God at Work
Is the Church on the Job?
July 1, 2004 - On September 5, 2001, Angie Tracey—an employee with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta—found herself parked at the side of the road, praying on her cell phone with a minister from her church.
by Amy Kenna, Amanda Knoke and Bob Paulson
During Tracey's lunch break, administrators at CDC were considering an application she had submitted days earlier—to form the federal government's first formally sanctioned Christian employee association.
If her group was approved, Tracey was prepared: She had picked out a little French cafe for the first meeting, where the group would have a devotional and prayer.
Tracey had been told it might take months before the group was even considered, let alone approved. But upon returning from her lunch break, Tracey found her phone ringing.
The voice at the other end said, "I really want to sign up for the Christian thing—I got your e-mail." Tracey replied, "What e-mail?"
She soon discovered that the fellowship group had been approved during her lunch break—and an e-mail announcement had been sent to CDC's 8,000 employees, with Tracey as the contact person.
"I had hundreds of e-mails in my inbox," Tracey said. "I was dumbstruck. I realized it was time to cancel the little French cafe and start planning something a little bigger." In fact, the group's first event attracted 200 people.
Today, the Christian Fellowship Group at CDC is a model for Christian workplace ministries in government and private workplaces across the nation.
"My goodness, if we can do this in a federal agency, which has stringent issues related to separation of church and state, you can certainly do it in your workplace," Tracey said.
Tracey's story continues to inspire. In March, she served as chairman of the publicity committee for the "His Presence in the Workplace" Conference held in Atlanta, sponsored by the Billy Graham Training Center (BGTC), a division of BGEA. The Conference was developed for pastors, church leaders and Christians in business to provide vision, encouragement and training for churches to equip believers for ministry at their places of work.
"A lot of people are frustrated in their job because they don't have a biblical understanding of what their work is," said Chad Hammond, managing director of Strategic Ventures at the BGTC. "Part of the training is to give them that understanding."
Across the nation and world, God appears to be placing the vision of workplace ministry in the hearts of His people.
But as enthusiasm builds, a question remains: Is the local church effectively equipping believers for workplace ministry?
Work in the Bible
In 1992 fewer than 50 workplace ministries existed. Now there are roughly 1,200, according to Os Hillman, president of the International Coalition of Workplace Ministries. While the trend is recent, the idea of integrating faith and the workplace is not new—it dates back to the time of Christ. Hillman cites the following examples from the Bible:
- 122 of 132 public appearances of Christ are in a workplace setting;
- 45 of 52 of Christ's parables have a workplace context;
- 39 of 40 divine encounters in the Book of Acts occurred in the workplace.
Faith at Work
Steve Hyland, director of retail merchandising for Coca-Cola North America, also attended the His Presence in the Workplace Conference—and has spent years seeking to live out his faith in his own workplace. In 2001 he co-founded the Coca-Cola Christian Fellowship, which drew more than 270 members to its first event. But years before then, Hyland started to view his job at Coke as ministry.
"To me, it's freeing," Hyland said. "It gives you a whole new perspective: 'God, give me divine appointments during the day. Help me see these people the way that You see them. Help me to be a witness."
Hyland has seen God answer those prayers in powerful ways. Several years ago, a co-worker walked into Hyland's office at the end of a long day, wanting to talk. Hyland was sick and wanted to go home—but he stayed. The co-worker confided about some difficult circumstances, and then said, "I don't think God loves me." Hyland shared the Gospel of God's love, and the co-worker prayed to receive Christ that day. In the following months, Hyland and others witnessed the transforming power of the Gospel in the co-worker's life. Hyland is now focused on taking the vision of workplace ministry back to his church, First Baptist of Woodstock.
