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When work is worship: studying identification and faith in church workers


This thesis assesses the relationship between faith, organizational identification (OI), spiritual labor, and burnout in ex-church workers. The impetus for my study came from media (Cosper, 2021; Barr, 2021; Du Mez, 2021) and research (Chappell et al., 2022; Garner & Peterson, 2018; McNamee, 2011) that critically addresses destructive practices in church work. Using a qualitative, phenomenological methodology, I conducted thirteen semi-structured interviews of those who have left their positions in the church. I analyzed the data using Tracy's (2020) phronetic-iterative coding approach and Saldaña's (2021) coding recommendations. My findings revealed five key themes: identities in tension, faith as expectation, forced separation, balancing authenticity, and learned solutions. Ultimately, I contribute to research on organizational identification by problematizing enmeshment and over-identification. I conceptualize the faithful face as a balance of authenticity and boundaries in church work. Additionally, I offer contributions to discourses of spiritual labor and implications for studying faith-based organizations. Finally, I address practical implications, limitations, and future directions.


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church work
organizational identification
spiritual labor
faith-based organization


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