The Bishop's Bulletin

The Unified Life: Bringing your faith to work

By Renae Kranz

In today’s world, bringing faith into the workplace seems like a terrifying prospect. Very few of us want to approach a co-worker to talk about religion, and fewer would even know how to do that.

Let me relieve your anxiety.

Bringing faith to work doesn’t have to mean overtly talking about your beliefs about divine realities. It’s more about revealing your entire self to the people around you and living the virtues of your Catholic faith in all areas of life.

It’s about living an integrated, whole life with God always at the center of the things we do and say. And it’s easier than you might think.

Meaning in work

Joe Rutten, director of the Benedictine Leadership Institute at Mount Marty University. (This photo and cover photo by Lance Nielsen)

Joe Rutten, parishioner at the Cathedral of Saint Joseph, has noticed most people tend to separate what they do on Sunday from everything else in their lives, especially when they head to work on Monday. He sees that separation, that divided life, as a primary obstacle to uniting our faith and our work. And the cause, he says, is sometimes sin but can also be a lack of understanding.

“I think it’s a primary obstacle for humanity. It’s easy for us to compartmentalize our faith to church and what we do on Sunday,” Joe says. “I don’t know that we’ve always done a good job of catechizing people to understand that work is noble and holy, and it is a participation in the creative work of God.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) supports this idea by also linking work to God’s creative power and to the gifts he gives us.

“Work honors the Creator’s gifts and the talents received from him. It can also be redemptive. By enduring the hardship of work in union with Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth and the one crucified on Calvary, man collaborates in a certain fashion with the Son of God in his redemptive work. He shows himself to be a disciple of Christ by carrying the cross, daily, in the work he is called to accomplish. Work can be a means of sanctification and a way of animating earthly realities with the Spirit of Christ.” (CCC 2427)

That fragmented life Joe is referring to puts many of us on a path of working just to get to retirement. He says that’s an incomplete picture of work, and we should see our work as having value and lifting us up.

“The objective is to take Sunday into Monday, to live integrated lives where faith principles impact business practices, so that we have business practices which are guided by the compass of our faith,” Joe says. “And so when we can understand that we’re co-creators because of our creation, we were created in the image of God, and we exercise that through our work.”

As assistant professor of theology and director of the Benedictine Leadership Institute at Mount Marty University, Joe has had plenty of opportunity to dive into meshing faith with work. He suggests using Catholic social teaching and our faith principles to “impact how we organize and exercise human societies, including institutions and organizations of work.” By that he means putting people first in our work so they aren’t “cogs in a wheel but are agents of impact that accomplish good and help society flourish.”

Two places to start in making sure your work upholds your faith principles is to first look at whether you uplift and value the dignity of people, says Joe, and second to ask yourself whether the goods or services you’re providing are good.

After you answer those questions, Joe says to then ask yourself, “What’s my purpose?” When we understand our purpose and fill that purpose, he says we will feel fulfilled, and our community will be fulfilled by our work.

But how do we figure out what our purpose is? Look to the gifts God gave you.

For Joe, his gifts are in promotion and marketing. He knows if someone put him in charge of a budget, the company would be in serious trouble because that is not his gift, and he wouldn’t be able to fulfill his purpose. When our work aligns with our gifts, we flourish and our community will also flourish.

“So this idea that we’re created for work, isn’t just, ‘Oh, just plug me in.’ It’s to assess, ‘All right, well, what do I have? What gifts were I given that might be a sign that God has created me for a certain type of work?’” Joe says. “It’s important that we’re taking time to step back and reflect upon what it is we’re doing professionally, because it’s not a given that what we’re doing contributes to human flourishing or community flourishing.”

In order to put an end to that divided life Joe talks about and after we’ve answered these questions, now we must find ways to bring our Catholic faith to every part of our lives.

Unity of faith and business

One way we can meld faith principles with business practices, as Joe already mentioned, is by using Catholic social teaching. This universal body of teaching consists of the best ways to organize communities and shows us how to live together in order to flourish. Joe says it’s something the Church unified and gave us, but it’s universal in nature so all people of any religion, or no religion, can adhere to it and grow as a human person.

