You spend nearly half your waking hours with the people at your job. How can you influence them for Christ?
My first attempts at sharing my faith were dismal failures. I was the classic Bible-thumper, the gospel grenadier. On one occasion, heading home from a meeting of dynamic Christian businessmen, I was so enthused that I felt compelled to tell someone about Christ before getting off the plane.
My seat assignment put me next to another businessman. Our conversation consisted of the usual small talk of strangers who find themselves seatmates. Our flight was ending and it was evident the man did not know Jesus Christ. Determined to talk to this man about the Lord, I reached into my apostolic arsenal and pulled out a question that I felt would arouse his curiosity. "Are you interested in spiritual things?" I inquired. "Well, I'm not sure what you mean," he replied.
"I have a little booklet here that I believe will explain. May I show it to you?" I asked. "All right," he answered. I pulled out a little tract I had placed conveniently in my suit-coat pocket, turned to the first page and began to read it to him. Halfway through the second page, which told about man’s sin problem, I noticed the businessman push back in his seat. "Is there something wrong?" I asked. "I was just wondering," he responded, "are you asking me something, or are you telling me something?"
It was as if the man had hit me over the head with a two-by-four! He had sensed that my objective was to witness to him, whether he was interested or not. Although the man was not a Christian, God had used him to teach me an important lesson.
My motives were pure, but my method of "witnessing" left much to be desired. Of course, Scripture commands us to be witnesses for Christ. But somehow, in our twentieth-century approach to evangelism, we have distorted the meaning of witnessing. It would seem that the Christian witness today consists of a neatly packaged system or method—"one size fits all"—for condensing the gospel message into a few choice Scripture passages suitable for instant conversions.
Certainly there are many methods that can help us to clearly communicate the good news of Jesus Christ, but we need to remember the Lord never asked us to do witnessing. In Acts 1:8, Jesus said, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses...." That is perhaps the greatest weakness of evangelism in the workplace today: We think evangelism is something we do; in fact, evangelism is a result of what we are.
In Joseph Aldrich’s excellent book Lifestyle Evangelism, he includes two simple but powerful statements that summarize this type of situation: "We must be Good News before we can share Good News," and "People don't care how much we know until they know how much we care." On the plane, seated next to the stranger, I had failed to demonstrate that I was good news or that I cared about him. I had been totally insensitive to him, treating him as a project rather than a person. In my zeal to be witnessing, I had failed to be a good witness.
We also encounter that problem back on the ground, in the everyday marketplace. Too often Christians take an "Us vs. Them" attitude in our relationships with uncommitted peers. We are eager to share our faith, but not willing to share in their lives. This clearly was not the attitude of the Apostle Paul. Writing to the church in Thessalonica, he reminded them:
As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us (1 Thess. 2:7-8).
As the apostle points out, he communicated the gospel not only with words, but also by his care for and commitment to those he lived with in Thessalonica. Communications experts tell us only seven percent of all communication is verbal; the remaining ninety-three percent is nonverbal, through such means as "body language," facial expressions, eye contact, and tones of voice. In expressing our faith, it would be wise to heed the adage: "Actions speak louder than words." I believe one of the greatest evangelism passages is found in Col. 4:2-6:
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ.... 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, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
In this brief admonition, Paul gives us the basic guidelines to follow for communicating our Christian faith to those we encounter on the job each day. These guidelines can be summed up by the words prayer, preparation, presentation, and proclamation.
E.M. Bounds underscored the importance of prayer when he wrote, "Talking to men for God is a great thing, but talking to God for men is greater still." Prayer is important in two respects: We need to ask God to open the hearts of those who need to hear about Him, and we need the guidance of the Holy Spirit in knowing how and when to share our faith with others.
Much of what I know about evangelism I have learned through my involvement in an organization that seeks to reach out to business and professional men for Jesus Christ. Every week hundreds of local groups conduct prayer meetings, and a primary activity is intercessory prayer for friends and associates who do not know Jesus Christ.
I met a man named Greg one morning when I arrived early for our prayer breakfast at a local restaurant. He stood alone in our meeting room, waiting for the businessman who had invited him. I greeted him, and Greg introduced himself. I suddenly realized he was a man for whom we had been praying for more than two years! Later, as we became friends, Greg told me he had come to Christ through some recent circumstances in his life. He was greatly touched to learn we had been praying faithfully each week for his salvation.
