Fostering Redemptive Conversations at Work

Workplace Evangelism for the 99 Percent

Bill Peel & Jerry White | 28 Nov 2023

Available in: English | Français | 한국어 | Português | Español |

Editor’s Note: This article is the third in a four-part series on workplace evangelism. In Part 1, we made the case that the most strategic mission field today is the workplace. In Part 2, we discussed the ‘how’: How can Christians who do not have the gift of evangelism effectively bring the gospel into their workplace? Part 3 examines factors that create wise communication and identifies both appropriate and inappropriate times to talk about faith in the workplace. In Part 4, we introduce a subtle yet compelling way to foster gospel conversations at work, measure a person’s spiritual interest, and create curiosity about the Christian faith.

‘The chief agents in the expansion of Christianity appear not to have been those who made it a profession…but men and women who carried on their livelihood in some purely secular manner and spoke of their faith to those they met in this natural fashion.’[1] —Kenneth Scott Latourette, Church Historian

‘Evangelism’s just not my thing,’ forty-year-old Jim insisted when a friend urged him to go on a short-term mission trip to Latin America. But guilt won out, and six weeks later Jim reluctantly boarded the plane with his friend and thirteen others. 

When the group landed, the mission leader held a brief training session about how to share the gospel. Then, they divided up into teams of two and walked from house to house with an interpreter. Locals were fascinated by the opportunity to meet Americans, so they crowded into small living quarters to hear what Jim and the team had to say.

A spiritual vacuum and harsh economic conditions caused by communism created widespread spiritual hunger, and many people trusted Christ on the spot when they heard the Good News. For the first time in his life, Jim experienced the exhilaration of being used by God to lead people to faith in Christ. 

After the trip, the mission leader reminded team members that people back home were hungry for the gospel too. He challenged them to speak boldly about their faith in the workplace and expect God to do remarkable things.

Jim returned to work with a new sense of mission. When coworkers asked about his trip, he interpreted each inquiry as an open door to share his testimony and the gospel message like he did on the trip. But the response was less than enthusiastic. Some coworkers listened politely while others began avoiding him. One even rolled his eyes and asked, ‘If your faith in Christ is the most important thing in your life, why are we just now hearing about it?’

Embarrassed and discouraged, Jim determined to never again talk about his faith at work. He would let his life be his witness and leave evangelism to the professionals.

No matter what our discomfort level about sharing our faith at work, the Bible is clear about our responsibility to make Christ known. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus called his disciples the light of the world—not something to be concealed.[2]

Yet some Christians believe they can fulfill Christ’s call to be His witnesses simply by the way they live—with no explanation necessary as to why they live the way they do. They employ the words of St. Francis—‘Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words’[3]—to opt out of conversations with non-Christians about faith. Individuals who think their life speaks for itself are either naïve or self-righteous. No one lives every day in such a way that our actions are all that is needed to witness to the grace of Jesus.[4]

Behavior that honors and reflects Christ—through competence, character, faithfulness, and concern—is a vital part of what it means to be a witness,[5] but words are important, too. The apostle Peter explained:

In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect …  (1 Peter 3:15)

We should always be ready and willing to speak about our faith. But note, Peter included a proviso: We are to give an answer to everyone who asks. There is a ‘time to be silent and a time to speak’[6]—and it takes wisdom to know the difference. 

What do wise conversations look like in the workplace? Here are six guidelines to consider.

Wise conversations consider the listener’s spiritual openness

In Matthew 13, Jesus describes the human heart as rugged terrain for redemptive farming.

Weeds, rocks, and hard-packed heart soil thwart implanting gospel seeds.

Unbelieving adults often have significant barriers that have hardened their hearts These barriers may be intellectual, based on questions like why God allows evil and suffering. Or they may have emotional barriers—indifference, mistrust, antagonism, or even fear of Christians or Christianity—that stop the spiritual ears of workplace colleagues and prevent them from hearing the gospel as the good news it is. 

Negative experiences with religious groups or Christians who are narrow-minded or judgmental also create these emotional barriers. Even well-intentioned Christians who come on too strong can foster mistrust or generate anger, and inadvertently create more barriers. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit can use our competence, character, faithfulness, and concern to break down emotional barriers and soften hardened hearts.[7] For example, Kristin experienced the economic crash of 2008 from a front-row seat at Lehman Brothers. As things grew bleaker by the day, her colleagues began to comment on her calm demeanor. She was as vulnerable as everyone else, but she quieted her fears and did her work knowing that Christ was in control. As a result, coworkers who previously had no interest in spiritual conversations took notice, presenting Kristin with several opportunities to explain her security in Christ no matter what happened to her job.

