Jan 4, 2011

Professional Persona vs. Christian Character

Jonathan, a family physician, rarely discusses his faith while at work. Instead, he spends his lunch hour reading his Bible in the seclusion of his office. Yet his staff considers him the most Christian man they know.

Maria, a Call Center Supervisor, has religious symbols and scriptures plastered all over her very visible, glass walled office. She makes it a point to tell everyone from the janitor to the Vice President that she serves Jesus Christ.  Many in her office find her tactics offensive.

Leona, a bank official, seldom talks about God with her co-workers, but she quietly prays over each of their desks before she clocks in each morning. She believes her perfect attendance record, quality of work, and her prayers will do more to bring her co-workers to Christ than anything she could say.

Victor, a chemical engineer, looks for prayer opportunities at work. If a co-worker tells him their problems, he listens attentively, and then responds gently “Can we pray together right now, and ask Jesus to meet your need?”

Whether we realize it or not, most of us project a persona that is evaluated by those we work with. And we in turn evaluate and react to the personas of others.

Career advisors call this projection our Professional Persona. And bloggers such as Ross Banander of www.askmen.com says the persona you project in the workplace can make or break your career

This got me thinking. If our professional persona is so important, what role does our faith play in it, if any? If I am both a Christian and professional, is there an acceptable blend of these two roles that is neither too anemic nor too strong?

All four of the people mentioned above are believers. And all four projected a different Christian persona at work. So who’s right? Who’s wrong? And what does it matter anyway? 

Who’s Right?

The short answer is they all are. Each of the above mentioned people projected the persona they were the most comfortable with.  And according to a message entitled, Learning to Share our Faith by Pastor Sara Wolbrecht, the way we present our faith to others is often linked to our personality style.  

But are all of these approaches appropriate in the workplace?

I have grappled with this question a lot lately. On one hand, I see my job as my mission field. After all, I mix and mingle with close to 3,000 employees 5 days a week, 8 hours a day. This gives me the greatest potential for influence and letting my light shine (Matthew 5:16).

Who’s Wrong?

But many would say that my employer didn’t hire me to be an evangelist. I was hired to do a job. And the mainstream media seems to agree.

Blogger Karen Burns, of U.S. News & World Report, ranks religion as the number two no-no on her list of “40 Topics You Can’t Discuss at Work.” About.com ranked religious discussion at work as the number one career killer and so did blogger Caroline Levine.

What Does It Matter?

It matters a great deal.

I don’t have a clear answer about how to best share our faith at work. But I am confident that the fruits of the Spirit should be a regular part of our professional persona. After all, didn’t the apostle Paul tell the Corinthian church that they were a living epistle known and read of all men? That means that others learn about Christ by observing our lives and, if you will, our projections.

So we need to carefully examine what our co-workers notice about us.  Do they see us as patient, kind, gentle, and longsuffering? Or do they see us as selfish, competitive and pushy about our faith?

Workplace Credo

Developing a personal workplace credo is one way to reconcile our Professional Persona with our Christian Character. To be honest, it was difficult for me to objectively develop my own workplace credo, so I asked for input from my friends. Here’s what we came up with:  

  • Do my job to the best of my ability. (Ecclesiastes 9:10)
  • Do not participate in office gossip. (Proverbs 11:13)
  • Act kindly towards everyone in the office. (I Corinthians 13:4)
  • Give credit to who credit is due. (Romans 12:10)
  • Help my peers to shine, even if it means doing better than me. (Philippians 2:3)

So what about you? How do your coworkers see you? And more importantly, how do you want them to see you? Do your projections reflect Christ? And if not, why not? Do you feel sharing your faith at work is appropriate? Why or why not? If Jesus Christ were to do your annual review at your job, how would he evaluate your performance?

These are the questions I grapple with. Perhaps together we can discover the answers. 

Image by Tim Miller, used with permission via Flickr. Post by Debbie Simler-Goff, author of the blog Every Day With Jesus. 

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