Full of stories that are both inspiring and down-to-earth, “Thank God It’s Monday “empowers us to do good work with God, in his way, and to show and share Jesus in the challenges and opportunities of our daily work. Exploring what God has to say about work, Greene challenges us to us to see our jobs, our co-workers, our bosses and our workplaces the way God does – and to see that God is at work, at work.
— by Mark Greene
Mark Greene grew up Jewish and joyous, and celebrated becoming a Christian in his early twenties. He worked in advertising in London and New York, loved it, and is still prepared to admit it. He is Director of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, and Vice-Principal of the London School of Theology. He speaks, tells stories, and writes, mainly on the joys, trials and surprises of living the whole of life as a follower of Jesus in today’s world.
BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS IN LOVE
Christians don’t have a very good image. On TV, clergy are often portrayed as well-meaning, bumbling, absent-minded, slightly overweight, giggly wimps with secret weaknesses for sherry or cream cakes. Fleabag’s dashing but ethically compromised Catholic father may be an exception but it’s hardly a welcome one. The reality of the non-Christian’s view is probably bleaker. Who, for example, is describing whom in these research results?
These people are ...
That's the opinion of young Americans about Christians. But other surveys might include homophobic, sexist, narrow-minded, bigoted. But there is a very big difference between the perception of the church in general and the perception of individual Christians who people actually know. And that perception is, not surprisingly, much more positive. So, yes, negative perceptions of Christians in general may well be simmering in your colleagues’ consciousness and, yes, some of the views we might hold may actually be bewildering, angering or offensive to non-Christians – particularly around issues of gay marriage and gender reorientation – but the real issue in any workplace is what people think of you. The reality is that love covers a multitude of prejudices. People who know they are loved by someone else are much less likely to allow differences in belief in certain areas to sour the whole relationship. People who see you doing a good job and doing good will cut you a great deal of slack.
Building trust is the key in our working relationships, as in any other relationship. Yes, one barrier to developing trust is the preconceptions that many non-Christians have about Christians.
That is pretty much what I thought about Christians as a group before I became one. A huddle of mushy, simpleminded, ineffectual, well-meaning, boring, hypocritical, weird people. Except of course that that was not the whole picture – there was John: warm, secure, articulate and a brilliant sportsman. There was Hazel: brilliant, astute, measured, peace radiating from her. There was her officer boyfriend of the time: courageous, forthright, humble. Still, for a long time the stereotype shaped my thinking more than my actual experience of people I’d come to know.
But stereotypes abound and if we are going to witness effectively, we need to be aware of the preconceptions that non-Christians hold. We need to recognize that there is some truth in those preconceptions and prepare ourselves to deal with them. At the same time, we need to prepare ourselves to be thought weird, hypocritical and simpleminded. And not to care.
Christ at work
In developing relationships, Christ’s example is instructive. His behaviour was often startlingly at odds with the culture surrounding him. For example, three things non-Christians believe about Christians are:
1. They go to church.
2. They don’t drink.
3. They choose their friends wisely.
But what did Christ do?
1. He was accused of breaking the Sabbath.
2. He drank wine.
3. He went to parties with publicans and sinners.
Indeed, at the gathering described in Mark’s Gospel, there is no record of Jesus sharing the Good News. He spent time with people – on their territory. And what is interesting is that they invited him. They seemed to like having him around. He obviously didn’t inhibit them, or judge them or sit in a corner to avoid contamination. Jesus was able to break the conventions of the religious leaders around him, without sinning. Similarly, some of us will need to question whether so-called Christian conventions, that make us feel there are certain places where we can’t go, are actually ones we should continue to follow. Pubs and clubs are two of the main places people meet in our culture. Going for a drink after work may be precisely the right way to develop a relationship with a co-worker – and doesn’t need to involve slugging back nineteen Jägerbombs before 7pm.
That said, there is an important issue of conscience here, and those who don’t feel able to do this shouldn’t. And shouldn’t be made to feel guilty. The point is to find ways to get to know people. And you can do that as effectively, as one twenty-something did, by inviting three co-workers over to her flat to make cupcakes, as by sipping artisan gin in a windowless club at three in the morning.
And, of course, as you get to know people, either in work or outside it, you find things to appreciate and perhaps celebrate about them. Indeed, in almost any relationship, a little bit of affirmation goes a long way – say ‘thank you’ for good advice given, ‘well done’ for good work done, ‘nice haircut’ when it’s true … Beyond understanding our co-workers, there is the call to serve them.
Let’s look at the way Jesus serves non-believers: in John chapter 5, he takes the initiative, and approaches and heals a paralytic, but doesn’t identify himself. He helps out with a physical problem. In John chapter 6, he feeds five thousand people. He takes on a responsibility that is clearly not his, any more than it would be your responsibility to feed five thousand people who happened to crash your picnic in Hyde Park. Yes, Jesus preaches and teaches, but he also takes initiatives and meets people’s needs.
Ministry meets needs
What are the needs of people around you at work? Do you know? What are the felt needs of the three people you have written down? Well, here are some of the things that Christians at my old company were ministering to, some of the challenges their co-workers were facing:
• Cancer in the family
• A husband’s heart attack
• The end of a love affair
• A decision about marriage
• A thirty-five-year-old psychological problem
• An invisible, but incurable, sexually transmitted disease
• Conflict with housemates
• Paying off student loans
• Adultery with a colleague
• Over-consumption of alcohol
• Visa issues
• Bringing up a child as an unmarried mother.
