The Faith and Work Movement Has a Problem

Well, now that I have your attention, it has quite a few problems. Read all the way to the end for some possible solutions.

First, it tends to be theologically nerdy. That is always a temptation with any spiritual topic of interest, but seems particularly ironic when it comes to something as practical as work, affecting almost every Christian. We risk ending up catering only to the intellectual elite, as a recent Christianity Today article by Jeff Haanen has warned.

Let me say that while I think over-examination of incidental theological issues is an issue, deep biblical reflection is not. And that would solve problem two, which is that where the movement is practically useful it can be very superficial. While there has been an explosion of books on faith and work in the last two decades, rarely do they move beyond Faith and Work 101: a basic theology of work and some superficial practical responses.

This is partly a mea culpa, because I have contributed two books in the space. I would contend, however, that I have sought to address some under-developed areas in the movement: spiritual formation, and biblically-thoughtful practical responses.

Third, different groups tend to stay in their own camps:

  • Theological educators have rarely worked in secular settings
  • Church leaders tend to only want to listen to fellow church leaders
  • Many excellent practitioners have eschewed theological education and been very critical of the church.

In response to these issues, there will be a Transforming Vocation Conference in Sydney next year focused on bringing together those three groups in dialogue with each other and presenting rigorous and biblically informed contributions.

However, the biggest problem that the Faith and Work Movement currently has is that it is “male, pale and stale”, a term being used to describe boardrooms, politics and of course the church generally.

This makes me mad. It makes me mad because I live in Sydney, Australia where it is increasingly difficult as a female evangelical to have the opportunity to preach, let alone be an elder or (Paul forbid!) lead a church. I am happy for the ecclesial brigade to continue to seek resolution on those troublesome texts, but surely the faith and work area is different. Here we have women who have significant corporate experience, have made deep biblical reflection on that work, and are experienced as leaders and speakers and teachers. Surely this is the arena where we should see women model what good faith–work integration looks like… but sadly, no.

In three critical areas, women are missing in action.

  1. As speakers at major faith and work events. I commend the recent Faith & Work Summit in Chicago for having a woman on stage for most of the major sessions; but she was accompanied by two men; and two men led the final session. In the workshops there were (by my rough count) 35 women and 92 men. I am sure that is a huge improvement, but we can do better. At the Karam Forum my inbox has been inundated with promotional pictures of men, and the official promotional speaker box has pictures of ten men and just two women. In the latest update, only men are mentioned.
  1. As featured in resources. Just a couple of examples here. In listings of top ten books on faith and work, women hardly feature. In a popular post from the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, there were 2 books by women: Amy Sherman and Diane Paddison; while Gea Gort and Katherine Leary Alsdorf appeared on bookcovers as a co-authors of two other books, only their male co-authors were originally recognized on the blog. In the Economic Wisdom video resources used in curricula at Christian universities, there are just two talks by women, and 18 by men. This means that the students are going to receive teaching and modelling by men 90% of the time. In one of the best faith and work books produced this year: Work, Theological Foundations and Practical Implications, editors Keith Loftin and Trey Dimsdale commissioned contributions. All 14 were written by men. The foreword is by Mark Greene. The only work by a woman is a two-page afterword, which says it all.

  2. As leaders of Faith & Work centres. Of the significant centres of faith–work outreach around Australia and the US, all but one are led by men: Marketplace Institute (Ridley and Regent), Malyon Workplace, Princeton F&WI, TIFWE, Redeemer Center for F&W, Mockler Center, Opus: The Art of Work, The De Pree Center, the Office of Faith, Work & Economics, the Acton Institute, the Theology of Work Project. Only Amy Sherman stands out, as Director of the Sagamore Institute’s Center on Faith in Communities.

What can be done?

I recently contributed to a chapter on improving women’s participation and leadership in theological colleges in Australia. Some of the recommendations we provided at the end of that chapter could also be helpful here:

  1. Encourage female representation in all areas of resourcing.
  2. Increase the number of female role models at senior levels in organisations.
  3. Establish pathways for women including appropriate opportunities, coaching, and training.
  4. Provide focused mentoring for female researchers by male and female supervisors, providing advocacy, sponsorship, publishing, and teaching experience.
  5. Consider flexible and non-linear career paths for academics and those in work ministry who are parents of young children, and strategies to allow career continuance after a career break.
  6. Target female students in recruitment to longer coursework awards and HDR in this area.
  7. Promote connections with peers: support opportunities for female students and faculty to build collegiality through colloquia and social media.

Kara Martin is the author of Workship: How to Use Your Work to Worship God, and Workship 2: How to Flourish at Work. She is also a lecturer with Mary Andrews College. Kara has worked in media and communications, human resources, business analysis and policy development roles, in a variety of organisations, and as a consultant. Kara has a particular passion for integrating our Christian faith and work, and helping churches connect with the workers in their congregations. She is currently conducting research on how to effectively equip workplace Christians to integrate their faith and work.


  One thought on “The Faith and Work Movement Has a Problem

  1. Denise Daniels
    December 21, 2018 at 10:11 am

    Great piece, Kara. I recently purchased your books and look forward to the opportunity to meet you in person one of these days!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. December 22, 2018 at 5:37 am

    Thanks Denise. Love your work! And especially the workshops you were part of at the Faith@Work Summit. Looking forward to meeting you also 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. December 22, 2020 at 9:26 am

    I’m only lately coming to this piece Kara but you absolutely nail some of the challenges of the faith and work movement in the UK. I just reviewed the edited collection you mention for Practical Theology and basically wrote what you wrote! Looking forward to reading more of your work.


  4. December 22, 2020 at 2:54 pm

    Thanks so much Gill. I enjoyed reading your paper on calling; some fascinating insights. Happy to make a connection and to discuss further.


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