God’s Presence in our Work: An Interview with Russ Gehrlein

faithcoop  •  June 10, 2024

An Introduction

Thank you for inviting me to share my unique faith and work journey. My name is Russ Gehrlein. I am a Christian, husband of 43 years, father of three adult children, and a grandfather of five. I spent 20 years on active duty with the U.S. Army and retired as a Master Sergeant in 2006. For the past 16 years, I have worked as a Department of the Army Civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. I am also a blogger, freelance writer, and author of the book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession. I am passionate about the theology of work, which I get to practice every day.

The Interview

Faith Co-Op (FC): How does your faith inform the work that you do?

Russ Gehrlein (RG): My Christian faith has guided me in every stage of my vocation. The Lord began to prepare me for the work I do before I became a Christian at age 17. I developed my spiritual gifts of teaching and encouragement, which I have used throughout all three phases of my vocational journey: math education, ministry, and the military. Every day, I experience God’s presence with me at work as He works in and through me to bless those whom I serve with.

FC: What are some biblical principles that guide you in your work?

RG: The first foundational principle that guides me is that God is present in the work He calls His people to do. A second one is that God works through His people to meet the full spectrum of human needs (i.e., physical, mental, emotional, social). A third one acknowledges that the Fall of Adam due to his sin in the Garden makes work much harder than it needs to be. However, as a Christian, we know that these challenges at work become trials that God uses to build our faith.

FC: Are there daily rhythms you practice or words you read that help orient your mind for the workplace?

RG: Yes. I try to follow the example of Brother Lawrence, who wrote the classic book, The Practice of the Presence of God. I pray often. I pray as I head in to work, when I need wisdom to solve a problem, and for my leaders and my soldiers when prompted to do so. Without thinking about it, I sing hymns and choruses, sometimes silently, sometimes quietly on the way to a meeting across the building. I call to mind applicable Scriptures to help me work as unto the Lord.

Words of Encouragement

FC: What advice would you give for other marketplace leaders trying to live out their faith through their vocations?

RG: The key for me is to strive to consistently walk with God, abide in Christ, and be filled with the Holy Spirit at work and everywhere else I go. When we are fully confident that God has placed us in our job “for such a time as this,” that he has prepared us with the right skills, that he’s provided it for us to meet our family’s needs, and has a divine purpose for us, work becomes a spiritual adventure.

When we are fully confident that God has placed us in our job “for such a time as this,” that he has prepared us with the right skills, that he’s provided it for us to meet our family’s needs, and has a divine purpose for us, work becomes a spiritual adventure.

FC: How would you encourage those reading this to see that their work matters?

RG: When we realize that we are doing something that God wants done in the world, and that God is actually doing that work through us, it is easy to grasp that what we do all day matters to Him. Does God want people to be fed, clothed, comforted, educated, governed, etc.? I believe He does. When we do those things at work, we are loving our neighbors and loving God at the same time.

Faith-Driven Business Decisions

FC: What is a faith-driven business decision you’ve made? What did you learn?

RG: A few years ago, someone filed an anonymous complaint against my office after someone observed several of our soldiers speaking Spanish in a personal conversation. It had made them feel uncomfortable and they were certain this was not appropriate for the workplace. This greatly upset those who participated because they knew that they had done nothing wrong. I knew that I had to handle this situation delicately and that it might be a defining moment for me as a leader. I prayed for wisdom, compassion, and courage as I took steps to resolve the issue. It was important in that moment that all members of my team felt like they were treated with dignity and respect. This is important to me as a Christian since I understand that all of us are made in the image of God. I briefed my supervisor and her boss as well. I listened to each Soldier one-on-one. I contacted our equal opportunity office. They confirmed this was not in violation of army policy, which I knew in my heart was the case. As a result, my teammates felt valued. I learned to trust my instincts.

Navigating Career Change

FC: How did you navigate your career changes? How did you know when to stay and when to leave?

RG: It was always a matter of trusting God to provide. When jobs were challenging, I looked to God to either deliver me from it or give me the strength to get through it. I asked for wisdom, which James 1:5 tells us God will provide when we ask for it. During my 20 years in the army, I usually had little say in the matter, as I would be reassigned every few years. I had to trust God every time.

A Testing of Faith

FC: How has your faith been tested in your work? What has God taught you about Him through it?

RG: One of the hardest trials I ever went through was during a season of testing that lasted over a year when I failed to meet my monthly quotas as an army recruiter. Although I did enlist close to 20 new Soldiers during this time, my target was much more than what I was doing. There were several months in a row when I put in only one Soldier when my mission was to enlist two that month. There was a couple of months I did not enlist anyone. I wanted so much to succeed. I had hoped that God would bless my efforts, but it seemed like I never could figure out how to get potential recruits to commit to joining the army. These monthly failures took away my joy and caused me to question why God was not present in my work. I saw a Christian counselor and leaned on God to help me get through this long season of disappointment and failure. God never did give me success. However, He graciously delivered me from this to another assignment, which He clearly blessed.

Read the previous story in the series of faithfulness here.