Updated: Jan 4, 2020
Christians want to live the Great Commission, to "make disciples of all nations." Churches want this, too. The problem is that many churches focus on concepts. They teach ideas more than strategies. And ideas are important. Clearly. But here's the thing:
Most Christians “get” the main ideas of Christianity: forgiveness, grace, sin, temptation, repentance, surrender, fasting, prayer. Many, in fact, have been “getting” these ideas for decades. In the marketplace, we'd say that the customer is "bought in." They not only understand these concepts, but are living them, loving them, and trying to advocate for them to others.
But this "trying to advocate" thing is no walk in the park. When it comes to the Great Commission, encouraging others to follow Jesus is monumentally complicated. Few know how to do it and many do it poorly. Church leaders themselves struggle with how to advise on implementation since they simply can't know the countless real-life situations their congregants face.
What Christians need is a playbook: standard operating procedures for being a Christian in the real world. Let's give it a go.
Preparing for Ministry in the Real World (plays 1-6)
Many Christians want to incorporate ministry into our jobs. Yet we're also trying to balance the realities of deadlines, career, and family. Ministry sounds like "one more thing." And, of course, it's not. Rather, ministry is a mindset. And once we've adopted it...Wow! Everything falls into place.
Why? Because—get this: God will bless our attempts to serve Him, no matter how good we are at it. Once we simply attempt to bring Him to work with us, He will lead us places, resolve obstacles, and uncover answers we could never find on our own. So how do we "put on" a ministry mindset? Here's my strategy and the first six plays in this playbook.
Play #1: Identify Your Daily Bread
This is the most important thing I do every day. Let me say that again: Identifying my daily bread is the single most important thing that I do every day. You know the verse in the Lord's Prayer: "Give us this day our daily bread"? That means that we get to ask for help from the God of the universe every day. And He will help us. He's literally waiting for us to ask for whatever big thing we need help with. So what is my daily bread? What do I ask for?
Here's where God and I first look at my calendar. I imagine Him sitting next to me on my nutmeg-colored couch in the dark of the early morning. We scan through the list of meetings, and, within minutes, the top need surfaces. That thing—that meeting or presentation or person I need to forgive today—that's my daily bread. Lord, can you help me with it? Yes, He can. And yes, He does.
"Pray then like this: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread."
Call to Action: Look at your calendar and allow God to highlight the one thing you most need His help with today. Then pray: "Lord give me this day my daily bread: Help me with [that thing]."
Play #2: Hydrate
Consume scripture in some way every day. I switch up how I do this, but here's the bottom line: It's all good. Like drinking water, it doesn't matter if it's bottled, flavored, or carbonated. Just drink it.
Scripture is indispensable, and you'll dehydrate without it. Read, listen online, recite from memory, or sing worship. Take on a single verse or a whole book; with commentary or without. Just take it in. It will nourish us whether we understand it all or not. Its truth will surface when we least expect it and most need it. It will seep into our subconscious and keep us on track. What it will never ever do is return void.
So shall my word be that goes forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
Call to Action: Consume scripture every day
Play #3: Push Back on Tomorrow
Today's got a lot in it. A lot, but not more than we can carry. If we carry tomorrow on top of it, though, then today overflows and weighs us down. Think of today like a daypack, only big enough for a few provisions. Push back the worries of tomorrow.
If you're a worrier, analyzer, or planner, that can feel like an impossible task. Do what you need to do to prepare for the future, but when you've done all you should do today, push back on tomorrow. Here's how I do it: "Lord, lift this burden. It is not mine today."
I say that between meetings, on the subway, or wherever I am when tomorrow comes lurking. And guess what? God lifts it. Perhaps tomorrow that burden will be mine. And if it is, I can simply ask God to help me with it then.
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.
Call to Action: Identify problems that you don't need to carry today, and ask God to lift them from you.
Play #4: Review Your Calendar with God
You now have your daily bread, are hydrated, and aren't overloaded. You're ready to receive your marching orders. Whenever I can, I ask God to review my whole calendar with me. God and I look at every meeting with a "ministry mindset." I ask, If I'm a minister, how does that change the purpose of these meetings?
For example: "What about this planning meeting at 9 AM? Ah, I see, I'm supposed to support the leader... And this one-on-one? Ah, I'm supposed to follow up on that personal problem he mentioned last week... And this executive briefing? Ah, I'm supposed to make sure the VP feels cared about."
