September 30, 2013| 0

What is Spiritual Capital? Ruminating on the Hidden Asset of Capitalism

Rev. Dr. Bruce Baker, Ph.D.
September 21, 2013

Spiritual capital is becoming a hot topic. It helps explain the appeal of new ideas like Bill Gates’s “creative capitalism” and John Mackey’s “conscious capitalism.” Yet it goes beyond those secular notions by recognizing the spiritual side of work. To be able to create value is a spiritual blessing. It’s core to what makes us human. And when people pool their efforts to do wholesome business, that’s a sign of their embodied spirituality. Spiritual capital shows up in all kinds of businesses. We see it in Merck’s mission to heal disease, IBM’s commitment to corporate citizenship, and Broetje Orchards’s holistic concern for workers’ families. Oftentimes it has been evident in the religious faith of corporate founders, even when religious expression has been dropped from corporate communications, as has been the case with ServiceMaster’s aim to honor God, and Alaska Airlines’ printing of prayerful psalms. These are but a few examples of companies whose market valuation contains a healthy amount of goodwill attributable to their spiritual capital.

But what exactly is spiritual capital, anyway?

We can think of capital as a potential energy source which can be released and harnessed to produce something of value to society. Imagine a mountain reservoir. The enormous power of water pouring through a dam can generate enough electricity to power whole cities. So it is with capital. Financial capital can be accumulated and poured into productive streams. But for that capital to be harnessed effectively, it needs efficient infrastructure, just like the pipes, turbines, and generators in a dam. A healthy society provides all kinds of social infrastructure for capitalism, and for that reason the social components of capitalism are often referred to as “social capital” or “human capital.” These include intellect, education, relationships, rule of law, willpower and emotional energy—all necessary ingredients for the deployment of financial capital into wholesome, productive channels.

But underlying all these types of social capital is the great hidden asset of capitalism—spiritual faith. Faith is the life force which inspires and energizes great works. Its role in capitalism is so intangible and hard to describe however, that its crucial importance often goes unmentioned, even though it is absolutely necessary for the sustenance of economic life. Like the manna God gave to feed the people in the desert, it is little understood although essential for bodily life. Spiritual capital is like that, too. It comes from God as a gift; it provides energy for life; and it sustains the economic life of a society.

Spiritual capital is so much a part of daily life that people have come up with a wide variety of non-religious expressions of it—“team spirit,” “corporate soul,” “mojo,” “good will.” These are but a few of the phrases used to describe the fruit of this mysterious spiritual gift which brings life and vitality to organizations and societies. Secular businesses as well as religious organizations benefit from and depend upon spiritual capital, whether or not they identify it as a gift from God.

But what makes spiritual capital spiritual? From a Christian perspective, the answer is clear—it is a work of the Holy Spirit. It is within this context of faith that I offer this working definition of spiritual capital: The capacity of a society or community of work to receive and experience the tangible blessings of wholesome prosperity (shalom) bestowed by God. Two implications are immediately apparent: first, we recognize the Holy Spirit as the true source of life-giving sustenance and fruitfulness; and second, spiritual capital follows upon the biblical mandate of stewardship and covenant relationship with the God of Grace.

From this perspective of faith, we realize that spiritual capital is received as a blessing from God. It is different from other forms of capital in that, “How do we capitalize on it?” is the wrong question. The right question is rather, “How do we nurture it and share it?” It’s a blessing that increases when it is shared.

For business leaders and managers, this begins with attentiveness to the spiritual climate of our organization. Do we practice spiritual disciplines in our personal lives? Do we develop spiritual disciplines and strengths among our people? Do we cultivate relationships wherein people are explicitly encouraged to see their job within the spiritual reality of work and enterprise?

Spiritual capital is a life-giving gift. We give thanks to God for it when we receive it, and in the process we are rewarded with the discovery of how He magnifies the gift by establishing the work of our hands [Psalm 90:17].

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Rev. Dr. Bruce Baker is a former technology entrepreneur who became a Presbyterian pastor and theologian. He teaches theology of business and ethics as a professor at Seattle Pacific University.

Beginning Fall quarter 2013, Dr. Baker is teaching on the development of spiritual capital within organizations in Spiritual Formation for Management (BUS 6917), a new graduate-level seminar offered by SPU's School of Business and Economics. The seminar provides in-depth study of various issues related to the integration of Christian spirituality and management, and the application of theological insights across business discipline areas. Topics vary from offering to offering. The same topic cannot be taken for credit more than once, but the course may be repeated for up to six credits. Open to auditors and certificate program students. For more information, contact Dr. Baker directly at bakerb@spu.edu.

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