Small Group Studies on Workplace Topics

1-hour small group studies on Workplace Topics

These 1-hour topical studies  free to use with any group. Each study includeswith scripture, commentary, and thought-provoking questions.

Ambition

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1-hour small group study on Ambition

For more small group studies on workplace issues, go to the SMALL GROUPS STUDIES INDEX.

Introduction to the issue:

"Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it be true or not, I can say, for one, that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow-men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem. How far I shall succeed in gratifying this ambition is yet to be developed." - Abraham Lincoln

Discuss: How is Abraham Lincoln's view of ambition different or similar to yours?

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT AMBITION? IS AMBITION GOOD OR BAD?


Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus  every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippian 2:3-11)

MOTIVATIONS MATTER


According to Paul Stevens “The word used for “fleshly” or “selfish” ambition is eritheia. Originally this meant “work done for pay” and came to mean accepting position and office, not from motives of service, but for what one can get out of it. It is related to the word jealousy, which started out well—as “the desire to attain to nobility”—but came to mean “the desire to have what someone else has.” Since zelos is the word from which our English word zeal comes, jealous, self-seeking ambition may be thought of as ‘zeal gone bad’.” (Complete Book of Everyday Christianity).

Discuss: In what ways is ambition good or bad according to Philippians 2:3-11?

The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way— for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:1-7)

CHARACTER MATTERS


Here is a positive statement approving those who set their hearts on being an elder in a way that plainly views this as a godly ambition. However there are so many other qualifications added here about proven Christian character that it is plainly not a godly ambition when motivated by conceit and a desire for status but only when motivated by humility and the desire to serve. 

Discuss: In what ways is ambition good or bad according to 1 Timothy 3:1-7?


I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as I have among the rest of the Gentiles. (Romans 1:13)

GOALS MATTER


Paul Stevens notes: “While Paul counsels against having a mindset shaped by the ambitions of this world (Romans 12:1) at the same time it is clear that he was also ambitious to have a harvest among the Romans (Romans 1:13) and to evangelize Spain. It has often been suggested that when Paul got converted, so was his ambition: “What Paul can teach us is that there is a gospel-centered way to speak about competitiveness, a way to be ambitious for the sake of Christ, a way to raise the desire for success above the level of self-interest or ideology” (Kuck, p. 175).” (Complete Book of Everyday Christianity)

Discuss: In what ways is ambition good or bad according to Romans 1:13?

SUMMARY 

You don’t have to look far in the Bible to gain a sense that there are two very different views of ambition, one positive and the other negative. Whether ambition is good or not depends on three things:

  1. Motivation – Does ambition stem from good motives? Or bad ones?  
  2. Personal character – The aspiration to become a better person is a worthy ambition. 
  3. Goals – If the goal is worthy then ambition is positive.


OPTIONAL CASE STUDY DISCUSSION 

After graduating from Harvard business school, Diane Paddison served as global executive for two  Fortune 500 companies and one Fortune 1000 company. Today she acts as an independent director for two corporations and four non-profits and writes for Christianity Today’s digital magazine “Today’s Christian Women.”

Paddison writes: 

What if women are not being "held back," but rather women are choosing not to move forward?

If I see a woman making a mature and purposeful choice to "lean back" from work in order to prioritize other things, I celebrate her and praise God that she has the opportunity to make that choice.

The problem is that some women, and especially Christian women, aren't making that choice for themselves. Instead, they're letting guilt make it for them. We've come to see ambition as synonymous with greed, pride, and selfishness. If you offer a young mother-to-be a choice between her family and "selfish pride," she's almost definitely going to choose family. Have you ever heard anyone (male or female) complimented at church for their "ambition"?

Ambition shouldn't be a dirty word. It doesn't have to entail sacrificing family or other good things. It is possible to balance career ambitions with life's other priorities, like family and faith.

It's important to remember that God made you. He built every piece of you. It's not an accident that you have the intelligence and skills to excel in the professional world. These abilities were given to you by God to use for his service.

Not everyone feels a strong desire to advance at work, but if you do, it means that God made you that way. Ambition is a gift, not a curse. It must be stewarded. It must be focused with care. But it shouldn't be crushed or ignored.

Remember that God has a purpose for all of us. He has placed us in and works through our circumstances. If he is prompting you toward success, don't be afraid to follow the path he has drawn for you. And most importantly, don't forget that he is the reason for it.

Discuss the case:

  • What do you think about Paddison’s opinion of ambition?
  • Do you believe that God gives ambition as a gift?
  • If a friend came to you for advice on balancing career ambitions with family and faith, what would you tell him or her?
  • What do you think of your own ambitions now?

 

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION:

  1. What am I ambitious for?
  2. What is the motivation behind my ambitions?
  3. What are my goals?
  4. What type of person do I want to become?

 

Bad Boss?

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1-hour small group study on having a bad boss

For more small group studies on workplace issues, go to the SMALL GROUPS STUDIES INDEX.

INTRODUCTION TO THE ISSUE:

Because they are human and subject to the effects of the Fall, bosses can be arrogant, self-centered, or even abusive. Dealing with a bad boss requires extra tact and forethought. Here is a case study from the bible on one bad boss.

A BIBLE HERO WITH A BAD BOSS

Daniel had a bad boss. Not only was king Nebuchadnezzar self-possessed and violent, he had taken Daniel and his friends captive to work in his royal court. Nevertheless, Daniel deals with his supervisor in a shrewd way that gets results.

The king commanded his palace master Ashpenaz to bring some of the Israelites of the royal family and of the nobility, young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king’s palace; they were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the royal rations of food and wine. They were to be educated for three years, so that at the end of that time they could be stationed in the king’s court. Among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, from the tribe of Judah. The palace master gave them other names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshack, and Azariah he called Abednego.

But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine, so he asked the palace master to allow him not to defile himself. Now God allowed Daniel to receive favor and compassion from the palace master. The palace master said to Daniel, “I am afraid of the lord the king; he has appointed your food and your drink. If he should see you in poorer condition than the other young men of your age, you would endanger my head with the king.” Then Daniel asked the guard whom the palace master had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishale, and Azariah: “Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. You can then compare our appearance with the appearance of the young men who eat the royal rations, and deal with your servants according to what you observe.” So he agreed to this proposal and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days it was observed that they appeared better and fatter than all the young men who had been eating the royal rations. So the guard continued to withdraw their royal rations and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.
(Daniel 1:3-16)

Daniel and his friends had several conflicts with their supervisor. First he changed their names to honor Babylonian Gods (Daniel 1:6-7) then he asked them to conform to local dietary customs (Daniel 1:8-16). In this hostile work environment, Daniel and his friends chose which battles to fight. They did not protest the renaming, perhaps because they knew the king couldn’t change their true allegiance to God. But they did make an issue out of the food, which was very important to their religious identity.

Daniel shows great tact in the way he raises this tricky issue with his superior. He talks to his boss respectfully, with a desire to maintain a good relationship. Daniel makes sure he understands the issue from the other person’s perspective. It turns out the palace master is worried about his own job, which includes keeping Daniel productive and healthy. Since health rather than food was the most important issue for the boss, Daniel suggests a test trial period that suits everyone’s needs.

Discuss:

  1. What lessons do you take from Daniel’s negotiation with his supervisor?
  2. How could these principles apply to a workplace conflict you face?

 

Even with the greatest tact and creativity, however, sometimes our work gives us people and problems we cannot fix. This may be true if your boss or your company asks you to do things at work that violate your moral code. For Daniel’s friends, the deal-breaker issue was idol worship. Not bowing down to an idol was so important that they were ready to sacrifice everything for it: their careers in the kings service and even their lives.

King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue whose height was sixty cubits and whose width was six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent for the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, to assemble and come to the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. So the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, assembled for the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. When they were standing before the statue that Nebuchadnezzar had set up, the herald proclaimed aloud, “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, you are to fall down and worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire.” Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

Accordingly, at this time certain Chaldeans came forward and denounced the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! You, O king, have made a decree, that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, shall fall down and worship the golden statue, and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire. There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These pay no heed to you, O king. They do not serve your gods and they do not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”

Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought in; so they brought those men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods and you do not worship the golden statue that I have set up? Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble to fall down and worship the statue that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire, and who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”

Then Nebuchadnezzar was so filled with rage against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face was distorted. He ordered the furnace heated up seven times more than was customary, and ordered some of the strongest guards in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and to throw them into the furnace of blazing fire. So the men were bound, still wearing their tunics, their trousers, their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the furnace of blazing fire. Because the king’s command was urgent and the furnace was so overheated, the raging flames killed the men who lifted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. But the three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down, bound, into the furnace of blazing fire.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counselors, “Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?” They answered the king, “True, O king.” He replied, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god.” Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and said, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them. Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king’s command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that utters blasphemy against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins; for there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.” Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.
(Daniel 3:1-30)

Discuss:

  1. What lessons do you take away from the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego?
  2. Have you ever been faced with a deal-breaker ethical issue at work? What would be a deal-breaker issue for you?

