I know it sounds super weird to say that I met Patrick right outside the shower in the locker room at Wilson’s, but it’s the truth. And it’s not quite as weird as it first sounds.
Let me explain. I get out of the shower, grab my towel, and start drying off. It’s then that I see a man I don’t know staring at me. After an awkward pause, he says that I have used his towel. Now the way Patrick tells the story, I was too proud to admit that it was ever possible that I’d grabbed the wrong white towel outside the showers, so I told him, “No, this is mine.”
I was wrong.
What do you say to a man whose towel you’ve just mistakenly used to dry off with? Do you hand his now wet towel back to him? If you’re me, you ask him to lunch. And that was the odd way a lasting friendship began.
Christine and I consider Patrick and Heather to be some of our closest friends. One thing I respect about Patrick is that he’s very open about his faith in a way that is attractive, not cheesy or condemning. I’ve met a lot of people at The Crossing who tell me that Patrick and Heather have been instrumental in their faith journeys.
So I thought I’d ask Patrick some questions regarding his own story and what he’s learned from talking about Jesus in the context of a private company. Here’s a partial transcript of our conversation:
Keith: Patrick, when we first got together for lunch, what were you thinking?
Patrick: I was freaked out because I couldn’t believe I was eating lunch with a pastor.
Keith: What do you have against pastors?
Patrick: I grew up in Rolla MO, and my parents had been very active in a church there. Eventually, my mom came across some church leaders engaged in unethical and immoral activity. When she reported it to those in charge, they minimized it and ended up asking my parents to leave the church. Eventually it all came out that my mom and dad were right. A few church leaders had really screwed up and hurt a lot of people. But by then we’d left the church, and my parents were among those hurt.
All that fueled my anger at the church. I thought all Christians were hypocrites. In running from church, I also ran from God. I partied pretty hard and found myself far from God.
Keith: I know that’s not where you are now. How did you end up reconciling with God?
Patrick: When we got lunch that first time, I unloaded on you about all my bad experiences with the church. You weren’t defensive, and you didn’t make excuses or minimize it. You just listened. God used that—along with many more conversations—to soften my heart. It was a long process—a process that I’m still in.
Keith: As you started to grow in your faith, you saw changes in different areas of your life. How did it change the way you were at work?
Patrick: It’s mainly my motives that have changed. I’ve always been a hard worker. My parents raised me and my siblings on a modest income, and I worked hard because I thought if I had more money than they did, I’d be happier than they were. It would be fair to say my main motive was greed.
And then there was pride. I spent a lot of years in sales, and I loved to be at the top of the monthly reports that were sent throughout the company. My greed and pride helped me work hard, but they also made me ignore the people around me. I wasn’t a very good co-worker.
The more I understood and embraced the Gospel, the more my heart changed. I realized that money couldn’t satisfy me and that my identity wasn’t wrapped up in being number one. Gradually, I began to work to please God instead of myself.
Keith: Do you think being good at your job affects your ability to be a positive influence?
Patrick: In my experience, absolutely! I’ve found that those who work hard and do their job well are the ones who earn credibility and influence. No one asks the mediocre or lazy or complaining person for advice about their personal or professional life.
Sometimes hard work simply means showing up early and staying late. There are seasons where you have to put in extra time to do a good job. Other times it may mean pursuing excellence. One way to think about it is, “How can I make things better? What can I do that might make us have better service or be more efficient or complete more sales or however your business defines success?”
Keith: We see that in the Bible, in the lives of Joseph and Daniel. Both excelled in their education and work and eventually rose to top positions in the pagan empires of Egypt and Babylon. Daniel became a confidante of the most powerful king on earth. And the Bible is pretty clear that this was due to the excellence of his work:
In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. (Daniel 1:20)
So the motive for your hard work changed. Was there anything else you felt needed to change?
Patrick: Yeah, going back many years, my tongue was out of control in the office. I cussed a lot. Back then I had a few employees working for me, and I overheard them talking like me. I didn’t like that they were just talking like their leader and that I was influencing them in that negative way.
I knew I wanted God to use me in the workplace but that wasn’t helped by me cussing all day long. So, for a while I told myself every day on the way to work, “I’m not going to cuss today.” That would last until around 11 a.m., or until the first time something went wrong. Then I’d revert back to my old self. Telling myself not to talk like that failed terribly.
I finally gave up trying to change on my own and started praying every morning on the way to work that God would help me control the way I speak since, clearly, I was failing at it. After a couple of months, I saw some real change. I still slip up, but the way I speak in the office is radically different than it used to be.
Keith: So you gained credibility through hard work and trying to faithfully (not perfectly) live out the Christian life in the office. I think most of us get that part. It’s probably not smart to talk about Jesus while being a jerk or a sluggard. But what do you do then?
