The Gospel and the Cross-Cultural Gospel Messengers: Issues of Identity and Platform in Bringing the Good News

This paper addresses key questions related to platforms and distinguishes between missionary calling and the professional vocation which many have found helpful. It includes a scale that attempts to capture some of the issues in how these two callings intersect for different people and discusses the key question of effectiveness.​​​​



Dr. Ian Prescott has served in Asia for more than thirty years. He started in the Philippines where his focus was church-planting and related ministries. He has since been involved in a number of East Asian countries with a particular focus on the development of work in creative access contexts. His doctoral studies were also focused on Creative Access Mission.


The Gospel and the Cross-Cultural Gospel Messengers: Issues of Identity and Platform in Bringing the Good News

Mission Round Table vol. 14 no. 3 (Sep-Dec 2019): 26-33

Cross-cultural gospel messengers
The relationship of the gospel and the gospel messengers

The gospel is not a pizza. It is not a question of making the right selection of ingredients to suit the customer, putting them together in an attractive and tasty way, and then delivering it. The essence of bringing the gospel to people is that it is incarnated. God sent his Son both to deliver the message and as the message. God continues to send out his people with his message but also as his message.

In one sense, the gospel is an unchangeable, world-defining event. It is “a factual statement”:

Namely, that at a certain point in history, the history of this world, God who is the author, the sustainer, the goal of all that exists, of all being and all meaning and all truth, has become present in our human history as the man Jesus, whom we can know and whom we can love and serve; and that by His incarnation, His ministry, His death and resurrection, He has finally broken the powers that oppress us and has created a space and a time in which we who are unholy can nevertheless live in fellowship with God who is holy.[1]

The gospel, as the historical fact of God’s mighty work through Jesus, does not change—it is the same for every time and place.

In another sense, the gospel is always contextualized in the lives of those who bring it. The “gospel does not come as a disembodied message, but as a message of a community which claims to live by it and which invites others to adhere to it.”[2] The gospel does not come as some pure, culture-free message. The gospel, because it comes through people—that is, through languages and communities with traditions—is always embodied in culture.[3]

This is not an unfortunate complication or a weakness that we need to overcome, but God’s intention. Jesus did not write a book, a task which would have been quite possible in that day and age and would have left us with a definitive record of his teaching. Instead, he entrusted his legacy to a community of witnesses. They are witnesses to what Jesus did and said but also witnesses to what it means to follow Jesus. The gospel is a call to put ourselves under the kingship of God in Christ and it is best preached by demonstrating what that means in our own lives as well as explaining what that means with our words. That is not just an individual calling, but a corporate one. Thus, a key part of the gospel testimony is how we relate to one another in the body of Christ in love.

It therefore matters not just that we manage to get into other countries and cultures to bring the message, but how we do that. That is not secondary to our communication of the gospel, but part of our communication of the gospel. Who we are and what we are are inextricably tied up with what we have to say and how it is received. It shapes the message, the perception of the messenger, and the Christian community that comes into being as a result of receiving the message.

Cross-cultural gospel messengers

The focus of this paper is on cross-cultural gospel messengers. That they are cross-cultural means they are alien to the community that they are trying to reach. Often that means they are foreigners from another country or, if not foreigners, then from a different ethnic group or culture. Thus, they start as outsiders who have to make an effort to get into the group if they are to bring the gospel message to them. And their embodiment of the gospel is in a culture different from those that they are taking it to. There may also be insiders—Christians within the group—and the issues and considerations for them may be different. However, the need for outsiders may mean there are few Christian insiders to do the work of gospel sharing.

Who is welcome?

Being an outsider already defines part of their identity to the people to whom they are going. As an outsider trying to get an “in”, a key question is “who is welcome?”

If they are from outside the country, the first question asked is often about visas. Is one required? If so, who qualifies for one? The answer to that question revolves around the issue of what kinds of foreigners the government allows in. In most cases, they welcome those who contribute something that they value, whether that is cheap labour, the money of tourists and overseas students, foreign expertise, or investment and jobs created by businesses.

