Meaning! (More Important Than It Used to Be)

Another week, another article about the dramatic shifts in work-life balance.  Ginia Bellafante’s article in the New York Times carries the subtitle, “Even huge bonuses can’t offset plunging morale at investment banks and the rush to escape a ‘toxic’ work culture.”

Many of the points in this article are worth noting:

  • Younger workers in the finance sector are rebelling against 110-hour work weeks that amount to “abuse.”
  • “Toxic work culture” is more than 10 times as predictive of attrition as insufficient compensation.
  • And conversely, people are more likely to stay in their jobs when their work matters. Or as labor economist Ben Zweig puts it in the article: “It’s a little corny but meaning seems to be more important than it used to be.”

But what made Bellafante’s article really stand out to us, amidst all the accounts of the Great Resignation, was this mention of John Maynard Keynes:

In his 1931 essay, “The Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” the economist John Maynard Keynes speculated that by 2030 we might have achieved a standard of living high enough that people would work no more than 15 hours a week, devoting themselves to relaxation, culture, enjoyment, “meaning.”

 “It will be those peoples, who can keep alive, and cultivate into a fuller perfection, the art of life itself and do not sell themselves for the means of life,” he wrote, “who will be able to enjoy the abundance when it comes.”

We may not have made it to a 15-hour work week (yet). Still, 90 years ago, no less an economist than John Maynard Keynes was already pointing to the importance of meaning in life.

Coming out of the pandemic, people in all kinds of social locations are talking about their desire for meaning in their lives.  Wall Street loves to solve a problem by throwing more money at it—and today, maybe for the first time, that approach is not working.  It turns out that bankers want more … meaning.

Dear church board member:  What should your leadership decisions revolve around?  How about finding ways to use the resources of your congregation to help everyone collaborate on our shared search for meaning?  (A corollary:  churches that don’t privilege this focus on meaning are going to find, when it is time for their next leadership search, that gifted pastors are looking for places that share their search for meaning and ignoring the rest.)

Pastors:  What should your ministry focus on?  You were already getting burned out on the “constituent services” model of ministry long before March of 2020.  Of course, there is something in each of us that says, “I didn’t sign up for this, but I need to just hang on, I can get through this, besides, what else could I do to earn a living…?” But hanging on is no way of living—and it is no way to grow the kind of ministry needed in the next decade.  How about focusing instead on meaning?  How about looking at your calendar and prioritizing those items that build a community of faith that is centered on helping people live into the meaning God is offering us?

What a wonderful opportunity!  We are invited to take our core values of love, hope, grace, and trust, and offer them to a culture newly engaged in a search for meaning! However, the church is not being given “favored status” in this search.  If folks try out a church but come away empty, they will keep moving to some other corner of culture that offers other, lesser versions of “meaning.”  Seekers will not linger long in faith communities that are not serious about this fundamental search for meaning.

Paul was talking about meaning long before John Maynard Keynes and Wall Street investment bankers. Writing to the church at Corinth in a time of cultural upheaval, he said:

…we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
    nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love God”

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 

 What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love God.”

Or, in the words of that labor economist, “It’s a little corny but meaning seems to be more important than it used to be.”



What do you, as a church board, make of Bellafante’s report from the investment banking front? What does it have to do with the life of your congregation?


What signs do you see that “meaning seems to be more important than it used to be?”


In her article, Bellafante notes that “Keynes could not foresee just how narrowly some would define ‘abundance.’’ What do you make of that in your context?


What items in your church board agenda this month prioritize helping people live into the meaning God is offering us?

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