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Faith in the Workplace

Share christian values through actions

You and your coworkers are in the middle of a strategy meeting. Lunch is served. Before you dig in, you bow your head and silently give thanks.

Most people don't give it a thought. But what if the scenario were changed slightly? When lunch is served, what if you invite several coworkers around you to bow their heads and pray with you? Have you crossed a line?

For many of us, faith isn't limited to Sunday services or our homes. And that often presents Christians with the issue of how to share our beliefs in the workplace. Whether you work for a large, publicly held corporation or a small, family-owned company, it's a topic that makes many of us wonder what we can and can't do, faith-wise, from 9 to 5. Here are some tips to consider:

Observe your own office culture

Every workplace is different, as is the group of people who work there. "You have to use good judgment, and remember that not everyone you work with is part of your same belief system," says Brad Hewitt, CEO of Thrivent Financial. Observing your colleagues can give you a good sense of what's acceptable and what's not.

Ask about workplace policies regarding religion

If you have questions about sharing your faith in the workplace, ask a human resources person (HR). While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (often referred to as Title VII) does protect religious expression, it doesn't necessarily mean anything goes. If there's no HR person on staff, get an overview from your manager.

Wait to be asked

If someone at work is curious about your faith, "then you have the freedom to have a different conversation," says Hewitt. "That's where somebody is inviting you into a conversation rather than you initiating it."

"There can also be ways to share your faith in a way that helps people understand your thinking," says Hewitt. "In one of my earlier jobs at a secular company, I was in a finance meeting and we were discussing the budget and decisions that needed to be made. I compared what we were discussing with the story of Joseph, saving up for seven lean years during seven good years. It's a parable that many people are familiar with, and for those who weren't, it was easy to tell. I was able to make the point, but underscore that my business decisions are often guided by faith teachings."

Thrivent member Cindy Steinbeck (pictured above, left) finds ways to combine her dual callings of ministry and the family business. A former youth minister who now helps run her family's vineyards and winery in Paso Robles, California, Steinbeck finds the best conversation starters come when winery visitors ask Steinbeck why she's so passionate about the vineyard. In her answer, she talks about the intricacies of the grapevine and John 15.

Show your faith by example

Rather than making people feel uncomfortable about your faith, it's better to share your religion by example. "You need to be the very best worker you can be," says Stephen Christensen, vice president of Concordia University, in Irvine, California, and founder of Faith and Work Life (Link opens in new window), an organization that helps people integrate faith into their workday lives.

"You get teachings on applying the Bible to your personal life, to relationships with spouses and children and your neighbors," Christensen says. "But people don't make the connection that when we talk about 'neighbors' in church, the neighbor is not only the person in the house next door. The neighbor is anyone you come in contact with, including during your daytime work – the person in the cubicle next to you or your customer or client or supplier."

Also, if you act ethically at work – for instance, refusing to go along with the crowd and take off early when the boss is away – "in due time people will want to know what's going on in your life that makes you different," says Christensen. "Then there's the opportunity to tell them what's going on in your life" – including sharing your faith.

And if you ever feel you've overstepped your bounds, "you can go to the person and say, 'Josh, I'm sorry if I came off the wrong way the other day,'" says Liz Ryan, a human resources (HR) consultant who runs her own firm, Human Workplace, and spent 20 years as the vice president of HR at a Fortune 500 company. "You can see that I'm passionate about my faith," says Ryan. "Your coworker is likely to say, 'Hey, no big deal.'"

If you're looking for a workplace where your faith is welcome, consider a career at Thrivent (Link opens in new window).

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