 

Conflict at Work

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1-hour small group study on Conflict at Work

For more small group studies on workplace issues, go to the SMALL GROUPS STUDIES INDEX.

INTRODUCTION TO THE ISSUE:

Most of us have experienced conflict at work. Shows like The Office and movies such as Office Space make light of conflicts between bosses and subordinates or between coworkers. But real workplace conflict is no laughing matter. If conflict goes unresolved it could leave you feeling stressed, drained and unenthusiastic about your work. This session will offer a biblical framework for resolving conflict, and help you reflect on conflict you've faced in the workplace.

Discuss:

  1. Have you experienced a major conflict at work? How does conflict affect your experience at your job today?
  2. Have you ever had a conflict with a coworker or with a boss? How did you resolve the issue?

WHAT CAUSES CONFLICT?

In the workplace, many factors cause conflict, including competition over resources, differences in individual work styles or values, and unclear roles. Indeed, conflict has been around since the beginning of human experience. Because of their sin in the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve are cursed with conflict for the remainder of their relationship. “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Genesis 3:16). Their children Cain and Abel are also famous examples of conflict. We should be unsurprised then when conflict comes up in our places of work.

JESUS’ MODEL FOR RESOLVING CONFLICT BETWEEN COWORKERS

Fortunately, Jesus offers a way to redeem workplace conflict. In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus describes a process for conflict resolution between coworkers.

If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
(Matthew 18:15-17)

To sum up, here are the steps in Jesus’ conflict resolution plan:

  1. Talk in person (rather than over email where misunderstandings can fester).
  2. Describe the problem respectfully, without self-justification.
  3. Listen to the other person’s side of the story (listening is so important that Jesus mentions it three times in these verses).
  4. If talking one on one doesn’t generate a solution, ask for help from mutual friends.
  5. If that doesn’t work, bring up the matter with a higher authority.
  6. If someone cannot accept an impartial judgement, it likely spells the end of that working relationship.

 

Discuss:

  1. What insights do you take from Jesus’ model for conflict resolution?
  2. Could you apply this framework to a workplace conflict you face now?

 

Leading Up

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1-hour small group study on Leading Up

For more small group studies on workplace issues, go to the SMALL GROUPS STUDIES INDEX.

INTRODUCTION TO THE ISSUE:

For every powerful boss whose wish is the command of others, there are infinitely more subordinates who must respond to those wishes. Unless you’re a boss with despotic power, you must learn to influence other people at work. This Bible study will teach you how to “lead up” in your workplace, based on biblical principles.

Discussion: What is the most challenging thing you’re trying to achieve in your work? Who do you need to influence to make that happen?

Four biblical principles apply to leading up:

  1. Be consistent and faithful in service
  2. Be an example
  3. Be patient and persevere
  4. Be bold at the right time

BE CONSISTENT AND FAITHFUL IN SERVICE

So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
(Mark 10:42-45)

An attitude of humble service is a virtue for a Christian. More than that, a humble worker with a good work ethic becomes trusted by all his or her co-workers. Before you try to convince other people at work to follow you, you have to lay a foundation of trust.

Discuss: Think about someone in your workplace who has earned your trust. How did he or she do it?

BE AN EXAMPLE

Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
(1 Timothy 4:12)

As an upstart taking on his first leadership role, Timothy was perhaps worried that other people wouldn’t listen to him due to his youth. Paul advised Timothy to lead by example, by demonstrating the type of behaviour he might hope to inspire in others. One moral member of a team can quietly sway the group towards better behaviour. When she was first coming on the job, an engineer named Wendy told her mostly male co-workers, “I was raised in a Christian household, so I don’t feel comfortable with rude jokes or swearing. If you want to talk that way, don’t do it around me.” The other engineers valued Wendy and her expertise, so they didn’t want to say anything that might offend her. As a result, the level of discourse improved for everyone in the office.

Discuss: How would you like people in your workplace to act? What kind of example can you set for them?

BE PATIENT AND PERSEVERE

Although Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he continued to go to his house, which had windows in its upper room open toward Jerusalem, and to get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him, just as he had done previously. The conspirators came and found Daniel praying and seeking mercy before his God. Then they approached the king and said concerning the interdict, “O king! Did you not sign an interdict, that anyone who prays to anyone, divine or human, within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions?”… Then the king gave the command, and Daniel was brought and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!”
(Daniel 6:10-12, 16)

Changing the mind of a stubborn boss or the culture of an entire organization takes time. If this is your goal, then you have to be patient. Daniel is a biblical example of patience. He worked for a king who frequently made immoral decrees. Nevertheless, Daniel kept doing his job well, while also doing what was right for his own religious beliefs. In the end Daniel’s faith was vindicated in the incident with the lions, and Daniel’s boss ends up praising God. But it took patience and perseverance on Daniel’s part.

Discuss: What do you need to persevere in the difficult parts of your work?

BE BOLD AT THE RIGHT TIME

Mordecai gave him [Queen Esther’s servant Hathach] a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther, explain it to her, and charge her to go to the king to make supplication to him and entreat him for her people. Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said. Then Esther spoke to Hathach and gave him a message for Mordecai, saying, “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law – all alike are to be put to death. Only if the king holds out the golden sceptre to someone, may that person live. I myself have not been called to come in to the king for thirty days.” When they told Mordecai what Esther had said, Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”
(Esther 4:8-14)

If you are in a vulnerable position at work, you may face competing concerns of self-preservation and wanting to make a difference. Should you speak above your pay grade and risk getting fired? The story of Esther demonstrates that there is not only a right action but also a right time for that action. Esther took a risk in going to see the king without an appointment. She had to; the clock was ticking! On the other hand, at that anxious meeting she only asked the king to come to dinner. Esther waited until the king was pleased with her and in a pleasant mood before plying him with her request. This story demonstrates that God has a right time for every right action. Your challenge is to be both bold and wise.

Discuss: Mordecai speaks of his dire moment in history as “such a time as this.” Are you in a dire situation in your work? Or is there another time that would be better to act?

PERSONAL EXERCISE: MAKE A PLAN FOR LEADING UP

Take some moments to reflect on your work and answer the following questions:

  1. What is the biggest thing I’m trying to achieve or change in my workplace?
  2. Am I already an example of the behavior I want to see? Or is there anything I need to change about my behavior to be a good example?
  3. Who do I need to influence to make this happen? For each person I need to influence, what would be the best time to talk to them?

 

Giving and Receiving Feedback

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1-hour small group study on Giving and Receiving Feedback

For more small group studies on workplace issues, go to the SMALL GROUPS STUDIES INDEX.

INTRODUCTION TO THE ISSUE:

Talk about performance at work can bring up all sorts of mixed feelings. In a recent study of over 1,000 professionals, nearly a quarter of respondents said they "feared" their performance review, while 42 percent said they think managers leave important elements out of their review. According to the study’s authors: "Traditional annual performance reviews are inadequate. They’re biased towards recent work, goals aren't communicated clearly, there's misalignment in objectives between organizations and employees, and quite simply, the whole process just takes too long."

While some large companies have scrapped the traditional review process, many Christian professionals still give or receive reviews each year. This session will offer a Christian perspective on measuring performance and giving and receiving feedback.

A QUICK HISTORY OF PERFORMANCE REVIEW IN THE BIBLE

In one sense much of the Bible reads like a performance review. In Genesis 1 God evalutes his own performance after each day’s work and pronounces things good. The job description for human beings is laid down in Genesis 1 and 2 and the first human failure and performance review takes place in Genesis 3 with drastic consequences. In the Old Testament God establishes a number of formal covenantal relationships with his people, with privileges and responsibilites clearly defined on each side and the knowledge that there will be review and accountability. When God gives the Law to Moses and later raises up Judges and Prophets to evaluate the performance of his people, it is with reference to the special relationship that they enjoy with God who crafts for them a special destiny.

A similar review process that demonstrates a commitment to growth within a faithful relationship takes place between Jesus and his disciples. Jesus offers both personal encouragement and critical evaluation. Furthermore, performance evaluation also operates in the epistles of the Apostle Paul. These are often letters of encouragement, instruction and critical evaluation that come out of a strong personal relationship. The people of God are commended for what they have done right and criticised for ways in which they have strayed. Paul offers instructions about what is required to get back on the right path again. He prays for them and offers what personal support he can.

