Summary: Part of an ongong series that deals with enables people to serve God now, in thier community with ones workplace as one option. In this message I teach people a gentle method of evangelism at work.

April 17, 2005

Pastor Richard Pfeil

Serving God in the Marketplace

John 8:1-11, 1 Peter 2:21-25,

Mark 5:18-20, Matthew 4:18-20

Heavenly Father, we live in a world in which it is not easy being a believer; it’s not easy trying to maintain patience; it’s not easy maintaining integrity; it’s not easy doing the right thing sometimes, when everyone else seems to get ahead doing the wrong thing. It’s not easy pushing back our passions, our desires, our appetites, when everyone else just seems to let them go. It’s not easy living by faith, the whole world cries you are missing out on something, you are missing out. What we are missing out on are things like guilt and dysfunction, lack of meaning and lack of hope. We are missing out on lots of self, missing out on a lot of bad stuff which is just fine, Lord, help us and give us strength to conduct ourselves in such a way that we bring honor and glory to your name. In times that we fail (and we all fail), Lord help us to get up. We pray all these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

As you come in prayer, what is God’s response? I just love what God says concerning Jesus, 1Peter says, “He committed no sin and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him he did not retaliate, when he suffered he made no threats, instead he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed, for you are like sheep gone astray, but now you have returned to the shepherd and overseer of us all.” It’s wonderful to know that God always receives us back; that’s the wonderful goodness and grace of God.

That’s kind of what we are going to look at today - about how we can share that goodness and grace of God that we have experienced, with others. Last week we changed our focus from God’s internal, interior work, which we call discipleship, to God’s exterior work which we call outreach, or simply being a witness to him in the sphere of our influence. Last week we talked about one opportunity for God working through us. In outreach to our community is the potential for a Youth ministry, reaching out to young people in our neighborhoods, in our schools, in our church through youth groups. One thing I forgot to mention is another thing you can do to bring youth to Christ and that is to bring them to youth group. Am I right Susie? I left it out last week, bring them to youth group, so if you haven’t brought your kids to youth group, I encourage you to do so. They will have a wonderful time, I have a child (and it’s kind of a complement), who wanted to stay home and be with Daddy. That’s a complement, but she went to youth group at church. A couple of weeks ago she said Dad, I don’t know what was in my mind as to why I didn’t want to go to youth group, I’m just having a wonderful time. So I encourage you to bring your young people to youth group.

Today we are going to look at another often overlooked area of ministry that has real potential for a lot of people. It is a place where we will spend 65 percent of our waking lives. It is a place where there is already a lot of people who have not yet made a commitment to Christ, and it is the same place where you have some longstanding relationships. And what is that place? (Yeah it’s in the bulletin). Work. Or you can say school if your workplace is school. If you have been praying for a ministry and you haven’t heard God answer, the answer may be that he wants you to minister right where you are - right at school or at work, and it fits Scripture perfectly. Matthew 28:19-20 “Go therefore and make disciples baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them in whatever I commanded you, and surely I am with you until the end of the age.” Now one thing you may not know: in that text there is only one verb, the rest are participles. One verb, and what do you think the verb is? Is it go, or is it make disciples? It’s make disciples. Go is a participle which means it’s important, here’s what it says, it’s not a command to go anywhere it’s a command to make disciples. So wherever you are as you go, wherever God sends you, make disciples.

Now when you look in the New Testament, not all disciples went on a missionary journey. Not all of them are called to a missionary journey, some stayed right in Jerusalem. Why? Because it was living out Matthew 19, wherever you go make disciples; you can make disciples at work. This is especially true for those who spend a lot of time at work. You are so busy at work that there just isn’t a potential for time in your life to find a ministry anywhere else, your workplace sucks all your time. This is also right for those who hate their jobs. You hate your job… if it’s Monday, if it’s lost its spice, if it’s is so routine you are getting ready to jump out of your skull, I have a suggestion, here it is: Stop working for the company, stop working for the paycheck, stop working for your boss and start working for Jesus Christ. Change your focus, see your workplace as a mission field and begin to see yourself as a missionary, and see what happens.

Howard Hendricks tells a story. He was on American Airlines and (how many travel a lot?), he was seated behind an obnoxious person on the plane- rude, arrogant, disgusting. This guy was that times 4, and then the guy got drunk and he became worse. He noticed the stewardess who was waiting on him all the time was absolutely unflappable. It didn’t matter what happened, the guy never got under her skin. He was so impressed he decided to go to the back of the plane after they finished serving drinks, to talk to her. He wanted to commend her. He also wanted the address to American Airlines and the name of her boss so he could commend her to the company. Here is what she said, she said I don’t work for American Airlines, I work for Jesus Christ. Now he said after he heard that, he fell down in a faint, and after he recovered he got back up and she started telling him about the difference that Christ had made in her life. He was just incredibly impressed. You may hear that story, and say man that’s not me.

