Maximizing the Impact of Your CWG
1 The benefits and future of diversity
Diversity as a significant factor for the workplace here in UK has been with us now for a decade or more, together with the related concepts of equality and inclusion. Christian workplace groups have benefitted greatly. Employers have widely realised the business benefits of celebrating diversity in the workforce. It is the framework within which our vision and strategy for Christianity in the Workplace has flourished. And at base it comprises and reflects well the foundational Christian concepts that all people are equal before God and that difference is to be celebrated. Diversity is after all at the heart of Creation and in Jesus we see this lived out completely in everything He said and did.
It is possible of course that with the passage of time, the diversity legislation in this country could change in some respects, perhaps for additional emphasis on reward and merit. As a further example, maybe the concept of reasonable accommodation in place for disability would widen.
The essential and key facets of the current diversity scheme would in any case be likely to continue, not least because it is as attractive to employers as it is to employees. At the same time, in any kind of initiative, it makes huge sense to think ahead a couple of years. What we see happening then should rightly inform our actions and decision making now. This article seeks to look at some of the questions of today with tomorrow in view.
2 Implications of diversity for Christian workplace groups
To work effectively with diversity in the workplace demands that we understand what CWGs are and critically, what they are not.
First and foremost is the clear appreciation that CWGs are not and can never be churches. By reason of the range of Church streams from which a CWG is likely to draw, it is virtually impossible for them to offer opinions of a theological nature in the way that a church would. Churches embrace entire families across the age ranges and must serve those in schools (and of course pre-schoolers) and those beyond working life. CWGs are unencumbered (and unblessed) by such considerations. Our passion is that everyone participating in a CWG should be a passionately involved church member, and that conversely every church should passionately encourage its working population to engage with a CWG - or start one if needed. It’s not entirely a case of CWGs needing churches to affirm them, though that is highly desirable. For in our experience the thrill of extending the Kingdom in the workplace through a CWG can in fact refresh and inspire churches.
Some aspects of church life simply do not work universally in CWGs. Communion is a useful example. Some CWGs share communion successfully but we need to be very sure in doing so that there is not someone who is excluded because he or she is not ready for it or in some cases, not permitted by church leaders. A lot of love is essential in shaping CWGs to be fully what they are in the workplace and at the same time avoiding what they are not. Employers will be unlikely to recognise a CWG representing a single denomination or church stream which conceivably could offer theological views or scripture interpretation.
CWGs are certainly not missions: they are not sent out by church or missionary societies and resourced and maintained by them. Neither are CWGs evangelical initiatives. New believers inevitably result from the effective impact of CWGs but that is a subsidiary. In some workplaces evangelism or witnessing may be proscribed or perhaps not wise. It is in any case not necessary in any manifest sense, for the effect of a CWG works in a much different way. Consider the example of a young man who came into our open plan office one Monday morning, and approached a CWG leader. He stated that he had put his faith in Jesus in church on Sunday and simply asked what he should do next. His decision in church that day would undoubtedly have been made easier by an awareness of the lively CWG in his workplace and the support and security that would afford. We should be clear that you can hardly have Christians without spreading the Word, but employers will not wish to be on tenterhooks because of the fear of aggressive evangelism or ‘mission’ mentality in the CWG.
We have written separately that CWGs should be outward looking. In practice it is helpful for our events to be open to all. It is virtually impossible to exclude anyone in any case and why would we, since everyone is on a different point in their personal pilgrimage of faith. In my experience it works well to make a point of inviting company directors and members and leaders of other staff groups to CWG activities. Why would we exclude them? Are we not here for them!
The exception here is in the case of CWG leadership teams – you might think of other examples. The need for integrity demands that anyone involved in leadership of a CWG should be fully convinced and committed to the values and aims of the CWG. Imagine a company appointing a director who does not share the company vision and passion! More specifically, the prayer and pastoral activities of CWGs might well prove sensitive areas for anyone not familiar with Christian faith and practice and difficult therefore to offer a lead in those priority areas. For that reason, CWG leaders should in our view be fully involved and held in esteem in a local church, so that proper relationships with churches can be assured and that the clear distinctions between churches and CWGs are evident.
3 Christian workplace groups in the context of diversity
I have taken some care for very good reasons to set out that CWGs are not churches, nor missions, nor evangelical initiatives and the like. So what is the essential nature of a CWG?
It bears mentioning here that CWGs are not subsidiaries of TWUK. We do not call the tune, or give instructions to CWGs or appoint leaders. TWUK exists to promote the creation and development of CWGs and Christian professional and sector groups. TWUK seeks to inform and support and encourage with all our gained experience. But the CWGs are distinct and autonomous groups. This is an essential understanding which allows for a high degree of diversity between the style and stance of CWGs to enable them to extend the Kingdom of God in ways that suit their situation.
And there we have it. The nature of CWGs is to represent Christ in the workplace to the effect that wisdom and values of the highest order are promoted. They seek to extend the influence of the Kingdom of God through their organisation in such a way that everyone in a secular environment benefits – believers and unbelievers - together with the organisation itself. The sense is of a grouping with transparent and flowing boundaries through which colleagues may find themselves passing without necessarily even realizing it. The Kingdom of God is much wider than church. It represents anywhere that the rule of God, as we understand Him in the scriptures of the old and new testaments, is the over-riding factor. It does not need even to be religious. It does not need to be or act like church. It is perhaps entirely spiritual in the sense that Jesus explained that the Kingdom of God is like seed sown and then growing overnight, unseen, unheralded. Folks just woke up one morning to find that the crop had grown overnight and covered the field – and with a great harvest in prospect.
