#124 – Another Side Road – Monastecize

ESSENCE:  Faithful leaders seeking to lead faithfully can get detoured from the ancient path toward business a better way.  We call those detours Side Roads when they substitute a lesser “good” for transformational heart-change in the organization–transformation of its WHY.  In prior posts we identified six: Agonizing, Individualizing, Monetizing, Cosmeticizing, Prosperitizing and Interimizing.   We recently encountered a situation that is leading us to consider a seventh Side Road–Monastecizing.  It is a version of the Cosmeticizing Side Road with a different WHY. While Cosmeticizing uses a sprinkling of “faith” pixie dust over the business to look “Godly” (in hopefully an unoffensive way), Monastecizing uses the faith pixie dust in copious enough quantities intentionally to repel people who don’t share the faith, creating a monastery for “believers” of the faith protected by an imposing “gate” of faith practices.  It is not inherently bad (and may be a wise path for certain organizations), but it is not faithfully leading through business a better way unless it is accompanied by transformational change in the heart of the organization.  A business as usual organizational “monastery” is still operating in “the way of the world” no matter how high its “gate” of overt faith practices.

If you have been following our blog for awhile, you know that we have written about six Side Roads onto which leaders can get detoured, missing the ancient path of leading faithfully through business a better way.  These Side Roads flow from five Placebos–messages about leading faithfully that we believe “miss the mark” of God’s purpose for work and business.

We recently encountered a situation that is leading us to consider a seventh Side Road–Monastecizing.  It is a version of the Cosmeticizing Side Road with a different WHY.  Monastecizing involves making a business look and feel SO faith-based that it repels people who don’t share the faith.

Placebos and Side Roads: A Refresher

In Jeremiah 6:16, Scripture instructs us to “look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is”.  Sometimes, leaders with the very best intentions of integrating their faith and their work get sidetracked down paths that are “good” but not transformative.

Jeremiah 18:15 talks about this in relation to the “ancient roads” of Jeremiah 6:16–we can stumble onto SIDE ROADS:   “But my people have forgotten me; they make offerings to false gods; they made them stumble in their ways, in the ancient roads, and to walk into SIDE ROADS. not the highway.” (Jeremiah 18:15).

Inspired by the “red pill/blue pill” choice in the film The Matrix (we explained it way back in posts #001 and #002), we often describe the choice between business as usual and business a better way as a “red pill/blue pill” decision–two very distinct paths.

The blue pill is business as usual — business in “the way of the world” or, more precisely, according to “the kingdom of this world”. The red pill we call business a better way — business according to Biblical beliefs, values, and priorities. It’s the way God means business to function in his Kingdom. Every business leader must ultimately choose between these kingdoms.

But even a well-intentioned leader wanted to choose business a better way can fall victim to Placebos masquerading as the red pill that are actually empty “feel good” capsules.

Over several posts we explored five common “Placebos” that can lead well-intentioned leaders to stumble down “side roads”:

The “4-Hour Content” Pill (faith without context)

The “Save or Give” Pill (faith on a limited platform)

The “Add Some Faith” Pill (faith as the frosting)

The “Bless You” Pill (faith as an ATM password)

The “Success First” Pill (faith when the time is right)

These placebos can divert leaders down six common Faith as Usual Side Roads that miss the ancient path.  Over several posts, we examined in detail these six reactions to the five Placebos:

Agonize (“I know I should do something–but what?”)

Individualize (“I’ll be a more Godly person at work”)

Monetize (“I’ll make more money for God”)

Cosmeticize (“I’ll make the business look really faith-based”)

Prosperitize (“I’ll do it–because then God will bless the business”)

Interimize (“I’ll do it–but in the interim I need to get successful”)

It is important to emphasize that none of these Side Roads is bad–they are better than doing nothing.  BUT, they are not the best–we believe they are not what God calls us to in stewarding organizations of humans pursuing their humanity through work.  Sadly, the Side Roads often make us feel good about ourselves (and lead to huge pats on the back and even notoriety from the church and the faith/work movement), so we don’t seek more.

Unfortunately, the risks of relying on a Placebo and stumbling down a Side Road include missed purpose for the organization, missed calling for its leaders, and missed flourishing of its people.