Maybe your experience is more like a man name John. John shares his experience, saying this: “All my gentle attempts to share the gospel were rebuffed and politely dismissed. I didn’t speak their jargon; I couldn’t connect with them socially because most of their social events flew in the face of my personal morality and beautiful standards. The people around me became increasingly uneasy around me; in fact, people began to avoid me. I want to share the gospel with them, but I don’t know how. I feel totally incompetent and ineffective, how do I reach my co-workers?”

That’s our focus this morning: how we can reach our co-workers. Before we begin lets pray and then we will jump into the message. (Prayer)

First point we need to make and that is being a witness at work is not a calling, it’s not a gift. It has less to do with gifts and abilities than being a matter of our essence. We are all witnesses. John 15 says the very same thing. We don’t have a choice in the matter - we are witnesses. Now we can give a poor witness or we can give a good witness. We can be a witness to our own goodness or we can be a witness to the fact that God has worked in our lives and developed our character as a response to our relationship with Him.

Matthew 5 says we are all salt and light; this is just who we are. Once you put faith in Christ, you become a witness, you become salt and light. The question is how bright you want to be and how salty and how effective? The reason why John (in the article online) was not more effective was because when it came to sharing his faith at the workplace, John acted more like a hunter. Now what is a hunter? Have you ever met a hunter at work. What does a hunter do? Well a hunter looks for prey; they go looking for someone to share the gospel with or have a religious conversation with. When they find someone, they target the person. Whether the prey is ready or not they get shot with a message or the gospel or whatever it is, much to their surprise and shock! Sometimes it works, but sometimes the person gets wounded. People get hurt; people get embarrassed; people get put off. They are turned off and they walk away wounded. If you do that enough, what happens is, when people see the hunter coming down the hallway at work, (what happens to deer when hunting season begins?), they scatter! They don’t want to be hit by the hunter. So many people see sharing their faith as being a hunter, something that is pushed on people, something that is unexpected, unwanted, and when they see you coming, like a deer in headlights, they avoid you. If that is you , if you have had this experience or you know someone like that, I think it is important to realize that God did not call us to be hunters, when God choose a metaphor to explain how to share your faith with others he choose the analogy of fishing,

How many fishermen in the room here? How many of you fish? Matthew 4:19 say this, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men” or fishers of women. What does a fisherman need to do in order to be effective, in order to catch fish? Well first, you need to know fish. You just can’t take any old pole or line or any old worm and throw it into any pond. You need to understand fish. There is a way of catching bass, there is a way of catching walleye, there is a way of catching northern pike, there is a way of catching trout, and they are all different. All the fish take different lures, different bait and different kinds of food. It changes with location. The bass in Minnesota do not bite on the same things as the bass in the Delaware River. So to be effective as a fisherman, you need to understand fish; you need to understand fish in your area. You need to get to know them, and the same thing is true if you want to fish at work. You need to get to know people, in a very personal intimate way. You need to get to know people.

Now I know there are a lot of people who like to use their lunchtime as their devotions, that is the only time you have, God bless you, but if you want to effectively reach the people at your workplace, then I encourage you not to do your devotion at lunchtime. Instead, just take the time to get to know the people in your office. Hang around the cooler (but not when you are supposed to be working). Hang around the cubicles, take someone to lunch, or go to lunch with the gang. Just listen, listen to people. People are dying for someone to listen to them and their problems and their desires. Sometimes, if the opportunity allows, ask if you could pray for them. You don’t have to pray right there, just say I will pray for that. If you know someone’s birthday, bring in a cake; or someone had a baby, bring in a gift; whatever it is, do something to get involved. Get to know the people in the office and let them get to know you.

People are not disembodied spirits. They are people - people matter to God. People will not care what you know, until they know that you care. Paul says something similar in 1 Thessalonians 2:8. He says, “Because we love you so much we are delighted to share, not only the gospel or the good news with you, but our very lives. Are you sharing your very life with those you work with or those with whom you go to school? If you want to reach them it requires that you share your very life. Fish do not like to be snagged. If you want to scare fish away, try to snag them.

Secondly, fishing is selective, if you want to be effective as a fisherman; you know you can’t catch every fish. Some fish are just not hungry. Some fish don’t nibble, some fish do though. It is important to realize it’s selective. You only share something about your life and faith with those who are interested.

Third, for a fisherman to be effective, you don’t put the whole buffet on the hook. Just put a little morsel, just a little morsel. This is what fishing is, we talked about witnessing at the workplace. It is casually and naturally and confidently inserting fitting comments (not out of place comments) about God, church, faith, the bible or something spiritual into a conversation. There are loads of people who have discovered this is a very effective way to sharing something about God in the workplace.

I will give you one example. A businessman was on an airplane. He had learned this way of sharing his faith. He was talking with another businessman on the plane, and as soon as the stewardess brought the meals around, he wanted to say grace, but he didn’t want the guy to feel uncomfortable. So he just said quietly but enough to be heard, Oh, I am so hungry. This food looks great, thank you God for all things good. He continued the discussion, the conversation, they were having. He didn’t say anything else. But he decided to see if the guy would nibble. They went back to their work. The guy began to read a book, but an hour later, he put down his book and said, all right he had a religious question for him, and they began to share. Again, you cast your line, you put out a little morsel. If they bite, that gives you the opportunity to share more and answer their questions; if not that’s okay. A fisherman is patient; you throw the line out and you do a lot of waiting.

