Workplace Evangelism for the 99 Percent

Four ways to embrace being a lizard

Bill Peel & Jerry White | 12 Jul 2023

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Editor’s Note: This article is part 2 of 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 3 of this series, we will examine factors that create wise communication and identify both appropriate and inappropriate times to talk about faith in the workplace. In Part 4, we will 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.

When it comes to fulfilling the Great Commission, how can the ‘1 percent’ of Christians who work in professional ministry help the ‘99 percent’ who don’t? 

Lee Yih used a memorable analogy when he addressed this question at Lausanne II in Manila in 1989. In his message, he observed the differences in how frogs and lizards obtain their food. ‘The frog just sits and waits, and lets the food come to him,’ he says, while the lizard ‘cannot afford to sit and wait, but must go out into his world.’ Yih continues,

The vocational Christian worker is like the frog. He goes off to seminary, gets a degree, goes on staff somewhere, and somehow people know he is in the business of meeting spiritual needs. Ministry comes to him and before long, he has his hands full. 

The layperson, on the other hand, is a lizard. In order for him to have a ministry, he has to learn to hunt. [. . . ] he must move around in the environment he lives in, assess his sphere of influence, sow broadly, build bridges, establish friendships, and then when he has earned the right to be heard, be ready to give an account for the hope that is in him, with gentleness and respect.

‘Unfortunately,’ Yih summarized, ‘there are many sad lizards out there who think that to have a ministry, they must act just like frogs.’ 

Since Lausanne II, many among the 1 percent—dedicated pastors, evangelists, and full-time missionaries—have worked tirelessly to spread the good news. And a multitude of workplace ministries and myriad business-as-mission enterprises have been launched. But on the whole, the 99 percent is not engaged in fulfilling the Great Commission. Too many have decided, ‘I just can’t do this.’

A massive army of underappreciated, ill-equipped laypeople sits under-deployed amid the escalating battle for the souls of men and women.

A massive army of underappreciated, ill-equipped laypeople sits under-deployed amid the escalating battle for the souls of men and women. Even as hostility toward Christians grows stronger by the day, Christ’s Great Commission mandate has not changed, and a pathway for spreading the gospel remains wide open—as it has since the days of the early church—through personal relationships between believers and nonbelievers who work together. 

Church historian Alan Kreider sums up the strategic advantage of the workplace: ‘What happened was this. Non-Christians and Christians worked together and lived near each other. They became friends [1]

This is what makes the workplace so key to the Great Commission. Here believers have daily opportunities to offer living proof—through their actions, attitudes, and words—that the gospel is indeed good news. 

Relationships, however, take time—time to overcome barriers like skepticism and hostility toward the Christian faith in general. It takes time to overcome resentment toward self-righteous Christians, time to observe the difference that Christ makes in a coworker’s life, and, most of all, time to build trust—since people typically need to trust the messenger before they will trust the message. Jesus, however, had no problem with taking time. He lived and worked for thirty years before he began his teaching ministry. And he often compared a person’s faith journey—cultivating hardened hearts and planting and tending seeds of truth—to the process of growing crops, which requires much time and energy before a harvest can happen. [2]

Devotional Plans

At Work with Daniel

How do we live faithfully for God in the workplace? This daily devotional series will guide us to see through an eternal lens.

Earning the Right to Be Heard

Church historian Michael Greene noted that the early church’s positive impact on the world was dependent on the correlation between Christians’ lives and their words. He wrote, ‘The connection between belief and behavior runs right through Christian literature. The two cannot be separated without disastrous results. Among them, the end of effective evangelism.’[3]

In Paul’s instructions to the church at Colossae, notice that godly conduct precedes spiritual conversation. ‘Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt,’ he writes in Colossians 4:5–6, ‘so that you may know how to answer everyone.’

While apologetics is important, Kreider explained that the early church rarely grew in number because Christians won arguments. Instead, their embodied behavior, or habitus, ‘enabled them to address intractable problems that ordinary people face in ways that offered hope.’ He continues, ‘Their behavior said what they believed; it was an enactment of their message. And the sources indicate that it was their habitus, more than their ideas that appealed to the majority of the non-Christians who came to join them.’[4]

This does not diminish the importance of our verbal witness. But spiritual conversations become more compelling—to non-Christians and Christians alike—when we view evangelism as a process that builds on earning the right to be heard, building trust, and showing before telling.

Spiritual conversations become more compelling—to non-Christians and Christians alike—when we view evangelism as a process that builds on earning the right to be heard, building trust, and showing before telling.

While none of us reflects Christ perfectly, four components make our witness in the workplace more believable: competence, faithfulness, character, and concern. These four are persuasive ways the Holy Spirit can use through us to help people take one step closer to Christ.

