During this time, I pondered quite a bit on the flip side to this whole thing about the employer-employee relationship and how it interfaces with Christian values. I asked myself, how can I be a worker and subscribe to Christian values at the same time? I am a lawyer by profession and I have worked in some very cut-throat environments where there is pressure to be smooth-talking, fast-thinking and hard-hitting. Trust me, I know how to be and do all of that and more. These are touted as being critical ingredients of being a commercial lawyer and for the most part, I bought into it. I have had colleagues that would describe me as intimidating, while the nicer ones would say I am “just a bit too much”. Now of course, there are some character traits that simply come with the nature of a job and are genuinely required in order to carry out the role. However, is there a case for taking a different approach in the name of The Narrow Gateway? As a lawyer, writer, designer, driver, plumber, mechanic, artist, model, engineer, who is a Christian, W.I.T.N.G? What Is The Narrow Gateway? What is my work ethic meant to be? Am I known to be a hard-worker? A trusted employee? That guy who everyone knows will get the job done? Do I empower my colleagues or do I get tied up in office gossip and politics? How am I meant to treat my manager? My colleagues? Am I an authentic leader who does not need a title before he shows the way and takes responsibility? Do I see myself as Christ’s representative at my workplace? Or am I just there to find the quickest way to make a buck and get out? Do I feel that my God-given purpose is linked with my daily occupation? Do I work like I expect to give an account to God for the way in which I carry out my tasks? What does life behind the Narrow Gateway mean for my approach to my professional development and that of others? How does it all play out in reality, especially when I have a boss or colleague that I perceive to be ill-treating me or handling me unfairly?
Whew! What a list of questions. Here comes another huge one. If your colleagues happened to stumble into your church on a Sunday morning and saw you standing there, arms lifted up, eyes closed, songs of deep worship pouring out of your lips, would they stand in astonishment and be like, “Huh? So and so is a Christian?” or “So and so has a real relationship with Jesus Christ so much so that he spends his Sunday mornings in church singing to Jesus?” That one has gotten me for years! In my various places of work, I struggled for quite a while to live out loud as a Christian as I should have. And no, I am not talking about Bible-bashing, blowing tongues in my cubicle during tea time or insisting that we open our weekly credit committee meetings with a word of prayer! I’m talking about living, working and interacting in such a way that your values speak clearly about your faith in Jesus Christ, so much so that colleagues cannot help but draw you aside and inquire, with their hearts in their hands, “take me to your God!” Hmm. I definitely have not achieved that. I can recall many situations at work where I did not interact in a way that displayed a heart that loves Jesus Christ. I am convicted in this regard and I pray to continue to grow in this area.
This is a very different approach to marking Workers Day, which is primarily about supporting fair labour practices (which I support wholly). This approach is one that flips the script and spotlights the Christian worker. It insists that alongside our fight for fair labour practices, we look inwards as well, and with the same vehemence that we insist on being treated fairly as workers, we also place on ourselves a requirement, as Christians, to allow godly values to underpin our work ethic, trusting that the Lord who honours those who obey Him, even when such obedience appears absurd, will be our number one labour union rep.
You will notice that I am not trying to provide you with all the answers to the questions I have posed above. These are very personal considerations for you to ponder on. I am also aware that some might read this and be like, “But Toyin, the very worst atrocities have been and continue to be committed against vulnerable people in the work context!” or “But you do not know what they have done to me and how badly I have been treated at work! If you did, you would not even try to bring W.I.T.N.G into the mix!” Well, I hear that. And as someone who has also experienced unfair treatment at work, I feel you completely. In fact, I once had a job where I was so unfairly treated and under-valued that my husband had to give me a talking to about letting go of the job, and it went somewhere along the lines of, “Toyin! You realise that your father does not own shares in this company, right? Let this thing go before it tears you apart!” It was that bad! So I feel you totally. But this is not meant to be an either-or thing; Fight for fair treatment of workers OR workers (this includes employers) should express their Christlikeness in the way they work. These are not mutually exclusive causes. In fact, let us be careful not to assume that when we subscribe to the Narrow Gateway, it always means that we are destined for ill- and unfair treatment. This is not the case. This is not the case. It breaks my heart when I hear Christians say things like, “God will just ask me to turn the other cheek,” or “God will just tell me to grin and bear it!” Now, I am not going to try to speak for God in your particular work situation. I know that indeed God can and does tell His children to turn the other cheek or to repay good for evil. But guys this is the same God that says in Romans 12:18 – 20: “If it is possible on your part, live at peace with everyone. Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but leave room for God’s wrath. For it is written: “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. For in so doing, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Now I am not saying that the Narrow Gateway is to buy tickets for front row seats, complete with popcorn and slushies, to the blockbuster titled, “God Incinerates My Work-Enemies!” No. I’m saying that we serve a God that arises to war on behalf of those who have put their trust Him, and not in themselves, and who have chosen that come what may, they will obey His way and endeavour to keep their slate clean, knowing that this same God works all things out for the good of those who love Him.
So, today being Workers Day, let us, who have chosen to enter by The Narrow Gateway, let us be real and interrogate what that choice means for us as workers. And when we discover what that is, we do what? We turn, we align, we run with it.
I would love to hear from you on this topic. I know it is a touchy one. Please let me know how you have experienced being a worker and a sister or brother in Christ at the same time. I would love to hear your thoughts about whether you feel God has it in Him to be the most able labour union rep, or whether you feel its all on you to fight for your rights till the death. I would also love to hear from you about how you behave at work and whether you feel that your colleagues would believe, by your values, that you are a Christian.
“I leave you with these verses. Whatever your hands find to do, do with all your might…” (Ecclesiastes 9:10) and “Rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man…” (Ephesians 6:7).
I am Toyin, quirky writer of this piece, fully convicted by my own words and very much still under construction.