FAITH IN THE WORKPLACE
By MONTY LYNN
“Is work spiritual?” is an ancient and enduring question.
Few other human activities capture a larger share of life than do paid and unpaid labor. As a Benedictine oblate, I’m committed to practicing a rhythm of ora et labora (prayer and work), but after a decade and a half, I still need help to avoid slipping into a world dividing faith from work.
A few years ago, a Reformed and Catholic colleague and I began to study faith in the workplace. We constructed a scale to measure the integration of Christian faith and work and we conducted a national survey using the scale.
We learned a lot during the process, including that many Christians are influenced by their faith to be moral, to a lesser degree to view others at work as made in the image of God, and to an even lesser degree to think of their work as a partnership with God. Workplace spirituality is manifest through different facets and degrees.
Overall, workplace spirituality connotes a desire to resist sorting activities into spiritual or secular boxes, accepting that “business is just business,” or believing that work occurs without personal, social, or transcendental implications. It is an affirmation or desire to live out of a single identity, regardless of whether one is at the mosque, church, temple, or job.
Recently, the Barna Group in Ventura, California partnered with Abilene Christian University to investigate workplace spirituality among nearly 1,500 North American Christians. In September, they released their findings in Christians at Work, a monograph offering rich observations to ponder, including that:
- Two-thirds of the Christian workers surveyed agree that on some level it’s clear to them how their work serves God.
- Six in ten believe they have God-given gifts, and one in three wants a better understanding of them.
- Practicing faith is consistently correlated with feeling well suited to one’s work and wanting to have an impact.
- Barna identifies a special group for whom professional curiosity, generosity, integrity and gratification are a package deal.
- Integrators (28 percent) deeply connect faith and work; Onlookers (38 percent) are passive employees positioned to better connect with their faith and work; Compartmentalizers (34 percent) have yet to discover strong links between their work and faith.
- While working fathers and single women thrive, working mothers and single men struggle for vocational fulfillment by comparison.
- Millennials could use some spiritual direction to anchor their ambition, while many Baby Boomers’ are focusing on after-career transitions.
- 53 percent say their church helps them understand how to live out their faith in the workplace.
- Work commitments hinder church involvement for about a third of the respondents.
- The majority is content in their career, mentors others, and thinks about how their church can equip workers.
I was pleased to contribute to the Barna study. It’s not without critique but offers rich perspectives which join other voices on spirituality at work, including David Miller’s analysis in his informative book, God at Work. And there are others.
Many people have jobs that are a mis-match, life-draining, or even abusive, and some tasks seem sterile of faith, leaving workers struggling with how their faith and work link meaningfully. Toward the end of Christians at Work, the Barna researchers quote writer Mark Labberton who reminds us that “vocation isn’t primarily about how to find fulfillment and satisfaction.” Work incorporates suffering, service, and brokenness, and these too have deep spiritual echoes for Christians.
Although I’ve focused on insights from Christians at work, thankfully deep wells on workplace spirituality exist within a variety of religious and non-religious spiritual perspectives. This variegated wisdom leaches beyond sectarian lines and invites all to the journey of seeking meaning, joining in service and suffering, and finding God at work.
- Christians at Work (Ventura, CA: Barna Group), 2018 [www.barna.com].
- Mark Labberton, Called: The Crisis and Promise of Following Jesus Today, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), 2014.
Monty Lynn is professor of business management at Abilene Christian University.