In recent years there have been noble attempts by many Christian authors, consultants and advisors to address an issue that any dope-head could see had an unquestionably huge market potential: that of helping Christians integrate their faith with their jobs. Think about it – all those Christian worker-bees out there, churning away in soul-less organizations while their spiritual lives wither away to dust! What a ripe market to tap in to! And really, is there any one of us who couldn’t use a healthy dose of spiritual support and encouragement at our jobs?
But I am afraid that although the “Faith in the Workplace” phrase has firmly established itself in the mainstream lexicon, it has not really caught on in the larger scheme of things in corporate America, other than perhaps as a novelty item or an eccentric point of curiosity. Oh, don’t get me wrong – there are certainly many legitimate organizations out there beating the Faith in the Workplace drum who are offering thoughtful content, on-site bible studies, marketplace ministries, and the like. I applaud them for it. And the press does a token article on the subject every now and then.
But, here’s where I’m coming from: I have spent the last twenty years navigating a healthy career path through a maze of corporate organizations, bosses and workplaces. And when I square that experience off with a fairly in-depth review of the available resources that fall under the “Faith in the Workplace” banner, I find some gaps that may be hindering the movement rather than moving it forward.
1. It’s Not Very Marketable.
This is our first problem, and it’s a big one. Can’t we come up with a better, more alluring name for this than “Faith in the Workplace?” Perhaps something with the word “Investing!” in it, or maybe “Profits” or even “Leadership?” It’s just that the word “Faith” is not very accessible to the masses in the corporate world. In fact, “Faith” may very well be an alarm call to run in the opposite direction, since the blatant expression of faith in the workplace is still a questionable practice. Therefore, most people will unfortunately respond to this particular term with some degree of apprehension.
I don’t care how you slice it, the greater marketplace just does not get the idea of mixing faith with work, so we must slip in the back door somehow. Maybe someone should hire a PR firm to come up with a better name. I like the phrasing coined by the folks at InsideWork: “Spiritual Engagement at Work.”
2. Dial Down the Church-Talk!
Why is it that so many over-churched Christians insist on talking in a completely different language than what we use every day at work? The vast majority of books, Blogs, and ministries devoted to Faith in the Workplace are all speaking the same secret code-language of the Evangelical Christian sub-culture. Just because someone is entrenched in a white, conservative, Baptist suburban church doesn’t mean that all the other spiritually-inclined Christians in business are going to share that same particular background. I’m sorry, but I have never, ever used words like “Equip,” “Minister,” “Glorify” or “Saint” at work when talking about my spiritual life. Yet the typical content of most Faith in the Workplace material is brimming with this obtuse Christianeze language that is absolutely foreign, standoff-ish and completely irrelevant for a business setting.
If Faith in the Workplace efforts are to be effective, they have got to start with the use of language that is relevant and familiar to the world of business and management.
3. Dumbed Down Content.
This may come as a shock and surprise to some of you, but not every business issue can be solved with a cute three-point vignette tagged with a bible verse. Much of the Faith in the Workplace content out there today takes an overly simplistic approach towards business issues in their desperate attempts to provide scriptural “answers” to every possible situation. Instead of acknowledging that there are gray areas, ambiguity, periods of doubt and uncertainty, many will try to force-fit bible lessons into the highly complex issues that leaders face in the corporate world. The result is a less-than-credible appearance of spitting out 3rd grade Sunday School lessons to an audience of highly educated, sophisticated and (literally) worldly managers. It doesn’t work.
For example, I recently attended a Christian Business Conference where the speaker’s handout for the session was nothing more than a list of sentences (regurgitated directly from her motivational speech) interspersed with blanks, where the audience was supposed to fill in the answers as she delivered her searing insights. As I looked down at this sheet of “notes” during her presentation, I was thinking, “What? Does she think I’m an idiot?” It not only insulted my intelligence, it was downright embarrassing. An audience of seasoned, educated business men and women can not be addressed as if they are teenagers attending a youth retreat. Jesus himself didn’t give us fill-in-the-blank answers to every challenge that came up. And when he did speak in simplistic terms, it came off as profound, not dumb.
4. Preaching to the Choir.
This is my biggest frustration of all. Sure, all of us well-fed Christians can always use the encouragement and the motivation that comes with work-faith ministries, but for God’s sake – what about everybody else? What about the seekers, and those alumni who no longer attend church, and all of those who are still on the journey, but may not immediately identify with Evangelical Christianity? What about all of those who don’t fall into the catch-all category of Protestant Evangelical? Why can’t we reach out and acknowledge the legitimate spiritual lives of those folks, too?
I believe there is a broader application of God’s message to be heard other than just to certain well-worn brands of Christians. It’s as if the work-faith organizations don’t know how to reach into corporate America effectively, so they take the easiest path – just keep reaching into the Christian demographic we know and love so well, those easy targets who are suckers for anything with a fish symbol and a cross pasted on it. Some Christian organizations have become far too obsessed with cloning their own versions of themselves.
5. Targeting the Workplace as a Stomping Ground for Evangelism.
People do not want to be solicited, evangelized, or converted – at work, or anywhere else for that matter. When was the last time you were happy to receive a telemarketing call during dinner? You may think that God’s work won’t get done without you, but think about it: NO ONE wants to be paved over by a one-sided opinionated religious person talking about their “right” and “only” way. That approach may have worked in the 1950’s, but it doesn’t play well among today’s more sophisticated, diverse and progressive culture in corporate America.
What people do want, however, is to be loved, respected, and valued right where they are. That is the first step to winning trust, which then leads to real relationships and then honest, vulnerable conversations about (among other things) spiritual life. We can not have influence over people without earning it.
So if these are the problems, what then is the best path to bringing faith and spirituality into the workplace in a positive and productive manner? I haven’t exactly figured that out yet, but believe me, I’m working on it.