This is how the conversation tends to go.
Them: So what do you do for work?
Me: Oh, I work as a counselor.
Them: Ah, cool. What kind of counseling?
Me: I do Dual Diagnosis Counseling. I work with people through both chemical dependency and mental health challenges.
Them: Variations of “Wow that’s neat,” “That’s interesting,” or the occasional, “I bet that’s hard.”
Me: Yeah, it’s pretty cool work.
Them: So do you get to share the Gospel at work?
Do. I. Get. To. Share. The. Gospel. At. Work.
Let’s unpack what this means.
Do I lead people in the quite famous but persistently undefined Sinner’s Prayer while we are both on our knees under the flurescent lights?
Do I take people down the Bible verses known as the Romans Road and supplement the journey with printed literature that may or may not have…creative…illustrations?
Do I talk about the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross, with or without specific use of Scripture?
Ya know…that doesn’t happen either.
Do I pray with my clients, or even offer to pray with them?
Do I say in explicit or implied terms that Jesus is the answer for the world today, above Him there’s no other, Jesus is the way?
Okay. I am being facetious. And I am making an assumption about how my Christian brothers and sisters approach the Sharing of the Gospel. But I think I am only being a little facetious, and I think it’s okay.
Sharing the Gospel is considered the primary task of the Christian, the most beautiful accomplishment we can do, our trademark presence in the world and the thing around which all of our other actions in some way revolve.
But what IS the Gospel? And I’m not asking theologically. (Theologically, the Gospel is the good news that Jesus made a way for sinful humans to have relationship with God without fear or wrath….and other details.)
What I’m asking is what we consider the Gospel “package” to be? What do we consider the “Sharing” action to be? Is it reduced to handing out a pamphlet with 4 verses from Romans? Does it have to involve quoted scripture? If it doesn’t end in prayer, is it failure? How much ambiguity is permitted?
Of greater pertinence, when is the right time in a relationship to present this Gospel?
Of even greater pertinence, if the Gospel never gets shared in an explicit fashion, is the relationship a waste of time?
These are questions that I invite my Christian brothers and sisters to consider, both when they talk about sharing the Gospel, and when they go about their sharing of the Gospel. Knowing specifically what we’re talking about can make us more effective and less abrasive and perhaps could allow us more enriching relationships with our neighbors. Perhaps we might also experience less guilt over perceived failure to share the gospel if we discover that the sharing of the gospel can be a lively and fluid and highly spontaneous process.
One more thing we should consider. Barriers. Reasons why sharing the Gospel just won’t work.
Here are three of the barriers I’ve encountered.
One. Really really intelligent and educated people are not always as inclined to embrace things that sound too simple. This is partly because of item number two which is….
Two. Some people have really complex lives. They’ve experienced varying degrees of tragedy and trauma and encountered a variety of different worldviews which all make a degree of sense. Such people are often quite informed about societal issues, politics and social injustice. Anything these folks embrace as a core belief HAS to be complex enough to account for their whole life experience. And let’s be honest…the God of the Romans Road pamphlet just isn’t that complex…
Three. This one is the most important. Often times, people have suffered their deepest wounds at the hands of the church, in the name of the Gospel. I’m thinking in particular of Queer brothers and sisters I’ve encountered, but this is the case for many others as well. People have been brutalized by the church, excluded, misunderstood, persecuted, made to be unwelcome. I’ve heard of church parents who love and adore their child the kid’s whole life until as a teen, he comes out as gay, then promptly, the parents disown the child and command him never to call home again. And other stories.
Then there’s the global and historical church culture. The Crusades were not a bright moment for us, neither have been church leaders who have hurt children. Then there are all the ways we have addressed abortion and marriage equality in abrasive and hostile ways. And, of course our favorite, Westboro Baptist Church.
As a community, we who share the Gospel would likely say that these are bad examples of what it means to love Jesus, and then we could point to people like St. Francis, Mother Theresa and Amy Carmichael and a host of other really really great Christian people.
But the fact is, when sharing the Gospel with people of today’s world, we need to factor in how people have been hurt by our less-kind brothers and sisters. We need to work through our wrongs with the people we want to love. For our own sakes, we need to have an understanding of God that is complex enough to handle the world with all its uglinesses.
So then. What about me? In the therapy office? What do I do?
I create a safe space where people can talk without judgment. They can say what they need to say against God and against the church and I can affirm what their experience as been. For many, being able to freely speak about a deep wound is a first step in healing.
I talk about spirituality with people. Don’t call me a cop-out for being vague. Spirituality is a broad concept that encompasses spiritual disciplines, deeply held beliefs, faith communities and so much more. I use the term because it’s neutral enough for most people not to be offended by it. I also use it because I can get away with it at a secular employer. I talk about spiritual practices because my field recognizes people’s need for meaning and purpose as well as that people find it in many different places.
I figure…inviting people to be open to spirituality means that perhaps someday they might be open to God and someday to Jesus…but if they never even begin to consider spirituality, they’ll never begin that journey.
Sometimes I get Christian identified clients. And sometimes they want to talk about spiritual things. When that happens, I can make Biblical references that make sense to both of us, and that feels nice. Rarely, though, do I get client’s who’s primary crisis is a spiritual one.
Most of the people I see are working through early sobriety or depression or anxiety or hearing voices or being homeless. There are factors in their life presenting immediate threats to their person; talking about the love of Jesus just wouldn’t do any good in most of those moments.
What I can do instead, though, is demonstrate the love of Jesus. I do this by being untiringly nice to people(which does get exhausting). I do this by respecting people of all genders, ages, skin colors, sexual orientations, education levels and socioeconomic statuses, and however they smell. I treat people with dignity and respect their right to make choices. I do the best work I can with the problems they bring to me to hopefully make their lives a bit more manageable.
And when they eventually get to that point of having manageable lives, when the crisis is mostly over, when the symptoms die down, when they’re able to be calm and even a bit happy, THEN they are able to be open to something like spirituality.
So then. Do I share the Gospel at work?
Yes. Maybe someday I’ll get to do it with words.