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Four Ways That Your Spiritual Life Can Affect Your Business Decisions

August 31, 2010

When I hear the term “Faith in the Workplace,” I sometimes cringe a little bit.

I don’t like that term. Or, I should say, I don’t like the brand.

Mostly because it conjures up images in my mind of one-dimensional, self-absorbed Christians quoting scripture and tearing up their workplace on a warpath of conversions and “sharing your faith,” even if others don’t really want to hear it. Which, in my opinion, is inappropriate. And rude. It’s like having business autism.

I don’t necessarily want to associate with that.

I know, that’s harsh. And for sure, probably 90% of those who identify themselves with the Faith in the Workplace movement are not like that at all.

So although I was not interested in this particular kind of faith in the workplace movement, I wasn’t about to abandon my faith at work, either.

I had another approach altogether to living my faith at work. It involved tapping into my spirituality to be a more effective leader, to help others through the work I was doing, to acknowledge the fact that God was working out his purposes through whatever I was doing every day in my job. And that God actually cares about the work that I am doing, that it is worthy of His approval in and of itself.

But I don’t know what to call my particular approach to expressing my faith through my work.

Then last week I saw an interesting study from Rice University that explores the question of how business leaders engage their personal faith in their decision-making.

D. Michael Lindsay, a sociologist at Rice, and Bradley C. Smith of Princeton University conducted personal interviews with 360 American leaders who are considered “evangelical” Christians. These include CEOs, presidents, and chairs of large companies, government and non-profits.

Interestingly, they found four different categories when it came to decision-making:

1. Pragmatic. These leaders do not believe their faith gives them all the answers. They make decisions based on experience, facts and analysis, knowing that they may or may not get it right. Their faith does not give an explicit direction on any particular business decisions, but, of course, they hope they end up making good decisions.

2. Heroic. These leaders view their decisions as the right ones, regardless what anyone else thinks. Sometimes this actually works (think of the Enron whistleblower, Sherron Watkins, for example). It’s about standing up for moral justice in the face of opposition.

3. Circumspect. This is a leader who is deeply spiritual, but doesn’t make a big show of it. The authors of the study cite John Aden, a senior vice president of Walmart International, who cares about a workplace that aligns with his values, but does not vocalize his faith. He does, however, make personal business decisions based on his faith.

4. Brazen. You already know what this is. These are the unabashed, flaming evangelicals who feel that their job and their position is simply a vehicle for them to promote their faith. Or, their faith is so entwined with their job that they find it difficult to separate.

These categories offer a more multi-dimensional approach to integrating faith in our leadership roles, acknowledging various personality types and spiritual philosophies.

What a relief, to see a broader framework for viewing the subject of Faith in the Workplace.

I fall in to the Circumspect category. Definitely.

Which one are you?

Photo by Nancy Rosback.

26 Comments leave one →
  1. August 31, 2010 7:06 am

    I think there are so many different situations – work settings, company culture, individuals that it would be difficult to categorize a faith at work style for me. I see it more like situational leadership – the people, place, etc would be an influence, but ultimately I pray I would be obedient to the Holy Spirit’s leading. God doesn’t need us to spread the gospel – he chooses us!

    I guess having been jewish in the work place for many years, I wish someone had been a little more brazen. It took me way too long to hear about Jesus. After I became a Christian, all of the sudden all of these people at my work came out of the closet about their faith.

    I wonder if the Holy Spirit ever nudged anyone to share with me. Either way – He gets to us one way or the other.

    Thanks for sharing the variety of perspectives.

    • September 1, 2010 4:54 am

      The other side of the coin – you wish there were more brazen evangelism going on at work? Well, like you said, God got you there one way or another!

      This research refers particularly to leadership and decision-making, so it does not quite come down to the leaders’ one-on-one relationships. Although I think it would apply, that the brazen leader would be more apt to share their faith regardless of what anyone thinks how appropriate it is.

      My own opinion is that (especially as leaders), this kind of faith-sharing is effective in the context of relationships and trust, in or outside of a work environment. SO maybe the emphasis should be on building trust relationships and less about evangelizing?

