Five Keys to Spiritual Influence at Work

William Peel and Walt Larimore

From: Going Public With Your Faith: Becoming a Spiritual Influence at Work. Copyright 2003 (Zondervan). Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Influence is the power or capacity to produce a desired result, to impact, or to cause some change to take place. Influence focuses on hearts and changes people from within. It sways their thoughts, their perceptions, and their values””changes the soil of their hearts. As a result, influence also has the power to change behavior.

Where does this kind of power come from? We may be tempted to assume that the influence is our position. Yes, some careers (professional sports and medicine, for example) provide more opportunities for influence than, say, plumbing. But there is more to being influential than having M.D. behind your name. A plumber can be more influential than a doctor when the following five essentials come together:


Spiritual Influence Requires Competence

People are often surprised at this proposition, but the foundational requirement for spiritual influence is competence. By excellence and competence we don’t mean to imply that you have to be better than everyone else. It does mean, however, that you are serious about doing your best.

Colossians 3:23 says to work “with all your heart.” Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” Proverbs 22:29 states, “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.” When it comes to doing good work, Vince Lombardi and the Bible concur. The Hall of Fame professional football coach once said, “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chose field of endeavor.”

Consider the impact the Old Testament character Daniel had on the kings he served. Had Daniel performed in a mediocre manner, it’s doubtful we would know of him today, no matter how godly he might have been. Look at what Nebuchadnezzar noted when he interviewed Daniel and his friends at the end of their education: “In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom” (Daniel 1:29). Seventy years later, King Darius discovered the same extraordinary competence: “Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom” (Daniel 6:3).

Consider Jesus. Can you imagine him using substandard materials, doing shoddy carpentry work, or overcharging his customers? Picture a former customer sitting in the audience after Jesus began his ministry. If he had done poor work, can’t you imagine someone turning a deaf ear and muttering, “I’m not listening to this guy anymore. I can’t trust him. The table he built for me fell apart after only one year?” An intelligent person might conclude that Jesus’ theology was only as reliable as his tables.

Here is the fundamental principle: If we want people to pay attention to our faith, we must first pay attention to our work. Before we introduce coworkers to God, we must introduce God into our work.


Spiritual Influence Requires Character

Competence is only part of the influence equation. It’s not enough to be good at what you do. Great character must govern great giftedness if we want to maintain any influence gained by competent work. Lack of integrity and character has aborted the influence of many a leader. Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton are two who come to mind””brilliant, competent men with character flaws that diminished their influence.

On the other side are figures like Billy Graham and C. Evert Koop, whose integrity has compelled even their toughest ideological critics to respect them. Authentic Christ-like character consistently impresses people. It engages attention and influences people because God designed men and women to admire the character traits God possesses. Unbelieving men and women who were repulsed by the religious people of the first century were attracted to Jesus. Why? Because whenever they observed him, they observed the traits described in Galatians 5:22″”love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

When we exhibit peace, love, and joy, we are magnetic. Even if people hate what we believe, over time, they will be attracted by Jesus’ character reflected in us. Repeatedly throughout the day ask, “What would Jesus do if he were in my workplace? How would he respond to this situation?” When competence and Jesus’ character link up in us, they produce a palpable impact, and influence.


Spiritual Influence Requires Consideration

Nothing reveals more about your character than how you treat people. It may be a cliché, but it is one packed with truth: People don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care. Character is not just something we are internally; it expresses itself outwardly in the thoughtfulness we display to others””our tenderness and compassion, our mercy and kindness, our attentiveness and gentleness.

Consideration is the logical result of receiving grace. If we ever find ourselves being harsh with someone, it’s because we’ve lost the sense of God’s graciousness to us. Paul reminds us of this in his letter to the Philippian believers:

If you have any encouragement from being untied with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility, consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:1-4, NIV).

One of the most accurate measures of consideration can be taken by watching people talk about other people in the break room. What do they say? How do they say it?

Now turn the mirror on yourself. What do you say about others when they are not in your presence? Do you gossip? Do you degenerate, deprecate, disparage, ridicule, or belittle? Paul gives us little wiggle room: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). Is this your standard of speech?

If you are a leader, communication that engenders trust includes a lot more than avoiding cutting remarks, abusive tongue-lashings, or other fear-based tactics of management. It involves creating an atmosphere that fosters the free and open exchange of information and keeps people up-to-date on key issues that affect their work. Keeping people who work for you “in the know” shows personal respect and trust, reduces suspicion, and invites trust. If someone doesn’t trust you as his or her boss, that person will not trust you in spiritual matters either.

The same principle holds true if you are the one reporting to a boss or supervisor. Trust is a two-way street. Never think you cannot have influence, including spiritual influence, on those who are higher than you on the corporate ladder. And never underestimate the value to a supervisor of overseeing employees he or she can trust.

Carlton Snow pinpoints a key issue for those of us who want to express great character in our outward actions: “If communication is at the heart of building trust, listening is its lifeblood.”[1] Good listeners don’t just hear the words; they also seek to understand the speaker. They clarify and reflect back what they hear to be sure they’ve heard accurately. They aim not to become defensive if comments or feedback hit too close to home. While listening they aren’t busy formulating what to say in return. They will look into the eyes””and the souls””of the person who is speaking to them.

Communication and conduct, these two relational components must go together. The way in which we respond to circumstances””the way we live””tells people we either care more about ourselves and our own selfish agendas or we care more about others.