But having got in, “who does the community welcome?” Who are they pleased to see and eager to learn from? How can we serve them, earn their trust, get close enough for them to see our lives, and win a hearing for our message? Are we doing a job and maintaining an identity that they think add value to the community? (Or is it one that takes away value? For example, one that takes away jobs, or is an agent for an unwelcome business or program.)

Why are they welcome?

We stand at an interesting point in the history of economic ideas. Following the collapse of the USSR in 1991 and of European communism, we entered a period with only one prevailing economic ideology—that of the free market. A few voices with other perspectives have grown a little louder since then, but the free market is still the dominant economic ideology driving government decisions around the world.

That includes the communist world. I regularly hear that Communism is dead. However, as more than 1.5 billion people in the world live in a Communist state,[4] I have to query that. Communism in China and Vietnam seems alive and healthy. In fact, sometimes it seems healthier and more stable than many democracies, including my own home country. However, the current version of Communism in China and Vietnam—perhaps best described as Market Leninism[5]—may not be what Marx envisaged though it is what is defining these countries’ directions.

In fact, it was primarily policies driven by issues of economics that opened up the communist countries of East Asia. This is what transformed them from closed countries (e.g. China in the period 1950 to 1979, Vietnam 1955 [North] and 1975 [South] to 1986) to what we call creative access countries. The opportunities created by China’s Open Door Policy (1978) and Four Modernizations (1979) and Vietnam’s Doi Moi/Renovation (1986) are what created the many open doors that we have been enjoying for mission.

This is not new. The unequal treaties and the opium trade which opened up China in the nineteenth century were driven by economics. Missionaries, of course, took advantage of this openness because of the access it gave them to the people to share the gospel. Some of them were critical of the opium trade and colonial policies.[6] Very few today are critical of globalization and free market capitalism even as we seek to ride the wave of the opportunities it presents.

In a key note address at the OMF Global Fellowship Consultation held two years ago, David Smith warned us that globalization is

the carrier of an ideology and a worldview which presents the most direct challenges to the gospel of Jesus Christ.… faith in the transformative power of free markets constitutes the non-negotiable core of the ideology of globalization … what began life as an economic theory has, over time, expanded into a culture which claims universal validity.[7]

Smith drew our attention to Lesslie Newbigin, who argued that in the twenty-first century three factors

will compete for the allegiance of the human family: the gospel, the free market, and Islam.… As to the free market: the crucial question is going to be whether the Christian church can recover its confidence in the gospel in order to be able to challenge with confidence the enormous power of this ideology which now rules us. We are dealing here with an idol, the idol of the free market, and idols do not respond to moral persuasion.[8]

This particular idol is often not the object of missiological critique. Are we too overwhelmed by the size of the opposition to know where to begin, or have we already been seduced by the spirit of the age? Some of the writing from the Business as Mission factory feels as though capitalism with Christian values is God’s answer to the world’s problems.[9] And I can’t help wondering if the Lausanne movement’s recent call to the church “to embrace wealth creation as central to our mission of holistic transformation of peoples and societies”[10] may be in danger of giving uncritical endorsement to the current economic ideology.

The forces of globalization have made people more accessible. But is it undermining the gospel in other ways? The message of the gospel is a compelling metanarrative that both shows us the way to God and also makes sense of the world. However, part of the globalization package is the message that such metanarratives are optional. The only metanarrative that matters now is the one of increasing prosperity through free markets. Previously, a frequent problem was that the gospel was perceived as Western and therefore not relevant to Asians. Today, the West is declaring that the gospel is not needed in the free market and therefore not relevant to anyone.

At the very least, this should mean that we evaluate political and economic events against the larger framework of God’s purposes and desires for humankind and not, for example, “welcome a brutal tyranny because it allows the entry of foreign missionaries rather than a more humane regime which puts difficulties in their way.” Newbigin does not see this as an opportunity for the gospel of Jesus but rather as “a sign against the gospel of Jesus.”[11]

What can different platforms contribute?

The title I was originally given for the paper was “ways to approach people with the good news: vehicles or platforms available today—positives and negatives.” I have written extensively about this previously[12] and so will not rehearse all that here, although there are fresh things that could be said as many people have given a lot more thought to it since I wrote.

