“Professionalism” is that trait that separates the pillars in a company from the paid worker bees. It makes you a “person worth watching” in the eyes of the management and ownership. And it makes you the kind of person that your “customer”, whether they be a person or another department in your organization, enjoy working with.
But what is “professionalism”? In his useful book, “How to Get Unstuck,” Matt Perman defines it this way:
Being a professional means working with consistency and having a certain ethic—an ethic of emotional involvement and generosity, and being human in your work.
I think that’s about right. Let’s look at each of the traits Perman mentions:
Consistency. You do work that is of a useful excellence, and you repeat that level of excellence over time, such that people can depend upon you. It’s the value of quality and quantity.
A certain ethic. The word ethic is related to the word “ethos”, which basically means what you’re all about – what just comes out of you, what describes you. It’s different from your work; it’s the “cloud” that your work gets done within. The most well-known example of this is the doctor’s bedside manner, which seemingly has nothing to do with his skill in understanding how to solve your health problem. And it may not, actually.
And yet that only works in the most specialized, high-barrier-to-entry fields. The rest of us need what Perman calls:
Emotional involvement. You seem to connect with people at the level of their emotions, and you obviously have a care about the other person. Your particular emotional intelligence may be average, but nevertheless, you try.
Generosity. When people deal with you, they feel as though they’ve been treated generously by the gods of banking, baking or butchers, whatever you are. They feel as though you were a giver, not a taker, in their interaction with you. This was more than a sale for you. Something else was your aim. Love, maybe, even? Is that even allowed anymore?
Being human in your work. Thus the client/customer feels like a human being of significance, intersecting in life with you, another human being of significance. You smiled, cracked a joke, even went about your work in a happy, jolly sort of way. There in the banality of the cash register, or the loan desk, or the meat window, you seemed to draw upon a source of happiness outside that whole set-up.
This is what the world calls “professionalism.” But rarely if ever will you find all of these traits working together at the same time. Professionalism is so valuable because, like good help these days, it’s so hard to find.
THE ROOT OF THE SCARCITY
But the reason it’s so hard to find is that our society has drifted so far from its roots. What we call the “New England Work Ethic” spread from New England all across the upper Midwest and even into California. But that’s a misnomer – it would be better called a “Puritan” work ethic. And even then, it would be better called a “gospel-transformed work ethic”. Because each of the above traits that Perman mentions are not only true, but they all come from being set free by the gospel.
Thus the solution to the scarcity of “professionalism” is not a return to the “Judeo-Christian Work Ethic”, but a return to the gospel. Which will produce:
Consistency. A man who has happily come under the lordship of Christ alone no longer bases the quality of his work on whether the boss is watching, but out of a happy duty to love the Boss (Eph. 6:5-6). He is no longer working to serve his supervisor, but the Lord. Thus now he is “caught” by his supervisor doing extra work, thinking of new ways to improve the work flow, and generally making the product more excellent. His work increasingly reflects the excellencies of Christ, excellencies that he has come to adore.
A certain ethic. He now has a “certain ethic”. The “ethic” we’re looking for here has a source, and an aim. The source is Jesus. The Sanhedrin knew where Peter and John got their boldness: they had been with Jesus. The time spent with him had rubbed off on them. Particularly his love for them, that would die for them, and be raised, for them. This bred in them a new ethic of boldness (Acts 4:13).
Yet boldness is only a style. Boldness must have content. It must be directed in a useful, good direction. And that new aim is love, out of love. As Paul writes in 2 Cor. 5:9, he and his compatriots singular aim in their vocation was to please him – Jesus – when everyone’s looking, and when no one is. What drives this? The love of Christ for them (2 Cor. 5:14).
But this breeds love to others, as Paul put it later to Timothy (1 Timothy 1:5):
1 Timothy 1:5 (ESV): The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
When a man is commissioned to a certain vocation – a “charge” – no matter what that vocation is, if he has been saved and cleansed by the blood of Christ, and if he is walking by faith in the gospel, his “aim”, no matter what we does in life, will be love.
Love in church, love at home – and love at work. Love, growing forth into love.
Thus this outflow of love creates an emotional involvement with the people that you serve in the office. It yields a generosity in your work, that perhaps was not there before – or was only there because that’s what would get you “ahead”. The generosity of Christ to you breeds a generosity with others that is unfeigned and authentic. And the reality that Christ has come close, and taken on humanity like your own, and vested humanity with incredible dignity in doing so, well this produces a warm humanity towards those you sell to or oversee.
And the world says, “You’ve become professional. Nice.” But the truth is deeper than that: you’ve been with Jesus. You’ve allowed the word of God to dwell richly within you, and it’s yielding a rich fruit. You’ve laid your life upon the truths of the gospel, and you’ve allowed them to sweeten your soul. You’ve not just memorized them – you’ve savored them.
You’ve savored the truth that Jesus not only died for you, but by being united to Him, you are secure. You are supplied. You are sealed. You could not be loved more by Him now if you tried to earn it with all your might for a million years. And you could not be more lavishly provided for in the future, when you see Him face to face, than the richest men who have ever lived. And all of this by grace – by His completely undeserved, unmerited favor.
This is amazing love. And as it settles into a man or a woman, it WILL produce fruit, a harvest of love, regardless of your place or station in life. Even in, especially in your work. The gospel is the the most practical concept in all the world, for it advances the lordship of Jesus into every area of our life. And when that happens, we thrive, and others thrive through us.