Graduating into a New Work Environment

(Note this article was written for and published on The Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog.)

It’s graduation time again.  After a long four- or five-year struggle (or longer), much of which was unexpectedly accomplished virtually, college students will finally come to the end of their academic journey and receive those coveted bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degrees.  Now what?

I was asked to consider writing an article from a biblical viewpoint that is addressed to new college graduates who are entering a radically changed work environment, one that has been altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic that we have experienced for the past 15 months.  I have a positive message that is grounded in biblical truth and orthodox theology, and will offer some practical suggestions.

What is new?

This COVID-19 environment in which we find ourselves has brought drastic changes to the workplace.  College seniors have traditionally counted on large face-to-face job fairs.  However, most of these have been cancelled.  This has caused an almost exclusive use of technology-based job searches followed by video-teleconference job interviews.  Job offers often include 100% teleworking or hybrid schedules. 

To illustrate one of the radical changes that may be here for a while is “Zoom towns”.  I just read that some employees who work virtually are choosing to live where they want to, instead of having to live close to their job.  Some workers are even taking their families to resort towns or vacation spots.

When I graduated from college a number of decades ago and entered into my chosen field of math education, I did not need to learn how to teach high school students over Zoom.  Now, college graduates from nearly every field of study from art, business, architecture, engineering, research, medicine, advertising, marketing, finance, among many others, may not have the luxury of working on a daily basis in a physical workplace alongside their boss, their coworkers, or their subordinates.  

What new skills do I need to succeed?

In response to the many changes to the work environment that I listed above, you will need to develop some essential skills to survive and thrive.  Let me offer three practical suggestions:

  • Be flexible.  Don’t be surprised by job offers where you will work in a virtual or hybrid situation; you may not have to relocate, so you will have to decide where to live.
  • Be independent.  You may be required to engage supervisors, coworkers, and clients in a virtual-only environment much of the time, and get still get projects done on time.
  • Be fluent.  Develop competency in seamlessly using a variety of different forms of communication as required of your employer: written, verbal, face-to-face, and virtual.

What has not changed?

Even though there are many aspects of the work environment that have changed since COVID-19, some permanently, I would be remiss if I did not remind new graduates of what has not changed. 

God has not changed.  (See Ps. 55:19.)  His eternal attributes as revealed throughout Scripture, such as His presence, mercy, grace, and sovereignty, when properly understood, will greatly impact our view of work.  We read in Heb. 13:8, “Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever.”  When we keep in mind how God is always present and in control of our circumstances, we can get through any trial.

Throughout Ps. 107, we see God’s people stressed out by changes to the work environment.  Some were looking for work.  They wandered in the desert (vv. 4-5).  God delivered them by providing for their needs in His unfailing love (vv. 6-9).  Others made their living on the water.  Storms at sea brought fears of losing personnel, boats, and goods (vv. 23-27).  God delivered them by stilling the storm and bringing them to shore (vv. 28-32).  In spite of these difficult situations that were beyond their control, God’s never-changing covenant love, faithfulness, and protection got them through.

How can I work as unto the Lord in this environment?

Here are three appropriate biblical/theological responses to God’s unchanging attributes:

  • Learn to rest in God’s presence as you work as unto Him.  Know that He will place you where He needs you to be at just the right time, in order to glorify Himself and meet your needs.
  • Develop a vision for how God can use the skills He gave you in the workplace.  As you work in His presence, He will work with, in, and through you to meet the full spectrum of human needs.
  • Resolve to pursue relationships with other Christians and nonbelievers on your team, even if they are far away.  Your boss, coworkers, and customers all have needs that you can meet.

The last bullet is an important point.  Building a virtual network of coworkers will be a challenge without having the opportunity to grab a bite to eat at lunch or after work.  Even the Apostle John was frustrated by the limitations of working virtually as he taught the church.  (See 3 John 13-14.)  You will have to be intentional to get to know people better as opportunities are available.  As you do so, God will open doors for you be able to love your neighbor in a number of practical ways.

I also strongly encourage you to be intentional to develop close relationships with more mature Christians in a local church wherever you settle, who can help keep you grounded in your faith.

I trust that some of these biblical and practical ideas will be an encouragement to those who need it.  Looking for and finding a rewarding career after graduation will always be a spiritual journey for the Christian.  It is in times like these, even in a pandemic, that we learn for ourselves that God is faithful.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 60 articles posted on this blog have been published 120 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

Insights on Work and Rest from Hebrews 4

I have to admit.  I had a stressful week at work.  When I came in on Monday, I had over 240 emails from being out of the office for three days last week to attend to a family milestone event (the birth of our fifth grandchild along with taking care of his two-year old big brother for a couple of days).  My team and I are also in an incredibly busy season of planning annual events and preparing for senior leader transitions.  Every day was a non-stop blur of meetings, challenges, and pressing forward.

In the midst of this stressful time, I took a few minutes one morning in the middle of the week to read from the book of Hebrews.  I noticed several things that I had not seen in a while about work and rest. 

A lot is written in Heb. 4:1-11 about “rest”.  However, it is not what you would normally think.  The writer of Hebrews is not exhorting first-century Christians to take time out on Sundays after church service to reflect on spiritual things and do some recreation with their families.  He is not addressing the need for them to keep the Sabbath at all.  He is writing about a completely different kind of rest. 

Let me provide a few observations from my own study, and share what one commentator wrote.

Contextual background

In context, the writer of Hebrews introduces the subject of rest in Heb. 3:7-11, which is a warning to the church against unbelief.  Throughout this theologically deep, yet positive letter to Hebrew (formerly Jewish) Christ-followers, we find several warning passages.  Here, the writer uses several OT quotes (Ps. 95) and allusions to various settings as recorded in the books of Exodus and Numbers where early followers of Yahweh fell away and rebelled in their desert wanderings for forty years.

