#203 – Don’t Just Sprinkle “Reindeer Dust”

ESSENCE: Sometimes good-intentioned faithful leaders sprinkle faith “reindeer dust”–overt faith symbols and practices–believing that it is faith/work integration.  It isn’t bad, and it can be very good, but by itself it is not leading with faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing.  By itself, sprinkling “faith” reindeer dust without transforming how the organization actually does business is what we call the faith as usual Side Road of Cosmeticizing that misses an ancient path of God’s best purpose for work and business and can lead to several problems such as missed purpose for the organization, missed calling for its leaders, and missed flourishing for its people. That ancient path requires heart-change–a bigger WHY. If Profit as Purpose remains the organization’s WHY, no amount of faith reindeer dust can get it on that ancient path.  If the organization’s heart has been transformed (with profit becoming a necessary means rather than the end toward which the business is managed), then sprinkling faith reindeer dust is neither inherently good nor inherently bad for an organization.  Both the idolization of “overtness” and the fear of being “overt” can lead to poor stewardship.  Faithful stewardship of the organization requires discernment by leaders as to whether and how to sprinkle reindeer dust–whether to integrate faith overtly or just covertly–and that requires a continual balancing of the call to be courageous and the need to be wise.

Next week is Christmas, which brings with it many Christmas traditions.  Some are pretty universal (e.g., a Christmas tree), some are tied to national or ethnic traditions (e.g., the Italian feast of seven fishes) and others are family traditions.

Our Christmas Eve tradition in the Michalski family has included the children going outside and sprinkling “reindeer dust” (a precise mixture of glitter and oatmeal–the proportions are a family secret) in the yard to attract Santa’s reindeer.  When they were young, it was a visible sign of “believing” and it made them feel good (like putting out the milk and cookies for Santa).  It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t actually do anything except make them feel good and provide some fun photo ops (which are absolutely good things).

Sometimes good-intentioned faithful leaders sprinkle faith “reindeer dust” (which we have sometimes referred to as “pixie dust”, but it’s Christmas) believing that it is faith/work integration.  It isn’t bad, and it can be very good, but by itself it is not leading with faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing.  By itself, sprinkling faith reindeer dust is what we call a faith as usual Side Road that misses the ancient path of God’s best purpose for work and business. That ancient path requires heart-change–a bigger WHY.

Refresher: Stumbling Blocks and Side Roads

In Leading Faithfully Basics post #160 (The Ancient Path), we said every faithful leader is on a path of some sort, but leading with faithful integrity requires getting on, and staying on, the right path.  We believe the right path is the ancient path of Jeremiah 6:16:

Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.

In post #179 (The Misses of “Faith as Usual”), we suggested that many good-intentioned, faithful leaders never find the right path to faithful integrity, or stumble off it, because of good-intentioned “faith” messages or approaches that send them in the wrong direction–“bad theology” or, at least, poor communication of good theology which create stumbling blocks that substitute the “good” for the “best”.   In his book Ekklesia, Ed Silvoso writes:

The enemy of the ‘best’ . . . is the ‘good,’ because by being so satisfying, it deprives us of the hunger for the ‘much more’ that in this case God has in store.

In post #180 (The Stumbling Blocks of Faith as Usual), we took a closer look at five Placebo stumbling blocks of faith as usual: The “4-Hour Content” Pill, The “Save or Give” Pill, The “Add Some Faith” Pill, The “Bless You” Pill and The “Success First” Pill.

These Placebo stumbling blocks can lead to various Side Road detours of faith as usual that can substitute a lesser “good” for the “best” of transformational heart-change in the organization–transformation of its WHY.  We identified seven in post #181 (The “Side Road” Detours of “Faith as Usual”).

The reason for identifying these Side Roads is not to criticize those well-intentioned faithful leaders who are traveling them or to devalue the good they are doing through their faithful leadership.  It is to put a spotlight on the “so much more” that comes through getting back on the ancient path and pursuing the heart-change of faithful integrity through business a better way–the heart-change that prioritizes Biblical flourishing over profit and puts profit in its proper place as a necessary means rather than the end to which the business is managed.

The Reindeer Dust Stumbling Block

The Placebo stumbling block tied to sprinkling faith reindeer dust is the one we call the “Add Some Faith” Pill.  “Bad theology” or poor communication is behind the “Add Some Faith” Pill.  We believe words are important and powerful.  After all, God created the universe by speaking, and Satan tried to tempt Jesus by twisting God’s word.   The most common words used to express the “Add Some Faith” Pill are:

• “Integrate your faith into your work or business.”

• “Bring your faith into your work or business.”

The problem with this theology (or expression) is best captured by a quote said to be from Max De Pree, CEO of Herman Miller (quoted by Richard Mouw):

Talking about integrating your faith into your work is like talking about integrating your marriage into your sex life.

