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Church focuses on an oft-overlooked opportunity for evangelism

SIMPSONVILLE, SC (BP)–When Rick Julian realized that people today spend more time at work than they do at home, he updated his view of on-the-job training to include ministry.

“The workweek is not 40 hours anymore,” said Julian, minister of evangelism at First Baptist Church in Simpsonville, S.C. “The stresses I see as a counselor is that work life is mounting and piling up. As the workload piles up, stress pours into the home. Home issues are work issues and these issues collide.

“We need to attack the true problem,” Julian said, pointing to the church’s launching of a ministry effort to reach people where they work. “Let people be true leaders and we need to be better at providing strategies. If we help create better leaders, it begins with leading yourself. If you lead yourself well, then you will lead your family well.”

When Julian attended a worklife ministry conference sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, he met Doug Spada, head of HisChurchatWork.org. Spada’s organization helps churches devise a Bible-based plan to evangelize within the workplace — and that helped spark the creation of First Baptist’s worklife ministry.

“It didn’t start out on such-and-such a date that we launched a workplace ministry,” senior pastor Randy Harling said. “It just sort of migrated into an emphasis on this.”

First Baptist Simpsonville, located near Columbia and Greenville, with about 2,000 people in its Sunday services, has a helpful website, www.fbcsimpsonvilleworklife.org. The website is a vast resource center not just for church members looking for daily devotionals, literature and other workplace guides, but for churches seeking information on how to start their own worklife ministry.

It has real stories at work from HisChurchatWork.org and there are forums where people can share their own workplace testimonies.

“There were no programs out there to emulate,” Julian said. “We were looking for anything. We went to some worklife conferences which were not helpful. Our church was doing business luncheons once a month on site but we knew that was not the answer.

“Through Doug Spada and HisChurchAtWork, instead of asking to come to you, you go to them,” Julian said.

Before linking up with Spada, Harling had started the business luncheons at the church about three years earlier. People who worked close to the church would come for lunch and hear a speaker give a devotional about what was happening in the workplace.

Sensing only marginal success, Harling followed up with a series of “corporate prophet” luncheons in restaurants around the county promoted in the church and on its website. People were encouraged to bring a friend from work and hear a five- to 10-minute devotional on leadership and then allow time for discussion.

“It went well,” Harling said. “Eventually we contracted with a devotional website and a workplace ministry site. People could subscribe and get an e-mail devotional. We had a big response, which surprised us. So many people grabbed onto it.”

Harling preached a series last fall through the Book of James titled “Corporate Prophets” which looked at such workplace issues as dealing with difficult people, customer service principles and how to make tough decisions. “It attracted the most response from anything I’ve done,” Harling said.

Spada, who, like Harling, is a product of many years in the workplace before being led by God to the ministry, was contacted by FBC Simpsonville to help guide the church through a detailed program of how to evangelize in the workplace, wherever that may be.

“We teach churches,” said Spada, whose ministry is based in Alpharetta, Ga. “We’re like a voice in the wilderness saying, ‘Church, wake up!’ The greatest influence we can have is in the workplace. Churches are intentional and try sustained efforts to disciple the scattered church, whether that’s a bus driver, teacher, engineer or a stay-at-home mom. We define work as what God defines it as. That’s the essence of work, not just a place you go.

“We come in and supercharge the church. We give them tools and … train them. We have a virtual worklife support staff to help them. We train the trainers. They go through what we call Worklife University and then they train the laypeople to lead the ministry.”

Another thing FBC Simpsonville has tapped into are quarterly teleconferenced leadership seminars offered to the community. They have used the Maxwell Maximum Impact simulcast from John C. Maxwell, a former minister for 25 years in churches in Indiana, Ohio and California. Maxwell, whose philosophy is “everything rises and falls on leadership,” seeks to develop values-based leaders using Christian motivational speakers like Zig Ziglar, Bobby Bowden, Pat Williams and Pat Summitt to get key points across.

“We read about the series in a magazine and it was in line with what we are doing,” Julian said. “It fits our mission and purpose. Last year was our first year and this year we will partner with the Chamber of Commerce.”

Although such events take a tremendous amount of time and planning, Harling said the church will continue to take what it has learned from all sources, most importantly the Bible, as it continues to reach out to where the needs are in the workplace and elsewhere.

“We want to be a place that identifies,” Harling said. “We are a church but we also care about you at work. We care about careers and the pressure of work. There’s so much to deal with. Down the road, we want to divide our staff up and send them off to three different places and spend time in work with people of the congregation. We want to get a better handle on what they do every day.”

    About the Author

  • Jerry Higgins