Key things to keep in mind in evaluating any potential platform or vehicle are the quality of the contact that it gives you with the focus people, the opportunity for ministry that it affords, and the impact of the platform on the ministry. In addition, it is important to consider how much time and effort is required to create and maintain the platform and how sustainable it is.

English teaching

Let me apply this quickly to one of our most popular platforms: English teaching.

This is one of the easiest and most obvious of platforms. The demand for English teaching is enormous and the demand is for “native speakers” to do it, so our foreignness often becomes an asset. The entry barriers are often very low with a one-month intensive CELTA or TESOL training being sufficient for many situations.[13] And in many situations, a language teacher will be paid enough to live on.

It also gives quality contact with one’s focus people. It is highly relational with the student-teacher relationship being a particularly important one in Asia, with the bond often continuing long after the formal relationship has ceased. It is in the education business, so is already in the business of changing minds.

There are also challenges. Even when English teachers have had the opportunity to start with a substantial period of studying the national language, they often struggle to deepen or even to maintain their language as they are spending so much time using English and students often expect and want to interact with their English teacher in English. As a result, ministry is often through the medium of English which may not be the best language for evangelism and discipleship.

The problem becomes even more acute when we look beyond the immediate language and discipleship to our goal of multiplication. We want disciples who will make disciples who will make disciples and churches that will plant churches that will plant churches. But the model of English teaching as a platform for evangelism is not one that is reproducible by nationals. I have often seen churches catch a vision for evangelism and then follow a line of reasoning that goes like this: we want to reach more people, we’ve seen that English classes or clubs are a good way to do that, so we need a foreigner so that we can do evangelism.

We could examine a host of other platforms in this way and in a great deal more detail, and there is a great deal more literature to interact with,[14] but I want to focus this paper on other issues.

The question of call and vocation

This whole discussion on selecting a platform or profession based on the advantages and disadvantages of that particular platform or profession presumes that we are not already committed to a particular profession. This takes us to the question of calling.

Missionary calling and professional vocation

I have found it helpful to recognize two different kinds of callings. I have called these the missionary calling and the professional vocation. I realize that vocation and calling are really just two words for the same thing. However, distinguishing these two kinds of calling has been found helpful by many.

By the missionary calling,[15] I mean those whose vocation is getting the good news to people who haven’t heard it. They want to know how they can best do that. By separating them out, my intention is not to put them on a missionary pedestal but to recognize that their calling is to make their major life choices around the question of “how will they hear?” And our calling as an organization has been to support those with such a calling, help them get trained and equipped, team them with others where possible, and support them in practical and strategic ways, so that their faithfulness to God’s calling results in effective ministry.

By professional vocation, I mean a calling to practice a particular profession.[16] I would not necessarily say a secular profession because the sacred-secular divide is both unbiblical and unhelpful, and the profession could actually be that of a religious professional, such as pastor or a theological educator.

For many of our colleagues, it is not one or the other but both together. They feel both a calling to mission and a calling to a profession. Both callings are from God. Several years ago, after spending many hours relating to a variety of people wrestling with this, I put together the following scale which tries to capture some of the issues in how these two callings intersect for different people. Although this scale has been circulated internally, it has not previously been published in English. (See Table 1.)

All those in this table are assumed to be committed Christians who are wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord and to pursuing his will and calling. No position on the scale is assumed to be superior to another. It just represents a different balance of callings. At one end are those whose primary sense of calling is a “missionary” calling—to devote themselves to reaching the people in a particular place or people group with the good news of Jesus Christ. At the other end are those whose primary sense of calling is a “professional” calling—to serve God faithfully through the practice of their profession.

In the middle are those who sense a dual calling: to serve God in their profession and to be personally involved in reaching a people.

Bi-vocational workers: The “2”s and “3”s

The “1”s are the traditional, straightforward church-planting missionaries. They were the core of our Fellowship[17] until the closed countries of East Asia began opening up and becoming creative access countries. To serve in these contexts, we needed people with the professional skills that these countries welcomed. In the wider missions world, these people were often called tentmakers. Within OMF, we called them Professionals Serving in Asia for a while (though that term has fallen out of use). In this discussion, I will refer to the “2”s and “3”s as “Bi-vocational Workers.”