A professor at the university had lost his wallet. After he found it, one of his college came in and said, weren’t you lucky to have found your wallet. Initially he just was going to let that pass, but he decided he would just going to say something, not preaching or anything. It wasn’t luck, we prayed like mad and God helped us find it. That was the end of the conversation. The person left the room, but about an hour later though, and because he didn’t push the conversation, about an hour later this other professor came back into the room and asked the question, Do you really think God cares about little things like that? He responded a couple words or phrases and the conversation died and that was okay. You just answer that question. About a week or two later the person came back with another question. Later he came back with another question and he was able to share his faith with this person. Again fishing is just simply inserting (feeding) comments about God or your faith casually and naturally into your conversations.

What I like about this approach is this: it’s enjoyable; it’s enjoyable to share about your faith with someone who wants to hear it because they are asking you the question. You are not starting the conversation and forcing it upon them. You begin to think like Jesus thought. Jesus said in John 4:10 “If you only knew what I have to give you, you would be begging me for the answer.” Second, it shows you what to say. A lot of time people teach methods like the Roman Road. You have to learn it, memorize it, and you’ve got to find some way of bringing it up within the conversation. For some, it’s just so much pressure - you have to remember all the points, and you’re asking yourself if you did it right. Some people just can’t remember all that stuff.

With this method (fishing) there is no speech to memorize, you simply respond to a question that they ask you and you already know the material to respond with, just answer the question. If you fear someone asking you a question you can’t answer there are some things you can do. One is to be honest with them and tell them that you don’t know the answer, but you will get back to them. But don’t fear because most people do not ask very deep theological or philosophical questions. It’s not the most popular subject anymore in our universities. Most people do not live their lives well thought-out. If challenged in their beliefs, they fall like a house of cards.

Paul Little makes this point in the book, How to Give Away Your Faith. (It is a wonderful book, it’s in the resource list). He says really there are only two or three questions that people repeatedly ask and he gives the answer to those questions. If you fear having to be asked hard questions all you have to do is on a 3 x 5 card write the question, find a good answer, write the answer on the other side of the card and memorize it. You will only need 3 or 4 cards, because people ask the same questions repeatedly. There are resources in the sermon outline with books that will give you good answers.

A great book is Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ. I encourage you to read that. Another thing I like about this way of sharing the faith is it’s kind, it doesn’t rub upon other people, and it doesn’t make them uncomfortable or embarrassed. A grad student at the University of California, Berkeley, not known for conservatism, saw a guy walking down the hall with a Bible in his hand. She had to do a research paper on the reformation, so she asked him for his help. Here is what he said, “I wanted to tell Daphne so much about my faith, but she assured me she had no personal interest in religion. I suspected that was untrue but she was prickly, so I let her questions guide me. I answered each one briefly. Just a little bit of bait along the way became a long substantial conversation that let me say most of the things I had longed to tell her. Then I gave her two names of pastors who could help her finish her research project and she began to leave. But just before she goes out the door, she turned around and came back, and thanked me for not being pushy.”

No, people do not want to be pushed into the Christian faith. They won’t take it hook, line and sinker. They don’t like to be snagged; they don’t like it to be shoved down their throat; they want to nibble. II Peter 3:14-16 says this, “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your heart reverence Christ as Lord. Always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you the reason for the hope that you have. Yet do it with gentleness and respect keeping a clear conscience.” Well pastor, what happens if I blow it? I don’t set the hook, I don’t reel him in. As Presbyterians, reformed believers, we have a wonderful document that helps us. It’s the document of Gods Sovereignty. If a person, (and it may sound heavy, but here it is), if a person really is to come to faith, if they were really meant to come to faith, God would make sure that our feeble attempts, or our lack thereof, and skill in sharing the faith with others would not be in the way of their coming to salvation. God would make sure that didn’t occur. So you can rest. You do not have to worry about it. One, God is going to take care of it. Two, remember not all the fisherman can catch all the fish. Three, no one catches them all, there are other fisherman who will catch fish.

I want to close with one final clue, with Mark Green who said something wonderful: You can make a difference in the workplace. “In the workplace the witness comes in a form that cannot be tuned out like a radio program, it can’t be zapped like a TV broadcast, it can’t be thrown away like bible tract, it can’t be turned down like an invitation to a concert. The person yet to accept Christ as their personal savior can tune almost anything out, but he or she can’t tune out the spectacle of the Christian living in the power of the Spirit day by day, hour by hour, crisis by crisis” at work.

Maybe God has called you to be a workplace witness. God is calling you to fish at work. Remember, if you catch them, God will clean them. If you catch them, God will clean them. So probably the biggest impediment to people coming to faith is the fact that we do not fish, we do not cast the line. They are never going to know unless you tell them something, tell them the reason for the hope that you have. Not in a pushy way, but in a gentle way responding to their questions.