What Kind of Christian are You at Work?

by Brad Harmon on September 13, 2010 in Employees

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Over the past several posts I’ve been asking if you were a particular type of Christian in the workplace.  These types were determined by a recent study from Rice University on how evangelical elite executives negotiate their faith in the workplace.  Did you find a category that fit you?

If you’re like me, you probably had a hard time picking which category fit you.  Was there one that generally sounded like you?  Did you also see characteristics of another category that described you?  This is where I was when Bradley J. Moore first introduced me to this study in his post on Shrinking the Camel.

Take a Good Look at Yourself

After reading his post, the only “good” choice seemed to be the Circumspect Christian.  I knew that I would stand up against what I considered to be morally wrong like the Heroic Christian, but I never viewed myself as a hero or looking to make a statement with my faith.  That’s when I remembered James 1:23-24.

23For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: 24For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.

God, through Bradley’s post, was touching on a nerve.  How I wanted to view myself versus how I actually was came to the surface when I tried to put myself into one of these categories.  This inner conflict gnawed at me until I had to read the study to get it out of my mind.  I couldn’t just walk away.

Your Perception Becomes Reality to You

The study broke the workplace environment into two types of reception based upon the employer’s attitude towards public displays of faith – Amenable or Hostile.  Who determined in which environment the study participant worked?  It was based on the perception of the elite executive being interviewed.

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It’s possible that two people in the same office may perceive their environments very differently.  One person who has been with the company for 30 years may feel the environment is Amenable, while their peer who has just been there 2 years may feel it is Hostile.  While the more tenured employee may feel they are being a Brazen Christian, others may feel he/she is being Heroic.

It’s also rare that a company’s culture is the same in the corporate office as it is in the field.  Mergers, regional differences, size, and many other factors cause variations in a company’s culture.  Perceptions developed within these variations may not reflect the true environment company-wide.

These Categories are Not Mutually Exclusive

The perception (i.e., my reality) I had when I first read about this study was that the categories were mutually exclusive.  They’re not.  Think of them more as being our comfort zones – where we normally operate.  One’s faith is not necessarily diminished because they are Pragmatic versus Heroic for example.

Most of the participants in the study would share their faith with a coworker if the situation presented itself.  They would stand up against “big” moral conflicts if faced with them.  As evangelicals, they felt their faith was central to their lives and that they had an obligation to share their faith with others.

When, where, and how they acted upon this faith was determined by their image of a Christian in the workplace, how they perceived their environment, and their own personality type.  You can see all of these working even within the four categories.  What it meant to be Pragmatic to one executive may not have been acceptable to another.

Does it Really Matter Which Category I’m In?

No, not really.  If you had never seen this study, or the posts it’s spawned, I doubt that it would have a profound difference on how you live out your faith in the workplace.  Since you have read about it though, are you just going to walk away like the man who looked in the mirror above?

Jesus said in Matthew 10:16 that we are to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”  Do you think that this study can help us be both?  Couldn’t identifying how we express our faith, and the way in which it is received, make us more effective Christians in the workplace?

Are there benefits to seeing how others interpret our role in the workplace?  Does understanding their perceptions and personality traits help us better relate to fellow Christians that have a different approach?  Can it give us a deeper appreciation and knowledge of the Scriptures by which we live our lives?

For me, it’s been a great exercise.  I tend to get tunnel vision when I lock into my own perceptions of reality.  Looking at faith in the workplace from various perspectives gives me new insights, empathy, and appreciation for those who do it differently than myself.  What about you?  What do you think?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Bradley J. Moore September 15, 2010 at 5:17 am

Way to pull it all together, Brad! I think this is true the way you put it, that these boxes are comfort zones. We may exhibit any of these characterstics depending on our situation and personality, and none of it deters from our faith.

Thanks for a great summary.

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Brad Harmon September 15, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Thank you for sharing this survey with me. It was very interesting to dive into it and see how different Christians worked out there faith in the workplace. It’s easy to see the issue of faith in the workplace through our own point of view based on our personality, experiences, and understanding of Scripture. Sometimes, we write about this topic only from this vantage point forgetting that it’s just that – one vantage point. I know that I am guilty of this. Hopefully, this study will stick in my mind and help me remember to look at it from all perspectives.

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