By Jamie Shafer
Not having grown up in the church, Chuck Proudfit’s outlook on living the Christian faith is fresh and inspiring, his enthusiasm simply contagious. What is surprising is that the transformation in his life started with a roll of toilet paper.
Proudfit has spent much of his life leading in the business world. The Harvard graduate began his career at Procter and Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio and was on the fast track to success. About six months into his job, the company assigned him a special project: compensate for higher paper costs by working with manufacturers to figure out how to fit fewer sheets on a roll of toilet paper. As he worked, he began to wonder if this was really what he had been preparing for, and the thought came to him, Is this all there is to life?
He remembers a pivotal moment one day after work as he was watching the Ohio River from home. Having grown up in Colorado, he appreciated the beauty of unspoiled terrain and clear flowing waters. On this day, the contrast captured his attention. The muddy water flowing downhill became a representation of what his life could become: decades of drudging through unfulfilling work.
Finding Something More
This motivated Proudfit to search for something more, wondering if the element of faith had something to do with fulfillment. While at Harvard, he formed friendships with people from around the world and learned about their belief systems. He soon realized that their “truths” contradicted each other. He spent the next decade searching for the truth, exploring major world religions and working for companies like Ernest & Julio Gallo Winery and LensCrafters.
His search concluded with his decision to accept Christ in his 30s. “After that, I began to ask, ‘What does it look like to integrate faith into all aspects of my life?’” he explains. He searched for ministries within the church that spoke to his life at work, but found little help.
Thus came the launch of At Work on Purpose (www.atworkonpurpose.org) in 2003, a nonprofit organization in the Cincinnati area that seeks to help Christians experience faith-filled lives at work. “I started by going back to the Bible. I looked again at the book of Acts, at the early church,“ he says. He was inspired by their commitment and sacrifice, and how they understood the power of relationships.
He was also struck by the contrast with the church in America today. “We really tend to default to weekend worshipping. Go to church. Donate some money,” notes Proudfit. Since that time he has been on a crusade to help recapture the spirit of the early church by helping to create “marketplace missionaries, not weekend worshippers.”
AWOP now involves more than 5,000 members from various careers and churches who are impacting the world for Christ through a holistic approach incorporating evangelism, work ethics, community service, coaching, and more. Proudfit is also the founder and president of Skillsource (skillsource.com), which offers general business consulting for midsize firms, and is an executive board member of Self Sustaining Enterprises (www.sseinc.org), which helps create funding for philanthropic efforts around the world.
Tips for Marketplace Missionaries
Although he shares concerns with many about America becoming a post-Christian nation, he is encouraged by the idea that the marketplace can become the starting point to reignite our faith. He encourages Christians in the workplace by sharing the following thoughts:
• Embrace the ministry potential of any job.
• The actual job isn’t as important as our calling to be God’s hands and feet, pursuing the Great Commission. When we reframe our work, we can love it because our role is to make an impact for Christ.
• Just as there are seasons of life, there are seasons in work. There are times when we are drifting in or out of a season of work. Jobs may shift, but what if a sovereign God has plans to prosper us? In the end, it will be a blessing because it will take us somewhere we would not have anticipated.
• Our work is just one part of a fully integrated life of faith. Proudfit notes that our identities are often wrapped around what we do. Remember that work is a blessing from God; it is not who you are.
Jamie Shafer is the communications director at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. She and her husband, Eric, have two children.