What happens to your Christianity when you go to work? It seems like a simple question, but you’d be surprised at some of the difficult answers I hear from other Christian businessmen and professionals. While many take their faith right through the front door of their occupation in a blaze of glory, others pause at the doormat. They pause at the prospect of being labeled or not wanting to infringe upon others.
In contrast, most everyone is quick and passionate to answer the question, “What do you do for a living?” Our identity is tied to our work. However, if believers’ identity is also tied to Christ, somewhere between Sunday and Monday, there can be a disconnect. The marketplace is one of the most complex scenarios to be thrown into as a Jesus follower. We are tempted to conform to the world in the struggle for the legal tender. There are integrity issues, competition, and demands on our personal time. Work can often become more of a means to an end called “the weekend.”
We all want a sense of belonging at work because it’s where we spend most of our time. Some even speak of their companies as family, at least until a layoff occurs. But when we do step out to share the Gospel, our faith can be seen as a clique or even a crutch. It’s no wonder many believers dream about going into “full-time ministry.” But as author Hugh Whelchel pointed out in How Then Should We Work?, God doesn’t just send ministers to give the world sermons; He sends doctors to give medicine, teachers to impart wisdom, and businesspeople to serve. In other words, no single vocational pursuit is superior to another in God’s eyes.
As Gideons, our history is about bringing our witness to work. In the beginning days of our Association, traveling salesmen would catch a train on Sunday night to journey across a region. During their business week, many were without accountability and restraint. They were known for their heavy drinking and card games that filled the hotel parlors to pass the time. But when the Association’s founder, John H. Nicholson, got on a train, he laid out his evangelical campaign like a general. Many were seen leaving the train at the next stop with a tear in their eye or a Gideon emblem on their lapel.
Not only are Gideons still winning others to Jesus Christ as traveling salesmen, but also as managers, lawyers, teachers, doctors, military and government employees, and business farmers. It’s still about being faithful in the little things. As author Zig Ziglar said, “Unfortunately, too many people labor under the illusion that unless they can do something monumental, they have achieved nothing in this life. That’s too bad because pleasant smiles, words of encouragement, and examples of gentle kindness and consideration for others are much more needed in this society today.”
Not only are Gideons still winning others to Jesus Christ as traveling salesmen, but also as managers, lawyers, teachers, doctors, military and government employees, and business farmers.
I don’t have too dramatic of a testimony, but it was all business. I grew up in a good Catholic home. In college, I read a book called Power for Living about successful leaders who were unashamed of the Gospel—businessmen like Holiday Inn founder Wallace Johnson and insurance giant Arthur B. DeMoss. That book, and a friend named Howard, brought me to my knees and a true understanding of Jesus Christ.
After graduation, I worked for an entrepreneur named Mike, where my faith first got tested. I was COO of his technology company. He was one of those book-of-the-month managers where the whole company read the same business book, such as In Search of Excellence. One day, an employee named Kelly asked Mike if we could read from a book she liked called the Bible. Mike was shocked and later asked me, “How can anyone just sit in the back seat and let God drive their life around?” Not wanting to jeopardize my steady income, I didn’t answer. I was in the proverbial trunk of the car. That was the epiphany I needed to start living out my faith. I booked a trip to Israel. I read the Bible cover-to-cover. I stepped up to serve at my church. And I eventually became a Gideon to continue my accountability. I got out of the trunk.
So why don’t more believers share our faith more at work? Lee Strobel, the author of The Case for Christ, suggested, “I’ve seen far too many Christians who are more than willing to travel halfway around the world to volunteer for a week in an orphanage, but who cannot bring themselves to take the personal risk of sharing Jesus with the co-worker who sits day after day in the cubicle right next to them.”
I asked Pastor Howard Malone of The River Church in Waynesboro, Missouri, about why work and faith don’t always seem to want to share a cubicle. He believes fear gets in the way, and we don’t want to risk being rejected by our co-workers. Further, some may have given up witnessing at work because they haven’t seen any immediate results.
