Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Miracles v. Hard Work

Written by: on February 14, 2019

Weber’s book, The Spirit of Capitalism, is a founding sociology text. In this book, he advocates that capitalism is a direct result of the protestant work ethic. He argues that we are indebted to our religious heritage for the successes of capitalist economies.[1]

According to Weber, it all began with the dawn of Protestantism. In contrast to the Catholic belief in confession to a priest for absolution, Protestants believe only God is able to forgive anyone and he will not reveal those who have been predestined until the day of judgment. This left Protestants, specifically Calvinists, with high levels of anxiety and desires to prove their worth to God, hoping it would make an impact on their eternity. This led way to the “Protestant work ethic” in which Protestants tried to earn God’s pleasure through constant work.

Traditionally, Catholics had limited the concept of holy work to that of the clergy, but Protestants believed all work was holy work, and could be done in the name of God. This caused Protestants to relate their professional work to a sense of divine purpose. As Protestants reinvested their surplus money back into their work, capitalism was born.[2]

Weber makes an interesting point when he states Protestants stopped believing in miracles. Weber called this, “the disenchantment of the world.”[3] They believed prosperity wasn’t God-ordained but came only through working hard over a number of years. Without a belief in the miraculous, people turned to science. This energy led to new discoveries and technological advances and, according to Weber, capitalism emerged.

Weber’s response to the lack of successful attempts at Capitalism across the globe is simply that those countries still believe in miracles, so their work ethic is not as strong.[4] In order for capitalism to be successful, Weber says the culture of the nation must trump the advancement of the familial status. He explains that anyone can bring about change with the right ideas.

Reading Weber has caused me to reflect on the way the Protestant work ethic has made a impact on the way I view my own work. This is particularly interesting as it pertains to my research on the formation of female leaders in the renewal tradition. I came across a popular article in Christianity Today titled “Workaholic Women and the Wager of Success.” In it, the author wrote,

In a meritocracy such as the modern West, the biggest piece of the pie is supposedly reserved for the hardest working. Erin Callan, the former CFO of Lehman Brothers, credited her professional success to her indefatigable work ethic. Only after her divorce and resignation in 2008 could she admit the underbelly of that ethic. In a recent New York Times piece, “Is There Life After Work?” she wrote, “[W]hen I left my job, it devastated me. . . . I did not know how to value who I was versus what I did. What I did was who I was.”[5]

Though workaholism is a plight of many westerners, it seems that since women tend to have a more difficult time advancing in their careers, they are often driven to work increasingly harder in order to prove their worth to their organizations. Perhaps we should try Weber’s hypothesis in our own contexts by exercising faith in miracles and leaning less on our own striving. It seems the protestant work ethic served not only as a catalyst for capitalism, but potentially for a misalignment of values when it comes to balancing faith and work. I am faced with the probing question, “How often do I attempt to earn God’s pleasure through my constant work?”

[1] Max Weber, Peter Baehr and Gordon C. Wells, ed. The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit of Capitalism and Other Writings (New York: Penguin Books, 2002)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Michel, Jen Pollock. “Workaholic Women and the Wager of Success.” ChristianityToday.com.

About the Author

Rhonda Davis

Rhonda is passionate about loving her Creator, her wonderful husband, and her three amazing sons. She serves as VP of Enrollment Management & Student Development at The King's University in Southlake, TX.

12 responses to “Miracles v. Hard Work”

  1. Mario Hood says:

    Thanks for the awesome post Rhonda. I think your topic is very important. I was just at a meeting at another university here in Florida and the ratio of students in the youth ministry was 64% female over 36% male. Even more awesome was that the director of the program said that out of the last 15 calls for youth pastor placement all 15 asked for female candidates only with males. I think the church (some parts) is starting to wake up to the fact that women are able and are needed in positions that we have restricted them from. In saying that dealing with the underlying issues that your research will dig up will help further the cause in a more healthy way.