The “Add Some Faith” Pill gets the whole thing backwards!  The leader who has successfully crossed both the Sunday/Monday Gap (understanding that their faith is not just for Sunday) and the Sacred/Secular Gap (understanding that their work is sacred) gets sent on a Side Road in trying to cross the Knowing/Doing Gap (putting their faith into action) because the foundation of their Knowing about Doing has been turned on its head.

Leading faithfully with faithful integrity is about integrating your work and business into your faith (i.e., the other way around).  Semantics?  We don’t think so.  Words matter–words have power.  Mark Twain said:

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

There is a famous quote (attributed to various people in various forms) that essentially says our words become our actions, which become our habits, which become our values, which become our destiny.  What is the “destiny” of our efforts to integrate faith and work if we start out with the words backwards?

Integrating faith into work suggests your work can hold your faith–which is a very small view of faith.  Talking about integrating faith into work also suggests that faith is something separate from work, and that we are doing something unnatural by bringing them together.  We believe nothing could be further from God’s truth.

The “Add Some Faith” Pill can lead a person to see their work or business as the “main thing” and their faith as the sugar on top.  The “Add Some Faith” Pill can deceive a leader into believing that leading with faithful integrity is principally about sprinkling some “faith” reindeer dust over the organization to make it look and feel “Godly”–and that often leads down the Side Road of Cosmeticizing.

The Reindeer Dust Side Road

Cosmeticize is what we call the “reindeer dust” Side Road.  The essence of the Cosmeticize Side Road is captured by the phrase “I’ll make the business look really faith-based”.

Cosmeticizing is when an organization adopts overt faith symbols and practices without transforming how it actually does business. Sadly, it can be an affirmatively bad “witness” for faith–a business a better way body with a business as usual engine under the hood.   At its worst, it 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 and giving people unkind hand gestures.

It is “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.”)

Business as usual dressed with overt faith symbols is still business as usual.  At its best, it is leaders with good hearts and good intentions who are implementing positive practices–they are just missing the change in the organization’s heart.  Unfortunately, it is the change in the organization’s heart that is at the center of leading with faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing.

Cosmeticizing shows up in practices like prayer at meetings, workplace Bible studies and prayer groups, corporate chaplains, Bible verses on packaging, giving out Bibles to workers and customers, and including “God” or “Faith” in the mission and values.  None of these are bad things–they are actually affirmatively good (and all could be practices instituted by an organization that is engaged in business a better way). 

Like the children sprinkling reindeer dust, the leader will likely “feel good” about himself or herself and is certain to receive affirmation from others.  These leaders will definitely get put on stage at faith/work events and written about in books to share the practices they have instituted. (Sadly, those listening to THAT “4-Hour Content” Pill could leave thinking that Cosmeticizing is the goal.)

The greatest enemy of the life of faith in God is not sin, but good choices which are not quite good enough. (Oswald Chambers)

The Reindeer Dust Problem

Again, the reindeer dust itself (prayer, Bible studies, chaplains, Bibles, overt mission statements, etc.) can be good, and a well-intentioned faithful leader can become very comfortable just sprinkling reindeer dust, believing they are pursuing God’s purpose for their organization.  The problem is that reindeer dust can peacefully co-exist with a WHY of Profit as Purpose, but a WHY of Profit as Purpose will prevent the faithful leader from God’s “best” of leading with faithful integrity toward Biblical flourishing.

We have identified several “misses” that can result from a faithful leader getting stuck on the faith as usual Side Road of Cosmeticizing (i.e., reindeer dust without heart-change):

• Missed Purpose for the Organization:  The bigger WHY for organizations that can come through an end of Biblical flourishing rather than Profit as Purpose will be missed if the organization forgoes “heart” transformation by getting stuck on the Side Road of Cosmeticizing.  Remember, Matthew 6:24 warns us that, “No one can serve two masters”.  At the end of the day, there can only be one primary “WHY” for the organization that will win out–other “purposes” get reduced to being “means” or “strategies”.  Heart-change requires putting profit in its proper place as a necessary means to be optimized rather than maximized rather than the end to which the organization is managed.

• Missed Calling for Its Leaders:  We believe faithful leaders of organizations of humans are called to steward in a way that humanizes people, beautifies the world and, in the process, glorifies God.  Sadly, Cosmeticizing often makes faithful leaders feel good about themselves (and can even lead to huge pats on the back and even notoriety from the church and the faith/work movement), so they don’t see the need to seek more. They will miss leading with faithful integrity toward Biblical flourishing and miss the best God has for them as leaders of faith.

