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Fisher of Men

When It’s Wrong to Witness at Work

When It’s Wrong to Witness at Work

When I started at my job a little over a year ago, I was the only Christian in my department. Since then, I’ve referred a few Christian friends, who have referred even more Christian friends, and there are now eight of us. This growth excited me for two reasons. First, I now had support in living out the Christian life at my work. Second, it increased an evangelistic witness for my non-Christian co-workers—people I care about deeply and would love to see know God.   

Then something happened that I didn’t anticipate. A few weeks ago, the director and my fellow managers requested to speak with me about some issues with some of the Christians in our department. The company I work for partners with small colleges to boost their marketing, enrollment, retention, etc., and most of these schools represent diverse religious backgrounds. One Christian employee made disrespectful comments about the faith tradition of his school, and he told his manager he would “make sure to tell their students about his Lord and Savior.” Another Christian’s remarks about the supremacy of the Republican Party prompted some to complain to their manager. A few even expressed that they found one particular individual too aggressive and forceful with sharing his Christian views.  

I requested to speak to these individuals privately, but my director elected instead that I gather our whole department together and discuss how to respect each other’s beliefs in a diverse environment. “It would be best that everyone hear it from you,” she concluded, “because you’re a Christian, but you’re not like crazy or anything.” Um…thanks? I had about two hours—mixed with emails and writing reports—to work out the tension between two Christian duties: evangelism and good stewardship at work.

This is the gist of what I said: “We need to discuss religious sensitivities in the workplace. Both we and our clients come from diverse religious backgrounds. When representing a client school, it is not permissible to voice your personal religious or political beliefs. You will never be asked to compromise your beliefs and promote something you disagree with; if asked, your role is simply to provide neutral statements about what the client’s position is. Regarding your conduct with each other, work time is not the time to proselytize others to your religious or political views. We pay you to contribute to the mission of the company, not the mission of your religion or political party. If you build friendships with each other outside of work, feel free to discuss whatever you want on your own time.”

I left work that day conflicted about whether I compromised ground, and if my priorities between my faith and my work were correctly aligned. A few employees had thanked me, as if I got the “obnoxious” Christians to finally leave them alone. But looking back on it with some distance now, I think that what I said was right. I also think the other managers were right to address the matter; it would be just as inappropriate for Mormons or atheists to use company time to advance their beliefs.

Here is the main thing I learned in the situation: although our mission and identity as Christians is ultimately far more important than our jobs, in practice we must be tactful in how we integrate our faith at work. It’s a simple point, but it’s one that Christians—at least in the West—will have to think through more carefully in an increasingly diversifying workforce environment.

Christian Wisdom at Work Is Key:

A lack of wisdom in integrating faith in the workplace can spoil a witness to the gospel. Christians should have a fervent zeal for sharing the gospel. However, wisdom must drive zeal, not vice versa. Christians should pray regularly for wisdom in their work, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:17-18). Christians who exercise these traits of wisdom in their work will be far more effective in their gospel witness in the long run. Bringing up gospel conversations during work can distract you and others from your job responsibilities, and it steals company time that you’re being paid for. It can often frustrate co-workers and managers alike, stirring disunity and a tense atmosphere of disagreement. We must foster peace, gentleness, impartiality, and sincerity in our work if we want our witness to the gospel to be taken seriously.

Glorify God through Excellent Work

The best way to use your time at work for Christian ends is to: work! Strive for excellence in your responsibilities to the glory of God. Show respect for your co-workers and bosses. I’m not saying that doing your job well is the same thing as sharing the gospel, but your conduct can help create opportunities outside the work hours for gospel conversations. Your co-workers will inevitably associate your conduct at work with your faith. You may mention Christ in every other sentence, but it won’t matter if you’re a time-waster, complainer, gossiper, or an ineffective, disrespectful, and careless employee. 

Share the Gospel, but Be Tactful

Don’t depend on company time to share the gospel with your co-workers; rather, think creatively of how you can involve them in your life off the clock. Participate in a recreational activity that you can invite non-believers to. Have co-workers over for a cookout or coffee. If your church is having an event—a Christmas play, volleyball tournament, cookout, etc.—invite co-workers. If they disagree with you, continue to show them respect and friendship. As you make an effort to get to know them, they will want to get to know you and what you’re all about as well. 

If you’re interested in learning more about the intersection of Christian faith and work, I highly recommend this book by Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert: The Gospel at Work

Ryan Hoselton is married to Jaclyn and they have one daughter, Madrid. He enjoys writing on pop culture and church history. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanhoselton

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