Faith in the furnace

“We give it to God and pray and pray and pray, and he will work out his purposes,” says Amy Brown, CEO of Investment NSW and the newly appointed secretary of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, where she leads a staff of about 6000. Don’t miss your chance to hear this impressive woman of faith talk about flourishing in a senior leadership role in the NSW government at this year’s [email protected] Conference presented by City Bible Forum on Saturday.

Speaking to Eternity this week Amy said she models her management style on Jesus and is confident God can use her to influence people in the work she does. In her spare time she likes to run and ocean swim, listen to podcasts and play the drums. Eternity decided to let Amy speak directly to our readers.

Work as a mission field

I find my workplace very tied with my personal purpose and my personal purpose comes through my faith in the God who made us and loved us and saved us for a relationship with himself. From that comes for me the principle of the intrinsic worth and equal value of all people, regardless of their kind of background or circumstances or mistakes or anything.

And so, working for government, that really rings true in terms of our job is to equalise opportunities for all of our citizens. That very much is why I show up every day and do what I do and see it as linked with my personal purpose.

But in terms of the way I am in a workplace as a Christian and how I see the workplace, it is our mission field in a sense. I’ve done a lot of reflecting because I spend a lot of time at work – always have – and we have Jesus’s life-shaping spirit in us all of the time, so workplaces are our spiritual places. There’s no ‘spiritual things’ category being church and reading the Bible, versus when I’m in a secular workplace. Every place is somewhere where God is using us to achieve his eternal purposes.

The other thing I spent a lot of time over the summer thinking about is Jesus as our rabbi and us as his apprentices because when we look at the gospels, he spent a lot of time on this earth working. So, similar to the 90s saying, “What would Jesus do?” I’m a bit more nuanced than that. “What would Jesus do if he were me in these life circumstances, in this job, with this issue before me and serving the people that I lead?”

There’s a lot we can draw from that in terms of him being fiercely present when he was with people. He wasn’t rushed, he wasn’t hurried, he wasn’t distracted. He showed up for the people when they needed him and he really put every person at the centre, whereas in workplaces, we can often be very task-orientated rather than relationship-orientated.

Servant leadership

I think God really speaks through the leadership of Christians in that servant leadership mentality, where you put the good of your people at the heart of the way you lead and what you do and the decisions you make.

It’s how we react as Christians when things go badly that really sets us apart and can actually speak volumes. I keep being reminded of the verse from Philippians [2:15], “Do everything without complaining and grumbling, be like children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation, then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.” So if we’re in a difficult circumstance, how we react among our colleagues is a huge testimonial to what we believe. And then it’s that we’re not doing in our own strength. We give it to God and pray and pray and pray, and he will work out his purposes. He has us exactly where he wants us, for a reason.

I talk to my kids a lot about what your identity is. We are God’s handiwork. He made us exactly as we are. It’s not like there was this accident. And he doesn’t say, “I didn’t mean to create this person this way.” You’re allowed to embrace your vulnerabilities because they’re part of the handiwork and the combination of how God’s created you to serve his purposes, the vulnerable stuff, as well as the stuff where you feel strong – you’re never strong of your own accord anyway. It’s all Jesus’s strength.

The way I weave my faith and I suppose my values, to use a slightly more on-trend word, changes depending on who I’m talking to. You need to make it appropriate to the audience. For me, the trend or the emerging style of leadership in the secular workplace towards servant leadership and that part of being courageous is showing vulnerability, has become much more mainstream, even linking it to your purpose.

A household of faith

I became a Christian through my dad. When I was eight years old, we were living in America. My dad’s a gastroenterologist and he was doing research. He was completely agnostic, no background in Christianity at all. Someone gave him a book voucher, and he went into a bookstore and couldn’t find a book he liked. And then he saw the Bible and went “why not use the book voucher to buy the Bible?” And he just started reading it.

