Evangelization and Discipleship in the “Workplace”
No, this short essay is not about bringing Jesus to the secular world, as crucial as that is. What I’m thinking about is the workplace that we call a parish. If parishes are ever going to teach people how to bring the Good News to corporate America, to disciple people who work in banks, software companies and factories, we first have to be able to do it in our parish offices.
What makes me think that we’re not already doing this? While there are certainly parish offices in the world where evangelization and discipleship are the backdrop for everything they do, most people who work in parishes will admit that this isn’t their reality. Even many pastors will acknowledge that they’re a little reluctant to push their “employees” to grow in their faith, citing their busy schedule, their fear of alienating a colleague, or their concern that they might be overstepping their boundaries as a “manager.”
Most people who have worked in parishes know what I’m talking about. But explain all this to a person who has never worked in or spent much time in a parish office and they’ll be shocked. “You mean to tell me that the people who work at the church every day aren’t doing all the stuff that we hear about on Sundays? They’re not praying together, reading the Bible together, sharpening one another? How am I supposed to do this in my place of work if they’re not doing it in theirs?”
Please understand. I love parishes, and I honor and appreciate the people who work in them. I really do. But I can’t lie when I say that most parish offices feel a lot more like insurance companies and dentist offices than the spiritual field hospitals that Pope Francis talks about. There is a surprising lack of joy, enthusiasm and even camaraderie in many of them, which hurts the people who work there as much as it does the people who come to the parish office looking for the love of Jesus while they’re asking about a wedding, a funeral or a baptism.
What can be done? First, pastors and parish leaders need to change their expectations about what a parish office should be. Rather than a clearinghouse for administration, it should be a living, active, joyful beehive of human interaction, one where visitors, volunteers and co-workers are actively welcomed, discipled and loved every time they arrive. Does real work need to get done? Of course. But never at the expense of spreading the Gospel. I can’t imagine that St. Paul, while he was making tents, ignored the spiritual needs of the people around him, even if he had a lot of work to do.
Second, pastors and parish leaders need to look around at the people they work with every day and identify those who need to be evangelized and discipled. One parish leadership team actually had every team member adopt two people in the parish for discipleship, knowing that changing the culture had to begin with them.
Finally, some parishes may need to revisit the physical nature of their offices. Fewer closed doors, more common space, and a greater emphasis on demonstrating that their workplace is about doing the work of Jesus, rather than dentistry or insurance.
All of this will start with the recognition that those of us who work in parishes, as employees or volunteers, will have to get a little less comfortable, and a lot more relational. At first it will feel weird. Eventually, it will be liberating, the way that all aspects of growing in the love of God is liberating. Is every person who walks in the door of the parish office going to welcome this new spirit of evangelization and discipleship? No. Not at first. But most will be thrilled. Believe me.
G.K. Chesterton once said that every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is searching for God. If that’s true, and I’m convinced that it is, then it is certainly true that every person who walks through the door of a parish office is searching for God’s love. What a blessed responsibility it is for anyone who works in a parish to fill that need.
Pat Lencioni | Co-founder
The Amazing Parish