Mission in the workplace
The workplace may be the Holy Spirit’s greatest arena of evangelism and discipleship in the 21st century.
01 MAY 2015 · 11:40 CET
The workplace is a fruitful setting for evangelism. It takes its cue from the first half of the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19).
They may ask us about the source of our compassion and integrity, and naturally we will talk about Jesus as we respond.
The workplace is one of the few places where believers and non-believers spend much time together and get to know each other deeply:
- Many people, especially in post-industrial economies, form some of their closest friendships at work.
- In some parts of the world, church-based or public evangelism is forbidden, restricted, or ineffective, but Christians have an opportunity to talk individually with their co-workers.
- Over a lifetime, people spend about 100,000 hours at work, where they often bond over shared tasks and interests. This gives many opportunities to talk about meaningful topics such as God.
If we are open-hearted, we grow to love and care about our co-workers. If we are trustworthy and respectful, co-workers may respond to our compassion with curiosity. They may ask us about the source of our compassion and integrity, and naturally we will talk about Jesus as we respond. They may find this kind of conversation less intimidating, off-putting, or insincere, and may find it more relational, open-minded, and authentic than if they were talking with a stranger or going into a church.
Transforming the workplace
The second reason the workplace is attracting attention is transformation. Transformation arises from the second half of the Great Commission: “teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Obeying God’s word transforms people, organizations and cultures — in other words, workplaces:
- For example, obeying the command “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) may lead us to create products and services that make life better for people, in addition to generating revenue.
- Jesus’ words “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” may lead us to expand job opportunities for people previously discriminated against or under-represented in our workplace.
- Paul’s reminder that “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” may lead us to care for the environment, educate children, work for justice, or plan financial strategies that benefit our communities.
Work has been part of God’s design from the beginning (Genesis 1:28; 2:15), and when we work in Christ, all work becomes service to God (Colossians 3:23).
Access and transformation: a virtuous cycle
Regrettably Christians sometimes regard access and transformation as mutually opposing:
- Some may worry that working to transform our workplaces could distract us from talking to our co-workers about Jesus.
- Others may worry that focusing on evangelism could lead us not to care about the quality and productivity of our work.
The good news is that there is a growing realization that access and transformation are mutually enhancing:
- When Christians do good, high-quality work that serves customers, co-workers and communities, this opens the door to evangelistic witness.
- And when people become believers, God begins to transform their workplaces — beginning with themselves — to do good work, serve people, and become a blessing for their communities.
- It is a self-reinforcing circle of virtue.
Both access and transformation are encapsulated in Acts 16:11-24:
- The first part of the passage, Acts 16:11-15, tells about Paul preaching the Gospel in the workplace of Lydia and other textile workers. Often Paul and other evangelists were unwelcome in religious and public spaces, but they found an eager reception in the garment textile workplace, perhaps because Paul worked alongside them as a textile worker (tentmaker) himself.
- The second part, Acts 16:16-24, tells about Paul and Silas liberating an exploited worker from spiritual and economic oppression. The worker, a slave girl, was possessed by a demon. Her owners, rather than trying to heal her, exploited her suffering. They presented her as fortune-teller and made “a great deal of money.” Paul cast out the demon and put an end to this workplace episode of deceiving customers and oppressing the worker.
- Coming immediately after the conversion of the textile workers, this shows that as the Holy Spirit enters workplaces, people become converted and workplaces are transformed for good.
Implications and possible responses
What can The Lausanne Movement do to encourage access and transformation through workplace ministry? The seeds are planted in the specific sections of The Cape Town Commitment section IIA 3, ‘Truth and the Workplace’.
Work has been part of God’s design from the beginning (Gen 1:28, 2:15), and when we work in Christ, all work becomes service to God (Col 3:23).
I will explore two of them further:
1. Affirming the mission of all believers
‘We encourage all believers to accept and affirm their own daily ministry and mission as being wherever God has called them to work. We challenge pastors and church leaders to support people in such ministry – in the community and in the workplace – “to equip the saints for works of service [ministry]” in every part of their lives.’ (Cape Town Commitment IIA 3B)
The Lausanne Movement can influence churches and church-related organizations to help their members affirm their work as mission that they do for God. Most Christians say their church does not give them very much help in applying their faith to their work. What can be done to assist?
- Preachers can pay more attention to the workplace aspects of scripture. One resource for this is the Theology of Work Project (www.theologyofwork.org ), which has nearly completed a commentary on what every book of the Bible says about ordinary work, workers and workplaces. There is much more in the Bible about work than most people ever imagine.
- Churches can create a 4-8 week season for its Bible study groups to pay special attention to work-related themes as they study the Bible together. This highlights for members that God cares about their work, no matter what their occupation.
- Churches can commission, pray for, or celebrate their members’ work in every occupation. Members can be asked to bring tools or symbols of their work to a worship service and dedicate them for service to God. Professor R. Paul Stevens puts it this way:
‘Give me three minutes and four questions in a service every Sunday for a year. I would get a different person up in front of the congregation each week and ask them
- Tell us about the work you do.
- What are some of the issues you face in your work?
- Does your faith make a difference to how you deal with these issues?
- How would you like us to pray for you and your ministry in the workplace?
Then we would pray for them.’
2. Equipping all Christians to be agents of God’s kingdom at work
‘We need intensive efforts to train all God’s people in whole-life discipleship, which means to live, think, work, and speak from a biblical worldview and with missional effectiveness in every place or circumstance of daily life and work…’ (Cape Town Commitment IIA 3C)
The Lausanne Movement can influence churches, church-related organizations, and individuals to equip Christians to be agents of God’s kingdom in, at, and through their work:
- Churches can offer small groups or workshops where people discuss their daily work from a biblical perspective. Redeemer Presbyterian Church (New York City) offers occupation-specific groups for bankers, educators, engineers, actors, diplomats, politicians and 12 other professions. Adelaide Place Baptist Church (Glasgow, Scotland) and St. Mark’s Episcopal Church (San Antonio, TX USA) offer weekly gatherings where anyone can drop in and get the group’s help in thinking through workplace issues biblically, theologically, and practically.
- Seminaries, theological schools and Bible colleges can train pastoral students in how to create congregations that equip their members for the workplace. Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (near Boston, MA USA) offers degree programs in workplace leadership and business ethics. Regent College (Vancouver, Canada) and Laidlaw-Carey Graduate School (Auckland, New Zealand), among others, offer workplace ministry courses or classes. A group of 15 North American seminaries have formed the Oikonomia Network to develop workplace curricula and resources.
- Christian universities and Christian study centers affiliated with secular universities can offer courses, seminars, and resources to help students in every discipline integrate their faith with their study and work. The Universities of Cambridge and Oxford (UK), Melbourne (Australia), and Princeton, Seattle Pacific, Concordia and LaTourneau (USA) are among those taking this initiative.
- Christians in any workplace can join together with others in their locality to form workplace ministries and support groups. There are hundreds of city, regional and national workplace/marketplace ministries around the world.
The workplace may be the Holy Spirit’s greatest arena of evangelism and discipleship in the 21st century. Could it be that God is calling The Lausanne Movement to leadership in this work?
Dr William G Messenger is the Executive Editor of the Theology of Work Project, Inc., an international organization dedicated to researching, writing, and circulating materials about how the Christian faith can contribute to non-church workplaces. Its materials are available free of charge at www.theologyofwork.org.
This article was first published in Lausanne Marketplace Ministry (LMM) issue network, and has been republished with permission.