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Missions at work: Professionals explore calling in marketplace

GERMANTOWN, Tenn. (BP)– Work gets intense for emergency room doctor Chris Andershock — so intense that he occasionally thinks about making a break for it to escape the pressure.

Andershock, 46, who lives and works in Memphis, Tenn., said “emergency medicine can be extremely raw and very emotional.”

“Dealing with life-and-death issues all the time, seeing the best and the worst of people, you kind of wonder what’s important and what’s not important,” he said. “You can curl up in a ball or you can run away. Or, you can engage and go all in and let God take care of it. That’s what I’m interested in doing.”

Sarah Wylie, meanwhile, is just beginning her work life. A senior completing an education degree at the University of Memphis, she hopes to become a missionary. But she’s willing to use her professional teaching skills any way — and anywhere — the Lord leads.

“All I care about is being in His will,” she said. “So if that’s in India or Africa or Memphis, I don’t mind. I want to be where He is.”

Andershock and Wylie joined about 500 other participants in the Missional Marketplace Summit, March 21-22 at Germantown (Tenn.) Baptist Church. The summit, sponsored by the church in partnership with IMB, offered an array of perspectives on living the Gospel in the professional marketplace, whether it’s in greater Memphis, the mid-South or the farthest reaches of the globe.

Conference sessions and 30 breakout seminars focused on everything from ministry through government, the media and the healthcare arena to religious freedom in small companies and large corporations, spiritual leadership and disciple making in the workplace, using business models to take the Gospel to unreached peoples and equipping the next generation for marketplace ministry.

“I think it’s important for all of us to not just do church on Sundays but recognize that God is the God of Mondays and Tuesdays and Wednesdays,” Jason Little, executive vice president of Baptist Memorial Health Care Corporation, who chaired the summit’s leadership team, said.

“Where we spend the bulk of our time every day is in the workplace. We have a responsibility as Christians to reflect God there — and that’s difficult. If it were easy, everybody would be doing it. We need to be encouraged and equipped and inspired to do it because it’s a ripe mission field. This [conference] is timely.”

Charles Fowler, senior pastor at Germantown and a driving force behind the event, said now is the time to equip Christians more intentionally for ministry in the many marketplaces where they live and work. The summit, he believes, is an opportunity to kick-start the effort.

“When I came to be pastor, I wanted to begin developing a strategy to mobilize our business-oriented church so business people could go and do mission in their field,” he said. “I began asking in the business community, ‘Who are some people who are good leaders but you also associate them with their faith expression?’ And the Lord drew a lot of very busy, very influential leaders who cleared their schedules and agreed to be here on the same weekend.”

They interacted with professionals from many fields during the weekend conference. Some want to be more effective Gospel representatives in their local context. Others are already traveling and working internationally and looking for ways to leverage their professional influence for Christ.

“As part of looking to the nations, we are trying to awaken people who are already going globally,” Charles Clark, who leads the International Mission Board’s Marketplace Advance initiative, said. “They are busy in their careers, but they just haven’t caught the vision that God created them for a purpose, and that purpose is that wherever they are, whatever their profession, they are supposed to be fishers of men. … Marketplace Advance [is] helping people understand that God has placed you in your profession for a purpose: to be excellent at your work and to open doors for the Gospel with [people] that only you would have access to through your travels.”

Missional Marketplace Summit speakers included:

— Alan Barnhart, president and CEO of Memphis-based Barnhart Crane and Rigging, a company that handles heavy-lifting and transport projects around the country.

A “mom and pop” operation with 10 employees when Barnhart and his brother took the helm, the company grew 25 percent a year for 22 straight years. The growth enabled them to channel first thousands and later millions of dollars into ministry and missions. The success was never guaranteed, but from the beginning Barnhart built in safeguards — including accountability to others and a “lifestyle cap” (a set standard of living regardless of income) — to avoid greed and “make sure that business success didn’t bring about spiritual failure.” Those safeguards apply to his children, too.

“It’s been a great joy for my kids not to grow up as rich kids and to not always get what they want,” he said. “We’ve never taken our kids to Disney World, but they’ve been to Rwanda and they’ve been to India … and they have met brothers and sisters in Christ from all over the world. There is some stuff they’ve done without, that their friends have that they don’t have, but they’ve not missed out on any of the good stuff. … The alternative to consumption is kingdom investment. Passing up some of the toys is not that big of a deal. Being able to be part of what God is doing around the world is an amazing adventure.”