For the “2”s, their missionary calling is primary. They regard their professional skills as a tool that they may use to open doors for ministry. However, their skills are only tools, and if they are not useful to the task of reaching a people, they will set them down, find other tools, and try another way.

So, for example, I have known someone who over the course of several years taught as an English teacher, then ran a business, afterwards became a farmer, and finally ran a processing plant. All of these positions served the goal of effectively reaching his focus people. Changing professional roles like this is not unusual. One of my team recently commented that he feels like a chameleon as he has sought to reinvent himself several times over the last few years as he figures out the best identity and platform for ministry in his context. They do not do this in a spirit of deception but in the spirit of Paul who said, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor 9:19–22).

Then there are the “3”s, for whom their sense of professional vocation is primary. They regard the practice of their profession as a fundamental part of their God-given calling. They are willing and eager to use their profession to help reach a people. However, if they find that they cannot contribute with their professional skills, they will usually see that as God’s direction to seek another place where they can use those skills.

A lot of tensions occur because of misunderstandings between these two groups. You can find this in the literature on tentmaking, in the various pronouncements by advocates of tentmaking, and among bi-vocational workers in the field.

The “2”s tend to regard the “3”s as uncommitted, unfocused, and lacking in zeal for the mission cause, while the “3”s tend to regard the “2”s as unprofessional, lacking a biblical view of work, and lacking in integrity. Some writers try and tackle this by advocating a “holistic” balance between the two. While the concern for holism is valid, the solutions offered rarely satisfy. “Holistic” tends to be used to label the user’s own preferred position, thus labelling all other positions as inadequately unholistic and not always recognizing that different balances are right for different people.

The “2.5”s and their schizophrenia

Of course, to divide bi-vocational workers into “2”s and “3”s is too simplistic. They are a spectrum, and most bi-vocational workers are not at the end of the scale but somewhere in the middle—around what we might call “2.5”!

They feel a strong sense of both missionary calling and professional vocation, and are struggling to understand what God is saying about how they should exercise their dual calling. While the “2”s and “3”s are often self-confident about the rightness of their respective positions, the “2.5”s often feel schizophrenic[18] and torn between the two. Their feelings of schizophrenia and confusion are often exacerbated by the strong arguments of the “2”s and “3”s that they should be more focused on reaching people (“2”s) or on pursuing professional excellence (“3”s).

There are other issues that are worth mentioning too:

The “1.5”s and issues of integrity

There is another possible category that could be added to our scale—the “1.5”s who use their professional qualifications to get a visa but don’t do the job that they have contracted to do. Real questions should be raised about the integrity of this approach. They have made a commitment to do something but haven’t kept their word. Questions can also be raised about the impact that their behaviour has on the spread of the gospel. While they may achieve their short-term goals in evangelism, literature distribution, etc., the long-term impact is often very negative. Numerous stories testify to this.

This integrity question should be distinguished from the charge that is sometimes made against the “2”s—that because they have sought out their job with the intent of using it as an entry or platform for achieving their mission goals, they lack integrity. I would vigorously defend them against the charge that this automatically lacks integrity. As long as they do the job that they have committed to do, and do it well—not short-changing those they work for—they have kept their word on that issue. If they have other motivations in obtaining the job, that is fine; they do not have to live for their professional work alone!

In fact, we often hear that we should be aiming to be the very best that we can possibly be as a professional (e.g., Scott praises “A young nurse in a closed country [who] seeks to be the best nurse in the hospital”[19]). Is this “be the best” focused on God or on our individual competitiveness? Is it putting work first? It seems to me that we are all given a number of callings that compete for our time, energy, and focus. These include our callings as children and parents, and husbands and wives, as well as our professional and missionary callings. Our challenge is “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Col 3:23). We should do a good job with integrity that honours the Lord as well as those we work for and with. However, we must also fulfil our other God-given responsibilities and callings in a way which honours him too.[20] We should pursue professional excellence but it should be excellence in the service of God and not excellence in the place of God.

