Ask Salt&Light: How do I respect a boss whose behaviour isn’t Christ-like?

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

Lee Ee Yang // April 9, 2018, 6:00 am


Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash

Dear Salt&Light, 

My boss says that he is a Christian, but his behaviour isn’t Christ-like. He has unreasonable demands, makes nasty comments, and he can be unethical. I’ve tried to speak to him about this, but he brushes it off as “part of work” and “just the way he speaks”. How should I approach this situation?

Eileen, 32, Business Development Manager 

Thank you for the question. I think many of us find ourselves in situations where we find our Christian boss’s behaviour stumbling.

Firstly, a quick comment that we all fall short of the glory of God and our bosses are no exception.

If we are looking for a perfect boss, we are certainly barking up the wrong tree, the same way sometimes we unrealistically look for a perfect pastor, a perfect spouse, a perfect friend.

There will be times where even our most trusted confidante may fail us, but the Lord exhorts us to forgive and take active steps to seek reconciliation with one another (Matthew 18:21-22).

I infer that one reason you may have difficulty obeying your boss is because you have lost respect for him. However, the apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:5-6 exhorts us to obey our earthly masters with deep respect and serve them as we would serve Christ. In fact, Paul goes on to say that we should strive to please them all the time, not only when they are looking.

How our bosses behave, and whether they are Christian or a non-believer, should not affect our attitude at work.

To be an effective Christian witness and a follower of Christ, we should be guided by an excellent spirit and strive to do the best we can.

The key to taking a stand is to do it in a respectful way that communicates a submissive heart, even when we cannot obey.

In fact, if as Christian workers we can lead by example, we will improve the culture in the workplace, and be a positive influence on our bosses.

There is an exception to obedience: If your boss tells you to do something unethical, something morally unacceptable, or against what the Bible teaches. For example, when a client calls in hoping to talk to a person in charge, your boss may tell you to lie and say that he is away when he is at his desk. 

Here, I would suggest telling your boss politely that you are not prepared to lie as this would compromise your Christian values. To a boss, I think it would speak volumes about the character of an employee who lives by a set of life principles and abides by them when times get tough. 

I believe you will likely earn the respect of your boss in the long run. But the key is to do it in a respectful way that communicates a submissive heart, even when we cannot obey. We have to be right not just in principle, but in posture as well. 

The other issue I notice is that you tried to talk to your boss about his “unchristian” behaviour at work. Most bosses should appreciate honest and authentic conversations – I encourage my team at work to give me developmental feedback as well. But perhaps it is the timing and the way feedback is given which often causes people to receive it negatively, defeating the purpose of the exercise. 

With regard to timing, Ecclesiastes 3 tells us that there is a time for everything. This means there is a time for constructive feedback as well, such as during the annual staff review. Feedback given in the heat of the moment, or when emotions are high often causes a fracturing of relationships to fracture. We need to guard against this.

The way feedback is given is also very important. Most of us perceive feedback as something negative, so we shy away from it. But feedback given constructively, together with affirmation on the things we appreciate about the person, can bring about tremendous growth in the individual and the organisation. 

 Personally, I would spend more time connecting with my boss and earning his trust, before giving feedback during the annual review. This connection would have reached the stage where I can be upfront as he trusts me. Again, the posture is just as important as the principle. 

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About the author

Lee Ee Yang

This week’s reply was provided by Lee Ee Yang, an elder at RiverLife Church, who pioneered the church’s Faith@Work marketplace ministry. He is also the managing director of law firm Covenant Chambers, whose areas of expertise includes civil and commercial litigation, employment law and estate planning.