2. What does it mean to be a witness for Christ in the secular workplace?
The answer is very different depending on your workplace environment. Some secular workplaces will be open, and some will be very much business- and productivity-focused. One of the most interesting things on this point that I've read in a while was actually something I saw on Patheos, where the author [see the article in two pieces here and here] wrote about the ethics of firing somebody when your organization is structurally against firing someone well.
I would rephrase that: How do you witness in that situation when the system of your workplace is functioning against you? To some degree you have to make a choice about the organization you work for. There will always be things that are not in line with our values, but if the entire organization contradicts your values, you should take a close look at that. That's something we don't talk about often enough. As Christians, sometimes that may mean that we're not called to work in certain areas. For me, that's more about the culture of the workplace than the product the workplace produces. I don't mean that Christians cannot work in bars; that's too simplistic. But if you have an institution that is ethically corrupt, you're not going to be able to combat that all by yourself.
I was a teacher in public school for years, and I think that's a good example. As a teacher, I was in a position of authority over the students. Personally I felt that it was very problematic to do a lot of witnessing because of my authority position. It was not a balanced relationship; there was undue pressure from me toward them no matter what I was presenting. That's something to keep in mind in the workplace; if you're a boss, you're in an uneven relationship. Witnessing works best when it is between equals. And often that means that it's because a relationship has developed. Witness in the sense of evangelizing is always closely tied to relationships for me.
There were instances when students approached me, and I certainly didn't hide my faith. When we were dealing with The Scarlet Letter, I would give insights into marriage by discussing my own marriage and insights into church by discussing my experience in church. So if I was in a situation where it was appropriate to talk about how much I loved my wife and what that relationship means, then it could also be appropriate for me to talk about how much I loved God. But in the same way that you don't burst into the lunchroom and talk about how much you love your wife -- that would be weird -- we don't have to act weird about our faith.
In other words, I didn't hide my faith but I shared it in such a way that the conversation was not about witnessing exactly, but about sharing myself. If students approached me, legally I was allowed to share with them -- just as, if I were a boss and someone approached me for personal spiritual advice, it would be absolutely appropriate in that situation to share. And in order to open yourself up for that kind of conversation, you have to be open about your life.
Finally, none of the above would have had any credibility if I were not a good teacher. This is where excellence comes in. I think sometimes we can use the excellence idea as a crutch to avoid taking a stand. That is a real mistake. At some point we have to say that we believe in excellence because we are called to create by the creator; his creation is excellent and therefore our creation should be excellent. The excellence of our creation gives glory to him. But you have to admit that you're Christian in order for anyone to see it that way. The excellence is really about credibility -- nobody cares what my personal life is like if I am a lousy teacher. But the credibility is a precondition for being an effective witness; it is not necessarily a witness all by itself.
Read the second part of the interview buy clicking here.
This appears as a part of the Faith@Work Consultation. See also: