Ambition harnessed for Christ - Life@Work conference review

Is ambition a dirty word? Is it inherently ungodly and selfish? Or is it appropriate in the life of a Christian? Is there a way to be ambitious that honours Christ? These were the sorts of questions we considered at our second annual Life @ Work conference.

Overlooking the Yarra in Melbourne, we gathered over two nights to hear from four speakers, unpacking the issues surrounding ambition. And what we discovered is that ambition on its own is morally neutral. The key question is, how are we harnessing it?

Over dinner Melbourne City Bible Forum director Robert Martin opened our conference with his address, “Upside-down Ambition: Ego to Exaltation”. Robert encouraged us to “do nothing out of selfish ambition” (Philippians 2:3), but follow the example of Christ, who did not strive to claim that which He was entitled to, but who humbled himself. Robert helped us probe the true desires of our heart and discover what is really driving our ambition. Are we ambitious because we desperately want to prove to others “we’ve made it”? Or is pride and ego driving our ambition? Or are we ambitious because we feel insecure in ourselves? All these desires have at their root “selfish ambition” which has no place in the life of the Christian.

We then heard from ANZ Head of Digital Strategy & Business Performance Claire Rogers. She shared with us from her experience of wrestling with ambition in the workplace and her Christian faith. She helped us consider what it means to be in leadership and be a Christian.

The first night concluded with time spent in Industry Groups, networking with others in similar industries as we discussed questions relating to the particular ambitions of our respective professions. For many, this was the highlight of the whole conference.

Our second night opened with an address from Life @ Work director Andrew Laird, A Bigger Ambition. Speaking from Philippians 3 Andrew helped us consider how to harness ambition not for selfish ends, but self-less ends. Considering the example of the Apostle Paul, Andrew encouraged us to have even bigger ambitions than simply gaining the corner office, business class flights, a bigger pay packet and industry recognition. Instead we were encouraged to be ambitious to “know and gain Christ”, and so overflow with a passion for Him and His fame and glory. Andrew encouraged us to take our workplace talents and consider how we might use them in the service of others and for the glory of Christ.

Over dessert Associate Professor of Economics at Melbourne Business School Catherine de Fontenay shared her story of being ambitious in the workplace and being a Christian. Quoting C.S Lewis she spoke of the desire we often have to be in the “inner ring” and how it drives our ambitions to selfish rather than selfless ends. She shared some very amusing stories from her own life as well as reflected on how such a desire works itself out in her particular profession.

The conference closed with an extended Q & A featuring Catherine de Fontenay, Andrew Laird, and Life @ Work patron Graham Hooper, who worked for over twenty years in senior executive roles with a global infrastructure company. Many of the questions revolved around the issue of ambition. It was a great end to two nights which encouraged us to be ambitious for Christ, exalting His name.