Category Archives: Work life balance

A refreshed vision

For the last few years a small group of us have been sowing into the Aberdeen business community, with a heart to bless the city. We are refreshing our vision for 2020, you can read more below:

The Business Connection 2020 – Refreshing Our Vision

The Business Connection (http://thebusinessconnection.org/) exists to equip, encourage and empower people in the corporate sector in Aberdeen city and shire. We are a not-for-profit charity (SC045163) run by four trustees from within the business community for the benefit of the business community. All Trustees are volunteers, sourcing their income from professional employment or leading their own business or social enterprise. The charity is self-funded and relies on the donations of supporters to fund our activities. The charity’s activities have progressed over the last seven years:

– Since 2013 we have been hosting fortnightly breakfasts for workers to make friends, share stories and build relationships.

– Since 2016 we have also been hosting monthly talks on the last Friday of the month aimed at supporting the business community with helpful, thoughtful presentations on local and national issues across a range of topics.

– In 2019 we hosted the first Thrive Aberdeen conference along with 12 other Christian organisations (including Evangelical Alliance, LICC; Transform Work UK and many others) aimed at calling, gathering and celebrating those of a Christian faith in the workplace.

As we begin a new decade, we are relaunching the charity with two new Trustees – individuals of deep faith who bring significant experience across the public and private sector in Aberdeenshire.

Together we have sought to discern what the needs of the city and shire are at this moment in time. We believe that now is the time to sharpen our focus on the specific challenges facing our historic city. In order to ensure we invest the right resources in our vision we are stopping the fortnightly breakfasts for the foreseeable future.

We see that the forces that have shaped Aberdeen to be the city it has become are shifting and the city has entered a period of reinventing its identity. This change in direction has a knock-on impact on those of us employed in the city. We are asking ourselves: “How can those who care about the health and well-being of the Aberdeen business community help them influence the future direction of the city and shire?”

Alongside this focus on providing an intentional platform for influencing executive decision making, we also want to support the business community in having a more direct impact on helping organisations seeking to bless the neediest in the city and shire. So, we are also asking ourselves: “How can those of us who have benefitted from the prosperity of the region bless those who have not?”

We believe this dual pronged approach enables those in business to be a force for good – helping connect the decision makers to the workforce; and helping connect some of the most fortunate in society with some of the least fortunate. We are proposing a two-pronged approach in 2020, with a series of thought-provoking sessions from key organisations both within and outside the Aberdeenshire region on these two themes.

We invite those of you within our 280 strong network to come along and engage with our guests. We invite the key decision makers and culture shapers in Aberdeenshire to come and share thoughts on how the workforce in this region can help contribute to a better future for everyone.

We very much look forward to the year to come.

The Business Connection Trustees: Barry McAllister; Jim Grimmer; Martyn Link; Smart Masoni

Welcome to work!

If you work for a large corporate company you will have probably started work with an induction session on your first day. You sit there getting told lots of things that you will forget a few hours later. Where the company is headquartered, who the CEO is, how the company grew to its current size…lots of great information but much of it of little use to your daily work. You sit there as a group of strangers wondering who among you will be still here in 5 years, who will leave first, and who will be promoted.

For many of us our first day marks the start of our sink or swim aquathon – our daily challenge to keep our head above water while we swim against the tide of work. Some of us find that swim easier than we expected as we discover that work can be interesting and fulfilling. For many of us however the current of repetitive mundane work threatens to emotionally drown us.

At what feels like annual intervals the busyness of work pauses momentarily and we ask ourselves some deep probing questions: is there a deeper purpose to my work? Am I a meaningless cog in a giant monolithic machine? Should I quit my city job in order to do something more meaningful?

If you have found yourself asking these deeper questions about life, the universe and the mysteries of excel macros then we would love you to join us as we unpack God’s big picture for our workplace. The Thrive Conference is designed to help you explore these issues through a reinvigorating training session containing great teaching, personal reflection and the encouragement of fellow swimmers. We look forward to having you join the Thrive swim lane!