• Missed Flourishing for Its People:  If an organization gets detoured onto the Side Road of Cosmeticizing that keeps it pursuing business as usual, it will miss the opportunity to glorify God by providing opportunities for individuals to express aspects of their God-given identities in creative and meaningful work, by providing opportunities, economic prosperity, goods and services that enable families and communities to flourish and by creating a culture of Shalom conducive to the flourishing of all people it touches.  It will miss business a better way toward Biblical flourishing.

• Increased Hypocrisy:  The Side Road of Cosmeticizing can lead to greater faith “hypocrisy” by pursuing business as usual while displaying overt symbols of faith.

Is Reindeer Dust Necessary (or Always Good)?

The term “reindeer dust’ is really our Christmas-themed way of referring to overt expressions of faith by leaders of an organization pursuing faith/work integration.  When a faithful leader is weighing the practical steps to take in order to lead faithfully through business a better way, discernment as to whether to sprinkle reindeer dust–whether to integrate faith overtly or just covertly–requires a continual balancing of the call to be courageous and the need to be wise.  Here are two verse to anchor those guideposts:

Courageous: Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

Wise: Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.  (Matthew 10:16)

But it may be Ecclesiastes 11:9 that best reflects the necessary balance of Courageous and Wise:

Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes.

Just as our culture tends toward “the bigger, the better”, many in the faith/work movement tend toward “the more overt, the better”.  In our current culture, sprinkling reindeer dust is certainly embracing the call to courage.  But are they being wise?  We believe the answer is “it depends”.  Sprinkling reindeer dust is neither inherently good nor inherently bad for an organization.  Both the idolization of “overtness” and the fear of being “overt” can lead to poor stewardship.

We believe wisdom in the sprinkling of reindeer dust isn’t as celebrated by the faith community as courage, but it is critical to discern the right balance between the two if a leader is to honor God’s command in the Creation Mandate to steward creation, which includes the organization.

The Integriosity model organizes “heart-change” along six Covert-Overt Continuums, giving permission to be wise about overtness and providing a structure within which prayerfully to consider the most appropriate balance for the particular organization at a point in time.

No single place along a continuum is the “right place”.  The “right place” will be unique for each organization and leader.  The “right place” for a particular organization and leader will come through prayer and is likely to evolve over time.  It is about ABIDING in the leading of the Holy Spirit–not STRIVING to look “faithful”.

Of course, it is also not an excuse for a leader to “hide” their faith or the heart of the organization.  We believe it is better thought of as courage tempered by wisdom rather than wisdom tempered by courage.  After all, Ecclesiastes 11:9 mentioned “heart” first and then “eyes”.

Embracing the idea that a business adorned with multiple overt faith symbols may be “missing the mark” on a Side Road while a business with no overt faith symbols may be on the ancient path can be hard for many people of faith.  The Bible specifically warns about missing the ancient path by “stumbling” onto a “side road”.

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)

We believe leading faithfully through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing is an ancient path–a path to God’s “best” for an organization–and that ancient path requires a bigger WHY than Profit as Purpose.  The right WHY doesn’t necessarily need “faith” reindeer dust to stay on the ancient path, but the wrong WHY can’t be transformed with “faith” reindeer dust–no matter how good it looks, feels or actually is.  Oswald Chambers warns:

The greatest enemy of the life of faith in God is not sin, but good choices which are not quite good enough.

PERSONAL NOTE (from PM):  I certainly thought putting a Bible on my office shelf was an important step when trying to figure out what it meant to integrate my faith into my practice of law.  When I first began participating actively in the faith/work movement in 2011, the more overt the better seemed to be the preferred path espoused by most.  The language I heard and used was “integrate your faith into your business”.

But my “AHA!” moment about The Add Some Faith Pill the came on May 3, 2014, at the 2014 New Canaan Society Washington Weekend.  Eric Metaxas was interviewing Greg Brenneman and Richard Mouw about faith/work integration.  That is when Richard Mouw told a story about having been corrected about faith/work integration by Max De Pree, the Chairman of Herman Miller Furniture.  De Pree told Mouw that he had been invited to speak to some business leaders about “integrating their faith into their work” and planned to tell them they had it “the wrong way around”–it was like talking about “integrating my marriage into my sex life”.  That brief two-minute story stuck with me.  If you want to watch that interview, the video is embedded below.  Mouw tells this story at minute 10:50.

I had it backwards in thinking about that Bible on my shelf.  The Cosmeticizing revelation came as I thought about my children at Christmas time.  They are now 25 and 23, and we will still be sprinkling reindeer dust this Christmas Eve.  But that’s OK, because they now understand its limitations.  Thankfully for me, they will also still be putting out milk and cookies for Santa.

Wishing you and yours a very blessed Christmas!

CONVERSATION - ERIC METAXAS WITH GREG BRENNEMAN AND RICHARD MOUW

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Photo Credit: Original photo by Paul Michalski
(photo cropped)