By Ray Wheeler, DMin. A pastor in the Southeast wrote us today. He said, “I have shared with several staff members today that our phone conversation [with Bertolini Sanctuary Seating] was the best phone call I have experienced in 2011! What a blessing, yet what a challenge to begin “stepping up to the plate” (note: I love baseball) and scheduling ‘one on one time’ with my family.” This email comment came to one of our product specialists. The conversation started about ordering church chairs then shifted to how to care about family in the midst of busy schedules.
Many of the product specialists who help churches order church chairs from Bertolini Sanctuary Seating are also deeply involved in their own congregations. Like other professionals they juggle family and work demands. And like many professionals they often struggle with when it is appropriate to allow the conversation to move toward faith.
Workplace ministry is not standing up on a desk and preaching. Even if “preaching” is more figurative than literal it often does more to repel people rather than draw them toward an honest discussion about faith. Instead I have found that workplace ministry is often simply being able to see what customers, coworkers, or supervisors are going through and to make space for the work God does. How does an individual make space for the work of God? I find four things to be important.
First, assume that God is already in your workplace. It is easy to forget that the presence of God is working in every context. I find that when people forget this they become edgy like a cat ready to pounce. People don’t like being pounced on as a general rule. When Jesus promised the presence of the Holy Spirit he made clear that the Holy Spirit’s work would permeate the world. (John 16:8) Going to work every day becomes an exercise in looking for what God is doing and being ready to cooperate with that work. Christians in the work place do not need to pounce. They just need to be responsive to their work place surroundings.
Second, listen to what others are saying and engage a conversation. Ask questions. Frequently the communication occurs when listening leads one toward understanding the other and appropriate honesty about oneself. Engaging what the other person is saying rather than waiting to offer a counter point seems to render new insights for both people in the conversation. These new insights often open up a deeper conversation.
Third, ask permission to make specific observations. When it is time to speak up I often preface my observations by asking, “May I share my observation (or experience) from a faith perspective?” Asking permission communicates respect. Sometimes the answer to the question is “no”. Respect that answer. Because God is working and because the power of prayer can leverage the point of the conversation later there is no need to dump everything one knows about God into a single conversation. (I assume that one prays for their workplace.)
Fourth, overcome fear by being real. I find that people often loose courage to speak about their convictions because they try to be something they are not. Just be you. Be comfortable in your own skin. If God has uniquely gifted you then allow the gift that you are to be expressed and have fun being you. (1 Cor. 12:4-25)
The team here at Bertolini Sanctuary Seating works hard. We have high expectations about what we need to accomplish and how we accomplish it. Our days are often fast and furious. Our work conversations focus most of time on the quality of our church chairs, the process of manufacturing and the details of a sale. Sometimes we have the opportunity to talk about the quality of our spiritual life, the process of faith and the details of God’s work in us. When we do gratifying and unexpected things happen that encourage us and brighten our day. This pastor’s feedback today is an example of this.
It is an experience like the one we had with this pastor that remind us that manufacturing and selling church chairs is sometimes a workplace ministry.
Dr. Ray Wheeler is the Director of Global sales for Bertolini Inc and an adjunct instructor in leadership, church growth and ethics at Bethesda University California in Anaheim, California and Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California.