That "ah-hah" revelation is rarely something I realized before I asked. And if I act on what God reveals to me, my actions have the power to fundamentally transform that interaction—to bless the other person, uncover a key truth, heal their wounds, or deliver a glimpse of Jesus. That is ministry.
I never execute on all the marching orders, and often forget most of them in the bustle of the day. But taking the time to review my day unlocks countless ministry opportunities I'd otherwise miss.
"Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know."
Call to Action: Review your calendar with God. Note any "ah-hahs.”
Play #5: Pray Big
Jabez is an obscure character in the Old Testament. He alone in a list of over 100 other characters says a prayer. And not just any prayer. An audacious prayer.
It's a prayer I now say every morning on my 3-minute walk from the parking lot to the subway platform. I believe this prayer leads to abundant blessings and protection. But more than anything, it reminds me that I serve a big God and I can do big things when I am with Him. A lovely little book called The Prayer of Jabez explains the whole thing.
1 Chronicles 4:10
Jabez cried out to the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” So God granted him what he requested. .
Call to Action: Say the prayer of Jabez as you enter into ministry each day.
Play #6: Forgive Yourself
Finally, before I head out for the day, I forgive myself for all the mistakes I'm about to make. Truly. I'm juggling a lot. If I do even one thing well for Him today, God will be pleased. And if I say the wrong thing, forget Him, get selfish, or lose my cool, this God will still scoop me up. We're in this for the long haul, God and I, and He'll travel at my pace. My pace is typically a baby step, not a leap, and it's sometimes a step backward.
I mess up every day. And when I mess up, I almost NEVER beat myself up. Never do I condemn this precious child of God who is trying, stumblingly, to live for Him. See yourself as God sees you. Whatever baby steps you take today, and however you stutter and stammer and stall, know that God is saying: Bravo, my Beloved. Bravo.
2 Corinthians 6:18
"And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me," Says the Lord Almighty.
Call to Action: Say, "I forgive you" to yourself every morning. Mean it.
Doing Ministry in the Real World (plays 7-12)
So, you’ve put on a ministry mindset in some way today. You’ve accepted that your purpose is to bring heaven to earth by serving others in whatever environment you’ve been placed into. Your time of preparation is over. It's GO time.
Play #7: Prioritize Ruthlessly
The moment you start your day, you’ll begin to receive "asks" of your time. Knowing what to say "yes" and "no" to throughout the day will help you keep your eye on the prize. Everything in my life is a Priority 1, 2, 3, or 4, and I almost never do the 3s and 4s.
This model comes from 20 years in the software industry but applies to all aspects of life. In software, rigorous prioritization results in higher-quality products. In ministry, it leads to more fruit.
Here's how I define these priorities
PRIORITY 1s (True): These align with God's purpose for my life. They include time with God, my family, and my teams. They also include delivery in my job and ministries.
PRIORITY 2s (Tough): These are the things I still need to get done but aren't as urgent or high impacting, like shopping, cleaning, or exercising.
PRIORITY 3s (Tempting): These are good things to do, but shouldn't be done by me. These include loads of ministry requests: attending conferences and galas, leading programs, running events. They all sound good, but are they mine? If these tasks aren't 1s or 2s, spending time on them will detract from my real priorities. Say no or delegate them. It should be hard to do this, as doing 3s taps into our desire to please others. Ask God for help.
PRIORITY 4s (Toxic): These don't fit with my purpose or need to be done by me. When they come to me, I feel a pit in my stomach. These will not only threaten my 1s and 2s, but they will infect my life and those I care about. This is the toxic acquaintance, the poorly run ministry, the manipulative colleague. You'll know a 4 when you see it. Trust your instincts. Protect yourself, your team, and your family from 4s at all cost.
Note: For a deep-dive on this strategy, see "The Prioritization Cheat Sheet."
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Call to Action: Prioritize the pieces of your life. As things vie for your time throughout the day, ask yourself: Is this a 1 or 2? If not, delegate it or just say no.
Play #8: Minister in Your Meetings
You know all those "Ah-hahs" you got when reviewing your calendar with God in play #4? Now you get to implement them! Ministering is simply serving God by serving others, allowing Him to act in the world through you, being His voice and heart before others.
And because God never gives us more than we can handle, He's probably advised you to do something small and natural, like asking about the person's family or giving them a compliment. If you listen carefully, He'll likely advise you throughout the meeting as well. And if you feel a nudging, by all means, obey. Regardless of the outcome, He will bless your attempt.
For detailed tips on having respectful faith conversations at work, see this blog post. Here's the summary:
Do: Ask questions, listen, be fascinated, show love, and be available for follow up.