The experience of a physician friend illustrates this point. John is an excellent internist whose character was put on public display. While dealing with the normal public stresses on a young doctor, John and his wife had their first child, a son born with spina bifida. John’s colleagues were well aware of the strain as he managed his workload while making frequent trips to Texas Children’s Hospital.

John may have had reason to be irritable, but he rarely was. One day during rounds, he discovered that a nurse had made a serious mistake that endangered a patient’s life. John reprimanded the nurse firmly but respectfully. She walked away with her self-respect intact””an unusual result when compared with similar encounters with unhappy doctors. John was unaware that a colleague had overheard his reprimand. “John,” his colleague said, “I overheard how you handled that situation. If you were a preacher, I’d go to your church.”

The fact is, John is a preacher. You are, too. So are we. When people see our competence, character and consideration, the things we say have a power equal to or greater than any sermon preached from a pulpit. There is a distance between pulpit and pew that does not exist in the workplace.


Spiritual Influence Requires Wise Communication

We often meet people who tell us they’re uncomfortable talking about their faith in the workplace. Others have decided they can witness without ever saying a word. We believe, however, that deeds without words are usually just as ineffective as words without deeds.

Theologian D. Elton Trueblood concluded that people who declare they can witness to their faith purely by their deeds are insufferably self-righteous””no one is that good. The apostle Peter reminds us that we need to be ready to speak: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

Peter’s words also give us a clue that there may be times to keep our mouths shut. Aggressive evangelists zero on the word “always” while sometimes overlooking the fact that there is a condition given. We are to be ready to give an answer to “everyone who asks.” There are times when it’s appropriate and times when it’s inappropriate to talk about our faith. Obviously, it takes wisdom to know the difference.

A few years ago, I (Bill) was talking with a professor at a major university. Because this university had a reputation for cultivating a “politically correct” environment and was less than warm toward evangelical theology, I was curious to know how he negotiated the conflict between his faith and the pressures of academia. I said to him, “I guess you have to be careful about sharing your faith here.”

He looked at me with a puzzled expression. “No,” he said, “I don’t have to be careful.” He paused. “But I do have to be wise.” I got the point.

When is it appropriate to share your faith? Here is what we suggest:

1. It’s fitting to talk about your faith when it arises out of the relationships naturally built around your work with another person. As you discuss work and life with your coworkers, informal mention of spiritual truth will happen naturally, just as other topics of personal importance pop into your conversations.

2. It’s appropriate to share you faith when it naturally fits into the topic of conversation. Your conversation should be organic, not mechanical””not contrived, not crafted or calculated to divert discussion into another totally unrelated area. You may have observed people who drop the evangelical “diagnostic question” out of the blue after a lunch with a colleague: “If you died tonight and stood before the gates of heaven, and God asked you why he should let you in, what would you say?” This can have a chilling effect on a conversation””as well as on a budding relationship.

3. It’s always appropriate to talk about your faith when you are asked. A question is an open door to address a person’s spiritual concern. It is not, however, an invitation to dump all of you spiritual knowledge on someone in one sitting. Give enough information to answer a person’s question, but also be sure to look for ways to create more curiosity and questions that can be addressed as time goes on.


Spiritual Influence Requires Courage

Following Jesus is anything but a safe venture. You will meet opportunities and face obstacles that will challenge you to the edge of your faith. Remember that true safety is in following Jesus wherever he leads. But playing it safe is the most dangerous thing you can do if Jesus is leading you out of your comfort zone.

A close walk with God is the only antidote to fear. The Lord commanded Joshua, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). When the heart is gripped by fear, the soul is frozen by inertia. When God grips the heart, the soul is free to risk great things for his kingdom.

As Joshua prepared to lead Israel into Canaan, God said, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night” (Joshua 1:8). Jesus said to his followers, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).

There is a direct relationship between courage and the Scriptures. God’s Word fortifies us with the truth. It gives us the mental ammunition to do battle with the lies of Satan that threaten to make us fall back in fear. Knowing that God is with us wherever we go gives us the courage to resist the fear and discouragement that Satan will undoubtedly throw in our path as we pursue God’s will and walk the path of competence, character, compassion, and courage. Ultimately these steps of courage, when rooted in an abiding knowledge of the Word of God, result in true, satisfying, and abundant freedom to become all that God made us to be.

We don’t know exactly how God has designed you or what your destiny in his plan may be. We don’t know what God has put on and in your heart, but we challenge you to reach for it. No matter how improbable or impossible it appears, if it is noble, right, pure, and in line with God’s kingdom, you must stretch yourself to reach it. To do less would be tragic for you, your customers, clients, and coworkers, for your profession, and for our generation””but most of all for the kingdom.


[1] Carlton Snow, “Rebuilding Trust in the Fractured Workplace,” in Banks and Powell, Faith in Leadership, p 39

Excerpted from Going Public With Your Faith: Becoming a Spiritual Influence at Work by William Carr Peel and Walt Larimore. Copyright 2003 (Zondervan). Used by permission.

William Carr Peel, Th. M., is the pastor of leadership development at Fellowship Bible Church in Dallas, Texas, and the best-selling author of five books. He has consulted with and spoken for many organizations, including Promise Keepers, and has appeared on numerous radio and television programs.

Walter Larimore, M.D. is vice president of medical outreach at Focus on the Family and is the best-selling author of Bryson City Tales and 10 Essentials of Highly Healthy People.