By that token, CWGs do not necessarily need memberships, though some do to good effect, nor do they need to require a statement of faith from those participating. For the vision is that all around will be drawn into the Kingdom, unjudged, by the beauty and attractiveness of great Kingdom living, great relationships and great business. Truly an environment then for salvation. The use of a membership list may require the use of judgements we are not suited to make on doctrine and orientation. Try a circulation list instead. It works equally well and allows the group to focus on priorities.
4 Working with other diversity groups
If CWGs are autonomous, it stands to reason that they are free to discern their own way forward in working with other diversity groups, whether faith groups or otherwise.
In general, we encourage a warm embracing friendship with other groups, though there are some important caveats.
The first caveat is that of priority. CWGs, I imagine, will always be in a position of having to choose what they will do and what will be left, simply because of resource limitations. They can’t do everything. Neither should they feel obliged to accept every invitation or opportunity. Prayer is a key: listening to the Holy Spirit is often the only way to be sure what our priorities are. But our priorities are best determined and shared proactively rather than decided responsively, at least in most cases. This means having a predetermined plan which clarifies our aims and perhaps some desirable options subject to the availability of resources. It would be easy for priority activity to be lost in trying to respond to a multitude of opportunities. Be clear why you are there.
The CWG I served for ten years or so became notorious for its boldness, and also its band! It so happened that in events attached for instance to staff conferences, colleagues from other staff groups would join us and I must say with a good heart. Our CWG leaders participated in meetings of diversity group leaders and it was illuminating how markedly our outward-looking attitude – ‘we are here for you’ – differed from some other groups’ rights and grievances approach. I personally found other diversity group leaders in that context to be open to a listening and even counselling ear.
I have no compunction personally and I doubt if any of us has, about interacting with friends in faith groups or sexual orientation groups. It so happened that for quite a few years I was line manager for a leader of our LGBT group. We enjoyed that! I always felt that the Lord had a remarkably wide range of friends. The LGBT leadership team attended a conference day our CWG arranged in Westminster. They were hugely impressed and felt at ease with us. They did however express wonderment why we all had to stand and sing for half an hour! Don’t worry. We explained….
It is probably unnecessary to state the obvious that shared worship with other faith groups might be a red line event, however, to avoid mixed messages. We might need to consider other activity alongside other faith groups to avoid any hint of lack-love, lack-faith and lack of outward perspective. For instance, I don’t see why joint consideration or action on faith related issues or the general wellbeing of staff should not be quite heartily embraced. A shared awareness event with other groups could well be worthwhile depending on context. I think I might be looking for a reciprocal attitude though from other groups involved to help maintain integrity and skirt disappointment. It’s a teasing area. All I would say is consider well and pray and do what seems right to you and if it backfires don’t take it personally. Critically, joint activity should champion and celebrate difference. Conversely, as an example, merging different faith groups would almost certainly lead to blurring their differences.
Our CWG once shared a stand at a conference with our related LGBT group. You know, honestly, our colleagues hardly noticed or cared. As it happens on that day we were handing out chocolate bars heavily branded with a CWG message on the specially printed wrappers. The gospel is not constrained! As you will by now gather, relationships with our other diversity groups were reasonably easy in nature. LGBT leaders once enquired how we saw their group. We more or less fully embraced them. We did not want anyone in the workplace to be disadvantaged or experience discrimination. But we offered – entirely acceptable to them – that we wished to retain our own beliefs. We explained as mentioned above, that views in our CWG differed so widely it would be impossible to offer anything more concrete. We agreed to be arm in arm – if not eye to eye.
Bear in mind that someone will always complain, sometimes the last and least you would expect. Don’t worry. Chief Executives are used to that. And your response will no doubt be noted.
5 In conclusion
CWGs and employers alike benefit from the current diversity approach to staff management, but overall the aim of a CWG is for the benefit of the organisation. Other groups within a diversity scheme may well have differing raisons d’etre, but there is nevertheless a point at which CWGs can interact with them beneficially. There is every reason why relationships with other diversity staff groups can in most instances be comfortable for everyone, though they are perhaps likely to be business-like. In particular, any tendency to blur rather than champion difference - for instance through combining faith groups into one - should be resisted.
In the final analysis, staff groups often find they have individual or group needs in the mix of their aspirations – and CWGs will not be surprised to find that they can be part of the answer. Directors of HR instinctively know that staff will at times approach a CWG for support when they are reluctant to seek help direct from the organisation, perhaps through the medium of a confidential prayer support team.
Existing within a diversity framework may appear at times to constrain the exercise of Christian faith and practice. But experience suggests that a clear understanding of what a CWG is and what it is not and can never be, opens the door to Kingdom of God vitality and impact in transforming the workplace. Diversity is after all at the heart of Creation and in Jesus we see this lived out completely in everything He said and did.