Don't: Proselytize, push, focus on yourself, or in any way compromise the psychological safety of others.
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
Call to Action: Minister to others in some small way in your meetings. Start with one meeting and increase as you gain confidence.
Play #9: Minister Outside of Your Meetings
Don't have a lot of meetings? Think of one way you can deposit God's love into anyone you encounter, like your building security guard, the cashier at the grocery store, or the homeless man on the street. See them as God sees them, and let His love flow through you to them via a smile or compliment. Not an extrovert? Thank someone in instant message, text, or email.
I was waiting for someone in my lobby one day and noticed a police officer standing in the corner. God nudged me to meet him. I introduced myself, thanked him for his service, and asked if his job was difficult. His name was Johnny. He was moved by my question and shared a health problem he was having.
I then said: "I am a Christian. In this building here, a group of Christians meet to pray for others. If it's okay, we will pray for you and your team. Can I say a short prayer right now?" He eagerly accepted. I thanked God for Johnny and asked for protection and healing in Jesus's name. He lifted his head and thanked me so many times I lost count. "You don't know how much I needed that," he said. God wants to bless those around us. He wants to use us to do it. Let Him.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Call to Action: Transmit God's love for those around you. Notice them, thank them, compliment them, ask them questions. When the time is right, offer to pray for them.
Play #10: Build a Support Group
I felt terribly alone at work when I first became a Christian. Finding other Christians was a critical early step in my ability to minister at work, as I describe in this blog post. But how did I find them? It took some serious sleuthing.
I said a prayer and then searched my company's social network for keywords: prayer, God, Jesus, Christian, Christ, grace, faith, religion, Bible. Several people popped up, and I emailed them all individually to introduce myself. They were grateful to be connected. From there, a few of us met one-on-one, and a small group began to gather (see play #12). I now have Christian colleagues that I can call up any time I need to get advice or pray, which fuels me through the challenging moments.
1 Thessalonians 5:11
So then, encourage one another and build each other up, as you are doing.
Call to Action: Search for Christian colleagues. Build a small network that you can go to for encouragement, prayer, and advice.
Play #11: Use Welcoming Language
If you make your way into a faith conversation or presentation with individuals who would not call themselves Christian, Amen! Explicitly remind them that they belong there. When I first started to explore faith a few years ago, I was worried that I wouldn't fit in with the "faith community." What if I didn't speak their language? It was refreshing to meet Christians who welcomed and related to me. Avoid the "cringe factor" by replacing Christianese with everyday, welcoming speech geared toward people who may be exploring.
A few of my favorite trust-building phrases:
"If you're just exploring faith..."
"Wherever you are on your faith journey..."
"Whether you've been a Christian for decades or are just exploring faith...."
"I'm Christian, but this volunteer event is for people of any faith background..."
"I don't know about you, but Christianity sounded crazy to me at first..."
"This may sound crazy..."
“I was skeptical when I first started exploring...”
“I didn’t grow up with faith...”
“I think God wants us to ask questions. Ask me anything you’d like...”
“My one ground rule is that you may ask me absolutely anything...”
"You may be thinking, 'Oh no, Sue's going to try to convert me...'"
"In case you're worried, let me reassure you, I'm no Bible thumper..."
"I don't have all the answers..."
"All are welcome..."
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Call to Action: Assess your audience, verbalize their potential fears, and explicitly welcome everyone.
Play #12: Practice the Bounceback
In the midst of ministry, we need not be treated like doormats. After decades as a people pleaser, I no longer make excuses for rude behavior. Last year I learned the art of sticking up for myself, and now I can't believe how easy it is. Remember play #7: Prioritize Ruthlessly? Never allow a Priority 4, or toxic influence, to infiltrate your life. That includes rude or manipulative behavior. You don't have to feel angry toward injustice, but you do have to deal with it. I call it the Bounceback.
Call it out: The moment someone is rude to you, call out what you just observed: "I just shared an idea with you and you rolled your eyes." Or, "I just asked a question, and you laughed and raised your voice." Or: "I just shared that I was a Christian, and you said 'I hate Christianity.’"
Wait: Believe it or not, that may be the only thing you need to say. The focus is no longer on you scrambling to defend yourself against an unjustified attack in a triggered state of mind, but it is back on them and their behavior. They can’t argue with facts, so they typically acknowledge what they've done, apologize, and even share what's really behind their behavior.
