Faith In The Marketplace: Leading Counter-culturally

12 Jun 2024

By Amy Galliford

About this article: Raewyn Williams and Rebecca Lee share with Amy Galliford their experience of being Christian leaders in corporate businesses. As they share, similar lessons emerge from holding their sense of calling to bring Christ-like character and presence in contrast to organisational culture.

“I got made redundant, and it was the best thing that happened to me.”

Chief Compliance Officer at a financial services company, Rebecca Lee’s job is to get people to follow the rules. Rather than operating as some kind of corporate policeman, Rebecca sees her work as a mission field for representing Christ. But it wasn’t always that way.

Having tasted the luxuries of corporate life early in her career, Rebecca’s work was initially guided by her ambitions to climb the ladder.

“My whole relationship with God was replaced with this need for company recognition,” she says. “The problem was, they started to give it to me!” She began amassing promotions, business trips and management positions, making significant personal sacrifices in the pursuit of the top. Then, a sudden redundancy kicked the corporate ladder from beneath her.

“It made me realise I was just a number. That was the first time God called me back – I needed to rely on something that was not going to change.”

With new ‘ears to hear’, she began discovering Gospel truths as if for the first time, despite her decades of Sunday church attendance.

“‘Christianity is all about relationship with God and with other people’… I’d never heard that! ‘You receive Jesus when you accept him as Lord, and you are no longer your own Lord’… that I didn’t know! My question became, ‘What else do I not know?’”

This crisis of faith catalysed a new direction for Rebecca. Her newfound passion for faith led her into a deeper engagement with the house church ministry at Sydney Crystal, but it also gave her an entirely new sense of mission in her professional work. While compliance is, by definition, motivated by doing things by the book, her commitment to integrity was no longer merely a product of her role but of her faith.

Pictured: Rebecca Lee

“For me, it’s all about how I can best help the business create an outcome that is fair and right for the client,” she says.

“How I work today is not how I worked back then. Back then, I believed the only way to climb the corporate ladder was to be part of the social culture, and the only way to protect your job was to work strategically, even if it meant criticising others. That all disappeared. My focus became: ‘I am surrounded by all these non-believers, and I am representing Christ.’”

Kingdom Values in a Secular Workplace

This mantle of representing Christ in a secular workplace is one with which Raewyn Williams is very familiar. While she currently chairs and contributes to several boards, Raewyn formerly served as director of multiple organisations within investment management and superannuation. She acknowledges that her Christian values were often stark against this backdrop and points out the fundamentally good goal at the heart of the industry.

“There is a very important person-centred mission in superannuation, and that is people’s dignity in retirement. As Christians, we understand how God wants to see people dignified and treated well and provided for. Understanding the person-centred mission in superannuation helped me to reconcile it to my Christian values.”

This posture of anchoring her work in godly principles is one she has brought to her various leadership positions across her career. She credits her faith as the force that draws her gaze toward a long-term vision and grants her wisdom in guiding organisations.

Pictured: Raewyn Williams

“There are short-term pressures and deadlines, but I have always tried to lift myself above that and ask, ‘What are we really trying to do here, and how long does this need to take to do it well?’ A big part of my Christian expression is bringing the longer-term ‘why’ to the discussion.”

Not only does Raewyn’s faith-filled perspective foreground the ‘why’ behind certain activities, but it similarly impacts her approach to the ‘how’. Outcomes may appear the same, but Christian values inform a way of achieving them that contrasts with the surrounding culture. She explains,

“My industry tends to be very outcome-oriented – all about the deliverable. But the way we get there is important to us as Christians. God really cares about the way we get there.”

“You Handled That Differently”

Like Raewyn, Rebecca explains how this faith-based motivation at work empowers her to remain firm in the face of pushback to unpopular decisions.

“Faith made me more diligent at work. In the past, I would try to avoid conflict or avoid making difficult decisions by deferring them to my manager. After growing my faith in God, I realised that if God is with me, I have nothing to fear.”

Both Rebecca and Raewyn observe the way their faith outworks itself through grace in navigating these difficult decisions and conversations. Even when a tough call must be made, Raewyn points out that there is a way of doing it that leaves people feeling affirmed, understood or included. She recalls several instances of people responding to her with the words, “I saw how you handled that differently…”

Rebecca echoes this sentiment, explaining,

“The old me would not have been as aware of how I communicate something. Now, I have this desire to make sure we are all on the same page – we are all there for the common good! It can be quite challenging when people are not receptive. I find myself often praying before my chats with them, and it’s in those moments that I see that what the Bible says, ‘Do not worry about what to say, for I’ll give you the words,’ is just so true.”

Maintaining this Christian identity in the workplace is a constant discipline. As Raewyn puts it, “You have to be vigilant about not being formed by the non-Christian values that you’re surrounded by.” The temptation in such environments is to fold to the contrasting priorities of the secular world, whether in an attempt to please a boss, get ahead, or fit in with fellow employees. The balance is about blending in enough to collaborate while remaining firmly planted in who you are.”

Raewyn speaking at a recent industry event.

Bringing her full, authentic self to her leadership like this took time. She explains, “When you first get exposed to leadership, it’s easy to mould to some idealised way of being a leader. But God created me this way for a reason. A significant breakthrough for me came with saying, ‘No, I need to lead in the way I think is right.’”

While Rebecca and Raewyn acknowledged the challenges of maintaining their distinct identities in their careers, both spoke with joy and devotion about God’s calling to see their work as their ministry. As Raewyn puts it, “It’s not easy. There’s a lot of things about it that are hard, but they are all second order to the excitement of saying, ‘God made me to do this in this season, and that’s beautiful.’”


Read more stories from churches of Christ in NSW & ACT HERE