Jeff Haanen

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Jeff Haanen

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Breathing New Life Into Your Work

Four doctrines that motivate me to work, build, and serve

Work can be a drag. Unreasonable managers, unruly technology, and unmet expectations – but work can also breathe life into communities.  Work, I’ve noticed, has a particular power when motivated not centrally by success or money, but by the biblical story.

The Doctrine of Creation

Dave Hataj grew up with a dad who struggled with alcoholism. His alcoholism seeped into the family business, a small manufacturing company in Wisconsin. Remember parties at the office and pornography on the walls, “By the time I was 18,” Dave remembers, “I knew something was very, very wrong. Something felt dark.” Depressed and drinking heavily, Hataj turned to running as an escape. One day on a long run through country roads, “I remember a voice coming to me. I said, ‘Who’s playing a trick on me?’ I just remember this voice saying, ‘You are not alone. I’ve been with you through all of it.” Dave realized for the first time that he was not accident, and that his life had purpose.

Today, Hataj is the second-generation of Edgerton Gears, a company that makes gears, that in turn make cardboard boxes, aluminum cans, food processing and other everyday items. Dave felt that God was calling him to redeem the culture of his family business. After his conversion, Dave had his work cut out for him to introduce openness, trust, and accountability into the business. A part of the solution was to hire young men of character.

 But it made an impact, “When I started working here,” says Clayton Flood, a Journeyman Machinist at Edgerton Gears, “I was nervous. It’ll probably be hardy, tough guys. But it was super nice people. But boss really cares for me here, and that’s why I felt comfortable becoming a machinist.” In a similar vein, “This is an actually happy environment,” says Andy Hagen, an apprentice machinist. “You feel like you can talk to your actual co-workers.”[i] Culture started to change around character.

Another strategy Hataj used was giving young craftsmen a sense of purpose. He found that many of the young men they were hiring hadn’t taken the college route, and had taken on an identity of being a failure or “D student.” Hataj, however, believes that every person is created to create (Genesis 2:15), and each has God-given talents and skills that their community needs. Hataj has written for his employees The Craftsmen Code, which he has new employees sign off on. It states:

  1. I am not the center of the universe.
  2. I do not know everything, nor nearly as much as I think I do.
  3. There is dignity and purpose in knowing my trade.
  4. The world needs me.
  5. Pay is a reward for my efforts, but not my main motivation.
  6. Every person has unique gifts and talents.[ii]

Dave’s renewal of the trades at Edgerton Gears is based on the doctrine that God himself creates, and we too are called to create what the world needs through our work. Or as Dorothy Sayers writes, “Work should be the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God.”

The Priesthood of All Believers

Lesya and Nicholai Login live in the small town of Khust, nestled in the western mountains of Ukraine. They both have a lifelong love of biking and dreamed of sharing their love of the outdoors with others. As Lesya worked as a teacher and Nicholai as a bike repairman, they dreamed of opening their own business. But Lesya, who was only 22 at the time, was consistently rejected for a small business loan because of their age and inexperience.

A neighbor told them about Hope International, an international microfinance institution. With their first loan from HOPE Ukraine, they bought a few bicycles and began to rent them. It was a time of growth spiritually as well. Nicholai had shared his faith with Lesya years earlier and they both began attending Nicholai’s church. Their story of entrepreneurship and faith was bound together, “Choosing to take the loan was pivotal for me,” Lesya says, “I was full of excitement to have my dream come true—that our passion would become our work.”

Years later their business grew. They expanded to two locations, a retail brand, and several employees. Not only do they sell bikes and accessories, but they also believe their work is a platform for sharing their faith. “When God gives, we are called to give back,” says Lesya. Working with their local church, the organize an annual bike ride for children. They have also created a bicycle club for youth, giving them a positive alternative to alcohol or drugs through the power of community.[iii]

The Apostle Peter once famously wrote, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Peter got the idea of “a royal priesthood” from Exodus 19, when God said to the Israelites, just before giving the Ten Commandments, “Out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be fore me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” (19:5-6). The role of a priest was to intercede on behalf of the people and mediate to God. When God calls his people “priests,” he intends that through all of his people – not just clergy – he will make himself known to the world.  And that can and should take place every day and everywhere, even at a bike shop in a small town in Ukraine.[iv]