So it’s quite amazing how God’s word can work in someone’s life without them even really knowing a Christian or having a Christian friend. By the time he got to Deuteronomy [30:19], it was talking about “Choose life so that you and your children may live” – I’m one of four kids so that was a very powerful message to him.

When we got back to Australia, he woke me up on the first Sunday morning and said, “We’re going to drive down Mona Vale Road and the first church we see we’re walking into.” It was Christ Church St Ives and the gospel was present in everything that was preached and he became a Christian very quickly. I remember him sitting our family down and saying, “There’s something I need to tell you.” And he told us about being far from God and Jesus dying for us and us becoming Christian. So we kind of all became Christian together, the whole family, which was amazing.

Following God’s leading

When you grow up in an evangelical church, there’s a lot of preaching from the front and I learned a lot and it was quite an academic sort of faith then. I loved doing my PTC [Preliminary Theological Certificate] courses at Moore College and understanding how the Old Testament fit together, all of that.

But only in the last handful of years, have I realised what it means to have a genuinely, deeply personal relationship with God. I read a book recently and it talked about almost concentric circles. You’ve got the racing around out here and your job and all your responsibilities, you’ve got your families, but at the absolute core of it is who you are. And that really is whose you are. It’s the fact that you’re Jesus’s. And when you’re looking up he’s looking back at you.

So I’ve spent a lot more time in silence and solitude, listening to God and actually spending time, for example, in the Psalms and realising how much the Psalms are speaking in my day to day. Then I’ve been sitting there and praying it through and hearing God’s voice and having a lot stronger spiritual guidance within myself through the Holy Spirit as to what to do next and where to go.

And I felt that God was very instrumental in using that in getting me to this leadership position. I really felt like he was preparing me for that for quite a long time and leading me to lots of verses, talking about coming through to places of abundance and all around in Joshua about not feeling ready, but “Be strong and courageous.” Then raising my kids as well and helping them realise we’ve strayed too far to the other extreme. Now, we’re really reinforcing that their identity isn’t in what they achieve or how they perform on a sports field or how they are in the classroom; their identity is in the fact that they’re a child of God and they’re created by him. So it’s developed much more on that personal spiritual level, rather than just learning my Bible and being able to repeat it back.

Letting God direct ambition

I think, even from a secular viewpoint, I would be perceived as a very ambitious person. I’ve got that competitive spirit and I want to do better and I want to lead and have front-row tickets to the show – I’m very into what I’m into at the time.

The way I maybe approached ambition early in my career was I’d always be trying to manipulate and engineer the situation. So let’s just say there was a promotion opportunity, I’d be trying to form alliances or big-note myself, or even plant seeds of doubt in decision-makers’ minds about people who might also be being considered for the opportunity.

Whereas I’ve realised that God’s plans are perfect. He has me exactly where he wants me and I don’t need to do anything to try and influence the situation. I need to sit back, pray and pray and pray, pray, give it to God. And if he wants an outcome, that is what the outcome will be. And the outcome might be something terrible, that I lose my job or don’t get the opportunity, but he’ll be glorified through that. So it’s just that absolute trust that it’s not about me and it’s not about me seizing these ambitions for myself. I don’t need to seize anything. I just need to let God do the work.

It was only when it started to dawn on me how exhausting it is to have to live that way where every single outcome depends on you. And it depends on how you perform in that moment. Raising kids helps as well. What are you teaching them? You know, if you don’t perform to the highest standard at that meeting or if you’re not in the right place at the right time. And that is a really exhausting way to live. And reflecting back, I felt like I was going to work to fight or to constantly be on and constantly be thinking “What do I need to do next to make the outcome what I want to happen?” I realised this is going to be an exhausting 50-year career! So having kids gives you that perspective and you don’t have time to be able to be everywhere and do everything and so you have to let go and let God.

To register to hear Amy Brown, Michael Jensen, Andrew Laird and Nathan Grills on Saturday, click here.