Does the Everyday Mundane Matter?

Do you believe the everyday activity of ordinary Christians has deep religious significance? The answer really depends on when in the history of the church you ask it.

Prior to the Reformation, Christians in the medieval church would have answered no. They believed only priests did spiritual work. All other activity was secular.

It was the sixteenth century reformers, men like Martin Lutherand John Calvin, who rediscovered the biblical idea that everything we do is important to God.

These men encouraged Christians to be salt and light in the world. They believed it was possible to maintain integrity of faith while injecting Christian influence within society.

They were right.

Western civilization is replete with examples of followers of Christ who positively shaped culture through their work in the fields to which God had called them.

Many American evangelicals during the last seventy-five years have let the sacred/secular distinction corrupt their worldview in such a way that they leave their faith at home when they enter the public square.

They are ambivalent about engaging with social and political matters, as the Reformers urged.

They fear involvement in such secular matters will compromise the integrity of their faith.

They are convinced faith is a private matter and best kept that way.

They have lost sight of the spiritual significance of their work.

To be sure, the risk they have identified is real. Being in the world but not of it is not easy. It is not safe. But it is what we are called to be.

These thoughts came to me recently as I was finishing Carl Henry’s Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, published in 1947. In this book, Henry, an American evangelical theologian who served as Christianity Today‘s first editor-in-chief, wrote a stinging critique of Christian fundamentalism in the late 1940s.

Almost prophetically, Henry argued fundamentalists did not present Christianity as a worldview with a vision for impacting culture. Instead, they chose to emphasize personal salvation. In doing so, they offered a truncated, impoverished version of the gospel to the world. This gospel was too other-worldly and anti-intellectual to be taken seriously.

And so, in their efforts to preserve orthodox Christianity from modernity and liberalism at the beginning of the twentieth century, evangelicals lost an important ingredient that has been a powerful influence throughout the 2,000 years of Christian history. They forgot how to be leaven in the loaf. (Matthew 13:33)

The good news is that sixty years later, many of Henry’s hopes for evangelicalism are beginning to be realized. Today’s evangelicals are re-engaging many social and political issues and working together to influence culture for the kingdom.

Yet the importance of our daily vocational work in the furtherance of God’s kingdom is still lost on many believers. Many still feel they need to quit their jobs and start working for ministries or non-profits to truly make a difference in the world. They don’t. They can be salt and light right where they currently work.

Bringing faith to work or anywhere else in the public square runs many risks, but it is essential if Christians are to be leaven where leavening is most needed.

If Christianity is to once again become a positive influence in American public life, all Christians need to be present within that life as salt and light. Christians need to leave the safety of their Christian ghettos and take the risks necessary for reforming, renewing, and recalling today’s culture.

The legacy of the Reformation invites us to engage the world. It instructs us in how to do so with integrity and as public witnesses to the power of the gospel.

So, do you believe the everyday activity of ordinary Christians has deep religious significance?

The real question should be “Does the Bible teach that the everyday activity of ordinary Christians has deep religious significance?”

The answer is yes, absolutely yes, in any age.


Originally published by the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics (IFWE). ©Institute for Faith, Work & Economics 2015. Used by permission.

Keystone Habits

“Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything” – Charles Duhigg A keystone habit is a habit that triggers a series of behaviors. It’s one thing a person or organization does that can change a culture.

Some habits matter more than others. For example, there have been studies that examine the impact of exercise on daily routines. They find that people who exercise on a consistent basis start changing other patterns in their lives, often inadvertently. Due to more consistent exercise other practices manifest, such as better eating, better work productivity, increased patience, less frequent credit card usage and feeling less stressed.

Habits and Culture

So, how should we think about this multiplication of habits in the context of an organization?

Every organization has habits, which are manifested in systems or processes, and develop the culture. Not all systems are created; some are accidental and evolve over time. One reason new initiatives may not gain traction is because they may conflict with organizational habits that are well established.

