A Vision for Denver: Speech from “The Sounds of Work”
Good evening. Thank you for coming tonight to experience the Denver Institute community and “The Sounds of Work.” Thank you to our board and advisory board for bringing your friends tonight. Thank you to our 5280 Fellows, past and present, for your dedication to this experience. And thank you to Fellowship Denver for hosting us tonight. Many churches contributed to the formation of Denver Institute, but none were more instrumental than Fellowship Denver.
I was asked to give a vision not only for Denver Institute tonight, but for our city. Tall order! But I think I can do it succinctly. Actually, it’s printed in your program. Read with me this quote from author Os Guinness:
“Grand Christian movements will rise and fall. Grand campaigns will be mounted and grand coalitions assembled. But all together such coordinated efforts will never match the influence of untold numbers of followers of Christ living out their callings faithfully across the vastness and complexity of modern society.”
History is filled with grand campaigns, great coalitions, and mighty leaders. But this isn’t my vision for Denver. Nor is it my vision for Denver Institute. My vision is simply, “the influence of untold numbers of followers of Christ living out their callings faithfully across the vastness of modern society.”
It’s a vision of the daily, humble service of God’s people that brings life and hope to our city and culture.
American culture today is filled with tension. Though we are wealthy, millions struggle with despair and meaninglessness. Though God’s church is present, it’s shrinking. Though we have the best universities in the world, our children our afraid to go to school. In the US we’ve had 22 school shootings – just since the beginning of the year.
What are we, the Christian people of America, going to do? (Pause.)
The American church is searching for a way to be public, yet not political; culturally engaged, yet not divisive; hopeful, yet not triumphalistic. Our vision at Denver Institute is this: faith expressed through work in the public sphere, clothed in the humility of Christ. This is the vision.
Let me share with you what I’ve seen this last year in the Denver Institute community.
- I’ve spoken with a fellow nonprofit executive who took is son to our event on faith and science, who thanked me afterwards that such a conversation could happen in the evangelical community. He valued a community that could talk about scientific excellence and a life of faith in the same conversation.
- We received a message after our Business for the Common Good from a woman who said, “Something changed with my husband after he attended the event. He has new vision and energy for his work. Thank you.”
- Just last week, I spoke with Brian Gray, our Director of the 5280 Fellowship, after a conversation our Fellows had on faith and health care, who told me: “I just saw a doctor process decisions about vaccination through the lens of Christian theology. It was stunning.” Such a nerdy comment – and I, too, thought it was stunning!
- I’ve watched new communities of entrepreneur’s spring up in our city; the formation of a new community of Denver’s professional women longing for a place to process questions of work, calling, family and career; just this afternoon I saw a gathering of worship leaders ask how worship music might sanctify the imaginations of their parishioners.
The vision is “the influence of untold numbers of followers of Christ living out their callings faithfully across the vastness of society.”
I see these hints of redemption in our city and state and it fills my imagination. And I say to myself, can you imagine?
- Imagine a city where despair and meaninglessness are drowned out by a pervasive belief that God is at work redeeming all things.
- Imagine a city where people across neighborhoods, sectors, ethnicities, and social classes trade isolation for collaboration, and loneliness for deep friendship.
- Imagine the church intentionally sending scientists, entrepreneurs, teachers, and nurses into their fields as agents of love, reconciliation, and restoration.
- Imagine that our fragmented, busy, and overwhelmed lives are infused with a deep sense of peace, rest, and hope.
- Could you imagine if Christians were taking leadership in the key issues of our city – and we were known more for our acts of love and message of good news than what we’re against?
Can you imagine?
But then I look at myself, into my own heart, and I think. Impossible. That day will never come. I’m leading this thing, and I see darkness inside of me.
Several weeks ago, I was driving in my car with my wife on our way on a date. As we rolled in our beat-up Honda Odyssey, my wife brought up memories of the founding of Denver Institute back in 2012. She says to me, “Jeff, do you know you were able to found Denver Institute? Because you’re so unimpressive.”
Thanks?!? I think?!?
But her point was clear: there are no famous people here. No heroes. Just people like you and me, walking with a severe limp in life. With doubts, short tempers, fears, and unmet desires.
Yet as I think about the actual people involved in the DIFW community, I’m reminded of the biblical story. God chooses not Jesse’s oldest son to be king, but his youngest! God chooses stuttering Moses to be his spokesperson before the world’s most powerful man, Pharaoh. When God decided to clothe himself in flesh, he did not become a Greek philosopher or Roman senator, but a simple, carpenter!
We – me and you – are God’s plan to restore his world. Just as a father delights in gardening with his daughters on a sunny, Saturday morning, so God invites us into his work, to cultivate and create a new world.
And that’s one way the Christian people are distinct in this city. The secular story says that this is your world conquer. You can do anything you want! Have your dreams. It’s about individual achievement. The story is Big Me, little world.
But the Christian story is the opposite: it’s little me, and Big Story. Like Frodo Baggins, we are unimpressive, but chosen for a great task. This is the vision. This is what it means to be called.
I would like to ask you to consider to do two things tonight.
1. This is a fundraiser, and so I’d like you to respectfully ask you to consider giving monthly to the ministry of Denver Institute for Faith & Work. We need financial resources to operate, grow, and impact our city. Actually, tonight we have a matching opportunity: Our goal is 15 new monthly donors, of any amount. Once we hit that, a private donor will match at $5,000. I would like to ask you to consider giving. Ninety percent of our budget comes from generous donors who believe in our mission of forming men and women to serve God, neighbor and society through their daily work. I’d be honored if you’d consider becoming a monthly donor. We’ll have a reminder at the end of tonight’s program as well.
2. But second, tonight, I’d like to ask you to participate. Instead of only telling you about your work, tonight is a bit different. We want you to experience Tonight is experiential – you will have the chance to read Scripture, respond to liturgy, hear stories of people in the DIFW community. You will also have the chance to experience our message through song. We’re honored tonight to have Sandra McCracken performing songs from a new vocation-themed worship album. They’re meant to be sung not just tonight, but as you build homes, clean toys, treat patients, sit in meetings. They are our gift to you – a song for your heart as you live out your day-to-day life, as Os Guinness said, “a follower of Christ living out your calling across the vastness of modern society.”
Our vision for Denver is a Body of Christ, built up and strong in our city, yet also willing to wash the feet of our neighbors. As Martin Luther said,
“A cobbler, a smith, a farmer, by means of his own work or office must benefit and serve every other, that in this way many kinds of work may be done for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the community.” We are motivated by “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
But it’s not our primary motivation. Our primary motivation is an entire life lived in response to God’s immense love for us. Our vision is every day, every moment, every meeting, every client, every interaction with a co-worker – all in response to the Great Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart, mind, soul and strength.”
In any given year, you will see Denver Institute doing events across the city: on the manufacturing floor of an electrical contractor; at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts; at the Colorado School of Mines; shared co-working spaces. Why? Why do we do this?
Because we believe the horizontal beams of the cross stretch to the very corners of creation. The Lamb who was slain is making all things new.
Our true, deep, and lasting motivation is simply joy.
Come, now, join us not only for a time of worship – but a life of worship.
This speech was given on May 19, 2018 at “The Sounds of Work”, Denver Institute’s annual celebration and fundraiser.