulations (in the informal market), SME’s tend to be formal businesses which operate under those same regulations and are more fully integrated into their local and national economies and on tax rosters to support local infrastructure and other amenities like public education. OPE’s are the largest of BAM initiatives and can require considerable sums, often more than a million dollars, to build factories, establish sizable workforces, and so on.

SME’s and OPE’s are very useful tools for creating legitimate businesses that contribute to the common good in countries that would otherwise be closed to Christian presence. The evangelization efforts of Christian owners and operators of these businesses is most often conducted through building long term relationships with employees, customers, vendors, public officials, and their at-large communities.

III.            Workplace Discipleship (WPD)

Workplace discipleship ministries cover a broad range of ministry within a particular workplace or company from informal, voluntary prayer ministry to ethics training coordinated through human resource departments, to company-offered counseling support and chaplain availability. These ministries are established, or at least endorsed, by the ownership or management of the company. Prayer ministries can include scheduled prayer groups and meetings, submitting prayer requests to volunteer intercessors, and prayer request posting boards. Prayer ministries carry a certain burden concerning privacy issues that may be of concern to human resource professionals, hence prayer requests should be kept confidential.

Other forms of workplace discipleship include conducting (or allowing) Bible studies to take place in the workplace (before or after hours, or at lunch time), providing ethics training (conducted either by internal personal, such as a Human Resources program or by bringing in outside expertise), providing counseling for any number of afflictions or life troubles (including treating addictions or to minister to those grieving the loss of a loved one or co-worker), and even providing chaplaincy services.

IV.             Executive / Business Leader Discipleship

Business leadership ministries focus on this defined group specifically to address problems unique to leadership positions in the marketplace to advance the spiritual formation of business leaders and executives, hold group members accountable to the tenets of their Christian faith, and to offer collaborative business strategizing and problem solving opportunities in a confidential environment. These groups address a broad range of biblical and theological concerns, like spiritual formation, and offering peer-counsel for finding the wisdom to inform ethics, decision-making, and strategic planning.

V.               Financial Stewardship Training

While John Wesley famously said we should “Make all you can [ethically], save all you can [frugally], and give all you can [charitably],” these ministries help both households and the very wealthy focus on managing their income and fortunes in keeping with biblical principles. All of these programs embrace core biblical financial concepts like tithing, frugality, and generosity. Household management ministries help individuals and couples understand God’s view of their income and to develop long-term strategies for providing for both current and future needs of families, whether how to deal with mortgage and car payments, build savings, or plan for college and retirement costs. Wealth management programs help participants understand the obligations before God of the enormous blessings he has poured into their lives and how best to leverage their wealth, and especially their giving, to have the greatest impact for advancing God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

VI.             Workforce Development (WFD)

These ministries fulfill two primary purposes: equipping workers, especially those without fundamental job skills and education, and connecting those in employment transition with hiring organizations. Some ministries in this classification also extend classroom training to small business operators and owners in developing economies to help them grasp the core disciplines of business creation and development – strategic planning, financial control, marketing, employee, customer, and vendor relations, and so on. There are a rising number of workforce development ministries that offer participants preparation for general equivalency diploma (GED) testing. Some also offer basic courses in computer programs in wide use and in high demand in the business world, such as Microsoft Word and Excel. Offerings may also include workplace etiquette, basic customer service attitude and skills training, and even address issues of personal hygiene.

Several workforce networking programs have come into being or grown dramatically in the United States and other regions affected by the most recent global economic crisis. Displaced workers are encouraged to attend networking events and take part in job transition seminars where they can, in the first case, connect with others in their particular industries or specialties, and, in the second, develop job search strategies, brush up on creating the most powerful resume’ or LinkedIn profile, or attend job fairs with many hiring companies present. Often both these type of ministries – job preparation training and job transition – are facilitated by, and even take place, in local churches.

VII.          Enterprise Coaching and Mentoring (ECM)

These ministry efforts match the skills and experience of business practitioners one-to-one with those in poor economies or redeveloping areas (in developed economies, areas such as inner city neighborhoods or among the rural poor) attempting to develop small businesses but lacking access to formal business education. Historically, fulfilling this ministry has been proving one of the most difficult to accomplish for two reasons. First, a lack of awareness among Christian business leaders of the needs and opportunities, even within their own contexts, has left many with great ministry potential idle. Second, problems of skills mismatching (corporate types attempting to coach entrepreneurial endeavors outside their particular areas of expertise or with thinking through how to adapt their knowledge to a very different context and application) and paternalism (which could to often be classified as over-lording when business leaders attempt to “take over” versus coming alongside those they are intending to minister to) lead to failures that may prove very difficult to overcome, especially on the “recipient” end of these transactions.

