“… Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us…”
– Eph 5:1
I listened to a sermon this week based in part upon the lessons of Ephesians 5. Pastor Gerrit Dawson is a master storyteller and always weaves lived experiences into the fabric of his sermons. Gerrit’s take on Ephesians 5 was about how we think of and treat people in times of correction, accountability, and discipline. You can find the full sermon here. Too often, when we are in these situations, “walking in love” would not be the best description of how we handle ourselves.
In our defense, the offending party usually denies any need for correction, making the conversation far more complicated than it needs to be. Go figure: two people with differing perspectives on a situation don’t entirely agree on how to improve it. Does an employee need to apply more hours and effort to achieve an objective, or is the objective unreasonable with insufficient support from management?
The progression of a correcting conversation often follows a pattern; tension rises, adds a little frustration, throws in a few previously unspoken resentments and a couple of choice words, and it just doesn’t look or feel like love from either party.
I think the most challenging part of “walking in love” is that it shouldn’t matter which side of the equation we are on, meaning we are to walk in love whether we are correcting or being corrected. A believing Christian is to always walk in love, as Christ loves us. It does not matter if we are coaching or being coached; we must love the other party and act accordingly.
Some of our business coaching clients are in the performance management cycle for their business, so I thought it might be helpful to view Ephesians 5 through a business management lens.
Managing Performance as a Christian
Back to the sermon lesson on Ephesians 5, the call from the Apostle Paul is to avoid a list of immoral behaviors that sounds pretty legalistic; “… but sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead, there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God…”.
Applied to the workplace, these behaviors would be those listed in the text of Scripture but also behaviors an employee knows to be contrary to the wishes and goals of the employer. This means that barring company objectives being in direct conflict with our faith, we should submit to our employer’s wishes and perform our duties excellently. To “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us,” we should not let poor performance be named among us.
Manage with Compassion and Grace
So here’s the rub: almost everyone accepts this premise when we are the manager, which is why we stumble in managing others. We see the behaviors needing correction and earnestly desire to help our employees improve. But how do we feel and behave when there is resistance to our coaching?
Arguably, it is more complicated to deliver correction with compassion and grace than it is to receive it. Most people are uncomfortable delivering corrective guidance, which introduces a little anxiety before the conversation starts. Mix a dose of anxiety with a dab of pushback, and it’s easy to lose your train of thought to the point that your good graces aren’t so graceful.
Gerrit’s sermon on Ephesians 5 highlighted the Apostle Paul’s approach to helping believers behave properly. Paul’s argument reminds us of who we are in Christ, “our deeper identity,” that is, to not live like those in darkness but to live “as someone who wants to enhance, not tarnish a higher cause.” As believers in Christ, we want to walk in light such that we feel dark when we don’t behave according to God’s will for us. The list of poor behaviors is not the focus. The point is to encourage us to live up to who we are in Christ.
Manage with Encouragement
Applied to managing performance in business, Ephesians 5 reminds us to encourage our employees to be who they are as solid performers on our team. The vast majority of people want to perform well and see themselves as capable of being valued employees.
Of course, you have a list of do’s and don’ts related to employee behavior, but that should be secondary to the encouragement for the employee to be all they can be as a strong performer.
Start, maintain, and end your performance review or coaching sessions by encouraging your team members that you believe they are good employees. The do’s and don’ts are details that help us recognize boundaries and objectives, but the approach is to encourage a higher cause. Suppose the employee rejects your encouragement and business needs. In that case, you can and should take appropriate action to manage your business for success, but that action should be compassionate and with love.