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Faith Goes to Work: Part 2

Spirituality in the Workplace


How do we go about incorporating our faith in our work? Where do we find the most meaning for our skills, values and faith in the workplace? What are some ways that our faith can impact how we work and our attitudes about work?

Frederick Buechner, in a now famous quote, says that work can be a sacred calling, a vocation for anyone. He says,

“The kind of work God usually calls you to do is the kind of work a) that you need most to do and b) that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve probably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your patients much either.

Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”


So Buechner is saying that a wide variety of work can feel like a vocation if it leans towards need and gladness. We don’t all have to be curing leprosy to feel our calling. We can do work that fosters healthy relationships, we can make useful and beautiful products, we can teach, we can clean houses, we can take care of children, we can preach, we can make clothes, we can build buildings, we can serve coffee. It all depends on how we see our work and if we can make that connection between our gladness and the worlds needs.

Here are some ways in which people’s faith has impacted how and why they do their work?

-A radiological oncologist has a difficult job. Most of his patients are not going to be cured. He could easily have a morbid view of his work and just treat it as a technical duty. But because he has chosen to incorporate his faith, he asks his patients what sustains them in their cancer journey. Often they will say their faith sustains them. In that context he can talk with them further about faith. He says it strengthens his faith and his connection to his work to hear their stories.

-A poor woman with a tough life story chooses to do cleaning and odd jobs for a group of nuns in her neighborhood rather than work in a factory. She may make less money but she feels she is part of something larger than herself by working to further hospitality in the neighborhood. And she loves the nuns.

-A corporate guy, a human resource professional in a division of a large corporation, feels he could easily be lost in the bigness. So he decides that his meaning will come by creating loving communities within the corporation. When one of their division’s plant managers dies in a small town several states away, he instigates a private flight for all the leaders of the division to go to the funeral. The plant leaders are very moved by this gesture as is the whole town. Making a small difference big.

-A woman manager in a costume design production firm came on board in the middle of a very stressful environment in which people routinely displayed poor manners and tolerated meanness. Her spiritual values were the opposite. So she begins treating people well, listing each person’s gifts and uniqueness, bringing food, hugging the most angry people, and asking people to leave their issues at the door. Within a year the whole atmosphere has been transformed.

-A cabinet maker, faced with cutting corners in order to make a better profit in an economic downturn, prayerfully decides to stick with the principles of his workmanship, possibly making less money but feeling good about his products. He adds some smaller products as part of his bread and butter. And he does some volunteer work with his extra time, work that eventually brings him some valued cabinet making

-A woman who is in customer service at a medical device company starts a “faith at work” brown bag lunch discussion just to see what others are thinking about this subject. Soon the group develops into a support group that fosters different ways to incorporate faith into work.

-A housing developer makes it a part of his practice (years before it is legally required of contractors) to include some affordable housing in each of his development projects. He does this because he is aware of the affordable housing shortage and because he believes he is called to be a man of God and to make changes in the world as a result of his work.

-A spiritual director who occasionally meets clients at coffee shops, gets to know the coffee shop manager and happens to have a spiritual conversation while buying coffee. Now the manager seeks out the spiritual director to accompany him on his journey, not only to be a more present manager but to heal some issues in his life and his relationship with God.



In my own life one of the times that my faith made a huge difference in my work was when I was beginning leadership in a national organization whose aim was to reduce domestic violence. We had to decide what our goals were, how we would reach them and what kinds of resources and people we would work with. There was a lot of anger and victimization in this field and it was almost contagious. I went on a retreat to think and pray about this. As a result of some soul searching and praying and connecting with my own journey, I decided that in order to work meaningfully in this field I had to have a healing stance instead of a stance of justice or punishment. We developed our mission statement and the five principles by which we worked based on that healing stance. It made all the difference for me as a north star by which we navigated and it allowed me to stay connected far beyond the usual tenure in the field.


What would you advise the four people whose stories we encountered in the first essay on Faith Goes to Work: part 1; the woman working in the entertainment business who wonders about the product she is spending her career producing, the young man working in the coffee shop who feels as if he may be wasting his time preparing coffee for weary workers, the doctor who feels like a pill machine because of all the patients she has to see in one day, or the stay-at-home dad whose kids are programmed to the hilt with activities he wonders about?

Perhaps you could even go back to my original question to help yourself get started on this journey for yourself: Have you ever had a spiritual experience at work?


ÓJanet Hagberg, 2014. All rights reserved

The wonderful Buechner quote is from his book, Wishful Thinking: ATheological ABC, p. 95.

Reflections on this essay

How do you think about your work as an outgrowth of your faith?

What have you seen in other people of faith at their work that has intrigued you?

What could you do differently to integrate your faith into your work?

Who could you talk to, to help you reflect on your faith and work questions?

Faith Goes to Work

Spirituality in the Work Place


Sometimes there is a disconnect between church on Sunday and what we do for a living on Monday. Many of us are unsure of how to take our faith to work. It’s not something we talk about with our friends as a rule. And I, for one, have childhood memories of this topic that bring up fearful scenarios. We were encouraged to give our “witness” whenever we could and we were instructed to carry our Bibles on the top of our books. When I tried it, I was petrified that someone would ask me about it. No one did. It was not my personal style, no matter how strong my faith, so I gave up.

