The Power of Forgiveness at Work
Article by Brooke Deterline (2016)
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What is the Science?

While the benefits of forgiveness are widely supported by two decades of research, a recent study seeks to demonstrate the positive impact of forgiveness within the specific context of the workplace. Surveying hundreds of employees across the country, the study found that forgiveness in the workplace was “linked to increased productivity, decreased absenteeism, and fewer mental health problems” including “reductions in interpersonal stress.” Meanwhile, a lack of a forgiving mindset seems to hold negative affects including, “a lack of collaboration,” “aggressive behavior,” and “negative emotions.”

Engaging with this research, Brooke Deterline suggests that forgiveness can be fostered in the workplace, creating a culture forgiveness. Deterline offers that this process may be encouraged through practices such as “modeling forgiveness,” “apologizing and making restitutions,” “rebuilding trust through common tasks,” and “holding conduct interventions.”

“Forgiveness, of course, does not mean we condone or ignore bad behavior. Every workplace should have policies and procedures for dealing quickly with serious transgressions. However, if you do feel ready and the situation warrants it, give forgiveness a try. It could help you, your colleagues, and your workplace.” – Brooke Deterline 

What is the Theology?

The creation story (Genesis 1-2) reminds us that humans—charged with the sustaining and cultivating of the earth—are commissioned and designed for work. Christians therefore must think critically about their work, including how their faith-based values, such as forgiveness, are to be embodied in the workplace. As pastors and laypersons alike continue to encounter the effects of the Fall (Genesis 3), the scientific insights into the benefits of forgiveness in the workplace may empower Christians to practice the virtue in practical ways.

What to Consider

  • Recall a time when forgiveness was needed in your workplace. What prevented forgiveness from being offered? What would have helped the forgiveness process along?
  • How might resentment or a lack of forgiveness be affecting your work environment today? Based on this research, what steps toward forgiveness can you take next?
  • How can you create a culture of forgiveness in your church or work environment?
  • How do you see your theology of work and your theology of forgiveness interacting? How might this scientific research inform your conclusions?

How to go Deeper

  • Consider how Deterline’s forgiveness-based practices (i.e. modeling forgiveness, apologizing and making restitutions, rebuilding trust through common tasks) might be linked to Scripture’s instructions on forgiveness.
  • In your preaching on forgiveness, help your hearers consider how the workplace might be a fitting and needed area for applying the Christian practice of forgiveness.
  • Deepen your theology of forgiveness and your theology of the work through resources such as Miroslav Volf’s Free of Charge, The Faith & Marketplace Network at Fuller Seminary, or The Theology of Work Project.

Relevant Scripture

All references in parenthesis refer to Lectionary readings. For more information on what the Lectionary is, please click here. For additional Lectionary resources click here.

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By | 2019-04-30T23:50:29+00:00 May 1st, 2017|Forgiveness, Research|6 Comments

About the Author:

Michael Wiltshire serves as an assistant pastor at Rose City Church in Pasadena, CA. He holds an M.Div from Fuller Theological Seminary (2016) and a B.S. from Cornerstone University, double majoring in Biblical Studies and Youth Ministry. While studying at Fuller Theological Seminary, he co-led the Fuller Faith and Science student group and worked in residential community. Michael is passionate about pastoral care, and is dedicated to exploring how preaching, practical theology, and organizational systems can empower churches to care well. A Michigander at heart, Michael enjoys cloudy weather and the NBA.

6 Comments

  1. aidenkang May 2, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    Thanks for this article – It seems that no matter the work environment, as leaders, being a model to our staff is always paramount.

  2. aidenkang May 2, 2017 at 6:33 pm

    “Forgiveness, of course, does not mean we condone or ignore bad behavior. Every workplace should have policies and procedures for dealing quickly with serious transgressions” – Of course this is true, but it seems this is a lot easier to accomplish if you’re in a position of power. Outside of “serious transgressions”, the powerless do end up “condoning or ignoring bad behavior”.

  3. Weabz May 5, 2017 at 10:05 pm

    Interesting read thanks. There is no doubt that forgiveness is imperative to the Christian walk and even physical, spiritual, and mental health. And to talk of it in the sphere of the workplace is helpful for some who compartmentalize.

  4. matt@ncstudycenter.org May 6, 2017 at 4:13 am

    This is helpful and timely, especially with the growing faith + vocation movement/conversation

  5. Rich Gideons July 16, 2017 at 12:41 pm

    Good article and I think forgiveness in any situation is necessary for our well being, mandated, Matt 6:14-15, and many others. And for me I have to remind myself in the workplace who I am really working for, “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” (Col 3:23-24). This makes it much easier to remember that it’s not about me and be quick to humble myself and forgive as well as genuinely receive forgiveness.

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