A New Side Road: Monasticize

We said that Monastecizing is similar to Cosmeticizing but with a different WHY.  Both Cosmeticizing and Monastecizing are when an organization adopts overt faith symbols and practices without transforming WHY and how it actually does business.  At its worst, they can look like the person who has a fish decal and a “WWJD” bumper sticker on their car but is blowing their horn aggressively at intersections.  Business as usual dressed with overt faith symbols is still business as usual.

Cosmeticizing and Monastecizing flow from the Placebo we call The “Add Some Faith” Pill, which can deceive a leader into believing that the integration of faith and work is principally about sprinkling some “faith” pixie dust over the organization to make it look and feel “Godly”.  Cosmeticizing and Monastecizing show up in practices like prayer at meetings, workplace Bible studies and prayer groups, corporate chaplains, Bible verses on packaging, giving out Bibles, and including “God” or “Faith” in the mission and values.

While Cosmeticizing uses a sprinkling of “faith” pixie dust to look Godly in hopefully an unoffensive way, Monastecizing uses the faith pixie dust in copious enough quantities intentionally to repel people who don’t share the faith.  For example, it may include lengthy and politically controversial faith statements that must be acknowledged (not accepted) by all employees.

Unlike Cosmeticizing which (at least in part) seeks to evangelize by exposing “non-believer” employees to a faithful culture, a goal of Monastecizing is to create an organization of only people who already share the same faith values–a monastery for “believers” of the faith protected by an imposing “gate” of faith practices.  It seeks to achieve a “purity” of culture through self-selection (where discriminatory hiring would be illegal).

Cosmeticizing and Monastecizing both look “Godly”, but neither requires organizational heart change transforming WHY and how it actually does business.  Neither necessarily represents business a better way.

A hog in a silk waistcoat is still a hog. (Charles Spurgeon)

Monastecizing: The Good and Bad

Remember, Side Roads are not inherently bad–in fact, they are better than doing nothing at all from the standpoint of faith/work integration.  Like Cosmeticizing, Monastecizing is probably closer to being on the ancient path of business a better way than many other Side Roads.  The leaders understand it is about changing the organization (unlike Individualizing) and not just about maximizing profit for social good (unlike Monetizing).

If an organization is delivering an inherently faith-based product or service, Monastecizing may be the wisest path to ensure those delivering the product or service actually believe in the product or service they are delivering (albeit sacrificing evangelistic opportunities that may still be present in Cosmeticizing).

On the other hand, Monastecizing may merely reflect what James Hunter refers to in his book To Change the World as a “purity from” approach to engaging the world in a way that “minimize[s] the inherent tension that comes with being ones who are called to be ‘in the world but not of it’.”

Whether or not Monastecizing is the wisest choice for an organization’s business model or an attempt to build a moat of “purity from“, it is still “putting lipstick on a pig” (which is a more modern version of a phrase apparently used by Charles Spurgeon in 1887, “A hog in a silk waistcoat is still a hog“) if the day-to-day operation of the organization–how it treats vendors, employees and customers–remains business as usual and the WHY of the organization–its heart–remains Profit as Purpose.  

Sadly, as with Cosmeticizing, Monastecizing can also be an affirmatively bad “witness” for faith/work integration–a business a better way body with a business as usual engine under the hood.  We believe more is much harder, but it is necessary and worth the journey. That journey is the journey of Integriosity®–the ancient path of leading faithfully through business a better way.

PERSONAL NOTE (from PM):  Monastecizing as a faith/work strategy had never even occurred to me until I recently heard someone describe their company’s strategy as intentionally creating a work culture that would be uncomfortable for someone who did not share their faith so that they would not have any employees who did not share their faith.

In that case, it was expressed as a business strategy aimed at ensuring that those involved in the delivery of a decidedly faith-based product all believed in the product.  It seems to an example of Hunter’s “purity from” paradigm in order to deliver a product that is an example of his “defensive against” paradigm–a faith-based business providing a “parallel” product to secular businesses.

I don’t know whether the heart of the organization aligns with business a better way or business as usual, but it is an organization of faith-based people serving faith-based people.  That isn’t “bad”–but is it the “best”?  In the words of James Hunter:

My point is not that these paradigms of engagement are equally problematic, but rather that none seems to be a fully adequate way of making sense of or pursuing faithfulness in our world.

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Photo Credit: Original photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash (photo cropped)