Wise conversations are gracious, not judgmental

We need to remember that we are speaking with people made in the image of God—no matter how distorted, disfigured, or unrecognizable it may be and respond appropriately. 

It should not surprise us when coworkers make sinful choices, use offensive language, advocate and practice repugnant and destructive lifestyles, and are openly hostile to the gospel. Jesus was clear: ‘If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.’[8] After all, apart from Christ, we are all spiritually dead, bound to sin, captive to Satan, and unable to respond to the gospel on our own.[9]

Of course, some behaviors should never be tolerated in any workplace and should be confronted with all seriousness. We are not suggesting that we condone sinful behavior. That said, if we take it upon ourselves to criticize people’s moral choices and lifestyle behavior outside the office, we usurp the Holy Spirit’s work. Conviction and cleanup are part of His job description, not ours.[10]

Consider Jesus’ tone toward sinful people such as the woman caught in adultery. He was firm but also gentle and compassionate.[11] He considered the woman a victim of the enemy and not the enemy herself. 

Graciousness when a person expects criticism can surprise people into curiosity and pave the way for a deeper discussion about faith.

Wise conversations turn questions and objections into opportunities, not debates

Objections may be to the gospel itself or objections to a specific tenet of the Christian faith, such as sexual morality, abortion, homosexuality, or a ‘radioactive’ political topic or candidate they connect to Christianity. Whatever their issue and tone, we should treat every individual in a manner worthy of Christ—which, sometimes, is easier said than done. Strong feelings about our own beliefs can provoke us to view coworkers as combatants—a key strategy in Satan’s battle plan. We lose ground for the gospel when discussions descend into debates and shouting matches. But if we offer a gracious, intellectually humble response, people will be more apt to continue the dialogue.[12]

Wise conversations focus on what we know, not what we do not know

Even when we have the right attitude, we may not have an answer to our non-Christian coworker’s question or objection. Bible knowledge and a strong grasp of apologetics are valuable but not required to be a witness for Christ. What is required is that we know our own story—like the demoniac Jesus healed. 

‘Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled. (Mark 5:19–20)

Another example is the man born blind. (John 9) He had no credentials and no evangelistic training, but he could confidently tell people what Jesus did for him. Like these two recipients of God’s grace, we all have what it takes to be Christ’s witnesses: our own faith story.

Wise conversations are about listening and observing, not just talking

Our job in evangelism is not to force a big leap of faith, but to watch for what the Spirit is doing in a person’s life and join Him there to help a person take the next small step toward Christ.

Tim Keller suggested that every effective gospel presentation not only describes what Christ has done for us on the cross but also explains how He meets the specific longings of a person’s heart. We should not declare truth in a vacuum—it should be delivered as a response to the heart hunger of a particular person.[13] And, discerning a person’s deep longings takes time and careful listening—less lecturing and more dialogue. Pushing a canned gospel presentation on a person before discovering how Christ can meet a person’s felt needs does not respect the person, the Holy Spirit’s work and timing, or the Father’s prerogative.[14]

Author and missionary Richard Ramsey suggests we should take more time to learn more about a person. 

People are like houses. They have windows and doors around the walls of their hearts. Although a non-Christian may try to protect his house against the gospel message, when the Holy Spirit begins to work in his heart, a way into the house is opened. Instead of continually knocking on the same door, we should take time to walk around the house and seek an appropriate place to enter. It might be an intellectual question, a sense of uncertainty, a moment of spiritual reflection, or a personal tragedy.[15]

Jim Petersen, longtime Navigators staff in Brazil reminds us that a person’s journey toward Christ is seldom made up of a giant leap of faith but of a number of small decisions, ‘a multitude of small choices—mini-decisions that a person makes toward Christ.’[16]

Wise faith conversations are less lectures and more dialogue that seeks to understand a person’s deep longings that can be an open door or window for the gospel’s entry.

Be there beyond the workplace

Some of those open doors and windows are best discovered when we are present at important—and unimportant—times outside the workplace. Just being present at social occasions, parties, sporting events, weddings, children’s programs, confirmations, baptisms (yes, many do these religious things), Bar Mitzvahs, graduations, and other events in their lives speaks loudly to our friends that we care about them.I (Jerry) go to many events with non-believers often wondering if anything will happen. I often pray, ‘Lord, I pray that there will be one conversation that opens a door to someone’s life.’ One time, I saw a colleague and sat down by him and simply asked, ‘Bob, how are things?’ He replied, ‘Terrible. My wife has Alzheimer’s, and I am really depressed.’ That conversation did not just happen but followed years of interaction professionally and personally. Challenging times—illnesses and deaths in the family—are critical times when people contemplate eternity. If we have taken time ‘to walk around the house’ as Richard Ramsey suggests, and listen to their story, we might discover a door for a welcomed spiritual conversation that was previously locked tight and bolted from within. Be alert. Be present. And watch for what God is doing.

