12 Jul #181 – “Leading Faithfully” Basics – The “Side Road” Detours of “Faith as Usual”
ESSENCE: Side Roads are detours that substitute a lesser “good” for the “best” of transformational heart-change in an organization–transformation of its WHY. They are detours off the ancient path of faithful integrity through business a better way in alignment with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities. Side Roads are not inherently bad–in fact, they are better than doing nothing at all. Well-intentioned faithful leaders often find themselves on Side Roads 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 creates stumbling blocks that substitute the “good” for the “best”. We have identified seven Side Roads: Agonizing, Individualizing, Monetizing, Cosmeticizing, Monastecizing, Prosperitizing and Interimizing. 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.
“Leading Faithfully” Basics is about going back and re-examining the basics of leading faithfully through business a better way–business in alignment with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities.
This is the final installment in our series of faith as usual posts. In our last two posts, we talked about the “misses” in pursuing faithful integrity through business a better way and the Placebo “stumbling blocks” that lead to them. The link between Placebos and misses is the Side Roads that follow from the Placebos and result in the misses.
In this post, we take a closer look at seven Side Road detours of faith as usual.
Refresher: Faith As Usual Misses and Stumbling Blocks
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.
Side Roads Explained
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)
You may recall our “Red Pill”/”Blue Pill” analogy from post #157 (The Choice) inspired by the movie The Matrix. We likened the world’s way of business as usual to the blue pill offered to Neo and the ancient path of business a better way to the red pill Neo chose. We also talked about purple. Side Roads are purple.
Side Roads are detours that substitute a lesser “good” for the “best” of transformational heart-change in the organization–transformation of its WHY.
Side Roads are not inherently bad–in fact, they are better than doing nothing at all. Purple is better than blue, but purple is still the way of the world if not accompanied by transformational heart-change in the organization. And 1 John 2:15 tells us : “Do not love the world or the things in the world.”
Purple may be better than blue, but it is not the best to which people of Biblical faith are called and commanded. 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. The good is always the enemy of the best.
We have identified seven common Side Roads that can undermine leading with faithful integrity:
• Agonize: All about nothing.
• Individualize: All about me.
• Monetize: All about money.
• Cosmeticize: All about symbols.
• Monastecize: All about us.
• Prosperitize: All about blessings.
• Interimize: All about success.
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 greatest enemy of the life of faith in God is not sin, but good choices which are not quite good enough. (Oswald Chambers)
The essence of the Agonize Side Road is captured by the phrase “I know I should do something–but what?”.
Although everyone who starts down the path of leading with faithful integrity likely Agonizes at some point about what they should be doing, some people get stuck there. Agonizing isn’t “bad”–at least you are thinking about transformation–which is better than simply staying behind the Sunday/Monday Gap and blissfully going about business as usual.
Agonizing could be described as a period of conviction without direction. The Holy Spirit is working, and the leader has a gut feeling that the idea of leading with faithful integrity sounds like the right thing to do. Agonizing is particularly common right after taking the “4-Hour Content” Pill when it involves content or teaching ingested without context, intentionality or understanding.
Agonizing is a precarious Side Road because it is like balancing on top of a fence. It is not sustainable, because it is painful. People generally don’t stay in Agonizing forever (that would be cruel). The leader will either push forward in his or her pursuit of the ancient path or their initial good intentions are overwhelmed by busyness and morph into inertia and they fall back to business as usual.
Although other 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, the Agonizing Side Road is unfulfilling–we must fall one way or the other. Flashes of Agonizing may come back, but the memories of the earlier discomfort make it go away more quickly.
In the words of the “Wolf of Wall Street”, “Without action, the best intentions in the world are nothing more than that: intentions.”
If words from the immoral character Jordan Belfort are not convincing, here is how Rick Warren expressed it in a devotional:
Faith is more than believing. Faith is more than thinking, talking, or having convictions about Jesus. Faith is action. It is movement; it is activity. Faith is something you do.
Agonizing is not action.