In brief, the Bible offers this model for performance evaluation:

  1. Review within a committed supportive relationship
  2. Start with a reminder of job description, privileges and responsibilities
  3. Give positive encouragement for accomplishments
  4. Critically evaluate failures
  5. Give instruction on how to deal with failures and build on successes
  6. Offer ongoing support and help

THREE TYPES OF FEEDBACK IN ONE RELATIONSHIP

Encouraging The Potential In Someone

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
(Matthew 16:13-19)

This interaction between Jesus and Peter sets the stage for Peter’s future ministry. It is particularly striking because Jesus sees something in Peter that few others see. At this moment in the story, Peter is a volatile, impetuous, naive and unstable man. He is hardly the foundation stone on which you would expect Jesus to build a movement. Yet Jesus sees potential. In this passage Jesus lays in front of Peter a vision of what he can become.

Part of offering encouraging feedback is seeing not only what is, but what can be. Then nourishing this hope with positive affirmation.

Discussion Question: Has a teacher, coach or supervisor ever pointed out some potential in you that you didn’t see? How did that make you feel? Did it change the way you thought or acted?

Facing Failures

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before all of them, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know the man!” At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
(Matthew 26:69-75)

Peter was not immediately up to the task of demonstrating rock solid faith. In this scene Peter denies three times that he knows Jesus, just as Jesus predicted a few hours earlier, even though Peter swore up and down that this would never happen. This story invites us to ponder what to do with failure.

There is nothing so awful as failing those we love. Even in work relationships, failure can bring on a feeling of tremendous embarrassment. Peter is reduced to tears over his failure, so we should not be surprised if failure leaves us in a similar emotional state.

Feeling remorse for failure is the first step in making failure a useful learning experience. The good news is that no failure is final. Peter’s failure started with grief but ended with redemption. The difference between a person who languishes in whether or not they accept the failure and move beyond it.

Discussion Question: How to you tend to face failure? What is hard about learning from failure? What is exciting about it?

Moving Forward After Failure

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
(John 21: 9-19)

When Jesus gives feedback he stresses the primacy of relationships. In this scene Peter is restored to relationship with Jesus and to his importance in the Christian mission. Using Peter’s original name “Simon son of John,” Jesus reminds Peter of the beginning of their relationship. Then by asking Peter to profess his love three times, Jesus gives Peter a way to process and remedy his previous failure. With the instructions to “feed my sheep” Jesus gives Peter instructions on how to move forward.

Discussion Question: What can you learn about performance reviews from Jesus and Peter? What lessons do you see for someone supervising a performance review? What lessons are there for someone being reviewed?

Best Practices From The Business World

Tips on Giving Feedback

  • Feedback should be about behaviour not personality
  • Feedback should describe the effect of the person’s behaviour on you, for example: “When you did [x], I felt [y].” “I noticed that when you said [x], it made me feel [y].” “I really liked the way that you did [x] and particularly [y] about it.” “It made me feel really [x] to hear you say [y] in that way.”
  • Feedback should be as specific as possible. It's easier to hear about a specific occasion than about ‘all the time’!
  • Feedback should be timely - not only in formal meetings

 

Discussion Question: Are these tips similar to or different from the biblical perspectives on giving feedback?

Tips on Receiving Feedback 

  • Be open to the feedback
  • Clarify what you don’t understand, for example: “I'm not quite sure I understand what you are saying.” “When you said ........ what did you mean?”
  • Restate what you have been told in simple terms
  • Do not add to the speaker’s meaning or take the speaker’s topic in a new direction
  • Always thank the person for giving you feedback

 

Discussion Question: Are these tips similar to or different from the biblical perspectives on receiving feedback?

CONCLUSION: A PRAYER ABOUT FEEDBACK

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me. Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long. Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O Lord! Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees. For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great. Who are they that fear the Lord? He will teach them the way that they should choose. (Psalm 25:1-12)

Work-Life Balance

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1-hour small group study on Work-Life Balance

For more small group studies on workplace issues, go to the SMALL GROUPS STUDIES INDEX.

INTRODUCTION TO THE ISSUE:

A quick online search (Sept 2016) of some recent surveys that explore work and family issues demonstrate these results, which form some of the background to tonight’s discussion.

