3 reasons we fear talking about Jesus in the workplace

BY: J.B. Tanwell

Photo of woman doing silent hand sign

If you are looking for reasons not to talk about Jesus in your workplace, there are plenty. And to be fair, many of them sound reasonable.

Here are a few I have thought myself or heard from others:

  • My boss is really anti-religion and it will make things really difficult for me.
  • None of my colleagues are Christian and I fear being isolated.
  • People in my workplace think Christians are fundamentalist and homophobic.
  • When I told someone at work I am a Christian he presumed I judged his lifestyle choices.
  • I am afraid I cannot defend my beliefs well enough if I get into a discussion about them.

Maybe you’ve heard a sermon instructing you to boldly sacrifice your reputation for the cause of the gospel. Perhaps you heard someone compare the opposition you might face at work to the suffering of Christians being persecuted in certain countries where their faith is illegal.

Depending on how these things were said you might even have felt like you were being told to put your big boy (or big girl) pants on and deal with it — in the name of Jesus.

Outwardly you nodded. After all, you did not want to appear to disagree with concepts that can be supported with Scripture. But you heard your inner voice replying, “You do not have to work where I work every day.”

If you have ever felt that way, trust me, you are not alone. Even when something is biblically true, it still has to be worked out in our individual experiences and contexts.

Fortunately, God is more gracious than we can ever imagine, and more patient. He knows we are on a journey, and for many of us a big part of that journey is bringing together who we are both inside and outside of the workplace.

In this post we are going to unpack three big themes related to why many of us feel reluctant to talk about Jesus at work. But this is a MissionHub blog post, so we are not going to leave you there. We will also suggest a few ways to counter those themes so we can see God at work where we work, and know we are part of it.

So let’s think about our first theme.

Talking about Jesus might alienate people you work alongside every day

We all want to feel accepted where we work. In some ways it’s not that different from school when we were kids. You work hard to find things you have in common with your colleagues. And while some of us feel more vulnerable than other to the relational dynamics of a workplace, the truth is we all care about what people think about us. That’s natural.

Our faith in Jesus is a big deal. It represents the core of the story of who we are and who we hope we are becoming. But in most workplaces these days, you are likely to find people who have had a negative experience of religion at some point in their life. Most workplaces also contain people with strong opinions — that they love to share in strong ways — about life, the universe, anything and everything.

So if it feels scary to join in a debate about sports, culture or something in the news, then talking about Jesus at work is bound to feel dangerous.

So what do we do?

Here are three things I do that have helped me learn to talk about Jesus at work without alienating others:

1. I ask questions as much as I state beliefs.

Being genuinely curious about the views of others challenges many people’s negative perception of Christians as being too “preachy.”

2. I ignore the voice telling me to say everything.

Just because I know how to explain the gospel or share my testimony with someone does not mean I have to say everything every time I see an opportunity to talk about Jesus. I try to share my beliefs in smaller chunks and gauge how someone is responding by asking questions to see how that person is tracking with me.

3. I demonstrate care about the people I work with.

The gospel is something we demonstrate and communicate. Remembering details about our colleagues’ lives, and seeking to serve them whenever we can, creates a different atmosphere when the time comes to talk about what we believe.

Some people will distance themselves from you if they know you are a Christian, no matter what you do. You cannot control how others feel about you, so that cannot be your ultimate goal.

Instead, try to be honest with yourself about whether you are being inauthentic in order to feel accepted. I want to avoid adding to someone’s misconceptions about what a Christian really is.

Action Step: Think of 3–5 people in your workplace who you hope to have a spiritual conversation with, and put their names in the MissionHub app.

Now choose one step of faith to take with any or all of these people in the coming week. You can choose from steps MissionHub suggests or create one for yourself.

You might start with something simple like: “Mention that you went to church to anyone who asks you what you did over the weekend.” 

Talking about Jesus will jeopardize your career prospects

A friend of mine told me a story about a social event with co-workers. The conversation turned to the subject of whether there is any deeper meaning to life. But just as my friend sensed an opportunity to talk candidly about spiritual things, his boss leaned over from the next table and gave them a warning.

“Be very careful what you say now, because it could determine whether you have a future on this team.”

That is an extreme example of something many Christians fear. Sadly, the truth is that in some workplaces, our opportunities for advancement can be influenced a lot by how well we are perceived as “fitting in.” And that makes it feel like we need to talk and behave more like the people around us.

Maybe swearing is very normal in your workplace, but you do not want to communicate that way. Or perhaps it’s common to be critical of colleagues or superiors, and the fact that you are not critical means people relate to you as if you feel superior to them.