We are reminded in this section that OT believers were inconsistent in their faith and obedience.  (Later, the writer will explain in detail how the Old Covenant was inadequate to internally transform the hearts of God’s people.)  Despite the advantages that the New Covenant in Jesus Christ provides, such as the indwelling Holy Spirit, even mature Christians can and do fall short.  (See Rom. 7:7-25.)

And so, in Heb. 3:11, the writer points out that the Israelites who went astray would not be able to enter into God’s rest.  In verses 12-13, he then exhorts the church to keep themselves and others from turning away from God by individually turning from sin and collectively encouraging one another.

There is a Sabbath rest for God’s people

The writer reminds his readers in Heb. 4:1 that there remains an enduring promise to Christians, that those who faithfully follow Him can find rest.  He concludes in verse 3 that those who have put our faith in Jesus enter God’s rest, unlike those OT believers who could not enter because of unbelief. 

If you are like me, you may have also heard an echo here alluding to Jesus’s words in Matt. 11:28-30.  He lovingly invites His disciples and invites us also, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  The rest we find in union with Jesus Christ is a deep rest, which goes way beyond just taking a day off from our labors.

In Heb. 4:9-10, the writer emphasizes the opportunity for all New Covenant believers to enter God’s restful state of peace.  This is a dual peace.  There is peace with God, meaning that there is no longer any strife between us and God since Jesus removed God’s wrath from us.  There is also the peace of God, which is truly incomprehensible, which allows us to trust in Him to work all things for good.

In the Theology of Work Commentary, we read this helpful insight, “The Sabbath rest in Hebrews 4:9-10 is not simply a cessation of activity (Heb. 4:10) but also a Sabbath celebration (Heb. 12:22).”

I observe that this NT Sabbath rest provides so much more than resting from work; we can rest from our working.  We can rest from our work because His work is finished.  We know that we cannot earn our salvation by working.  He already did the work necessary to achieve atonement through His blood. 

With just a little bit of irony, we are told in Heb. 4:11 to work hard (make every effort) to find the rest that God gives to His children.  We can only find true rest when we submit to His authority, by faith in Jesus Christ alone, which is clearly demonstrated by doing good works.  (See the book of James.)

The result of resting in Jesus’s finished work

Because His work matters far more than our own work, we are told in Heb. 4:16 to boldly approach the throne of grace to “receive mercy and find grace”.  Let me contrast the meaning of these two terms.

In Christ, God gives us mercy.  He does not give us what we deserve, which is eternal punishment due to our sinful actions, thoughts, and natures.  Once we receive His mercy, we can then and only then find grace in Jesus Christ.  Then, we discover that He gives us way more that we deserve in terms of peace with Him, complete forgiveness, and eternal life.  We need His mercy to experience His grace.

This passage in Hebrews chapter 4 was eye-opening to me.  It was much more than merely a reminder that God rested after six days of creation and therefore, we should also observe the Sabbath.  This is emphasized throughout the OT, although Jesus certainly had something to say about it in the NT. 

What I find here gives me motivation to do the work necessary to pursue my faith in Jesus Christ and live a life of demonstrating that faith through good works.  Not as a legal requirement, but in response to the work that Jesus did on the cross to obtain my redemption.  In Him, and Him alone, I find rest.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 60 articles posted on this blog have been published 120 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

Servant Leadership and Reputation

(This article was posted on the Coram Deo blog.)

“It’s not about Russ; it’s about us.”

I say this every once in a while to my Operations team.  One context where I say this is when I am sharing a personal story from my own experience.  I want to emphasize that the purpose of the story is not to put the spotlight on me.  My intent is to provide mentorship and to develop these future leaders for the greater good of our team, our customers, our superiors, and the organization we serve.

It is well-known that the one word that epitomizes a distinctly Christlike approach to managing others is “servant” leadership.  I lead in order to serve.  I have been entrusted with this huge responsibility to manage a small team, to care for and train individuals on my team, to provide all the resources they need to be successful, and to ensure that the team works well together so that we can function well.

I have found over the past thirteen years in this great job that I hold now, that as I have served my team, my customers, and my superiors well, I have built and maintained a solid reputation of trust.  This not only reflects on me, but more importantly, it reflects well on my organization and its leaders.

Before I dive in to my practical focus and share some wisdom regarding the benefits of building a solid reputation, I would be remiss if I did not touch on a few relevant Scriptures to this topic.

What does Scripture have to say?

In Prov. 3:3-4, Solomon exhorts his son to not forget the teachings of Yahweh, and to be a loving and faithful man.  If he does this, he will win the respect of others and will develop a good reputation.

The verse I most often think of when I think of the word reputation is Prov. 22:1, which states, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”  The Theology of Work Bible Commentary (vol. 2) summarizes this key verse in this way: “In particular, the wise care more about their honest reputations than about their bank accounts.”  Well said. 

The writer of Ecclesiastes, which may have been Solomon also, expresses in Eccl. 7:1 a similar concept about the lasting value of a solid reputation.  He states that it is better than fine perfume. 

Serving my team

I have heard it said that all leaders bring joy to their workplace.  Some leaders do it when they step into the office.  Other leaders do it when they leave the office.  I know which one I want to strive to be.  I do want people to feel good about working on my team.  It is not about winning a popularity contest.  It is about creating a positive work environment where every one of my employees are treated with dignity and respect.  (I invite you to read an article I wrote on this critical topic here.)

With all my faults, I know that I do some things right.  I genuinely care for my people.  I take an interest in their personal lives, their families, their health, and their careers.  I take time to ask how people are doing; I really want to know.  I make an honest attempt to listen and care when needed.

When they leave the unit, I want to ensure each member of my team remembers how they were cared for so they know what right looks like.   When they go to their next unit, they can go and do likewise.

Serving my customers

I am not quite sure why I get all these calls, but I often receive phone calls requesting information (i.e., a publication, a point of contact, a phone number, etc.).  I do what I can to assist; it does not matter who it is.  I treat a phone call or email request for information from a Sergeant in the Army National Guard with the same dignity and respect as a full-bird Colonel working at the Pentagon.

Here’s why this is so important.  If I fail to assist them in a timely and professional manner, they will not necessarily remember my name when they complain to someone.  They will attribute the lack of support to the organization.  However, if I do assist them well, the organization will get all the credit.

Ultimately, what I do or fail to do will directly impact people’s impression of my organization.  As I perform my duties and responsibilities, my personal reputation will directly impact the reputation of my organization.  If I am trustworthy, they will trust my unit.  If I fail to earn that trust, they won’t trust the organization.  Once again, it has come full circle.  It’s really not about Russ; it’s about us.

Serving my superiors

I have shared a little of why and how I have showed a servant spirit to my team and to my customers.  Lastly, I need to discuss how I serve my bosses.  For me, this is probably the most difficult of the three groups of people to focus on.  (I have reflected on this in a previous article on my blog here.)

Let me share some of my challenges.  In the Army school headquarters where I serve, the officers and NCOs rotate in and out of positions every year or two.  Just when I get them trained, it’s time for them to go.  I say that facetiously, but there is some truth to it.  My role is to provide continuity. 

Every time I get a new supervisor, it usually takes several months to earn their trust and to develop a good working relationship with them.  Sometimes, it happens sooner than that.  Sometimes, it just does not happen.  Unfortunately, it is not always possible to be at peace with all.  (See Rom. 12:18.)

However, I found that when I work as unto the Lord, humbly submit to their authority, anticipate what they (and their bosses) might need, and go the extra mile to try to meet their high standards and expectations, they begin to learn to trust me, knowing that I am there to set them up for success.

My challenge

I do not know what your situation is like at work.  I do not know what kind of reputation you have with your team, your customers, or your superiors.  However, I do know that if needed, you can begin today by serving them all in a Christ-like manner with humility, diligence, and grace by meeting their needs on a consistent basis.  As you do this good work, not to be seen by others, but to serve God wholeheartedly, your excellent reputation will increase, and will bring glory your Father in heaven.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of four, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 110 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

Where is the Water Cooler in a Virtual Work Environment?

(Note: This article was posted on the Coram Deo blog and the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog.)

Saturday, I got a phone call out of the blue from an old friend that I hadn’t seen for 20 years.  Matt was one of the high school ministry volunteers when I was a church youth director in the mid-80s.

The radio station where he works as a producer had recently undergone some restructuring.  He was given an exciting new role, to work virtually with a group of people he has not met from around the country.  He was no longer going to be around the folks he has worked with for over thirty years. 

My good friend had a theology of work related question for me.  He wanted to know, “How do I glorify God and make Christ known when I only have contact with people via phone and video?”

Interpersonal communication around the water cooler

Back in the day, there was a water cooler in a central location in an office space.  There was a big clear jug full of purified water that sat upside down on a stand that had a blue lever used to fill a paper cup that was provided in a silver tube attached to the side.  This was before everyone started bringing their own water bottles to work.  It was a place of social interaction as workers took a short break from their duties.  It was where we caught up with what was going on in people’s lives.

Those in other career fields who do not work in an office environment have often found similar places to take a break such as the back of a pickup truck, at the lunch room, or sitting under a tree.

For the Christian, this place of informal communication provides an opportunity to get a glimpse into a coworker’s struggles at home.  It is there, when the boss isn’t around and we can just freely chat for a bit, that we learn about their marriage difficulties, their child’s cancer, or financial woes.  This then becomes a chance to love our neighbor by listening to them and offering to pray for them.

Loving our neighbor virtually

How do we do this when we work from home, and our co-workers are across the country?

I have to admit.  As I have teleworked myself off and on for seven of the past twelve months, it is much harder for me to find a moment to ask people how they are doing and to give them the time needed to listen as they open up, showing genuine compassion and concern as we are called to do.

Jesus said that what He wants from us is just two things: love God, and love our neighbor.  And so, we have to be intentional to pursue relationships with those that God has placed in our midst, even if they are 1,000 miles away, and our interactions are limited to phone calls, emails, or video chats.

My friend provided a great illustration of recent video chat with a client who was a young mother.  When he contacted her to answer some technical questions about a project she was working on, he found her with a restless two-year old on her lap.  She desperately tried to focus on the issues at hand, but it was too difficult.  At that point, all my friend could do was to offer some understanding as a father himself about the needs of toddlers and speak compassionate words to her as a Christian.

Even without the proverbial water cooler, there will always be opportunities to minister to our co-workers, customers, and supervisors in a virtual environment.  We just have to open our eyes.

Tackling projects as unto the Lord

In most jobs, you can place responsibilities into two bins: people and projects.  Some workers deal with one more than the other, but most of us do a little of both.  In the same way that our ministry with people is still a priority, although the way we do it is different in a virtual environment, the projects we are given are also top priorities, although the way that we do them may be different.

In Matt’s case, I emphasized that even though his responsibilities were going to change in many ways in his isolated virtual office space, I believe there are still just as many opportunities to “work as unto the Lord” on behind-the-scenes projects as there was in an actual office.  In his case, his client base has been expanded exponentially.  He was producing radio advertisements for his local station.  In his new job, he will be coordinating creative production efforts on a national scale.

Doing projects from a home office has its own rewards and challenges.  On the one hand, you are away from the distractions of people popping in to your office occasionally.  On the other hand, it can be more difficult to get the guidance you need from superiors and help from subordinates.