Today the list would almost certainly include:
• Money and debt
• Fear of unemployment
• Mental health
• Fear of losing the right to stay in the country
• Inadequate pension
• Still living with parents after thirty.
We relate to people at work primarily through our work, but we must not forget that they are people, and we must not flee from their pain.
Ministry is love in action. Ministry is bringing the whole gospel – in all its power and light and love – into the workplace. When a minister sees a need, he seeks to meet it. The parable of the good Samaritan is, after all, not only a response to the question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’, but also an answer to the unposed question, ‘Who is a minister?’ And you are the minister. Ministry is love in action, and love, according to 1 Corinthians 14:1, is our aim. All the skills in the world will make little impact unless we have genuine concern for our neighbours who don’t know Jesus. And our neighbour is the woman at the next workstation, the man in the next office, the person behind the cafeteria checkout, the overseas contract cleaner who scrubs our loos at 6.45am, our boss …
Taking the initiative – with love
Observing particular needs isn’t enough. Some observations can be turned into prayer. In other cases, we need to take initiatives to build trust. Initiative is very important. We cannot sit back and expect people to come to us. Jesus consistently took the initiative. He went to people, he asked questions, he came to die for us. We didn’t invite him.
Love takes the initiative, and lovers are extremely creative and resourceful. Love scours the web to find the chocolates she adores. Love finds the right card. Love makes time.
Here are two examples of people taking the initiative to communicate love, to build relationships:
Craig Miller, a banker, decided he would get a colleague in his department a birthday cake, stick a candle on it, and go and make a fuss of him. Unprecedented in that particular bank. It just wasn’t done. But who could object to a birthday cake? The Christian breaking down cultural barriers, gently pushing at the conventions that depersonalize the working environment. The Christian saying, ‘It need not be this way.’
Emily, a small Chinese lady, works at the United Nations. One day, one of her co-workers, a fairly large lady, wasn’t feeling well.
‘Can I get you a cup of tea?’ Emily enquired.
‘No,’ the other replied rather shortly. ‘I don’t like the tea here. I only drink camomile.’
Emily left her, quietly slipped on her coat, took the lift down several floors and went down the street to a nearby shop. She returned with a box of camomile tea and gave it in her small hand to this large lady, who immediately enveloped her in a huge hug, exclaiming, ‘Emily, I love you.’
Emily replied, rather muffled from the epicentre of this massive hug, ‘I love you too.’
Emily’s story illustrates a number of important points:
• Be ministry minded – listen. Emily could have just smiled and gone on her way. Instead, because she is ministry-minded, because she listened, because she saw the other person’s need and desire, she took an initiative that totally transformed that person’s mood and day.
• Time is on your side – the opportunities will come. We don’t have to create situations in which we can minister – they will happen all by themselves. We are going to be in the workplace for a long time. We don’t need to be anxious about finding opportunities. We simply have to pray and be alert.
• Ministry is to individual people. Obviously, camomile tea wouldn’t have been a good idea for everyone. We have talked about general principles and stereotypical non-Christian attitudes to the Christian, but each of us deals with individuals, so we must seek to be alert to the habits, needs and desires of those individuals. It is going to be different in each case. How much do you know about the three people you have written down? What is their favourite food? Their favourite pastime? How do they like their coffee? What is their most serious concern? Ministry doesn’t demand – it gives. Emily asked for nothing, not even the money for the tea. Like the good Samaritan, she simply gave, expecting nothing in return. Our expressions of love for others shouldn’t have evangelistic strings attached. Emily didn’t give the lady a Bible with the tea, or use it as an excuse to invite her to a Bible study. We must be tactful and sensitive as we love, and distinguish between the opportunities to serve and the opportunities to communicate the gospel verbally.
But do think about these little things. In a society where there is increasingly less direct, face to face communication, almost any upgrade in personal communication is significant – words are better than emojis (usually), phone calls better than texts (invariably), getting up and walking ten paces to someone’s work station better than an email (mostly) … Little things: a thank-you note, an apology for a sharp word. Indeed, asking forgiveness isn’t only a biblical imperative, it is also so rare that it is an extremely powerful witness – though naturally, that is not the reason to do it.
A note of encouragement in someone’s top drawer. A flower. A Polo mint. The offer of a cup of coffee. A card for Easter, for Chinese New Year. A web link to a favourite topic. The offer, if someone is working late, to help out or go get a sandwich. (Food is almost always helpful.) And, at the appropriate time, you can become just a little bolder.
For example, a lady called Jill, who worked for me and who had only just become a Christian, used to buy our boss his morning bran muffin on her way in to work. One day she left a verse with it, presumably on the theory that man cannot live by bran muffin alone. She just didn’t know that you are not meant to witness to your boss’s boss, so she did. A small act, but at the time a very brave one. A risk – he might have been offended. She judged right and God was gracious. He wasn’t offended. Then she invited him to read the Bible with her. She just didn’t know that baby Christians are not meant to do that. It wasn’t long before our boss became a believer. A little step – take one.
These are the little everyday things that transform the work environment, that turn it into a place people enjoy. We should be diligent in expressing love. Is there some little thing you could do for someone next week?
[Special thanks to Muddy Pearl for the cover photo]