Editors’ note: 

TGC’s new “Thorns & Thistles” column seeks to apply wisdom with practical advice about faith, work, and economics. If you have a question on how to think about and practice your work in a way that honors God, let us know at [email protected]

I just started a job in the corporate world after six years in vocational ministry. One reason for leaving my Christian workplace was for the evangelism opportunity, but I could use some tips to get me started. Do you have any suggestions on how to share my faith in the workplace?

How exciting! I appreciate your heart for reaching lost people with the good news, and your boldness in seeking out a new occupation. Let me share with you a single profound sentence about workplace evangelism, and unpack a few practical suggestions from it.

“Earn the right to be heard.” This comes from Bill Peel, director of the Center for Faith and Work at LeTourneau University. As he explains, we have shifted from a cultural environment where it was assumed Christianity had something of value to say about life to an environment where the opposite is assumed. Generally speaking, people won’t listen to us until we earn the right to be heard.

This is not simply about hostility to God, although that is a factor. Equally important is the sacred/secular divide, the assumption—including among many, if not most, Christians today—that religion is about eternal things, so it does not always apply to our activities. God has no place in the workplace if God doesn’t care about our daily work—and care about it for its own sake, not simply as an excuse to shove tracts at people.

So here are three practical suggestions:

1. View the work itself as ministry.

People don’t like to be condescended to or manipulated. If you are only in that workplace to get a conversion out of people, they will know it and they will resent it. Excellent performance in the work itself, for its own sake, along with humane treatment of customers and coworkers, will earn you the right to be heard. Paul’s tent-making wouldn’t have been a viable evangelism strategy if he made lousy tents. The fact is that you have not left full-time ministry. The word “ministry” simply means “service.” All Christians, without exception, are in full-time service to Jesus Christ, and to the world he cares so much about. Whatever a Christian does—writing reports, driving trucks, sweeping floors—is ministry to God and neighbor. When it is done in a God-honoring way, it is a powerful witness that draws people toward the verbal witness.

2. Be patient.

Earning the right to be heard takes time. You should not expect evangelistic opportunities quickly. Trust that as you labor faithfully, God will use your track record of excellent performance and humane treatment of people to awaken the hearts of those around you. I have a relative who came to Christ after her retirement; she became convinced Christ was alive after reflecting on decades of seeing Christians do their daily work so differently.

3. Evangelize relationally.

I know the whole idea of “relationship evangelism” has sometimes been used to crowd out verbal proclamation of the gospel. But we can do both, and I’d encourage you to evangelize relationally at work. That means not reducing the gospel to a canned set of bullet points. When opportunities arise, focus on being responsive to the person you’re witnessing to—and trust that as the Lord works in them, they will continue to grow more responsive to the gospel. This is especially important in the workplace, where relational dynamics can be complex and boundaries are important.

Blessings on your efforts. If more questions come up, I hope you’ll send them in!

You can read previous installments in the Thorns & Thistles series.