True confession: When I was in seventh grade, I wrote and designed my own evangelistic tract, filled a shoebox with copies I printed up, and handed them out at the local shopping mall. The first page featured bright swirls of yellow, orange, and red, courtesy of Microsoft Paint. It asked, “If you died tonight, are you 100% sure that you would go to Heaven?”
Most passersby politely declined taking a tract, but several did. One young man, about a decade older than me, glanced down at the question after walking on and shouted back over his shoulder, “Probably not!”
Looking back on my middle school self, I can see two things: an earnest spirit, and poor methodology. My approach probably didn’t serve the strangers at the mall in clarifying their own spiritual journey. But the basic thing I was trying to do—sharing the good news of Jesus with other people—is still something I’m passionate about.
When I talk with other Christians about evangelism, the practice of sharing the good news of Jesus, I find that the topic can spark anxiety. People are often confident about how not to do evangelism, but not about how to do it in a way that makes sense for their context. For most of us, the main context where we get to know people of different spiritual perspectives is at work. But the challenges of guilt, awkwardness, and timidity can hold us back from starting spiritual conversations that count with our coworkers. What could it look like to share our faith in the workplace in a way that’s joyful, emotionally intelligent, and confident?
[This post is part of our series The Four Corners of Mission. Check out our other posts on faith and work for more resources.]
Evangelism at Work: What Is the Good News?
Before we can share the good news of Jesus, we need to know what it is. Jesus himself is our guide here. The good news that he proclaimed was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 ESV). In other words:
- God is doing something (“the kingdom of heaven”)
- Here and now (“at hand”)
- And you can be a part of it if you turn toward it (“repent”), through Jesus.
So, evangelism is announcing the good news that God’s kingdom is available through faith in Jesus. The idea of a kingdom may seem removed from our context. But Jesus’ many teachings on the kingdom make it clear that it’s all about God’s interaction with us, inviting us into what he is doing. Jesus came to give us nothing other than interactive, loving collaboration with God, beginning now, that addresses and encompasses every aspect of our hearts and lives.
Evangelism at Work: Moving from Guilt to Joy
The way the good news addresses our whole lives can help us with our first challenge in evangelism at work: motivation.
When the topic of evangelism comes up, the first emotion that surfaces for many Christians is guilt. We feel like we should be sharing our faith, but we aren’t, so we feel guilty. The perceived stakes of evangelism compound this sense of guilt; I’ve heard sermons where the main takeaway about evangelism seems to be, “If I don’t share my faith, my friends and coworkers will go to hell.”
But guilt is never an effective long-term motivation. Plus, it will emotionally warp our attempts at evangelism in unhelpful ways: If we’re anxiously trying to start a conversation to fend off our own guilt, we’ll hardly be in a frame of mind to listen well to the other person.
Again, we can let Jesus be our guide here. When he sent out the twelve disciples on their first healing-and-preaching mission, he told them: “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10:8 NIV). He did not tell them, “If you don’t do this right, terrible things will happen!”
When it comes to evangelism, rather than keeping the danger of hell at the forefront of our mind, it’s better to focus on the beauty of God’s kingdom. That’s where Jesus pointed his disciples’ attention—to the reality they had already tasted of God’s healing power, forgiveness, and renewal. (If hell is still a topic that concerns you, see more in the final section below.)
The fullest culmination of this kind of motivation is joy. Jesus told his disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11 ESV). When our joy is full because of all that we have freely received in Jesus, it overflows in freely giving to others. That’s the healthiest motivation for evangelism at work.
Joy in Practice
One simple way to practice this kind of joyful “overflow” is to not self-edit references to spiritual experience in your work conversations. Say you had a really encouraging conversation with a friend at church. When a coworker asks how your weekend went, you can say, “I had a really encouraging conversation with a friend at church!”
A turn of phrase I internalized at some point was, “Praise the Lord for . . .” I try not to self-edit this language when I’m at work. I have been known to say things like, “Praise the Lord for Microsoft Excel.” Just let your own experience of joy in God’s kingdom bleed over into the language you use around coworkers in natural ways.
Evangelism at Work: Moving from Awkwardness to Emotional Intelligence
Another challenge we face in sharing our faith at work is awkwardness. How do we even bring the topic of faith up? We know that if we shift gears suddenly in a conversation or try to “cram in” a reference to God in a contrived way, it will turn people off and accomplish little. Depending on our workplace, we may also not know when to try to say something. Busy Zoom calls and noisy factory shifts alike may not allow much room for inquiring deeply about another’s life.
In general, not just with evangelism, awkwardness can result from a lack of emotional intelligence. We can fail to perceive the emotional dynamics of the people around us, and of our own presence. So, the solution to awkwardness is a combination of self-awareness and attentiveness to others.
