When I interviewed at my university’s placement office for my first professional job, I sought a career with good pay, challenging work, and secure employment. I had little money, one business suit, and an old car that was on its last legs. I was tired of being a poor student and the daily grind of engineering classes. I wanted out of academia and a steady paycheck. To be totally honest, the concept of faith and work was not even remotely part of my job search journey. Although I attended church, my faith resonated on Sunday and ended on Monday morning.
The Faith at Work (FAW) movement is a counter to my religious life of the 1970’s. Dr. David W. Miller, Director of the Princeton University Faith & Work Initiative, wrote a book about the movement: God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement (Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2007). He first defines work as “that activity that is undertaken in a paid job, occupation, position, function, or profession and the place in which one performs that work.” Dr. Miller restricts his work definition to paid positions and further states that the movement is “most vibrant in the business community.” (pages 5-6) Dr. Miller was employed for 16 years in international business and finance prior to obtaining his doctorate in ethics from Princeton University. Other FAW writers broaden the scope of work to include home care and non-profit volunteering.
The FAW movement started because “today’s employees want their work to be more than just a way to put bread on the table and pay the rent.” (page 6) This is as true today as it was at the beginning of the movement. The longer I worked, the more I desired an integrated life – a life of meaning and purpose. Best-selling books, such as The Purpose Driven Life, are in high demand because people are searching for meaning during their short existence on earth.
A puzzling fact is that most churches have not embraced the FAW movement. “In light of the Sunday-Monday gap and the church’s distancing itself from the world of business, it is not surprising that the FAW movement has arisen largely outside the church and its usual programs.” (page 10) My research into the reasons why mainstream Christian churches have not welcomed the FAW movement has not been conclusive. My church recently conducted a series of listening sessions and one of the feedback requests was more education on faith and work. The demand is there, but the mainstream supply is lacking.
Dr. Miller challenges churches to join the FAW movement: “Many religious institutions and professionals have often sought to remain distinct from and even distance themselves from the economic sphere. However, the dramatic social and economic changes of our times and the issues surrounding globalization challenge ethicists and theologians to renew, rather than deny, their participation in constructively shaping developments in the economic sphere.” (page 12) My experiences within the church and seminary confirm that most church professionals have a low opinion of business and finance. The focus is primarily on giving rather than growing wealth. Rev. John Wesley was an exception when he made his famous statement: “Gain all you can … Save all you can … Give all you can.”
What is refreshing is that the FAW movement “has flourished independently from these theological developments [for example, liberation theology] and has grown even though it has been little recognized by or nurtured in the church or the academy.” (page 13) This is similar to early Christianity which spread as a movement outside powerful institutions. It was working Christians that joined together to create the FAW movement. It is time for churches and seminaries to recognize the needs of Christians who seek meaning in their working lives.