By Jason Collum, AFAJ staff writer
February 2002 – How important in business are the qualities of honesty and integrity? For a Christian, they are required.
These qualities alone won’t guarantee success. And with the current climate of general intolerance toward actions or activities with religious overtones, it’s a good idea to know the company’s rules and honor them. Taking a low-key approach may seem at odds with Jesus’ commands to actively promote and spread the Gospel, but the subtle approach can or may do more to promote one’s faith and Christian spirit than ignoring authority and overtly expressing or dispensing one’s beliefs.
It’s certainly a balancing act, but the dividends such behavior can pay are worth it. Having the right qualities can make the balancing act a less taxing task.
Few will argue against the popularity or merits of honesty and integrity. Stephen Caldwell, who has spent time in both secular and Christian workplaces, mentions a quality that many people may not even think about.
“One that goes overlooked is excellence in the workplace,” said Caldwell, editorial director at Walker Creative in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Caldwell joined Walker Creative in 2001 after serving as executive editor of Life@Work Journal, a magazine whose mission is to blend Biblical wisdom with marketplace excellence.
“I’m afraid if you polled non-Christians about the skill level of their Christian counterparts, they might not rate them very highly, and that’s a disservice to God who created the universe in all its excellence,” Caldwell said. “We have an obligation to be really good at what we do and our vocation. We should feel a calling to it so we’re doing it for the Lord and not just for ourselves.”
Organizations the world over are operated by Christian men and women who openly practice their faith through their work. Some of the most prominent Christian business leaders include the likes of Dennis Bakke, CEO of AES Corp., the world’s largest global power company, and retired Raytheon chairman and CEO Thomas L. Phillips.
These companies have flourished, no doubt, in part due to their Christian leadership. Throughout the Bible there are stories about God’s instructions for Christian behavior in business dealings. But following these principles and instructions doesn’t guarantee the absence of trying times.
Facing the challenges
The workplace is no different than the rest of the world when it comes to challenging a Christian’s walk.
“Misconceptions are the biggest obstacle to Christians in the workplace today,” Caldwell said. “People have a skewed view of true believers. There are the few who give Christ a bad name sometimes. Then there’s the perception perpetrated by some members of the secular media, movies and television. Almost always if you see an evangelical Christian portrayed on television, it’s in an overbearing, Nazi-fascist, ‘my-way-or-the-highway’ manner. They don’t show the love, the caring.
“We have some overcoming to do in getting by that stereotype,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons why some people don’t want to be too overt about what they believe, or [they fear] what people will think of them because they’re afraid of what it could do to their chances to climb the career ladder.”
Christians need to be careful about not furthering the stereotypes. Instead of E-mailing a prayer request to everyone in the company, including those who would be offended by it, respect their wishes and send such things only to those who don’t mind. But be careful at the same time not to break company rules if personal E-mail is discouraged.
Establishing respectful relationships with non-believers also can help give legitimacy to the Christian lifestyle. But remember: many times non-believers closely watch Christians to see if what they live is what they say. Telling or laughing at off-color jokes, going to strip clubs, or after-hours drinking with co-workers will erode one’s credibility. Avoiding these things can affirm the legitimacy of one’s witness.
Despite one’s best efforts, though, there are times when all the respect in the world won’t change a co-worker’s attitudes or build positive working relationships. Often when those attitudes collide, the challenge of conflict awaits.
Conflict and Christians
Confrontation isn’t at the top of many people’s favorite pastimes list. No one, from top-level CEOs to entry-level clerks, is immune from conflict with other workers. Sometimes, disagreements can be solved with simple compromise. Other times, though, the situation may call for one of the parties to ultimately leave the job. How Christians handle these situations can either reinforce Christian qualities to co-workers or erode their trust. Often it depends on the demeanor of those involved in the argument.
“If the other person is a believer, that would impact [the situation],” Caldwell said. “Being both tough and loving at the same time is difficult to do, especially in times of conflict.”
The most appealing resolution to conflict is handling the situation one-on-one. This requires tact and the ability to talk patiently and with reason. Caldwell says the best approach is to play off the positives of the other person and the working relationship, “not just going in being aggressive and combative.”
Dealing one-on-one with people isn’t always an option. Sometimes, third parties must become involved in order to settle disputes or reach equitable resolve. Still, there are times when the only way conflict can be resolved, especially in the case of situations between employees and bosses, is to terminate the working relationship and changing jobs.
“Some people’s hearts are hard,” Caldwell said. “A person needs to be where God wants him and can work on him, and if that’s not in your company, then the best thing for him is to be somewhere else.”
It’s all about respect
Today’s typical workplace can be classified as predominantly secular. As such, many companies are sensitive about matters of faith and religion, and establish rules to prevent or limit activities that promote Christianity. With the current climate it’s best to approach such situations with caution.
“You want to respect other people and not offend people, and approach them in the right way,” Caldwell said. “For example, if I were working at the newspaper and I knew somebody had an urgent prayer request, I wouldn’t likely send out an E-mail to everyone in the office. I would probably approach people I knew and I might approach that
person in particular, if I knew he would appreciate prayer support. We might go to lunch or get together before the work day begins, or after work.”
The idea of respecting others is rooted in the Golden Rule, and as such applies as strongly to business as it does to life. And it’s a good business practice. Putting others above oneself, though many times at a sacrifice, is also a quality Christians should possess and practice. Caldwell believes there’s a resurgence of all types of spirituality in the workplace.
“I think there’s a strong movement by Christians to be at the front of that,” he said. “Frankly, I’m encouraged by the number of believers in business.”
Life@Work Journal (L@W) offers insight and wisdom for people who want to live their faith, to be salt and light, in the workplace. Now, the award-winning magazine is available through AFA. To subscribe online, see the link at www.afa.net. (No longer available.)