Denver Institute for Faith & Work: A Beginning
For me, today is a landmark. Today we launch the website for Denver Institute for Faith & Work. (To celebrate, we’re giving away a copy of Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work. To enter the drawing for the book, just “like” our Facebook page from 8am-5pm today. We’ll announce the winner tomorrow.) Today is a small, humble beginning, but nonetheless, one that reminds me of God’s faithfulness. As I look back over the last year, there were many “firsts” that confirmed that this project was not just my own, but was growing in the hearts of many – and was being led by God himself.
First ideas. It was August 2012, and I sat on my bed scribbling out ideas for a new organization. Inspiration came from both the confluence of many streams of thought – Bonhoeffer, Newbigin, JD Hunter, Andy Crouch, Dorothy Sayers – and the newfound realization that work was the heart of influencing and creating culture. Three weeks of ideas eventually led to a simple business plan of what I was calling The Denver Institute. But of course, I’ve never lacked for ideas. My wife can testify to this! Would this idea be any different? Could it actually happen?
First meetings. Q Cities Denver took place only a month later. Being completely cash poor, I reached out to the organizers and asked if I could write an article in place of a registration fee. They graciously accepted my proposal (even though the editor at The Gospel Coalition eventually rejected my article – sorry Q!), and I met a city full of people interested in the gospel, work and culture. Having really no idea how to start a new organization after the conference, I started recruiting church advisory council members and board members from the list of conference presenters. The first three meetings were with Stephen Redden, pastor at New Denver Church, Patton Dodd, Executive editor of Bondfire Books, and my pastor, Robert Gelinas, of Colorado Community Church. I felt a bit odd recruiting people for what was at that time a figment of my imagination – but it was also in those early meetings that an idea was starting to become a reality. We drank coffee, talked, dreamed, and something amazing happened – each of them actually took me seriously.
First calling. And so I spent my evenings in my office, working, planning, reading, praying. One afternoon, however, my wife and I were struggling deeply with finances. Before church on Saturday, December 1, I broke down in my office in tears. Here I was, pursuing this dream, while we could barely pay our bills. Yet after church that day, something I’ll never forget happened. (You can read the full account here.) Terri Powell, a fellow member of Colorado Community Church, approached me after the service, and boldly said, “I have a word from God for you.” Not being a charismatic, I didn’t know what to make of this! She said, at just the right moment, at just the time I was wondering what God was doing in my career and vocation, Terri said, “God says to you, ‘Your work matters to me.’ He sees what you’re doing, and it’s important to him.” That moment converted a personal interest to a divine mission – from that time on, it was clear I was only a part of God’s larger plan, one that he himself was orchestrating.
First donation. My dear sister was our first donor. (Thank you sis!) She gave enough in November of 2012 for our logo and identity package. Having the spiritual gift of discernment, she could see something that I could not yet see. When the check came in the mail, I was really astounded. Here was faith that I barely had yet! But of course, it was her prayers that led me to Christ, and now her faith that led me to step out in faith myself.
First board member. I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was sitting on a Lazy Boy in my sister’s living room, checking my email. For the previous three weeks, I had been pitching the idea to potential board members. Yet one person stuck out. I had coffee at Stella’s one day with Chris Horst, the Director of Development for HOPE International and the de facto leader of faith and work efforts in Denver. As one of the Q Cities Denver organizers, I knew he was an important voice. But after our meeting, I said to myself, “If I can get this guy, the whole plan works.” He was a passionate follower of Christ, humble, intelligent, and had networks a mile deep in the Mile High City. A couple weeks after our meeting, I sent him an impassioned plea for joining the board (unconvincingly trying to prove what a great leader I was!). While checking my email that afternoon, January 24, 2013, this is part of what he wrote:
Jeff,Thanks for your patience in walking through this decision-making process with me. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and praying about this…The longer I considered it, the more excited I became about the opportunity. It’s right in my “enthusiasm wheelhouse” and a cause and leader—you—I deeply believe in.I’m excited to roll up my sleeves and help you move toward the vision God’s planted in your heart. I’ve concluded a few commitments I made for 2012 and believe I have the margin to support this fully…There are many whose life experience and natural intellect exceed mine by (very) wide margins and I’m really honored that you even considered asking me to join. I’m looking forward to serving however I can to bless The Denver Institute and, hopefully, bless our churches and communities in the process.Warmly,Chris
Immediately I jumped up from my chair, and triumphantly shouted, “Yes!” My mother, sister, brother-in-law, and wife all thought I had lost it. I said, “It all works! Now the whole plan works!” Not only was Chris the first board member, he was the first to take a huge risk and dance with me. Having just one other person willing to join meant number two, three, four, ten and twenty were not far behind. Know I new that this vision now would become a reality.
