How to Be a Christian at Work
Let’s talk about sharing our faith at work. The big point of our series is that our work itself matters to God and is part of his creation and redemption mandate. It’s not that our job doesn’t really matter, except that it is a platform to share our faith. Our work itself is part of our divine calling and therefore doing it well glorifies God and represents him well to others. All that is true. It is also true that work provides maybe the best opportunity to impact other people spiritually because most of that happens through relationships and most of our relationships develop at work.
Whether you know Jesus or not, you are on a spiritual journey or you wouldn’t be here. We all have a story to tell and if we are compassionate at all would love for other people to know how they could know Jesus, find transformation and meaning in a relationship with him, and know real hope. If we are loving at all, we realize we can’t just keep this to ourselves, and many of us know that we are in fact commanded in the New Testament to actively share that good news with others. Most people who become Jesus followers do so through a relationship with someone who is already a Christian, which is probably your story. That’s significant when we talk about work because most people develop their friendships with people they work with every day. So, how can we develop relationships in a way that can help other people in their journey?
That can be a challenging question, because we have all probably experienced well-meaning Christians in the workplace that did more harm than good by coming on too strong. I recently read an article referred to me by a pastor buddy in Boston, written by a Jewish lady about an overly zealous Christian coworker, where she says, “He’s the nicest person in the world but has the unfortunate habit of using the workplace as a recruiting center. When he approached me to discuss religion, I mentioned that I was Jewish. Big mistake. His face lit up, and I came to find out that converting Jews was his personal mission. I couldn’t get up without finding a religious tract on my desk when I came back. After many attempts at conversion, I finally convinced him that I was happy with my religion and nothing he said would change it. He reluctantly moved on and now tries his hand with our clients.” She entitled her article, “Keep the Faith, but Keep it on your Side of the Cubicle.”
We don’t want to be that girl or that guy, which can lead us to another mistake—just going completely silent and dark about our faith in the workplace. We hide our light so to speak rather than letting it shine, and just hope something good happens anyway. This is especially tempting because we don’t want to violate boundaries in the workplace in such a way where we could get fired or where we are just seen as a problem. We can easily become paralyzed in the workplace as Christians and hide the most important part of our lives.
It’s a little like goldilocks, one porridge too hot and the other too cold. What would “just right” look like? The great news is that the New Testament talks about this quite a bit, how we as Christians can influence and live out our faith in attractive way everywhere we are in culture, including work. Collectively as a church, we are told to create irresistible influence by doing good, by being the most loving and inclusive people on the planet, that creates curiosity and interest in our message. Individually as Christians wherever God places us, we are compelled to do the same—to be people of irresistible influence, to live such attractive lives as transforming Jesus followers that others are drawn to us and to the good news that is transforming our lives.
A great friend and fellow leader here at Chase Oaks, Mike Hogan, terms this in such a helpful way as creating pull, not push. If we as Christians try to push people toward our faith, by being loud and pushy, insisting on our own rights, sharing even when people don’t want to hear what we have to say, become argumentative and disrespectful, then we shouldn’t be surprised when people recoil. If you push me, I’m either going to stand my ground or push back. Nobody likes to be pushed (play with this?). Creating pull is what the New Testament tells us to do and is way more effective. It is living our lives in such a way that draws people toward us, creates curiosity and interest in what we believe. The NT talks a lot about this, and once we understand that God has placed us where we are on purpose, to be a light, then we must ask, “How do I do that? How can I live around people at work in such a way that creates pull?”
We are going to start with Paul talking to Christians in 1 Thessalonians 4, where he lays it out so clearly:
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12
“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anyone.”
The first phrase is such a powerful one, “Make it your ambition.” For those of us who are goal-oriented, we perk up with a phrase like that. “Make it your ambition—” a good strong command, and I’m ready to do whatever is next. Coach, put me in the game, and tell me what to do. “Make it your ambition”—okay I’m ready. But what comes next sounds so deflating, “Make it your ambition…to lead a quiet life…” What? That sounds like non-ambition. Try super hard to do nothing. But it isn’t nothing. A quietly attractive life takes tremendous intentionality and restraint. It is also very powerful.
He is saying we don’t have to be loud and proud in the workplace with our faith. We shouldn’t be pushy and rude. Instead, we create pull by doing our work well and by living our daily lives in a way that creates respect.
Quality work and an attractive daily life. Let’s talk about doing our work well, the quality of our work first. We’ve already seen in this series that our work matters to God, and that ultimately, we work for him and are called therefore to do our work excellently because it honors him. We should be the best workers at work because of that, but also because of this—by doing so we win the respect of outsiders.
It should be that when a hiring manager finds out the person they hired is a Christian, they feel like they just won the lottery, that they would say quietly to another manager, “Hey, I know this may be inappropriate to consider faith in the workplace, but I just found out the person I hired last week is a Christian,” and that the other would say, “Oh man! No fair! You always get so lucky. Those people are the best!”
