Are You a Circumspect Christian at Work?

by Brad Harmon on September 7, 2010 in Employees

executives 600x360 | marketplace christianity

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto/Sean Locke

Which one of these executives is the Christian?  There are no cross lapel pins, Jesus fish necklaces, Bibles, or any external signs that might give away which of these, if any, is a Christian.  It’s quite a contrast to the Brazen Christian we discussed last time, isn’t it?

Instead of sticking out, a Circumspect Christian chooses not to make their faith known through overt actions.  They blend into the faces of those around them similar to how this picture gradually looses it’s focus.  Even those who work with them on a daily basis may never know that they are a Christian.

Searching for a Better Christian Workplace Model

Bradley J. Moore, founder of Shrinking the Camel, explains on his blog that his approach to workplace ministry is to tap into his spiritually to become a more effective leader.  He wasn’t sure what to call his particular expression of Christianity that was characterized by an understated action-based approach to sharing his faith in the workplace.

He came across an interesting study that looked at how evangelical Christians in elite executive roles negotiated their faith in the workplace. This study from Rice University interviewed 360 elite executives (CEOs and senior executives) across six areas of influence who could be identified as evangelical Christians.

orientations towards faith-work interaction chart 600x218 | marketplace christianityThey broke the responses into four categories based upon how public displays of faith were received (Reception) and how these elite evangelical Christian executives used their faith (Expression) to make decisions.

What is a Circumspect Christian?

Like those who fall under the Brazen category, the executives categorized as Circumspect also had an Amenable work environment meaning that they’ve chosen a subtle expression to their faith even when there were no adverse consequences to their careers for being more explicit.

A Circumspect Christian does not want to be perceived as “jamming their faith down anyone’s throat,” rather their subtle invocations of faith are more pietistic.

Pietism, which has a long history within American evangelicalism, stresses an experiential spirituality which has been synergistic with the revivalism of many evangelical churches and the entrepreneurial ethos of evangelical publishing houses.  The blending of devotional piety and heartfelt worship became important touchstones within American evangelicalism and continues within the tradition today.

Their faith is a personal faith, and it tends to be carried out in private ways.  It guides their decision making, but moral conflicts are likely to be carried out in their mind instead of airing their concerns to others.  This framework was most prominent among the highest-ranking executives in the study.

Examples of Circumspect Christians

Your boss could be a Circumspect Christian, but you may not see any religious undertones to his/her speech or actions.  They are likely to institute “values-based” initiatives without explaining that the values are grounded firmly in their faith.

John Aden, CEO of Mac Tools

John Aden had a spiritual renewal after taking over the helm at Mac Tools.  He felt the need to change both his reputation, as well as, the culture of the company.

For two and a half years I was John Aden one way, and [after my faith transition I] needed to be John Aden the other way.  I needed to figure out how to have that conversation in front of people so that once and for all we could just kind of give permission to be different.

His answer was to avoid the “God talk,” and institute values-based principles like having respect for one another and holding to a higher standard of integrity.  This approach represented a “subtle, yet significant way of bearing witness to his rediscovered faith.”  These values didn’t offend those of other (or no) religions, but were still deeply grounded in Christian principles.

Ann Iverson, CEO of Laura Ashley

Ann Iverson looks to her faith as a resource that directly helps her in her decision making process.

I wouldn’t make any decision . . . without prayer.  When I am sitting in a board meeting now . . . I will ask God to just guide me.

She sends these bullet prayers up to heaven during meetings to help her discern the right way to go at a visceral level.

“When you’re doing the right thing, your heart feels light and good, and when you feel heavy and slimed,” Iverson senses things are wrong.

Such a private expression of her faith also means that it is also hidden from most of her co-workers.  In spite of the Amenable reception to public displays of faith, Circumspect Christians are lesser known in the public domain than even some of those who work in a hostile environment.

Are You a Circumspect Christian at Work?

I mentioned Christian Brothers Automotive as a company that has an Amenable workplace in the previous post.  David in Houston, an employee of CBA, posted a comment to that post that I found very interesting.  While the corporate offices tended to have more Brazen Christians, the culture of the shops was more subtle.

Our shops are run in the same way, but with less emphasis on sharing. Our philosophy is to treat others how we would like to be treated and we know no matter what religious background you come from, even if you don’t believe in anything, you can relate to the Golden Rule. Our shop owners first want to be an example of Jesus by operating with Honesty and Integrity, and if private opportunities to share the Good News arise, they’ll gladly step in.

