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

Nope…This Was Not For Me!

Written by: on October 17, 2023

Not For Me

I struggled with The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. From start to finish, I had a hard time following Max Weber’s writing style. I’m not sure if I’m built for 100-year-old literature, certainly not literature that is extremely dense and filled with so many references to other writers. I have made peace with the reality that this will not be one of my best posts. This book was awful for me, I could not grasp the concepts. Typically, when the option to stop reading is not possible, I try to dissect the concepts into bite size pieces. In order to do that with this book, it was necessary that I explore definitions for key terms and not just any definition but Weber’s definitions. Fortunately, Weber provided a glossary that I actually found helpful in defining the terms as he uses them.

Seeking Understanding

Weber discusses Calvinism, Protestant Ethic, Capitalism, and The Spirit of Capitalism. He actually discusses a great deal more but these four are the most interesting to me and they connect to one another. He defines as Calvinism is “the most pure form of the Protestant ethic.” (1) Which made me really curious about how he defines the Protestant Ethic. Weber offers this definition, Protestant ethic “a likely source of the spirit of capitalism.” (2) So quite naturally, I looked for the definition of Spirit of Capitalism. Weber explains that it “constitutes a secularized legacy of the Protestant ethic. It refers to a methodical orientation toward profit and competition, work “as an absolute end in itself,” and a perceived duty to increase one’s wealth (yet the avoidance of its enjoyment).” (3) So of course, unfortunately but expectedly, it all connects to Capitalism. Weber says that Capitalism “has existed in all the world’s civilizations. It involves the expectation of profit and peaceful opportunities for acquisition.” (4) I struggle with how easily Christian values and ethics connect to capitalism. It has been an ongoing trend in the last few weeks of readings. And looking at the reading list, I suspect that we have more weeks examining this connection. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism did provide a historical basis of how religious ideas and capitalism intersect. I was still left with a feeling of confusion and disappointment.

Jason…What Does It All Mean?

I turned to Dr. Jason Clark’s dissertation to perhaps gain a greater understanding of Weber’s work. Clark cites Richard Means analysis on how Protestantism aided capitalism. Means states, “Weber’s main emphasis is upon the role of religious ideas as they generated an attitude of ascetic discipline. These religious ideas, exemplified in Protestantism, worked to create a set of economic attitudes, which aided the rise of capitalism.” (5) Although I feel that there is fault in creating an economic attitude within a religious space that helps contribute to capitalistic behavior, it has been the basis of the foundation of the Protestant movement. Clark offers, “Weber’s Protestant thesis arose in response to the question of why modern capitalism has emerged with the pursuit of profit and had not done so previously.” (6) Again, I gained some clarity, but not much. Perhaps my issue is that I’m hoping to read a solution to how we unmix religion and capitalism and not a historical perspective of how it happened. This might be wishful thinking.

My Thoughts

My work as a consultant allows me to work with Church Leaders in times of planned growth, unexpected downsizing, succession (planned and unexpected), and congregational shifts. I always enter the space with an expectancy of everyone bringing the better versions of themselves. I am quickly reminded, each time, that there are needs that must be met in the Church as well as every organization. There must be enough money (income/tithes/donations) to support the operational needs, there must be a qualified staff to meet the needs of the organization, there must be a system in place that allows the organization to function effectively; these are the bare bones areas that must be in place for the Church/Organization to function. Then it gets interesting, because every organization wants to do more, have more, serve more and that takes money. I witness some of the most unflattering behavior when money becomes the goal. There is a moment, I can usually pinpoint it, when it all shifts. The basic needs of the community, the congregation, the staff shift from what “we need” to what “we must raise”. I’m not criticizing raising money, I have made a living from helping organizations position themselves for fundraising, yet I am recognizing that when the objective shifts from serving to raising/earning money, the atmosphere changes. My heart is heavy as I help navigate the tension between the two. I understand the necessary functionality of operating with certain business principles to achieve a healthy organization yet there has to be a balance. How do we operate with sound business practices and not adopt a capitalist attitude? Do the two have to be synonymous? I don’t have the answers, but I am seeking them…there has to be a better way.

