#031 – Faith As Usual – Individualize

We have explored the five common Placebos of what we call faith as usual that can lead well intentioned leaders to stumble down Side Roads in their effort to integrate their faith and their work.  We have also hinted at the six common faith as usual Side Roads that represent responses to Placebos advertised as the Red Pill but, we believe, actually miss the ancient path of business a better way.  After Agonizing, the second of these Side Roads is Individualizing.

Remember, Side Roads are not inherently bad–in fact, they are better than doing nothing at all.  But Side Roads are not transformative and can lull the leader into believing they are on the ancient path when they are missing deeper purpose for the organization, deeper calling for themselves and deeper flourishing for their people.  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.


For those people who take The 4-Hour Content Pill and move past Agonizing, we believe the next Side Road is often Individualizing.  The default to not knowing where to start in faith/work integration can be what Dallas Willard called the “social Gospel” version of a “Gospel as sin management” approach of just trying to be a better person day-to-day, because that is the message many (most?) people of faith have grown up hearing:

  • Try to stop doing as many bad things–avoid anything unethical, cut less corners, get less angry, treat people poorly less often.
  • Try to start doing more good things–put a Bible on the desk, look for opportunities to pray for people, be personally more generous, engage in personal acts of kindness.

Individualizing by a leader is not a bad thing–it is actually affirmatively good.  The leader will likely “feel good” about himself or herself and is likely to receive affirmation from others.  Some leaders even get put on stage at faith/work events to share how integrating their faith and work simply means being an ethical, kind and generous leader.  Sadly, those listening to THAT “4-Hour Content” Pill could leave thinking that Individualizing is the goal.

But Individualizing by a leader is not business a better way because it is transforming one person rather than the culture of the organization.  It is a Side Road, and the good feelings and affirmation may be enough to keep the leader from doing the harder work of pursuing the ancient road.  It is not the red pill because it is not focused on transforming the heart of the organization and how it does business–the organization is likely still engaging in business as usual with all its attributes and problems, particularly Profit as Purpose.  Of course, Individualizing may have a positive impact on the organizational culture because people watch and emulate their leaders, but without intentionality and a transformed Why, we believe it will ultimately fall far short of business a better way.

Living out my faith in my work seemed relegated to small symbolic gestures, to self-righteous abstinence from certain behaviors, and to political alignments on the top cultural and legal issues of the day. (Katherine Leary Alsdorf)

As we have emphasized in prior posts, the risks of relying on a Placebo and stumbling down a Side Road include:

  • Missed purpose for the organization
  • Missed calling for its leaders
  • Missed flourishing of its people

It is important to emphasize that none of these Side Roads is bad–they are better than not even thinking about faith/work integration.  Whereas Agonizing is a precarious Side Road because it is like balancing on top of a fence, Individualizing is a very comfortable Side Road.  It fits what many people have heard in church on Sundays for many years.  It is also safe–who can criticize someone for being more ethical and more kind.  At its boldest, Individualizing may lead to praying for people and possibly sharing the Gospel (though it is likely to be a narrow “Gospel of sin management”). But as Dallas Willard pointed out about a “Gospel of sin management”–“Transformation of life and character is no part of the redemptive message.”   If it is not transformative for the leader, it is certainly not transformative for the organization.  Like most Side Roads, Individualizing makes us feel good about ourselves (even if it is less likely to lead to huge pats on the back or notoriety from the church and the faith/work movement).  Unlike the the Agonizing Side Road, it is one a leader can comfortably stay on indefinitely, never giving another thought to the ancient path of business a better way.

SPOILER ALERT:  The commitment of leaders is critical in the pursuit of Integriosity®.  One of the key elements of the third step of IntegriosityRE-ALIGN–is Intentional Leaders committed to a WHO Identity, to a bigger WHY, to Curating Culture, and to Authenticity.  Individualizing is a starting point–it just can’t be the ending point.

PERSONAL FOOTNOTE (from PM): When my faith was renewed in 2003 and I began to think about what my new-found faith meant for my practice of law, I quickly entered a state of Agonizing and for five years never really got past Individualizing when God called me to walk a different path.  Here was my Individualizing in a nutshell:

  • I placed a Bible on my bookshelf.
  • I looked for opportunities to pray for people, and a few opportunities presented themselves.
  • I looked for other people of similar faith beliefs (and found one).  In general, however, I was quite secretive of my new-found faith because my impression was that “born-agains Christians” were viewed as strange unintellectual creatures from somewhere in that vast gap of America across the Hudson River (as depicted in the famous 1976 New Yorker cover).  People knew they existed, but no one had ever actually met one (except perhaps on a deal in Texas).
  • I didn’t really need to be more ethical (I had always tried hard to be ethical in my practice), but the reasons for my ethics changed.  Before my renewed faith, I was ethical because I was afraid of the consequences of being unethical.  At my college graduation, the father of one of my roommates gathered the rooming group together and said, “Boys, as you go into the business world remember this one thing–don’t do anything you would not want to see on the front page of tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal.”  After the renewal of my faith, I wanted to be ethical because God called me to live a life of integrity and righteousness.
  • I was less fearful and worried because I knew God was in control.  This actually led to a young colleague asking me how I had remained so calm on a conference call where people were in a panic.  I shared the reason.
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