Being openly Christian in your work
God puts Christians in nearly every occupation known to man—and often saves them out of the others. There’s nothing wrong with secular employment.
The important thing is not what you’re doing, but who you’re doing it for. All your work should be as for Jesus himself (Colossians 3:23; Ephesians 6:7—btw, notice this is especially addressed to bondservants, the closest modern equivalent to which is perhaps the cubicle worker).
That said, if you’re a freelancer or solopreneur, you have a lot of freedom in how you choose to join your beliefs and your business. You can keep them entirely separate, being a “covert” Christian and conducting business at a purely secular level. Or you can cater exclusively to Christians, being completely overt. Or you can go somewhere in between.
Since this is a genuine freedom, I’m not going to tell you what you should do. But I would like to relate my own experience and thoughts, in the hope that you will think carefully about this—because I’d like to encourage you to be fairly overt about your faith.
I say this as someone who started out completely covert. It never even occurred to me that I could combine my faith with my freelancing.
Looking back, I wish I had been more intentional (or intentional at all, really). But I had no role models, no counsel, and I just didn’t think of it. All the advice I read, all the freelancers I followed, all the methods they used—if any of them believed anything about God, you’d never have known it.
Nearly everyone buys into the idea that religion is private, and should never be made public. If you’re a Christian, fine—do it on your own time, in church on Sunday, in your morning devotions if you want to. But don’t you be a Christian when you’re dealing with customers. You might offend them!
There’s truth to that. You will offend some of them.
But…there’s a good chance you will offend someone by standing for anything. And frankly, you can’t sell at all if you don’t stand for something. You can’t attract good customers if you don’t speak to them directly, candidly and clearly. And you can’t speak directly, candidly, and clearly to someone without simultaneously turning someone else off.
In fact, if you’re treating marketing as leadership, you will definitely offend people who are not your ideal customers, because leadership sometimes involves saying hard things and making yourself a target. For example, I am well-known for mincing no words about internet marketing gurus. Jeff Walker has the cold, dead eyes of a killer. Frank Kern is a manipulative fake. It’s an ill-kept secret (because The Verge exposed it) that the gurus started a “joint venture group” some years back that is nothing more than a price-fixing cartel.
Did I make people angry for warning my customers to avoid these wolves? Sure.
But did I also generate a great deal of loyalty and admiration from others, for naming names and saying unpopular truths? You betcha.
No guesses as to which group was never gonna make good customers, and which group was.
Now, it’s certainly true that being openly Christian is a level up from this kind of thing in terms of “risk.” In an industry like mine—copywriting; if you’re in another, attenuate my comments as appropriate—Christians are, from all indications, rarer than hen’s teeth on a bull. I suspect there are more beneath the surface, but the industry’s image is secular, and I think it goes beyond the de facto “keep religion private” thing. I suspect—by which I mean you can bet your life on it—that if you were an openly Muslim copywriter, or an openly Buddhist copywriter, or an openly new age copywriter, or an openly atheist copywriter, that would be considered pretty cool.
But an openly Christian copywriter…well, you don’t want to be known as a close-minded bigot.
And you will be—because when people hate the truth, the truth looks like hate to them.
For example, I have a long-time fan and customer who has said some quite complimentary things about my work. I even had one of his emails up as a testimonial for Learn Copywriting Backwards. Well, when I launched my book Copywriting for Christians, I sent a bold email to my main list with the subject line, “For Bible-believers only.” In it, I offered more or less the same content you’ll find on this site. And in that email, I explained that I am the kind of Christian who, having assessed the historical, philosophical and scientific evidence, has noticed that it all comes down on the side of Christianity—to the point that any other worldview is just absurdly false.
Well, this fellow replied to compliment me on one of the better marketing emails he’d ever seen—and then proceeded to ask that I please remove his testimonial from my site because he didn’t want to be seen supporting such close-mindedness.
Certainly it is true in this case that if I were of the world, the world would love me as its own; but because I am not, but was chosen out of the world, the world therefore hates me (John 15:19). This gentleman thinks I am one of the best copywriters around—yet he cannot endorse my skills because he cannot endorse me, and he cannot endorse me because he cannot endorse Jesus (John 15:18).
I say this neither to curry sympathy, nor to put the wind up you, but to be candid with you about the kind of responses you will get if you are overtly Christian in your business.
You already know this, because you’ve seen what happens to Christian bakers and florists and photographers. If the world asks you to glorify it, and you say no, you can only glorify God, you will get a poor reception. Needless to say, copywriting is a glorifying profession: at a basic level, it puts things on display and shines the best light on them so people will want to buy them. If you’re a copywriter, or you’re in some other glorifying profession, you have to be especially aware of the dangers. Paul warns us in Romans 1 that the kinds of people who are now seeking the most glory in the world—the ones who want us to praise their degrading passions (Romans 1:26, 32)—are “filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice…envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless” (Romans 1:29-31).
In other words, Paul goes to pains to meticulously educate us about the character of the people who may come after us when we are overtly Christian. Since they are ruthless inventors of evil, they might very well set traps for us by demanding we do something we cannot do—even though many others will do it for them happily—and then brow-beat spineless bureaucrats into issuing legal decrees that makes us temporary slaves, forcing us to do their bidding on threat of fine or imprisonment.
Again, I say none of this to put the wind up you, but to remind you of the reality we live in—so however you decide to run your business, you at least are doing it fully cognizant of the facts.