  2. August 31, 2010 7:47 am

    As you probably know, there is a whole field designated “Workplace Spirituality” in academic circles. Of course, “Spirituality” is so broadly defined that it encompasses any religion. As Christians who want to grow to be more like Jesus, I think our goal should be to consistently make decisions based on our value base, Jesus’ teachings. Since even the most secualr person has a value base that helps form their decisions, I don’t think we need to be shy about discussing how we reach our conclusions.

    All this to say…I think the circumspect category is the only one that really makes makes sense.

    • September 1, 2010 4:58 am

      Thanks Rupert-
      Actually I am not all too familiar with the Workplace Spirituality research. Maybe I should look into that!

      Yes, I think all four of these groups were concentrating on following the values of Jesus in their decision-making. The main difference is that “Heroic” and “Brazen” were more inclined to make a very distinct divide between their own beliefs and others: “secular” vs. “sacred”; “Lost” vs. “Saved”. So there was less of a natural integration between their decision-making and inclusion of others. Sometimes their pre-conception was that there was an antagonistic thing going on all the time, that they were always fighting against secularism, to save the lost, etc.

      I agree with you, that most in the workforce can agree on values that are based on Jesus’ teachings, whether we announce our faith or not.

  3. August 31, 2010 7:52 am

    Brad, I don’t think I’m quite comfortable with these four characterizations, particularly if they’re really the only options. Even with some overlap between them, I think there’s something missing, and it troubles me a little. I haven’t read the study, but based on the summary here it seems like the idea of our “personal faith” is primarily a value system. If that’s all it is, then I can understand all four categories to pretty well sum us up.

    If it’s all about a value system and a lifestyle and a world view, then “flaming evangelicals who feel that their job and their position is simply a vehicle for them to promote their faith” are indeed out of line and we should all operate solely in the model of the pragmatist and the circumspect leader. Influenced quietly by my value system, but pragmatic enough to know when a decision based entirely on those values just isn’t going to cut it.

    But I always thought it was more than that.

    I guess my problem with it, and I’m doing a terrible job of explaining that, is this: I’m hardly a “flaming evangelical” ready to pounce on anybody who I even imagine to have hesitated at my cubicle. I don’t see my job as a “vehicle to promote my faith.” Because it’s not about “my faith” at all as though I just want people to come over to “my side.”

    But if we have to just call it that, then “my faith” is a life-sustaining relationship with the God of the universe made possible through the blood and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “My faith” is about remission of sin without which my work and any other part of my life would be devoid of true meaning. “My faith” is about living a full and abundant life in and for and through Him right now and for all eternity. “My faith” is not just a set of beliefs to which I ascribe, but living every minute in Kingdom pursuit which necessarily includes a desire to see others not hold the same value system or join my camp or validate my beliefs by accepting them, but to see others enter into that same saving relationship. He calls us to that, and expects it of us wherever we find ourselves, which includes work.

    I agree that our work has value all by itself because by doing it we glorify Him. We must resist the inclination to separate it out from the rest of life. But does having no divide between our “spiritual” and “secular” lives not also mean that we don’t stop doing specific Kingdom work when we punch in? If we fully integrate our work life and our spiritual life, I have a hard time seeing where the charge to go and make disciples takes a back seat at any particular time of day.

    Will I approach it differently at work? Absolutely. I don’t own my time there as I do in my off-work hours. The same as I’d approach it differently with my family vs neighbors down the street. Kingdom living looks different depending on depending on the circumstance.

    It seems to me in that final category that the suggestion that we see our jobs as one more place where God expects us to do His work — in all its forms, not just specific pronouncements of the Gospel — is reduced to making the job a “vehicle to promote my faith.”

    Then again, maybe I’ve just been up been up too long already today, and by noon I’d read this completely differently. Sorry to be oppositional early in the day. 🙂

    In any event, a though-provoking read today. Thanks Brad.

    • September 1, 2010 5:15 am

      Lyla – Thank you so much for such a thoughtful and empassioned response!

      You are like many who hate the idea of anyone boxing you in to a category! But the researchers love this way of looking at things, and I do think it is useful to a certain extent, to help us think through concepts and ideas, to frame our own thinking on the subject.

