Studies describe the hidden cost of doctoral studies for the researcher. Burnout, depression, loneliness are some psychological and mental symptoms felt by doctoral students. Having almost completed this process, I can attest to experiencing some of these. There have been moments of loss, frustration, of imagining what-ifs alternatives, or of simply giving up. I had wanted my research to change the world, provide theological reflection and solutions on real-life problems facing faith-based organizations. The reality had more often than not, felt very different. I was stuck on strengthening my arguments, arranging my footnotes. The purpose of my research project felt very far away.
Besides caring personally about the student, it can be asked why should others bother with the cost involved with doctoral students if the final research has met academic standards? One reason for this is because the value of research is more than its academic standard. There is a deeper purpose to this research that originated from the researcher, especially in the theological discipline. More than an academic exercise, the relationship between the research and the researcher cannot be underestimated. What is studied, the scope, methodology and even the resulting conclusion are at stake. With the researcher drifting away from his or her original intentions and purposes, this can influence the final conclusion of research.
In the same way, the work of organizations is not separate from the staff members who work in it. Staff members work together to fulfill the purposes of the organization which are in return influenced by faith ideals in faith-based organizations. While seeking to achieve the organization’s purpose, it is possible for staff members to be faced with different challenges that might seem to have little to do with the overall faith purpose of the organization. When these challenges become the focus of the staff members, such that they move away from the organization’s original faith purpose, mission drift would have occurred.
What then can we do with such organizational challenges? In my dissertation, some recommendations that I made included the importance of focusing on the original purpose of the organization in the problem solving done by the organization. For faith to remain important, it needs to stay relevant for the different organizational characteristics. This involves reflecting on how faith relates to the goals of the organization, the people involved and even the systems set up. Faith does not just play a historical role, but should contribute currently both in organizational content and processes. This is certainly not easy and requires the organization’s leadership to see the value of faith.
In closing, I would like to come back to my personal example. Hebrews 12:1-2 was a constant reminder to me on my darker days. Throughout this long and arduous doctoral journey, I reminded myself to stay faithful and persevere, keeping in mind the original purpose of my research. It is my prayer that we, individuals and organizations, remember the example of Jesus in the different seasons of our pilgrimage.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith – Hebrews 12:1-2a
(Peirong has just completed her PhD with the topic “Countering Mission Drift in a Faith-Based Development Organization: An interdisciplinary Theological Interpretation on the Identity formation of World Vision.” With the end of her dissertation, she is also ending her time with ETF as the administrative coordinator for ILSE. She is grateful for the role she had and will be continuing at ILSE as an affiliated researcher.)