In Col. 4:2-3, the Apostle Paul urged the church in Colossae to pray for God to open a door to proclaim Christ. Unfortunately, we sometimes try to force a door that is not ready to be opened. Consider asking the Lord to give you a prayer partner at your job—someone who shares your burden to reach others for Christ. You can support one another in prayer, and also unite in praying for the uncommitted individuals around you.
We’ve all seen the bumper sticker that states, "Christ is the answer!" Despite the truth of that message, it ignores one problem—most nonChristians do not know what the questions are. One of our primary jobs, as witnesses in the workplace, is to help others discover those questions.
In 1 Pet. 3:15, we are admonished, "—Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." The point is clear: We should be conducting our lives in such a way that we raise questions in the minds of the uncommitted individuals around us. When they ask us about our positive attitudes, the sense of peace and confidence we have about everyday life, our values, or other products of our faith, they have invited us to give the reason for the hope that we have.
To reach this point usually requires spending time with our work associates in order to get to know one another and our differing outlooks on life. That does not mean we have to guzzle drinks together at the corner bar, or join them at objectionable movies, but we can find areas of common interest. We can go to lunch occasionally, invite them to our homes for dinner, or engage in hobbies together.
My friend John and I enjoy playing tennis once a week, and we have common interests in sports and politics. We have many stimulating conversations, and from time to time John doesn't mind discussing "religion" and our different perspectives. He isn't a Christian, but I trust one day he will be.
When we invest a part of ourselves in the lives of others, it demonstrates that we care. It also gives us an opportunity to get to know them, their needs, and their hurts—those special areas where the Holy Spirit may already be at work.
We spend a lot of time focusing on the "what" of the gospel message, but the Bible indicates we need to spend as much time—if not more—on the "how." As we look at Jesus' example, we discover He did not respond with a fixed program to those around Him, but rather responded to their unique concerns. Jesus made them want to know more.
Colossians 4:6 gives us a good guideline: "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt...." As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. What you can do, however, is salt his oats and make him thirsty! In our evangelistic efforts we become eager to dump the whole gospel load, but sometimes it is more effective to offer only a teaspoonful, creating in those we talk with a desire to know more.
A friend of mine in Atlanta deals regularly with prominent civic leaders and businessmen. His approach has been to demonstrate how practical the Bible is. Once he was in a meeting where a major proposal was being discussed. Everyone seemed to be concentrating on possible problems until someone asked my friend his opinion. He simply said, "Where no oxen are, the manger is clean," quoting from Prov. 14:4 without citing the source. The comment not only changed the course of the meeting, but also became a topic of conversation. Later it gave him several opportunities to speak more directly about his Christian faith.
Not all Christians are free to speak openly about Christ in the workplace. In fact, an employer told one of my friends, "You can do whatever you want to away from work, but don't bring that Christian stuff in here." Such an attitude may have resulted from another Christian who had abused the privilege of free speech to the detriment of his job. We are paid to perform specific duties, not to serve as company chaplain.
Clearly, our greatest witness is how we conduct our lives. Therefore, if we are to be credible when an opportunity to speak the gospel arises, we must establish ourselves as people who strive to do their best on the job, as if we were literally "working for the Lord, not for men" (Col. 3:23).
We may not always have the right to take the initiative, but we still may give an answer to anyone who asks, following our instructions in 1 Pet. 3:15. When we do have those opportunities, the Bible tells us we are to be bold, yet gentle. The next verse tells us to "do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander" (1 Pet. 3:16).
When you talk directly about Christ, you may want to use excellent booklets such as "Steps to Peace with God" and "The Four Spiritual Laws." ("One-Verse Evangelism," pages 28-32, also explains a simple method of presenting the gospel.) It is also helpful to have your own testimony prepared so you can explain briefly what Jesus Christ has meant in your life. Most important, however, is that we "make the most of every opportunity" (Col. 4:5). We are merely God’s witnesses; He is in charge of the results. "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow" (1 Cor. 3:6-7).
One final point: When we take part in this divine mission of helping others to establish an eternal relationship with Jesus Christ, our responsibility does not end with someone’s decision for Christ. We also have a duty to follow through with them, taking part in the nurturing process as they pursue Christian maturity.
In the Lord’s Great Commission, Mt. 28:19-20, He commanded, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations—teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." Our commission is to make disciples, not mere converts. Just as we expect a financial investment in the temporal world to continue earning long-term dividends, we also should seek to realize eternal dividends from the investment of our time and ourselves into the lives of those around us where we work.