Jun 23, 2011

Faith at Work, Part 1: Personal Journey Becomes Professional for David W. Miller

Laity Leadership Senior Fellow David W. Miller was flourishing in his career as a senior executive and partner at a London bank, and felt called to that career, but he seldom, if ever, heard clergy talk about how to integrate his faith into his work. He became intrigued by what he calls "the Sunday/Monday gap."

What began as a personal pursuit of that topic became a second career after an 18 month discernment process under the mentorship of Anglican clergyman and author John Stott led him to return to the United States to attend Princeton Theological Seminary.

“It wasn’t like I wanted to renounce my past and absolve my sins. I loved what I did and felt that it could be done in a God pleasing way and it was just as important to have people of faith in the marketplace as it was in the mission field,” said Miller.

“I suppose people are drawn to study things either because they’re really good at it or because they’re not really good at it. I was drawn to this subject of integrating faith and work because of my own professional experience of asking how to overcome the Sunday/Monday gap,” he said.

Although Miller thought he would return to the business world after developing a rigorous theological understanding of the topic that compelled him, he eventually earned a PhD in Social Ethics and became Executive Director of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture at Yale University. Since 2008, he has served as Director of the Princeton University Faith & Work Initiative (FWI) and Associate Research Scholar at the university’s Center for the Study of Religion.

As he was doing research for his 2007 book God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement, Miller realized that the phenomena met social science criteria to be described as a movement like the Civil Rights Movement or the Women’s Movement rather than just a passing fad. He concluded that people have a desire to live integrated, holistic lives, no matter what their religious identity.

“I began noticing that there were multiple ways people understood this idea of bringing their faith to work. At first I thought there were linear opposites, like conservative or liberal, traditional or progressive, but then I realized these were limiting ways of thinking,” said Miller.

Instead he found four typical ways that people self-understand what it means to bring their faith to work and developed what he calls The Integration Box, or TIB. For simplicity’s sake, he labeled the four quadrants with descriptions beginning with the letter E: Ethics, Experience, Enrichment, and Expression. (We’ll explore these concepts in coming weeks.)

Miller’s theory is that most people probably have a natural predisposition to one quadrant or another. He is collaborating with Timothy Ewest, Associate Professor of Business Administration at Warburg College in Waverly, Iowa, and being helped by FWI Research Assistant Jonathan Lea, to develop an academically valid and reliable scale to evaluate these predispositions and manifestations of how people integrate faith and work. They plan to publish a book and launch an interactive website around the concept in 2012, with the goal of helping individuals gain greater self awareness and to help organizations increase diversity and recruit employees who fit their particular needs.

“Leading companies want to be inclusive and attract people of diverse backgrounds. That should go beyond gender, skin color, and sexual orientation to include diverse ideas and worldviews, including faith,” said Miller.

He would like to see corporations develop “faith friendly” policies that are akin to their “family friendly” policies.

“Instead of barring the door to any manifestations of faith, if companies realize that if they manage faith friendly policies properly—creating rules so they don’t have problems like harassment and quid pro quo—the whole person could come to work,” he said.

A faith friendly policy could begin with simple accommodations like providing kosher food in the cafeteria and considering religious holidays when scheduling events. It could also include religious education opportunities around those holidays or creating quiet rooms where workers could go for prayers, meditation, or a moment's respite from the day's pressures. Over time, other faith friendly policies could be implemented. Miller believes a faith friendly culture may ultimately give companies a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining the best talent.

In coming weeks, we’ll be exploring Miller’s theories including The Integration Box, the Faith at Work movement, and the Hebrew concept of avodah that informs his theology. I hope you’ll join us.

Image sourced via Microsoft Clipart Online. Post by Christine A. Scheller.

Laity Leadership Institute Senior Fellow David W. Miller is founding Director of the Princeton University Faith & Work Initiative and an Associate Research Scholar at the university's Center for the Study of Religion. Dr. Miller spent 16 years in senior executive positions in international business and finance before entering academia and receiving his M.Div. and Ph.D. in Social Ethics. He is the author of God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement and writes for The Avodah Institute's Faith & Work Blog.

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