Another area that bears mentioning is that of part-time jobs. If a visa has been granted to a bi-vocational worker for a job that is essentially only part-time, then let us rejoice in the freedom that that gives. There is no lack of integrity in doing only a part-time job if that is all that you have committed to and been given a visa for. For the “2”s or “2.5”s, it may give much greater time and freedom to pursue the mission part of their calling.

The “2”s that are forced to be “4”s

The prevailing paradigm for funding mission has been that this has been paid for by those in the sending countries: sending churches and other supporters. This has worked OK while mission has been “from the West to the rest.” Having led the industrial revolution, the West was significantly wealthier than the rest and so Christians have had the wealth to fund mission “to the rest.”

For some people, one of the attractions of serving as a professional is that “you don’t have to raise your support, you have an employer who pays you.” For those of us who are privileged to come from wealthier countries, that is a choice we can make. Raising support is challenging, but by no means impossible.

However, as we all know, the centres of gravity of Christianity have shifted. Most Christians now live in the majority world. That includes many churches with an enthusiasm and confidence for sharing the gospel that is often lacking in the West. With a few exceptions (Korea is a major one) their national economies do not match their Christian numbers or mission enthusiasm. Consequently, their mission sending under this “sender pays” model is cramped by lack of finances.[21]

That doesn’t mean their missionary enthusiasm has been completely quenched. Many are still venturing overseas with a strong mission calling and vision, while sustaining themselves through taking paid employment in the field country. This has good biblical precedent as Paul’s tentmaking was primarily about self-support. It was also the way missionaries were often funded in the early centuries of the church. However, because of the urgency of having funds to live, most do not have the opportunity for substantive language study. Most Asian languages take the best part of two years of full-time language study to master (unless one has the advantage of already speaking a closely related Asian language). But without language, the contribution of these people is much less than it could be.

To release the missionary potential of the churches in these countries, we need a fresh approach in which mission (a) is paid for by employment (tentmaking) and (b) still provides opportunity for the worker to learn the language and culture as foundations for effective, long-term ministry.

To take this forward we need to recruit people with the intention that, in the long term, their support will be provided by employment on the field. Therefore, they need to be potentially employable and willing to take this route. In addition, they need sufficient support to cover two years of full-time language study, culture acquisition, and initial training and experience in ministry. This could be a lump sum rather than an annual commitment.

People move!

This scale is not intended to be a series of boxes in which we fit people but a tool that will help us understand people and for them to understand themselves. And people will move along the scale—in both directions!

Those who came as “3”s, or even as “4”s, may end up as “2”s or “2.5”s. We have seen this in a number who first linked with us informally because their profession had taken them to a country where we worked, but over time they have become long-term co-workers with us.

On the other hand, those who came thinking that they were “2”s or “2.5”s may discover that their profession is a much more integral part of what God is calling them to be and do than they had recognized or can expect to realize in a developing East Asian situation.

Understanding and following God’s calling is part of a lifelong pilgrimage with the Lord. It takes time and different experiences for us to understand his call. But that call is not a static thing. It is also changing! We may be called to major on one type of vocation for a while, but then the Lord calls us on to be something else.

Marketplace professionals

Up until now our organizational focus has been on recruiting, deploying, and supporting the “2”s and “3”s in creative access situations (maybe only up to about “2.7” or “2.8”). One of the defining values and practices has been our emphasis on ministry preparation and language study. Those who have joined us have usually had a strong enough sense of missionary calling to pause their professional career for several years in order to become equipped for effective disciple-making in the cross-cultural context.

However, with our new focus on marketplace professionals, we are expanding those we have in view to embrace the 3 pluses, “4”s and also to challenge some of the “5”s.

These are the people who Andrew Scott, President and CEO of Operation Mobilization USA, describes.