    • Rhonda Davis says:

      Mario, that is so encouraging! It is inspiring to see a generation of young women embrace God’s call, and walk out what He says about them. I am thankful for all those who sponsor women and open doors for them to live into their calling. I believe the church will be strengthened as we learn to lead together, modeling humility on all sides.

  2. Karen Rouggly says:

    Amen and PREACH sister! I would totally agree with your thoughts that women have to work harder. There is much research on how women have much more to overcome because of the “second shift”. Because women are still more responsible for the home life, and maybe not even the tasks, but the mental responsibilities of home life, we have that much more work in our day.

    I do believe what you’re saying is true about believing in miracles. We need to cultivate places of vulnerability and authenticity where the Divine can show up. We need to be reminded that the world doesn’t revolve around us. It’s a hard pill to swallow because we keep our worlds spinning most often. But when we are humbled and reminded of our place by the one who’s got the whole world in His hands, we can be free to just be.

    SUCH good stuff here, friend!

    • Rhonda Davis says:

      Thank you, Karen. I don’t know why it seems to be difficult, at times, to trust a God who has never failed. Unfortunately, male and female alike struggle with total reliance on God. Weber gave us some framework to understand this struggle. My hope for emerging female leaders in the church is for them to be anchored in an understanding of just how willing God is to invade our “spinning plate” reality.

  3. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    These are important thoughts, Rhonda. There is no doubt from my own experience, that women have an internal voice telling us we have to work harder to prove our competence. This causes our drivenness to have an added motivation that can go awry very easily. The spirit of capitalism can seep into varying aspects of our lives.

    • Rhonda Davis says:

      Thanks, Tammy. I am thankful for your voice, and others, who are challenging us to take all things back to the cross and live into God’s intent for us. It seems slow at times, but I can see changes in the landscape for female leaders in the church.

  4. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Rhonda, Well said and well explained. You conclude with the following statements, “It seems the protestant work ethic served not only as a catalyst for capitalism, but potentially for a misalignment of values when it comes to balancing faith and work. I am faced with the probing question, ‘How often do I attempt to earn God’s pleasure through my constant work?'” I wonder if this is why there has been an explosion of spiritual practices, directors, and retreats for non-traditional streams of the church. That is, we have tried to do it all for God and burned ourselves (both men and women) out in the process. Perhaps now we are learning to look in and rest in Him, rather than be consumed in working for Him. Thanks again for your thoughts.

    • Rhonda Davis says:

      This is a great observation, Harry. I have been pleased to see the openness to the work you described within my own renewal tradition, even though there are many who remain cautious. I join many others in the quest to practice “being in Him” more than “doing for Him.” It is worth the struggle.

  5. Mary Mims says:

    Rhonda, this is an excellent post and something for women to really look at. When I think of the inequities that women and minorities face, I think we should move more toward faith in Jesus Christ and not our careers. I guess by this I mean for myself that I should trust God to meet my needs rather than burning myself out trying to climb the career ladder. I think all of us need to ask God what He wants us to do with our lives and trust Him to lead us on that path. Psalm 46:10 comes to mind and brings comfort: “Cease striving and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

  6. Andrea Lathrop says:

    Yes Rhonda! This is excellent. You highlighted some important things from Weber that I missed and I am grateful to have brought up. It’s exciting to hear you write a bit about your research. And Weber’s point about society needing to elevate profit and work over family is intriguing, especially for women. Is this what he was asserting? Cheering you on.

  7. Digby Wilkinson says:

    I see a few have picked up on your comment about women. I remember reading an article some years ago about feminism becoming enslaved to the capitalist ideals of success expressed in the values: private ownership, the profit motive and competition. How do those values square with Kingdom values? I believe American Christians talk about complementarianism, which we in NZ just call equality. But I guess you are asking, ‘based on what values?’ Likewise, how do you square Weber’s thoughts on Calvinism and Puritanism with other powerful factors such as the Renaissance and enlightenment? Do
    Weber’s observations really have any meaning today? If so, how?

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