Applying Our Faith in the Workplace
Audrey Chan—Leicester, U.K.
The city of Leicester, where I work, is a wonderfully diverse place. According to the 2011 UK Census, the combined ethnic minority communities now make up the greater part of the local population. The city is home to people from a myriad of backgrounds—Caucasian, South Asian, African, African-Caribbean, Chinese, and Eastern European communities, all co-existing peacefully, or at least more peacefully than some parts of the U.K., where there have been overt racial tensions.
This diversity was particularly evident in one of my previous places of work, where twelve of the fifteen members in my team were from a Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic background, and nine of us professed a religious faith—Islam, Christianity and Hinduism—or held spiritual beliefs of some sort. During the occasional lull in our busy working day, those of us on duty in the office would sometimes have profound discussions about life and faith. The Muslim colleagues in the team would make their daily prayers in a quiet place and fast during the month of Ramadan, all the while stoically tackling their work commitments. I look back with fond memories, thankful that we shared time together and felt comfortable enough to express who we were.
However, even with the freedom that many of us living in a developed country enjoy, there may still be times when we, as Christians, feel inhibited to uphold the name of Jesus and reveal our faith in an unapologetic manner. Sometimes we may just want to blend in, to keep matters of faith out of our conversations, and to practice our beliefs in the privacy of our own homes or in church where we are with like-minded people. But doing so would make us lopsided Christians; our faith should be integral to our identity and our behavior, wherever we are.
UPHOLDING OUR FAITH
Declaring the Name of Jesus
One thing I learned from working in Leicester is that it is good to make your faith known to others. Our faith is a fundamental part of who we are, and letting others know helps them to understand us and our stance on certain matters. It may not always be appropriate to preach directly to colleagues or clients, as there are usually policies or codes of conduct in place to prevent this, but we can at least make known the fact that we are Christians. We can reveal which church we attend and bring up issues that may be relevant to our working relationships. If people are interested in knowing more, then we can share as the opportunity arises.
If we do this, our colleagues will realize what we are doing when we bow our head in thanksgiving at lunchtime, and when we decline work or social events on the Sabbath day. No matter whether they agree with what we do, at least they will understand. To hide and to be surreptitious of this aspect of our identity would be strange, as if we were ashamed of our belief in Jesus.
In a small way, when we make known our faith, we are introducing people to the true God. And we will be following in the footsteps of the saints of old—people like Joseph, Daniel, and Nehemiah, who served among Gentile masters and colleagues while shining the light of God through their daily actions. Looking at it another way, if we feel ashamed about our faith in Jesus, it could lead to mutual sentiments: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels” (Lk 9:26).
I have been fortunate that, in over twenty-five years of working life, I have not been required to work on the Sabbath. However, recently, prior to signing a contract for a new post, I looked at the offer letter and saw there was a requirement to work occasional weekends. This was a first for me. So I went into the new office to speak to the Human Resources Officer. She went away to have a word with my new line manager, who then ushered me into a quiet room for a chat. He politely explained that he needed to clarify something: Why could I not work on Saturdays? Was it because of religious reasons? I proceeded to explain about the Sabbath, and he was obviously intrigued, asking if I was a Seventh Day Adventist (he knew something about their beliefs). He also wanted to know when and how I kept the Sabbath. Thank God, after our conversation, my manager said he would respect my request on religious grounds and would work around it, even though at least one major work event was due to take place soon on a Saturday.
In hindsight, I realize that my new employer had to take into account UK equality legislation which supports the rights of employees to practice their religion. But I was also grateful to God that I was already in a job, and had the option to decline the new post if working on Saturdays turned out to be mandatory. It would have been a dilemma if I did not have an alternative and our family’s livelihood depended on me taking the job. That would have been a real test of faith—one that I imagine others might have to go through.
While Sabbath-keeping is one of the Ten Commandments, in practical terms, no one can compel another to refrain from working on this day. Observing the Sabbath has to be done from personal conviction and a heart of trust in God’s blessings. In Old Testament times, God enforced the Sabbath strictly during the wilderness years and the settlement period, like a father teaching his young child the elementary principles. Harvest time or otherwise, God required the chosen people to cease from their labors (Ex 34:21) and stipulated punishment for the transgressors (Ex 31:14). In this era of grace and spiritual maturity, God has etched His law onto our heart, to enable us to keep it from the heart (Jer 31:33). For this reason, there is no more compulsion; the Holy Spirit’s motivation, if we are attentive to it, should be sufficient (Ezek 36:26–27).
LIGHT OF THE WORLD
Avoiding Gossip and Backbiting
Where there is no wood, the fire goes
And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases.
As charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire,
So is a contentious man to kindle strife. (Prov 26:20–21)
Many people would agree that one of the banes of working life is office politics. Staff will often talk about fellow colleagues and managers: who has done what, and who has failed to do what. It creates a bit of drama in what can be a humdrum working life. I have noticed that it is during periods of organizational change that there is often an increase in the level of gossip and complaints. People seem to need an outlet for stress and uncertainty. I have to confess that I have become embroiled on occasions. There is something initially cathartic about venting and putting the world to rights when you feel helpless or aggrieved. But my personal experience is that I do not feel good afterwards; in fact, I feel sullied. I have no doubt that this is the Holy Spirit pricking my conscience. Gossiping and backbiting fuel negativity and partisan feelings in the workplace; taking part means we grieve the Holy Spirit, whose nature is peace, goodness, kindness, longsuffering, and self-control (Gal 5:22– 23)—the opposite of what we are indulging in.