Counting the Cost

As you contemplate these guidelines, most Christians understand that faith conversations should not take away or distract people from the work they are paid to do. Nor should they continue when someone becomes uncomfortable. Those are the easy ones. But today’s workplaces, which are more spiritually diverse than ever and often politically hostile, present Christians with a plethora of questions about what is legal, what is allowed, beyond what is appropriate—and this varies from country to country and even workplace to workplace. In the United States, it is legal to talk about faith at work. It is even illegal for a company to prohibit religious conversation—with some stipulations.[17] This is certainly not true in some countries.[18]

Early Christians were painfully aware of the life and death decision it was at times to talk about their faith as are some today. While public shaming and being considered an office pariah for disagreeing with certain lifestyles or supporting the ‘wrong’ political candidate is painful and personally costly, that is a far cry from being crucified, beheaded, burned at the stake, or thrown to the lions. Men and women like Daniel and Esther in the Old Testament, and countless saints from the early church up to today who were martyred for the faith, should give us the courage to speak up. At the same time, Christians today need to be aware of what their countries and companies tolerate, allow, and prohibit, and count the costs.

Author Jennifer Fitz offers a helpful description of what evangelism should be that will go a long way to make faith conversations in the workplace not only tolerated but welcomed. 

Evangelization is not about getting other people to do the thing you want them to do. It’s not about crafting just the right technique to make that right moment fall together so neatly.

Evangelization is about looking at the person in front of your face, no matter who that person is, and gasping in wonder at the miraculously beautiful creation God has endowed with a dignity and a worth that nothing can erase, no matter how deep in the mire that person is swimming just now. You see that person, and you know for a fact: Here is somebody worth dying for.

And then you try for a few minutes to do something worthy of being in the presence of such a person.[19]

In the next article in this series, we will introduce simple but powerful conversation starters that every Christian in the workplace can use. We will also look at the most critical component of evangelism–talking to Jesus about people before we talk to people about Jesus.

Endnotes

  1. Kenneth S. Latourette, A History of the Expansion of Christianity (New York: Harper, 1944), 1:230. 2.
  2. Matthew 5:14-16.
  3. St. Francis never said these words, according to his disciples and biographers.
  4. Elton Trueblood, The Company of the Committed, (New York: Harper & Publishers, 1961), 53.
  5. See Article 2 in this series, “Workplace Evangelism for the 99 Percent.” https://lausanne.org/about/blog/workplace-evangelism-for-the-99-percent.
  6. Ecclesiastes 3:7.
  7. See Article 2 in this series at https://lausanne.org/about/blog/workplace-evangelism-for-the-99-percent
  8. John 15:18.
  9. Ephesians 21-3.
  10. John 16:8-11
  11. John 8:11-12.
  12. Proverbs 15:1.
  13. Timothy J. Keller, Center Church, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), 144-115.
  14. John 6:44.
  15. Richard Ramsey, The Certainty of the Faith: Apologetics in an Uncertain World, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2007) xi.
  16. Jim Petersen, Living Proof (Colorado Springs, CO, NavPress, 1989).
  17. If a company allows other conversations unrelated to work—like a discussion of your favorite sports team—it must allow conversations about faith as well which are non-coercive, do not make a person feel uncomfortable, or take time away from what a person is paid to do.
  18. As indicated by the fining of a Christian praying silently outside an abortion clinic in the U.K., or the trial of a Finnish MP for quoting a verse from the Bible, religious freedoms vary even in open, Western countries. See this article from ADF at https://adfinternational.org/free-speech-on-trial/.
  19. Jennifer Fitz, “Why Do We Evangelize?” July 3, 2015, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jenniferfitz/2015/07/why-do-we-evangelize/#sthash.m9F7sl3a.dpuf.

Bill Peel is an award-winning author/co-author and a leader in the global faith-at-work movement. He is the president and founder of the 24Seven Project and is a co-founder of the Faith@Work Summit. He was on the programme committee for the 2019 Lausanne Global Workplace Forum and a member of the ensuing Workplace Advisory Board. Bill earned a doctorate in Workplace Theology, Ethics, and Leadership from Gordon-Conwell Seminary. He and his wife, Kathy, live in Dallas.

Dr Jerry White is international president emeritus of The Navigators and member of the Lausanne Board and Lausanne Workplace Network. He is a retired Air Force major general and a former associate professor of astronautics at the US Air Force Academy. He is an author whose most recent book is Dangers Men Face.