      That being said, you have to understand (and maybe I didn’t clarify enough) that the study is looking at how top “elite” leaders make decisions when faced with tough situations, and how their faith influences those decisions. So, it does come down to acting on values, to a certain extent. It’s just that the authors found that some view their faith as being more a driving force for reaching a decision (Heroic and Brazen, even Circumspect) while others just do what they feel is best and don’t necessarily make it a faith-issue (Pragmatic). I can see the distinctions between the four categories, because much of it comes down to a self-perception of one’s faith and your role as a leader in that faith – how public, how “out there” , how much do you see life as a battle between good and evil, against “human secularism,” etc. when making a tough decision.

      So, at the end of the day, I would assume that all four categories see their work as furthering the kingdom of God, regardless of how vocal they are about the role of their faith in decisions.

      Now, regarding your question of making disciples: I think it means “making people want to be like you” which should be like Jesus. So maybe I am more indirect in this, but I truly believe that “Making disciples” is all about being an example of love, humility, integrity, kindness, consistency, all wrapped in a faith that is available and accessible to self and others. Which means that it flows out of our leadership, and is not forced on anyone. Maybe I don’t take the “making disciples” as literally as others might interpret it.

      • September 1, 2010 7:14 am

        I think you take the “making disciples” at least as literally as Paul did, since he was the guy who told his folks to “imitate me,” and then sent on his finest imitator, er disciple, Timothy to live out Paul’s life in Christ in front of the church at Corinth. So you’re in good company there, Brad. 🙂

        When I look at it again, I really think what troubled me was the reduction of our “faith” to a “value system.” Life in Christ necessitates a new value system which, I agree, will flow out of any one of the categories above. But the value system is a natural byproduct of that life, not, in the end, the ultimate goal. I’m not sure that I care in the end if anyone shares my vision and values. Not nearly as much as how I care if they find life.

        Our reluctance to be more up front (myself included, for I could surely stand to be a little more “brazen”) sometimes, I think, arises from our failure to grasp that it’s not about wanting people to”think like me because I think I’m right” as much as for people to love and follow Jesus because that’s the thing they need more than anything else on earth. I think that was Paul’s goal in looking for imitation as well.

        Alas, I had hoped to be more coherent this morning but it seems that’s not going to happen. 😉

  4. Phil permalink
    August 31, 2010 9:29 am

    Alright, I’ll admit it. I’m a Circumspect wannabe, stuck in the muck of Pragmatism.

  5. August 31, 2010 11:38 am

    I’m much of the same mind as Lyla above. These categories seem quite inadequate.

    I know too many in the brazen category. It’s likely the one that makes you, and quite honestly me, cringe at the thoughts dredged up by “faith in the workplace.” After this category, the others seem lacking.

    Pragmatic = ignores faith. Heroic = blindly close-minded. Circumspect = mums the word.
    The only category that seems appealing is circumspect where one makes decisions using, but isn’t showy about, their faith.

    Does this mean that a circumspect person doesn’t also take a stand when necessary? If the Walmart VP found Enron-like corruption would he not also blow the whistle? I’d hope so.

    Does it mean he doesn’t use the unique talents, knowledge, and experiences God has given him to make his decisions? I hope not. He likely struggles with knowing whether his decisions are the right ones just like the person in the pragmatic category. His faith is like a guide that helps him reach these decisions, but sometimes it’s just choosing red or black staplers and there’s not a lot faith has to say on the subject.

    Does it mean he isn’t always prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks him to give the reason for the hope that he has? God forbid! The brazen category people miss that they are to give an ANSWER which presupposes a QUESTION and a demonstration by your actions that displayed this hope. This answer should be given off the company’s dime.

    Where’s the category for someone who uses their faith as a guide for their decisions, stands up against immoral actions, uses their experience and facts to make decisions, doesn’t always know if their decision is right but earnestly strives to make sure they are, and when asked about their demonstrative faith gives an answer? That’s what faith in the workplace really looks like. Perhaps there are just too few Christians practicing it to have a category?

    Sorry for the soapbox, but you know this subject is near and dear to my heart. 😉

    • August 31, 2010 2:21 pm

      Okay, I feel a little misled here Bradley. The categories in the study are expressions of faith under a Hostile (Pragmatic, Heroic) or Amenable (Circumspect, Brazen) corporate attitude towards public displays of faith.