For more details head to your favourite platform:

Web: https://thebusinessconnection.org/thrive/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheBusinessConnection.org/

Twitter: @TBCAberdeen

Linkedin: The Business Connection Aberdeen

A day 1 induction with a difference

If you are anything like me you will have started work with an induction session on your first day. You sit there getting told lots of things that you will forget a few hours later. Where the company is headquartered, who the CEO is, what the values are, lots of great information but much of it of little use to your daily work.

For Christians entering the workplace there is likely to be no Christian version of such an induction into the world of work. We are expected to jump in and swim, pick it up as we go, and enjoy the benefits of earning some money…at last. If we were to have an induction for every Christian starting their first day in the workplace, what would we say? How would we counsel them? We know God wants us to be good employees, but what does that look like practically?

I have been in the workplace for 15 years, and realise looking back that I was unprepared for the long hard slog that makes up the majority of my time in the workplace. In my new job no one was interested in my beliefs, my clever apologetic arguments or my lively church filled with young people. Well, almost no one, it certainly felt like that in the early days. Thankfully back then there was a ministry that organised lunchtime Business Alpha courses that was run by business people for business people. A number of my friends came along to this over the years, opening the way to a number of conversations about faith. So that is why I was there, to befriend people and help them see a relatively “normal” Christian in the world of Apprentice-like consultants?

If I could put on this induction for every Christian entering the workplace I wouldn’t start where I started. I would start with God. Strange as it may seem God invented work, and this was before mankind messed everything up. Work is not a result of the curse. Read Genesis and you will see that God made work a harder ministry after the fall, but the origins of why we work are wrapped up in the creative acts of God. We work because God works…that would be the first point.

The second is a natural follow on; work is good. Sure, there are jobs that harm people, destroy society or the environment, but on the whole work is a great benefit. We have warm houses, fast cars and healthy children largely because someone somewhere invented something and lots of people maintain the fabric of work. For one person in one job it is hard sometimes to see the big picture, but pull out enough of these jobs and eventually society grinds to a halt. Who knew we would have a milk-and-margarine malaise after three days of snow. Did we not appreciate lorry drivers that little bit more afterwards?

My third point on my induction (probably after a coffee break by this time) would be do your best. Simple as it may sound there are many people at work not doing their best. Over the years complacency, cynicism and apathy grow in many people and they mentally detach from their work. They turn up and do the job, but their heart is not in it. For the Christian this can never be an option. Colossians 3.23 calls us to do our best no matter what our job is or who our boss is. I have discovered that any credibility or respect that you may want as a Christian for the way you work will be totally destroyed if you are not competent. First be excellent, then everything else will flow from that.

My next point would be you are not alone. For many Christians in Scotland they will be the only Christian in their immediate workplace and the isolation can be debilitating. When I started working in my current role I was the only Christian I knew of amongst 400 people.  I was wrong to think I was alone. But even if you are alone in your company, there are many fellow Christians facing similar challenges in similar companies. I have learnt that one person can make a difference…who knows, perhaps God’s purpose for your 30-year career was all because God wanted to reach one solitary soul? Would that be enough for you? Which brings me to my final points for the induction session.

Those of us in the business world will probably be familiar with the concept of mind-sets. People you meet have certain beliefs that shape the way they recruit and train staff and sell their products. Sometimes a mind-set reset is required due to vague or misguided thinking. We face a similar challenge today. For reasons folded within history Christians in the workplace sometimes feel that the primary value of their work is to evangelise the lost. I certainly started from this perspective. If I was having good conversations I was fulfilling my purpose, if I wasn’t I was treading water. It seems that we need to regain our understanding of how our work contributes to God’s kingdom work. While gospel witness is the most vital task the church faces, our daily work fulfils a much more subtle, broader role in the growth of Christ’s kingdom.

Playing our part in God’s Common Grace to society is a great thing. Using our gifts and abilities to help, protect and nurture others is a beautiful outworking of God’s provision to his creation. I would use my last 10 minutes to remind them that Joseph and Daniel are as much a worthy example to follow as Paul and Peter. Will they become the role models so desperately needed of Christians who have moved beyond the sacred / secular divide to work out what it means to seek for whole life discipleship in their job, family, church and community?