So how do we take our faith or our spirituality to work? If we go beyond the witnessing scenario, some people think immediately of ethics or morality as spiritual principles that we bring to the work environment. These are important principles and integrity is a north star for many in the work world. Honesty and integrity can be major challenges, especially if our work place adheres to a different standard.

Let’s probe this issue a bit deeper. How do you personally feel about the impact of your faith or spirituality in your day-to-day environment? What are some personal and honest questions it raises for you?


*One woman is troubled about the fact that her company is in the entertainment business and she has a hard time reconciling all the work she does for a “product” she has little commitment to.


*A young man is working in a coffee shop until he decides what to do next with his life. He feels like he may be wasting his time. He likes his job but some days he wonders what difference it makes to provide weary workers with early morning caffeine.


*A woman in medicine feels immense pressure to see too many patients in one day. She feels like she has no time to know them and that she is just a prescription machine.


*A stay-at home dad feels like his kids are so filled with activity that the culture puts on them (and to be honest, he as well), that he is just a “driving” machine. He sometimes wonders if all this activity will make them better people or more prepared for life.


How do we deal with situations that are not strictly ethical in nature, but which may erode our souls in the workplace, cause us to be less effective, or even burn us out? What do we do about situations that, as a person of faith, go against the grain of what we think we are called to be? How do we bring our souls to work?


Why do you work?

Before we get to all of that, let’s look at a key question that may get to the heart of the issue? Why do you work? The most obvious answers are the ones that come to mind first; security, money, recognition. But underneath that, why do you work, really? And how might your faith be a motivator in your day-to-day work?

In a book I co-authored on career renewal I included a small self-scoring test to see why people work. Included on the list were the three reasons listed above. But the total list of reasons included:


Recognition and approval                         Variety

Socioeconomic status                                 Teamwork

Interpersonal relations                               Mastery, skill, achievement

Independence                                               Service and social welfare

Leadership and personal power                Creativity and challenge

Adventure                                                      Self-expression

Moral value                                                    Security



Over the twenty years I used this profile, the vast majority of people did not list the big three; security, money, recognition as the most important or even the second most important reason they worked. They chose things like personal relationships, self-expression, moral value, or service as their main values. What they wanted was meaning.

So if we desire deeper meaning in our work or a sense that we’ve made a difference, what better way, as people of faith, than to somehow incorporate our spiritual lives into our work lives–in very practical, creative and meaningful ways. That would look different for each or us, but what if we asked God to show us how our work could be more meaningful by integrating our faith at work?

For inspiration, let’s look at a few Biblical examples of people who had regular jobs (well all except Esther who was a queen) and who faced incredible crisis or incredible opportunities and drew upon their faith to live out their calling.


-Joseph was a government bureaucrat who wisely used his skill to ward off starvation of the people during a massive drought. He had to struggle with the false accusation of a treacherous woman in order to rise to his position of authority.


-Lydia was a seller of purple cloth in the marketplaces of early Christendom. Even though women were considered powerless, she hosted Paul on his visits to her town of Philippi and was one of the early church leaders.


-Esther was the Queen who risked her life to save her people, the Jews, from total destruction. She was terrified to present herself to the king without his invitation, but she listened to the wise counsel of Mordecai, her uncle, who believed that she was born to be queen for just such a time as this.


-Jesus was a carpenter, but you all know about that.


-Nehemiah, upon returning from exile in Babylon requested permission to supervise the restoration of the walls and gates of Jerusalem. Under ridicule and duress from his distracters he became one of the Bible’s most revered construction general contractors.


-Deborah was a judge over Israel who sustained her general, Barak, in a crucial time of battle. Her strong presence and belief in God made the deciding difference.


-Paul was a tent maker who used his trade to support himself as he traveled around the Mediterranean, teaching and preaching to his newly formed churches


Ponder the relevance of these stories for your own work life. Next week–part 2 of this series on faith and work.


Ó Janet O. Hagberg, 2014. All rights reserved

My book on this career topic is called The Inventurers. I am grateful to Robert Banks, retired professor at Fuller seminary specializing in the Laity, who so thoughtfully inspired me with stories of Biblical people who lived out their faith at work. Rob edited a book called Faith Goes to Work by Albion Press. And I am grateful to Bethel Seminary for a workshop I took on faith and work in the fall of 2013.


Reflections on this essay:

Why do you work?

What are your major disconnections from work?

How do these stories inform your work?

What does God have to say about why you work or what you are called to do?



Spirituality at Work

Friends, I’d like to know if you have ever had what you would describe as a spiritual experience at work? No matter how remote or strange it may seem, let me know what it is.

You can post on my blog, on facebook or email me directly at   I do not need to use your name if you want me to withhold it. And I may or may not publish all of the responses.

Next week I’ll post the first of a two part blog essay on how our spirituality or our faith relates to work. It’s a current question many people are asking; So what difference does spirituality or faith make in my daily life?

Let’s go… everyone has an answer to this. We all experience it whether we have any connection to a faith or not.



Reflections on this poem

How do you show trust in God?
How does God show his miracles to you?
Do you still have a trust or doubt issue?

How can you let in God’s love, and be in God’s arms?

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