Photo by Lance Nielsen

Joe says we can focus on integrating four primary social justice principles into our work lives: dignity, solidarity, subsidiarity and the common good. Dignity means we uphold a person as a child of God who has worth from that fact alone. Joe describes solidarity as similar to teamwork in that “we are interrelated in our brothers and sisters and are in need of one another.”

Subsidiarity is placing responsibility for a goal to be accomplished at the most local level possible, which keeps authority for it local as well. It seems a bit difficult to grasp, but Joe puts it in work terms that are easily understood.

“It simply states that the person that is responsible for the work ought to be the one that is permitted, given the tools and the freedom, to do the work. A higher level of society, a higher level of management, should only get involved if that level of work can’t accomplish the goal,” Joe says. “So the easiest way to think about subsidiarity is its violation in the office is micromanagement. So when leaders or people above mess around in responsibilities and tasks below them that are the work of somebody else in the organization, that’s a violation of subsidiarity.”

Common good can be applied in this case to a company’s purpose. Here, he says we should ask ourselves what’s the greater good of our work, of the company’s work. “The common good is this big picture benefit that society gains through the work that you do,” he says.

To expand on these, Joe says you can look at a good health benefits package as honoring dignity, or helping a team member in need is part of solidarity or even the common good. It’s about seeing this all as a family working as one.

“Fundamentally at the heart of the vision or proposal is that we are all a part of the same family, and that anybody of faith could consider universal principles that apply to everybody that can help main street flourish,” Joe says.

As you can see already, bringing your faith to work isn’t necessarily about displaying a crucifix or a Bible. It’s about taking your deeply held principles, developed from your faith, and applying them to work.

Faith permeates life

Sandy Lown, executive director of the Teddy Bear Den in Sioux Falls, has spent a lifetime growing in her faith. Even through very difficult times when she was tempted to walk away from God, her faith has developed to a level where it bubbles out of everything she does, both at home and in her work.

Sandy with family: husband John, sons Josh and Dan, and daughter Abby.

“It’s how you treat others. It’s how you respect the choices that they make. It’s how you embrace them when they are going through a difficult time and you listen to what they have to say and you help them solve their problem,” Sandy says. “I don’t know that I necessarily think to myself, ‘how am I going to bring God into my job every single day?’ I think it’s just something that I do naturally.”

People often tell her they can see her exhibit her faith in the way she talks and acts. It’s so deeply ingrained it can’t help but permeate every part of her life. But that didn’t happen overnight. She was raised in a good Catholic home, raised her own children in Catholic schools, and she and husband, John, have tried to teach their children how to lead a Catholic life. Even their regular circle of friends are all good Catholic families.

“I think when you combine all of that together, my family, my friends, my church, my faith, it just comes out in who I am,” Sandy says. “I might not be as strong of a Catholic as I am if I didn’t have all these people that are intertwined in my life to make me the person that I am.”

Because she surrounds herself with faithful people, living her faith at work is a natural extension. “I don’t feel like I have to hide anything that I believe. I don’t hide any of it. It’s just accept me, that this is the person I am.”

Faith principles at work

Dan Specht and Rob Stephenson gather with other men at a Catholic men’s group in Yankton to help them grow in their faith and as leaders in their business roles. They’ve seen over and over how important these ideas of bringing faith into their work helps them and those around them succeed in a more integrated way.

Dan with wife Deb and daughter Cameryn.

Dan and his wife Deb, parishioners at Sacred Heart Parish in Yankton, own a small real estate company and do their best to bring faith principles to work. Dan does display a cross and picture of Christ in his office, but that is just the beginning. He says they try to do the right thing whenever they can and help their clients with even small things like finding a moving truck. And when things aren’t yet quite where he’d like them, they work on that, too. He says as a group they’re working on being more charitable in their language. Negative words sneak in easily and they try to reroute the discussion to a more positive direction.

