Called to Ministry?
The son of a retired Air Force officer from Aledo, Texas, Marshall Smith attended Dartmouth College to play football and figure out what life had to offer. He approached it the way any wide-eyed, Southern Baptist-raised kid might when dropped into a New Hampshire community dotted with ivory towers and shoulder pads.
“I went, thinking, ‘I’m going to this liberal bastion of Ivy League-ness and I’m going to have to go in like a battleship and defend my faith and conservative values,’” Marshall said.
To fortify his faith, Marshall found a reformed Baptist church at Dartmouth where the pastor brought him in the fold to help teach, lead and minister to those around him.
Marshall was so enthralled with his new role at church that he wanted to quit the football team and start full-time ministry after graduating college.
But after his freshman year, Marshall got a summer job in Arlington, Texas, at First Rate, a software company used by banks and wealth managers. Its president, Dave Stone, asked him, “Marshall, have you ever considered that you can be a minister of the gospel in business?”
At the time, Marshall thought this path was for sellouts.
“I thought if you’re serious about faith and ministry, you should dedicate yourself to it,” he said. “I need to forsake income and wealth to dedicate to the ministry. [Dave] was the first person who told me otherwise.”
Work as Worship
Despite the fact that he loved his work at First Rate, Marshall wasn’t convinced that you could worship and serve God properly through a “secular” job.
But after finishing up at Dartmouth, he gave it a chance, mostly because he had a new wife and some debt he wanted to shed as quickly as possible. He could always go to seminary later on, he thought.
It’s been 10 years, and Marshall still works at First Rate today.
That journey, though, was a lesson in sanctification and a reminder to Marshall that the Lord wants His people to cultivate and create.
“When we’re working, we have this opportunity to see our work as making things right, pointing to how things should be and were created to be.”
“I started becoming more discipled in a ‘business as mission, work as worship’ mindset that Dave had,” Marshall said. “There’s this idea that worship only happens in the church. Worship is really service to God and to respond to His calling and giftings.”
Marshall started to buy in and really enjoy his job. His eyes were opened to the idea that not only is work not the antithesis of ministry, but it is the ministry.
“We’re in this process of pointing to this future kingdom,” he said. “When we’re working, we have this opportunity to see our work as making things right, pointing to how things should be and were created to be. In doing that, our work is worship.”
Nothing or Everything
On the flip side, there’s the temptation for work to become the recipient of worship rather than the vehicle for it, but Marshall keeps it in perspective.
“We’re fallen, so we treat work as an idol,” he said. “We try to extract value from our work by worshiping it, or it’s meaningless. I work so that I can live, so that I can minister, so that I can tithe, so that I can give to people who are doing ministry.”
No matter what the job is or the title associated with it, “Your opportunity is to serve others, be a faithful witness of the gospel and to try to set right whatever company, industry or context that you’re in to this coming kingdom,” said Marshall.
A Melding of Passions
Part of making right a fallen creation is seeing different worlds collide at work. Marshall’s company gives away 10 percent of its total revenue to local organizations.
Marshall and his wife, Shannon, had felt called to fostering and adopting in Dallas, and that was spurred on when he went to visit some of their new employees at one of their international offices in Hyderabad, India.
One of the employees, Praveen, and his wife have made their home into a makeshift orphanage for street children in India, which encouraged the Smiths in their path to foster and adopt.
“The Lord wired me for this, He connected me to this company, He gave me a passion for adoption and ministering to orphans,” Marshall said. “Now when I’m at work, I’m thinking about growing a business that ministers to orphans in India. At home, I’m fostering these kids. The connection is wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, the Lord has connected those pieces to worship Him, to love Him, to serve Him in working at a business.”
Setting It Right
All of the Bible points toward a Revelation 21 world in which the redemption of man is consummated by God and all is made right once again. This is a tough reality to live in the middle of, but it also provides hope for the future.
Marshall manages 25-30 people at First Rate now and said he is constantly trying to point to that ending.
“Connecting them to ‘why’ is the most important thing,” he said. “You can come to work and go, ‘Hey, we’re all here just trying to build some cool software and make money,’ or you can come to work and connect to ‘We’re about expressing these core values, we’re about giving away this 10 percent.’”
“We’re trying to promote a business that impacts its community for good—to set an industry right. To make it work the way it was designed to work and flourish.”
Marshall has come a long way from the 19-year-old college kid who thought the only way to serve the Lord was by working at a church.
“[My college mentality was that] I need to propel myself to the thing that creates the most faith value, which I saw was a vocational call to ministry,” he said. "Now, my mindset has shifted to, ‘Let’s translate that to how do I worship the Lord the most or create the most glory for the Lord.’
“Expressing those gifts faithfully, with excellence, with humility—walking and following Jesus in whatever giftings he’s given you, in whatever community he’s put you in, in whatever vocation he’s put you in—that’s how you worship the Lord.”