Nip it in the bud: What they rarely do is act rudely to you again. In a single Bounceback, you’ve taught them how to treat you. You’ve established your minimum bar. They know that any future rudeness will likely bounce back to them. And hearing yourself be rude is just, well, embarrassing. Even if they don't apologize, they've felt the sting of their own words, which will impact future behavior.
Move fast: Don't wait too long. Waiting weeks suggests that you've been stewing, which reduces your credibility. Waiting also opens the door for them to say, "I don't remember it that way." If too much time has passed, it's often better to just use the Bounceback on a future incident.
Stick to the facts: Don't add commentary. If you say, "That was rude," for example, they can reply: "Well, that's your opinion." And they're right. Stay away from opinion. Stick to objective, observable behavior. In other words: just the facts.
Let them get “off stage”: If you're in the middle of a large meeting, and your bounceback will publicly shame the other person, wait until immediately after the meeting and pull the person aside. In rare situations, you may need to bounceback right in the middle of the meeting. I've had to do this on stage at a conference when my co-panelist verbally attacked somebody in the room.
Move on: Whether they apologize or not, you’ve said your peace and you no longer carry this. Forgive them and move on.
In ministry, we will face attack. To be effective, we need to simultaneously minister AND fend off attacks, calmly and confidently. God knows what we need in these difficult moments. He will give us strength.
He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Call to Action: The next time someone is rude to you, calm yourself and confidently name the behavior you just witnessed. Wait for them to respond.
For a deeper dive on this technique, see "How to Handle Conflict with the 'Bounceback'"
Scaling Ministry in the Real World (plays 13-18)
Many people ask me if they should create faith groups at their companies. Maybe and maybe not. Faith groups are one of a hundred potential ways God might want you to minister at your work. Some companies are ready for them. Others might have situations they need to work through first.
Maneuver shrewdly and gently in the environment where God has placed you. Your company may be early in its journey toward faith inclusion. If so, perhaps your role is not to launch a formal group, but rather to dissolve walls that might prevent such a group from succeeding. If you're doing plays #1-12, God will grow your ministry at the right pace.
Plays #13-18 are about transformation. If God has called you to transform your environment, buckle up. God's got you.
Play #13: Create a Christian Affinity Group
After I found some Christian colleagues (play #9) and no longer felt alone, we formalized our gathering into a weekly meetup or “affinity group.” An affinity group is an informal, grass-roots gathering focused on common interests or hobbies, like jogging or meditation. Companies often have loads of them, and they require no funding or executive support.
Our company has Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Yoga, Atheist, and hundreds of other affinity groups. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), on the other hand, are far more complex. They run like small businesses, receiving funding, executive sponsorship, branding, swag, and so on. Most companies have no more than ten ERGs.
Affinity groups and ERGs are dramatically different in purpose, size, and scale. Christian Affinity groups are inward-focused, meeting for prayer, Bible study, and encouragement. Interfaith ERGs are outward-focused, meeting for celebrations, education, and volunteering. Read more about Interfaith ERGs in plays #14-15.
Best Practices for Christian Affinity Group
Meet weekly: Even if only a few employees attend, the consistency of meeting weekly will eventually draw in more. Prayer and research (see play #10) will help grow the group. Most (though not all) companies allow employees to gather at lunch or before work. That's where to start formalizing a Bible Study or small group. If your company frowns on this, just meet informally. God will protect your gathering and eventually use the story of your group’s “hidden” start to help you (see play #17 on capturing stories).
Centralize: As you grow, new hubs may pop up in other locations. A good thing! Encourage groups to run how they'd like, but organize under a central leadership team. That will prevent silos, allow regional hubs to leverage global resources, and ensure that groups adhere to the same policies. I’ve heard many stories of large companies that don’t centralize their Christian groups, which leads to fractures, silos, and confusion.
Stay lean: Try to run your group at almost zero cost. Other than needing time and a location to gather in, your Christian group should require very few resources. Anything that requires budget (like celebrations, speakers, swag, or food) can fall under the Interfaith ERG (see play #15).
Welcome all: Group leaders should be Bible-believing, Jesus-following Christians, but anyone can attend, regardless of their faith perspective. Encourage explorers.
Avoid Stances: Don't take official stances on political topics or debate theology. If attendees attempt to do this, chat with them one-on-one to remind them of the group's policies.
Recommended Resources for Leaders
Monthly meeting with regional leaders to align and share resources
Quarterly meeting with Diversity leaders to align and gather feedback
Quarterly meeting with Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, and other affinity group leaders to align and share learnings
Quarterly meeting with Christian leaders at other companies to collaborate
Documentation on the group's vision & goals, how to open a new hub, roles & responsibilities, and membership dashboards & reports.
