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Evangelism and the workplace 

 

Churches have accidentally silenced the very people who are most in touch with the dis-evangelised coal face. What is the latest thinking? Where is technology taking us? What philosophies are already changing our lives? Somewhere among the Church’s secular workforce someone will sense an answer. But that is not how we plan evangelism. How could we do better? By Terry Young.

The third blog in a five part series exploring how the workplace can inform our faith  

 

Workplace700

 

Where is the hotspot?

Well, where do believers meet those who believe differently? It started beside a river when John the Baptist preached to mixed multitudes of local leaders, foreign soldiers and ordinary people. Similar crowds gathered around Jesus up hill and down dale with a hunger for good news.

The disciples moved from religious places (temple and synagogue) to secular spaces (including the Hall of Tyrannus) and out of doors, especially in cities where everyone ‘spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas’ (Acts 17:21). Without fridges, the marketplace called to everyone, a hotspot where good news spilled from one community to another.

Professional spaces are not big in the Bible, but we know how soldiers thought and acted because Paul is inserted into their world. Snatches of his letters show how he was influenced by, and influenced, their ranks as he integrates their experience into his teaching when he talks about civil authority or famously as he describes the Armour of God. His martial thinking – not in brutality or bloodshed (which is a very different idea in his gospel) – points to commitment and effectiveness.

I’m halfway through Duncan Hamilton’s biography of Eric Liddell, the Chariots of Fire hero who swapped events at the 1924 Olympics to avoid running on Sunday. With gold and a 400m world record, he set out for China, where the ineptitude of the British Olympic Committee was dwarfed beside that of the London Missionary Society (LMS). His hotspot was thousands of miles from London in a sophisticated culture the Trustees could never grasp, but where atrocities and anti-western sentiment were rife. They failed to understand his hotspot but continued to issue directives.

The workplace is certainly one of our top hotspots (although it is fragmenting with home working and telecommuting). So, what can we learn from our evangelising heroes Paul and Eric? As Paul takes his gospel into the hotspot, his gospel takes on a shiny new look, while Eric is hamstrung by the distance between his world of evangelism and that of the LMS Directors.



What structures will work today?

From them we learn that a group of church-centred experts will never know or experience enough to direct those at the coalface: ministers cannot simply encourage their congregations to be more attentive in evangelising at work. Those in the pew cannot simply read a book or watch a video and get on with it. They need to be part of defining what it is they are to get on with.

So, the hub-and-spoke model of evangelism (directing from the centre and responding at the edges) is dead. Actually, it is a widely abandoned model. Military commanders emphasise shared situational awareness, which means everyone has a mix of the local picture and the big picture. Giants in manufacturing, logistics, and retail have spent trillions learning to build links all the way from customer to provider. At their best, they push and suck information in bewildering complexity over their networks to learn from the edges and make decisions that involve the whole organisation.

We can learn from the workplace in a two-way dynamic that listens to what is happening at the hotspot to empower those who are there. I don’t know what structures it will take to create a shared situation awareness for evangelism across our churches, but I am sure it will look like nothing we call evangelism today.



Who does what?

Let’s start at the coalface. In a world of shared situational awareness, everywhere and anywhere is the most important place, but work is the location from which it is easiest to start our thinking. Not only is it where the rubber meets the road, but workers are most aware of critical issues long before they surface as discussion papers. Unless they are silent, workers soon discover how to manage their faith and message in an environment which is indifferent at best and hostile at worst.

To their roles as carers and churchgoers and friends and parents and spouses and workmates, they have a new responsibility: to think their faith through and contribute to the evangelisation discussion. Worse still, it is a task you cannot schedule in, because you never know when you will get your next developmental experience. How is being hauled in front of the Head of Finance over something you don’t feel able to sign going to help you win that person over? What pressures is she under? Why can’t he understand that you, too, have a valid position? And out of that, can you develop some neat ideas about divine accountancy to help others read Romans 4?

However, those on the coalface may give their theology away a little too quickly, so ministers, teachers and spiritual thinkers, especially those with privileged time to focus on Scripture, also have a new role in grasping the unfolding dilemmas from the workplace and discovering godly, modern, effective ways forward. In other sectors, the interplay back and forth with a tricky problem is what leads to a good idea that can be put into good practice. This area desperately needs fresh thinking by those with strong theological backgrounds.



How?

Surely, we need both compassion and efficiency and we can learn about both in the workplace.

Let’s talk about efficiency another time and finish with compassion by reflecting on two sermons I heard, delivered by two very different and committed Christians: one mentioned sexuality and the other, corporate culture. From the pew, I could see that neither knew anyone well in the community spoken out against. As well as morals – and there is always a strong moral story – the workplace is where we meet an ideology in a real person. What do you do when someone you have sparred with pops in to sort out a problem and then breaks down because his son has just started chemo? That’s the hotspot for you. It’s also a learning opportunity for the whole of your church.

 

This is the third blog in a five-part series:
 
  1. How can I bring the workplace into my faith? - While Jesus clearly rejected worldly values, the parables in Luke showed he thought some worldly methods worth a second glance. I am now increasingly convinced that we need to revisit and rethink the workplace, perhaps radically so
  2. Making better decisions and developing people - What can churches learn from the workspace about decisions, development, and supporting good people? 
  3. Evangelism - Churches have accidentally silenced the very people who are most in touch with the dis-evangelised coal face. What is the latest thinking? Where is technology taking us? What philosophies are already changing our lives? Somewhere among the Church’s secular workforce someone will sense an answer. But that is not how we plan evangelism. How could we do better?
  4. The poor - Nobody else was as interested in the poor as Jesus, yet the Church has an underused mandate for entrepreneurial wealth creation to the benefit of others. What role the Christian entrepreneur? 
  5. Redeeming the workplace - Having denied working Christians a voice in church, it is hardly surprising that the Church has lost its voice at work. What was supposed to be a creative space where effort generates wealth that spills over and blesses society, is more often a meaningless grind. So how can the workplace be redeemed?

 

 


Image | Stocksnap



Terry Young was born to missionary parents working in the Middle East. He has always tried to unify his life of worship and secular missions, and has been part of church leadership teams in Essex, and at Slough Baptist Church. He has written a few books that link worlds, including After the Fishermen, and Jake, Just Learn to Worship.

After a mobile early childhood his family settled in the UK to the northwest of Birmingham, and eventually he studied at the local university. After his doctoral studies he worked for 16 years in Chelmsford undertaking research and business development in the aerospace sector, where his interest was in fibre optics and photonics. In the end he gravitated to healthcare systems and move to Datchet with a position as a university professor
 




 



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