As he studies the Scriptures, Barnhart has realized that “all of us who are followers of Jesus are in fulltime ministry. You don’t have to draw your paycheck from a charity or a church to be in full-time ministry. God had gifted me more in the area of business and engineering than He had in preaching or counseling. And so I took the path of coming back and working in the family business.”

Even though he has given millions to ministry, Barnhart doesn’t think God is very impressed with “the commas and zeros. … What story in Scripture for giving is the ‘hall of fame’ story? It’s not a major donor. It’s the widow’s mite. God doesn’t need our money. He doesn’t want to extract things from you; He wants to give you things. He wants you.”

— Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, who participated in a moderated Q&A session with Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell about how marketplace faith influences government — and vice versa.

Wharton spoke of the many challenges that come with leading a major city — from balancing the interests of different religious groups to getting yelled at by irate city council members. He deals with his colleagues’ anger by quietly writing down Scripture verses and words such as “faith” and “long-suffering” before responding. Asked about the “burning bush” issue he deals with that just won’t go away, Wharton recalled his childhood in rural and small-town Tennessee in the 1940s and ’50s.

“Each farmer had a black sharecropper and a white sharecropper,” he said. “On the Smith farm, [the black family] was the Whartons, my family, and [the white family] was the Hawkins. Clothes were passed down when the Hawkins had a baby older than ours and we would get them, back and forth. If Mr. Hawkins went hunting and got a few more rabbits than he needed, he would drop a couple off with my dad, and if my dad got more rabbits than he needed he would drop them off with Mr. Hawkins.

“It may be somewhat naïve, but the idea of seeing each other as just plain old hungry folks is the way I grew up. I wonder: Why can’t we do that in the big cities? We’re made of the same DNA, born the same way, have the same Creator. It distresses me, and if it were not for my faith it would go beyond distress, that it has become so fashionable for us to find reasons to divide and for those of us in political office to exploit the divisions as opposed to trying to find common values. That’s my burning bush.”

— Mearl Purvis, news anchor at Memphis’ FOX affiliate and a TV news veteran.

Purvis reflected on the pressures of living her Christian faith every day in the public eye, even when she’s off-camera. “It’s frightening,” she admitted. “But it’s also an opportunity.”

She has never been explicitly told not to speak about her faith by a news director or TV executive, Purvis said, although she’s had bosses who assumed she wouldn’t. That’s never stopped her from openly communicating her beliefs, however. She regularly talks about faith on her Facebook page, where she builds relationships with viewers who watch her newscast.

Everyone is watching you in the marketplace, she stressed, whether you’re in the media or not.

“Are you ready for your close-up?” she asked. “Sooner or later, it’s going to catch what’s really there.”

Some of the stories struck a particularly strong chord among some leaders attending the summit, said Fowler, Germantown’s pastor.

“[One of the speakers] shared how he was pursuing the American dream and there was this moment when he was confronted by a Gospel call on his life and the need to dedicate his life to serving the Lord,” Fowler said. “All across this room there were people who were moved by that. I’ve had other CEOs already today come to me and tell me that as a result of his presentation and some others, that they are leaving this conference committed to a different walk with their life…. I’ve been surprised by the number of tears I have seen because of the number of people who have been challenged and I think come under conviction by the Holy Spirit regarding priorities in their lives.”

Summit leaders plan to follow up on responses like that in the weeks ahead with lunch groups for conference participants, as well as online networking, to encourage and equip professionals thinking about how to live their faith in the marketplace.

What’s next for Chris Andershock, the emergency room doctor?

“I’m coming to the realization that we are conduits; God can work through us or He can work in spite of us,” he said. “I think it starts with the realization that you can do it, and the second thing is that you have to start looking for those opportunities every day. For me, starting tonight at work, I’m going to look for an opportunity [to share Christ].”

Learn more about being a global marketplace professional at marketplaceadvance.com.
*Name changed. Erich Bridges is IMB’s global correspondent. IMB senior writer Don Graham contributed to this story. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

    About the Author

  • Erich Bridges