John Beckett, chairman of the R.W. Beckett Corporation in Elyria, Ohio, also has seen God work in amazing ways over the years at his manufacturing companies, which employ 600 people. One plant supervisor watched Beckett's faith at a distance for 20 years. When the man experienced a serious medical condition, Beckett visited him in the hospital. During the visit, Beckett asked him, "Do you want to receive this Christ, who has been at the core of anything good you have seen in me?" The supervisor reached out his hand and prayed to receive Christ. "When Christianity translates into conduct, behavior and attitudes, it's very welcome," Beckett said. "Your faith is part of who you are. We can't ask people to set aside the things that are deepest in their heart."
This spring Beckett attended a Christian Executive Leadership Forum hosted by the BGTC, where more than 120 Christian business executives were presented with ideas for creating "faith-friendly" workplaces. The executives were encouraged to be confident that the message of Jesus Christ will stand against all arguments, and that they should boldly welcome faith discussions—discussions of all faiths—in their workplaces. "Employees are sick and tired of leaving their soul parked in the parking lot," said David Miller, executive director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, and a speaker at the Forum. "If we can create faith-friendly environments," he said, "that gives us all sorts of opportunities to introduce people to the Real Deal."
Bridging The Gap
With 1,200 workplace ministries already in operation, why does BGEA feel the need to focus on workplace ministry as a key area for evangelism training?
BGTC's Hammond explains that the vast majority of workplace ministries are para-church organizations—rather than the local church—that are focused on Christians and their places of business. "For 50 years BGEA has built relationships with the church and has the ability to pull churches together and work together and build coalitions," said Hammond. In talking with pastors and workplace ministry leaders partnering with the BGTC, Hammond said that often, the pastor does not understand the Type-A business person and the Type-A business person does not understand the pastor. "BGEA wants to be a bridge to pull these together, working with and through the local church," Hammond said. "BGEA's role in workplace ministry is largely to bridge this gap and provide an environment for healing and understanding."
Kent Humphreys is chairman of American Health Diagnostics and is also president of Christ@Work, which works closely with the BGTC to involve churches in workplace ministry. Humphreys' vision is simple—and passionate: "I want leaders from the city and pastors from the church to come together, meet in the center of the bridge, put their arms around each other, fall on their knees, look toward God and begin to pray together about how to make an impact in the marketplace."
But for now, most churches are not making a significant connection with the workplace, according to David Ingrassia, co-founder with Jim Luther of The Marketplace Community, a ministry committed to helping the local church minister in the workplace.
Ingrassia said he senses frustration among people in marketplace ministry because the local church is not involved. "They feel, 'We're out here, but no one is out here with us,'" he said. "We find that most Christians in the workplace are slugging out their faith in a solitary experience. They want to make an impact in the workplace, but they are alone and don't know how."
Churches need to re-tool to equip believers in the workplace, and church leaders need to leave the church building and go on-site in the marketplace to do training and discipleship, Ingrassia says. And if they don't?
"I believe the church carries God's authority as His people," Ingrassia says. "So I believe change will come, but we're in a transition period. If you're a pastor, you've been trained a certain way, and that is your mindset. Change is a long-term process. But it will come; I'm sure it will come."
And change is coming ...
A Connected Church
Pastor Ron O'Guinn's church, Sonset Baptist Fellowship, in Colleyville, Tex., has been deeply involved in workplace ministry for more than a year. O'Guinn understands business: For 13 years during the 1970s and 1980s he was director of special services at Motown Records. He has also served as national director of reconciliation for Promise Keepers. So when the BGTC began to plan His Presence in the Workplace Conferences, they tapped O'Guinn to serve on the leadership team.
"For two years we talked about the marketplace and what it meant to be in the marketplace," O'Guinn said. "As we talked, some of my own experiences began to come back. Those experiences helped galvanize my understanding of what God would have our church provide in the marketplace."
O'Guinn explained that his church has a multifaceted approach to the workplace: First, recognize that the church itself does business within the community—with people such as postal carriers, insurance agents, gardeners, window washers and repair technicians. "We ensure that we have a plan in place to evangelize everyone who comes on our property," O'Guinn said. "We need to know how to win the businesses that the church does business with."
