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God At Work: An Excerpt

David Miller is the Executive Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture at Yale Divinity School and is an Assistant Professor of Business Ethics. His new book, God At Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement, examines the origins and the future of the Faith At Work Movement. Below we have excerpted from chapter one of God At Work.


They might as well have just posted a sign outside the church: “Corporate types not welcome to worship here.” My friend Steve, the chairman and chief executive officer of a large multinational company, tells the story of being excluded-indeed, derided-within his own congregation, not because of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, or doctrinal disputes, but because of his work. Sitting in an adult education class one Sunday morning, he listened to the pastor berate “the greed of all multinationals” and the “self-serving nature of their executives.” The apex of the pastor’s scolding message left this question hanging in the air: “How could a Christian work at this company?” My friend, a committed and thoughtful Christian, was the head of that company.

Steve is not alone. Hundreds of thousands of women and men around the country have come to feel an urgent need to integrate their faith and their work and, at the same time, have found the church to be of little help. Their stories, which make up the Faith at Work movement, have emerged both within and in response to the dramatically changing social, economic, technological, geopolitical, and ecclesiastical conditions that began in the 1980s and that continue today. During that time, the conditions surrounding work, the employee, and the workplace have changed significantly as a result of several factors. These include large-scale corporate mergers and acquisitions, restructurings, layoffs, plant closures and the resulting relocation of factories to low-cost overseas manufacturing sites, advances in technology and telecommunications, mobile capital, lower global transportation costs, and reduced trade barriers.

In the midst of these changes, many people report feeling that they live increasingly bifurcated lives, where faith and work seldom connect. Many who are Christians complain of a “Sunday-Monday gap,” where their Sunday worship hour bears little to no relevance to the issues they face in their Monday workplace hours. Though notable exceptions exist, sermon topics, liturgical content, prayers, and pastoral care rarely address-much less recognize-the spiritual questions, pastoral needs, ethical challenges, and vocational possibilities faced by those who work in the marketplace and world of business.

When speaking to clergy gatherings of a variety of denominations around the country, I often ask this question: “Who here prays for and commissions your teenagers as they go off on a mission trip?” Invariably, all hands go up. Then I ask: “Who here prays for and commissions your Sunday school teachers each September as the new church year starts?” Most of the hands go up again. Finally, I ask: “Who here prays for all the certified public accountants in your congregation around April 15, and who here prays for all the salespeople and those working on commission at the end of the month and end of the year, when quotas are due?” Silence. Eyes drop to the ground. Usually, not a single hand is raised.

Whether conscious or unintended, the pulpit all too frequently sends the signal that work in the church matters but work in the world does not. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that workers, businesspeople, and other professionals often feel unsupported by the Sunday church in their Monday marketplace vocations. Increasingly, businesspeople-whether correctly or incorrectly perceive the clergy’s lack of interest in, unawareness of, and generally pejorative view of the business world and, by association, of those who work in it. Of course, responsible theological and ethical criticism of immoral business structures, practices, and people is certainly in order. But the often presumptive and pervasive suspicion shown by religious professionals blocks consideration of the theological and practical possibility that there could be redemptive, creative, productive, ministerial, and transformative possibilities in the world of business, and in the lives of those called to live out their Christian vocation in the marketplace and other workplaces.

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…

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