I would close with saying “Go out there and do you best, seek to enjoy what you do, do it with all your heart and see what God will do with years of faithful service. Some of it will be dull, mundane, repetitive and exhausting, but that too is part of the discipline of bringing every act under submission to Christ. Some of you will be led to take what you have learned into full time paid Christian ministry. For those that don’t, remember that work is no second best, if it is God’s plan for you. All of life is ministry, if done with the ultimate aim of bringing glory to God.”

If you never had an induction like that, a group of us are working on bringing a conference to Aberdeen in March 2019 providing an inspiring time of teaching and ministry to explore some of these areas further.  We would love you to be a part of it. The event comes out of the passion of four Christian businessmen in Aberdeen who believe God is moving across the workplaces of our city. We have joined with a number of partners to put on an event that we believe will be challenging and stimulating and may well just be the best induction you never had!

Discover The Business Connection

Business has changed.bad-interview

We all know that business is built on relationships and relationships at work come with expectations. Our relationships with our customers, our colleagues and our contacts all bring expectations of what we will do, by when and how we will do it.

A firm handshake and an exchange of business cards has been exchanged for a new Twitter follower and LinkedIn invitation. We don’t read reports, we scan an infographic.

Instead of hanging out at the Rotary club we publish our own blog post. Career progression is determined more by our online networking skills than our childhood school.

We have digitised our business exchanges. This has dramatically increased what we can do in a day, we can literally communicate with thousands of people electronically that we could never reach face to face. Mobile communications and a global industry mean we now work faster for longer.

And it doesn’t stop in the office, we check our tablet before we check out for the night. Instead of the paper it is the early morning emails that greet us long before we have arrived at our desk. On the train, in the coffee shop, restaurant and airport we are catching up and checking in.

Don’t get me wrong, much of this is good and has improved our standard of living. But if this is price for life in the fast lane, what is the cost?

The cost comes in the fragmentation of our personal lives. With everyone wanting a piece of us, what is left for those who set no expectations for delivery? Family life is squeezed and social time disappears. Marriages suffer, kids withdraw, hobbies get neglected, health deteriorates.

The cost comes in our isolation. We become islands of activity, a vortex of velocity spinning endlessly. Work life balance slides into fire fighting perpetual emergencies or dispensing quality time to our kids like a Las Vegas slot machine.

The cost comes in our superficiality. Much easier to click Like or Accept, than arrange a Saturday evening BBQ. We have 500 acquaintances on Linked in, 1000 Twitter followers, but only 2 real friends ‐ that we see once a year. We skate across the surface of life, only pausing to sharpen our blade every summer holiday.

The Business Connection is a charity for such a time as this. It meets you where you are at, seeks to understand what you are dealing with, and lifts you back on your feet. Run by people in the business community we know how easy it is to become caught up and cut off. We are Christians working at the heart of Aberdeen’s business community, with the community in our heart. Coming along to our range of events in Aberdeen to find out more.

In the business community, a life connection…The Business Connection.

The Sailor

I wrote this last night as I reflected on jumping back into the swirling, churning waters of life with a busy job, long commute and young family after having a two week holiday. Sometimes getting off the treadmill for a while makes it hard to jump back on!

For those of you Fathers out there with busy jobs and young families I hope you can relate to my feelings here, I wrote it for you.

Still and calm was the cold blue sea
I set sail with my hopes full and free
The lapping waves rocked away
I found it easy to watch and pray

The waves rolled on, pitching me down
Three offspring arrived spinning me round
The foam and spray splattered my face
Suddenly quiet times all over the place

Then came the storm, scary and fierce
A full on job, my lifejacket pierced
“Man overboard” I cry to the sky
Sinking down, I prepare to die

A hand reaches down, grabs onto mine
No longer alone, relief shoots down my spine
“It’s not in the hours you pray to me
It’s in the companionship we share out in the sea”

“Stop cursing yourself for things you can’t change
But rejoice you are called to such a vast range
I’m here all the time, take my hand fast
And together we’ll sail to our home at last”

storm-boat

The Reality of Work Life Imbalance – Part 3: The Implications

imagesCA1NAP2NIn this final instalment, I would like to consider what each of the four groups can give to the local church and what each of them need from the local church, before closing with some thoughts on why I have chosen to address this challenging topic.

Sweet Spot (top left)

What they need: Opportunities to serve.

