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Biblical mentors for marketplace ministry

“Become wise by walking with the wise” (The Message).

Proverbs 13:20 offers wise counsel. People have always recognized the need for models and mentors in life and work. As Christians, we all need biblical mentors who know how to integrate their faith and work. Remember, even Jesus’ ministry took place primarily in secular settings: in a farmer’s field, a fishing boat, a cemetery, around the dinner table. Clearly work doesn’t take us away from God; it participates with and carries on the work of God.

What God is doing and wants done in the world is to restore wholeness and harmony. But how does God do this? How does God take people and places and economies that have been utterly debilitated and destroyed, and rebuild and renew them? Often God does it through marketplace ministers, like Nehemiah.

It is clear that he saw prayer and planning not as mutually exclusive but mutually enriching. 

Nehemiah: A marketplace minister

As a former carpenter myself, part of Nehemiah’s appeal as a marketplace mentor is that he was a construction man. Yet before Nehemiah ever worked on a building site in Jerusalem, he worked in the boardroom of the king of Persia. As the king’s personal butler, bodyguard, and counsellor, he was a highly trusted official in a very prestigious workplace.

A heart for ministry

Nehemiah’s journey to bi-vocational and bi-locational ministry began with the news that “those who survived the exile are in great trouble and disgrace” (1:3). The news of the Jewish refugees’ plight broke Nehemiah’s heart, just as in our day, many of our hearts were broken for the Syrian refugees by the frontpage news and image of little Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body washing up on shore in 2015. It is clear in Nehemiah’s prayerful response that his heart was broken by a people and place that broke God’s heart. Everything flowed from that.

A head for ministry

In Nehemiah 2, we discover not only how much praying Nehemiah had been putting into this (four months), but how much planning he had done. Nehemiah’s responses to the king’s questions are brief but deeply personal (v. 3), specific (v. 5), and strategic (vv. 7–8).

It is clear that he saw prayer and planning not as mutually exclusive but mutually enriching. Doing both was like walking with both feet rather than hopping on only one foot or the other. Marketplace ministers like Nehemiah know the importance not only of having a heart for ministry, but also using our head.

A team to make the dream work

Nehemiah knew from his own personal investigation (2:11–16) that the work of rebuilding was huge and only possible if tackled by the whole community.

So how did Nehemiah do it? The short answer is “with God’s help” (6:16). Yet, the Bible story tells the details: it took teamwork. Nehemiah names the more than 40 people who worked together to make it happen. This was a team with a great diversity of gifts and abilities, but a unified goal.

Need a wise biblical mentor? Make time to walk with Nehemiah.

[David Esau is pastor of Eagle Ridge Bible Fellowship, Coquitlam, B.C. This article is adapted from his presentation at MEDA’s 2017 convention in Vancouver.
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