A good rule is that if an issue does not concern us and we have no role in finding a solution, then it is best not to talk about it. If others want to, we should leave them to it, change the subject, or even distance ourselves, if possible. If it is in our power to do something about a problem, we should do so through the proper channels—for example, by raising the matter in a constructive manner directly with the person concerned or with our supervisor. If that still does not work, and depending on how serious the matter is, then it might be time to review if we are in the right place.
Taking part in office politics can create problems and taint our character. God’s word instructs us to do things without complaining and disputing, so that we can shine and be above reproach.
Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. (Phil 2:14–15)
Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eye service, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. (Col 3:22–24)
We have probably come across certain colleagues who try to do the minimum in order to get by, those who watch the clock, or grumble their way through tasks. Such people can sap the energy from a team and hinder progress. The Bible teaches Christians not to be like this.
Rather, we should have a good work ethic and be faithful employees. The key is to have the right attitude and realize to whom we are truly accountable. Paul says we should do our work “as to the Lord” and know that we are actually “serving the Lord.” One person who operated by this principle was Joseph. Sold into slavery, he had every reason to be an incalcitrant worker in Potiphar’s household, and in the prison cells to which he was later banished; after all, he had hardly chosen his career path. However, he rose above his circumstances to become a model employee. He did his jobs so well that his masters did not need to supervise him; they trusted him to get on with the work, which he did in a most faithful manner (Gen 39:5-6, 21–23). And God, who was his ultimate Master, recognized his efforts and blessed his working life. Most pertinently, it was evident “that the LORD was with him and that the LORD made all he did to prosper in his hand” (Gen 39:3). In short, Joseph’s work ethic became a testimony to his Gentile masters that there is a true and living God.
In past years, I did not have much reason to think about Paul’s words in Colossians 3:22–24—at least not until things got difficult at one of my workplaces. Management changes led to practices that felt unreasonable, unfair and authoritarian to many of us in the team. Needless to say, morale was at an all-time low. Up until then, I always did my best, but now I was wondering what the point was: if the company did not value its employees, why put in so much effort? However, in the recesses of my mind, I recalled Paul’s words. I made up my mind that, while I would tender my resignation, I would continue doing my job to the best of my ability up until my departure date—as for God, not man. From that moment, it was very liberating: I was able to do my job and feel at peace, knowing that God would approve. It was much better than wasting time and energy wallowing in resentment. Much to my amusement, this approach puzzled some of my colleagues, one of whom asked me directly, “Why are you continuing to do things for them?” She was obviously expecting me to wind down, which was tempting, to say the least. In that difficult period, a number of us resigned from the company in quick succession. On a personal level, I was able to leave the organization with a clear conscience, knowing God had blessed the work I did, leaving no loose ends. I then went on to experience His guidance in the next leg of my employment journey.
The people with whom we share office space will have different personalities, backgrounds, ambitions, motivations, and even levels of morality. To this day, what some employees are capable of doing still astounds me. In the workplace, I have witnessed arguments, dishonesty, falsification of records, lateness, theft, unfair employment procedures and bullying. I could go on. What is even more disconcerting is that managers have been complicit in some of the issues. One might wonder, What is the world coming to?
The fact is, we will probably witness things in the workplace that are just not right. But we should not be surprised. When people do not know or fear God, or lack a conscience, they will simply do what is right in their own eyes, or whatever it takes to reach their own ends. What is important for us is whether we are able to conduct ourselves professionally and with integrity, even when those around us do not. And more importantly, can we proactively shine for God?
Elder Peter exhorts us to keep our
behavior “honorable among the Gentiles” (
Also, if it is in our power to do so, we should highlight unacceptable and illegal behavior, through the proper channels. This is both a professional and a moral duty. It may entail speaking to one’s line manager or a more senior manager, alerting them to take stock and make changes. If nothing happens despite our feedback, and we cannot tolerate the status quo, then we have the privilege of asking our heavenly Father to guide us to find a better employer. But we need to remember that the world is an imperfect place, and I doubt there is a workplace that does not have problems. There is much to be said, then, for Elder Peter’s advice, which reminds us that if we cannot change a negative situation, we might need to change ourselves:
Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to
the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience
toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. (
Here, Peter tells us to bear with a harsh or unreasonable employer—for the sake of God. Indeed, to retaliate would hardly bring glory to Him. Easier said than done, we may think, but it is by no means impossible, when we think of the attitude of Jesus. While He never shirked from defending the things that mattered in relation to His salvation ministry—the truth and the rights of the oppressed—He meekly endured being wronged on a personal level, time and time again, even to the point of death on the cross. When we consider the degree of suffering He had to bear, our mundane problems pale in comparison. And we may find that our troubles can be redefined through a change of perspective and an increase in spiritual cultivation.
The workplace is one arena in which we need to live out our Christian life, and this is important simply because we spend so much time there. We should therefore endeavor to use it well to witness for God through our daily interactions with those around us. God’s standards, which are higher than any workplace standards, challenge us to declare our faith before others, keep His commandments, be kind and considerate in our speech, serve as faithful employees, and act with integrity. By doing these things, we can shine the light of Jesus Christ in a small but significant way.