  1. The majority of America’s employees believe they don’t have enough time with their children, their spouses or for themselves.
  2. Each year, Americans spend more time working.
  3. 81% of respondents in a Work/Life Survey reported unhappiness with their work/life balance.
  4. 88% of employees say they have a hard time juggling work and life.
  5. More than 60% of married couples with children under 18 are both working.
  6. 40% of employees work overtime or bring work home with them at least once a week.
  7. The level of dissatisfaction for the current generation of parents is twice that of their parents. 

Group Discussion: Do you see work as competing with life or part of life?

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT WORK-LIFE BALANCE?

 

A capable wife who can find?
    She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
    and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm,
    all the days of her life.
She seeks wool and flax,
    and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchant,
    she brings her food from far away.
She rises while it is still night
    and provides food for her household
    and tasks for her servant-girls.
She considers a field and buys it;
    with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She girds herself with strength,
    and makes her arms strong.
She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
    Her lamp does not go out at night.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
    and her hands hold the spindle.
She opens her hand to the poor,
    and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid for her household when it snows,
    for all her household are clothed in crimson.
She makes herself coverings;
    her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the city gates,
    taking his seat among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them;
    she supplies the merchant with sashes.
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
    and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
    and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household,
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her happy;
    her husband too, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently,
    but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her a share in the fruit of her hands,
    and let her works praise her in the city gates.
(Proverbs 31:10-31)

Integration

The impact of the industrial revolution has been to compartmentalise and to separate the different parts of our lives. Many of us struggle to gain a sense of integration among the roles and responsibilities we carry.

And yet, in Proverbs we see that juggling competing time demands and commitments is not new. The woman described in Proverbs was a wife and mother, managing the household, but also a businesswoman – buying and selling real estate, planting a vineyard, making and selling clothes. Then there was her service among the poor, and her reputation for being a wise counsellor. All-in-all this passage can serve as a model of work-life integration.

Group Discussion: According to Proverbs 31:10-31, which tasks does God value?

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

Balance

While the Proverbs 31 passage seems to give a day-in-the-life snapshot of an integrated life, Ecclesiastes reminds us that some seasons are more heavily weighted towards one activity or another. In real life there will always be some periods where one of our roles (worker, parent, caretaker) dominates our energy and time. As Gerald Sittser notes, “Short-term imbalance is inevitable; long-term imbalance is destructive.” Balance is something we bring to our lives not in each individual moment, but over the long-haul. We do it by recognising where we have been giving our energy recently, and then by compensating –giving our energy in the next season to the other important parts of our lives.

Group Discussion: What phrases in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 refer to work? Which refer to other aspects of life? Is there anything verse you identify with in your current circumstances?

OPTIONAL PERSONAL EXERCISE – THE JUGGLER

Draw a picture of yourself as a juggler on the bottom of a blank page. It may be just a stick figure or a picture of your head and shoulders. Don’t draw anything you are juggling just yet.

As you think about the different sorts of activities that take up your time and energy, picture these as balls or other objects in the air and draw them on your page in ways that identify the relative amount of time and energy each one consumes.  Name them and think about the questions below:

  1. Which activities add more energy than they take from you?
  2. Which activities consume most of your energy?
  3. What balls are you worried you might drop?
  4. Is there anything important that you have neglected and that should be there?
  5. Which activities do you love to do and which do you feel obliged to do?
  6. How sustainable is the mix you are juggling now?
  7. What could you do to make it more sustainable?
  8. Is God making you aware of anything important as you do this exercise? 

Discuss: In groups, talk about what you discovered doing the juggler exercise.  How do you think you might improve work-life balance in your own life?

Sabbath and Work

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1-hour small group study on Sabbath and Work

For more small group studies on workplace issues, go to the SMALL GROUPS STUDIES INDEX.

INTRODUCTION TO The Issue:

God created people to live in a rhythm of working and resting.  After creating the world, God looked around and saw that “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). God did not just cease from his labor; he stopped and enjoyed what he had made. The idea behind Sabbath is to experience joy in what God has done. And yet this rest is often illusive, illustrated by the following poem by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Come, rest awhile, and let us idly stray 
In glimmering valleys, cool and far away. 

Come from the greedy mart, the troubled street, 
And listen to the music, faint and sweet, 

That echoes ever to a listening ear, 
Unheard by those who will not pause to hear­ 

The wayward chimes of memory's pensive bells, 
Wind-blown o'er misty hills and curtained dells. 

