Faith & Work podcasts are increasingly common in the US
Podcasts, also known as on-demand internet radio talks, have been growing in popularity over the past decade.
Over the past two years, the variety and profile of these niche programs has exploded. There are radio shows, blogs, magazines and conventions devoted to highlighting the best, quirkiest and most talked-about podcasts.
By one account, a 2018 survey found that more people in the US knew what a podcast was than could name the country’s vice-president. A podcast even figures into the plot of a CBS TV show. God Friended Me recounts the fictional adventures of an atheist son of a pastor who does a podcast about life. His worldview is challenged as he regularly receives friend suggestions from God via Facebook, resulting in opportunities to help others.
Issues of work and faith are not absent from these digital discussions. A quick internet search turns up nearly 20 US-based faith and work podcasts.
They range in length from just a few minutes to over three-quarters of an hour. Some are inspirational or pietistic in nature, focusing on biblical and pastoral exhortations.
Others include co-hosts with varied topics, sometimes conversations drawing on the expertise and experience of special famous or unfamiliar guests.
Pastor Jim Melvin’s Faith at Work series provides 12 spiritual messages for at work and at home. His devotional style includes folksy personal stories exploring the question: Is work a curse; and urging listeners to do what you like.
Similarly, Your Faith at Work with Ryan S. Howard calls itself a “podcast to inspire and equip you to partner with God in your daily work.” Topics in these three to eight-minute programs include Christians and careers, working with difficult people, four tips for work relationships and work pitfalls to avoid.
At the other end of the spectrum, Cultivated, a podcast about faith and work, has interviews of between 28- 48 minutes, stories of other people’s lives and journeys. The show includes conversations with a variety of artists, writers, speakers and theologians. One episode featured the author of Why should the devil have all the good music, the life story of controversial 1970s era Christian rocker Larry Norman.
Making it Work, a podcast sponsored by Fuller Seminary’s De Pree Centre and the Theology of Work project, focuses on God and your work. This program, which has hosts and guests, is a combination of practical discussion and examination of relevant biblical passages over 37 minutes or so. One notable episode focused on the issue of overcoming procrastination.
The Theology of Work project also had a related series of podcasts which started in late 2013, with 24 episodes up until May of 2017.
The Denver Institute for Faith & Work produces one of the most frequent, and consistently interesting podcasts on the subject. This biweekly, topical series has included shows about: Sabbath questions and answers, what research reveals about work in the US, remembering (theologian) Eugene Peterson, faith in the public square, and managing leadership anxiety.
The Denver Institute started its podcast to provide easy-to-digest material for its audience, says Dustin Moody, the institute’s director of communications.
Podcasts allow people to get a message while doing other activities, he said.
Their podcasts average 27 to 30 minutes in length because that is the average commute time in Denver, he said. Colorado, Texas and California are the three biggest areas of listenership to date.
Denver Institute uses the podcast to provide a sense of encouragement to listeners in their daily work. It also makes connections to events and programs offered by the institute, sometimes by having a guest speaker talk about it a month in advance of an event.
California-based Convene, which provides executive coaching, business consulting and peer advisory groups for Christian business executives also has an interesting podcast. Its show features 24-minute segments, a host with a guest. Notable topics have included: the rocks keep- ing you from success, the spiritually healthy leader and nine transformative behaviors of a servant leader.
Readers of The Marketplace may be particularly interested in this episode: creating opportunity with a marketplace solution. It featured Liz Bohannon, founder of Uganda-focused fair-trade fashion brand Sseko Designs, based in Portland Oregon. Sseko employs Ugandan women to make sandals and create university scholarships for Ugandan women. The company also hires women in the US to sell the products.
Convene is not focused on how many new listeners they get for a particular episode, says Convene CEO Greg Leith. He laments the focus on big names in the podcast space. “Famous people for shorter periods of time are more listened to than really good people for longer periods of time,” he said. “The famous thing is not really how learning happens.”
Listening to podcasts isn’t enough to foster spiritual growth, he said. Building a relationship with God, reading scripture, listening to the Holy Spirit and doing peer learn- ing are important disciplines.
Convene strongly believes that real learning happens over time in community and is focused on adult learning, not just adult listening, he said.
The Surge Faith Work & Rest Initiative is another organization that produces a wide-ranging podcast.
Surge is the work of a number of Arizona congregations. It aims “to help people discern their vocations and reimagine their occupations for the good of their neighbor and the glory of God.”
The Faith Work & Rest show is entering its third season. It explores topics ranging from reimagining email and consumerism — to a two-part show on forensic accounting and financial dentistry.
Podcasts about faith and work seem to be primarily a US phenomenon. The Marketplace was unable to find any Canadian podcasts that focus exclusively on that topic.
Nicholas Greco, an associate professor of communications and media at Manitoba’s Providence University College, wonders if cultural differences between the two countries explain this.
“Perhaps because Canada is thought of as being somewhat more moderate (generally) than the US (politically and socially, certainly), faith and work are already considered more integrated,” he said.
Denver Institute’s Moody has an alternate explanation. It could just be that smaller organizations lack the staffing to devote resources to a regular podcast, he said.