Dan tries to live his faith at work by instilling in his real estate team that they don’t always know another person’s circumstances and should be sensitive to them. Reasons for selling or buying a house vary and can be stressful times in people’s lives.

“We need to be respectful of that and try and watch out for those key signals that they may be sending us to step back and find a way to help them,” Dan says. “Just taking care of people and trying to meet them where they’re at in service to them.”

They also try not to work on Sunday as much as possible, which is not always easy in a business where your next phone call could be your next paycheck. Along with that, almsgiving is heavily encouraged. For Dan, trying to incorporate his faith into his work has changed him as a person.

“For me personally, just being more thoughtful and…more open to what my employees are going through personally and recognizing that and helping them where we can and asking for help as well,” Dan says of his transformation.

Rob, president and chief operating officer at First Dakota National Bank in Yankton and parishioner at Sacred Heart Parish, has seen a transformation as well. He’s always been grateful for his ability to work hard and apply himself, which he says is easy for him rather than difficult and stressful as it might be for others. He also keeps expectations in check, instead believing that faith and hard work are followed by the gift of good things. He has faith that God will bless his work with abundant graces.

“I’ve been able to look at it differently and abundant, abundant blessings have come in opportunities and in people I’ve met, in the communities and all the work I’ve done,” Rob says. “It’s helped me continue to develop and develop new friendships with people like Dan that helped me continue to grow.”

Rob with family: Rob, wife Lori, daughter Halle and sons Nate and Charlie.

Rob and the bank he works for have set priorities in their work that include being courageous, even when it isn’t necessarily the best thing for the bank, and taking care of their employees and customers, especially in tough times. They focus on helping their communities and doing the right thing whenever they can, reflecting those values of solidarity and the common good.

Personally, Rob, husband and father of three, says he’s matured into a leader who has realized it’s good to be a person of faith in the world of work. He encourages other Catholics he works with to live their faith more openly, not just on Sunday.

“I’m changing in that I continue to be more comfortable to live out my faith and realize that it’s a good thing and it’s a positive thing to bring that to work, too,” Rob says. “It isn’t something that should be separated, and I should be helping others to do it as well.”

Bring Sunday into Monday

One of the best ways to learn how to bring your faith into your work is to find a group that supports these principles. The Catholic Men’s Business Fraternity in Sioux Falls, a small group such as the one in Yankton, and a women’s group coming together soon in Sioux Falls are just a few options. Check with your local parish to find out if a group like this exists in your area or start your own (the Discipleship and Evangelization Office at the diocese is also a good place to find assistance). These types of groups offer opportunities to dig deep into your faith and work on it as you would your own job.

Sandy recommends surrounding yourself with people of strong faith and those who share your values. Dan suggests dedicating yourself to a holy hour once a week and looking for opportunities to talk to people about their faith. And Rob suggests to be brave enough to talk to others when the opportunity arises.

“I think those doors are really wide open and we don’t recognize or we’re scared to walk in them when they’re there,” Dan says. “I think nine out of 10 people I would say are hungry for that conversation because they can’t have it anywhere else.”

Live faith principles of dignity and noble work. Let your faith show in your words and actions. The rest will happen all by itself.


Faith and Business Conference

Looking for a way to explore more ways to bring your faith to work? The Faith and Business Conference in Sioux Falls is an event where you can expect a dynamic platform of speakers and time with other business leaders from around the region.

The August 19 event is organized by the Catholic Men’s Business Fraternity and is for all people of faith, men and women, who are interested in incorporating faith principles into their business practices.

“It’s a really entertaining, dynamic, reflective, thoughtful opportunity to step back and look at the big picture about how it is that our faith and the principles of our faith can help us to become better teams,” Joe says. It’s an opportunity “to come and have a place where we can think, pray and talk about faith principles and business practices and how we can create businesses that flourish.”

This year’s lineup of speakers includes Super Bowl champion Matt Birk, Andreas Widmer of the Catholic University of America, and a panel with a team from Sioux Falls business Click Rain. For more information, visit: