05 Jul #180 – “Leading Faithfully” Basics – The Stumbling Blocks of “Faith as Usual”
ESSENCE: Many well-intentioned, faithful leaders never find the right path to faithful integrity through business a better way, 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”. We have identified five common stumbling blocks we call Placebos (i.e., empty pills masquerading for the Matrix-inspired “red pill” of business a better way). Placebos embody messages about, or approaches to, leading faithfully that we believe “miss the mark” of God’s purpose for work and business and can block the on-ramp to the Jeremiah 6:16 ancient path of business a better way or divert well-intentioned, faithful leaders onto a Jeremiah 18:15 side road. In this post, we examine those five Placebos in greater detail: The “4-Hour Content” Pill, The “Save or Give” Pill, The “Add Some Faith” Pill, The “Bless You” Pill and The “Success First” Pill.
“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.
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. In our last post (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 this post, we take a closer look at five Placebo stumbling blocks of faith as usual.
Refresher: Faith As Usual
As we noted in our last post, if you search “path” and “road” in the Bible you get many occurrences. But there are only two references to the “ancient” path. One is the instruction in 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.
The other is a warning in Jeremiah 18:15.
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.
What we call faith as usual can block the on-ramp to the ancient path or divert well-intentioned, faithful leaders onto a Jeremiah 18:15 side road by offering various empty “feel-good” placebos advertised as the ancient path. Often, the faithful leader believes they are pursuing the ancient path, but it is based on “bad theology” or, at least, poor communication of good theology.
Placebos are the “empty pill” stumbling blocks (if you are confused by “pill” references, look back at the “Red Pill”/”Blue Pill” choice from post #157 (The Choice) inspired by the movie The Matrix) that lead to Side Roads off the ancient path of business a better way, which result in misses–missing God’s best for the faithful leader, the organization and its employees. Not bad (i.e., better than business as usual at its worst)–just not God’s best. The devotional Jesus Calling by Sarah Young warns:
Many voices clamor for your attention, enticing you to go their way. A few steps away from your true path are pits of self-pity and despair, plateaus of pride and self-will.
In the Bible, the idea of putting a “stumbling block” in front of someone is strongly discouraged (to say the least).
You shall not . . . put a stumbling block before the blind. (Leviticus 19:14)
It is good not to do anything that causes your brother to stumble. (Romans 14:21)
Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces. (Ezekial 14:3)
Their silver and gold are not able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord. They cannot satisfy their hunger or fill their stomachs with it. For it was the stumbling block of their iniquity. (Ezekial 7:19)
When we hear the word “placebo”, we usually think of the “empty pill” given to half the people in a drug study. Whether or not they are the lucky or unlucky ones depends on whether the real drug is effective or dangerous.
The “placebo effect” is a phenomenon in which someone feels good (or better) in response to a “fake” treatment (e.g., a sugar pill or saline solution) because they think it is “real”. Author Seth Godin offers an insightful observation on “placebos”:
There’s nothing wrong with the cognitive dissonance that placebos cause. It’s effective indeed. But it works even better if there are actually active ingredients in the potion we’ve created.
In our last post, we identified five common Placebos that can lead well-intentioned, faithful 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
They are the “pills” a well-intentioned leader can unwittingly take (or be given) in the pursuit of faith/work integration. The problem is that they aren’t the real medicine—what we are calling the “red pill” of business a better way. Some of these placebos can give leaders an upset stomach and some can make leaders feel good about themselves even though they miss the heart of faith/work integration–God’s real purpose for work and business.
Unfortunately, they can have the effect of keeping a leader from ever getting on the Jeremiah 6:16 ancient path or, if they have found a way on, to detour them onto a Jeremiah 18:15 Side Road.
Many voices clamor for your attention, enticing you to go their way. (Sarah Young)
The “4-Hour Content” Pill
Anyone exploring the topic of faith/work integration will realize that there is no shortage of excellent content (hundreds or even thousands of books), conferences, ministries and coaches devoted to the “faith and work movement”. We believe many leaders begin to pursue integration of their faith and work after being inspired by content–whether that is reading a book, watching a video, listening to a podcast, hearing a sermon or speech, or attending a conference.
The problem occurs when the inspired person returns to work after ingesting a few hours (or minutes) of content and tries to figure out how to internalize and personalize it to apply to their life and organization–amidst the pressures and time commitments of the organization’s day-to-day operations. Perhaps they are inspired to read another book or find additional content. Unfortunately, there are significant hurdles to converting typical faith/work content into transformative action.
