In my last column, I mentioned that while putting my husband through seminary, I spent nine years working for a subsidiary of a S&P 500 company. And although for the past twenty years I’ve been in vocational ministry, I’m grateful for what I learned in my so-called secular job. Here’s my encouragement to those working for a living—whatever the vocation:
Know that your ultimate employer is the Lord.
Paul advised the Colossian believers, “Whatever you are doing, work at it with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not for people” (Col. 3:23). If God is the one for whom we ultimately work, we can’t get lazy as soon as the boss leaves the room. Because God is our ultmate boss, and he sees all. Ultimately we work for him.
In my corporate life, one time when a higher-up was headed to our floor, my boss’s boss called to tell him to look busy. That call annoyed my boss, and rightfully so, because he was a believer who took seriously the charge in Colossians 3. As far as I observed, he never put on a show—he always worked hard, even when no one “important” was looking.
Want to be a great testimony? Be a model employee. Hard working, honest, fair, kind, patient. Even when no one sees you but God.
Remember that a person’s position is not his or her worth.
In the mid-1990s, I visited Russia, which at the time was in such an economic crisis that people used paper money as toilet paper—because using the currency was cheaper than buying actual TP. Physicians made less money than tour guides and cab drivers. And I saw firsthand how power and status can change overnight.
When I started out at my job by answering phones, sometimes people were rude to me—a low-status worker. But after I got promoted a few times, the power balance shifted. Those who had treated me badly acted chagrined. For those who had treated me with respect when I had no power, I found myself going out of my way to help them succeed. Net worth is not the same as real worth.
When told to compromise ethics, get creative.
My work mentor in a very real way was the prophet Daniel. When he worked for the pagan king, he and his friends were told they’d have to disobey God’s food laws (see Daniel 1). But they could not in good conscience obey such an order. Yet they did not get all self-righteous. Instead, they got creative. The king’s goal was to make sure Daniel and his friends were in prime health, so Daniel and his friends proposed an alternative that allowed both parties to achieve their desired goals. Daniel’s story encouraged me to propose an alternative if someone told me to compromise ethically. So, for example, when a boss told me to lie and say he was out, I asked if I it would be okay to say he was unavailable for a few hours. Both of us got what we wanted.
It irks employers when believers spend time evangelizing when they should be devoting their efforts to the actual jobs they get paid to do. One of the best testimonies in my office was how much integrity the Christians displayed, from their honesty with time cards and how they spent their time on the job to making sure they didn’t pilfer pens out of the supply room.
Be a good shepherd.
Throughout the Bible it seems that God’s favorite metaphor for a true leader is “shepherd.” Moses and David both spent years on the back side of the wilderness with four-legged creatures before God called them to shepherd two-legged sheep. Unlike CEOs in big companies, good shepherds know their sheep by name. And the bottom-line is not the only cultural good for them. Rather, the well-being of those entrusted to their care is number one.
The president of the company for which I worked ended up negotiating away five hundred jobs as he lined his pockets with millions. A good shepherd would have sacrificed himself before harming the sheep.
Are you responsible for people? Love them. Sacrifice for them. Give them the fresh stuff and reserve the leftovers for yourself.
Memorize “Take My Life and Let It Be.” And live it.
If you want to a more just workplace, help women.
Of course you will help men, too. It’s just that many obstacles still exist for women, despite progress. And interestingly, a Barna study found that “evangelicals are the most skeptical of the existence of barriers for women in the workplace. Less than one-third (32 percent) of those surveyed—fewer than any other segment Barna studied—believed significant obstacles still exist.” If the Christians are the people in the office who care least about justice, will people want to know our God?
Priscilla and Aquila made tents. Amos was a farmer. Lydia was a seller of purple. Luke was a physician. And Lady Wisdom sold real estate and belts (Proverbs 31). No matter what your vocation, your work is to be holy, done for God. So do a great job. And look around. Notice the shepherding needs for those in your sphere of influence. And ask the Lord to use you to meet them.