The essence of the Individualize Side Road is captured by the phrase “I’ll be a more Godly person at work”.
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 leading with faithful integrity 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, do community service.
Individualizing by a leader is not a bad thing–it is actually affirmatively good. 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.’
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. 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.
The essence of the Monetize Side Road is captured by the phrase “I’ll make more money for God”.
The “Save or Give” Pill tells the business leader that leading faithfully means evangelizing people at work and giving money to evangelists–period. We believe most leaders will conclude that evangelizing at work is probably illegal and absolutely uncomfortable, and they will opt for “Give“–the faith as usual Side Road of Monetizing.
In fact, Monetizing is perhaps the easiest Side Road of all. For those given the “Save or Give” Pill, it is a “Get Out of Jail” card from the scary alternative of evangelizing–just facilitate evangelizing by those “called” to that sort of thing. It is even easier than Individualizing because you don’t need to change your personal behavior.
And it is very safe–who can criticize someone for being more generous with their wealth.
Monetizing by a leader is not a bad thing–it is actually affirmatively good. The leader will likely “feel good” about himself or herself and will certainly receive affirmation from others (particularly recipients of their giving). The leader may well be courted by faith-based non-profits focused exclusively on encouraging monetary generosity. Business leaders sometimes say that they feel like ATM machines at church, so “giving at the office” is familiar.
Some leaders will even get put on stage at faith/work or “generosity” events to share how they have integrated their faith and work by giving away a huge percentage of revenues or profits. Sadly, those listening to THAT “4-Hour Content” Pill could leave thinking that Monetizing is the goal.
But Monetizing by a leader is not business a better way because it is focused on what to do with the profit of the organization rather than the culture of the organization that generates those profits–it is focused on generous giving rather than generous living (which includes generous giving).
Ironically, Monetizing can perpetuate and even exacerbate the problems of the business still having a business as usual heart, because maximizing profit maximizes the ability to be generous. The organization’s culture could actually get worse as the leader tries to maximize “doing good”.
Monetizing 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.
The essence of the Cosmeticize Side Road is captured by the phrase “I’ll make the business look really faith-based”.
For those brave leaders who are willing to embrace the “Save” portion of the “Save or Give” Pill and use their business platform to “evangelize”, what we refer to as Cosmeticizing is a likely Side Road IF the leader has been stranded between the Sunday/Monday Gap and the Sacred/Secular Gap.
Cosmeticizing is also a Side Road that flows from the “Add Some Faith” Pill, even when the leader has crossed the Sacred/Secular Gap. Because the “Add Some Faith” Pill gets its theology backwards by sending the message to “integrate your faith into your work“, it can deceive a leader into believing that leading with faithful integrity is principally about sprinkling some “faith” pixie dust over the organization to make it look and feel “Godly”–and that leads down the Side Road of Cosmeticizing.
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.
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.
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).
As with Monetizing, 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 essence of the Monastecize Side Road is captured by the phrase “I’ll make the business look so faith-based that only people like us will want to work here”.
Monastecizing is a version of the Cosmeticizing Side Road with a different WHY.
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).
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” 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 remains aligned with business as usual.
The essence of the Prosperitize Side Road is captured by the phrase “I’ll do it–because then God will bless the business”.
Prosperitizing is the Side Road that flows from the “Bless You” Pill. It is when leaders pursue leading faithfully because they believe it will lead to God blessing their business with worldly success–measured in terms of profit and growth.
It is unique among the Side Roads because it can happen to a leader who has crossed all three of the Gaps we believe are necessary for genuinely leading faithfully: the Sunday/Monday Gap, the Sacred/Secular Gap and the Knowing/Doing Gap. It is also unique because it can run parallel to other Side Roads–a leader can be detoured on the Prosperitizing Side Road while also lost on the Agonizing, Individualizing, Monetizing, Cosmeticizing or Monastecizing Side Road.