The apostles as virtual workers

In previous articles I have written on teleworking (click here and here), it never occurred to me to highlight the work of the Apostle Paul.  He spent much of his ministry as a New Testament epistle writer in a virtual work environment.  He was not physically with those churches.  He wrote his letters to church leaders while he was in prison, teaching his clients and coworkers via snail mail. 

The Apostle John, another writer of NT epistles, expresses some of his internal conflict with being limited to virtual means of communication.  He wrote, “I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink.  Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 12).  I totally get it.  There is just no substitute for physically being there.

Closing challenge

So, how can we glorify God in a purely virtual environment?  We do it in the same manner we have always done it.  We keep looking for ways to love our neighbor and work heartily as unto the Lord.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of four, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 110 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

A Message of Hope in the Midst of the Daily Grind

I am a Christian writer.  In the articles that I write and post regularly on my blog, I mostly focus on teaching Christians how to integrate their faith at work, and how God is present in every aspect of it.

It occurred to me recently that this message of encouragement and hope that is founded on eternal biblical truths that have helped believers for thousands of years might also be helpful for those who have not yet come to fully accepting the truths of Christianity.  Perhaps, if I could share a bit of what I have learned about God’s presence in every aspect of my work, it might help someone who may be seeking for something more to find the God who loves them in the midst of the daily grind at work.

There are three simple, yet relevant messages that I want to address here that I invite you to consider:

  • The way the world normally looks at work misses the mark by leaving God out of the picture
  • The God who created the universe created you to be a coworker with Him in this world
  • Experiencing God’s presence at work provides a sense of purpose the world cannot provide

Most people fail to recognize that work is a gift of God

I have found that there are two prevalent views on work from when God is taken out of the picture.

One view states that work has no lasting value in and of itself.  The purpose of work to just to feed the family and pay the bills.  It is a pretty depressing view.  No wonder most people live for the weekend and are so thankful for Fridays.  (Unfortunately, some Christians also have this view.) 

The second view exalts work.  The purpose of work is merely to further yourself, find success, and be the master of your own fate; the captain of your ship.  Success in life means success in work.  This is the attitude says you gotta do whatever it takes to get the job done, no matter how many marriages you have to burn through or no matter how many friends you have to cheat.  When you try to find ultimate meaning and purpose in life through your work alone, it will always leave you disappointed.

What I have discovered from studying the Bible is that work is a valuable gift from God Himself. 

God created humans to be coworkers with Him to sustain His creation

The first thing I see in the creation story is that God is a worker.  Since God is a worker, then all workers have value.  All legitimate work (defined as jobs that make life better for others) is of value.  

I also see that God created humans as His coworkers to sustain His creation.  The world was perfect, yet it was incomplete.  There were gardens that needed tending.  Eventually, cities needed to be built, children needed to be taught, inventions needed to be developed, and books needed to be written.

And so, work has meaning, but not absolute meaning.  Success at work will not completely satisfy. 

God’s presence at work provides meaning and purpose you will not find elsewhere

What I have personally experienced over many years of living out these truths is that God is present with His children all the time.  I can truly sense God’s presence in the everyday moments, not just in church or on a mountaintop watching the sun go down.  I have come to understand that there is a very real connection between God’s presence and human work.  God works with us, in us, and through us in order to meet the needs of people everywhere; people He loved enough to send His Son to die for.

How do I experience God’s presence at work?  As I head from the parking lot to my building, I pray that God will lead me and give me wisdom.  Sometimes I pray audibly when I am alone in my office or I shoot up a quick silent prayer in a meeting when my temper starts to rise.  I confess my sins as soon as I notice them.  I recall a favorite Bible verse when needed.  I pray that God will change the way I see challenges at work and I praise Him when He enables me to accomplish a difficult task.  

A closing challenge

I realize that I did not present any kind of clear message about how you can enter in to a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.  My intent was not to lay out convincing proofs of God’s existence, discuss how the claims of Jesus uniquely stand out above all other religions, or take any of the usual approaches that evangelists or preachers use to move people to make a decision.

My intent, as an ordinary worker myself, was simply to engage other ordinary men and women who spend the majority of their waking hours at work just trying to make it through the day for 40 to 50 years to consider that there might be something more to life that would give them a little bit of hope. 

Jesus made this amazing statement that is found in the New Testament book of John, chapter 8, verses 31-32.  Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  I share this quote often, because it sheds light on the fact that faith in Christ transforms our minds, which significantly improves the quality of our lives. 

Isn’t that what we all want; to be set free from the things that hold us back, drag us down, and enslave us?  Knowing these truths about God’s purposes for work make the burdens in my life a lot lighter.

I know that I have a greater purpose in my work, to be a coworker with God to sustain His creation.  In the midst of the daily grind and all the struggles that I face due to my own sins and the sins of my bosses, coworkers, and customers, there are new abilities to change, overcome, and grow through them.  I also know full well that when I experience God’s presence at work, there is an unexplainable joy, a peace that passes all understanding, and full confidence that what I do all day really matters.

I trust that you will give these concepts some thoughtful consideration.  If you are interested, I invite you to reach out to a Christian you know to discuss these eternal truths on a more personal level.  God has graciously scattered believers in every field of work to be able to share what they know.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of four, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 110 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

God Works Through You

(Note: This article was posted on the Coram Deo blog.)

If I ever have the opportunity to speak to a large audience about the theology of work, there is one thing I might try to do to impress upon Christians how valuable their ordinary work is.

Before I describe my proposed application exercise that I think will drive my point home straight to people’s hearts, let me revisit a critical topic that I wrote about in chapter 3 my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession and in an article I posted about four years ago here.

In this chapter entitled “God is a Worker”, I laid a solid biblical and theological foundation that the triune God reveals Himself to be a worker, starting in Gen. 1:1.  In six days, God created.  After that, He rested on the seventh day.  From that point forward, God continued the work of sustaining His creation.  By His amazing grace, He created men and women to be His coworkers in this endeavor, which gives all kinds of legitimate work dignity, giving all humans a divine calling.

