5 principles for working in “post-Christian” workplaces

working in exile Apr 17, 2023

The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. (Hebrews 13:11-13)

Chances are that your workplace feels increasingly “post-Christian.” The HR department is now encouraging employees to customize their gender pronouns; talk of religion is quietly discouraged; and your employer is making headlines for their support of pro-choice causes.

In the face of these trends, it’s natural to wonder whether you should quit your job and find a new role in a ministry or a business led by a fellow Christian—a workplace that is “better aligned with your values.” 

God may be calling you to do that, but I seriously doubt it for two reasons.

First, Jesus himself worked in dark places. As we saw in today’s passage, he “suffered outside the city gate.” Most literally, this phrase refers to the fact that Jesus was crucified beyond Jerusalem’s city walls (see John 19:17-20). But theologians agree that there’s another meaning to these words. 

You see, while it was perfectly within God’s power to give Jesus a vocation inside the city gate—in the Temple, “the Most Holy Place”—he chose for Jesus to spend the majority of his life working “outside the city gate” as a carpenter where he undoubtedly suffered more blood, sweat, tears, and temptation than the average priest. Commenting on this passage, one group of theologians say that “to follow Christ fully is to follow him to the places where his saving help is desperately needed, but not necessarily welcomed.”

Jesus’s example is the first reason to stay in your increasingly “post-Christian” workplace. Here’s the second: Jesus calls his followers into dark places. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus cried out to his Father on behalf of his disciples saying, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world…As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world” (John 17:15-18). 

Here, Jesus is reiterating what he said in the Sermon on the Mount when he called you to “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Nobody sees light shining in an already bright room. Light can only shine in dark places. Which is why Jesus calls us to work and live amongst the lost.

All of that brings me to the first principle for working in exile:

Principle #1: A Christian’s default position should be to rush into dark workplaces, not retreat from them.

But if we stay, we are going to need help in maintaining a distinctive Christianity while we work. It is to that challenge we will turn to next week.


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