The Theology of the Workplace: Waiting on Each Other

As the Chair of an academic department at a Christian university, I often struggle with the workplace values of the world versus the values of the Kingdom. I think the Kingdom of God eschews or inverts power hierarchies, yet I find myself at the top of a hierarchy. How to manage this disjoint?

Yesterday I had time to ponder this as our department had to work through issues of “waiting on each other.” Generally, we, as faculty, expect our student workers, graduate assistants, or administrative coordinators to be there when we need them. And if they are not there, and make us wait, we get frustrated. And, given our place in the hierarchy of ACU, we can voice our concerns. But what about the people below us on the hierarchy? What if they have to wait on us? Because I know my students wait on me as does my administrative coordinator. But when “subordinates” have to wait, they have no voice. So, reflecting on this, I sent the following e-mail to my Department today to think about this issue. Perhaps you'll find it valuable to share:

Hello Everyone,
This e-mail may be awkward, but I hope to produce with it a kind of open, transparent dialogue among us. I don't feel passionate about many aspects of the Chair job, but I do feel passionate about this: That ACU should be a different kind of place because we follow the Crucified One. Toward that end, I offer this.

After conversations yesterday, I began to think about the theology of our workplace relationships, specifically the theology of "waiting on each other."

The world is a hierarchical place, with power situated highly and powerlessness situated lower on the ladder. Workplaces are structured the same way. And as we wait on each other it occurred to me that the "superiors" tend to have a voice in expressing their displeasure at having to wait on "subordinates." Generally, subordinates don't have a voice when they must wait on a superior. They, being less vital, less important, simply must wait. In short, there is an asymmetry in waiting. And I want us to collectively engage in some theological reflection on that asymmetry.

For students wait on us faculty all the time. And our administrative coordinators wait on us (to get forms, syllabi, textbook requisitions, PC statements, etc.). We all wait on each other. People wait on me and people wait on you. But the people who wait on me, as the Chair, don't have a voice. They just have to wait.

I know there are more issues on the table than this. Issues of professionalism and efficacy, and those are important. But those are not highly valued issues in the Kingdom. So, I'd like to set those aside concerns for a few minutes and simply reflect on hierarchy, power, voicelessness, waiting, and the way of the cross.

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One thought on “The Theology of the Workplace: Waiting on Each Other”

  1. Power hierarchies. I have often thought that by nature and by nurture, coming from a fiercely congregational tradition, that I have never really understood how corporate, political, and religious hierarchical organizations work. Our tradition has been focused on finding "truth" and "truths" rather than making things happen. Yet, to make a mark in this world, unfortunately, it seems there needs to be an organization with lines of authority and responsibility. One has to play power games. The Romans and the apostle Paul seemed to have understood this. Paul's list of elder's qualifications is near identical to qualifications for a Roman military position. Falwell, Roberson, Dobson, Haggard. These guys' view of christianity is not backed up by reality, at least in many details in my opinion, but they are making the world like they want it and building their empires. I don't like it. I like Jesus' way better.

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