The Protestant ethic is a concept that says that large numbers of people were influenced to work hard and diligently as part of the way they demonstrated their faith. Weber, in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, looks at the distinct characteristics of modern capitalism, which he defines as the achievement of profit through economic exchange. Weber asserts that our Protestant ethic has helped to shape Western capitalistic ideals. His observations indicate that religion creates broader social values and influence that aren’t necessarily directly related to core doctrinal teaching. If Protestantism has fueled the American working mindset, then I must question if the church’s teaching has had the intended outcome it desired. In America, we pride ourselves on our “work ethics” or working hard. From the time our children enter school, hard work and effort is a measurable indicator of one’s success. At the same time, we have placed such a high value on hard work that we now have a workforce that spends more time on their jobs than with their family.
While Weber’s arguments are loose at times, I believe His work raises some important concerns for the Protestant church in America. Church has always taught me that we are to “work as if we are working for Christ”. Weber also explores the concept of “calling”. The idea that we are “called” to a specific type of work means that we also have a moral duty to fulfill the obligations of that work. We have placed the value of work and the job that we have far above other traits. So much so, that we neglect direct commandments that the Lord has given. Deuteronomy 5:13 teaches, “for six days we should labor, but on the seventh we should rest”. Despite what science has found concerning productivity, most Americans still fail to adequately take time to recuperate. We constantly push forward, working harder and harder. Our calling hasn’t been tied to our vocation, rather it has been tied to the number of hours we work or to outcomes like “how many church members have we achieved?”
Not only do American’s work more hours on a day-to-day basis, but we rarely take adequate vacation time. While other countries have minimum vacation standards (most at least 4 weeks), many Americans survive on just two week’s vacation per year. Even so, it is surprising the number of people that fail to take all of their allotted time off. Often, it is due to an underlying fear that one will loose work benefits or their value in comparison to other employees. Hard work is so valued in organizations that those who don’t demonstrate the cultural norm for “hard work” often risk their job security.
If what Weber says is true about the protestant ethic, then should we be doing more to address the issue? What kind of examples are Christian organizations setting? Are they encouraging employees to consistently work overtime? Are bi-vocational pastors expected to work 40 hours at church on top of their other work? From my vantage, the church is often as guilty or guiltier than corporate America in this area. It is a sin that has been gladly allowed to fester within the church walls.
I’m guessing that many people feel as I do – enough is enough! Today’s working class is burning out. The pace is harming individuals and families. It is time for change. But, change won’t come easy.
 Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Routledge Classics (London: Routledge, 2001), 17.