Second, view every member of the church as a minister in the business community. As O'Guinn puts it, "We try to build this concept into every member of our church: Your ministry is your job. You are the Church planted there. Our role as a church is to make sure you have all the tools and support you need to do your ministry properly."
Church members are encouraged to start prayer groups or Bible studies that meet before or after work or at lunch time. They might start a transportation ministry for co-workers, or they might help co-workers who are ill.
The third facet of the church's workplace ministry is the offer of pastoral services. O'Guinn visits a number of businesses monthly to pray with and counsel employees as needed.
The Church at Work
So once a month, O'Guinn gets into his car and drives to B&B Auto Body to minister to the employees there. Bobby Lindley, president of the shop, tries to maintain a strong Christian witness in his business.
"I have always thought that my main purpose was to give God glory in my shop," Lindley said. "Automotive businesses seem to have the stigma of having foul-mouthed workers and having pictures of half-dressed women on their walls. Those are things that we just don't have. We play Christian music. We try to do everything in a christlike manner. We keep a nice, clean office. We treat people with respect and kindness."
Lindley said he prays for his employees every morning, and he and his employees eat lunch together and give thanks for their meal before they eat. When an employee mentions a struggle, Lindley offers to pray with him.
With help from O'Guinn, Lindley is also working to form a prayer group with other business owners on his street. "I just think how awesome it would be to be able to have a whole corridor of businesses that would give honor and glory to the Lord," Lindley said.
Ordained for Workplace Ministry
Elsewhere, some churches are catching a vision for helping their members minister at work—so much so that they have ordained members for that ministry. That's what Rich Marshall's church did several years ago. Marshall explained, "Ordination doesn't put you in the ministry; it is a confirmation that you are in the ministry."
The message he gave to his church was, "Your ministry in the marketplace is as valid as my ministry as a pastor. You're just as called of God. You need to be equipped, and you need to have the recognition."
Business development entrepreneur Don R. Thomas, in San Francisco, has a similar vision for the marketplace and churches. "I am praying for and can envision a time when there will be a commissioning service every month for people in specific marketplace categories (from shoemakers to surgeons), to give each of them a sense that their church has affirmed them as ministers in their marketplace," Thomas said. "The church needs to be about the equipping, anointing and commissioning of people in every sector of the marketplace." Thomas is partnering with the BGTC on planning a His Presence in the Workplace Conference in Silicon Valley in 2005.
The Importance of Prayer
A number of people who attended the His Presence in the Workplace Conference in Atlanta had barely heard of workplace ministry before—but came away inspired to view their work as a calling. One such person was Jeffery Graver, a contractor at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, who said he was inspired by CDC's Tracey in particular. "Sharing your faith in the workplace is harder and harder these days, especially in this politically correct climate," Graver said. "But Angie started out thinking small, and God had bigger plans for her."
To people like Graver, Tracey offers some simple advice: Pray. Less than three years after she formed her ministry at CDC, Tracey has seen it grow to more than 400 members—but only because of seeking God through His Word and prayer.
"We are not sufficient unto ourselves, but He is," Tracey said. "People should really look at their workplaces and see what God has in store for them. But it is important to do this through prayer, and only step out in the direction that the Lord leads you. It's not one size fits all. What works in my workplace may not work in yours."
At Coca Cola, Hyland often gets calls from people wanting advice on how to start a formal ministry at their workplace. Hyland reminds them not to get event-oriented—but instead, to ask for God's guidance.
"It's got to be grounded in prayer. If it's just a bunch of people doing religious stuff in the workplace, it's not going to do anything but frustrate everybody," Hyland said. "If it's a move of God, and if you're hearing through prayer what God wants you to do and then doing it—it's going to be powerful."
His Presence in the Workplace Conferences
Are you a pastor, a church leader or a believer in the workplace who would like to attend a "His Presence in the Workplace" Conference? To find out more about the November 5-6 conference in San Antonio, or for inquiries about a conference in your area, write to firstname.lastname@example.org or see bgtc-strategicventures.info.