1. Max Weber and Talcott Parsons, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (London: Royal National Institute for the Blind, 1974), 417.
2. Ibid., 421.
3. Ibid., 424.
4. Ibid., 417.
5. Richard L. Means, “Weber’s Thesis of the Protestant Ethic: The Ambiguities of Received Doctrine,” The Journal of Religion, 45, no. 1 (1965): 6.
6. Jason Paul Clark, “Evangelicalism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship” (DMIN diss., George Fox University, Newberg, 2018), 58. Digital Commons @ George Fox University.

About the Author


Jonita Fair-Payton

16 responses to “Nope…This Was Not For Me!”

  1. mm Kim Sanford says:

    Jonita, I agree that this week’s reading was thick and difficult to get through. But I think you pulled out an essential insight when you use the phrase “adopt a capitalist attitude”. Like you, I’m uncomfortable with how closely our faith and capitalism are tied together. In the readings we’ve been doing it would seem that a “capitalist attitude” is equivalent to “Christian attitude”, at least for some. It sounds like your job gives you a front-row seat to the interplay between those two, for better or worse.

    • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:


      It’s exactly as you phrased it “In the readings we’ve been doing it would seem that a “capitalist attitude” is equivalent to “Christian attitude”, at least for some.” I have been so bothered by it. It is difficult to see our brothers and sisters lose sight of the work. I face each day with specific prayers for the wisdom and patience to deal with it all. Thank you for your response.

  2. Travis Vaughn says:

    Jonita, you bring up an important, and extremely difficult subject of balancing the mission of an organization (or church for that matter) and the tendency to be driven by “what we must raise.” I’m guessing you have encountered numerous organizations losing their way, or maybe scrambling their way, toward their mission, only to get caught up in a perceived need to “scale” or “expand their reach” (I think I’ve even used that language in organizations I’ve been a part of), only to become more and more concerned about fundraising and the corresponding metrics. I’m guessing some of this is tied to Weber’s thesis, without even realizing it. And you are right about how difficult it was to read Weber, by the way. I think you’d like John Fehlan’s Melba Toast analogy.

    I’d love to learn more about how you help an organization “navigate the tension” between the mission, or “what we need,” and fundraising (which so often does become “what we must raise”). Are there certain warning signs when you see the shift occur …the shift among the staff? Great post!

    • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:

      Hi Travis,

      It is extremely difficult to navigate the tension between what an organization needs and wants. The warning signs are often a willing to entertain shifts in programming and services to meet the requests of funders even when they don’t align with the mission.

  3. mm Tim Clark says:

    Jonita, as I inspectional read this book I totally missed Weber’s glossary. That would have been SO HELPFUL. Great catch.

    Something you quoted has got my brain spinning: “Weber explains that it “constitutes a secularized legacy of the Protestant ethic….”

    I’m asking myself “can that be true of endeavors other than capital or business?” I think of the artistic legacy of music or film and recognize how much of it was birthed in the church (and how many creative leaders grew up in the church), and started wondering if so much of the DNA of different realms of secular legacy could be located somewhere in the church?

    • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:


      Ohhh, what a great observation/question! There are so many movements that have been based or rooted in the Church. This deserves further thought and consideration. Now you have my brain spinning.

  4. mm John Fehlen says:

    You got me right here Jonita, “I witness some of the most unflattering behavior when money becomes the goal. There is a moment, I can usually pinpoint it, when it all shifts.”

    I have observed that in church life (as a pastor) as well as in denominational life (as a voice in our movement). Both are unflattering. How do we catch that before it gets ugly? How does an organization stay on track, knowing that money has to be raised for things to work?

    • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:

      Hi John,

      It can be painful to see ourselves and our colleagues react in ways that are unflattering. I always ask myself this question when I feel myself going down this path, ” what is the goal here?” Likewise, with staff and stakeholders it is important to lead them back to the goal, the core values, the operating principles, this helps everyone keep their attention on “why we are here”!

  5. Esther Edwards says:

    Bravo! A great post on a tough read. I felt the same as I waded through the pages. However, I did learn much as I took the deep dive.

    Your questions are ones that every non-profit struggles with. We know God provides and yet, we need to raise money. Our church just finished a Capital Campaign which was a success not only in giving, but in unified participation. Although it was a success, it was exhausting.
    I am curious. What advice as a consultant do you give pastors as they navigate these waters?

    • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:


      I applaud you for being able to take a deep dive. I was not capable of it.

      I am thrilled to hear that your capital campaign was successful at meeting the financial goals and that it also served as a unifier for the staff and congregation. That is the best-case scenario. My advice would be to always align fundraising efforts with the goals set forth in your strategic plan or growth plan. It gets tricky when organizations begin to create goals based on funding opportunities or funders requests.

  6. mm Russell Chun says:


    I loved this part, “Again, I gained some clarity, but not much. Perhaps my issue is that I’m hoping to read a solution to how we unmix religion and capitalism and not a historical perspective of how it happened. This might be wishful thinking.”

    For me, this is the SO WHAT of the reading the two readings. Thank you for expressing it to well.

    Before I go….It is nice to visit Weber’s protestant work ethic, but from a non Anglo perspective I wondered about the work ethic my immigrant grandparents (China and Philippines) exhibited when they came to Hawaii. They were not influenced by Weber, the catholic church or the protestant church.

    They worked hard, reinvested in their various small businesses (one does get tired of pineapples and sugar can fields), emphasized education as a way towards success in America, abandoned their native languages, and encouraged martial arts.

    They sought a better way of life.

    Senator Hiram Fong, called my generation “bananas” yellow on the outside and white on the inside. I have always thought that he was funny, also very right.

    But then we come back to Evangelism. Almost ALL of my high school friends, from various backgrounds and religions have come to accept Jesus as their savior. We even did it unbeknownst to each other over decades. Why because, the message of the gospel pierced through all the cross cultural stuff with the truth.

    Yes, I see the interactions of capitalism and Christianity – however, like yourself I don’t believe the Holy Spirit is limited by either.

    Perhaps HS will untangle religion and capitalism.


    • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:


      I love the reminder that some of the work is “God’s Work to Do”… at least that’s how I interpreted your statement, “Perhaps HS will untangle religion and capitalism.”
      Every time I read your posts; I learn more about your amazing life. I really believe that you need to write your story. It is fascinating and the world need to know it.

  7. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    Jonita, I loved how you were relating all of these to your work with churches! My husband and I were part of 2 churches. He was the 3rd pastor hired for Adult formation in a California church as the small town was building many homes and we were having an influx of people moving there. So they built a new building believing in the field of dreams, if you build it they will come, and staff for growth. Well 2009 recession hit and the housing bubble burst and that was the end. Then for some reason God called us to a church in Spokane who had just voted with a narrow margin to keep the doors open! Suffice it to say, we closed. These conversations and your work in those spaces is invaluable….wish I had you in that space with us in those 2 churches, because it caused trauma for us.

    • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:


      Wow! You have been through some tough transitions. I wish I had more time to talk to you in Oxford. I believe that there are multiple intersections that we share. I would love to hear more about your ministry work.

  8. I completely agree with your assessment of “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.” Max Weber’s writing style and the dense, old literature made it a challenging read for me as well. The abundance of references to other writers added to the complexity. When I encounter such difficult material, I also try to break it down into smaller, more manageable portions, often resorting to looking up definitions for key terms, just as you did with Weber’s glossary.

    Weber’s exploration of the connections between Calvinism, the Protestant Ethic, Capitalism, and the Spirit of Capitalism is indeed fascinating. However, I share your confusion and disappointment when contemplating how Christian values seem to intersect with capitalism. It’s a recurring theme that raises questions about the relationship between religion and economic systems.

    Your personal experience as a consultant working with Church Leaders highlights the practical challenges of balancing financial needs with the desire to serve and do more. It’s a delicate balance, and as you’ve noted, when the primary focus shifts from service to fundraising, it can change the dynamics significantly. The question of whether sound business practices and capitalism must be synonymous is a thought-provoking one. I share your curiosity about finding a better way to navigate this complex terrain.

    • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:


      It is difficult holding these tensions and navigating Church Spaces to help find solutions to complex issues. I try to keep my mind on the goals and help guide them through the steps. There are times when this path leads us to a play that is emotional and unproductive. Remembering why we are here, what matters and what gift we have to contribute usually helps to move us toward the goal.

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