One step aside and dewy buds unclose 
The sweetness of the violet and the rose...

You have forgotten what it is to smile 
In your too busy life­ come, rest awhile. 

Group Discussion: Does the word "Sabbath" conjure up images of rest or joy in your mind?  What images does Sabbath bring to your mind?

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT SABBATH AND WORK?

What does the Bible have to say about Sabbath? Right from the beginning of the Bible story it seems that a pattern of not only daily work and rest but also weekly work and rest is laid down. So let’s listen to the end of Genesis chapter 1 first and then the fourth commandment from Exodus chapter 20, which also refers back to Genesis.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude.And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.  So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
(Genesis 1:26-2:3)

An interesting fact about these verses is that the first thing in all of creation that is made holy is not a person or even an object. Rather, it is a day. Genesis does not say why God makes the seventh day holy, merely that God does make it holy. 

Group Discussion: In your mind, what makes a day holy? Do you have other days that you celebrate as holy (birthdays, anniversaries, etc?) What does a holy day look like to you?

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
(Exodus 20:8-11)

The first part of God's command regarding the Sabbath calls for ceasing labor one day a week. In the context of the ancient world, the Sabbath was unique to Israel.No other ancient people had the privilege of resting one day in seven. At the same time, such a rest required an extraordinary trust in God’s provision. Six days of work had to be enough to plant crops, gather the harvest, carry water, spin cloth, and draw sustenance from creation. While Israel rested one day every week, the encircling nations continued to forge swords, feather arrows, and train soldiers. Israel had to trust God not to let a day of rest lead to economic and military catastrophe.

 

Group Discussion: We face the same challenge today to trust in God’s provision today. If you follow God’s commandment to rest one day a week, will you be able to hold a job, keep the house clean, prepare meals, mow the lawn, or complete your other responsibilities? Do you trust God to make this work for you?

 

The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying "Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land shall observe a sabbath for the Lord. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in their yield; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land, a sabbath for the Lord: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your unpruned vine: it shall be a year of complete rest for the land. You may eat what the land yields during its sabbath—you, your male and female slaves, your hired and your bound laborers who live with you; for your livestock also, and for the wild animals in your land all its yield shall be for food.

You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces.
(Leviticus 25:1-12)

In the Old Testament we find not only weekly patterns of work and rest but also yearly, seven-yearly and forty-nine-yearly cycles of rest. These cyclical rests serve two purposes. The first is to give both people and land a physical rest from the hardship and frustration of work. The second purpose is to invite people to recommit to God and experience deep spiritual rest. This second purpose satisfies a need to rest not only from physical exertion but from the instability, anxiety, and insecurity of your lives. God institutes these cycles of rest so that his people can set aside time to worship him and rediscover his covenantal love and faithfulness towards them. During these times of worship, Israel is reminded that God himself is their rest: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest" (Exodus 33:14). When Israel turns to God in trust and obedience, this promise of rest is realized through Divine protection and blessing.

Group Discussion: Do you incorporate cyclical rest practices into your life? If so, what do you get out of them? If not, what might you hope to get out of a yearly retreat or sabbatical?

WHAT DOES SABBATH LOOK LIKE FOR US TODAY?

Here is a list of possible Sabbath practices, adapted from materials by Tim Keller and research by The Theology of Work Project. As you read this list, notice if any practice jumps out at you as something you want to try.

  1. Take time for inactivity - Stop all schedule work, even ministry activities, and don't plan anything. This is analogous to Israel’s cyclical practice of letting a field lie fallow. During that seventh year, whatever grew in that field was left to come up.  People need unscheduled time to let surprising ideas crop up too.
  2. Take time for pleasurable activity - This means scheduling time for something that brings you joy, including refreshing recreation, prayer or devotional activities, and spending time around things you find beautiful such as God's creation or art.
  3. Choose activities that recharge you, depending on whether you're an introvert or an extrovert - If you feel recharged after relational activity, then make sure you spend time around other people during your Sabbath rest.  If, on the other hand, you need time alone to recharge, then honor that in your practice.
  4. Be aware of life seasons - It's hard to rest consistently if you're parenting a new baby or starting a business. Be aware of busy seasons and hold yourself accountable to taking a rest after a fixed period of time. (For example: the next three months is hectic at work, so I am scheduling a vacation for January.) 
  5.  Reflect on things that are just, pure, and pleasing (Philippians 4:8) - Some people find it helpful to keep a gratitude journal.
  6. Imagine your life from an eternal timescale (2 Corinthians 4:17-18) - look at your current situation from a distant point in the future
  7. Take stock of your priorities - If there is a solution that promises to fix all life’s problems, and it’s not Jesus, repent of it.
  8. Try a daily rest practice - for example reading a daily devotional or Bible reading plan or praying worshipfully at the beginning and end of every day.
  9. Decide on a weekly rest practice -commit to one full day of rest a week, or to a weekly meeting of Christians at church or in a small group.
  10. Plan for seasonal or annually rests - schedule a retreat, a sabbatical, or celebrate seasons of more intensive spiritual devotion, such as Advent and Lent.

Group Discussion: Which of these ideas stood out to you? Did a different Sabbath practice come to your mind? What do you plan on adding to your life as a result of this discussion? (Go around the room and have each participant answer.)

OPTIONAL CASE STUDY

Judith Shulevitz is a Jewish journalist who has written a book called The Sabbath World: glimpses of a different order of time. This is how she describes her discovery of Sabbath at a time when her work seemed overwhelming.

On the weekends my mood would darken until, by Saturday afternoon, I’d be unresponsive and morose. My normal routine, which involved brunch with friends and swapping tales of misadventure in the relentless quest for romance and professional success, made me feel impossibly restless. I started spending Saturdays by myself. After a while I got lonely and did something that, as a teenager profoundly put off by her religious education, I could never have imagined wanting to do. I began dropping in on a nearby synagogue.

It was only much later that I developed a theory about my condition. I was suffering from the lack [of a Sabbath]. There is ample evidence that our relationship to work is out of whack. Ours is a society that pegs status to overachievement; we can’t help admiring workaholics. Let me argue, instead, on behalf of an institution that has kept workaholism in reasonable check for thousands of years.

Most people mistakenly believe that all you have to do to stop working is not work. The inventors of the Sabbath understood that it was a much more complicated undertaking. You cannot downshift casually and easily. This is why the Puritan and Jewish Sabbaths were so exactingly intentional. The rules did not exist to torture the faithful. They were meant to communicate the insight that interrupting the ceaseless round of striving requires a surprisingly strenuous act of will, one that has to be bolstered by habit as well as by social sanction.

Individual Reflection: Take 5 minutes to write down any ways in which you identify with the experience of Judith Shulevitz or any ways in which her discoveries about Sabbath are important for you.

OPTIONAL TABLE DISCUSSION

Read these modern quotes about Sabbath and discuss with your group:

“He could take on anything and everything, it seemed, rather than leave himself time to reflect on his dissatisfaction with his life and what he might do about it.” ―Claire Tomalin writing about Charles Dickens

“Sometimes we feel that the busier we are, the more important we are--as though our busyness defines our worth...We can spend a lifetime whirling about at a feverish pace, checking off list after list of things that in the end really don't matter. That we do a lot may not be so important. That we focus the energy of our minds, our hearts, and our souls on those things of eternal significance--that is essential.”- Joseph B. Wirthlin

“The busyness of your life leaves little room for the source of your life” – Ann Voskamp

“There are a whole lot of people who are so freakin’ busy –they’ve so cluttered up their lives –they’re at their wits’ end. And if they’d only stop for a minute, they could hear the God of the universe whisper to them, ‘I love you’.” - Mike Yaconelli

“Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life” – Dolly Parton

“Anybody can observe the Sabbath, but making it holy surely takes the rest of the week” – Alice Walker

"If you keep the Sabbath, you start to see creation not as somewhere to get away from your ordinary life, but a place to frame an attentiveness to your life” – Eugene H. Peterson

“Our great-grandfathers called it the holy Sabbath day. Our grandfathers called it The Sabbath. Our fathers called it Sunday. Now we just all it The Weekend” - David L. Herring

“I think the church is often a culprit in the busyness, especially in the evangelical church. Again, it's part of being Americans. Part of being evangelicals too is that we're highly activist. We are always diving in, willing to solve problems, and again there's a lot good there. But we also need the theological balance that the Kingdom is not ours to bring or ours to create.” ―Kevin DeYoung

Discussion Question: Do any of these quotations apply to your view of Sabbath? How has your view of Sabbath changed tonight?

 

For more small group studies on workplace issues, go to the SMALL GROUPS STUDIES INDEX.