I asked my readers two important rhetorical questions, “What kinds of work does God do today?  More importantly, by what means does He get it done?”

The answer, in part, comes from Amy Sherman’s book, Kingdom Calling.  She shares a concept to describe the different kinds of work God does and how our human vocations fit into this model:

  • Redemptive work: God’s saving and reconciling actions
  • Creative work: God’s fashioning of the physical and human world
  • Providential work: God’s provision for and sustaining of humans and the creation
  • Justice work: God’s maintenance of justice
  • Compassionate work: God’s involvement in comforting, healing, guiding, and shepherding
  • Revelatory work: God’s work to enlighten with truth

Later on, I added one more that appeared to be missing:

  • Restoration work: God’s power to repair, clean, reset, and make new.

I think with a little explanation, you take any job worth doing and place it neatly into one of these categories above.  Those who perform these jobs are participating in God’s work in this world.

Now, let us return to my presentation that I would like to give to a room full of ordinary Christians who have probably spent most of their working lives feeling like what they were doing from 9-5 may not have had much if any eternal value.  I know; I used to feel that way myself.

So, after I present some clear biblical, theological, and practical teaching from this chapter, I want to ask each of them to identify which category their work best fits.  This is a critical step in the process in order to participate in two activities which I believe will bring this teaching home.

First, I want each audience member to reflect back to God in a unified prayer of thanksgiving and supplication that directly addresses the value of the work they have been doing.  This prayer that I would lead would read something like this:

Our Father, we acknowledge that you are a worker.  You created us and invited us to be your coworkers to sustain and expand the kingdom of your son, Jesus.  You have gifted each of us with skills, experiences, passions, and abilities that no one else has.  You have given us a purpose.  You have divinely called, equipped, and empowered us to serve and love our neighbor by using the unique talents you have entrusted to us.  Help us to see that you are present with us in this labor, that you are meeting our neighbor’s needs through our jobs, and that when we serve you in this way it brings Shalom in this world.  Help us to work for your glory, for Christ’s kingdom, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Second, I am going to ask the men and women who work in each of these seven categories to stand up as a group so that I can recognize them and give them a blessing.  It would go like this:

I want everyone whose job falls into the vocational category of Justice Work to stand.  All who participate in God’s maintenance of justice, we want to recognize you.  If you serve in any capacity of law enforcement, the legal profession, corrections, or in the military, God is working in, with, and through you to bring order out of chaos keep the peace.  You are loving your neighbor by what you do.  This is a better world because of your work.  Your work matters to the Kingdom of God!  Your work has eternal value!  I thank God for you!

I think you get the idea.  What an impact this exercise would have on everyone in the room.

Lastly, I want to emphasize as I close that God will work through people, whether they believe in Him or not.  We all know the stories of how God used Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, King Herod, and many other ungodly leaders as He was protecting, delivering, and providing for His people.  Without a doubt, I know that God will use a non-Christian doctor to heal, an unbelieving Soldier to fight for a good cause, and an atheist firefighter to save a family and their home, for example. 

Those of us who follow Jesus Christ can experience God’s presence at work while He is working in us, with us, and through us to meet the legitimate needs of everyone whom we meet on our journey.  Wouldn’t you want to experience His presence at work every day?  I know that I do!

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of four, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Sixty articles posted on this blog have been published over 100 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

How Have I Followed my Calling to Write This Year?

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“Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me.” (Ps. 66:16)

On New Year’s Day 2020, I reflected on my own calling as a writer in an article that was the first of 43 articles I wrote and posted on my blog in 2020.  This article below is a reflection on how I have followed my calling as a writer this year.  It was easily my most productive one in many ways.  I saw God multiply my efforts and extended my outreach beyond what I could ask or expect.  (See Eph. 3:20.) 

Let me share some of the topics I was able to reflect on, some of the results of my efforts to see my work published outside of this blog, some surprises along the way, and what I learned in the process. 

What did I write about?

I am not going to list all 43 articles I wrote and posted on my blog this year.  If you are interested, you can scan through the list of recent posts or look at each month in the archives.  If you are reading this, you have probably read many of them already.  I just want to highlight some of the important topics.

Many of my articles touched on my time as an active duty Soldier and in my civilian capacity.  I was able to reflect deeply on how I experienced God’s presence during my military service.  I wrote about fellowship at work, how the pandemic affected work, teleworking, the seven Army values, how God was present in the service of all veterans, and on team-building by showing dignity and respect. 

I was also able to reflect on various home construction (and deconstruction) projects that took place this summer.  I wrote about landscaping, painting and carpentry work from a biblical perspective.

Articles I wrote on other topics included the following: how the book of Proverbs alludes to the Ten Commandments, the purpose of the Old Testament, how Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecy on the cross, forgiveness, the flesh versus the spirit, how to use our sanctified imagination, and my testimony.

By the way, I posted my 200th article on this blog last week!  (I started actively blogging in 2015.)

How many articles were published and where?

I was able to write 32 articles on faith and work this year (not counting this one).  Nineteen of these articles (nearly 60%) were published or posted on other blogs a total of 30 times.  In addition, ten articles from previous years were published or posted, making a grand total of 40 articles this year.  Here is how it breaks down:

(Note: One of the articles I wrote that was published by the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics in March made the list of their Top Ten Blogs of 2020.)

Since September 2015, I have posted 132 articles on faith and work topics on my blog.  Fifty six of these articles (42%) have been published or posted elsewhere a total of 105 times.  I am truly amazed.

What were God’s gracious surprises?

This was a year of surprises for most of us, mostly negative due to the pandemic.  However, I was surprised at first by how much I could write about relevant faith and work issues during this season, as the impact on all workers (both essential and “nonessential”) was in the news on a constant basis. I was also surprised by God opening up so many doors, some of which I did not know existed. 

