Ask Salt&Light: How do I handle a job where business gets done over drinks?

Ask Salt&Light gives our readers the opportunity to ask Christian ministry staff and marketplace leaders questions about the practicalities of living out the Christian faith in the workplace.

Pastor Barney Lau // June 17, 2018, 11:02 pm


Photo by Scott Warman on Unsplash.

Hi Salt&Light,

I’m in an industry with a lot of client engagements. A lot of business gets discussed over drinks. How should I approach such situations?

Martin P, 35, Public Relations Executive  

In my 20-year corporate career where I was in a variety of roles – technical, marketing, channels, sales, both regionally and locally – I have yet to encounter a role where my sense of ethics and morality has not been challenged. And whether it is over drinks, over a meal, on a golf course, or in the quiet and privacy of your office, the issues are similar.

So, the question of how to approach client engagements over drinks and entertainment is a good and practical question.

But a better question perhaps might be: What are the values and principles that must guide my decisions and behaviour for such engagements?

Client entertainment is not wrong. It is the kind of entertainment resulting in ungodly decisions and behaviours that is bad.

Otherwise, we will be like “children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind” (Ephesians 4:14).

I remember being a young channel management professional visiting my distribution and channel partners in Taipei after closing a big deal. Taiwanese businessmen really like to drink and kanbei (Mandarin for bottoms-up). Yet, they respected my decision not to partake in the sake as I celebrated with them.

On another business occasion in Shanghai, karaoke turned out to be much more than plain karaoke. I took my leave tactfully and graciously without offending my channel customers that day, and we continued to enjoy good business collaborations.

I can go on with more stories, but I want to make two points here:

1. Clarify our top-line

Doing well in one’s career and climbing the corporate ladder may very well be God’s grace and blessing indeed, but understand what you are doing it for.

Christian excellence is not primarily about excellence in our career, good and important as that is, but about being faithful to God’s calling for us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1) as disciples of Christ.

“What works” is not always true, right, moral or ethical; “what feels good” is not always good, beneficial or helpful. 

God is no man’s debtor: When we choose to honour God, He will honour us (1 Samuel 2:30) in His way and in His time. The problem is that for most of us, our top-line is the wrong top-line! We prioritise honouring ourselves over honouring God.

Decide early on in your career what kind of Christian professional you intend to be – the Christ-honouring kind, or the client-honouring kind.

Client entertainment in itself is not wrong. It is the kind of entertainment resulting in ungodly decisions and behaviours that is bad.

By and large, good clients can tell a good, industrious, high performing and honest client manager when they see one. Trust that the Lord can help them see that you choose to honour Him, and yet you are good and excellent in what you do for them.

If the majority of clients you serve do not value this, then perhaps you may be in the wrong industry!

2. Define our bottom-line

When we do not clarify our top-line, we do not define our bottom-line. The bottom-line represents the kind of decisions, behaviours and actions you will refuse to make regardless of the rewards or the consequences.

K Chesterton, the English writer whose book The Everlasting Man, set atheist CS Lewis on the path to Christianity, once said this: “Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.”

Always choose to honour God over men, and He will honour us.

I am sure Chesterton was not talking about the kind of intolerance we are seeing now in our post-truth and post-values culture.

Rather, Chesterton was making the point that the man without foundational convictions and values will tolerate just about anything and everything.

“What works” is not always true, right, moral or ethical; “what feels good” is not always good, beneficial or helpful.

Decide very early on in your career, the standards you will hold yourself to, based on the values and principles of walking worthy of God’s calling for you.

Finally, the reality is that sometimes doing the God-honouring thing and keeping a virtuous conduct, even if it is a gracious and humble one, may not always endear us to our clients. Worse, it might negatively affect our career, at least in the short term.

What do we do? Stand sure in Christ and stand tall for Christ!

The boss who cannot see a hardworking and excellent staff who has strong wholesome values is not worth working for. The client who cannot respect a client relationship manager of integrity and godly virtue is not worth keeping.

Remember, God is no man’s debtor. Always choose to honour God over men, and He will honour us.

It is a big world out there with plenty of job opportunities and many companies who will hire good, honest, hardworking, high performing employees.

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About the author

Pastor Barney Lau

Pastor Barney Lau is a Pastor and Director of Ministries in Covenant Evangelical Free Church. Prior to a personal calling to serve full-time in Covenant EFC in 2008, Barney was the Managing Director of Microsoft Singapore. He continues to be active in the secular marketplace serving as independent director on the boards of companies.