Just over a year ago I started a new job, moving out of a Christian charity where I had worked for six and a half years to take up a role in the public sector.
Since then a number of Christians have asked me if I have found it difficult working in a non-Christian environment. I think my answer has surprised many people. No, I haven’t found it difficult. In fact, I would not rush back into working for a Christian organisation.
That feels like it's a vaguely heretical thing to say, and I do feel like I'm breaking ranks here.
It’s not because Christians are terrible to work with (although some are beyond difficult), or that there is anything inherently wrong with explicitly trying to create a Christian ethos in a workplace. There are one or two things I miss, like opening meetings with a prayer, but working outside the Christian bubble has helped me identify two of the things that really irritated me when I was inside.
The first is the ‘assumption of grace’. This basically runs that a person can act in any immature, selfish, ignorant way, and because ‘we’re all Christians here’, they will be ‘forgiven’ for it. Now I sometimes lose my temper in work, I say things I regret. We all do and I need grace from my colleagues and managers as much as the next person.
But to assume that grace will be shown isn’t helpful. Incompetency gets glossed over and no one ever gets called on it. When you’re talking planning projects with significant budgets, or a co-worker you have to go through who always does it ‘their way’ that seems to add unnecessary steps to a simple process, that’s not so great.
It’s quite hard to genuinely forgive someone when there is an expectation that you will show grace, however big a jackass they are being. All those things that are left unsaid build up. Eventually you anticipate failure and you lose focus and commitment. Your work becomes mediocre. You cease to care.
Quite simply, you can never resolve the issue because you can never vocalise how you really feel because if you react to provocation then you’ve failed as a Christian. Never mind that the provoker is free to continue provoking.
The second thing is the over-spiritualisation. ‘We’re facing a lot of opposition, here’ says the manager whose primary problem seems to be deficient planning skills.
I was in a meeting once with a member of our fundraising team who stated explicitly to me that the appeal mailings that had been re-written under strict direction from senior managers were now ‘awful’. A few months later, when the mailing had bombed, there were urgent calls for staff to pray about the financial straits the organisation was in, which was presented as a spiritual ‘attack’.
At what point does incompetency, organisational inertia, bad logistical planning, or just a plain old mistake become a spiritual issue? Normally, when it becomes apparent because the money isn’t coming in, or an event is happening the next day and the materials for it are still at the printers.
Finding spiritual explanations for low quality business working would be a very interesting subject to explore more fully some time. Oh, I have stories.
So, those are two things I don’t miss. True, there are frustrations in my new workplace, and probably every workplace, but they are less troublesome to me because they are at least grounded in reality. If someone is being a bit of a pratt, you can call them on it. If things go wrong, it’s usually because of a fixable issue, rather than being the work of Satan.
I find that a much more rational and helpful working environment.
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