Stories. Much of the content available on faith and work integration is stories–stories about how a particular person, in a particular industry, in a particular geographic region, in a particular organization, at a particular point in time in the organization’s development, and at a particular point in the person’s faith journey, went about integrating his or her faith and work. They are great stories full of ideas and methods and even miracles, but they can be hard to apply to a different person, or in a different industry, or in a different region, or in a different organization, or at a different time in the organization’s development, or as part of a different faith journey.
Checklists. Some content on faith and work integration comes in the form of very specific checklists or programs. Checklists (e.g., start a Bible study, start prayer groups, sponsor mission trips, give Bibles to customers, start a benevolence fund) and programs are often compiled or created from a particular story or from numerous stories and, like stories, can be challenging to apply to a particular person, in a particular industry, in a particular geographic region, in a particular organization, at a particular point in time in the organization’s development, and at a particular point in the person’s faith journey. Applying an ill-fitting list or program can lead to confusion, frustration, intimidation, just giving up, or worse. While they may feel “easy” to implement, in fact, they might call for action that would represent poor stewardship of a particular business (e.g., encouraging overt use of Christian symbols and practices in a context where such use would be detrimental to the leader and harmful to the organization).
Principles. Content that consists of general principles (e.g., “Apply the Golden Rule”) avoids the checklist problems but will likely be difficult to apply practically without more context or understanding, particularly in the midst of leading the organization in the day-to-day business. Again, confusion, frustration, intimidation, and just giving up may follow.
Theology. Other content on faith and work integration may be more theological than practical–making it hard to apply to anything in real life without more context. Even worse, we believe a fair amount of theology espoused in the faith and work movement (what we call faith as usual) can actually lead people down the Side Roads that result in missed purpose for the organization, missed calling for its leaders and missed flourishing of its people. “Bad theology” is behind the Placebos we call the “Save or Give” Pill, the “Add Some Faith” Pill and the “Bless You” Pill, leading to the Side Roads of Individualizing, Monetizing, Cosmeticizing, Monastecizing, and Prosperitizing.
Content plays an important role in creating the needed spark for a leader to pursue faith/work integration, but it may not be enough to sustain the fire (or even get it started).
The “Save or Give” Pill
To understand the “Save or Give” Pill, you need to recall the three Gaps that were described in post 165 (The “Gaps”). As a brief refresher:
• The Sunday/Monday Gap (crossed when you understand that what you do Monday-Friday is not disconnected from the faith you practice on Sunday or Saturday).
• The Sacred/Secular Gap (crossed when you understand that your work or business itself has intrinsic value in God’s Kingdom–your work is as sacred as the work of a priest or pastor)
• The Knowing/Doing Gap (crossed by taking those understandings and implementing change by actually doing something).
The “Save or Give” Pill is a message that crosses the Sunday/Monday Gap but then gets stuck. It correctly gets the leader across that Gap by acknowledging business is a platform for doing Kingdom work, but then stalls the leader short of the next Gap by suggesting that only two types of Kingdom work can legitimately be done from the business platform:
Save – Evangelizing people at or through work (e.g., employees, customers, vendors) or serving the less fortunate (e.g., through products and services that serve the less fortunate or through community service), or
Give – Generating wealth that can be donated to support people and organizations (like the local church and missionary and humanitarian organizations) that do the “real” Kingdom work of evangelizing people or caring for “the least of these”.
The problem with this message is that it sees business as a secular platform for sacred work, rather than a sacred platform itself. That is worth repeating–it sees business as a secular platform for sacred work rather than an intrinsically sacred platform. This is the definition of being stuck between the Sunday/Monday Gap and the Sacred/Secular Gap. It fails to see business as having intrinsic Kingdom value. In most cases this is likely because the author/pastor/presenter sees sacred work as all about, and only about, the “Great Commission” (make disciples) or the “Great Commandment” (love your neighbor).
Depending on who prescribes the “Save or Give” Pill, the Great Commission and the Great Commandment will have different emphasis. If a person’s focus is on the Great Commission and evangelism, it is hard to see how business (or work) can be “Godly” unless it is explicitly evangelistic or directly serving evangelism. If a person’s focus is on the Great Commandment and social good, it is hard to see how business (or work) can be “Godly” unless it is “doing good” for the less fortunate.
