Most of what I really needed to know about operating a business I learned working at my family's orchard and fruit stand starting around age five.
Later in life, I also earned a degree from Harvard Business School. My time at Harvard was hard and wonderful, and I'm so grateful for it. But over time I've seen that having a place like Harvard on your resume can change the way people treat you, and not always in positive ways.
In professional settings, Harvard tends to open doors. Clients and coworkers who learn about my degree offer me a little more respect; they consult me more, listen more closely when I speak, and are generally less likely to interrupt me. This may or may not be fair, but it's true.
At church on Sundays, that same degree tends to have the opposite effect. When people at church happen to hear about my connection to Harvard, they generally react pretty predictably: "Oh wow! You must be smart." Usually this is followed by something to distinguish themselves apart from that "smart" label: "Not me! I only went to a state school." And just like that, we're "us" and "them." It doesn't always happen this way of course, but it does happen quite a bit.
These disparate reactions are telling and somewhat troubling to me. On one hand, I see a work environment that worships intellect to an unhealthy degree. On the other, I see a Christian culture that is increasingly willing to create a polite distance from intellectual pursuits.
Something needs to change. It's terribly important that we bridge this gap and show the world that you can be smart, educated, reasonable, and have a vibrant Christian faith. Here are four ways you can begin.
1. Embrace your intelligence
You can start by embracing your own knowledge. We live in a world that overvalues beauty and undervalues intelligence, especially for women and girls. And the church doesn't always do a great job of countering those cultural messages. Nevertheless, as Christians, we are directed to love the Lord fully, engaging not just our hearts but our minds as well (Mark 12:30).
A strong intellect is a gift from God—it's a spiritual gift, right up there with the gifts of faith, healing, and prophecy (1 Corinthians 12:8–10). God gave you a mind, and using your mind can be a form of worship just as much as singing praises to him.
Diane Paddison is a business professional and founder of 4wordwomen.org, local groups of professional working women committed to faith, family, work, and each other.