Show and Tell: A Christian Designer's Guide to Faith in the Workplace
September 3rd, 2008 in Web Design Worldview
by: Matthew Griffin
How should a Christian manage his or her Christianity in the workplace? This is a question most Christian designers have considered at one time or another during the course of their career. In our current age (especially in America), the attitude of employers toward public displays of faith varies dramatically from one workplace to another. Some Christian designers work in a laid back work environment where outward displays of faith are seen as generally harmless (annoying at worst). Others work under management that is openly hostile toward Christianity. Still other Christian designers work for religious organizations where it's expected that every employee will let out a "praise God" from time to time. But a well-sharpened Christian should constantly work to shrug off the pressure of the situation and live a life of integrity. Christians have thrown the work integrity around so much that it seems to have lost its punch. Integrity has the same root work as integrate. It's used to describe a person that integrates one set of truths consistently in every situation. A person of integrity is the opposite of a hypocrite. In this article I'm going to paint a picture of biblical balance in the workplace and discuss some of the common philosophies that impair our ability to strike this balance.
Faith and Life: The Imaginary Divide
Possibly the most paralyzing lie Christians have accepted concerning the workplace is the myth of private faith. Many modern American Christians would agreed that faith is private and work is public. Work is something we can all agree on, while faith is a private, unrelated preference—an "upper story truth" as Francis Schaeffer called it. Nothing could be further from the truth. This secularist system that separates faith from life is nothing more than smoke. It assumes that we can carry out the day to day tasks required in a work environment—making decisions, setting goals, reprimanding employees—without consulting a worldview for guidance. This is an absurdity. To propose that anyone can labor as a pragmatic machine-like zombie with no foundational assumptions is completely out of touch with reality. You may be forbidden to discuss the underlying beliefs supporting your workplace actions, but you will never be able to rid yourself of any and all worldview. And all worldviews have religious implications of some kind.
For example, the very act of showing up to work automatically shows one very important aspect of my worldview. Namely, I believe work is worthwhile. Why is it worthwhile? Well, I can't really answer that question without revealing my religious beliefs. Even if I'm an atheist who believes that work is only worthwhile insofar as it furthers the survival of the human species, I can't answer the question honestly without essentially saying that God is non-existent. Such a claim would be a religious proposition based on faith. After all, I'm a finite being. I didn't witness the birth of the universe with my own two eyes. And even if I did, whose to say that my perception is reliable? You see? Faith and life are necessarily fused. Now, the question is: What do we do about it?
Ignorance Is No Excuse
This ridiculous divide between belief and life is easy to demolish in theory, but the practical side is another issue altogether. After spending years believing the lie of private faith, or at least living like you do, it can be difficult to imagine a model of what a Christian should look like in the workplace. Also, we're surrounded by a culture that has no concept of a life fully integrated with faith. In fact, most people (even many Christians) get uncomfortable when conversation turns to faith in the workplace. This state tends to have one of two extreme effects on Christian designers. We either embrace the lower story pragmatism and swap out our worldview when we go to work, or we become highly mystical and unapproachable. Both of these reactions are incorrect. The key is to work in a manner that fully integrates Christ as truth for all areas and remains sensitive to the philosophies of the age.
The apostle Paul went to great lengths to know and understand the philosophies of his day. He argued with the Greeks and the Romans on their own terms and showed the superiority of Christ in every matter. Countless times in Paul's letters to the early churches he prays for their knowledge to increase. This is no accident. We need to know our stuff. Christian designers should know why they work and how their vocation fits into the purpose God has ordained for mankind. We haven't been given the gift of salvation so we can dream about heaven to make the work day go by faster. Salvation is for the whole of our being. Salvation permeates our lives, invigorating our spirit as well as our body, and restores us to the original purpose for which we were created. And work is a huge part of that original purpose. I recommend starting with David Chilton's Paradise Restored if you want to get a good primer on the biblical concept man's purpose. ( Note: Please don't go out and buy The Purpose Driven Life or any other modern Christian book on purpose. We don't need self-help principles in this case. We need depth and substance. I would be happy to recommend other books on the subject if you're interested.)
A Light in the World
Knowledge and a deeper understanding of the historical Christian concept of work and design will go a long way. But let's get even more practical.
- A Christian designer should be first and foremost an excellent designer. He should study his craft the same way he studies his purpose under God.
- He should be always growing gradually and never with impatience, understanding that vocational sanctification is just like spiritual sanctification—it takes a lifetime.
- He should not be caught up in the latest trends but rather use wisdom to discern the the lasting versus the ephemeral.
- He should be humble, never diminishing complements but always acknowledging the one to whom all praise is due.
- He should be ready to praise excellent work produced by both Christians and non-Christians, recognizing that God's common grace has allowed all of mankind to participate in design.
- Likewise, he should never be afraid to criticize evil, foolish, absurd, or shoddy work from both Christians and non-Christians.
- He should work and design deliberately, always keeping God's purpose at the forefront of his mind.
- He should always be ready with concrete answers about design and human purpose that resound to the praise of Christ.
- He should be participating in a local church—the visible sign of Christ's reign on the earth—and encouraging other Christian designers to do the same. Designers are part of the diversity that should characterize the church. When we abandon Christ's church we are harming God's kingdom.
(Note: The hes in the previous list are obviously meant as generic. It applies to women as well.)
What About Witnessing?
You may have noticed that I didn't specifically mention preaching the gospel in my list. For sure, preaching the gospel is a Christ ordained activity in which all Christians can and should participate. But it may shock you to know that it's not the reason we were created. It's not our number one goal to drag as many people to heaven with us as possible. If it is, Adam and Eve were created for no purpose at all. God created humankind in a right relationship with him. It is sin that has made evangelism necessary and, by the grace of God, we are now allowed to participate in God's plan for reinstating his elect to their original purpose. But evangelism is only part our overall purpose to establish Christ's kingdom on earth.
If you want to change the world with the gospel, look to God's primary means of evangelism and evangelize your children. That's right, it's in the context of the family that effective Christian men and women are most often raised up. Oh, and I guess that means you should probably rethink your plans to go through life childless. The purpose of humankind is all wrapped up in the family. For some this may be old news but for the "alter call is everything" Christians it will probably sound blasphemous. I realize I may receive some objections for this section but please understand, I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't attempt to evangelize your coworkers. I just want to encourage a right perspective on the issue. Biblical balance is the first priority.
This article is probably different that what you may have been expecting. I really wanted to get to the heart of the issue here. I think the "5 steps to this" and "20 ways to that" can be helpful but never in a deep life changing way. I wanted to stay away from that over practical style in this case and focus more on principles. After all, it's principles that guide our lives, not simple steps. For more reading, you may want to read the sixth part in my web design worldview series entitled Web Design Worldview (Part 6): A Christian Web Design Manifesto.
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