There’s a trial in progress alleging NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory demoted and then fired computer specialist David Coppedge for promoting his views on intelligent design.
None of us can know what really went on at the JPL offices, to know how or how often Coppedge brought up the topic. It’s equally possible he did so from a position of humility and grace as with an agenda of self-righteousness. Since we can’t know that and the trial likely won’t explain the spirit of his evangelism, I have a related question: how can a Christian be a Christian, right where they are, and make their faith known without honking off the people around them?
I believe the Bible offers a few models.
Follow Paul and know your audience.
If you are called to the ministry of people who are far from God, you need to know them. They will get to know you in their own time. It’s very easy to stand on a street corner with a placard reading “Repent” or perhaps something less dignified and more accusatory. Anyone can wield a Sharpie and some poster board on a stick. However, consider the way the Apostle Paul approached his audience. He lived where they lived. He worked where they worked. He knew their language and their customs, even though he was a Jew. He knew their business, and he knew their gods. Then, when the opportunity arose, he was able to speak to them from meaningful and useful common ground.
Follow Peter and know your Gospel.
The meta-narrative of Scripture is important and of course critical to a deep understanding of who God is and who you are in relation to Him. Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, however, focuses on two things: who is Jesus and what happened. Peter did not spend his few moments explaining the full scope of the Pentateuch and the lineage of Jesus from Adam to Joseph, but nails it down to Jesus - a man who proved himself with miracles and was proved by God when He raised Jesus from the dead. At the same time, it’s important to remember that Peter was speaking to an audience of faithful Jews in the temple. These were people who knew the scriptures he referenced. Peter was preaching to the choir.
Follow Jesus and know how to love.
Jesus was kind and loving to those who were hurting. Jesus was confrontational in many situations. He told off religious leaders. He told people to stop sinning. Once he even did both at the same time when the leaders brought him an adulterous woman. He told the woman to stop her behavior, but first he made sure she knew he loved her and didn’t condemn her. When faced with someone who is hurting themselves and others, follow Jesus’ lead and love without avoiding and confront without condemning.
Follow John the Baptist and know who needs to repent.
Likewise, John the Baptist spent his ministry career calling God’s chosen people to repentance. He was not reaching out to a Gentile audience but was preparing the way for the Messiah; for Jesus to come to His own people. John picked on Herod because he was supposed to be the example as the ruler of the Jews. He called out people who were supposed to know better, and not people who were not connected to God.
While we can’t know how David Coppedge spoke to his NASA coworkers, we can approach our own coworkers, neighbors and friends in ways that are meaningful and beneficial. Let’s focus on the things that are important when we get the chance to share the Gospel. Let’s be sure to actively love people and bring them into a closer relationship with Christ. Finally, let’s keep our signs and banners for change inside the church where they can do some good.
What Do You Think?
- What are appropriate ways to share your faith at work?
- What experiences have you had either sharing your faith or having a coworker share theirs in the workplace?