by Karen Wingate
A Chinese church leader once met with some American businessmen. “How do you share Christ in your workplace?” he asked one man.
“We couldn’t do that!” came the horrified answer. “We would get fired.”
The Chinese man quietly asked, “And the problem with that is . . . ?”
Every Christian’s primary focus should be to share the good news of Christ’s redemption with those around them. Everything, including our occupation, becomes an environment, an opportunity to spread the news about God’s grace. Ministry and career intertwine. Our workplace becomes one more stage on which we can shout what Christ has done for us.
The American businessman’s fear is understandable, however. Many companies now ban even innocent talk about church activities. Several national retail stores prohibit their employees from wishing customers “Merry Christmas.” This censure seems unreasonable but perhaps not without due cause.
Recently a family member challenged me with, “You Christians are always shoving your religion down our throats.” Perhaps she had encountered well-meaning Christians like my dental hygienist. As she sprayed and scraped my teeth one day, she kept up a constant stream of talk about her church activities, her prayer struggles, and her views on Christ’s return. At a crucial moment, my mouth stuffed with the tools of her trade and spray from the saliva ejector dribbling down my chin, she asked, “So, what do you think about the end times?”
I recently noticed at my local Christian bookstore a rack filled with cute cloth bags stitched with the word Blessings, key chains in the shape of a fish touting the word Victorious, and Bible covers emblazoned with the word Faith. The sign above the rack labeled the items Witness Gear. This marketing effort perpetuates the misguided belief that wearing religious jewelry, posting Bible verses on an office cubicle, or carrying a key chain in the shape of a fish will somehow attract others to my faith. And we wonder why businesses place restrictions on Christians for talking about Jesus.
How can we be bold in the proclamation of our faith without being perceived as obnoxious, superficial, or hypocritical? How can we share our faith under unreasonable company rules? The secret is not in what we say or what we wear, but in how we act.
Witnessing for Jesus goes beyond refusal to attend the office Christmas party or curbing foul language. The same guidelines Paul gave to New Testament slaves apply to employees today. In Titus 2:9, 10 Paul told Christian slaves they could make the gospel more attractive by obeying their masters in everything, by not arguing with them or stealing from them, and by respecting those in authority and showing they can be trusted.
When I asked two mid-level managers about current employee problems, they both shook their heads before giving me a laundry list of complaints: absenteeism, tardiness, lack of dedication, sloppy work, halfhearted efforts, explosive or misdirected anger, and grumbling with coworkers instead of taking problems to supervisors. Getting along with other workers and staying away from the rumor mill are two distinct ways to stand out as different, believes Jim Miller, manager of a tile plant. “When you have constant turmoil, that can be disruptive for an entire crew,” Miller says.
“When people take off for personal reasons, they fail to recognize they leave the rest of the office short-handed,” Rhonda Beck, head nurse at a health clinic, adds. An ideal employee for Beck would be someone who takes ownership of her job, is willing to accept responsibility, and is accountable for her mistakes.
The key to effective evangelism in the workplace is simply to be the best worker you can be. It sounds simple and yet it isn’t. It’s much easier to adorn ourselves with religious jewelry or self-righteous platitudes than with good deeds and a strong work ethic.
Last year my daughter spent the summer at a Russian university during the country’s worst heat wave in recorded history, one that caused massive peat fires to surround Moscow. The only Christian in a group of 20 students, she constantly battled the invitation to join fellow students in weekly forays to local bars. She later told me, “That wasn’t such a hard choice. What was difficult—and more important to my witness—was keeping a positive attitude when everyone else started grumbling about the heat and smoke.”
We live the life to which Christ has called us so unbelievers can see the difference Jesus makes in our lives. An Indian national once challenged Amy Carmichael, the missionary to India who rescued 1,000 children from temple prostitution, “Can you show us the life of your Lord Jesus?” As Carmichael explained, we make the truth visible by our obedience to Christ. We give testimony in our workplace through obedience to our employer, kindness to our coworker, a positive attitude toward our work, and a moral consistency that puts God first in all we do.
The New Testament writers tell us that if our walk matches our talk, people will give glory to God (Matthew 5:16), observe us holding out the word of life (Philippians 2:16), and will have nothing legitimate to say against us (Titus 2:7, 8). By being on time, doing our best work, striving to be at peace with our coworkers, and reaching out to others with kindness and fairness, we will stand out as different. If we are not living in obedience to Christ, any words we say will become meaningless and we will deserve the scoffing we receive (1 Peter 2:20).
Facing the Opposition
The goal of pleasing God by respectfully obeying our employer’s policies becomes even more significant when our employer seems unfair or harsh. Peter told slaves to respect not only the considerate master but the harsh one too (1 Peter 2:17). This doesn’t mean you must silently endure unjust treatment. Miller emphasized that it’s far more effective for an employee to respectfully discuss a problem with a supervisor than to “spew venom to other coworkers.”
Silently living the Christian life isn’t a panacea for avoiding harassment for your beliefs. Your godly lifestyle will stand in stark contrast to the way your non-Christian coworkers choose to live. Instead of admitting how messed up their lives are and how much they need personal transformation, some will lash out at you, accusing you of saying things you never said and taunting you with crude language and innuendos. Your actions and attitudes, founded in your faith, challenge them to change—and change is threatening. Don’t give up! The struggle is not against you but against what the unbeliever knows he needs to do.
While some may jeer, others are watching. Brandy Brow worked at a mail order catalogue corporation where company policy dictated that workers refrain from discussing their religious viewpoints. Brandy respectfully asked whether she could play Christmas music at her desk and worked to portray a godly character in all she did. One day, a supervisor from the night shift approached her. Fear shot through Brandy—what had she done wrong? The supervisor admitted he could get in trouble for even asking—but he heard she was a Christian. Would she pray for a close family friend?
Like the American businessman feared, your Christian behavior may make your job more stressful. You may have to suffer harassment or stand alone for the truth while others cower behind a lie. You could lose your job, forcing you to trust God to provide your needs, find you another job, and give you more opportunities to proclaim the life-saving message you’ve been entrusted to share.
And the problem with that is . . . ?
Karen Wingate is a freelance writer from East Sparta, Ohio.
Reading Karen’s challenge about sharing faith in the workplace caused me to think about a movie I saw years ago.
The Big Kahuna made a big impact on me. The Christian character in the movie makes some interesting choices about how he is going to share the gospel with the people he works with. He is not perfect. He has good points and he has blind spots; Christians can learn from both in his story.
The language and adult situations in the movie are not recommended for children. So I’m not suggesting everyone go out and watch it. But I wanted to share some of the big things the movie displays about sharing Christ’s love on the job—things that are admirable and things that people might err in doing.
The best way I found to share this story with you is to send you to an analysis of the movie by a Christian reviewer:
I hope reading it might encourage you in some way at your job.