With all the difficulties in the workplace over the last few years, the new trend replacing the great recession is quiet quitting, where instead of leaving your job, you just do the bare minimum and quietly skate by and stay under the radar. That is not what Paul is advocating. He is advocating quietly knocking it out of the park, doing your work so well that it wins the respect of others.
This is also true of Christian businesses, of course. It’s like when people put a fish sticker on the back of the car, or a church sticker like we have for Chase Oaks, remember that when you are on the road. Don’t be a jerk, and don’t drive slow in the left lane. The left lane is called a passing lane, so if you aren’t passing then don’t be in that lane—especially with a fish sticker. Represent Jesus well if you put a fish or Christian bumper sticker on your car. That’s even more true for those who let others know that your business is a Christian one. When I had just graduated from college, I was spending time with some high school friends who were a few years older than me and had been working a career for a few years. One of those, Don, was telling a story how he had just hired painters to paint his house, and that he had chosen them because they were called “The Christian Painters.” This was before Google reviews, when we still used these things called phone books and you made choices by looking at the yellow pages. So many of you are giving me blank looks because you have no idea what I’m talking about. But that’s the way things were before the internet. He had chosen them out of the yellow pages because of the name. Someone else in the group, who was not a Christian, immediately blurted out, “Oh no! They call themselves Christian? They didn’t also have a fish on their ad, did they?” Don said, “They did! It’s part of why I chose them.” Everybody laughed, without even knowing what had happened, and that same guy, “Oh man, I hope it worked out, but you have to beware of the fish. Any time you see the fish, run away and choose somebody else.” Don then shared, “Well, I wish you would have told me that sooner, because the guy had a sob story and asked for most of the money up front, and I have never seen him again, and he isn’t answering his phone.” This was not a very compassionate group of friends, so laughter erupted even louder, as people kept saying, “Burned by the fish!” How sad is that! We should win people’s respect and win a hearing by being the best of workers and the best of businesses. We don’t just represent us. We represent Him.
The same is true when it comes to how we live our daily lives. Remember quality work and attractive daily lives—let’s talk about our daily lives around our coworkers. Our social media team just did a survey of what my dream job would be if it wasn’t doing what I already do, and I said a professional skier—to get paid to travel to the best ski destinations in the world. Not realistic, but dreams don’t have to be realistic, right? My brother-in-law is a sales rep for Salomon skis, which does mean that I get good deals on ski equipment. But my real goal is to be officially sponsored by Salomon, to be a brand ambassador. That’s not realistic either because I’m not very good, but I love the thought of it.
I am, however, a brand ambassador, and so are you if you are a Jesus follower. We represent Jesus, and how people experience us will determine in large part what they think about him. The NT actually gives us that job, as we just read. Our daily lives will either attract people to Jesus or distract them from Jesus. In Titus 2, Paul commanded the Thessalonians that they should live out their faith in the workplace in such a way that:
SLIDE______________________) Titus 2:10
“Then they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive in every way.”
Titus 2 is all about how we in all spheres of life with outsiders should realize that we are brand ambassadors, that what people experience from us will either attract or distract people from Jesus.
I was significantly impacted as a teenager reading the biography of Sheldon Van Auken, an atheist student at Oxford who came to know Jesus while in contact with professor C.S. Lewis and other Christians at the university who won him over through exemplary lives. In one of his journal entries early in that spiritual journey, he wrote:
“The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians – when they are sombre and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.”
– Sheldon Van Auken
As a new believer with mostly non-believing friends in my high school, I realized my job to represent Jesus as best I could, because the way people experienced me would either make them more open or closed to all that he wanted for them. That is true for all of us, however we interact with people outside the faith—certainly those at work.
We should intentionally be the most loving, humble, respectful, compassionate, helpful, and gracious people at work because we represent the brand of Jesus. When we pull that off, it makes people curious in a good way about what makes us tick. Our daily lives can create pull.
And then what? Peter, talking to Christians living in Rome, tells us what will happen and what our responsibility is. Creating pull with an attractive life will create conversations and opportunities. He says,
1 Peter 3:15-16
“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, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”
You and I are not on our own at work when it comes to spiritual impact. God is at work, pulling people toward himself, and wants to use you and me in the process. When we live lives that are compelling, as Jesus is transforming us, we will have opportunity to share our faith. That’s why we are told to always be prepared to give an answer when people wonder about the hope that we have.
Hope is a powerful thing. Hope gives us a why that others who don’t know Jesus do not have. Christian hope is what drives us forward, giving us the motivation to live differently by being the most loving people on the planet, to do our work well as unto the Lord, to be here for good people. So, when we love in ways that are remarkable or serve in ways that are sacrificial or work in ways that are above and beyond the normal or converse in ways that are remarkably respectful, don’t be surprised when people find all that surprising enough to become curious about what makes us tick or to come to us when they have spiritual questions.