Having served in the military, Pastor Malone added you might be subject to certain limitations. It will also depend on what country you’re in. While employees in the USA have broad rights to express their faith to co-workers, you can’t allow religious discussions to interfere with your work, according to David Gibbs, founder of the Christian Law Association. He also said if a co-worker indicates directly or indirectly that they don’t wish to discuss matters of religion, that’s the end of the sermon.
Perhaps this is why so many Christians in the workplace subscribe to what St. Francis Assisi supposedly said, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” While this sets a good example, Jesus used a lot of words, says Vince LaPoint, a software engineer and Gideon. LaPoint has worked in large corporations and small, but his faith has always gone with him no matter what size the door. He’s led Bible studies at work, and when the office environment doesn’t seem right, he takes people out to lunch. “While it is true not every person has a spiritual gift of evangelism, we are all called to do the work of an evangelist,” he added.
Our membership includes many who own their businesses. You would think that would be easier, but as Perrin Prescott, former president of The Gideons International, is quick to point out—there’s really no such thing as a Christian business. “A business is an inanimate object. It’s a group of people. But what you can offer them is Christ-like management.” Prescott recently retired from his industrial pump company in Exeter, New Hampshire. “It was easy when I owned my business because I was able to set the tone and culture. But there are benchmarks along the way that test your consistency.” Prescott had one customer bring in a pump for repair, but it was inoperable. The customer asked Prescott if he could zap it with some high voltage so an insurance claim could be filed. Prescott said no way. The customer replied, “Good, because I would have lost my respect if you tried.” Sometimes it’s better to be good at consistency instead of trying to be consistently great.
Sometimes it’s better to be good at consistency instead of trying to be consistently great.
The Gideons International has always sought members who, by virtue of their jobs, made decisions and had a measure of freedom regarding their time and resources. That would include teachers like Bruce Chadwick, a Gideon from Michigan. Chadwick said, “Years ago, it was okay to start my fifth-grade classroom with the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence.” While these practices have changed, God’s Word hasn’t. When Chadwick became a school superintendent, he started recognizing each employee’s birthday with a GideonCard and a personal word of encouragement. “I usually received a positive response from my co-workers and never heard anyone objecting to a card that stated I was making a donation to purchase Scriptures in their honor.”
Praying for co-workers can lead to open doors, as Colossians 4:2–3 says. In Gideon Dave Morel’s book, The Secret to an Open Door, he wrote, “When we’re in our comfort zone, we rely on ourselves. When we step out in faith, we are with God. How many times does He say, ‘Surely, I will be with you?’” Morel adds, “Satan is slick—he’s not concerned about our prayer lists as long as they don’t include the lost.”
If we look back at the apostles’ lives, we can clearly see how they worked in the marketplace. They had an intimate personal relationship with Jesus. They welcomed the works of the Holy Spirit. And they prayed against the fear of man in Acts 4:29 (ESV), “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness.” The apostles didn’t have pocket Testaments, but they had many Roman roads built to reach new marketplaces. They had a common language and common currency. They had law and order with Paxus Romanus. Today, we have the Internet, planes, electric cars, cell phones, and Starbucks. There’s no excuse. But we also live in an age where many Christians see more Scripture on Facebook than from studying their Bible.
There was a time when Christians talked about a “calling” to work. Then we all read What Color is Your Parachute? and our careers became about finding our passion. However, Scripture says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,” in Colossians 3:23 (ESV). Perhaps the adage “do what you love” should have “remember Whom you do it for” attached to it. Excellence is attractive, and if we bring it to work, along with the story of our hope, it’s an excellent strategic plan. As Andre du Plessis, trustee of The Gideons International in South Africa, and a business owner, says, “By selling our products, we change the way people live, but we change the way people see God through our way of doing business.”
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” —Colossians 3:23 (ESV)