TGC’s “Thorns & Thistles” column seeks to apply wisdom with practical advice about faith, work, and economics. If you have a question on how to think about and practice your work in a way that honors God, let us know at [email protected]
How should Christian professionals—especially women—balance representing Christ and professionalism?
Being a Christ-follower may sometimes seem at odds with pursuing professional goals. There’s not a lot of teaching from the pulpit about how to be a Christian professional, and having bold career ambitions is frowned upon at some churches.
This is particularly acute for women. The lack of successful Christian businesswomen to serve as role models—and the greater status given in some traditional Christian circles to contributions to home, marriage, and children than to work callings—may suggest a tension between faith and professionalism.
But the two are actually quite complementary. In fact, your Christian faith can and should make you a more effective professional. Let’s explore three dimensions of this synergy.
Working with Excellence
Your Christian faith can and should make you a more effective professional.
Ephesians 6:5–9 instructs us to do our work with respect and fear, sincerity of heart, and wholeheartedness as if we’re serving the Lord. In other words, we’re to be sincerely and completely engaged at work—giving our minds, hearts, and bodies fully to doing the best job possible on the task at hand so we can produce quality work.
We might be tempted to think representing Christ at work just means sharing our faith with coworkers—and it does include this. After all, given the time and energy we spend on work, our relationships with coworkers can be fertile ground for effective evangelism if we’re thoughtful and intentional about it.
But working as a Christian involves so much more. Doing excellent work is just as important. As Every Good Endeavor author Tim Keller once said, “The way to do work as a Christian is to do it well. If you are a Christian airline pilot, what does it mean to be a truly Christian airline pilot? Land the plane. Smoothly.”
The “sincerity of heart” referred to in the Ephesians passage is literally defined as singleness of heart—in other words, integrity. Proverbs 4 describes the kind of integrity God calls us to: being steadfast in our path, keeping away from evil, not talking with perversity or corruption, not being tempted or distracted.
What does it mean to be a truly Christian airline pilot? Land the plane. Smoothly.
As such, we are to work with personal integrity—in small ways such as not cutting corners and refraining from gossip, as well as in more significant situations like telling the truth even when it may be bad news and ensuring resources are used fairly and wisely. These same actions convey professionalism and inspire our coworkers and bosses to trust us.
We are also to demonstrate integrity by influencing those around us, as Esther did when she spoke out against injustice in Esther 7. As we move up the professional ladder, we have increased opportunities to shape the products and services our companies produce and the ways they operate so they are forces for good, beauty, and peace in the world. Seeking to fulfill this higher calling of corporate integrity not only glorifies God but can also make our businesses more sustainable and more valuable.
If you’re like me, you might wonder if it’s OK to pursue big work goals and to desire to be successful. But given that ambition is defined as “a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work,” Scripture seems to encourage it. See Paul’s exhortations in Romans 12:11 and Colossians 3:23–24—and consider the praise given to the woman in Proverbs 31: “Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate” (v. 31, NIV).
Given that ambition is defined as ‘a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work,’ Scripture seems to encourage it.
So, we can conclude that God doesn’t want us to dampen or deny our ambition. We just need to ensure we direct it appropriately. He sometimes gives us great opportunities—as well as the skills, experiences, and resources to fulfill them. The appropriate response from us is to faithfully steward all of that and to align our goals with God’s definition of success.
Figuring this out takes hard work. It usually involves wrestling and surrender—wrestling, meaning bringing our desires before God and asking him to change our heart as necessary; and surrender, meaning walking with him through seasons of waiting and accepting his timeline over ours.
We can be confident that God has wired us to be Christ-followers and professionals—and by seeking him and his ways first, we can do both well.