#028 – Faith As Usual – The “Bless You” Pill

We believe there are five common Placebos of what we call faith as usual that can lead well intentioned leaders down Side Roads in their effort to integrate their faith and their work.  The fourth Placebo (after The “4-Hour Content” Pill, The “Save or Give” Pill  and The “Add Some Faith” Pill) is The “Bless You” Pill, which commonly leads to the Side Road of Prosperitizing.

Remember, Placebos can be presented as being the red pill of business a better way, but are actually empty capsules or “feel good” pills.  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.

The “Bless You” Pill

We have suggested in prior posts that some leaders begin to pursue integration of their faith and work after being inspired by faith as usual content based on “bad theology” or, at least, poor communication of good theology.  As a result, the leader setting out inspired or guided by that content is doomed to a Side Road.

“Bad theology” or poor communication is behind the Placebo we called The “Add Some Faith” Pill and it is also behind the Placebo we call The “Bless You” Pill.  This Placebo shows up most commonly in appeals by those in the faith and work movement–whether in advertising for faith/work events, introductions of faith/work speakers or presentation of faith/work stories. The “Bless You” Pill tries to draw people into faith/work integration by emphasizing how God will bless their business with increased growth and profit if they integrate their faith into their work and run their business as a “Christian business”.  The promise of blessings may be direct, or it may just be implied by holding up the example of a business that did grow and prosper.  The legal profession is one of the few that regulates advertising by its members, but it has an answer for these types of promises–a required disclaimer to the effect that “Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

At Integrous, we call this “Vending Machine Theology“.  In Vending Machine Theology, God is like a vending machine–if you put in the right stuff, good stuff comes out.  In the case of The “Bless You” Pillthat “good stuff” is a financially successful business with higher profits and extraordinary growth.  (We believe there is a spectrum of Vending Machine Theology.  At one end is “Word of Faith” beliefs and at the other is “Everyday Religion“.  In the middle is the “Prosperity Gospel“.  The common thread is that God promises something “good” now if I do the right things.  We have created a CHART showing the similarities and differences for those interested.)

The problem with The “Bless You” Pill  is that it starts leaders out with a corrupted “WHY”.  It puts faith/work integration in the same bucket as Six Sigma, TQM, JIT, Lean, etc.–something that has helped others prosper and is worth a try as long as it works.   When faith/work integration is adopted as a means to any end other than glorifying God, it will be sustained only so long as the desired end is achieved or is in sight.

Will a business that integrates Biblical principles be more successful? It depends on how you define “success”. Will it be more successful from the standpoint of increasing human flourishing and glorifying God—yes. Will it be more successful by the worldly standards of increased profit and growth—maybe.  Whether that is enough motivation depends on the real “Why” driving the leaders.

Biblical principles are reduced to basic principles of the world when they're followed in order to gain the ``better life`` we demand. (Larry Crabb)

We believe “Why” matters for an organization and also matters for faith/work integration.  If faith/work integration is undertaken because of the promise of material and financial business success (i.e., The “Bless You” Pill), the leader is likely headed down the Side Road of Prosperitizing.  As Larry Crabb wrote, “Biblical principles are reduced to basic principles of the world when they’re followed in order to gain the ‘better life’ we demand.

Placebos like The “Bless You” Pill can be presented as being the red pill of business a better way, but are actually empty capsules or “feel good” pills. 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 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.  We believe more is much harder, but it is necessary and worth the journey. That journey is the journey of Integriosity®.

SPOILER ALERT:  Two of the key “ingredients for execution” in the third stage of Integriosity–RE-ALIGN–are “Commitment to a Bigger WHY” and “Trust“.

PERSONAL FOOTNOTE (from PM):  I first thought about “Vending Machine Theology” in 2011 when I was asked to give the keynote talk at the YMCA Good Friday Prayer Breakfast in Norwalk, CT.  The topic of my speech was “The Way of the Cross: PLOTting a Course When Life Isn’t Fair”.   I argued that we could gain insight into how to deal with life’s “unfairness” by reflecting on how Jesus responded to the Cross: Persevere, Love, Obey and Trust, unconditionally (the really hard part).  “Unconditional” means our only agenda can be knowing God more (and not seeking His blessings).   The same goes for faith/work integration.   At the 2020 Praxis Redemptive Imagination Summit, Anne Snyder (wife of author David Brooks) made a statement that keeps replaying in my mind–she noted that Jesus said He was “the Way, the Truth and the Life” and then she offered that the church has spent most of its time focused on the “Truth” of Jesus and perhaps needed to spend more time focused on the “Way” of Jesus.  I agree.

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