Social action in the workplace
Some time ago, I had the privilege of interviewing a Christian who is one of the directors of part of a large global business. I was interested in how he had made a difference in the workplace.
Although, in early life, he had been involved in a church plant and had deep experience of evangelism, he admitted the workplace was quite different:
“What I was not prepared for was what it all means in a working environment. Especially when you are somewhere where there are virtually no opportunities to talk people about faith. And if there are, they are so rare that you have to ask the question; ‘What is it about... spending so many hours of my life here? And if it's only about trying to find the very rare occasion to talk about faith, well, something is wasted here.’
“What I had to learn, and it took me a long time, is God's calling for me here. God's call is to renew people’s lives and also entire spheres of society, including business. I believe things in my heart are connected with God's heart. Things like the importance of a family, of relationships. I believe that if someone comes to me and is going through divorce, the first thing I want is to help him because that is part of creating a different business. I can talk about the values of the kingdom of God without having to use a religious vocabulary.”
I asked him what that thinking had led him to develop.
“When I started, even though it was a high-pressured environment and we had small children, I decided to contribute well to the team but also maintain a healthy, family life. It was a risk given the pressure – I might have been seen as not giving as much as others and lost my job. Many years later, there was an opportunity in the firm to rethink how we actually deal with issues of family life - small children, separation and divorce, becoming a carer, etc.
“So together with two others, we founded a Family Initiative within the company - basically a programme sponsored by the board to support people in their family responsibilities. Its underlying idea is that if our family life works well then we do too. It’s that sense that if we do the right things, as things are right in the kingdom of God, then they would have a good effect on every aspect of our life, including commercial aspects.
“The programme gets budget and we organize events over the year - typically once or twice a month lunch time talks and Q&A on any aspect of family life, health, etc. You see posters up by the lifts advertising the next one. We also have surgeries where it's not a talk, but a specialist in a topic is invited and people can book in a slot to talk about their personal situation. It’s been going some years and I don’t really have much involvement now – it’s in the DNA. People drive it with ideas such as; power of attorney, how do I deal with financial aspects of care homes, how do I talk to teenagers about sex, psychology of siblings when they don't get along with each other, etc.”
Have there been any stand-out moments?
“There was one particular event that was so well attended. The conference room was full. The subject; ‘Being a Dad’.
"I remember once, several weeks after a talk on sleep problems of children, a lady came up to me and said, ‘It works!’ I was thinking, ‘What works?’ She'd been to that talk and before that, she couldn't sleep through the night and that was clearly affecting work life. For the first time after a long time she was able to sleep properly because her children were able to sleep better.
“You hear a lot of personal stories. It doesn't really matter how many, but I'm passionate about how it affects people. I think it may have affected or touched one or two thousand people, who have been able to attend, in one way or other. Judging by the questions that people ask, it's really the things that are important to people and to people's lives. I find it great to see those very, very personal things surfacing in their work environment. Not in a different environment, but here. Sometimes you see senior members of the organization sitting there and they explaining their situation, and by doing that, they are being vulnerable about what is affecting them. That in itself is important for everybody. It's good role-modelling and leadership.”
God’s calling for you here?
“I’ve gone from thinking I've no place here, to being able to influence and bring something in that has continued without my help for years now. Something that affects peoples' lives - where the values that I find in the gospel have a positive effect on people. For me, it's been an experience to see something that can transform lives as we run a business - something besides personal salvation, which I'm very ready to talk about but which I have very, very few opportunities to do so.”
Ministering to needs in the workplace is embedded in the Luke 10 model.
If you are a church leader, how are you equipping (Eph 4:11-12) those in employment for their calling to the workplace?
For those in employment, I hope the above interview inspires you - you can make a real difference to the lives of those you work with.
It would be great to hear your stories - please contact me here
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Geoff Knott, 22/06/2016