Future of the Faith and Work Movement

This year’s Oikonomia Network (ON) gathering took place in San Diego. The beauty of this coastal setting created a great backdrop for a serious conversation on faith, work, and economics. The vision of Avodah, a Hebrew term for work, worship, and service permeated the gathering as the network began to both survey models of successful integration, as well as anticipate new challenges and opportunities to continue the work of the Kern Family Foundation.

ON Director Dr. Greg Forster opened the meeting by reminding the group of the deep need for community among the Oikonomia Network.  Rather than seeing each program in isolation: we need a community to strengthen, learn, and maintain integrity within the ON efforts. Forster notes work remains important for schools, church, and world, by focusing on the intersection of those efforts. When we separate the church from the public square, our discipleship suffers.

Forster noted the long-term vision of the Oikonomia Network and the reality that much of the work will take time. Quoting the founder, Mr. Robert D. Kern, Forster noted that “if you are trying just for something just in your lifetime, you are thinking too small.” The challenge is to see each effort as broadly inter-generational, working to develop a new generation of leaders that engage work but primarily from the perspective of Christlikeness.

The Oikonomia Network fourth annual retreat opened with a presentation by David Miller, professor of Princeton University who presented on The Past, Present, and Future of the Faith and Work Movement. Miller is a former banker, executive, and ethicist at Princeton University, as well as a minister. He noted that many in the faith at work movement see business possessing both intrinsic value and also as a venue for discussions about God.

Miller, author of God at Work, noted that there have been primarily three movements in the Faith at Work effort to date

  • The Social Gospel Movement
  • The “Lay Ministry” movement (that ultimately became focused primarily on the resourcing congregations)
  • The Integrative Movement that continues to date

Miller continued by creating a four “types” of faith at work (FAW) groups that provide a form of “profile” for these organizations (and also a way of judging future groups).

  • FAW that stress ethics with a focus on either right actions of the individual in the workplace or community guidelines (the “weights and measures” criteria in scripture)
  • FAW concern for experience, which explores how people experience their work with a sense of true engagement or just going through the motions. FAW groups foster real meaning in the workplace rather than meaningless activity. At Tyson Foods, Miller noted the difference between the basic perspective “do you pluck chickens or do you feed the world?”
  • FAW focus on enrichment basically providing resource and support for people in the workplace. Some of these groups see people in stressful, often brutal, work settings needing care and support.
  • FAW emphasis on expression as in expressing one’s faith in the workplace. Miller noted those expressions may be different, whether evangelistically, a matter of duty, or an opportunity of choice.

Miller observed that wave three (integration) really began to manifest itself in the late 1980s primarily as a movement through lay leadership and not from the church or the academy (who tended to have a benign or neglectful attitude), yet the movement grew to the fact that the Fortune Magazine edition with the then-controversial issue God And Business became the best-selling edition in the magazine’s history.

Miller’s early work ended around 2007, since then he has continued by exploring 450 FAW groups (out of over 1000 that exist today).

One aspect of the study was to ascertain which of the types of FAW seemed most prevalent. Using criteria Miller developed he and his research staff concluded the following FAW groups strongly reflected one of the types based on the following percentages:

  • 43% Strong in Ethics
  • 39% Strong in Enrichment
  • 35% Strong in Expression
  • 24% Strong in Experience

What surprised Miller was that no FAW group embodied all four strong emphases equally, which he thinks represents a mature approach to faith at work.

The new research stemmed from social changes as well. Miller noted that the millennial generation “changes everything” in that they often bring several perspectives that reveal new challenges. Millennials may be more socially conscious and will make job choices based on social stances, yet they also seem to embrace a form of ethical or moral relativism from a personal perspective so that relating personal ethics (such as cheating in classes) to social stances remain a challenge. In addition, the FAW movement has encountered a number of outside issues such as Supreme Court decisions, immigration patterns, and equal opportunity employment decisions. Finally, the growth of religious diversity in the United States raises different questions both in how faith is define as well as how it is exercised in the workplace.

What seems to be similar to the past is that FAW movements continue to be lay-led, often driven by business and leadership schools, like the Academy of Management, rather than by congregations and seminaries. The movement continues to grow but a lot of the gatherings still keep white-collar workers as the primary framework of engagement.

Still, there are some real differences. The first is that generational difference (between previous and millennials in the workplace) is very observable. The first major change is the shift toward consumer models of engagement based on newer models of consciousness capitalism and promoting mindfulness in the workplace. In addition, Miller indicated concern that some FAW groups seemed to be politicized through the culture wars resulting in an implicit edginess and some litmus tests concerning specific beliefs not seen before. Probably the greatest change centers on diversity: both religious diversity but also individual diversity fueled by technology and social media. Miller did posit that we will continue to see new modes or expressions of FAW including acknowledgment of different issues based on ethnicity and social status, but also differing faith traditions.

In all, the movement remains strong, and diverse, as it moves into the future.

About Dean G. Blevins

Dr. Dean G. Blevins currently serves as Professor of Practical Theology and Christian Discipleship at Nazarene Theological Seminary. An ordained elder, Dean has ministered in diverse settings and currently also serves at the USA Regional Education Coordinator for the Church of the Nazarene. A prolific author, Dr. Blevins recently co-wrote the textbook Discovering Discipleship and edits Didache: Faithful Teaching, a journal for Wesleyan Education.
This entry was posted in Clergy, Continuing Education, Economics, Practical Theology, Theological Education, Theology, Vocation. Bookmark the permalink.

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