They believe they should be an engineer, businessperson, artist, mechanic. Their skills and excellence in them have given them great credibility in their environment, and their environment is where those who do not know Jesus are—and they are not typically in our churches. These folks love doing what they do but have never been given the framework or permission to see that as part of their God-given purpose in life, yet they firmly believe that their passion and talents for business are from God. I am convinced that if we are to see significant change in our world through the light of the gospel going out, we need to set a generation free to be all God has created them to be, using what He has given them to use for His purposes.[22]

The incarnational answer?

Mobilizing marketplace professionals is presented as a key strategy for reaching people where they are today—which is in the marketplace. Along with missional business, this provides “organic opportunities” for “incarnational witness” and ministry.[23] There are clearly many ways in which cross-cultural marketplace professionals can contribute. Many are already employed in workplaces in East Asia. They may need a fresh vision for how God can use them, but they do not need to be urged to go as they have already gone. There, they will have opportunities to relate to people who it may be difficult for others to reach with the good news. Different contact in a different context will often lead to new opportunities for sharing. The workplace is where many people spend the majority of their waking hours and “The gospel needs to be shared where the people who need to hear it are concentrated.”[24] A key part of their witness will be demonstrating by their lives how their faith affects how they do their work and how they relate to other people—showing how faith impacts the marketplace.

There are also challenges to the effectiveness of people who work in this way.

They don’t usually have the opportunity to learn the local language. Most Asian languages require far more time for concentrated language study than expatriates are able to invest. I have not met anyone who has succeeded in learning Vietnamese to a satisfactory level if the only time they have been able to devote to it is Saturday mornings. This means that their in-depth interaction with local people will largely be limited to those with good English. There must be a number of these in their working environment for them to do their job, but still the scope of who they can interact with will be limited. If all witness and discipleship is going to be done in a foreign language, and most probably with foreign materials, the presentation of the gospel will be severely impacted.

They may find it very difficult to relate to the local church. As well as the language issue, there may be other government barriers to them joining events with local Christians. The result is that their witness is divorced from the witness of the local church and they may find it hard to introduce those who believe into local fellowships.

Though we may rejoice in the potential for these marketplace professionals to bring their faith into the East Asian marketplace, the unfortunate reality is that many have not figured out how to do that in their home context. In fact, the prevailing ideology in many of our Western sending countries sees little or no place for faith in the workplace. It regards religion as a private matter that does not belong in the marketplace. We do not want to export this to East Asians who are often more accepting of religion generally, though they may be antagonistic to Christianity specifically.

Are we asking the wrong question?

The question about vehicles or platforms is often framed as a “which is best?” question.

Is it best to go as something closer to the traditional missionary: theologically trained, financially supported by churches, and spending a few years learning the language, before selecting the profession or platform that seems to best facilitate the ministry? Or is it best to go as a marketplace professional: using the qualifications one already has and seizing the professional opportunities in unreached countries; not pausing for years to go through theological or language study; staying on top of one’s professional game and simply scattering to the ends of the earth with one’s profession and the good news of Jesus.

In many ways, the “which is best?” question is often only a relevant question for the traditional missionary. For professionals, serving in their profession is a given. They feel called to serve in their profession. The question is not whether to stay in their profession but whether, while staying in their profession, they can also serve God’s purposes in mission.

Nor is it an either-or question but both-and. The question is not whether the unreached will be reached by tentmaking missionaries or by marketplace professionals, but whether they will be reached at all and how God will use the glorious variety of his people to do that. There is clearly value in having people in as diverse a range of occupations and platforms as possible so that the gospel witness can reach the greatest variety of people.

The question of effectiveness

This leads me to conclude that the value of discussing the contribution of marketplace professionals is not to answer the “which is best?” question but to help address the “how can we ensure they are effective?” question.

Bob McNabb, who spent a decade in Thailand before returning to the United States, addresses this question in his book Spiritual Multiplication in the Real World: Why Some Disciplers Reproduce while Others Fail. He was vexed by the question as to why people who had been fruitful disciple-makers while in college seemed to bear so little fruit in the workplace.