Recommended Resources for Member
Internal group and email distribution list
Annual Global Town Hall for news and happenings
Quarterly newsletter to keep members informed
Weekly devotional content from a site like YouVersion
Instructions on how to get involved
Recommended Resources for Customers
External customer group
Weekly posts of devotional material
Monthly online gathering with employees and customers
Annual in-person gathering with employees and customers
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.
Call to Action: If your company is ready for a Christian affinity group, think through the organizational structures you'll need to run it effectively, identify a small leadership team, and begin implementing only what you need.
Play #14: Pitch for an Interfaith ERG
Helping your company bring faith into the Diversity and Inclusion landscape requires cultural transformation, plain and simple. And it’s not for the faint of heart. You'll need to show your leaders that faith is an aspect of diversity that is just as real and important as any other identifier. Show them that honoring faith at work has massive business benefits. It's easier and more impactful to do this as a team, with people of all faiths. Are you the one to carry this mantle? God will make it clear. If you are, go forth, my friend. Get ready for a huge adventure.
Some best practices that helped me early on:
Gather partners of different faiths: You’re not in this alone. See if people from different faiths have already started this process or if anyone is interested in joining you now.
Research your company’s past religious events: See if they have already held events related to religion of some kind.
Research your company’s Diversity & Inclusion policies: See where faith might fit in.
Research your company’s faith-based customers: Your company may very well work with churches, temples, mosques, or ministries. Gather stories about how these organizations use your products to help others.
Equip yourself with statistics: Study the business benefits of faith at work. See Silicon Valley's Surprising Business Booster: Faith. Show that honoring faith diversity boosts loyalty, morale, retention, productivity, recruiting, company branding, and innovation.
Equip yourself with stories: Talk to people of all faiths. Gather stories about people who feel scared to reveal their faith at work and how that negatively impacts their work. Share stories of employees who feel safe and how that befits their work. Prepare your own story (see play #17)
Stay humble: Beginning faith inclusion discussions is scary for many companies. Don’t demand your rights, but instead listen, ask, partner, and take baby steps.
Meet with Diversity leaders: When you have all of your ducks in a row, try to get a meeting with a decision-maker in your Diversity & Inclusion department. Be prepared with your research, but spend most of the time listening and mirroring back what you’re hearing from them. If they haven’t shared their concerns, voice what you’ve heard other companies worry about: “If I were in your shoes, I might be worried that certain employees will use this as a chance to proselytize.” Or: “Some companies worry this opens the door to ugly debates between groups.” You will likely get some nodding and relief that you understand their worries. Once they feel heard (and only then), explain that you’ve been talking to Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and Atheist employees. Ask if they’d like to hear what you’ve learned. If you’ve done your job in building trust, they will be curious. If it will be helpful for them to see one of these groups in action, feel free to share this Faithforce overviews article and 15-minute recording. The bottom line is this: Don't demand your rights like so many others do, but instead earn their trust.
But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests.
Call to Action: Do your research, set up a meeting, and listen. Humbly move the conversation one step forward.
Play #15: Design Your Interfaith ERG
If you get approval for an interfaith ERG, your adventure is just beginning. Your Diversity leaders will have most of the say, so follow their lead completely. Here are some tips for defining what your group is all about...and, most importantly, what it’s NOT about.
What Interfaith IS NOT:
Homogenizing: interfaith groups do not profess that all faiths are "essentially the same." This is not "spirituality soup." On the contrary, Interfaith groups go to great lengths to honor the distinctions of the different faith traditions of their attendees.
Theological: ERGs exist to support the needs of underrepresented employee groups. No part of that involves comparing or debating theological texts. You'll learn the history of traditions, but you won't debate the veracity of the Quran versus the Bible versus the Bhagavad Gita. Leave theological study to the affinity groups.
Worshipful: Interfaith groups are not praying to gods, praising Muhammed, or worshipping Jesus. Leave worship to the affinity groups.
Political: People may want your group to take a stance on various political topics in the news, but that is not the purpose of an interfaith ERG. We are bridge-builders, not wall-builders. Explicitly clarify that your group does not take stances on political topics and strictly adhere to that.
What Interfaith IS:
Educational: We host panels of employees from different faiths, and deliver blog posts about holidays and traditions, like fasting and prayer. These are educational but not preachy.
Philanthropic: One thing all faiths agree on is compassion for those in need. We give thousands of dollars and volunteer hours to faith-based organizations every year all over the world.