      An example provided for Brazen in the study is Kurt Warner saying, “Well, first things first, I’ve got to thank my Lord and Savior up above – thank you, Jesus.” when asked about a play after his Super Bowl win. He did this in an environment amenable to it, not one that wasn’t.

      I’m glad this bothered me enough to go read the study – although, I wish I’d read it before commenting. It’s a very interesting read. I look forward to delving deeper into it tonight over a cup of coffee. I encourage others to read the study too.

      I think you missed the mark here with your summation of the categories and the study itself. Of course, there’s always the possibility that I have. 😉 At least your post made me think a little today.

      • September 1, 2010 5:30 am

        Brad- Yes, I probably could have gone into more depth describing the categories and the two axes (expression/reception) but I don’t think it would change my conclusion or the spirit of this research. The “Hostile” and “Amenable” situations are, to some extent, a product of the leaders’ perception of the world. And I think it is in that perception where the interesting point lies, in how one views their role of their faith in a work situation.

        The author describes certain groups who view themselves as always on the attack against the “Secular” powers, so naturally are going to be more aggressive in how they express their faith. I would think any of these folks would have definitely stood up against wrong-doing or injustice – it’s just that the situation for the “heroic” are more dramatically influenced by their faith to “make a stand”. And the brazen are at points in their power/influence (i.e., sports stars) where it doesn’t matter what they say, because no one is going to question them. They are untouchable to a certain extent, so they are going to express their faith whether others want to hear it or not.

        I’m glad you looked at the research more closely. We could have quite a discussion going here by digging deeper into the study! I still think it would lend itself to a variety of ideas and interpretations about what it means for us in living our faith at work. Maybe it warrants another post? Brad, why don’t you take it on over at your blog?

      • September 3, 2010 7:38 pm

        Okay, I took your advice. The first post went up today. I think I’ll need at least a few posts to do it justice.

  6. August 31, 2010 11:51 am

    i have a ‘faith in the workplace’ movement going on.
    i call it A.I.M.

    can you guess what AIM stands for?

  7. August 31, 2010 12:05 pm

    I think the “circumspect” category is the least offensive, but certainly doesnt describe me.

    I’m ready in season, or out of season to tell others about my faith. But primarily, I want my faith to “ooze out” in all that I do. I want to work hard and show up and be a high producer all because I have God working in and through me.

    Everyone knows I’m a Christian, because I told them early on. And since then, they’ve been watching to see if my work and attitude and language match up with my conviction.

    There are some who think it’s fine to never vocalize their faith — but I always remember the story of Peter around the fire after Jesus crucifixtion. “Didn’t we see you with him?”

    True believers need to say, “yes. I know him well”

    • September 1, 2010 5:36 am

      David- I think everyone at work knows that I am a Christian too. But not because I told them all about it the day I walked into the position. It’s more like what you say about it “oozing” out. That is how people find out – they see it flowing out of who I am and how I conduct myself, and of course people find out about your personal life over time (church, personal beliefs, etc).

      This doesn’t mean that I would ever deny my faith, or not bring it up at times when I think it is meaningful and relevant to the situation. The truth is, my faith is woven in to what I do and say all day, every day. I just don’t feel the need to be announcing it all day long.

  8. August 31, 2010 12:07 pm

    are you gettin’ lazy?
    you know that there are always
    “ten” or “twelve” ways to do something.
    what am i gonna’ DO with you!

  9. September 2, 2010 6:31 pm

    Late to the party again … I decided to read the paper. The categories are interesting but somewhat flawed as others here have point out. It is all so self-conscious isn’t it? I relate of course because so much of my working life has been that way. Finally I’m starting to be able to make decisions out of who I am, who God is, where He’s brought me, and the character of His Kingdom. If only that could have happened 30+ years ago!

    This (for me) new approach drives everything about management and decision-making: the value of people, justice, compassion, mercy, wisdom, stewardship and anything else needed for the workplace. I’m flawed so I do it imperfectly. I don’t know which of the categories that puts me in. There are times for a stand, and times to compromise. There are times to speak boldly about the Biblical basis for a decision, and times that common-sense arrives at the same answer. I don’t shove my faith down people’s throats but I can’t help but speak of God’s role as Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer of the universe, when the context demands. So I’m voting for a new category – “Ordinary”. Nothing special in me – just the grace and love of God shed through Christ’s Spirit living in me.


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