DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Eluding the Iron Cage

Written by: on February 18, 2019

When one contemplates the definition calling in ministry, it is often equated to the “calling, a religious conception, that of a task set by God.”[1] However, in The Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism Weber introduce calling as a duty in reference to one’s professional calling. He wrote, “The idea, so familiar to us today and yet in reality far from obvious, that one’s duty consists in pursuing one’s calling, and that the individual should have a commitment to his “professional” activity, whatever it may consist of, irrespective of whether it appears to the detached observer as nothing but utilization of his labor or even of his property (as ‘capital’), this idea is a characteristic feature of the ‘social ethic’ of capitalist culture. Indeed, in a certain sense, it constitutes an essential element of it.”[2] However, the definition of duty in this quote also establishes the thought of social ethics in which it money shapes the morals of the capitalist society. For “the valuation of the fulfillment of duty in worldly affairs as the highest form which the moral activity of the individual could assume. This it was which inevitably gave every-day worldly activity a religious significance, and which first created the conception of a calling in this sense.”[3]

The concept of professional (work) calling was said to be introduced by the Protestant during the era of Martin Luther and considered by Weber to be one of the central contributors of the spirit of capitalism. Although, Protestant viewed the work calling as an obligation to God and not the pursuit of wealth; if one works hard that will accomplish God’s will. Consequently, it not only dictated the belief that one’s calling had to be fulfilled in order to please God but it also the Calvinist theory in which wealth determined God favors one. Despite the fact that Calvinist believe that all man is predestined and have already been chosen by God who will have salvation and who would be damned, those who have wealth is a sign of God smiling upon them.

Consequently, the theory of one’s duty and work “calling” could lead to captivity in the iron cage. In one instance, wealth attained based on a moral foundation can contribute to assisting in helping others and providing an avenue to reach people for the Kingdom of God. On another instance, wealth attained to exemplify God’s favor on one’s life seemed to equate to selfish ambition instead of moral responsibility. It also lends to the error of the “haves and the have not,” “the wealth and the poor”; the power and the powerless,” which is an issue in which most capitalist societies face today. For wealth and “power, it seems, breeds a sense of entitlement and an inclination to hold others to standards of behavior that we cannot live up to ourselves.”[4]

However, work is essential for life and wealth, unfortunately, dictates how that life is lived. Wealth means status and often power and influence as well.

Subsequently, status, power, and influence can be used effectively in respects to ministry, however, misused the outcome can be cataphoric as we discovered in our previous reading of the Darkside of Transformational Leadership. According to Tourish, “leaders tend to enjoy extraordinary wealth – a disparity which is used to reinforce the impression that the people concerned have extraordinary abilities, insight and charisma.”[5] Thus, in the wrong leadership hand, it will become a breeding ground of manipulation, coercion, and abuse of power.

Within the work calling concept, the two-edged sword arises once again to display is beauty; causing individuals to pursue the work calling to obtain wealth and if not controlled correctly wealth to overcome the individual. Thus. In this instance, the iron cage presents a conundrum in reverence to the work calling which some find it hard to escape. Besides avoiding the intrusion of workaholism, work calling also eludes to the conflict between worldly possessions and righteous. Weber notes “the real moral objection is to relaxation in the security of possession, the enjoyment of wealth with the consequence of idleness and the temptations of the flesh, above all of the distraction from the pursuit of a righteous life. In fact, it is only because possession involves this danger of relaxation that it is objectionable at all.”[6]

Today the spirit of religious asceticism has escaped for the cage. However, capitalism has remained victorious and no longer needs its support.[7] Yet the “idea of duty in one’s calling prowls about in our lives like the ghost of dead religious beliefs.”[8]

[1] Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (London: Routledge, 2001), 66.

[2] Ibid. 50

[3] Ibid.66

[4] Dennis Tourish, The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership (New York: Routledge, 2013), 18.

[5] Ibid.47

[6] Ibid. Weber, 115.

[7] Ibid. 132

[8] Ibid.


About the Author


Shermika Harvey

One response to “Eluding the Iron Cage”

  1. Thanks Shermika for pointing out the potentially pernicious connection between wealth and our duty to serve and love others. I suppose it is why Scripture reminds us that it is “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

    I suppose it is also the reason, why, in God’s providence and mercy, has chosen not to bless many with wealth. The temptation is too great and many of might end up succumbing to the dark side.

    It sounds shallow but I am reminded of the great line in the Spiderman movie, “…with great power, comes great responsibility.” I think that line teaches us profound things.

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