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Workplace evangelism

January 17, 2014

In the past week I’ve had two people ask me to pray about using their work experience as an opportunity to witness.  Both of these guys have been in ministry and both, for different reasons, have sought secular employment.  Both carry the sincere desire that God may use them in this change.

We evangelicals have been raised on the need to witness and evangelize.  While I understand the evangelism impulse I sometimes wonder about the heavy dose of “you ought to” that comes with being an evangelical.  It almost seems as if some people believe that God sees us as sort of a virus; that we exist only to replicate.  The line between wanting others to experience the joy we have in Jesus and being obnoxious in “witness” is no easy thing to understand.

However, in regard to my two friends, I can relate.  I left full time missions for secular employment eight years ago and felt the same urge; the urge to make my new calling count.  In time I developed a philosophy about workplace evangelism that worked for me.  I share it here not as an instruction manual (I hate “how to” Christian books.  It’s like God has a methodology in His ministry and all we need to do is follow it.) but just to let you know the peace I had in these principles.

  1. I wasn’t hired to witness to co-workers.  This may seem obvious but you need to get a sense of your workplace and understand what freedoms you have.  For example, as a supermarket cashier, my employer would frown upon overt evangelism at the checkout and I needed to respect that.
  2. I needed to trust I Peter 3:15.  Peter tells us we have to “always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,”.  Note that we are not told to “always be ready to shoehorn evangelism into every conversation” or even “always be ready to find ways to bring up their need of a Savior.”  The assumption is that people will approach us and we need to trust that God is not lying.
  3. I needed to self-identify as a Christian in casual and non-threatening ways.  Nobody would ask me anything about spiritual issues if they didn’t know where I was coming from.  At the same time an in-your-face Christianity would come across as judgmental.  So, for example, if somebody would ask me “How was your weekend?” I might reply with something like the fun we had at a fellowship meal at church.
  4. My effort and attitude toward my work mattered.  Being a slacker or a complainer was hardly a good recommendation that I was to be trusted.
  5. My goal was never behavior modification.  In my workplace profanity was commonplace.  Colorful profane adjectives littered every conversation.  A mentor of mine told me long ago to “never expect sanctified behavior from unsanctified people.”  The belief that we evangelicals are all a bunch of judgmental hypocrites is widespread enough that it needed no help from me.
  6. Unsolicited advice is rarely, if ever, appreciated.  Over time, as people get to know you, they will know your beliefs.  I needed to be sure I had clear permission to share what I thought.
  7. Opportunities came only on God’s timetable.  Sometimes days or weeks would go by without a solid spiritual discussion.  At other times something will come up out of the blue.
  8. I didn’t want to confuse “results” and “fruit.”  In our results-oriented culture we can make ourselves belief that, if we aren’t getting people to pray the sinner’s prayer we have failed.  This is sheer nonsense and I wince when I hear things like “this may be the only opportunity for him to hear the Gospel” guilt trips laid on hapless Christians.  The Bible defines fruit in many ways.  We have no idea how God uses what we do and say in His beautiful tapestry of salvation.  The false urgency of getting the message in at all costs does more harm than good.
  9. I needed to pay a real cost for witness.  By cost I mean in the paycheck.  If you have a high-salaried, high-pressure job you will probably have neither time nor opportunity to witness all that much.  If workplace witness is important to you, you’d be better to get a punch-the-clock job that allows you to be one of the boys (or girls) that work as a team and go home and forget work until the next day.
  10. When you are going to open your mouth, pray for grace.  Frankly, if you were only going to follow one step this is the one I’d recommend.

From → Evangelism

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