Does it matter what kind of church a person attends? What kind of lifestyle would be needed? Does the type of job one works or where one lives matter? Is there a certain approach to evangelism that yields more fruit? Should the use of materials in discipling be encouraged or discouraged? Why do some people successfully multiply their lives year after year while others, who have received similar training, flounder and fail to reproduce?  [25]

Some of the early theories he considered and rejected included: “the poor job and living situation” theory. That people weren’t seeing fruit because “They lacked extended and meaningful daily contact with lost people their own age and gender. They needed to select a job and living situation that daily immersed them in significant contact with lost people like them.” However, his research, which was international in scope, showed

there are other factors far more important than where you live or with whom you work. In fact, we found no statistically significant relationship between where one lives and effectiveness in disciple-making, nor between the number of lost people with whom one works closely on a daily basis.[26]

He examined the correlation between how much evangelism training people had had and their effectiveness in making disciples. While some evangelism training was better than none, there was no clear correlation beyond that.[27]

His key finding was that:

the single greatest determining factor as to whether people multiply themselves is not the level of their maturity, the amount of training they have received, the receptivity of the lost in their context or how long they have been discipled. But it is whether or not they are immersed in a disciple-making team.[28]

Ideally, this team included: top leaders casting and modelling vision; ongoing coaching and mentoring; large ministry events that help the disciple-makers’ micro ministry events; and a ministry culture that expects, prays, and works together to multiply.[29]

A key conclusion of their research was the importance of ongoing training:

Our research shows that receiving ministry training on a weekly basis is what most increases effectiveness in disciple-making. We found that 48.5 percent of highly effective disciple-makers were involved with churches or ministries that offered weekly ministry training…. Survey participants were questioned regarding how frequently they had received coaching during the three-year period our study investigated. Nearly three quarters (74.9 percent) of those who had not received any coaching were found to be non-effective. That percentage dropped to 26.1 percent for those who had received coaching every other month.[30]

As we seek to get more involved with those who are regular workers in the marketplace, we need to grapple with this. Is helping these marketplace professionals stay focused on disciple-making and multiplication a ministry being carried out by the local or international church in a given city? Are they focused enough to be effective? Many churches have some kind of small group fellowships. However, their purpose is usually for Bible study, fellowship, and mutual support; not for multiplication. “Most groups that function well as a disciple-making team define multiplication as their reason for existence.”[31] If supporting these marketplace professionals is something that we wish to get more involved in, we need to make sure that it is for more than help with cross-cultural awareness, member care, and crisis assistance.[32]


Our challenge is to select the best platforms when we have the choice, to be aware of the way our choices shape the message that we bring, to serve with integrity in everything that we are called to do, and to develop structures that will give the training, support, and ongoing mentoring and encouragement so that professionals of all kinds will be effective in contributing to indigenous, multiplying church movements in every people group of East Asia.

[1] Lesslie Newbigin, Signs Amid the Rubble: The Purposes of God in Human History (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 113.

[2] Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 1989), 141.

[3] Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 144.

[4] China (1.419 billion), Vietnam (97 million), Cuba (12 million), Laos (7 million). Worldometers, (accessed 1 May 2019).

[5] The phrase was used as early as 1993 in the New York Times (Nicholas D. Kristof, “China Sees ‘Market-Leninism’ as Way to Future,” New York Times (6 September 1993)). It has been extensively used by Jonathan London, Senior University Lecturer of Global Political Economy–Asia at Leiden University, NL (“Viet Nam and the Making of Market-Leninism,” The Pacific Review 22, no. 3 (2009): 375–99; “Market-Leninism,” SSRN Electronic Journal 10, no. 2139 (2011); “Varieties of State, Varieties of Political Economy: China, Vietnam and the Making of Market Leninism,” in Asia After the Developmental State: Disembedding Autonomy, eds. T. Carroll and D. S. Jarvis (Cambridge: CUP, 2017); “Welfare and Inequality in Market Leninism: China and Vietnam,” in Welfare and Inequality in Marketizing East Asia: Studies in the Political Economy of Public Policy (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018); “Consolidating Market Leninism,” Asian Survey 59, no. 1 (2019): 140–6.

