Yes, Christian Creators Can Hire Secular Staff

From sets of “The Chosen” to other positions, faithful employers face challenges when they work with unbelievers.
on Aug 18, 2023

Weeks before last summer’s “pride” activists hoisted their colors over the White House, one tinier flag on The Chosen set caused a big ruckus1

A sharp-eyed provocateur first spied this “pride” symbol, not in the biblical fiction drama itself but atop a crewman’s camera. Some critics acted in bad faith, but fans echoed some real concerns. Had the show “gone woke” or compromised?

Is it rational to expect Christians can magically gain skills in visual production, camera operation, and otherwise without some collaborating with nonbelievers? Read my article Thirty Questions for Critics of ‘The Chosen’ or Other Christian Creators Who Hire Unbelievers.

Showrunner Dallas Jenkins replied with one livestream, then another, re-sharing his biblical faith yet his openness to work with skilled creators, Christian or otherwise. In his view, The Chosen does have gospel purpose by illustrating Jesus’s ministry, but the show is a business. Don’t focus on the crew’s personal beliefs, Jenkins said, but on the show’s content that’s created by biblical Christians.

Behind this controversy lurks a serious concern—that faithful Christians often collaborate with unbelievers to illustrate the gospel or proclaim biblical virtues.

For example, The Chosen has used funding and sets (but not scripts) from Latter-day Saint supporters. Nonbelieving narrators read Christian-made audiobooks. Secular artists may animate evangelical children’s shows or make stock art for your church bulletins. Is this allowed? Or should Christians apply local-church rules to their work in the world, trying to employ only Christians in their businesses or other groups?

Let’s define three realms in play here, starting with the local church.

1. Churches stay open to newcomers yet expect more of members

It makes sense for us to wish we could simply carry local-church ideals into other places. After all, we have Christ’s Great Commission to make disciples of all nations, teaching one another to follow his commands (Matt. 28:19–20).

To join a biblical church, we commit to discipleship in this local institution. We’re subject to the apostle Paul’s fervent instruction on how these congregations expect members to pursue life change in Christ. For example, 1 Corinthians 5 directly forbids Christians from enabling sexual sin (and presumably also symbols that celebrate sin). If you claim to be a Christian but you make a practice of sinning (1 John 3:9), the church must carefully but firmly discipline you for your own sake.

We need these biblical expectations among church members so we can become like Jesus and maintain safeguards against evil. But should we enforce the same standard on nonbelievers who visit our churches or work outside our churches?

2. The world has laws and needs the Gospel, but is ruled by sin

The apostle Paul dismisses this notion of “judging outsiders” like we judge church members (1 Cor. 5:12). No Christian can avoid associating with sexually immoral people and other sinners in the world (verse 10).

In the world, we do wear job hats marked kingdom emissary, but we also wear hats with “ordinary” labels like employee, culture-creator, and citizen.

The doctrine of vocation reminds us that we show Jesus in his fallen creation by acting like spiritually resurrected humans and serving others, even as we tell the gospel whenever we can. In this sin-ruled world, sinners gonna sin. Yet even unbelievers can reflect God’s gift of common grace by parenting well or restraining evil with good laws (Matt. 7:11, Rom. 13:3–4). Faithful Christians must accept the inevitable: first, in the world we must associate with unbelievers, and second, unbelievers can make good things like beautiful art and fruitful authority.

3. Christians inevitably hire unbelievers to help with our work

What about Christians who associate with unbelievers by hiring them?

Imagine a Christian who starts a publishing company or pro-life organization. They will likely employ unbelievers, even if that office has specific gospel-related goals.

Casual onlookers (including critics of The Chosen set standards) may ignore this reality. They may have what I call “ministry myopia,” unable to see past their own local-church jobs or cultures. Or they might presume that if the Christian employers really got serious, they could limit their staff to solid Christians. In other words, they assume the Christian-run business or nonprofit can and must act like a local church.

But these are not the same. A Christian-run pro-life group does not exist to preach orthodox sermons; it exists to glorify God by influencing culture and policy to honor life. And a Christian-owned business or creative studio does not exist to disciple one another with spiritual authority and spread the gospel to every nation; it exists to glorify Jesus by creating excellent things and making ethical profits.

If we do not want Christian preachers to act like business owners or entertainers, why assume Christian business owners and entertainers should act like preachers?

Job applications for Christian creators

With for-profit businesses like The Chosen, a Christian producer may not even be legally permitted to hire only professing Christians. But he can rationally expect his cast and crew to support the show’s mission of illustrating New Testament narratives regardless of their personal beliefs. And he can certainly keep creative control, ensuring that hired actors will stick to the scripts written by Christians.

Meanwhile, a Christian publisher might hire only qualified Christians for certain jobs, like writing novels, yet hire unbelievers for other positions, like making the technology that distributes this work to readers.

Similarly, a local church shouldn’t enlist unbelievers to build its spiritual foundation, but it might hire them to pour concrete for the church building’s physical foundation. And if those unbelievers privately revile the church’s mission, get drunk off the job site, or idolize sexual-revolutionary “pride,” that’s no automatic fault of the church—so long as the crew does the work well.

Beyond the righteous rules of local churches and the sin-ruled mess of our secular world, Christian employers have great chances to show and tell. They can work closely with unbelievers to show them how Christians follow the Cultural Mandate, making stuff with excellence to glorify God. But they can also define the spaces in which they are free to tell unbelievers why we hope in Christ (1 Peter 3:15–16).

Instead of naïvely expecting Christian employers to act like 24/7 preachers, let’s pray they’ll stay faithful to their own churches while shining gospel truth into the world and the creative workplace. Perhaps there, even a “prideful” cameraman may find Jesus shown and told.

E. Stephen Burnett explores fantastical stories for God’s glory as publisher of and its weekly Fantastical Truth podcast. He coauthored The Pop Culture Parent and creates other resources for fans and families, serving with his wife, Lacy, in their central Texas church. Stephen's first novel, a science-fiction adventure, launches in 2025 from Enclave Publishing.

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