There is no easy answer to this. Most societies encourage people to fit in. But that is not our calling as Christians. We are ambassadors for Christ and I often think about what that literally means.

An ambassador is commissioned to represent one culture as they live in the middle of a different one. That does not mean you need to constantly communicate that your worldview is superior. But it does mean that blending in is not a part of your job description.

But remember, ambassadors live under a specific set of protections — diplomatic immunity. This protection provides diplomats with a sense of security.

Even if it sounds like a vague theological concept, it’s vital we enter our workplace every day knowing that God is the source of our security. The more we define ourselves by how God feels about us, the less power the opinion of others will hold in our lives.

Ultimately we want our career prospects to be built on the quality of our work and our character. Keeping our heads down and leaving our faith at home might help you climb the ladder in the short term. But it will damage your sense of authenticity and leave you feeling conflicted or compromised.

This is where the rubber meets the road in terms of our beliefs. Being a Christian is about trusting God with our lives, relationships, career prospects and financial security.

You do not have to go barging into your boss’ office to offer him or her a full confession of your faith. But since the workplace is where you spend most of your waking hours, this is also where you will feel the tension of putting your faith into action. This is also where much of your own growth will happen.

Action Step: Ask some other Christians if they would be interested in forming a team to offer each other support around the challenge of being a Christian in the workplace.

You can create a Community in MissionHub where you track the steps of faith you each want to take and celebrate when you see God at work.

Colleagues might misunderstand you when you talk about Jesus

Say the word “Christian” to most people and they will have preconceptions or specific associations come to mind. At MissionHub we dream of a day when everyone knows someone who truly follows Jesus. But we’re not there yet.

So when it comes to talking about Jesus in your workplace, you might need to accept that you are not always starting with a clean slate. With some co-workers you will be the first true Christian they have ever known. But likely they have heard or experienced negative things at the hands of people they thought were Christians.

So when the opportunity arises to talk about Jesus or some element of what you believe, how do you avoid being misunderstood?

Here are a few things to think about.

1. Keep it simple

The more time you spend around Christians, the more you begin to speak “Christianese.” Words creep into your lexicon that either do not make sense to those outside the Christian community or are easily misunderstood by them. Saved, lost, confess, repent, gospel. Never take for granted that someone understands the basic vocabulary of Christianity.

GodTools is a free app containing different ways to talk about what Christians believe. It can be helpful before, during and after a spiritual conversation, so take a look.

2. Check that what you are saying makes sense

Someone in my workplace once asked me what being a Christian means to me. The mix of excitement and anxiety caused me to firehose lots of ideas and stories at the other person. When I came up for air it was hard to tell how much my co-worker had understood. So now when those moments come I try sharing one idea at a time before asking something like, “Is what I’m saying making sense to you?” Another way to check is to say, “I’m curious to know what you think about what I’m saying.”

3. Accept that some people choose not to understand

When you tell someone who Jesus is and what He has done for you, it has implications for whomever you are talking to.

The gospel is not just a worldview or a concept. It is a true story in which all of us are characters, and an invitation to which all of us must respond, one way or another.

You need to be faithful to answer questions people ask you as best you can. You can also ask questions that show you care about what your colleagues think. But you are not responsible for winning debates about faith. It’s often said that you can win an argument and lose the other person. I have seen that happen, and regretted it.

MissionHub was created by Cru®, which was co-founded by Bill Bright. Bill had a great way of describing effectiveness in personal evangelism. He said, “Success in witnessing is simply taking the initiative to share Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God.”

Wise words.

Ultimately the invisible monster — that we fear will swallow us if we talk about Jesus at work — only gets bigger the longer we wait to do it.

Give yourself permission not to be the Billy Graham of your workplace. Learn to talk about Jesus in a way that feels natural to you. Choose a step of faith you want to take this week, trust God, then choose another step next week.

Imagine if every workplace in your city contained at least one Christian ready and willing to talk about how his or her life has been changed by knowing God.

Is that a vision you would want to be a part of? If the answer is yes, we want to help you.

Action Step: The more you talk to God about your workplace, the more you are likely to notice his activity in the lives of your co-workers. Use the list of colleagues you have entered in MissionHub as a prayer prompt.

You can create a step of faith around praying for your colleagues. Phrase it something like, “Pray for my colleagues and ask God to help me take the opportunities he gives me to talk about Jesus.”

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Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

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J.B. Tanwell lives in Europe where he confuses the locals with words he picked up while living in the southern states of the USA. He’s passionate about helping Christians talk honestly about what following Jesus involves.