We’re Passing the 101 Class, but Not With “As”

Last week, the 2016 Faith@Work Summit gathered leaders in the movement around an intriguing conference theme: moving faith and work conversations deeper and broader, or from the “Faith@Work 101 to the 201 level.”

As a rabid Liverpool fan, I’ve come to love English soccer match summaries taking the form of “Three Things We Learned About [Team]” – articles distilling the joys and frustrations of a match for each team involved. Borrowing that format, here are “Three Things I Learned…” from the Summit.

1. We’re trying to move past “pale and male.”

Here’s a regrettable observation about the faith and work movement: It’s primarily a white, male, Boomer movement focused heavily on white-collar work.

This Summit did a commendable job broadening the cultural perspective on stage from what I feared I’d see. Ethics writer David Gill dropped the most tweetable quote of the conference: “The faith & work movement is still too pale and too male... black and brown work matters.”

Perhaps the best presentations came from non-white male presenters: Dr. Denise Daniels on gender challenges facing women at work and Edmund C. Moy sharing stories of Christian public service from his time directing the US Mint.

I, too, have a lot of ground to gain in learning from female and non-white voices given my largely Eurocentric and male influenced education. I personally need this corrective, and I hope to better serve our 5280 Fellows and Church Partners from a broadening cultural foundation.

2. We’re passing the 101 class, but not with "As."

Instead of only hearing from academics, pastors, and leaders in the faith and work movement, a welcome number of presenters were business leaders. But perhaps our movement is not as far along as we hoped. Many of the business leaders addressed the same themes in an effort to demonstrate thoughtful faith and work integration:

  • There is no secular-sacred divide!
  • Christians need to be better Christians at work!
  • Excellent workers have a better platform to proclaim the gospel!

These are wonderful ideas, but they are “faith and work 101 ideas” at best. At worse, the don’t-steal-pencils and evangelize-your-coworkers approaches run the risk of instrumentalizing people’s work – it has value to God only when you use it to verbally proclaim Christ.

Instead, I would love to hear a business leader talk about job creation as Christian mission in a secular and suspicious age. Perhaps a CEO could share ways the company’s theology broadened the bottom line to include profit, people, and the planet.

3. Be careful critiquing my bride.

You wouldn’t publicly critique my wife – at least not in my presence, right? So why are many people so comfortable critiquing the Bride of Christ?

There were eleven references to the “Sunday to Monday gap” made at this conference (yes, I counted). That is an example of the common veiled critique that the church has created that gap through its “sins of omission.”

The problem with this is that it treats the church – a people gathered – like a program offered from leaders. Where it has existed, this gap was mine as a pastor of 13 years and it’s still mine as a parishioner today. I have a “Friday/Saturday to Sunday” gap when I don’t bring my whole-life spirituality under the word, sacraments, and relationships of my church experience.

Many have a checkered relationship with the local church, and there is plenty her leaders and members can do to keep reforming her. But I’d suggest that faith and work integration broadens and deepens best when we personally own it, whether pastor or parishioner. Then we can love and serve the gathered church to help her better love and serve those she is scattered to.

Did you attend the Faith@Work Summit? Share your own reflections in the comments below.

Featured photo by Victor Bjorjund on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons attribution license