Being attentive to others helps us see opportunities to bring up faith naturally rather than awkwardly. Simply listening well to someone else can open the door. Therapist Dan Allender puts it like this:
God sets us up for encounters that have the potential to change our lives. . . . Curiosity and vulnerability are our best tools for entering a person’s heart. . . . We have no right to push our way in, but if invited we have every right to be a good guest.
People may be put off by awkwardness, but they are not usually put off by the topic of faith as such. In fact, many people are curious about spiritual things and eager to share their perspective and experiences. In the context of listening to someone else with genuine care and attention, a spiritual question doesn’t have to be awkward at all.
Emotional Intelligence in Practice
One way to practice emotional intelligence is to have some non-awkward questions ready that allow someone to open up about faith if they want to. Here are a few that have worked for me:
- Are you part of a faith community of some kind?
- Tell me about your tattoo / cross / rosary, etc.
- Was your family involved in religious things at all when you were a kid?
- I’m a praying person. How can I pray for you?
As always, you’ll have to feel out when is the right moment to ask a question like this. Don’t be anxious about trying to wedge something into every conversation. Instead, keep an ear open for moments when a question like this fits.
Once you ask a question, it’s equally important to engage someone’s response. Based on their body language, tone of voice, and how much they say, they might be indicating they’re eager to share more, or that they don’t want to talk about spiritual things. Engage people according to the level of openness they show—by asking follow-up questions, or by changing the subject.
Evangelism at Work: Moving from Timidity to Confidence
Our final challenge in sharing our faith at work is timidity. We can simply be afraid to do it. Even if we aim for emotional intelligence, we might occasionally land in the zone of awkwardness. Our coworkers might find it strange that we are so eager to discuss spiritual things. Or, in some work environments, we might even face tangible repercussions for sharing our faith. In social terms, the safest kind of evangelism is no evangelism at all.
As with other kinds of fear, the answer to timidity about evangelism is growing into the virtue of courage. Paul encourages us: “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7 NRSVue). Those three words are all appropriate reminders of what we need to do the work of evangelism: God has given us the power we need in his Holy Spirit. Sharing the good news of Jesus is a way to love our coworkers. And self-discipline consists of doing it, even when we feel an edge of trepidation.
Thankfully, evangelism gets easier over time. When you take a little risk to open up a spiritual conversation with a coworker, you’ll see that it’s not the end of the world. It can be joyful instead of guilt-induced and emotionally intelligent instead of awkward. Even if it doesn’t lead to a dramatic next step in someone’s life, you’ll learn from experience that it was a good moment, worth doing. That in turn will give you the confidence you need to do it again at the next opportunity.
Confidence in Practice
Part of confidence is planning on evangelism as though it could actually happen. So, consider your work environment: When are more meaningful, personal conversations most likely to occur? It might be during a lunch break, after work over drinks, or during shared travel time. If you work from home, it could be in one-on-one Zoom calls, when there’s breathing room to ask about someone’s life beyond the project at hand.
Plan to be present in a context like this, and pray for an opportunity to ask an emotionally intelligent question. Then, when the opportunity arises, take it! It really is that simple.
Another aspect of confidence is being unabashed about your beliefs. Evangelism is mostly listening, but as a relationship progresses, someone else may inquire sincerely about what you believe. It makes a difference when you’re ready to state the good news of Jesus without embarrassment, and explain how it affects your life today. Your story is something you can prepare in advance if you’re not sure you could put words to it off the cuff.
Evangelism at Work: What About Hell?
As a concluding thought, let’s return to the uncomfortable subject of hell. A healthy approach to evangelism does address the problem of hell, but not in the way we might first think. When we look at friends and coworkers who do not know God, our heart should break not because we imagine some future horror for them, but because right now they do not know the power of God’s love. They are “dead” to God in the sense that they cannot interact with him in the fullness of the life he offers (Ephesians 2:1). Hell is not an arbitrary punishment for people who don’t pass the right theology test; it is the deadness and closedness of the soul to God made permanent.
We can leave in God’s hands the judgment of each heart in terms of its openness to him, and what that means for eternity.
For our work now, let’s bear in mind that Jesus came to make us “alive to God” (Romans 6:11 NIV). When we are in Christ, we are united to God in the depths of our being, as he increasingly renews and brings to maturity every aspect of our personality by his gracious influence. He gently but palpably makes us like himself in our character, ministers of his presence and power as we relate to one another, other people, and whatever environment we inhabit. This is the kind of life with God that evangelism aims for and invites others into. It is simply not possible for someone who knows God in this way to go to hell, the place of alienation from God. They would not fit inside.
Reflect and Practice
- What has your experience of evangelism been—either as one who shares, or one who is shared with?
- When you think about sharing your faith with others in your workplace, how do you feel?
- Do you face the challenge of guilt, awkwardness, or timidity? What is that like for you?
- What is a next step toward joy, emotional intelligence, or confidence that you could take this week?
- Consider watching The Five Thresholds of Evangelism, a short training from InterVarsity on the steps people take toward faith, and how to meet them at each point.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash.
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