What they can give: The fact that their work demands are low means they have energy and time to give to serving the church. Along with the next group, this group is most likely to take the leadership positions in the church, as they have the time available to give. Those who are particularly successful in their business may also have talents and experience that they can use in building bridges between the church and the community.

Passing Time (bottom left)

What they need: Social interaction – their work offers little satisfaction, they may be looking to be part of something more meaningful. They may also want company if they have lots of time and little challenge at their work. They find their ultimate meaning in their faith, but they may want to have things they enjoy doing outside of work.

What they can give: Availability, attendance. They may well be at every meeting, every social activity, forming the glue that binds the group together, being the reliable ones that are always there. First to get there and last to leave.

work life balance.bmp-001

Slave Labour (bottom right)

What they need: Lots of encouragement, understanding and support. They need these things even more than those in the top right hand quadrant, as they have little job satisfaction that could help confirm their calling and motivate them to continue.

What they can give: They have little time and energy, they can give very little to the church. They may need to be emotionally carried and supported.

Labour of Love (top right)

What they need: Affirmation, understanding, encouragement. They may know that they are where they should be, but may feel isolated and misunderstood. Their motives for sacrificing so much may be questioned and they need to know their church is right behind them.

What they can give: 2 hours once a week, maybe more, but sometimes that is all. Some can give more, but may well be sporadic, depending on work level and travel.

Work Life Imbalance Implications

One important point is that their expression of commitment to the local church from each of these groups will look different to external eyes. For some with fewer demands (left hand side) it may be that “time = commitment”. For those on the right hand side it may be their “convictions = commitment”. They may only seem to give two mites worth of their time to their local church, but like the widow in Luke 21, it may be everything they have to give.

I hope these are helpful lenses to look at ourselves and try and understand what different people in the workplace need and what they can give to the local church. I realise this is an over-simplification. In the real world, people’s lives are messier than these neat definitions. The amount of time we have to give to things outside work depends greatly on our family and health situations. There are seasons when our family responsibilities can turn a Sweet Spot job into Passing Time, because of what is happening outside work. Indeed, some jobs mean we oscillate between two or three of these categories.

I would like to close out these three posts with some thoughts on why I chose to talk about such a tough issue. Some of the points I raise are painful to hear, highlighting frustrations with what I have seen of how the church responds to the issues that the workplace throws at us.  “Why risk being misunderstood, why risk causing offence? Why not rather always say things that everyone will appreciate and like?” I have struggled with these questions, and have searched my own conscience.

The first question I ask myself, “Is it what I see really true?” However, even if it something is true, sometimes we do not say things that are true to each other because of the law of love that covers over a multitude of sins. Therefore, the next question I ask myself is “Is it helpful?” Sometimes what is most helpful in the long run is also most painful in the short term. Ultimately, I need to decide if I believe the issues I am raising are so important to me, God’s people and ultimately to God himself, that I am prepared to be unpopular with people I dearly love.

I often ask myself what the difference is between being opinionated and prophetic. Strong opinions in themselves do not justify being shared and I realise I risk being labelled as such. Prophetic words are equally challenging, but within them we sense something of the call of God to his people. By being prepared to try and walk this knife-edge, I inevitable risk missing the still small voice of God and offering unauthorised fire. But I am up for the challenge because I believe that God has placed a passionate burden on my heart for his people, the lost and his word.

I am prepared to challenge fuzzy thinking among atheists and bear their wrath. Why? Because I genuinely love them. I also have the amazing privilege of being authorised to challenge the assumptions and preconceptions at my work, in order to make our business and strategy more robust. I risk being misunderstood by senior business leaders, but I continue to challenge the business because I care deeply about our future success. I am prepared to challenge false assumptions in the church, why? Because I love it too much to consider my own popularity of more importance than its purity. Through it all my deep desire is that my words would be prophetic rather than opinionated. You and God are the judge of that.

The Reality of Work Life Imbalance – Part 2: The Strain

WorkLifeFor too long the church has viewed the workplace as the space between the church service and the midweek prayer meeting. There may be the occasional sermon or book on the theology of work, and how it pleases God for us to work hard and fair and to do your bit for your family and society. However, this approach misses the subtlety of the changes that have occurred over the last two decades in the modern workplace. Too many Pastors have only a distant memory of what secular work was like and little understanding of the complexities of the modern workplace.

