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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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On purpose: an interview with Steve Osei-Mensah

‘In my last job, I spent a lot of time interviewing people in senior roles. These folk had everything in worldly terms. And yet the second we touched on the idea of ‘purpose’, so many of them had regrets.

‘They worried about wasting their lives. No matter how successful they seemed, they were still asking: “could I have done better?”’

For Steve Osei-Mensah, conversations like that sum up why he came to LICC. Following a career in financial services and consultancy, including stints as a partner at EY and PwC, he joined the team last month as Work Forum Director. Now he’s committed to helping Christians in the workplace see their God-given purpose – right where they are.

‘When you feel like there’s no purpose in your work, it can end up being oppressive, a drudgery. From a Christian perspective that just can’t be right! It breaks my heart when I meet Christians who see their jobs as meaningless toil – not just because it’s awful for them, but also because it ends up being a poor reflection of faith to the people they work with.’

Steve is convinced this question of purpose is a central issue for almost every Christian in work. ‘At LICC we have a tremendous opportunity to address that and help people discover God’s perspective on their jobs – both when they start out in their twenties, and as they progress in what God’s calling them into.’

For Steve, that point about progress is key. Helping people discover their God-given purpose at work isn’t about a one-time Damascene conversion, where work suddenly becomes a beatific joy. It’s about inviting people into a conversation with God that evolves along with their career.

‘We need to help people constantly reassess their work, with Christ as the master,’ says Steve. ‘We’re encouraging them to ask: “what is your call on my work here and now? What work have you got for me today?” And the answer will change depending on the season they’re in.

‘Ultimately, we want to inspire people to grow in their relationship with Christ, the good boss. We know who we’re working for: a manager whose burden is light, whose yoke is easy. So, what does that mean in a whole series of jobs, or multiple jobs at once? And how can I grow as a disciple in the job where God’s placed me right now?’

That might seem like an obvious question to ask, but in Steve’s experience, it’s not as common as you might think.

‘There are various social causes we’re becoming aware of as a church right now, like creation care. Similarly, we know we can’t carry on the way we are in the workplace – we know things need to change for the better. But for lots of us as Christians – and I include myself here – we often don’t try to transform the workplaces we’re in and the work we’re doing.

‘For example, I’ve seen so many people give up on the corporate workplace because they feel it’s too dark, or not for them – or even more sadly, simply changing their habits to fit in. But the reality is we’ve been put in our jobs with a purpose: to partner with the God who works through us to fundamentally change our workplaces for the better.’

It’s an exciting vision, but all this talk of transformation and culture change can sound outfacing. Fortunately, change is the result of many small actions, each person playing their part. Steve shares a personal story to illustrate the point.

‘I’m currently doing a placement as an ordinand in a hospice. One day, the chaplain I’m working with took me to speak to the gardening staff. We sat down with them for lunch, and she said to one of the gardeners, “Janet, do you remember the flower bed you were digging up a couple of weeks ago?”

‘“Yes,” she said, “I regularly get the beds cleared and ready for Spring planting.”

‘“Well,” continued the chaplain, “thinking back, during the last conversation I had with one of our patients, I went to his room and he was looking out of the window at your flower bed. He was amazed at how carefully you tended it. He said to me, ‘I know I’m not going to live long enough to see the new roses, but that gardener – it’s wonderful, what she does.’”

‘And then the chaplain said to the gardener, “You were Christ to that person when you did that.”

‘I thought that was wonderful. Her face lit up, and she said “Chaplain, thank you. I didn’t realise I was a chaplain too!”’

That gardener may or may not have been a Christian, but her story shows perfectly how God can work through people in their ordinary jobs to bring the kingdom on Earth. And communicating this message, Steve says in summary, is what the Work Forum is all about.

‘If I know I’m working for the King of kings, I might have the courage to step into my busy work and ask “Lord, what do you have for me here?” And then, by the power of the Holy Spirit, amazing things might start to happen.’

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