Three things to help you move from campus to workplace
'Does it ever get better?’
Minh* is sitting across the table from me, a recently graduated student who is now one month into his full-time job, wondering if his schedule is an anomaly. Not that long ago, Minh was finishing his degree whilst leading a prayer triplet on campus, regularly meeting with non-Christians to read the Bible, serving in the youth ministry at church and attending a weekly Bible study group on Friday night. He misses the flexibility of student life and wonders whether work is really for him. It just takes up so much time. He feels trapped when colleagues ask him to join Friday night drinks and would much rather be at Bible study.
In another conversation, Emily* is asking a different question. Her head is buzzing with ideas of where her career could go since orientation day. She is hungry even for the menial tasks and is enjoying this time of learning from more experienced colleagues. Emily loves to hang out with the other graduates, especially at Friday night drinks. There is lots of potential to build good relationships. She feels like this is exactly where God wants her to be, at the same time, it has been a while since she has checked in with God. There is barely time for a full night’s sleep. With everything moving so rapidly, there is a fleeting thought - ‘Can it get any better than this?’
For the past two years I have sat down with several students and young workers to explore the key issues they face as they move from the campus to the workplace. Much can be said about specific topics (time management, finances, evangelism and so forth) but we must first point our graduates to the Gospel and who they have been made in Christ before we jump to providing practical solutions or even theological explanations for why they should start using a calendar. If you are a graduate, my prayer for you is that these three reminders will anchor you during the transition from campus to your new environment and pace of life. For the rest of us, my prayer is that the gospel will help us encourage, support and pray for the graduates in our midst. Be aware of the changes they may be going through by spending time listening to their worries, fears, hopes and dreams. Be ready to point them to Christ and be praying for them regularly.
1. Remember who you are in Christ
‘What do you do?’ This question tops the list when people are just getting to know you. It happens especially at graduate networking events and, as I’ve observed, on Sundays in church too! Usually we answer with ‘I am a student’ or ‘I am a *insert occupation*’. We need to remember that our identity is not wrapped up in what we spend most of our week doing but in who Christ has made us to be every day of the week. If you are a Christian, you are a sinner saved by grace through faith as a recipient of God’s great love (Ephesians 2:4-5). Through Christ’ death and resurrection, we have been made into ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.’ (1 Peter 2:9) as we come to believe in him.
Forgetting our gospel identity can mean that we lose sight that God is in control despite the changing seasons in our life. We may, like Minh, lament the loss of our Christian campus community so deeply that we become bitter towards work life and potentially miss some great gospel opportunities in the workplace. Forgetting who we are in Christ due to lack of time spent in God’s word, like Emily, can mean we leave our hearts in a vulnerable position, easily swept up by placing our hope in what our job can offer us instead of looking to our heavenly hope. Remembering who we are in Christ and our heavenly trajectory will put everything into right perspective.
2. Remember that work can be hard work
One thing I noticed straightaway as I moved from university to the workplace is how graduate recruiters seem to overpromise and how my actual job seemed to under deliver. A career was often talked about as an opportunity to help change the world or pursue what one really loved to do – or both. As you work, you realise that work also involves deadlines, boring tasks, pressure, failure, budget cuts, unreasonable customer demands and difficult work relationships. These may threaten to ruin the dream of ‘Choose a job you love and you won’t have to work a day in your life’. It is a misconception to think work will fulfil all our expectations.
As Christians, we do not need to sugar coat the negative parts of work. Perhaps there is an explanation for why even the best jobs come with areas which demand effort or induce frustration. If we recall Genesis 3, when sin entered the world through man’s disobedience to God, we remember that we live in a broken world. The ground that naturally bore fruit now became toil for man.
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.” - Genesis 3:17-29
Whether it is the result of others’ sin or your own sin, you will be affected by it in every area of life – including work. Before we throw our arms helplessly up in the air we must remember that God knows exactly what is going on in your workplace. He may even shape your character through hardships like Paul suggests in Romans 5:3-5.
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
3. Remember that God has a purpose for your work
The Gospel doesn’t just give us a new identity, it also gives us a new purpose. God has a divine purpose for your education, same goes for the work which He has given you. Jesus calls every believer to love God and to love others (Matthew 22:37, 39). Even when it is tough (previous point), our daily work is an excellent opportunity to serve others.
In his book ‘Every Good Endeavour’, Tim Keller suggests for our work to be God honouring, it must go beyond serving ourselves ie, to store up wealth or bring fame to our name.
“If the God of the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavour, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God's calling, can matter forever.” Think about how good endeavours can be expressed through your work. How does it bring glory to God by serving others? How does our identity in Christ help us articulate the purpose of our work? When put through the lens of the Gospel, there are lots of jobs out there which allow us to express our love to God through our service to others. (A word for those who are recently graduated and seeking employment, perhaps the Gospel allows us to consider work outside our field for serving others as well.)
Don’t leave the Gospel at uni
Whether you are like Minh or Emily or nothing like either of them, take heed and do not regard the Gospel as elementary. Our working life is a great time of learning; let this be true in your spiritual life too. Take the Gospel with you as you leave the campus and enter the workplace. Find out what resources are available to help you put your faith into practice at work (here’s one). Remembering our Gospel identity and purpose will help us stand firm when we are confronted with the evidence of brokenness in ourselves and in our workplaces.
Perhaps as an additional ‘fourth’ reminder, remember that the Gospel is to be shared. Just as there are people on campus who need to hear the good news of Jesus, so there will be people in our workplaces as well. Get to know your colleagues; these are the people you are spending the better part of your week with. Invite them into your life outside of work and engage in meaningful conversations. Consider meeting with other Christians in the workplace to pray together for your colleagues. Be intentional about scheduling personal devotion in God’s word so you are prepared and sober minded (1 Peter 1:13).
Most of all, give thanks to God for his incredible gift of grace as you enter this phase of life, with confidence that he has called you one of his own because of Christ.
 Fruitfulness on the Frontline by Mark Greene is highly recommended reading on this topic
*Names have been changed.