But now I want to draw your attention to a few other things, which gets me to my point of encouraging you to run an overtly Christian business:
- First, the Christians who have been targeted for standing on God’s word rather than man’s passions have received enormous support from other Christians. God rarely has us face the world completely alone. He is the Lord of hosts, after all. Although he is sufficient to win the battle, he doesn’t go out alone; he takes an army. The church is one division of that army in the spiritual war that is being waged (Ephesians 6:12; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5). Christians are individual members of a body, and that body is Christ’s. Although much of it is withered right now, it still has plenty of muscle.
- Second, following on from this point, there is a very large gap between how the tide is perceived to be flowing, and how it is actually flowing. The people who most oppose Christianity are far fewer than they seem to suppose; and their power is far less than they imagine. Indeed, the harder and farther they push the logical extensions of their perverse beliefs, the more rapidly the general public will stop tentatively accepting it in the name of tolerance, because no sane person can accept madness. Bruce Jenner is a woman? Okay, whatever. Now you want my daughter to share a bathroom with 16 year old boys who say they’re girls? Let’s see how long that rubber takes to hit the road.
- Third, I want you to notice how many believers have been encouraged by the stories of those high-profile Christians who have taken a stand for their faith. It is not without cause that God likens us to sheep—we scare easy, and we follow what the rest of the flock is doing. If the rest of the flock is submissively rolling over to get kicked in the ribs, we obediently follow suit. But it takes only a few obstreperous rams to start a stampede. “Hey,” we think. “That ordinary Christian is standing up for his faith. Why can’t I? Maybe this Jesus guy really is worth saying something about!”
I’m not suggesting that you have to be a champion—although an army without champions is certainly sunk. Rather, I’m suggesting that refusing to surrender is as habit-forming as the other thing.
The cattle on a thousand hills
To bring this all together, and to ground it back to our own humble businesses, perhaps I could summarize as follows:
Being overtly Christian tends to be a virtuous cycle. The more people do it, the more people do it. And the more people do it, the fewer people don’t. And since society is made up of people…well, you see what I mean. If we want the world to be less secular, the first thing we need to do is stop living in it that way.
In other words, and at the risk of sounding like Douglas Wilson, if you’re bothered by the trajectory of our culture right now—as I assume you are—the solution is not to identify which hill in the rapidly-approaching middle distance is the one to finally die on. It is to say that you like the hill you are currently on, which might very well be your business, and so do your friends, and you don’t feel like moving, and actually, that other hill nearby looks pretty good too, and why can’t we have all the hills anyway, because, after all, didn’t Jesus promise us all the land at some point? So let’s see if that might not be now, rather than in eternity.
Now, fair warning: in my own experience, the more overt you are about being Christian in your business, the more hate-mail you will receive. So you have to develop a thick skin. I try to remind myself that if I’m not being beaten, flogged, and nailed to a cross, I’m not yet doing as good a job as Jesus.
But although the hatemail increases in a fairly linear way with your commitment to the cross, the emails from fellow believers seem to increase at a geometric rate. I’d say at this point, I receive at least ten emails from other Christians thanking me, encouraging me, congratulating me, than I do for every one email berating me.
I am glad to have gradually taken my business from fully secular, to conservative, to overtly Christian. Should you do the same? I don’t know. But I encourage you to consider it.
The wrong way to be Christian
Having said this, there is a type of overt Christianity I want to caution against. It’s the type in which a business owner cynically exploits his Christianity as a selling point.
It isn’t much of a temptation in my homeland, New Zealand, where Christianity is poorly regarded; but if you live in the Bible Belt, you might be tempted to slap a fish sticker in your window to signal, “Hey, I’m a Christian—buy from me instead of those godless heathens over the road!”
It might even work.
But do you want people buying from you because you’re a Christian, out of vaguely xenophobic us-vs-them, let’s-outsell-the-Muslims, hopefully-this-way-I-won’t-have-to-interact-with-an-atheist jingoism? Or do you want people buying from you because you provide better goods and services than your competitors?
An interesting case study is that of Christian musicians. I’m not talking about musicians who have excelled in the mainstream music world while being coincidentally Christian; I’m talking about those who explicitly market themselves as Christian, write songs with overtly Christian lyrics and are sold almost exclusively in Christian bookstores.
The fact is, most of these musicians aren’t very good. They often enter the Christian market simply because it’s easier to break into than the mainstream secular one, where they couldn’t make it. (Being explicitly Christian isn’t necessarily a barrier to commercial success—look at Johnny Cash or Randy Travis or Carrie Underwood or Josh Turner. And it happens outside of country as well—hip hop is a notable example. I just happen to be a country fan.) Rather than buying Christian music because it’s good, people buy it because they don’t actively dislike it enough to override their ideological and cultural reasons. They like that the band is clean and wholesome and Christian. They like that the lyrics are likely to be family-friendly. They feel Christian music is worth supporting (in a way, regardless of merit). They want to listen to the same music other Christians are listening to.
From a strictly marketing point of view, there’s nothing wrong with that. People buy all sorts of products because they identify with the creators, or the lifestyle the product represents, or because they want to fit in. The world isn’t a strict meritocracy.
But as Christians we should strive to exercise our talents fully. We shouldn’t be satisfied with being the best (or only) Christian rapper, bricklayer or landscape gardener. We should strive to be the best, period. If you’re resting on your ideological laurels—don’t. Your Christianity shouldn’t bolster up sloppy workmanship.
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