First Church Advisory Council meeting. In February I first met with our church advisory council. As I looked around the room, I thought, “There’s one person here who doesn’t belong. Me.” Honestly, to see nine top-notch pastors come together and express support for this new project was an odd feeling. To me, it was both a confirmation of God’s work, and a cause for deep gratitude – something I would be feeling a lot in the coming months.
First board meeting. Shortly after, we had our first board meeting. Chris introduced me to Hunter Beaumont, Jill Hamilton, and Jim Howey. Patton Dodd and Bob Cutillo, who would become the chair of our board, also joined. Each yes to a board invitation was further evidence that the Spirit was working in hearts and minds. He was working in soil I had not tilled, and bringing a harvest I had not worked for.
The 501(c)3 app. Through my friend Gary Hoag, God also provided Scheffel and Associates, and Matt Paulk, who generously offered to front us the costs associated with filing a 501(c)3 application. Things were moving fast – and on March 22, I signed on the dotted line.
Confirming the Call. Over the summer, we worked on program design, board development, and our first fundraising request. One meeting, however, stuck out. I met Bob Cutillo at Blueberries in Littleton for coffee on a Saturday morning. The purpose of the meeting was to talk about whether he would chair the board. What stuck out, however, was his deep wisdom – especially about calling. That morning, Bob clarified my own sense of “boundness” to this project. I’ll paraphrase what he said.
People often say, especially to high school graduates, “You can be whoever you want to be.” Well, that’s a bunch of bologna. When you discover your calling, you can either choose your destiny, or become less of who God created you to be…In my career, at times I’ve stepped away from being a doctor to the medically underserved. Things didn’t go well. I stepped outside of my calling, my “fit.” Do you feel the same way about starting this new organization?
After that day, it became clear: truly embracing the call to lead this organization actually was limiting my freedom. I don’t have the choice to do something else (a very un-American idea)!Well, I do, but if I did choose to go another direction, I would be denying my very own shape, the way God formed me for a particular purpose. In a world where people will change careers an average of 12 times in a lifetime, this view is exceedingly rare. Nonetheless, the call to this project was not only confirmed by others, but was being solidified in my heart as I peered into the future.
First event. Toward the end of the summer, we put our first event on the calendar. In partnership with The Well Boulder, The Tango Group, and All Souls Boulder, we’re bringing John Dyer, author of From the Garden to the City:The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology, to Boulder to equip those who work in the tech industry to better integrate the gospel with their work. In addition to our first event, we have leaders for 5 vocation groups, one that’s going now, the other four which will begin this Winter.
New Website. And today, we have a new website. Little did I know what I was getting into when I started this project! Words like widget, plugin, and CSS code have all moved into my vocabulary. But thanks to friends like Stephen Redden, Jill Hamilton, and Andrew Wolgemuth, we have a reasonably good website (with over 40 pages!) and three social media outlets. The website was a good reminder for me – living out your call doesn’t mean the absence of frustration or hard work!
God calls us to remember. It is one of the most frequent commands in the OT. Remember how I brought you out of Egypt. Remember the covenant. Remember the LORD your God. As I remember this past year, I can see how true Cathy Pino’s “Servant’s Prayer” is:
Lord it’s you who has brought me to this day
Who has carried and kept me in your care
I look back and I see you in all my years
And so forward I go, knowing you are there
God does something truly amazing with our work when we offer it to him. He takes our feeble attempts at service, in all our wandering confusion and persistent sin, and uses it in his great plan of redemption. What grace! What love! What creativity! To use such a tainted pallets as us, and to paint such masterpiece of salvation – what an exhilarating life to live.
If I was to share any piece of insight from my own story in the past year, it would be this: trust in his providence, and offer all your work to him. He will make it beautiful in its own time.