An Apology to the Christian 99%, from the 1%

You don’t exist to help professional ministry leaders fulfill the Great Commission. We exist to help you do it.
An Apology to the Christian 99%, from the 1%
Michael Oh, Global Executive Director / CEO of the Lausanne Movement

But will they listen?”

I sat across the table from a friend, Bill Pollard, who had a hopeful but slightly doubtful look on his face. I had just shared with him the Lausanne Movement’s vision to convene more than 700 Christian workplace leaders from more than 100 nations.

Bill loved the vision: to mobilize Christians in the workplace as God’s instruments to bring kingdom impact in every sphere of society. However, he wondered whether some church leaders would have questions about the effectiveness of this type of ministry through so-called “lay” leaders.

His questioning reflects a long history of Christian ministry being viewed as the restricted responsibility of “professionals” such as pastors and missionaries. People like Bill have challenged that notion, showing instead that the mantle of ministry belongs on the shoulders of every Christian.

Bill served as CEO of ServiceMaster, which, during his leadership, was recognized by Fortune magazine as the No. 1 service company among the Fortune 500 and was noted by the Financial Times as one of the most respected companies in the world. For Bill, work at ServiceMaster was about service to the Master. As he would often say, “No company has eternal value. Only the Church does. Only people do.” Bill shared with me stories of people as far as Tokyo, Japan, whose lives were impacted by the gospel love he and others in his company shared.

We need more people like Bill, and for that to happen, there needs to be a change in the way we view ministry and work—a return to the way it was meant to be. From my vantage point as a full-time ministry leader within a global evangelical movement, I’d like to offer an apology to everyone reading this who is not in professional ministry, as well as four things I’ve learned about faith and work:

1) You don’t exist to support our ministry; we exist to support yours.

I want to speak to you as someone who is a member of the 1%. The 1% of those in the church who are ministers and missionaries. The 1% of those who are in professional ministry.

And I want to repent.

I want to repent, on behalf of the 1%, for viewing the 99% of the church not in professional ministry as existing to support our ministry.

The reality for many missionaries and ministers like myself is that we are indeed supported financially by the 99%. For this, we are tremendously grateful; missionaries and ministers can’t do their ministry without the biblical generosity of the 99%. But their ministry of giving is not their ultimate value nor their exclusive ministry. And I confess that I too easily forget that the 99% cannot do their ministry without our support as well. To forget that couldn’t be more wrong.

Ephesians 4:11–13 says that God “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (ESV).

God gave us, the 1%, to equip the saints for the work of ministry. The 1% exists to support the ministry of the 99%.

To paraphrase Martin Luther: “We are not all called to be pastors, but we are all called to be priests.”

One of the most remarkable fruits of the Reformation is the reclamation of the biblical doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. We all have direct, personal access to God. We need no priestly mediator but Christ.

But we have fallen into a different type of sacerdotalism: this time not in salvation, believing that it needs to be mediated through a priest, but in ministry, believing that ministry happens exclusively by those in vocational ministry to those who are not, rather than from all to all.

What God has universalized, we have professionalized once again. Is evangelism solely the work of evangelists? Is discipleship solely the work of pastors? Is missions solely the work of missionaries?

The 1%—pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and others—may have primary occupational responsibility for evangelism, discipleship, and missions; but it is not their responsibility solely. In fact, their primary responsibility is to train, commission, and support the evangelism, discipleship, and global mission work of the 99%.

If ministry and mission are relegated only to the realm of ministers and missionaries, we’re in trouble.

2) The Great Commission can’t be fulfilled without you.

The 1% of those who are in professional ministry will never reach the world with the gospel. The 1% cannot make disciples of all nations. Why?

First of all, the 1% numerically are not enough. There’s only 1 missionary for every 150,000 Japanese. There’s only 1 missionary for every 500,000 Muslims. Do you know how long it takes to share the gospel with 500,000 people? Now you can understand why missionaries are often so tired!

