"Identify with Christ as you meet new people." My parents gave that instruction to their eight children as we grew up. A Christian’s personal connection to Christ can be expressed in many ways, and it’s usually good to articulate it at the first natural opportunity.
As my college years wound to an end, I interviewed for my first “real” job as a supervisor in a small factory. In the interview, the boss offered a soft-toss questions like “Why should we hire you?” I offered up various reasons and included something like, “My work ethic is driven by my Christian faith. I’m ultimately accountable to Christ for my actions.” It was just a couple of sentences that I didn’t think much about. I might have also asked if the factory worked Sundays, but it didn’t.
A few days later, they offered me the job. I started shortly thereafter eager to begin my career.
The first week, my boss assigned me to spend a day in each of the four main departments to become familiar with the operation. I shadowed the hourly team leader, met the employees, and observed the work.
In the first department, the team leader completed her set-up tasks by about 10:00 a.m. and we took a little breather. She turned to me and said, “So, you’re pretty religious, huh?” I was a bit puzzled because I couldn’t remember saying anything that morning that would have triggered the question. But, we had a little conversation about Jesus and what he had done for me.
The next day, I moved on to the next department and the next team leader. In the mid-morning lull, that team leader rather bluntly asked, “So, you go to church, huh?” Clearly, something was up; I was learning that word travels fast in a factory of seventy workers. Again, it was a natural opportunity to talk about the church and what the Lord had done for me.
Soon, I arrived in the third department which would be mine to lead. It wasn’t long before a woman said something like “I hear you’re pretty religious. Is that true?” By this point, I could only chuckle.
“People in every department have asked me that,” I said. She blushed and covered her mouth in surprise.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Welllll….” She replied, “Before you started, the boss walked through the whole plant hollering ‘Listen up, folks! We’ve just hired a new, young supervisor. We think he’s going to be good, and we want to keep him. But, he’s really religious. So watch your language!’”
I laughed harder still as I put the pieces together from the interview onward.
In no time at all, it became clear that no one else in the plant claimed a living relationship with Christ. They all knew that I did, and they saw that I was a sinner who needed grace too.
There were awkward moments with people, to be sure, and some in the plant probably thought I was just odd. But, I was glad that my coworkers knew about the Lord I served. Most of them were glad too, I think, as evidenced by the great discussions that began to unfold from good natured teasing, to lunch room conversations, to smoke hut discourse on breaks, to queries and comments in quiet moments amid mundane work on the factory floor. Rich relationships formed with a lot of wonderful people in a work setting that wasn’t always easy. There were intellectual arguments raised against the Christian faith, but most of the discussions centered on personal issues that challenged me to grow.
Coworkers spoke of and asked about the sexual abuse they had endured as children, their financial woes, brokenness in their homes, substance abuse, sexual immorality, jealousy, disappointments, and hopelessness. One worker’s father drowned while under the influence of alcohol that year. Of course, I didn’t have all the answers and didn't try to solve every problem. My primary task was to help them succeed in their work. However, I could listen and offer the hope of being in Jesus Christ who died for sinners and rose so that we might live in him.
Were lives changed in big ways? Not that I know of. Yet, because they knew I was in Christ, we had a lot of deep and sometimes raw discussions about the things that matter most in life. I’ve lost contact with these friends, though I still pray for them as they come to mind.
No law exists to tell Christians exactly how and when to identify with Jesus in such settings. My experience came in one particular place and at a particular time and will not be replicated. But however our lives unfold, Christians are called to confess Christ before people and not to be ashamed.
If you are not a Christian and you are reading this, please don’t be bashful about asking a Christian (or someone you suspect is a Christian) about his or her faith; they really would like to tell you.
Less than a year after starting the job, I left for a new work opportunity. My departure was bittersweet; I had grown to love my friends. To show their appreciation when I departed, my coworkers gifted me a cowbell that still has a place on my shelf. They said I should have worn it while roaming around the plant. Then they would have heard me coming and known to watch their language.