Most of what I really needed to know about operating a business I learned working at the family orchard and fruit stand starting around age five.
Later in life, I also earned a degree from Harvard Business School. My time at Harvard was hard and wonderful, and I’m so grateful for it. But over the years, I’ve seen that having a place like Harvard on your resume can change the way people treat you, and not always in positive ways.
In professional settings, Harvard tends to open doors. Clients and coworkers who learn about it look at me with a little more respect, they consult me more, listen more closely when I speak, and are generally less likely to interrupt me. There’s plenty that can be said about whether this is fair or not, all I really know for sure is that it works.
At church on Sunday, that same degree tends to have the opposite effect. There, if someone happens to hear about my connection to Harvard, they generally react pretty predictably: “Oh wow!” they say, and then, “you must be smart.” Usually this is followed by something to distinguish themselves from that “smart” label: “Not me! I only went to State School.” I also went to “state school,” but that’s not the point. Just like that we’re “us” and “them.” It doesn’t always happen this way of course, but it happens a lot.
To me, these disparate reactions are telling, and somewhat troubling. On one hand, I see a work environment that worships the intellect to an unhealthy degree. On the other, a Christian culture increasingly likely to politely distance itself from intellectual pursuits.
It is terribly important that we figure out how to bridge this gap and show the world that you can be smart, educated, reasonable, and have a vibrant Christian faith.
Let’s start by embracing our smarts. The world overvalues beauty and undervalues intelligence, especially for women and girls. And the church doesn’t always do a great job of countering those cultural messages. Nevertheless, as Christians, we are directed to love the Lord fully, engaging not just our hearts but our minds as well. (Mark 12:30).
A strong intellect is a gift from God, and what’s more, it’s a spiritual gift, right up there with more “churchy” sounding ones like faith, healing, and prophesy (1 Corinthians 12:8-10). You don’t have to be some sort of genius to qualify, I’m certainly not! God gave you a mind to use for His glory. That mind is just as precious to Him as a “servant’s heart” or a beautiful singing voice lifted in worship.
Respect your colleagues. Today’s workplace is a diverse place, including a variety of religious groups, as well as people who want nothing to do with religion. You need to respect that.
Don’t hide the fact that you’re a Christian, but you needn’t try to prove it either. Let your faith be known in non-aggressive ways, and then seek to live it out fully through your actions. I like to abide by a “one cross rule.” Wear a cross necklace if you like, but not a necklace, bracelets, lapel pin, and earrings. By the same token, if someone asks what you did this weekend, feel free to give an answer that includes church, but don’t expound on the sermon. Is there a risk that some people might get offended or put-off? Maybe, but all you can control is your approach, not their response. And I tend to think that if your attitude is one of honesty and openness rather than judgment or disapproval, people can tell.
Invest in your reputation. If you want to share Christ in the marketplace, you need to worry less about what coworkers think about your faith, and more about doing the very best job possible. Dig in. Do excellent work. Be reliable. Take responsibility for mistakes. In these ways, you’ll build relationships of trust with people.
If you’re a lazy unreliable worker or you treat people poorly, your Christianity will ring hollow to those around you. Great results and diligent work, on the other hand, will stand behind your name and your faith.
Improve the world around you. Use your position and influence, whatever they may be, to make a positive difference for the people around you at work. Even though I don’t tend to talk a lot about God while I’m at work, my faith forms a basis for values I can put into action. Over the years, I’ve sought to make the workplace more inviting for the people around me by advocating for diversity and mentoring programs, improving training and communication standards, and simply striving to treat people with kindness and respect.
As you activate your faith in your workplace, you build a natural platform to discuss your faith in a positive way. Over time, these are the things that will cause others to take note and become curious about you and what “makes you tick.”
When it comes to representing God at work, your brain is one of your most valuable assets. Embrace it. Then put it to work!