That’s also true when we or others around us encounter the inevitable difficulties of life in a broken world. Our hope is not based in circumstances, but in the God above the circumstances, which is a surprising kind of hope. When we go through difficulties with hope in God, there is a strength even in our grief that is surprising to people who don’t have that hope. How can you keep going? How can you be so strong?
We create pull by quality work and attractive daily lives, enough that we need to be ready for those spiritual conversations to happen. That’s what Peter says, “Be ready!” But what does that mean? How can we be ready?
Let’s talk about being prepared and how we can share our faith when people want to hear about it or when people come to us in tough times for support. When someone says, “How can you always stay so positive in a work environment like this?” You could say something like, “Oh, I believe that God placed me here and that what we do really matters to make our world function the way that he intended, so even when work becomes difficult, it helps me to tap into that higher purpose.” Someone might say, “How can you keep treating customers, even rude ones, with such respect and patience?” You could say something like, “Oh, I believe every human is made in God’s image and worthy of respect always, and when people are at their worst, it’s an opportunity to show some love to someone who must be hurting in other areas of life.”
How about when people come to you in difficult times for support? Christians are still in our culture the go-to people when life gets hard, because we have a hope that is above circumstances. When conversations happen with people who are struggling, it’s perfectly okay to offer to pray for them. And if they wonder how you can be so strong, you can say someth8ng like, “Oh, I’m not strong. But fortunately, God is, and he is with me in all that I go through. Without him, I’d be a total basket case.”
That may open up more conversation and opportunity to invite someone to your small group where you find support, to invite them to take a step on their spiritual journey by joining you at church. Surveys of non-churched people consistently show that they would be open to going to church if someone they respected invited them…but hardly any of them have ever been invited. It’s how Philip, one of the twelve disciples, invited Nathaniel, a friend of his who would also become one of the twelve. Nathaniel was curious but had a lot of doubts and questions. Instead of debating him, Philip just said, “Come and see!” and brought him to Jesus. We design our church services to be come and see environments where we can easily invite those who don’t know Jesus yet and are curious. It’s one way they can encounter Jesus too.
You should also be prepared to share with someone how they can begin a relationship with God because of what Jesus did. He came here to take away the guilt of our sin by dying on the cross and being raised from the dead. He wants to not only forgive us but to be in a relationship with us that changes our lives. He invites us into a relationship with him that transforms us from the inside out. I think the best way to about that is to share your story of how you began a relationship with Jesus and the difference it has made in your life. It is not so threatening to share your story, because it is your story. You aren’t saying, “I’m right and you are wrong in what you believe.” You are simply saying, “This is what has happened to me, and why I’m so thankful to have found connection with God through Jesus, because it has made all the difference.” This fall we are doing Chase Oaks Road Shows at each campus, where a traveling group of facilitators will be showing up for a couple of weeks to offer classes designed to give us more confidence and skill in life, including this one. One of the topics will be how to share your story in an effective way.
That’s so important. You may have heard a quote by an ancient saint, Francis of Assisi, that says,
“Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.”
– Saint Frances of Assisi
Even if you haven’t heard it, it sounds really good. There are two problems with the quote though. One, he never said it. And two, it’s not true. Yes, just as Paul has instructed us and we’ve shared in this sermon, respectable lives are the most important witness of the reality of Jesus. But that doesn’t mean that words don’t matter. At some point, words are necessary to help someone understand what Jesus is offering them. Like Paul said in Romans,
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?”
How will they know if they don’t hear? How can they hear if we don’t use words? So be prepared to tell your story, like a before and after story, and if you aren’t, then the roadshow is designed to equip you to do so.
Our work itself matters to God, and therefore we should do it well in a way that glorifies him and helps others flourish. Our work also, because we spend so much time there, is usually our most strategic place to represent Jesus in such a way that we can help others know about him. So, let’s go back to work with this thought in mind, that we are there to win the respect of others, to love people with no strings attached and do our work well and treat people with respect, so much so that it creates spiritual pull. Imagine how exciting it would be to help someone in their spiritual journey, wherever you are at in your own. Imagine what it would be like to help lead one or two or ten others around you to a relationship with Jesus and sharing that journey with them? Imagine if all of us Chase Oakers, about 10,000 or so, started doing work the way we have talked about it in this series, how with that critical mass we could actually lift the whole experience of work for others?
Let’s ask God to help us be his people in the workplace in a way that can make a real difference. Let’s do our work well, live increasingly attractive lives as he is transforming us, and always be ready to share our story and the reason for our hope when people want to hear about it or come to us for perspective. He will help us do that, because he will always empower us to do what he commands us to do.
 Sheldon Van Auken, A Severe Mercy