(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:
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.