In mid-May, I stumbled on an amazing, unsolicited book review on Twitter by someone with the Black Country Urban Industrial Mission.  I had had no idea that one of their leaders had read my book.  He posted his review in several places and on their website.  I was moved by his comments regarding my focus on blue-collar work, which I addressed in chapter 13 and illustrated on the book cover.

On the way back from a visit to our daughter and her family last October, my wife and I were able to stop in Bloomington/Normal, Illinois to meet a friend of mine for the first time.  Bill Pence, along with his wife Tammy, maintains a very helpful blog, Coram Deo, where he posts links to faith and work articles and other theological topics.  Since November 2016, he has posted 42 links to articles that I have written, wrote and posted a wonderful review of my book, and has quoted my book in his own, exposing my work to a large number of readers.  It was a joy to have a real face-to-face conversation with him and his wife, get to know him better, enjoy some fellowship, and thank him for his support.

I think my biggest surprise this year was the email I received from my point of contact at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics.  She was contacted by someone from Family Radio, a Christian network of stations around the country.  They wanted to interview me to discuss the topic of an article I wrote that was published three years ago on how to seek God first in navigating career decisions. (Note: the interview is scheduled to air on Saturday, January 2, 2021.  Here is the link to the recording.)

What did I learn during the process?

After Faith Storytellers posted an article earlier this month about how I experienced God’s presence during my active duty, the gal who runs this blog so well challenged me to reflect on the rigorous editing process that she took me through over a couple of weeks.  I have to say that the three rounds of editing via Google Docs on this one article were far more intense and time-consuming than I expected.  However, the finished product turned out really well, and I actually enjoyed the experience.

At the same time, I had also received emails from two major organizations I have been working with.  They asked me to do some major revisions on articles I had submitted to them.  I have to admit that it was quite humbling to read their comments on what I needed to change in order for them to publish these articles sometime after the New Year.  I had to put them on the back burner for a couple of weeks to do a few other projects such as preparing for my Christian Family Radio Network interview, finish an article reflecting on my 40th wedding anniversary, and enjoy the Christmas holiday with my family.

As a result of these recent collaborations, I better appreciate the professional work of the editors who have polished up my articles for publication on their websites, for which I am extremely grateful.  I have also learned to pare down the size of my paragraphs and to share my feelings a bit more.

Where do I go from here?

Looking back, it is clear that God was present with me in my work as I shared with others about God’s presence at work.

I plan to keep on writing, using my spreadsheet listing three dozen unfinished articles or ideas I have captured.  I am trusting that God may eventually open up some doors to share my unique ideas on the theology of faith and work with a wider audience, virtually through podcasts or web presentations, and eventually through speaking to a live group of Christians who are eager to learn more about this topic.

In conclusion, I wish to express my gratitude to the Lord for blessing my socks off this year.  He has been steadily making my vision in October 2016 to be actively involved in the theology of faith and work movement a reality.  I am humbled that He is using me, not because of, but despite my best efforts.  It is not about Russ; it’s about us.  I want to see my brothers and sisters in Christ experience God’s presence at work every day.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of four, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 100 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

How Can I Best Manage my Teleworking Team?

(Note: This article was written for and published by The Gospel Coalition. It was later posted on the Coram Deo blog.) 

I’m used to managing my team face-to-face. But now we all work from home. I know some of my employees are putting in less time, since they have a lot of family pressure (like homeschooling kids and taking care of babies) they didn’t have before.  Others are alone, and seem to be working a lot more hours than they probably should.  I am praying for each one of them.  I want to be generous but also fair.  How can I figure out how each team member is doing without being too intrusive?  How can I figure out reasonable expectations for them?  And how can I balance the employee that’s putting in too much time and the one putting in too little?

I totally get it!  Teleworking is not as easy as it sounds.  I recently went back to the office after teleworking from home for four and a half months, and it was way different than I expected.

I do want to commend you as a manager for desiring to treat everyone on the team fairly and deal with them as individuals with different needs and challenges. A good manager knows his or her team members well.  Prov. 27:23 teaches, “Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds.”   I also applaud your commitment to pray for your team members.

Let me share a few of my own experiences, some successes and some failures, in managing my own employees from 30 miles away from the office.  I also want to highlight several biblical principles that may be applicable to situations like this.  Perhaps I can also share some wisdom as you move forward and attempt to navigate through these rough waters.  God’s grace is always sufficient!

My teleworking experience

Despite the many ways to communicate, including email, text, phone calls, and video chat, it was sometimes difficult to keep in touch with my employees on a daily basis.  “Out of sight, out of mind” was something we all struggled with.  I seem to recall hearing or reading somewhere that it was the employee’s responsibility to check in, but I felt like it was my lane to be intentional to check on them to ensure they were okay.  I am not sure we laid out expectations clearly from the start.  I missed the daily face-to-face informal interactions with my team that we had in the office. 

I also learned that teleworking took more discipline to stay focused on projects and to manage my time well as I worked from home.  This was my daily struggle, so I knew it was difficult for my employees as well.  This was especially hard for those who had children or spouses at home.  In our empty next, my wife worked hard to not be a distraction to my work, which I truly appreciated. 

Biblical principles regarding work

There are some biblical principles that apply to your situation as a manager of employees who are working remotely, some who work diligently and others who may truly want to work hard but are distracted with family responsibilities.  Let me highlight a few passages that might be helpful.

Proverbs is full of wisdom for the workplace, as its purpose is to give wisdom for life.  Proverbs 22:29 instructs us that a man or woman who is skilled in his or her work will eventually go far in life.  Proverbs 27:18 highlights the general principle of sowing and reaping: “He who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit, and he who looks after his master will be honored.”  These verses should reinforce your goal as a manager to develop character qualities such as consistency, diligence, faithfulness, and loyalty in all your employees, which will be a benefit to all concerned.