Introduce a Keystone Habit

How do you change the habits, and therefore, the culture of your organization? If you want to change a culture you need to introduce a keystone habit.

Duhigg presents an example when Paul O’Neill became the new CEO of ALCOA. As he delivered his first speech to the audience, including many Wall Street investors and analysts, they expected to hear him explain how he would improve results and increase shareholder value. Instead, O’Neill discussed the need to bring injury rates down. ALCOA had a good safety record, better than the average American workforce, but not good enough for O’Neill. His goal was zero injuries.

O’Neill believed that safety would be the keystone habit that would drive changes in other habits across the organization. He believed that focusing on safety would be the powerful lever to transform the organization. It was the focus that brought people together and the leverage to change how people in the organization worked and communicated.

O’Neill’s safety plan was focused on the habit loop of cue, routine and reward.   Almost everything about ALCOA’s rigid hierarchy had to change to accommodate the new safety program. The results, in addition to becoming one of the safest companies in the world, were: decreased costs, improved quality and skyrocketed productivity. In his 13 years at the helm, net income grew five times larger and market capitalization rose by $27 billion.

How should you think about this in your organization?

Andy Stanley asked his leadership team to consider this question: “Is there a new habit that will be a driving force that holds everything else together in the organization that changes [or improves] the organization?”

The way they ferreted this out was by looking at five things:

  1. What is our vision?
  2. What is our mission?
  3. What is our strategy?
  4. What are our values?
  5. What are our behaviors that support our values?

As you look at these five categories across your organization, is there something so powerful that it will drive or galvanize everything else? Once you identify what it is, you may need to break it down to a specific task.

Once you’ve identified the specific task that will be the leverage point, what is the cue, routine, reward loop for that task?

In Stanley’s organization, which is a large multi-site church in the Atlanta area, they decided to focus on their vision, which is to create churches that un-churched people love to attend. If everyone in the church made it a habit to invite un-churched people to a service, there would be almost no way for the organization to drift or fail. Everyone would evaluate the church through the lens of their friend, which would have a trickle down effect on how they evaluate their programming.

Once the habit was identified, to invite an un-churched friend to church, the habit loop was developed:

The cue – to create the habit. These cues were created around three ways the word “not” can be mentioned in a casual conversation:

  • “Things are not going well.”(e.g. lost my job)
  • “I’m not prepared for…” (e.g. putting our kids in a new school)
  • “I’m not from here.” (e.g. we just moved here)

The routine - If one of these cues (“not’s”) were present in the conversation, it cued the member to automatically invite someone to church that Sunday.

The reward – The satisfaction of saying, “I partnered with my organization to set out to do what we desire to do.”

What keystone habit has shaped (or could shape) your organization?

Deciding to Either Manage Tough or Hire Smart

One of the wisest things you can do is hire people who are better than you. This can be frightening because they could outshine you. But it’s no longer all about you. Are you secure enough with yourself to do this? A decision every entrepreneur needs to make is whether to manage tough or hire smart. For a Christian, this choice seems obvious, but fear and control issues can subconsciously cloud our judgment.

Managing tough limits business growth to your own personal capacity, while hiring smart and delegating effectively creates freedom and opportunity.

By hiring the right people, you can lead more and manage less. Does that sound appealing?

One entrepreneur studied the Bible to answer the question, “Who am I in Christ?” He came away with a much-improved self-image and more confidence. Another CEO had a breakthrough by surrounding himself with peers who saw his strengths more clearly and encouraged him.

If fear is a challenge for you, and you can’t get past it, you’re destined for a business career filled with managing tough, enduring high turnover, and living with a lack of joy and paralyzing insecurity. Instead, use your God-given abilities and hire people who match your values, fit your culture and have complementary natural talents and abilities. Work within your strengths and staff to your weaknesses—you, your family, your team members and the whole company will enjoy the benefits!