No longer do we have one job for life, no longer do we leave our responsibilities in the office when he head out the door, no longer do we live our lives working our whole lives at the local factory or office just around the corner. No longer do we mix with our work colleagues socially at the weekend and get to know their kids. Maybe it never quite reached this nirvana (particularly as the social benefits were often outweighed by financial struggles) but work has undergone a seismic shift in both nature and pace.

The modern workplace is transient, distant (both emotionally and often physically) and all embracing. The modern worker will move jobs every couple of years. They may have to re-locate their home numerous times, unless they live in a large city hub. Modern communications means they are contactable 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, even during weekends and holidays. Responsiveness to emails is a pre-requisite for success as important as punctuality to formal meetings. Add into the mix the increasingly global nature of business and, working for an international company can mean frequent long haul travel. Put it all together and you have long hours, frequent out of hours interruptions, pressure, stress and exhaustion.

All of this inevitably leads to pressure on those closet to us:  our wives and our kids. Work puts a strain on families; it can disintegrate friendships and cause health problems. Marriages fall apart, families are fractured, homes are split. And the church looks around and wonders where all the committed men are? Perhaps you have heard someone say “Where are the men who (in my day) would do a hard day’s work and then be out at the prayer meeting? Men are not just committed enough these days.”

Dear church, newsflash for you – we are fighting to survive, we are straining under phenomenal demands from our work and the consequences of a broken, splinted society. We are putting our limited energy into protecting those that are most precious to us and God – our spouses and our kids. We recognise that we don’t have a perfect work / life balance, in fact, we struggle, and fight to minimise the imbalance. This is the reality that we live with.

I recognise that not everyone in the workplace has such demands on them, or to such an extent. My argument is that the church should take the time  to understand where people are at and not treat everyone in the workplace as a homogeneous group, dispensing generic advice to all and having the same expectations of all. In my first post on this subject I split the workplace into four categories that are generalisations of the various types of demands work places on them and the rewards it gives (read Part 1 here). In this post I’m speaking as someone in the top right hand box of that quadrant. I admit that these are generalities and sterotypes to some extent, but by their very nature models are simplifications of reality. Good models help us understand reality better.

My point is that we need to stop measuring someone’s commitment to God by their attendance, or lack of it, at church meetings. For those that have been put in a position of responsibility and pressure – our modern day Daniel’s and Joseph’s, we need to stop asking, why aren’t they here at our meetings, and start asking, what is God doing through them there? It’s interesting that we never read of Joseph or Daniel undertaking any activity at the local Egyptian or Babylonian synagogue. Their entire ministry was played out in front of the most senior secular leaders of their day…and what an impact those two men had.

In the providence of God Joseph saved an entire continent from starvation, Daniel stood true to Jehovah in the heart of the most powerful nation on earth. His testimony brought the most powerful kings of his day face to face with the living God, causing two pagan kings to proclaim the power and majesty of the only living God (King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4.34 & 35 and King Darius in Daniel 5.26 & 27).

And so, why do we do it? Why not give it all up and get an easier job, a less stressful life? There are many reasons, but the one I want to mention is one that I have come to realise over the last few months. It starts with a question: which of the four quadrants (see Part 1) is hardest to reach with the truth of the gospel? Both “Sweet Spot” and “Passing Time” have jobs with low demands and are looking for things outside of work to give them meaning. They are more likely to be open to forming new friendships and attending evangelistic courses. Those in “Slave Labour” are more likely to be desperate for something meaningful in their life. Getting time with them may be a challenge, but there is likely to be some interest there, if they are not too disillusioned with life. The real tough ones to reach are those in “Labour of Love” – they have extremely demanding lives and very rewarding work. The only way to reach this group is to run as fast, as hard, for as long as they do. They are not looking to form friendships through clubs, they do not have a wide circle of friends. Often their work is their life.

