As one of my professors in seminary reminds us each class, context is king.
Which is precisely why the work done by the Barna Group is quite helpful for those attempting to understand the modern faith and work movement.
Recently the research firm released an exhaustive study on the current state of faith and work integration for Christians in conjunction with Abilene Christian University.
I recommend purchasing the report and spending time with it if you’re interested in diving deeper into the current state of faith and work integration in the U.S.
“What people really want, Barna’s research indicates, is a job that means something, that changes the world, that fulfills and stirs passions,” wrote Bill Denzel, Executive Director of Barna’s Vocation Project, and David Kinnaman, President of Barna Group. “The time is ripe for a new imagination, new definitions and a new theology of work that speaks to who we are and how we are uniquely made. These conversations will happen with or without the Church.
“Our hope is that Christians will lead the charge in rethinking what work means and what changes we need to make in order for work to lead to our personal and collective flourishing.”
Below we have distilled a few major takeaways from the study as you contextualize this data and apply it in your churches, workplaces, and public squares.
1. Christians are doing away with sacred/secular language surrounding their work.
According to Barna, 64% of employed Christians agree in some way it is clear how their work serves God or a higher purpose. Comparatively, five years ago one-third of employed Christians (34%) had never even thought about if they felt “called” in their current work. That percentage has dropped to 15% today.
This shift away from sacred/secular language presents an opportunity to provide hope and context for the missional nature of the Christian life.
Stated well by Amy Sherman in her book Kingdom Calling, “The gospel of the kingdom tells us not only what we’re saved from, but also what we’re saved for.”
2. Christians are finding purposeful employment.
Barna reports 6 in 10 people believe they have God-given gifts, and 1 in 3 want a better understanding of those gifts.
What’s encouraging is that just over a quarter (26% “strongly” agree) see how their job description serves God or a higher purpose, up slightly from 20% when Barna asked this question in 2014.
And while Christian millennials specifically are the most likely generation to view shaping culture as “important,” (40%, compared to 35% of Gen X and 33% of Boomers) there still remains much malign and confusion for what that actually looks like played out in the public square (less than 50% feel their church offers a vision for integrating faith and work).
Sherman offers a helpful definition of taking the desire to shape culture and bringing it into the stage of life.
“Social righteousness is about how we treat our neighbors near and far,” she writes. “It is about how vertical love towards God is expressed in horizontal love toward the world he has made and the people he has created.”
3. However, a majority are struggling to fully integrate their faith in their employment in a meaningful way.
The study reports almost 3 out of 4 workers are Compartmentalizers (Christians who experience their work separately from faith or a sense of calling) or Onlookers (Christians who have a passive interest in aligning their calling and career) when it comes to their calling and career, and only 28% qualify as Integrators.
One in four Compartmentalizers says they have never even thought about whether their calling and career overlap.
“Even when we talk about talents and gifts, we often discount any hard work that we have to do to get there,” said Bethany Jenkins, vice president of forums at The Veritas Forum, in the report. “I would actually say calling is a co-activity between the Lord giving us certain things and us actually developing them as well.”
However, as pointed out in the study, two-thirds of Integrators (Christians who have a high sense of experiencing faith and work together) say they strongly agree they are aware of their God-given gifts and talents and are engaging them on a regular basis in their work.
Frederick Buechner offers some assistance in this masterful statement regarding calling and vocation in his book Wishful Thinking: “To believe that a wise and good God is in charge of things implies that there is a fit between things that need doing and the person I am meant to be.”
4. Pastors are in a position to offer vocational guidance more than ever before.
Almost two-fifths of pastors (38%) see faith communities as key in helping Christians discover their own vocational strengths—manifest through sermons (86%), classes and test (85%), or small groups (83%).
In fact, 71% feel their churches are successful in equipping congregants to discuss religion or faith at work.
Interestingly, 4 in 10 Christian workers Barna surveyed (42%) note they have heard a message about work from their church in the past month.
“The good news is that there are those among us from whom we can learn a different way,” wrote Dr. Ben Ries, the associate dean for vocational formation and director of the Center for Vocational Formation at Abilene Christian University. “There are men and women who sit in our pews who walk into board meetings, classrooms, warehouses, offices and interactions with clients with a deep sense that God is there and that God is up to something in this world.
“They are teachers, lawyers, executives, non-profit leaders, social workers and healthcare professionals who have developed a sense that their work is not simply something to endure, but the very place they experience God’s presence and transforming power.”
While these statistics are helpful in understanding a broad-stroke caricature of the modern faith and work movement, these numbers can leave us wondering what implications this data holds for those of us in the workplace, pulpit, or counselor’s office.
We spoke with Center for Faith & Work Los Angeles Executive Director Steve Lindsey for a short Q&A to help contextualize these numbers and offer a way forward for continued faith and work integration across industries throughout the U.S. and beyond.
Question: What is your biggest takeaway from Barna’s latest study on Work & Vocation? Did anything surprise you from the data?
Steve Lindsey: Yes. The fact that the topic is as prevalently discussed in such a high percentage of churches is certainly encouraging. Those in church leadership are starting to feel some pressure to address the growing sense of an unaddressed need among congregants.
Q: What are the specific ways your are seeing these findings play out in conversations you are having with workers in Los Angeles?
SL: The hunger especially among professional millennials is growing to make all of life count for God’s Kingdom purposes. When they realize there are rich resources available today which did not exist even five years ago in Los Angeles to help address these needs, believers around LA are expressing great excitement and wanting more.
Q: What challenges are organizations like CFWLA facing in their efforts to promote a richer picture of the biblical doctrine of vocation?
SL: The primary challenge is in getting the word out. Los Angeles is very diverse and geographically expansive. Reaching a sizable group to attend specific events and programming is always a challenge in our “FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)/FOBO (Fear of a Better Offer)” culture.
Q: What do you think the future of faith and work integration looks like and how does CFWLA hope to bring that into reality in Los Angeles?
SL: We are continually encouraged. The interest is steadily growing in Los Angeles and the Lord keeps providing an amazing array of resources, national thought-leaders, local and diverse business leaders, and community to encourage and support our work.
Gage Arnold is the Communications Director for the Center for Faith & Work Los Angeles. He is currently an M.Div student at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO., and holds a B.S. in Journalism & Electronic Media from the University of Tennessee.