Over decades in the corporate world I’ve seen countless business and leadership trends come and go, some good and some bad. It seems like there is always an exciting new book or theory that promises to revolutionize the marketplace. Yet some of the most revolutionary and impactful business principles I’ve learned are rooted in a much more timeless source.
In the broader discussion of what it means to be a Christian at work, church leaders tend to focus mainly on how our work folds into God’s plan, leading to an emphasis on things like seeking God’s calling, behaving morally, and marketplace evangelism. None of that is wrong; those are all good things to think about. I do wonder though, whether focusing on how our jobs can advance God’s plan leads us to overlook the practical and meaningful ways that our faith can impact our work.
The Bible offers countless principles that inform our understanding of and approach toward work. These are a few of my favorites.
1. Work for a Larger Purpose
Culturally, work is one of the defining characteristics of our lives. It’s one of the first things you learn about anyone you meet. “What do you do?” we ask, but we really mean, “Who are you?”
In a competitive marketplace, the value of the work you do may be judged by the profit it generates or the public acclaim it draws. Our society’s obsession with success—and with appearing successful—incentivizes self-promotion and self-protection.
The Bible turns all of this on its head. In the biblical view, work is significant and how you do it matters (Colossians 3:17), but the important question is why work matters. We’re directed to seek God’s kingdom before all else (Matthew 6:33), and to do all things for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Wherever God has directed your efforts, think of your work as a supernatural act of obedience. When you view work in light of eternity, it frees you to approach your job with radical grace and humility. You can do even the most menial or tedious task with joy because it honors God. You can tout the triumphs of those around you because their successes are never a threat to you. You can go all out, take risks, acknowledge mistakes with grace, and move on unburdened. Realizing that work is not the point doesn’t diminish the work, it just removes the fears and constraints that hold us back there.
2. Don’t Look Back
The corporate world takes a fatalistic view of mistakes. Just ask Warren Buffet, who famously noted that “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” I think Carly Fiorina would agree. The former presidential candidate’s business record came under intense scrutiny during her run for the White House. Critics focused primarily on her rocky tenure as CEO of Hewlett-Packard and branded her a failure, dismissing her entire corporate career as a loss.