Attitudes toward faith and work: US versus Australian Christians

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Barna Group in America have put together an epic research study into Christians at Work in the US context. The first report in a multi-year initiative came out in the last 12 months. It is based on in-depth interviews with 33 ‘exemplars’ — practitioners and thought-leaders — which helped frame the quantitative survey of 1,459 self-identified US Christians; and was followed up with 424 US Protestant senior pastors.

The key findings are very interesting. I’ve listed them below with some of my comments from an Australian perspective.

1.     Most Christian workers don’t see a strict spiritual hierarchy of professions or a divide between “sacred” and “secular” jobs. Two-thirds agree on some level that it’s clear to them how their own work serves God.
Kara: Anecdotally, I see much more of a split in an Australian context. When I speak and teach I often hear the comments about how ‘new’ and ‘refreshing’ it is to hear their work talked about in a church context, let alone seeing it as connected to God’s purposes.

2.     Christian workers seek (and often find) meaningful, purposeful employment. Six in 10 believe they have God-given gifts, and one in three wants a better understanding of them.
Kara: The link between God-given gifts and applying them to work is not instinctive for Australians.

3.     ... especially if they attend church regularly. Practising faith is consistently correlated with feeling well-suited to one’s work and wanting to have an impact.
Kara: I think this is a critical point. Many Australian Christians feel (and some are explicitly told from the pulpit) that their ‘secular’ work only has value in providing money for Christian mission, and making relationships for potential Gospel-sharing. This negative messaging at church prevent them connecting their faith with their work.

4.     For faith-work Integrators, high expectations accompany high satisfaction. Barna identifies a special group for whom professional curiosity, generosity, integrity and gratification are a package deal.
Kara: In contrast, I think many Australian Christians feel guilty if they enjoy their ordinary work. I have heard this on many occasions.

5.     However, the majority of Christians could use more urgency or certainty in their vocational pursuits. 72 percent are defined as Compartmentalisers or Onlookers when it comes to their calling and career, and only 28 percent qualify as Integrators.
Kara: I’ll be writing an article specifically about these definitions, as they are useful for understanding different responses to faith and work.

6.     Christian men and women have similar experiences of calling and career—just not at the same time. While working fathers and single women thrive, working mothers and single men struggle for vocational fulfillment by comparison.
Kara: I have said previously that working mothers are a forgotten group in the Australian church culture and have the double accusation of prioritising work over children (at church), and prioritising children over work (at work). Those who are struggling are not fulfilling the gender stereotypes most pushed in church: the working father and the stay-at-home mother.

7.     The generational ends of the labour force naturally have different career needs. Millennials could use some spiritual direction to anchor their ambition, as Boomers’ attention transitions from career.
Kara: There needs to be a more nuanced conversation about these needs in a whole church context in Australia.

8.     Only half of churched adults feel their church supports them in their career. 53 percent say their church helps them understand how to live out their faith in the workplace.
Kara: the Australian National Church Life Survey has similar statistics for Australian Christians; and yet I see that SO much more could be done. I believe most Christians don’t know the equipping that they need, and might be possible, for the workplace.

9.     ... though not all groups also serve the Church in return. Job commitments are a hindrance to church involvement, especially for those who approach their work with great spiritual intention.
Kara: This is one of the big complaints I get from pastors in Australia. There needs to be an understanding of the delicate dance between the voluntary needs of church programs, and church having a missional view of people’s jobs.

10.  Pastors appear well-positioned to be vocational leaders and mentors. The majority of pastors are content in their career, mentor others and think about how their church can equip workers.
Kara: In the Australian context, pastors are most focused on discipling future church leaders and missionaries, and feel inadequate to speak into the professional experience of workers. There is a distinction made between ministry and work. They rarely know how to equip workers beyond a three-sermon series on theology of work.

The full report is available to buy here: (note: prices in $US).

This is a quick review of the key findings from the report. In the next article I will look at the report’s distinction between Compartmentalisers, Onlookers and Integrators. Find out which faith and work grouping you fall into!