How to talk to your co-workers about your faith

UPDATE: Welcome visitors from Apologetics 315! Thanks for the link Brian!

UPDATE: Welcome visitors from Free Canuckistan! Thanks for the linky, Binky!

UPDATE: Welcome visitors from The Happy Catholic! Thanks for the link, Julie!

Today, I’ll talk a little bit about how to go about raising your colors in the workplace. Before we start, here are some catch-up posts on why apologetics matters:

How to be yourself at work, without making other people angry

First of all, concentrate on working hard for the first 3 months after you start a job. Your ability to to raise your colors in the workplace is conditional on your ability to do your job well. For example, I decided to cut my career short a while back in order to go back to school and achieve some more goals, before returning to work:

  • get a Masters degree in computer science (3.9 GPA)
  • get computer science articles published in peer-reviewed journals
  • present research at professional conferences
  • apply for and be awarded patents

Secondly, never fight about work-related conflicts. Your job is not the means by which you will make your mark on the world. You make your mark solely by being an ambassador for Christ. Never sour a work relationship by arguing. State your reasons, and document your dissent. Christianity isn’t about you. Or climbing a corporate ladder.

Let me be clear: With respect to your Christian commitment, your pride, popularity and reputation are expendable.

Thirdly, take every opportunity to make yourself the servant of your co-workers, especially those who may not be as senior or technical as you. In every job I have had so far, I’ve tried to help clean things up, wash dirty coffee mugs and dishes, and keep a supply cough drops, and other healthy snacks, etc. Also, don’t get promoted to manager.

Fourth, after a few months, start to build your bookshelf at work. To start with, only stock debate books from academic presses, especially Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press. These kinds of books connect evidence to the claims of Christianity. It is much easier to discuss public, testable evidence with your co-workers than whether they are going to Hell or not .

Here are some examples of debate books I stock:

Leave these books out on your desk as you read them, with a bookmark to show you are reading them. If asked to explain them, take no position but explain both sides. Speak quietly and don’t interrupt. Stop talking after 2 minutes. Offer to continue the conversations off-site. Learn what your co-workers believe as they talk to you about your perfectly acceptable debate books.

As you read, note arguments and evidence used for and against your beliefs. When you eventually do get to the point where you are explaining your beliefs to people, you’ll need to link them up with evidence and defeat objections. Keep the discussion on public evidence, show you are operating at a research level, and you should be able to avoid blow-ups.

Fifth, expand your book collection with books from any academic press. Your goal is to show that these topics require study and can be debated rationally using evidence. Even if you only read popular level books to start, it is important to project to your co-workers how you approach faith just like any other discipline – by studying it.

If you get no flak from anyone, you can add more books on other issues, like the history, foreign policy, health care, education, philosophy of religion, astrobiology, global warming, economics and family/parenting. These books allow you to link your beliefs to other areas, so that turning the conversation to Christianity becomes easier.

The academic books are useful to convey that you have a serious approach to faith. But you probably will face much more ordinary objections. So, you should be reading mostly popular books to address them. That’s where books by people like Lee Strobel and Paul Copan are useful. After those two, you can move on to edited collections like “Passionate Conviction” or “Signs of Intelligence”.

An important rule is never to discuss the person’s personal life or morality. And never discuss Christian-ese hymns, prayer, church, feelings, emotions, intuitions, religious experiences, or your own life. Untestable faith claims scare people. Stick to the public, testable evidence. Debate whether DNA is designed, not whether they should stop shacking up.

Only talk to people who don’t offend easily and who don’t subscribe to politically correct ideologies. I avoid talking about spiritual things with people from groups that vote overwhelmingly democrat, such as single or divorced women. Eventually, the victim-mentality people will learn to behave in order to talk with you. Avoid breaking cover to anyone in your chain of command.

Sixth, you need to get comfortable with opposing views. In order to do that, you need to get used to being quiet and tolerant, and listening for extended periods of time, while ideas you oppose are forcefully presented. The goal is to be able to recognize your opponent’s arguments and argue for them better than they can themselves.