So, if God puts you in that top right hand quadrant and you start to build relationships with people that very few people are able to meet even as acquaintances, you feel incredibly honoured. As you see God working in their lives, you start to think that maybe you should stick around. You start to see your work life imbalance as less an admission of failure, but rather as a ticket of entry. Entry into the lives of a quadrant that the church will never reach through standard evangelistic techniques and methods. It almost feels like you are undercover! Except you are hiding nothing. But you are there on your own, no support team, no backup plan. The church may not understand or affirm your calling, but you know deep inside that God has his hand on your life and those around you.

Be blessed all you Josephs out there…you know who you are!

The Reality of Work-Life Imbalance – Part 1: The Model

An email arrived in my Inbox last week – “Come and hear about how to improve your work / life balance at our meeting next week…spaces available”. I couldn’t help laughing as I commented to my colleague “I would love to go, but I’m too busy!” My job demands virtually all of my available energy, after the family and work there is very little to give to anything or anyone else. Many of my friends are in the same position, with young families and high pressure jobs, often with long commutes &/or travel.Work-Life-Balance

As I thought about how my life has changed over recent years, I realised that very rarely in life do you achieve a real balance between work and life. As someone once said “we should work to live, not live to work”…agreed, but what if you find yourself in a job where work is (almost) your life? Did God intend me to this busy? To have so little time to give to a social life, hobbies, involvement in church…the list goes on. Does the fact that I enjoy my job so much and believe that God  made me in such a way as to thrive in this job justify the sacrifices that I make?

How do the rewards (and I’m not thinking financial) we get from our jobs compensate for the demands those jobs place on us? Is it ever possible to have Work vs Family / Friends / Church in perfect balance? I tried for a long time to carve out more time away from work to make time for Christian ministry (in particular evangelism), but at each turn God shut the door and only increased the demands and responsibility of my job.

The workplace has changed dramatically in the last 20 years, with increasing mobile communication eliminating the boundaries of the office and encroaching into family time. There is, I believe, more pressure, more travel and less certainty than there ever has been. In an age of global and instant commmunications it is harder than ever to leave work at work. There is an expectation in many jobs to always be “on”. In some jobs there simply isn’t the option to let things slide for another day. Those outside may tell us to sort out our priorities and be more disciplined and say no…and there is a time to draw the line. But simple solutions are often given by those with little experience of the pressures of not delivering.

So, in true consultant style, I created a 2×2 matrix to try and understand the modern workplace.  I know every job is different, but broadly speaking I think they can be grouped into four categories depending on the Rewards / Demand balance:

work life balance.bmp-001Where would you put yourself on the matrix? I realise it probably changes day by day (even within the same day!), but there are probably general trends which play out over the year. Let me ask you, where would you prefer to be? When I was in jobs on the left hand side I longed for more responsibility and greater exposure…now that I’m on the right hand side I remember (almost) what it was like to have free time!ext

I have come to realise that ultimately we are not in control of the rewards / demands tradeoff. We might like to think that by changing jobs things would automatically improve, that we can navigate a less stressful life, but life is not that simple. As The Bridges of Madison County reminds us “We are the choices that we have made“, but we cannot ultimately control the consequences of those choices. As someone who spends most of their time in the top right hand quadrant, I have come to accept this is my life…for now. For all the stress and exhaustion, I now realise that I am tremendously fortunate. I wrote about this to a colleague at work recently:

I think a lot about why we work and the purpose and value of work. I think at the most basic level it is about providing for our families and this provision spilling over into the less advantaged in our communities. At the next level it is the opportunity to do this while contributing something tangible to society (sometimes the corporate connection to society is hard to see in some jobs). For a very small number  of people they get both these aspects in a job where they get the opportunity to do what they do best every day. I count myself very fortunate to be in this small group. At whatever level we find ourselves though, I personally believe there is a higher purpose to what we do that we don’t always see and can’t measure, that comes from not just what we acheive but how we treat those around us.”

In Part 2 I’ll start to unpack what I believe the implications of each of these quadrants are for our churches…

Other posts on work life balance can be found here.

A Call To Cultural Re-engagement – The 3 Silos

In our last post we considered how the way society thinks is changing. However, when we come to investigate why Christians have lost their voice and influence in society then the picture becomes even more stark. In the past the UK used to be a country that listened to, and even respected, Christian leaders as a voice of moral authority. This is no longer the case.  The structures within society do not lend themselves to helping us discuss the important issues of life and faith. Thus, this leaves us without a platform to defend or explain our position.