For your employees who were forced to work and attend children at the same time by the sudden quarantine, school kids sent home, or loss of childcare facilities and sitters, I am afraid there are no easy solutions.  Biblically, we know that a parent bringing up children is a blessing and is a huge responsibility.  (See Prov. 22:6; Eph. 6:4.)  Many of these workers have no choice but to work both full-time jobs simultaneously.  You are correct that these workers need some consideration. 

With these biblical principles in mind, I encourage you to continue to motivate your dedicated employees to work hard, but to not overdo it.  They should not feel like they need to work more hours than is normally required because the lines between work and home are blurred.  I encourage you to guide all workers to strive to maintain balance between work and family responsibilities. 

Practical wisdom to guide you

So, what do I recommend to creatively address your valid concerns above?

Spend some time with those employees who are struggling to take care of children while also trying to work.  Help them to assess what they are doing to balance their work and family responsibilities.  They need to figure out how to put in an honest day’s work for a full day’s pay. 

If what they have been doing is not giving them eight hours of focused work time every day, you might suggest that they design a schedule that allows them some flexibility in their work hours.  Maybe they are more productive when the kids are in bed.  If their spouse is teleworking also, they could take turns with  the children to carve out a couple of hours of uninterrupted time throughout the day.  If they are single parents, they might need to consider some part-time child care in their home during the day.

It is a challenge to confront employees when they are not right in front of you. However, asking for occasional updates on projects is a reasonable expectation for a manager.  Discuss their priorities at the beginning of the week and then evaluate their progress at the end of the week. 

You need some feedback to be able to hold them accountable, to ensure they are producing on schedule, and remain value-added to your organization.  You might have them write weekly progress reports, if that seems less intrusive.  If you had not already done so, set clear standards for hours worked and when employees need to check in.  Enforce them consistently, and be prepared to modify them as needed. 

Your compassionate yet firm guidance as a manager who is managing “as unto the Lord” will set them up for success and will increase the probability of productivity in your own organization.

About the author:

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.  More than 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 100 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

How Should a Christian Respond to Bad Language?

Cussing

(Note: This article was written for and published by The Gospel Coalition. It was later posted on the Coram Deo blog.)

I’ve worked a number of “blue collar” jobs over the years (landscaping, construction, security, to be specific). On each jobsite, I found that my coworkers frequently used profane, sexist, and racist language in their humor and everyday conversation. Should a Christian respond negatively to every instance of this kind of behavior? How can a Christian balance between camouflaging their faith and just being a prude?

I can identify with what you are going through.  I have worked in some of these manual labor jobs myself over the years and served in the Army for over 20 years.  You are right, there does tend to be a number of folks who use the kind of language that might make some of us squirm.

There are a number of practical suggestions based on some of my own life experiences that I could offer as a way that we as Christ-followers can deal with these situations when they come up.  However, I do want to begin with seeing what Scripture might have to say about dealing with the sins we see so frequently demonstrated around us every day.  We want to look at these situations through a biblical lens so that we can respond to these thorns and thistles in the work environment in a way that might bring glory to God, who placed us in our jobs for His purposes.

Sinners sin

The place to start might be to review what God’s Word has to say about sin in general.  Men and women were made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27).  However, Adam and Eve rebelled (Gen. 3).  This has impacts on our daily work (Gen. 3:16-19).  From that point forward, children were still born with God’s image, but they also had the image of their human parents.  (See Gen. 5:3).

These are basic theological truths that most Christians understand well.  But how can we apply this knowledge in trying to properly respond to those who blatantly sin at work and elsewhere?

When I was in my last year of college, my father was about to get married to a woman he had had an affair with.  I went to my pastor for some counseling regarding how to treat my new stepmother.  He gave me some wise advice on how to love others in spite of their sinfulness.  He said something like, “Dogs bark, trees shed their leaves in the fall, and sinners sin.  It’s just what they do.  It shouldn’t surprise us when we see it”.  He then reminded me that she was one more person I had the opportunity to show God’s love. 

So, how should I respond when we hear sinful words in the workplace? We should not be surprised by it. Plus, it just may give us an opportunity to to show God’s love to those who need it.

Choose your battles

So, in answer to your question, no, I do not think a Christian should respond negatively to every instance of this kind of behavior.  Perhaps knowing what we just discussed might help us when others sin verbally in our presence.  We should not be surprised when we hear words that take the Lord’s name in vain or disrespect others.  However, that does not mean that we stay silent and allow it to continue indefinitely.  Jesus took us out of the world to send us right back into the world as salt and light, to make a difference right where we are.  (See John 17:14-19.)

I think we have to have some practical wisdom here when we consider how to confront someone over their choice of language.  There are two major questions we need to ask to determine our approach: 1) How damaging are the words that are used? 2) Is this coworker a Christian?

I remember basic training.  I had a drill sergeant who constantly used F-bombs and other colorful language in every sentence.  I became numb to it.  Although I actively discourage the use of it in my current position with the soldiers that work directly for me, there is not much I can do to diminish its use in others.  Sadly, it has become part of the military culture.  When I weigh the actual damage that occurs when those kinds of words are said, the effects truly are minimal.

However, when co-workers use words that are disrespectful to other people of different cultures or are denigrating to women, I have to draw the line.  A workplace that allows that kind of talk that takes away the dignity of other human beings and creates a hostile environment for all needs to change.  Perhaps God has placed you in this place for such a time as this.  (See Esther 4:14.)  We do need to take a stand.  The conversation must start with a loving and private conversation with the offender.  If they refuse to listen, perhaps you take it higher, or wait to see if it changes.