In other words, it’s great to earn credibility, but I think people have a hard time figuring out how to spend that credibility in a way that helps others know Jesus.
Patrick: I think that’s going to look different for everyone depending on your position and where you work. I’m fortunate to be in a leadership role at a company that is very friendly to faith. I understand that not everyone is in the same situation.
Keith: Every work environment is different. But most of what you’re sharing can be applied to a variety of situations.
Patrick: I think it starts with the fact that life can be pretty hard. Everyone has struggles, whether it’s marriage or work or finances or health or family. And these challenges cause a lot of people to live with constant stress.
I can identify with stressed out people because I experience the same thing. But becoming a Christian really changed how I handle stress. That’s one area that God has made a very noticeable difference. It’s not that things began to always work out the way I want but rather that I could trust that God would walk through the hard things in life with me. God’s presence in my life has brought a peace and perspective that wasn’t there without him.
When my co-workers share their burdens with me, I find that I can almost always relate to them, and I try to be as honest and transparent as I can about my own struggles. Often this leads to me sharing how I’ve learned to rely on my friends in my small group and men’s group for help.
And then I ask them if they have some sort of support group. You’d be shocked by how many people don’t have close friends that can walk through life with them. And that opens a door for me to invite them to church.
Keith: I know that you and Heather have invited a lot of people to church, but there’s more to it than just an invitation, right?
Patrick: My life has changed as my faith in Christ has grown, and this church has been a big part of that, so I would love for friends to experience that as well. I think it’s really important that the people I invite know that they can turn me down, and it won’t offend me, but also that I sincerely want them to be there with me.
And I know that it can be hard to walk into a new church but especially if it’s your first time to church in a while. So, when I invite people, I try to be specific. I don’t ask if they want to come to church with me sometime but rather if they will meet me this Sunday morning at 9:30 in the foyer. Then I ask them to sit with me. It just makes it a more comfortable experience for them.
Keith: Another thing you’ve done is lead a book discussion. What does that look like?
Patrick: That has evolved over the years. But it began by asking some guys I have good relationships with, who were all at different places on their spiritual journey, if they wanted to read a book together. I thought most would say “yes” because we were friends, and they did.
Some of the better discussions were over Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and Soul Survivor by Philip Yancey. Then I asked them if they were up for reading the Bible together. That led to the Sermon on the Mount and then all of the Gospel of Matthew. For most guys, this was the first time they’d ever read the Bible.
One key thing, I think, is to meet in non-threatening places. We meet primarily in coffee shops.
Keith: Before we wrap this up, is there anything else you think is important to share?
Patrick: Yes. People don’t want to be your project. Everyone can tell if you’re authentic or not, if you care about them or not. You can have the best plan to influence people, but it has to start with really loving them.
Keith: One of the great things about influencing your co-workers or friends is that you don’t have to rush a person to faith but can let them be in a process they’re comfortable with. You don’t have to try to share everything with them in one conversation because these are people you see regularly.
Patrick: Yeah, I sometimes find myself being impatient with the process, and I have to remind myself that I’m not that important. God doesn’t need me. He may use me, but he definitely doesn’t need me. That takes a lot of pressure off of me feeling like I have to have the whole faith conversation with someone right now, or I have to get the whole gospel message out in the book club, or that, somehow, if the person who came to church with me doesn’t come back (which happens), then it’s a failure.
People start feeling like a project when you try to rush things, and it’s not going to end well. Don’t put pressure on yourself to move too quickly. If God wants to use you, he will always give you another opportunity.
Keith: How often do you have these conversations? It sounds like these spiritual conversations happen all the time.
Patrick: Not at all. Weeks go by and I might not talk to anyone. Then other weeks I get to have several conversations. I have a job that takes a lot of time and energy. If I were talking to people about Jesus all the time, then I wouldn’t be doing my job well and eventually I’d lose credibility.
Keith: One thing that I’ve noticed is that most of us try to predict who will be the most likely to respond positively to an invite to church or spiritual conversation. But that’s not the way you think. Why is that?
Patrick: I have no idea whose heart God is working in right now and whose he isn’t. God can reach anyone. I know I was far from God when he reached out to me. God doesn’t give up on people who are far away from him.
If God can reach me, he can reach anyone. So, I don’t want to give up on people who seem far away because I know I was in their same boat once.
Keith: Let’s close by reminding ourselves that this isn’t up to us but God. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians:
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 1 Corinthians 3:6-7
So since God is the one who causes growth, the best thing we can do is pray that he will be at work in our lives and in the lives of those we come into contact with.
Patrick, thanks for sharing your experiences with us.
Click on the button below to view the full interview: Talking about Jesus with Patrick Cox.