A decade and half ago I was tasked with an assignment that still guides me today. A friend asked me to identify the universal qualities of all people of faith in the marketplace.
In other words, what is every follower of Jesus at work called to? Regardless of title, location, profession, age, what are we all called to? Is there a gospel floor of influence to apply to every situation?
To answer the question, I looked at David—who we know as a shepherd, a soldier, a musician, and a king. He sounds like a 9th century BC millennial, switching careers every few years and enjoying every new challenge.
So what was the common denominator for David in all these careers? It is captured in a Bible passage that has shaped my life. Psalm 78:70-72 reads, “He chose his servant David, calling him from the sheep pens. He took David from tending the ewes and lambs and made him the shepherd of Jacob’s descendants—God’s own people, Israel. He cared for them with a true heart and led them with skillful hands” (NLT).
A called leader serving from a true heart and skillful hands is a powerful concoction. A worker rooted in a divine assignment with a servant mindset that is working with character and competence will stand out. This is a universally powerful baseline for anyone in any work setting chasing maximum impact and fulfillment.
Out of this realization, we developed four cornerstones of success that have guided me, and as I’ve used them over the past 15-20 years, they seem to resonate with others, so I’ll share them here: Skill, Calling, Serving, and Character. Deliver Skill
Faith is incompatible with mediocrity. The sad unfortunate fact is that often as our faith muscles get stronger, our skill and ambition muscles turn flabby. A worker grounded and fueled by their faith must maintain their skill and expertise. Faith gives its best, because faith is a total commitment. Martin Luther King, Jr., one follower of Jesus who strove to let his faith shape his life’s work, used the example of a skilled street sweeper. He says it much more memorably than I could. Evidence Calling
Knowing who sent you and exactly what errand you’re on makes a difference. Without it, we lack motivation and passion for our work. With it, all the praise of men and the cursing of men loses its power.
I believe God knows exactly what He’s doing when He knits us together, and that includes our passions, skills, and personality—all three of which play a role in calling. The workers who inspire me are the ones who are clearly confident they are doing something that matters because it’s something God wired them for. They are on a divine assignment, not just chasing a dream at best or a dollar at worst. Model Serving
Serving others doesn’t come naturally. We are born bent in the opposite direction, skilled at arranging information, opportunities, and even relationships around a self–interested grid. Instead of having a fine-tuned radar directed outward toward other people’s needs and betterment, we are usually focused on taking care of ourselves.
But there’s good news. The gospel can flip our focus in the right direction, and serving may be difficult but it’s not complicated. Serving is simply having the level of energy for you that I have for myself. Display Character
How David worked is significant. Yes, he made mistakes, but he was the same with the office door closed as he was with it open. His faith brought who he was into line with what he did.
Work always has a heart, and heart matters. Whether we like it or not, our work is an overflow of our hearts. If you ignore character in yourself or in others (co-workers, customers, superiors, direct reports), you do so at your own peril. We’re nearly 15 years past the Enron scandal, and it is still a watershed moment that points us back to the importance of character in the workplace. Conclusion
I started by mentioning the question from a friend that got my mind racing. About the same time I got that question, I was co-founding a magazine called Life@Work. It was passion, faith, blood, sweat, and tears that we put into 70 pages of print once a month. It was spiritually and professionally hard, and I loved it.
We eventually wrote a book by the same title, and as the title suggests, we were challenging individuals to tear down the wall between their work and their life, their faith and their jobs. Their Sundays and Mondays.
It’s what I and every other follower of Jesus should strive for at the workplace. I’ve made progress, but I’m still working at it.
In the magazine, in the book, and in my own personal life@work, I’ve never gotten away from these four things—skill, calling, serving, and character.