1. Competence

Doing good work is a key component of evangelism. Christians in the workplace need spiritual leaders (the ‘1 percent’) to help them understand that their daily work is a holy calling that matters to God and their witness. The Lausanne Movement confirmed the intrinsic significance of work itself in The Cape Town Commitment and through the 2019 Global Workplace Forum. Scripture speaks about the importance of doing good work:

Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings. (Prov 22:29)

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might. (Eccles 9:10)

In the marketplace, people usually judge us first by our work, not our theology. Can you imagine Jesus using substandard materials, performing shoddy carpentry, or overcharging customers? Had he done so, those who heard him teach would have had every reason to conclude that His theology was as wobbly as his tables. 

The bottom line: If we want people to pay attention to our faith, we must pay attention to the quality of our work.

2. Faithfulness

While competence is critical to our witness, faithfulness must accompany good work. Competent people who promise but do not deliver are of little value to their employers or God’s kingdom. If we want people to pay attention to our faith, we must be trustworthy and not negligent in completing tasks, meeting deadlines, and fulfilling responsibilities. We do damage to our witness if we do not keep our commitment or fail to meet our obligations. Paul reminds us in Colossians 3:23, ‘Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord.’

The Book of Daniel records many examples that demonstrate the power of faithful witness to those in authority. For example, when Daniel’s enemies tried to find charges against him, ‘They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent’ (Dan 6:4). And according to King Darius’ own witness and decree (6:25–27), Daniel’s faithfulness changed the course of the ruler’s faith.

The bottom line: The most competent people do damage to their witness when they fail to keep their promises and meet their obligations.  

3. Character

But doing good work faithfully is not enough. Our character must be attractive as well. Non-Christians are not blind to how we take on onerous tasks without complaining, exhibit peace in the midst of pain and disappointment, and demonstrate grace and humility toward difficult people. C.S. Lewis reminded us that the opposite is also true: ‘When we Christians behave badly, or fail to behave well, we are making Christianity unbelievable to the outside world.’[5]

People also take notice, not so much when we fail—which we will—but when we fail to admit it when we fall short. More important than always getting things right is to acknowledge that we often get things wrong, seek forgiveness for our mistakes, and make amends with those we hurt. Our ability to own up to our failures and brokenness stands out in stark relief in most cultures. As people observe the fruit of the Spirit within us—love joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—they will smell the sweet aroma of Jesus’ presence.  

The bottom line: Our character, though rarely stated in job descriptions, must fortify our life and witness.

4. Concern

The way we treat coworkers, colleagues, and clients amid daily stress and success reveals whether we care more about others or ourselves. When people see our genuine concern, they see the beauty of Jesus alive in us, recognized as such or not. Small acts of kindness and words of encouragement can light up a dismal workplace. Paul reminds us that we show concern by what we do and say in Philippians 2:4: ‘Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.’ In verses 14 and 15, he continues, ‘Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world.’

Our willingness to listen and receive input says, ‘I care what you think; you have something valuable to contribute.’ When we ask questions and listen with focused attention and a humble spirit, we invite others to trust us.

The bottom line: People don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.

When We’ve Earned the Right to Be Heard

Developing relationships with the people we work with should never be a strategy to manipulate them into a conversation about faith, but an expression of genuine love. Our competence, faithfulness, character, and concern work together to create an eloquent apologetic for the gospel and, used by the Spirit, can open doors for gospel conversations.

Our competence, faithfulness, character, and concern work together to create an eloquent apologetic for the gospel

However, no one comes to Christ by simply observing our behavior. In most cases, someone must help them connect the dots and tell them about Jesus. Every Christian’s job is to combine godly work with godly living as we watch for what the Holy Spirit is doing, so we can join him with wise words that fit the moment—a topic we will address in the next articles.

Robert Harp, former Lausanne Catalyst for Workplace Ministry, wrote, ‘For too long, Christians in the workplace have seen themselves as playing the role of the supporting character, rather than the lead, in the great drama of world evangelization.’

When pastors, missionaries, and evangelists teach and encourage the 99 percent to view evangelism as a process, more ‘lizards’ will stop trying to be ‘frogs’ and begin to see how they can uniquely, powerfully, fulfill their role in the Great Commission and say, ‘I can do this!’

Endnotes

  1. Alan Kreider, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: The Improvable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016).
  2. For example: John 4:35-38; Matthew 13:1-23; see also Paul’s comparison in 1 Corinthians 3:6-8.
  3. Michael Greene, Evangelism in the Early Church, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003), p. 251.
  4. Alan Kreider, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: The Improvable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016), 2.
  5.  C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 208.

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.