Start with these university debate transcripts: (print them out, leave them on your desk)

Your goal is to speak about Christianity the same way Craig does. Move on to audio and video debates in this list, only after you master reading debates. Debate your friends and family first for practice. I will write a separate post on what to buy to augment your resource collection with actual debates and lectures that you can lend out.

Another important point: your goal is not to win during the discussion. Try not to beat up your opponent. Instead, explore the issue from both sides using public, testable evidence. Let the person decide for themselves what they think, after the discussion is over. Here’s a great book on tactics that will help you.

An example of authentic Christianity in the public square

One last thing. You may be encouraged by listening to some lectures by Dr. Walter L. Bradley (C.V. here). Bradley is the best active proponent of public, authentic Christianity. He is the Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Baylor. He has a huge pile of grants and research papers, and directed a research lab when he was at Texas A&M.

Here are a couple of different versions of the same lecture on integrating faith and vocation:

And here are a few other Bradley lectures I really like:

More Bradley lectures are here.

10 thoughts on “How to talk to your co-workers about your faith”

  1. Wow that was actually so helpful…even thoug I’m still at school I think most of it is applicable.
    Thank you so much for that!
    I am going to be browsing this blog a lot from now on!! ^^


    1. Just a couple of weeks ago I lend one of the atheists here a debate between Bill Craig and physics professor Victor Stenger, as well as a Bill Craig lecture on the Big Bang and God, delivered at UC Boulder. It’s good to have DVDs lying around your desk, as well as books like “Signature in the Cell” and such. I recently went for training as well and discussed interesting things with my co-workers all the way there and all the way back (we carpooled). It’s good to know about world religions if you work in software development like I do.


      1. Yeah we definitely need to be well rounded when it comes to apologetics. Paul was very adept at adapting his message and methods to his audiences needs and biases.


  2. I really like this post – you make a lot of great points. One exception I must make is when you say, “never discuss […] religious experiences, or your own life” I think that this depends on the person with whom you’re talking. I let other people steer the discussion, and if they ask about my life I will certainly tell them. I don’t bring it up, though. Some people are geared toward that sort of discussion (although in a software development setting, most of your co-workers are probably geared toward hard information). I emphatically agree with you that, even if they steer the conversation in that direction, it is a BAD idea to “debate whether […] they should stop shacking up.”

    I also love your point that the point is not to win during the discussion. That one is very important but hard to keep in mind, I think.


  3. Yeah I forgot to say something about that too. I don’t think that you should be so rigid as to have a principle that says “never discuss religios experiences or your own life”; especially as it’s definitely a biblical thing to do. The New Testament records Paul doing exactly that on numerous occasions, (see here, as well as in Galatians, not to mention that God knows how many times he must have given his testimony when it wasn’t recorded anywhere.


    1. This is just for at school and at work. The concern I have today is that most people think of Christianity as a private belief not grounded on any evidence, especially on any detectable, objective evidence. You can go into church and find lots of people who think that Christianity is their flavor, that other people have other flavors, and that everything is personal preference. But when you talk about science and history, people immediately understand that you think that Christianity is true in the same sense as physics and chemistry. It’s the way the world is. Most people don’t talk like that because they don’t want to be viewed as divisive or unpopular – so they just say that all religions are basically equal, that there is no scientific evidence that is objective and detectable, and that everyone has to choose the ice cream they like. That’s not Christianity, though. It’s postmodern relativism.


      1. Yeah I can definitely see your concern. But it is so easy for abstract arguments that are just in the head to be dismissed because people don’t want to believe. Giving your testimony like how Paul did adds that personal element and makes it so much more real and urgent. I guess the principle would then be this: if the person is a sceptic, then first show that there is objective evidence and then show how it’s relevant by giving your testimony. If the person is a seeker, though, and wants to know more then giving your testimony is the best thing you can do. That’s why asking some Kouklian style questions at the beginning sets you in such good stead to see what approach you need to take! =D


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