Should Catholics Evangelize at Work?
So ended a conversation with Tim, an evangelical co-worker, many years ago. His parting comment rang in my ears for a long time afterward. Tim meant well, but what really concerned him was my rumored interest in the Catholic Church.
Unfortunately (for Tim at least), I had passed the point of no return. It had taken two separate stints at Franciscan University of Steubenville, and close to 10 years of grappling with questions of religion. But then came the miraculous tipping point: A new acquaintance named Scott Hahn gave me a rosary. And I prayed it.
Within three weeks, I wanted nothing more than to become Catholic. Tim’s worst fears were realized. My wife, Kathi, and I entered the Church that Easter. In a sense, Tim’s evangelization efforts had helped — after all, I did precisely what he suggested.
Come into the Light
Have you ever been the object of evangelization at work by a boss, colleague, customer or someone else with whom you work? Perhaps someone who takes his or her beliefs very seriously, and who is intent on helping you see “the light”?
I sure have. Thankfully, like my experience above, these situations can be used by God to help us draw closer to Him.
Today’s workplaces contain people from all walks of life. Our non-Catholic colleagues sometimes have a less than favorable view of the Church and consider us spiritually imperiled. They may desire to evangelize us — and this desire should be mutual.
As co-workers, we have an obligation to follow legitimate workplace policies, work hard and treat others in the workplace with dignity and respect. As Catholics, we are called to strive for holiness and maintain the integrity of our beliefs. So how do we fulfill these obligations when it comes to evangelization at work?
We need to act like good Catholics.
Attitude of Gratitude
Our attitude toward those who evangelize us is critical, and gratitude is an instrument of tremendous power, straight from the Holy Spirit. Now hold on, you might say, I’m supposed to be grateful for someone who thinks, for example, that Catholics aren’t even Christian, and that we’re all going straight to hell?
Here’s why: If your co-worker has taken the time to evangelize you, what are they really doing? First and foremost, they are seeing your soul — the core of your being — as valuable. They are attempting to give you the most precious gift they possess. It’s as if they knew where to find buried treasure, and then they tell you, desiring that you be wealthy. It’s a huge compliment.
Now, consider the impact of your response on your co-worker. If you respond with gratitude, appreciating the value they place on you and the importance of the gift they are attempting to give, this will serve to deepen your relationship. You have just demonstrated respect for them.
Conversely, if you roll your eyes and are condescending or exasperated in your response, what would that say to your co-worker? This would weaken your relationship, as you have just demonstrated contempt toward this precious gift they have presented.
Even if you are turned off by a persistent or bothersome individual, pray for the grace to be grateful toward him. If he knows you’ll listen and treat him with respect, he might ease up a tad. It’s a great opportunity to grow in charity, not to mention knowledge of our faith, as we are confronted with various misunderstandings.
Let It Be a Challenge
I once had a client who was furious with my employer. The client was insulting toward the company and a couple of my co-workers. Rather than giving in to emotion and making matters worse, “Nancy,” a colleague of mine, made it her mission to take responsibility and remedy the situation.
Over a period of several weeks, Nancy got the situation under control. Yet the real tipping point was a personal note she sent to the client, apologizing and asking for forgiveness on behalf of the organization. Over time, the client not only forgave us, she became a great friend of Nancy’s — and loyal client of the organization.
The same can be true of those who attempt to evangelize us.
There are those who may actively oppose the Church — we need to be good ambassadors anyway. There are those who may insult us — we need to honor and value them anyway. There are those who may persecute us — we need to be gracious toward them anyway. It’s the Catholic thing to do.
Recall Jesus on the cross, imploring the Father to forgive those who crucified Him. Recall Pope John Paul II, forgiving his would-be assassin. Heroic virtue is always commendable, even to those with whom we disagree. It’s the ultimate witness.
Thankfully, we generally don’t deal with problems of this magnitude in our own workplaces. How do we as Catholics evangelize in our more mundane daily work?
There are really two elements involved. Our part is sowing seeds. The Holy Spirit’s part is reaching into hearts, causing those seeds to grow. One of our greatest challenges is to avoid overreaching, and attempting to force conversion on others. Recall Jesus in John 6 honoring the free will of others by allowing them to walk away.
Many deeply committed Catholics express a desire to evangelize more effectively at work. They are fired up about the Faith, and they want to share it, but have trouble doing so. It’s almost like stage fright. The problem is, they’re almost always talking about talking. But is that what really brings people to Christ and His Church?
I heard of a study a while back that claimed that only around 7 percent of interpersonal communication consists of actual spoken words. The rest is nonverbal. This may be a useful rule of thumb for evangelization in the workplace, too. Rather than focusing on telling people all about Jesus and the Church (though this is important), we need to pay much more attention to behaving like good Catholics.
Thankfully, the workplace is full of opportunities to behave in ways that should come naturally to us as Catholics, but might surprise our co-workers. What if we:
• Speak positively about our spouse.
• Honor legitimate workplace authority.
• Sanctify our work, doing our absolute best every day.
• Willingly accept hardship for the benefit of others.
• Forgive co-workers who have offended us.
• Consistently do good, even with no one watching.
• Refuse to participate in “office politics” or gossip.
Secular workplaces are often the front lines of evangelization, so these types of actions don’t tell others about Christ, they demonstrate Christ within us. What could be more authentic? Note that these actions make us better workers and Catholics.
Just like a good salesperson learns everything possible about his customer, we need to personalize our approach with co-workers.
People are not merely commodities! By listening, valuing others and appreciating their unique gifts, we manifest the love of Christ and reflect it toward our co-workers.
Many workplaces frown on “proselytizing” colleagues, and I don’t know a single person who has converted through such an approach anyway. But it’s always legitimate to answer questions honestly. For example, “How was your weekend?” can invite an enthusiastic response about your nephew’s first Communion. The key is that such a response should be honest and joyful, never manipulative.
Keep in mind the power of friendship. Particularly during hard times, people are often more open to God’s stirrings in their hearts. Use these opportunities to be gracious, supportive and loving. If your co-worker asks why you’re like this, be ready to tell her how your faith has changed you. When you have built a good relationship based on mutual respect, your story will resonate.
Note: The above article originally appeared in the March/April 2012 edition of The Catholic Answer magazine, published by Our Sunday Visitor. Please consider subscribing, and purchasing a copy of Kevin’s book Faith at Work: Finding Purpose Beyond the Paycheck. Thanks!