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Tom Petersen works at a company in the Midwest, where he processes e-mail, attends meetings and recalibrates management expectations. His book of essays on work and faith is currently lurking outside of publishers’ back doors, trying to meet a naïve editor. Contact him at

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Giving Bosses Their Due

By Tom Petersen

CBNMoney.comYou have to feel sorry for bosses. They have a terrible reputation. In mass media, they are portrayed as bumblers, fools, autocrats, and as chronically clueless. From the pointy-headed boss in “Dilbert” to Mr. Dithers in “Blondie;” in movies from “9 to 5” to “Fun With Dick and Jane,” bosses never get to be the good guys.

A brief history of bosses
But maybe some of that reputation is earned. Employees have struggled with their bosses throughout history. Historical records indicate Genghis Khan was a tyrant at salary review time, and Hannibal drove his men over the Alps simply because his incentive payout was riding on it. If King George had been a little more open to 360 reviews, the American Revolution might never have happened. Even George Washington, the Father of his country, inappropriately commandeered work resources when he had to cross the Delaware to attend his nephew’s birthday party. 

The earliest definition of “boss” dates back to the ancient world. The word, “supervisor,” for instance, comes from the ancient Aramaic. It is made up of two parts. “Super,” means “Big” or “Grande” (or even “Venti” for those of you who see the world through the lens of overpriced coffee). “Visor” means “thing that you can pull down to keep the sun out of your eyes.” So “supervisor” means, literally, “Big, vacillating thing that keeps you in the dark.”
It explains a lot, doesn’t it?

Picking on the boss
Sometimes we struggle with our bosses because we can’t get past the fact that they’re “the boss.” You may have the best boss in the world. But most of us are conditioned not to appreciate our bosses. They generally represent things that employees don’t like: authority, structure, rules. Our bosses remind us of our parents when they told us, “You can’t go to Peter’s house until you clean your room,” or “Stop teasing your sister.” That’s why, to this day, I can’t keep my office clean and I taunt my co-workers by repeating back everything they say.

But rather than pout when the boss gives me a time-out, I’ve developed compassion for bosses. (It probably came about when I became a boss. It’s amazing how sensitive we become to someone else’s hardships when they happen to us.) My experience taught me that bosses are in a tough spot, because they have more responsibility, pressure and headaches than we mere mortals do. The self-aware ones are more fearful that any mistake they make will affect a lot more people, money and market share.

So bosses have two ways of coping with this. They can make their decisions louder and more aggressively, asserting their confidence to prevent any sense that they may be fallible. Or (and here’s the right answer if you need a little help), they can give the whole job to God and make the decisions and take the actions that He would want.

Helping the boss
But if your boss doesn’t live that way, what should you do? As a Christian employee, my job is not to undercut the boss. It may be tempting. I may believe I am justified doing it. I may have petitions signed by every employee in the company that my boss should be eliminated in the first round. But that’s not my role. My role is to pray for my boss and follow his or her direction.

Now praying for the boss doesn’t sound very rewarding. But it is more effective than getting everyone to sign the recall petition. And often prayer works on the pray-er as much as it works on the pray-ee.

Being under authority

Scripture gives us insight into obeying the boss. In the New Testament, both Peter and Paul talk about placing ourselves under the authority of someone in charge. This is where my childish rebellion is really tested.

It starts with God allowing people to be in charge. If we are serving under the authority of the boss, our job is not to judge whether or not the right person is in the role. If we’re not happy, we generally have the opportunity to find a new job. But while we are in a job, our responsibility is to adhere to the hierarchy, serving those who hired us as if serving Christ directly. While God is our ultimate boss, we bring glory to Him when we serve our earthly bosses with excellence.

Peter makes one of the most “in your face” statements on respecting authority in 1 Peter 2:13-15 (NASB).

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.”

And in verses 18-19, “…be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor…”
Paul said something similar in Ephesians  6:5-8 (NIV).

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.”

I don’t read these as giving us a lot of leeway in ignoring, undercutting or bad-mouthing the boss. No matter how bad he or she is.

Understanding that God is at work

“Sure,” you’re saying, “you’ve got a great boss, who is wise and kind and undoubtedly will someday read this and reflect favorably on your job performance. But my boss is a knucklehead who buzzes his administrative assistant on the intercom to e-mail me, even though I sit right outside his door. How do I deal with that?”

Same way. I read Paul’s counsel to say you should treat the boss with respect, fear and sincerity, just as you would obey Christ. Think of it this way. The test is not whether you can obey the knucklehead in the corner office, but how obedient you are to God.  
And realize that God is at work in the situation regardless of how bad it feels at the time. Like all difficult things, sometimes God uses conflict with the boss to draw us closer to Him. Sometimes He uses us to witness to those in authority over us. And sometimes we need to serve an icky boss responsibly because others are looking at us to see how Christians act when it’s not easy to be obedient.

I know it may be hard to pray for, obey and respect your boss. But just try it a little bit. You told your parents that you didn’t like broccoli, either, but taking just a small bite didn’t turn out so bad, now did it?

And stop slouching, while you’re at it.

How have you related to your boss, even when it isn’t easy?

.Send Tom an e-mail and let us know.

Tom Petersen works at a company in the Midwest, where he processes e-mail, attends meetings and recalibrates management expectations. His book of essays on work and faith is currently lurking outside of publishers’ back doors, trying to meet a naïve editor. Contact him at


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