It is possible that the leader given the Save or Give Pill will get stuck at Agonizing, because everyone who starts down the path of faith/work integration likely Agonizes at some point about what they should be doing. It is also possible that the leader will get past Agonizing to Individualizing. But the two Side Roads most uniquely tied to the Save or Give Pill are Monetizing and Cosmeticizing.
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 and the Sacred/Secular Gap, gets sent on a Side Road in trying to cross the Knowing/Doing Gap because the foundation of their Knowing about Doing has been turned on its head.
Leading faithfully 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?
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” pixie dust over the organization to make it look and feel “Godly”–and that leads down the Side Roads of Cosmeticizing or Monastecizing.
The “Bless You” Pill
“Bad theology” or poor communication of good theology is behind the “Bless You” Pill. The “Bless You” Pill tries to draw people into leading faithfully 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.
God has blessed many faithfully-led organizations financially and might bless yours in that way too–or not. 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” Pill, that “good stuff” is a financially successful business with higher profits and extraordinary growth.
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. Here is a chart showing the similarities and differences. We believe only the “trust” path leads to faithful integrity.
In the case of the “Bless You” Pill, that “good stuff” is a financially successful business with higher profits and extraordinary growth.
The problem with the “Bless You” Pill is that it starts leaders out with a corrupted “WHY”. It puts leading faithfully 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 leading faithfully 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.
We believe “Why” matters for an organization and also matters for leading faithfully. If leading faithfully is undertaken because of the promise of material and financial business success (i.e., the “Bless You” Pill) rather than simply obedience to God’s ways, 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.
The “Success First” Pill
While the “Bless You” Pill starts leaders out with a corrupted “WHY” (leading faithfully is something that has helped others prosper and is worth a try as long as it works), the “Success First” Pill starts leaders out with a corrupted “WHEN”.
The “Success First” Pill says that getting the organization up and running and successful is the first priority–leading faithfully can come later. A leader may swallow the “Success First” Pill for any number of reasons:
• The leader has crossed the Sunday/Monday Gap but not yet crossed the Sacred/Secular Gap, resulting in leading faithfully being seen as a “nice thing to do when the time is right” but not a priority.
• The leader has also swallowed the “Save or Give” Pill and believes that “giving” will be enhanced by first getting the business successful.
• The leader has swallowed the “Add Some Faith” Pill and is afraid that adding overt faith “frosting” before the business is successful might impede its success.
• The leader has heard or read (and misunderstood) a “success to significance” message and sees leading faithfully as firmly in the second stage of “significance” after the business has achieved “success”.
• The leader is overwhelmed with getting the business to “work” and sees leading faithfully as an added burden for which there is insufficient bandwidth.
• The leader anticipates pursuing/is pursuing/has obtained financing from partners who do not understand or value leading faithfully, and the leader fears it could jeopardize the financing that is needed for success.
The “Bless You” Pill leads to taking the right actions for the wrong reasons (in the hope of receiving God’s blessings), and the “Success First” Pill leads to delaying taking action for the wrong reasons (e.g., misunderstanding of leading faithfully and God’s interest in the organization, fear of worldly failure/disapproval or lack of trust in God).
Because we believe “Why” matters for an organization, we believe “When” also matters for leading faithfully. If leading faithfully is delayed until the organization is “successful” (i.e., the “Success First” Pill), the leader is likely headed down the Side Road of Interimizing.
PERSONAL NOTE (from PM): Content is not bad–in fact it is necessary for Knowing. But it is not enough. Conferences are not bad–in fact, they can be inspiring. But they are not enough. Coaching and Cohorts are not bad–in fact it can help many people figure it out for themselves. But I believe for many people they are not enough to navigate Doing. Integrous was started to help leaders who understand the limitations of Content, Conferences, Coaches and Cohorts and are ready for an experienced advisor and trusted counselor to walk by their side and help them bridge the Knowing/Doing Gap.
Faithful Integrity and business a better way call leaders to something much more challenging, but I believe much more in line with God’s creation story and His plans for His Kingdom. It is about changing the heart of their organization–its WHY. I know many leaders are not ready for that “leap of faith”, but Integrous is here for those faithful leaders who are ready to pursue faithful integrity through business a better way and recognize the value of having a “Chief Integrity Counsel” by their side.
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