I see three main areas where these changes have occurred which mean that rather than being a city on a hill, we are now a city in a valley. We are hidden from society and our light is not shining as brightly because our platform, confidence and practice have been eroded. For each area I propose some ideas for how we can break out of our silos.

1. Erosion of Christian Structures

Many years ago Christianity was at the heart of the community. Everything happened either at the church, or through the church. Everyone knew the minister and the church had a dominant role in the life of individuals.  There were also strong community bonds that held influence over the behaviour and attitudes of the church and wider society. While not everyone liked the church or its leaders, they at least knew who they were and their opinion mattered within the local parish. However, there was undoubtably a nominalism and deadness to some of church life that sometimes put more importance on respectability and appearances than genuine faith and true piety.

In the past, we used to think we could just open the doors and people would come in, this is no longer the case. Secularisation has been one of the major causes of this change – diminishing the influence of the church as a public voice and removing it from the market place. Our place in the centre of society has gone, we are now on the periphery. New ways of establishing a presence in a secular nation and our communities must be found if we are to engage with our culture.

Breaking down the Silo: The only way we can break out of our silo is to establish living connections with those around us. We will have to balance the desire to share our faith, with the need to first listen to others. We need to first learn how to serve and love our community as an end in itself – to love it as God loves us, with no thought of what we will receive in return. For too long we have separated the word and deed – swinging to either extreme. Fortunately many churches are re-engaging in their community in various ways and many individuals are seeing the importance of establishing strong community connections. In the  business community and the arts, I see a vision among many for affirming what is good in society and building bridges. The task is to contribute something positive to society.

The challenge we must ask ourselves is: “Do we find ourselves only ever complaining or moaning about society? Do we find most of our time is spent with other Christians?” We need to learn how to affirm what is good; seek new ways to build connections with the community we live / work in and look to serve people holistically. If we do this, getting opportunities to share what is so important to us won’t be a problem.

2. Privitisation of Faith

We are constantly told that “It’s ok to believe what you want in the privacy of your own home, just don’t go forcing anyone else to believe in the tooth fairy”. Our lack of confidence means we retreat from engaging in public debates; we internalise our faith and it becomes private – not to be shared in public. A misrepresented view of science is used to support this pressure with prominent secularists claiming that “you cannot be logical, rational and have a faith”. This is made worse by the wide disagreement between Christians of how to understand scientific evidence and how this relates to biblical inspiration. We are divided and confused, so we stay silent.home-prison

Breaking down the Silo: I sometimes wonder if we have gone down a wrong alley by creating a space between apologetics and the gospel? Perhaps we see the gospel as the message about Jesus’ death and resurrection,  and apologetics about defending biblical inspiration, creation or explaining why there is suffering etc. This gives the impression they are two separate things, the former being essential, the latter optional. When our apologetics is weak or under threat we are tempted to retreat to focussing on the gospel. We then stick to communicating only these core themes, but they are detached from a broader meaning and context in society.

But does this fit with biblical patterns? In Acts 18 (in Athens) and 26 (before Agrippa) Paul takes the eternal truths of God’s saving plan and interweaves them with contemporary issues, values and culture through the backdrop of God’s redemption of mankind. There is no distinction between where apologetics starts and ends and the message about Jesus as Saviour and Judge starts and ends. We need to reclaim the pattern of communicating the gospel as: Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and return >> within God’s redemptive plan >> within the broader Christian worldview. Our message needs to touch on each of these three areas every time we communicate. This is how the new testament authors explained the eternal truth that they were communicating. In Acts 26.1 Paul uses the Greek word apologeomai when describing the act of declaring his message – not the content of the message itself.

3. Compartmentalising our Lives

Because of the pressure we feel from #2, we make our lives fit into various boxes of work; home; social; church. We create a spiritual / secular divide and have in our minds a view of what constitutes a spiritual activity (i.e. things done at church or supporting the work of the church) and social / secular activities (that have little, if any, spiritual value). We see the value of activities as they relate to our ability to either fund or directly engage in spiritual activities (as defined previously). The impact of this is that we live in different worlds, adapting to the expected behaviours and norms within each box. The increasing pressure to keep faith out of the workplace means that while we may try our best to live out our Christian principles in our workplace, we struggle to articulate our faith. It will also mean that we become desperate to spend our time in activities which we deem to be the best use of our limited time. Time spent in secular activity will become simply waiting time until we can “do something of eternal value”.

