As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
“Quiet quitting” is the internet’s new favorite buzzword.
I first heard the term on the radio during my morning commute. What does it mean? Different sources offer different definitions. The New York Times offers a helpful summation of the variations.
The talk-show host who introduced me to the term defined it as choosing to do the bare minimum in their job instead of putting in effort towards excellence, to quit in spirit without formally resigning. Others say quiet quitting means simply placing healthy boundaries around your work and personal life and not investing extra time or effort into your job uncompensated. To be more specific, quiet-quitting is a form of non-confrontational boundary-setting used in situations where there is a risk of submitting to unfair expectations or abuse. While debate abounds, these are the primary definitions.
“Have I ever quiet-quit something?” I found myself wondering, as one does when introduced to a new vocabulary word with potentially significant ethical, philosophical, and spiritual ramifications.
Initially, I answered “no.” Pride. Perfectionism. A painful anxiety to please. These yet-to-be-sanctified aspects of my heart would seem to predispose me against quiet-quitting. I am, for better or worse, whole-hearted. All or nothing.
But what about in church? Do Christians quiet-quit church? Do I do just the bare minimum when it comes to my Christian faith?
These are difficult questions to answer without picking a definition for the term: a trend toward apathy or a healthy response to a broken corporate system. If we use the more positive definition, we are essentially describing the secular concept of ideal work-life balance.
From a secular perspective, religious obligations compose just one of life’s many facets, on par with family duties, professional responsibilities, hobbies, and maintaining one’s physical and mental well-being. The well-adjusted human being should, the secular perspective posits, manage the many facets of life like garden boxes. Everything should be separated by well-marked borders and cultivated within its row, among which resources should be judiciously distributed. And given the sad reality that many perceive the church as a judgmental, demanding, and often abusive place, many would likely argue that quiet quitting is exactly what Christians, and religious folk generally, ought to do. Set up boundaries so the greedy thing won’t take over!
For the Christian, however, faith is not one of many garden boxes but the soil in which all the other aspects of life grow. But is church synonymous with faith, or an aspect of life that closely reflects faith?
In the book of Acts and the epistles, it is clear that faith is not meant to be separated from church. The first Christians did not view church as merely one practice or activity of faith but as the practice of faith. It’s meant to be so much more than a weekly gathering. The picture we see of the early church is one of a deeply relational lifestyle of worship, service, giving, and learning. The church is portrayed as the irrigation through which faith feeds all aspects of life.
If our contemporary experience of church feels anemic by comparison, it is likely because we have tainted our practice of church with individualism. Christian faith is not an individual pursuit of enlightenment or a series of self-improvement practices. And church is not an activity we individually opt in to. Individualism creates the environment for abuse, permitting the church to be twisted into an overbearing taskmaster making impossible demands of individuals.
The biblical definitions and examples of church make it clear that God’s intent is for us to practice our faith in the community of the church. Baptism, communion, worship, teaching, and the sharing of spiritual gifts—the foundation stones of Christianity are corporate. To be a Christian is to be the church, the body of Christ.
How do we cultivate real church and reverse the all-too-common contemporary experience of church as anonymous, individual, and perfunctory? How do we make church a community instead of an activity? In a world of burnout, it doesn’t make sense to say we should do more.
Avoiding Burnout and Living Our Call
In our pursuit of church as a well-spring that fills every aspect of our lives, it would be easy to begin pointing an accusatory finger at fellow believers, or be weighed down with guilt ourselves, for doing the “bare minimum.” We could be drawn into legalism and debate around the standard for “bare minimum” for church involvement.
One definition of quiet-quitting is no more helpful than the other. It might even foster greater discouragement.
Because the truth is that even the most faithful worshipers feel empty and tired and wonder if they are just going through the motions. In those seasons, are we quiet-quitting?
The often-quoted scriptural injunction, “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, as unto the Lord,” feels too abstract an answer for a distracted world and the burnt-out Christian. I’m not sure how to muster up a vague but perpetual attitude of praise. The only way I know of cultivating virtues—those deep-rooted attitudes of the heart—is to practice those virtues even when the attitude is not felt. This has always seemed a fundamental reality of the Christian life. One cannot always exist in a fervor of devotion. When the wind of passion leaves our sails, we beat the oars.
In the seasons when my faith has felt stale and church has become routine, I remind myself that faith is not an emotion, and I pray, of course. But those prayers frequently feel disjointed and laborious, too. I pray for God to support the work I am attempting to do in my own strength. And if I’m honest, I don’t expect an answer. But I don’t know what else to do.
What if there is a third, beautiful, scriptural kind of quiet quitting? Or perhaps a biblical way of reclaiming, repurposing, or redeeming the term?
In a familiar psalm, we hear the command to “be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). Could obedience to this command be a kind of quiet quitting? Perhaps by “quiet quitting” we could begin to mean those seasons, days, or moments when we stop trying to manage our faith toward our own goals and ideas of righteousness.
Pride. Perfectionism. A painful anxiety to please. These things predispose me against quiet quitting. It is difficult to unclench my work-calloused fists and release into God’s hands my heart and life. I want to exceed God’s expectations, impress him. I heap complication and extrapolation on God’s simple call and, just as swiftly, I am overwhelmed by my self-imposed burden.
In truth, God requires very little of me. “He has shown you,” Micah 6:8 reminds us, “what is good, and what does the Lord require of you? But to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
If quiet quitting means ceasing all those things that were never asked of us to do only what God truly requires, we should quiet quit. In doing so, I believe we will find the purest distillation of church and Christian life.