It’s a great example that your position within the company can determine which category you fall under even in an Amenable environment.  I’d imagine that many companies operate this way as well; however, there is probably some cross-over from the Pragmatic category that plays a role in shaping this culture.

So what do you think?  Given an Amenable environment to public displays of faith, are you more or less likely to show them?  Is the subtle approach of the Circumspect Christian more in line with “the way Jesus taught us to live” as John Aden claims?  Or, are they hiding their light under a bushel (Matt 5:14-16)?

Next in this series we will switch to the Hostile environment when it comes to PDFs starting with the subtle approach of the Pragmatic Christian.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike@ Biblical Strategies for Startups September 7, 2010 at 5:26 pm

I definitely am circumspect.

I dont carry oil and get on crates to preach by the water cooler 🙂 But if someone wants to know about Christ. You can rest assured I am there!


Brad Harmon September 7, 2010 at 6:27 pm

After we finish with the 4 categories, there will be another post or two talking about what all of this means. One of the interesting points is that there is a lot of similarity between the four categories, and some situations evoke the same response despite the environment or one’s natural expressive tendencies. That’s very encouraging to me. Sharing your faith with someone who wants to hear it is one of those.
Brad Harmon recently posted..Lessons from the Carpool Lane


Lance Lee, PhD October 1, 2014 at 9:49 pm

Hi Brad–

Hey I totally love your blog!

I am a Christian executive coach who works in leadership and executive development in the Silicon Valley, and I also specialize in working with executive couples and families.

I totally am passionate about how we can bring Jesus into the marketplace and into our work setting.

Do you know, Brad, about any “Executive Fellowships” nationally or internationally? I’m looking to be a part of–or create–an Executive Fellowship of high-ranking Christians in the corporate sphere (CXO’s, SVP’s, EVP’s, CEO’s etc.).

Thanks for getting back and I totally appreciate your ministry!!!


Dr. Lance Lee, PhD


David@RedLetterbelievers September 8, 2010 at 11:33 am

For a while, after the first post on The High Calling about this, I didn’t like the word, “Circumspect.” It reminded me of “pensive” or even “shy.” But I see now that it’s more of a ‘picking your moments’ kind of word.

I’m not ‘ready to pounce’ on the unbeleiver, but I do look for opportunity to minister. I’ve outgrown the “god-talk” , realizing that’s little more than just irritation to most people. But ‘god-walk?’ That’s powerful stuff


Brad Harmon September 8, 2010 at 12:06 pm

I do think that personality types play a role in which quadrant of this study you land. The Circumspect Christian is likely to be more shy than the Brazen Christian. Both have the same freedom to publicly display their faith, but Circumspect Christians choose not to do so. I’m sure there are some who see this quadrant as the proper way to be in the workplace and moderate their expressive personality, but I think most of these people would fall under the Pragmatic category.

It’s probably a mistake to assume that being Brazen doesn’t mean that you also don’t walk the walk. Many Brazen Christians do. It’s just that the expressive Christians (Brazen, Heroic) are all known by their coworkers so when they fail it is also a public display. I like the more God Walk and less God Talk idea though.
Brad Harmon recently posted..Lessons from the Carpool Lane


Bradley J. Moore September 10, 2010 at 4:34 am

Yeah, Brad, I think you nailed it. You do such a great job of summarizing the study and telling it in an interesting way.

The thing is, I am at work to do a job – and to do it well. That alone, in and of itself, to me is glorifying God. That is me being a good steward with integrity and character. I draw upon my spiritual base to help me do a good job, draw strength, make good decisions, etc. Along the way, I am developing good relationships with people. If the conversation turns towards a spiritual nature, then I welcome that and open up to those kinds of conversations. I simply don’t see it as central to my work life. However, like these examples, I do try to present a role model of sorts for godly character – kindness, humility, decisiveness, compassion.

Now you haven’t told us – what type are you?


Brad Harmon September 10, 2010 at 8:55 am

I’ve been all of them at some point in my career. As a business owner, I’ve tended to be more Circumspect with some tendency to become Pragmatic because I do consider how overt public displays of faith impact those who do not share it. As an employee, I think others would quickly classify me as Heroic and I don’t think I can argue much with them. I’ll talk more about it in my wrap up post after presenting the four categories from the study.
Brad Harmon recently posted..Lessons from the Carpool Lane


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