I work in an almost exclusively Christian environment. With the exception of a few brief encounters with folks delivering packages, reading the gas meter, and such, my whole workday is spent with believers. I’m not the best person, I admit, to speak of sharing Christ in the workplace. Recent changes in my family’s situations, however, have left me thinking very hard about the topic, and I feel enormous pressure to offer them timely advice before their fresh opportunities deteriorate (as they so often do) into situations where opportunities for the Gospel have been effectively crushed.
In my experience, there are two major poles to avoid when answering this question. The first I’ll call the Christian Conquest approach. In this approach everyone around me is the enemy of Christ, and my sole purpose is do battle with them until they submit to Christ. To this end, I wear my Christianity on my sleeve: I post Bible verses all over my cubicle wall, hand out tracts liberally, tell everyone around me and especially under me that they must be born again, and start evangelistic conversations in any place and at any time. If a friendly group of co-workers asks me to come to the office party and share a few beers, I say, “No way! I don’t drink, and unless I absolutely have to, I avoid anybody who drinks because I’m a CHRISTIAN! Don’t ask me to hang out with you until you repent and join me at church.”
There’s a tiny part of me that admires a person like this, because he is willing to endure ridicule and social ostracism in order to make Christ known. And at the end of the day, so long as the Gospel is proclaimed, God sometimes uses this approach to save people. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best approach. Here’s why:
- It’s unethical. If you’re being paid to make widgets and you decide to stop making widgets in order to share the gospel on company time, you are stealing from your employer, and that’s wrong. Just because the success of the Gospel is the Church’s highest mission does not mean that evangelism automatically trumps all of the believer’s other responsibilities (Titus 2:9).
- It’s ineffective. Of course, just because something is ineffective does not make it wrong, but some things are ineffective because they are demonstrably wrong. And being a bad worker, and obnoxious person, or a hater crushes legitimate opportunities for the gospel (see, e.g., Matt 5:16; Titus 2:1–10; 1 Pet 3:1, 13–17). If your whole office regards you as snobbish and obnoxious, you are not being a good witness, no matter how many Bible verses are pasted on your wall (electronic wall or cubicle wall, it makes no difference).
- It’s contrary to the essence of the Gospel. “Friendship with the world is enmity with God,” of course (1 John 2:15–17), and this must be remembered, but somehow that truth must be harmonized with the requirement to be the “friend of sinners” and even to “eat with them” (Matt 9:10ff; 11:19; etc.). Whatever our relationship to unbelievers is to be, it most emphatically is not hostility! We hate their corrupt garb, yes, but all the while we must show mercy (Jude 23).
- It’s sometimes even illegal. If you are being paid to do civic services or provide civic instruction in the civic arena, and you decide to offer religious services/instruction instead, you just might be fired. And if you do, it won’t be because you’re suffering for Jesus; it will be because you didn’t do your job. More on this in my next post.
- This goes to a deeper philosophical issue: this approach doesn’t have a good handle on what it means to live in God’s two “kingdoms.” Some things we do in life as members of human society, as image-bearers living out the dominion mandate; other things we do as members of local Christian societies, as ambassadors living out the Great Commission. And while these spheres don’t conflict, neither can we conflate them.
The second pole I’ll call the Christian Synthesis approach. Everyone around me is a victim of sin, and my goal is to relate with them until I start to rub off on them. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to share Christ, but that’s pretty awkward and off-putting, so I’ll be slow and subtle about it—so slow and so subtle that somehow it never happens. If a friendly group of co-workers asks me to come to the office party and share a few beers, I’ll go, but avoid getting tipsy by using some sort of lame medical excuse (or maybe I’ll blame the overbearing wife—that will get a good laugh and make me look relevant). If the topic of religion happens to come up, I’ll take them to an event at a relational, relevant church and hope the preacher gives a friendly, low-key Gospel message so I don’t have to do it. Realistically, though, it’s quite possible that religion will never come up in conversation—I might age out without anybody even knowing that I’m a Christian. Oh well, I tried.
The strength of this approach is that it takes seriously the expectations that Christians be the “friend of sinners” and even to “eat with them.” But there’s no antithesis—nothing at all that “sets Christ apart as Lord” or compels unbelievers to “ask the reason for the hope that I have” (1 Pet 3:15). It exemplifies Carson’s complaint that “to the degree that... Christianity has assimilated itself to the dominant ethos, reasons for anyone joining it are harder to come by” (Christ & Culture Revisited, 118) and suggests to thoughtful minds that there is no difference at all between unbelievers and believers save that believers are sinners saved by grace—an oft-repeated but savage lie. Instead it is a kind of “relational evangelism” that has never progresses past the “relationship.” And without a propositional Gospel, no matter how relational, it isn’t evangelism.
It seems to me that all believers are drawn to one of these two poles, and while my descriptions may be extreme, we all trend one way or the other. Some of us see the Christian’s role as standing against world. Some of us see the Christian’s role as being a part of the world. The truth is somewhere in between: Christ wants us—in fact he prays for us—to be in the world but not of it (John 17:15–16), a very delicate balance that can sometimes prove elusive. We’ll look at what this might look like in part 2 of this post.