By Vicky Wu Davis
When I contemplate workplace evangelism, something within me withdraws. It's not because I haven't addressed the Christian audience before -- I've done ministry work that required speaking in front of as many as three church congregations per week. It's not that I haven't represented my faith-based activities within a secular environment -- I have. If you ask my family and friends, you'll learn that I'm a workaholic -- I run a software company full time, I am a Managing Partner of a boutique executive search firm (part-time), and I'm into all sorts of social entrepreneurial activity through nonprofit Board positions and mentoring. I have plenty of "workplaces" to evangelize in.
So why the averse reaction?
Let me start with a little background. I consider myself a bit of a black sheep, never fully shaped with the characteristics of any category society has created. I don't like labels, but for all intents and purposes, I consider myself an Evangelical Christian. I was raised in a non-Christian home by my mother, with whom I was very close. We shared everything except our religious beliefs. Whenever I'd try to share the Bible with her, she'd say, "You have your beliefs, let me have mine."
Still, she was overjoyed for me when I was baptized at age 16. My mother was very shy, but she knew how important it was to have a parent partake in the ceremony; she convinced my father to stand up and read a line of scripture at my baptism (he's a good public speaker). My mother knew how much I loved Jesus and going to church. I read the Bible diligently. When I was in my early 20's -- not long before she passed away -- she took my hand and quietly told me that she believed in my Jesus, and that she was so happy that I go to church. I wanted to ask her a million questions...but I just squeezed her hand and held it in silence.
In college, I spent countless nights having philosophical and religious debates with friends. My involvement with InterVarsity, my Sundays at church, the Bible studies, my trip to the Urbana conference, my actions, choices, and etc., often sparked conversations with my non-Christian friends on "why I believe." The debates may have gotten heated, but they were never forced, and at the end we would agree to disagree.
The natural flow of conversation in college is in essence how I share my faith with others now. But when it comes to workplace evangelism, my feelings are different. For starters, I believe certain topics such as religion, politics, and personal family issues should be avoided in the workplace. (Am I hearing gasps and shrieks?) I actually think it's unprofessional to take up company time to have these conversations, and if you're in a hiring capacity, there could be legal implications as well.
Also, I know a number of folks who focus on workplace evangelism. They don't really care about or enjoy the "secular portion" of their work. Those things don't matter, they say, because their goal is to share the gospel with their colleagues. Maybe I'm just using a small data sample of workplace evangelists, but they only do the minimal amount of work required to keep their job. I don't believe that's setting a very good example.
On the other hand, I don't believe you need to hide your beliefs in order to be successful. In fact, the harder you work and build yourself into a position of visibility and respect in the workplace, the better the chance you will have of being a light. In the circle of successful, elite businesspeople, being a Christian is not exactly favored. The innovators and enterprisers are interested in networking with others of equal or greater success. They are interested in other successful people's lives, both professionally and personally. Francis Collins, the former Director of the Human Genome project, and an evangelical Christian, garnered attention from both believers and unbelievers because of the extraordinary success of his work. Now he is becoming the director of the National Institutes of Health. In my view, more "successful Christians" such as this are needed in the "secular world."
When I first graduated from college, my work with InterVarsity was on my résumé. My volunteer work at my church is on my current biography that gets circulated at speaking engagements or CEO Roundtables. Many colleagues know that I spend a lot of time with my family because I schedule it on my calendar as set-in-stone meetings. I have a toddler son who goes almost everywhere with my husband and me -- to our salsa dance lessons, to my husband's baseball league games, to church. My faith is the foundation of my life and my family is my world. I don't hide that from anybody. In fact, the more visibility I have from success in my career, the more people know what makes up "me" -- that is, my character, my values, my core beliefs.