Not only do we need to pause and think before we try to wrestle inappropriate speech to the ground, but we also need to take a step back to assess whether or not the offensive speaker is a believer or not.  If they are not a Christian, telling them to “clean up their act” will not bring them closer to faith in Christ.  If they are a brother or sister in Christ, then we have a leg to stand on when we approach them to try to get them to be mindful of the impact of their words.  When we do care enough to confront someone, we always need to remember to look at ourselves first.

I hope that this snapshot of biblical truth and practical wisdom will give you a firmer foundation to stand on the next time you hear something negative coming out of coworkers mouths.

About the author:

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.  More than 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 100 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

Building Your Team by Showing Dignity and Respect

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(Note: This article was posted on the Coram Deo blog and published on the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog.)

On the way in to work one morning two weeks ago, I heard Dave Willis, a speaker on the “Focus on the Family” radio broadcast, talk about bringing up his sons with Christian values.  He shared a memorable incident where his own son had said something negative to the only girl on his Little League baseball team.  As a good coach, he made his son apologize to her, and then addressed his players.  He said, “We never want to make anybody on this team feel that they don’t belong.”

This reminded me of one of the things I love about serving in the U.S. Army for over 30 years, its emphasis on treating all personnel with dignity and respect.  Equal opportunity for all workers, regardless of their demographic, is constantly reinforced at every level: for military centralized promotion and command select boards as well as for civilian hiring actions and promotions.  I believe that our strength lies in our unity of purpose amidst great diversity.  Every member on the team brings something positive to the table based on who they are and where they come from.

Let me address this topic from a biblical perspective.  I will share a few personal observations and suggestions from what I have seen in my own workplace, unpack an important passage from one of Paul’s epistles that is applicable for us at work, and share some wisdom from another writer.

Personal observations and suggestions

I recall living in a racially diverse neighborhood in Long Island, New York for several years.  I attended Kindergarten through 2nd grade there.  Classmates with a different skin colors were the same as those who wore blue or red shirts.  It didn’t matter.  I am glad I grew up that way.  When I joined the Army twenty years later, I truly appreciated the diversity of my teammates.  It was so great to see my kids making friends with those of a different race in our neighborhood or at school.  

When I give my orientation brief to new members of our team, I make certain that they understand that this office will be a safe place to work for all concerned.  There will be no tolerance for sexual harassment or racial discrimination.  Every single member of the team will be treated with basic human dignity and respect.  Period. 

I then carefully point out the diverse groups within our office and within the larger organization.  We have military and civilian, male and female, officers and noncommissioned officers, old and young, black, brown, yellow, and white, active duty, reserve and National Guard.  And even though everyone used to joke around about the competencies of the other two branch schools where we work side-by-side (military police and engineers), we can no longer do that.  We even get along with the Sailors, Airmen, and Marines who are stationed here.

How do we treat those who are different than us with dignity and respect?  We notice them.  We smile and greet everyone in the morning and say goodbye when we head home in the afternoon.  We praise publically, and correct in private.  We engage with all.  We ask questions to get to know our teammates and listen to their answers. 

We never tolerate any kind of negative talk about “those people” (whether they be of other races, ranks, ages, genders, or members of the other armed forces; it doesn’t matter).  If someone were to say something carelessly about blondes, millennials, or boomers, we stop it.  We let all know on a daily basis that they are appreciated and are valued members of the team.

Building up the church through mutual respect

Let us look a little closer at what the Apostle Paul wrote in his first letter to the church in Corinth. 

In 1 Cor. 12:-12-26, we read a brilliant analogy concerning various parts of the human body.  In context, Paul had just been teaching about spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:1-11).  He writes that there are a variety of spiritual abilities that every Christian has that the Holy Spirit gives to each one as He wishes.  In the same way, the human body is made up of many parts and forms one complete body. 

These individual body parts failed to understand that they each had a divine purpose and were connected to one another and to the head, just like this local body of believers, whose members forgot their unity in Christ.  The foot should not think that it does not belong to the body just because it is not a hand.  If the foot was missing, how would the body walk around? 

Additionally, the eye can’t say to the hand that it is not needed.  Every part contributes to the whole.  What Paul is saying to them (and us) is this: every member of the team is essential, has a unique purpose, performs a necessary function, and is to be valued by the other members.  We need each other.

Here is what it would look like at my work.  One of my sergeants could say, “Well, I am not an officer.  Officers are really important.  What I do doesn’t matter.”  One of the male employees could say, “Why do we have females on our team?  They are different.  We don’t need them.”

What would it look like at your place of employment?  Do your custodians or administrative assistants feel like valued members of your organization?  Are there leaders at or near the top of the chain who do not recognize or value the contributions that everyone on the team brings? 

In William Morris’ great book, Love Thy Colleague, we find a biblical perspective on one aspect found in the passage above.  He addresses how to minister to the loners who have forgotten that they are part of the team. 

Morris shares this valuable insight: “Allowing each person as an individual to fully develop their talents and build and deepen relationships within the framework of a team, is what best promotes the human flourishing that God desires in the workplace (and everywhere).  And the loner can severely disrupt that dynamic  just like Paul’s unruly limbs.”

Later, Morris exhorts his readers on how to show God’s love to these workers who prefer to go solo. “Mercy lay in showing the colleague that they didn’t have to change from being a foot to being a hand, or try to be the whole body . . . Paul was actually arguing against conformity inside the church.  There was, he said, room for different talents, different characters, different types of people.  And it was from diversity inside the one body that real strength, and richness, and fruitful possibility truly lay.”

I know from my own experience in building teams over the past twelve years that seem to change every few months or so that I have to be intentional to ensure that every member of the team is treated like family.  I have to monitor my own relationship to each one, and also the relationships that each one has with the others on the team.  We cannot accomplish our mission without them.

About the author:

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Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.  More than 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 100 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.