[6] See, for example, Kathleen L. Lodwick, Crusaders Against Opium: Protestant Missionaries in China 1874–1917 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1996) and Kyle Johnson, “Missionaries vs. The Opium Industry,” Mission Frontiers (Sept/Oct 2019): 30–1, (accessed 10 Oct 2019).

[7] David Smith, “Understanding the Changing Landscape of Global Mission,” unpublished paper presented at the OMF International Global Fellowship Consultation, Chiang Mai, Thailand, September 2017, 6.

[8] Newbigin, Signs Amid the Rubble, 118–19.

[9] Ken Eldred, God is at Work: Transforming People and Nations Through Business (Ventura: Regal, 2005) feels very much like this.

[10] Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization, “Wealth Creation Manifesto” (Global Consultation on “The Role of Wealth Creation for Holistic Transformation,” Chiang Mai, Thailand, March 2017), (accessed 10 October 2019).

[11] Lesslie Newbigin, “Evangelism and the Whole Mission of the Church,” The Auburn Report 10, no. 4 (August 1998): 4.

[12] Ian Prescott, “Creative Access Mission in East Asia” (D.Miss Thesis, Fuller Theological Seminary, 2001).

[13] This must be one of the lowest professional entry requirements of any profession!

[14] See for example: Bradley Baurain, Religious Faith and Teacher Knowledge in English Language Teaching (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2015), Jan Edwards Dormer, Teaching English in Missions: Effectiveness and Integrity (Pasadena: William Carey, 2011), Kitty Barnhouse Purgason, Professional Guidelines for Christian English Teachers: How to Be a Teacher with Convictions While Respecting Those of Your Students (Pasadena: William Carey, 2016).

[15] One might also call this an “apostolic calling” as in Eph 4:11. This helps recognize both that it is a biblical calling and that we are not expecting that everyone should be called in this way. However, “apostolic” is used to mean so many different things in today’s church that using the term will probably increase confusion rather than diminish it.

[16] I would emphasise that I am using “vocation” as a synonym for “calling,” not as a synonym for “profession.” Thus God may call someone to leave their profession but it makes no sense to talk of him calling someone to leave their vocation; he is calling them to a new vocation.

[17] The core but never the entirety of our Fellowship. There have always been people balancing the two callings. However, it was the push for professionals to serve in the newly open creative access countries that pressed these issues to the fore.

[18] Medical professionals have told me that I am misusing the term “schizophrenia”, but many bi-vocational workers have told me that it captures exactly how they feel.

[19] Andrew Scott, Scatter: Go Therefore and Take Your Job with You (Chicago: Moody, 2016), Kindle, loc. 240.

[20] So this is not the best paper I could possibly write, but I have worked reasonably hard and faithfully on it in the midst of other demands.

[21] I realize another paradigm is that these countries provide the manpower and churches and Christians in the wealthier countries provide the finances. This is working to a limited extent, but it cannot fund the full potential of the missionary movement from these countries.

[22] Scott, Scatter, loc. 194.

[23] The term “incarnational” is used five times in “Looking at OMF International’s Creative Space in the Missional Business and Marketplace,” unpublished paper, 2018.

[24] “Looking at OMF International’s Creative Space,” 1.

[25] Bob McNabb, Spiritual Multiplication in the Real World: Why Some Disciplers Reproduce while Others Fail (n.p.: Multiplication, 2013), 24. Emphasis his.

[26] McNabb, Spiritual Multiplication, 47.

[27] McNabb, Spiritual Multiplication, 60–1.

[28] McNabb, Spiritual Multiplication, 67–8. Emphasis his.

[29] McNabb, Spiritual Multiplication, 68 and expanded in the following chapter.

[30] McNabb, Spiritual Multiplication, 76, 78.

[31] McNabb, Spiritual Multiplication, 78.

[32] These often seem to become the focus, particularly once we start looking at “payment for services models.”

Share this post

Get Involved

Have Questions? Send us an email.

To help you serve better, kindly fill all the fields (required). Your query will be routed to the relevant OMF team.

Contact Form

By clicking Submit, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with the terms in our Privacy Policy.

You’re on the OMF Australia website.
We have a network of centres across the world.
If your country/region is not listed, please select our International website.