So an important part of how the gospel is going to go to the whole world is the sending out of more missionaries.

Now I know that some very wonderful, well-meaning Christians—even pastors—have sometimes said, “We’re all missionaries.” Part of me smiles when I hear that. Another part of me weeps.

Because if we buy into the notion that we are all missionaries, and that we can simply stay where we are and share the gospel with those non-Christians that we know, the 3 billion people in the world who don’t personally know a single Christian will be counted among those who will perish.

But we need more than just more missionaries.

Global mission partnerships mobilizing the 1% and the 99% to go to peoples and places with little or no gospel witness or community are the strategic need of our day. It is the only way the Great Commission will be fulfilled. The whole church must collaborate. We must co-labor.

That is the challenge and opportunity globally. A challenge in the spread of the gospel locally is this: If we rely upon pastors and those in professional Christian ministry to share the gospel, it will never touch many people’s lives and many spheres of society. The only way that people in your company, in your school, in your neighborhood, on your sports team, in your restaurant, in your theater troupe, are going to be touched by the gospel … is through you.

The Lausanne Movement has a vision for “Kingdom Impact in Every Sphere of Society.” That can only happen through those whom God has placed in those spheres of society. And that’s not your pastor.

Every Christian, including the 99% who are not in professional Christian ministry, has a ministry.

3) You may not be a minister or a missionary, but you have a ministry.

God has gifted you with spiritual gifts to fulfill that ministry, and you’ve been given the Holy Spirit to empower it. As 1 Corinthians 12 says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (ESV).

I think we can say that for Luther, it was not merely, “I no longer need a priest,” but also, “I can now minister to any and all. And in fact, I should.”

Now it’s up to you to discover your ministry. What ministry will the Holy Spirit do through you?

Bill shared with me an amazing story about having the opportunity to speak, as a Christian, at a Shinto funeral of a very influential Japanese businessman in Tokyo surrounded by hundreds who had never heard the gospel before. This was only possible because of years of relational investment and faithfulness in business excellence.

Some are missionaries, but all are called to be salt and light and to pray for the nations.

Some are pastors, but all are to shepherd people who are under our care.

Some are deacons, but we are all to serve.

Some are elders, but we are all to provide leadership in various contexts.

Some are preachers, but we are all to preach the gospel—to ourselves and to others.

It takes the whole church to make disciples of all nations. And the Holy Spirit longs to minister through you.

4) We have given lip service to your ministry, but we’re going to do more.

When I say we, I include the Lausanne Movement.

Since our founding in 1974 by Billy Graham and John Stott, Lausanne has said some important words on this critical issue. For example, a team of global scholars at the 3rd Lausanne Congress crafted the Cape Town Commitment, which states:

“We need intensive efforts to train all God’s people in whole-life discipleship, which means to live, think, work, and speak from a biblical worldview and with missional effectiveness in every place or circumstance of daily life and work.”

But we could have done more—and we’re going to do more.

This month, the Lausanne Global Workplace Forum (GWF) will bring together 750 global influencers from more than 120 nations in Manila, Philippines. Please pray that this diverse group might contribute to breakthrough insights and mobilization for mission in and through the workplace, at all levels, in all sectors, and in all regions of the world. This includes not just white-collar or business professionals, but those from blue-collar and even “no-collar” workplaces.

Both the 1% and the 99% will be at GWF. It will be an opportunity for the 1% to repent and also firmly recommit ourselves to our calling to equip the saints for the work of ministry.

And for those of you who are a part of the 99%: rise up! Rise up and take hold of your identity as a disciple and your calling to be a disciple-maker. Rise up and take responsibility for the discipleship of your family, friends, and neighbors. Rise up and see the nations thirsting for gospel waters and the billions who don’t know even a single Christian.

If you believe that 1 Peter 2:9 is addressed to you as God’s chosen—“a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”—won’t you rise up and take up your calling?

Michael Oh is Global Executive Director and CEO of the Lausanne Movement.

July/August
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