Evangelism (or not) in the Workplace

Photo by Jason Betz on Unsplash
Photo by Jason Betz on Unsplash
Guest post by Rachel Kramer

[Rachel grew up in a family of pastors in rural Wisconsin and has worked in non-profit ministry for the past decade. Three months ago she began an experiment in community engagement by working as a Starbucks barista.]

I think it is safe to say that I have spent my life in the Christian bubble:
  • Ages 0-16: The majority of my friends and the people I spent the most time with were fellow church-goers
  • Ages 16-18: The majority of my friends were involved in my high school’s drama department (50/50 on the church-goers)
  • Ages 18-22: I was at a Christian college and working in Christian ministries during the summer
  • Ages 22-28: I worked in Christian ministry

Other than my junior and senior years of high school, I have been predominately surrounded by Christians and/or those coming to me for Christian wisdom/care/entertainment of some sort.

And now I work at Starbucks – perhaps the embodiment of post-Christian America.

The vast majority of Christians have jobs outside “the bubble,” but this is new for me. So I have been reflecting lately on what it looks like be a Christian in an environment that is not explicitly Christian.

Reflecting on my childhood mental model of “being Christian,” I should wear apparel and jewelry that indicates my commitment to my faith, correct people when they say something “wrong” (e.g. when my co-worker asked me if I, too, ever fear that I’m going to hell when I hand a child a drink that is overloaded with sugar), and excessively talk about my involvement in church or other explicitly Christian endeavors. Naturally, this will then lead to people asking more about my faith and how I got to be so wonderful, which will be the opportunity to “evangelize them” (which I think was supposed to involve some version of re-telling the Easter story) and boom! We’ll have another Christian. Goal accomplished.

While I’m sure most of my faith leaders across the years would not actually advocate the above approach, somehow that became my default assumption for a lived-faith generally, and evangelism specifically. This is inconvenient because I don’t really want to hang out with that Rachel, let alone be her.

So what now? How do I show up at Starbucks?

There are two main quotes that have been fueling my vision as of late. The first comes from an Australian aboriginal woman, speaking to some well-intentioned missionaries, and captures the value of mutuality. The second is the Body Oak Cliff Mission statement, and captures the value of embodiment.

If you’re coming to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

-Lilla Watson

I’m tired of being the savior. I am not very good at it, it’s exhausting, and I’m finally seeing how it is detrimental to both the person I intend to help and to myself. Instead, I desire to approach my co-workers and Starbucks patrons as people to be received rather than fixed. I hope that I might relate to them in such a way that it is possible for them to reach me. This is more vulnerable than the role of Powerful, Wise One, but I am suspicious that it just might be better for everyone in the long run.

Embodying the love of God in the everyday

-Body Oak Cliff mission statement

This feels like a wedding vow type promise where at first blush it seems super simple (“of course I’ll love him for richer or poorer!”) but then when your finances take an unexpected turn you can’t help but notice the increase of stress and bickering. Embodying God’s love feels way more possible and natural than dusting off my “Abreadcrumb & Fish” shirt and making sure my co-workers don’t say anything eschatologically questionable, but on other days it feels way out of my league. Am I willing to be seen the way Jesus allows himself to be fully seen and even misunderstood? Am I willing to draw close enough to be hurt by their rejection? And if I do these things, is it enough?

I have learned when the “e-word” comes into play, there is a high probability that my false self is stretching its wings. Because what do I really mean by “enough” in this context? Even though I’m trying to adopt a different approach to “being Christian,” I still find myself unconsciously looking for the outcome of my old mental model. That mental model defines “success” as most of my colleagues (ideally, all of them) becoming outspoken Christians who attend church and lead a “moral” life.

Will an embodied and mutual approach result in mass conversion? I don’t know, and frankly, probably not. But is this the goal? I also don’t know. I imagine God calls us to something deeper than simply recruitment for our team, but this flails against some of the evangelistic values I was raised with. And thus I embark upon an experiment. Is there more to “being Christian” in non-Christian environments than intellectually challenging people’s beliefs? Is there value to Christians doing good in the world without an underlying agenda of conversion? If "yes," what does it look like to live out my faith with this new way of thinking? I have some ideas, but there is a lot that I still don't know. What I do know is, if I can continue pressing in and engaging this conversation in the context of community, reflection, and surrender, this season will be full of growth.


Reflection Questions:

  1. How has your mental model of “being Christian” shifted over the years?
  2. How does shame (and the question, “What is enough?”) impact the way you interact with your co-workers?
  3. Is there any area of your life where you would like to try an experiment? What might that look like? What stops you?