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The Evangelical Work Ethic
The economic crisis has forced our culture to confront deep questions about the purpose and value of our work. These questions matter now more than ever, as surveys show that as many as three-quarters of Americans have no sense of dignity or higher purpose in their jobs. Meanwhile, a faith and work movement has been exploding among American evangelicals, with tens of thousands of ministries reaching millions of people.
A recent empirical study found that Protestants suffer more distress from unemployment than others. The authors interpret this as evidence that Protestant faith motivates people to work. Some media outlets, even outside the church, have noticed their findings and asked whether the research proves the so-called Protestant work ethic.
This research is only the latest in a long series of studies to raise questions about calling and the spiritual meaning in our work. Tricky methodological issues make it difficult for social scientists to reach a consensus, but we don't need social science to know that God cares about our work.
American evangelicals have been rediscovering the precious truth that all honest work serves as a spiritual calling to fruitful and worshipful service (Gen. 2:15; Col. 3:22-24). That means everyone – not just religious professionals – has the opportunity to glorify God with their work. We shape ourselves into the kind of people God wants us to be in everything we do, not just in the few hours we spend engaged in church activities. Most of life is work, because God designed us that way.
This truth has been championed by Christians in every era. In a recent article in Leadership Journal, Chris Armstrong, professor of church history at Bethel Seminary, traces the concept ...1