Friday, July 15, 2011

Mission to Honduras 2011

Tomorrow morning, I leave for the Central American country of Honduras. That country has been near and dear to me since the late 1990s when my wife, Cile, and others first took a trip to there to help with post-hurricane Mitch relief. Since then, churches I have served have sent somewhere near 20 mission teams.

I will be sending updates daily on my mission blog. Click here for Mission to Honduras 2011.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Faith in the Workplace

Be consistent in all of life. Be just as much of a Christian at work as you are in church. It sounds easy enough. It can't be that hard, right?

And then it happens. You are asked to sign-off on something that is not true or you feel pressured to join your co-workers in behavior that cuts against your spiritual convictions. Maybe you are suddenly troubled by your firm's policy toward social issues. Perhaps it is the larger issues of wealth creation in a world filled with abject poverty that bothers you. Whatever "it" is, you suddenly find yourself wondering how a person of deep faith can make it in today's work environment. Spiritual integrity and a market economy seem mutually excluding.

Contrary to ridiculous negative stereotypes of Christians, most I know are hard-working, compassionate, and generally decent human-beings. Most Christ-followers want to make a meaningful contribution to this world and to the organizations to which they belong, including their workplaces. However, most Christ-followers sometimes find themselves in compromising, unethical, or immoral circumstances on the job and are troubled by it. They want to remain faithful to God while working their careers, but find it increasingly difficult to do both.

This issue is compounded for many who feel that they must do whatever it takes to maintain their source of income. Times continue to be hard for many. Expenses are high, money is tight, options are limited, and fear of job loss leads to a mindset of self-preservation at any cost.

So unless you are Mother Theresa or Billy Graham and all of this is somehow intuitive and easy for you, I have some principles that may help you be a person of spiritual integrity at work.
  1. Admit this is not simple. This is more than whether to go to the girly bar with the guys after work or to the male stripper club with the girls. This is about somehow bearing witness to Christ in every letter written, every contract signed, every project worked, and every work relationship, including that jerk in the office down the hall. This is about being a person of spiritual integrity as you manage an ideologically diverse staff, deal with people who expect certain "perks," determine the profit margin of a product, write the investment strategy for earnings, communicate with stakeholders, or create the benevolence policy of the company. If you struggle,that's to be expected.
  2. Get to your knees. Pray. Ask God for help. If you work for Ebenezer Scrooge or Attila the Hun, you're going to need some help. If your co-workers have the ethical grounding of Larry Flint, Bernard Madoff, or Rod Blagojevich, you will need help. If your workplace makes it to any "most unethical" list, you will need help. If office politics involves pulling the knife from your back, you will need help.
  3. Know you are not alone. I have had many conversations with people who are concerned about unethical practices at work. Most need to vent, but at a deeper level they want to know if they are weird for having concerns. Are they alone? No. Others at work want a work environment where they will not have to compromise their principles of faith for the bottom line. Look for them. They're probably the quiet ones. You are not alone. When you find them, become work friends. Pray together. Study the Bible together. Talk about the issues. Sticking together will help each of you get through difficult days.
  4. Be exemplary. Work hard and with integrity. We are called to work with all of our hearts "as working for the Lord" (Col. 3:23) not for human masters. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing (1 Pet. 3:9). Unlike pastors, you have the opportunity to be "salt" and "light" to co-workers daily from within the workplace. The character of your life and quality of your work are part of your witness. If you are lazy and unethical, please keep quiet about being a Christian; you're more damage than good to the cause.
  5. Communicate your principles. Know what crosses the line for you. What are your non-negotiables? I suggest you take a few minutes to write them down. It could be specific like, "I will not participate in gossip here," or more general like, "I will not do anything that takes advantage of a weak, poor, or struggling person." Write them down and then let others know as circumstances arise. One man told his boss, "I will not lie for you, but neither will I lie to you." His integrity didn't make the boss happy at first, but won his respect over time.
  6. Stick to your guns. Unless you are high up, you may not have much control over price gouging, environmental impact, poor employee management, or other issues. You do have control over what you will do when a line gets crossed. Stick to your principles, especially on the little things. It is easy to give into the big things when you've compromised your principles on the little things.
  7. Show respect. Most workplaces are microcosms of diversity. If the United States military can teach us anything, it is to show that people of different cultural backgrounds, races, genders, ages, and faith traditions can work toward a common mission. The whole system is built on mutual respect. You do not have to agree and you do not have to participate in what the other is doing, but you must show respect for the other person's perspective.
  8. Do not judge. A friend of mine refused to be a part of the late night escapades of clients who wanted more than a discount on the products he was selling. He chose to be a designated driver and waited in the car for the several hours the rest were inside living the wild life. He simply said, "It's not my thing." He didn't judge, but neither did he join them. Search your heart. Make sure your attitude toward those who make different choices than you is not an attitude of superiority or condescension. Love them, don't judge them.
  9. Keep your sense of humor. Diverse people coming together in one workplace to accomplish a single corporate mission is a recipe great comedy. Enjoy people. Laugh with them. Laughter is a universal language. Everyone around a person who is a jerk sees it and at some level can find humor in the behavior. Remember the Far Side cartoon with God as a chef making the world and sprinkling in "jerks" onto the earth "just to make it interesting." When life is "interesting," keep your sense of humor.
  10. Remember that grace abounds. Finally, remember that if you fail at keeping your own principles for whatever reason, the grace of God is strong. You won't get this right every time. None of us could make it if we had to be perfect. God's grace is, in the words of a great hymn, amazing.