ECM can take many forms including business planning assistance (helping inexperienced entrepreneurs formulate and think through the numerous facets of business creation and operation), personal and professional development (whether by individual coaching or via classroom-based programs to equip inexperienced entrepreneurs with essential skill sets and decision-making techniques), the formation of advisory boards and mentoring relationships (to observe and come alongside entrepreneurs to forewarn of possible pitfalls or pending dangers and working through solutions strategies to avoid them), and service offerings of affordable consultancies (providing the guidance and information entrepreneurs may not otherwise get but at fees considerably below local market rates).

VIII.        Marketplace Ministries Advocacy and Mobilization (A&M)

These efforts are designed to expand the awareness and engagement of Christian marketplace practitioners at-large. These ministries work extensively on business outreach models, information gathering and sharing, theological and biblical exegesis, and thought leadership. Some of this work is being doing through or in conjunction with educational institutions (Bible colleges and seminaries) through standard coursework or supplemental institutes. Some of this work is being done through denominational and missions organizations, and a few interdenominational permanent and virtual think tanks which stage conferences and seminars, develop teaching materials, and publish in print and on line, including webinars. Some efforts are aimed directly at activating “the pew” while others concentrate more on the influence of the Christian faith by teaching in areas of economic and political philosophy that Christians can be better equipped as informed and active voters, consumers, political activists, and so on..

IX.             Microfinance Initiatives (MFI)

Most of these programs work among the very poor globally but domestic (U.S.) programs are expanding to provide access to credit for very small enterprises. The vast majority of loans range from $500.00 to $5,000.00 to entrepreneurs to purchase basic equipment and starting inventories. Two primary models are currently spreading around the world: community-based credit unions (including both credit extension and savings accounts) and lending institutions providing capital funds. Both can serve to help underwrite the launch of very small (micro-) businesses. The latter have found a great deal of success by working through peer-lending groups (typically featuring predominant women membership) to encourage accountability and provide safety nets in the case of a business failure or illness. Availability of additional loans to group members hinge on all outstanding loans being current on repayment schedules. Microfinance can be very labor intensive and do charge market interest rates but have proliferated since their introduction more than thirty years ago.

X.               Business for Mission (BFM)

These ministries are designed to provide a variety of capital resources to small business development (either start-up or early round financing) in poor economies. The biggest impact of these efforts is the injection of capital funds into poor contexts, whether rural villages or poor urban neighborhoods. These projects and initiatives are applicable in both developing global economies as well as among the rural and urban poor in developed economies. The potential of these projects will be enormously impacted by being conjoined to coaching / mentoring relationships to help ensure the success of new businesses. In any case, some may be businesses created strictly as revenue streams (for sustainable funding for not-for-profit efforts) while others may be formed as venture lending funds or social venture investment funds, both of which could be classified as “smart aid,” that is, increasing capacity in poor contexts by strengthening capital availability and movement within them.

XI.             Christian Community Development Corporations (CDC)

These organizations have traditionally been grant-based to fund their initiatives focused on the quality of formal primary and secondary education in inner cities, the dispersal of social services, family counseling, child and healthcare education and so on. Given their holistic focus, many are now beginning to address the need for jobs and small business development in their neighborhoods, including subsidiary businesses to provide ongoing revenue streams for the agencies themselves.

CDC’s feature three significant distinctive. First, they tend to focus on very targeted geographies, such as a particular cohesive urban neighborhood, or as may be becoming the case, on larger geographic regions involving the rural poor, such as distinct regions of the Appalachian Mountain Range. Second, CDC’s have historically been predominantly operational in Western developed economies but their design and influence is expanding globally and their principles and practices put in place an increasing variety of locations and contexts. But the dramatic rise – predominantly through the growth and influence of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) – has been in the United States and aimed at economic redevelopment of inner city neighborhoods. Finally, CDC’s take a holistic approach, as hinted in the paragraph above, concerned with all aspects of the target area including but not limited to issues of governance, taxation, education, infrastructure, social services, and economic development.

David Doty

Eden’s Bridge, Inc.

1 Comment

Filed under Faith in the Marketplace

One response to “An Overview of Marketplace Ministry (MPM) Models

  1. Under “Tentmaking” there is no deception involved if the applicant for work clearly states he is a Christian. Every sincere dedicated Christian is a missionary. It is not deception if the Christian is fulfilling his contract or agreement with the government or business. Your statement at the end of this seems to agree with this, “However, in a very real sense, all Christians working in the marketplace are tentmakers if our normal work provides our support for daily living and contributes to our ability to perform ministry, whether inside our professional life or through volunteerism and such outside work hours.” I will add that if we are not missionaries in our home country, we will certainly not be missionaries in another country. I understand that the “job” or business is the arena for witness that we have, but our good example or life, cannot express the importance of who Christ is, or what He has done for us. Our good example and life does however qualify the message. It earns a hearing for our faith.

    Most of these Model descriptions don’t spell out their possible implications for Christian witness. I think that needs to be fleshed out more.
    Otherwise ministry becomes merely good business practices.

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