While the Side Roads of Agonizing, Individualizing, Monetizing, Cosmeticizing and Monastecizing involve misses as to the WHAT and HOW of faith/work integration, what makes the Side Road of Prosperitizing unique is that it is related solely to a misguided “WHY”. For that reason, it is perhaps the most insidious of the various Side Roads.
A business detoured onto the Side Road of Prosperitizing may look like it is on the ancient path of business a better way. But like an enlightened secular business that treats people well so long as it continues to be good for the bottom line, the Prosperitizing business is “doing” leading with faithful integrity so long as God comes back with the right blessing of material prosperity.
The leader will likely “feel good” about himself or herself and is certain to receive affirmation from others and get put on stage at faith/work events and written about in books to share the practices they have instituted. But leading with faithful integrity is being done for the wrong reasons–and we believe that is the worst kind of “miss” because God cares about the heart.
• Honoring and glorifying God through obedience to his Word and his commands can’t be a means to an end–it must be the end in itself.
• There are no guarantees that pursuing a bigger WHY for a business will lead to greater financial success. Trust requires leaving the outcome to God.
• If we are leading with faithful integrity to achieve worldly success, then we will quickly compromise or jettison our faithfulness if worldly success doesn’t materialize.
As it says in 1 Samuel 16:7, “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart'”. Leading with faithful integrity means doing the right thing, in the right ways, and for the right reasons. Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons looks good and probably “does good”, but it is missing business a better way–it is missing God’s heart for our work.
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.”
The essence of Interimize Side Road is captured by the phrase “I’ll do it–but first I need to get successful”.
Interimizing is the Side Road that flows from the “Success First” Pill–it is putting off “doing right” until the business is “doing well”. It is also unique because a leader detoured on the Interimizing Side Road feels justified in doing nothing about leading with faithful integrity even though he or she may have a deep faith and a strong commitment to leading faithful integrity.
While the Side Roads of Agonizing, Individualizing, Monetizing, Cosmeticizing, Monastecizing and Prosperitizing involve misses as to the WHAT, HOW and WHY of faith/work integration, what makes the Side Road of Interimizing unique is that it is related solely to a misguided “WHEN”.
Marketing and cultural guru Seth Godin wrote a blog post in August 2015 that he called “The Interim Strategy“ (we recommend that any leader committed to leading faithful integrity read the whole thing, several times). In it, he captured what we call Interimizing–in fact, his post inspired the recognition and naming of this Side Road. In his words:
This interim strategy, the notion that ideals and principles are for later, but right now, all the focus and resources have to be put into the emergency of getting successful—it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because it’s always the interim. It never seems like the right time to stop doing what worked and start doing what we said was important.
Even more pernicious than Seth Godin’s analysis that it “never seems like the right time to stop doing what worked“, the very nature of the “Success First” Pill implies that the “significance” which comes through leading faithful integrity is incompatible with achieving “success”. This is because, at its core, Interimizing exalts a worldly concept of “success” (profit) over a Biblical concept of “success” (human flourishing).
Although we have described Interimizing as a Side Road that can keep a leader from ever pursuing transcendent principles in their organization, Interimizing may also appear when a leader feels the need to abandon their principles in the face of challenging circumstances that threaten to negatively impact the “success” of the organization.
The “Success First” Pill can have an impact even on a leader who thought they had the “success” box checked off. Once again, Seth Godin shared some wisdom on this phenomenon in March 2020 (in a post called “I’ll go with my principles tomorrow“):
In the short run, it’s easy to abandon what we believe. Deep down, we assume that once things go back to normal, so will we. . . . When we make a “just this once” exception, we’ve already made a decision about what’s truly important. . . . Few people decide to be selfish for the long haul. What makes it a principle is that we do it now, even though (especially though) it’s hard.
PERSONAL NOTE (from PM): 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. 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. But I had it backwards–I was sprinkling faith pixie-dust.
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 revelation came as I thought about my children at Christmas time. Our family Christmas Eve tradition has included our 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–which, unlike reindeer dust, also made me feel good).
[In case you are curious, here is a picture.]