Breaking down the Silo: I was fascinated by this interview with Tim Keller, particularly the fourth question. I think many of us are guilty of saying we believe all callings are equally valid (that’s not to say they are all equal), while at the same time we still act as though some callings are more God-honouring than others. In a mark of true humility and honesty, Keller admits that he feels this tension. The only way to break out of this silo is to reclaim a biblical view of work, where whatever we do can and should be done for the Lord – an incredibly liberating and affirming position.

So the question is: “Are we constantly feeling that our time is being wasted, because we are not doing more spiritual work?” (that’s not to say we shouldn’t prioritise our time or set aside individuals to be devoted to preaching and prayer). And: “Are we intentionally cross-fertilising our boxes, at the right time, so that people see us in a different context?” Social media is a perfect tool to do this cross-fertilisation – “Are we using social media intentionally; who is listening or following you? Is it only people who think the same way as you do?”

Let me know your thoughts on these and other silos and how we can break out of them.

A call for cultural engagement – the mandate

According to a recent poll the number of atheists in Britain has risen from 14% to 42% since 1963. While the sample size of 1,749 people represents only 0.0027% of the UK population, few would argue that our country has become increasingly secular. Moreover, while the steady decline in church attendance seems to have finally bottomed out in the last couple of years, the church in the UK has been increasingly marginalised. As a result we now sit on the margins of society.

However, as with many institutions, the church is a broad…well…a broad church, of various groups and the picture is not the same across all the denominations. Indeed, there are encouraging pockets of growth in some areas.

What is interesting is that what you find when you look within the sub-trends where the church is particularly weak – fewer men, fewer young people, more people believing without belonging, fewer poor people. According to one source, in the last 20 years 49% of men under 30 left the church.  How do we respond to these challenges? Can we engage with and influence the forces shaping our culture? How do we reach those beyond the fringes of our church activities?

As someone who has spent the last 10 years working every day in this culture alongside people completely outwith the reach of the activities of the church I have seen first hand their changing views on the church. I have also seen first hand how the business world impacts professional men and women and the pressures it puts on them that make church involvement harder and harder. Others will be better placed to speak about issues impacting the poor and the young, but I want to share some ideas for how I see the world in the UK marketplace.

Over the course of three articles I want to illustrate how UK society has changed and how we need to respond to that change. I believe we need to better understand and engage with our culture before thinking that we are able to speak into it. The articles also seek to provide a high-level context of some of the main cultural shifts that have taken place over the past few decades as society has moved away from its Judeo-Christian roots and towards secular humanism. It is in response to that changing landscape that our traditional concept of what ministry is and how we do ministry within and without the sphere of influence of the church must change. The challenge for our generation is to take the eternal, unchanging truth of God into a rapidly changing, anchorless and disintegrating society.

Salt and Light

I believe the need of the hour in the UK is to reconnect our faith with the workplace. What does it mean to thrive as a Christian in our secular employment? First we must remind ourselves of God’s perspective:

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5.14

This is the original mandate to the Church – to be a city on a hill for all to see. It is about our POSITION – to be somewhere where we are visible and effective. I want to try and show that through the barriers and silos that have been put up we have largely been hidden from the eyes of popular culture and the wider society. It is not enough anymore to open our doors and expect people to come in; we must go out to them in ways that are meaningful to them.

We must think again at how churches, organisations and individuals can re-establish connections with the culture around them. The majority of Christians are in the working world for the majority of their time – what does that mean for us? How do we become that city on a hill? Can we find a vehicle / mechanism that enables us to be more exposed?

However, it is also about PURITY – the second illustration Jesus uses is the salt of the earth. This is a personal challenge. If God increases our visibility, it is with the end goal of glorifying Him through our actions – would shining a light on our lives lead to the glory of God?  Are we ready to be used? We must address this challenge first. God is looking for those individuals who have cleansed themselves and are clean vessels, ready to be poured into by His Spirit.