The Resurrection

Dan Reed is now middle aged. “I’m not in my thirties now, Jeff,” Dan told me over afternoon beverages. A long-time friend, Dan has been a life-long fundraiser. Short hair, beard, piercing green eyes and a quite attentiveness in any conversation, Dan is the founder of Seed Fundraisers, a coaching organization that trains “elite fundraisers.” His passion for fundraising came from years of raising money for the Morris Animal Foundation and seeing his peers in the industry. “Organizations that raise money aren’t necessarily the ones solving problems,” Day says. “Organizations solving problems aren’t necessarily raising money. And organizations receiving praise are not necessarily healthy places to work.” The nonprofit industry, noble as it seems from the outside, too is filled with brokenness.[v]

Dan set out to look for the gold standard in nonprofit fundraising practices. He found organizations led by visionaries; he found organizations that built sustainable solutions; but he also found that the best fundraisers were more concerned about activating generosity than raising money. Fundraisers, says Reed, are often seen instrumentally, meaning that leadership and boards often functionally say to them, “You go find us money so we can do the really important work.” And relationships with donors were often just as broken. Fundraisers would either “manage” donors to hit their revenue goals, or they would take on a subservient posture toward donors, bowing to an unhealthy power dynamic. But what if fundraising itself was intrinsically valuable work, apart from the causes it supports, simply because it inspires generosity, and hence, virtue?

Dan’s career was shaped by his understanding of vocation, which, for him, meant that his work had intrinsic value on a daily basis apart from the impact it made. It had value because work itself is a participation in the new creation.

Paul writes, “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old has gone; the new has come,” (2 Corinthians 5:9). The Jews of Jesus’ day did expect a resurrection of the dead, but they thought it would happen at the end of time when Israel would be restored and a new, earthly Davidic kingdom would come at the end of time. But when Jesus’ was raised from the dead there was confusion. After the resurrection, they fully expected an earthy restoration of the Messiah’s rule (Acts 1:6). What happened instead was that the key event of the end of time – the resurrection – happened now in the middle of time. Theologians called this the “inaugurated kingdom,” or as one Anglican liturgy puts it “the Lamb who was slain has begun his reign.” The new heavens and earth are not just a future reality; they have already begun, right here, right now. Even as a fundraiser.

New Testament Scholar N.T. Wright puts it succinctly, “Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project to not snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord’s prayer is all about.”[vi]

When Dan Reed looks intently into how he does his work as a Christian, and why, he’s asking the right question as a person of faith: since Jesus is raised from the dead and now reigns, how now should I live?

Stewardship of our Gifts

Meagan McCoy Jones grew up in the family business. McCoy’s Building Supply is a supplier of lumber, building materials, roofing supplies, and farm and ranch equipment in Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. She recalled as a teenager her parents would often have significant conflict. They worked through marital challenges with they help of a counselor, and the process ultimately influence Meagan’s own leadership of the company decades later. “They became committed to being relationally different, which is incredibly powerful,” Meagan recalls about her parents after their marriage crisis.

As a result, the McCoy family brought tools of building healthy relationships into the leadership of their company, which transformed how they do their work at McCoy’s. “Our leadership training includes tools like conflict resolution, which is a cute term until you have two super-angry people.” As a result of her parent’s marriage, she now works to deeply understand her co-workers. Leadership for Meagan is “me more deeply knowing you, and then caring about you. The next time I walk in, and I see your project as deserving of both praise and probably some constructive criticism, I’m going to make sure I’m very specific, and make sure to mention both the really good things and things I wish were different.”

Today, Meagan believes healthy conflict resolution is critical to a healthy workplace. “I have told my team that if there is any conflict among us, the only work of the day is to resolved the conflict between us.”[vii]

Generally, when Christians talk about stewarding our gifts, we think about using our skills and talents, whether they be designing a prototype or caring for injured patient, for God’s purpose. “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others,” writes the Apostle Peter, “as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms,” (1 Peter 4:10). Yet we rather think about stewarding our pain and suffering as a form of God’s grace. Meagan and her parents turned painful family memories into a means for building a healthy, redemptive workplace culture because, in part, they believed that even their difficult circumstances were gifts to be stewarded.

We’re called to see our talents and our pain, our skills and our suffering, our experiences and our frailty, as one mysterious gift we are called to steward on behalf of those we are called to serve.

“For some reason,” says Meagan, “we were given a lumberyard chain. And that’s our universe to care about and steward.”

This is an excerpt from my latest book Working from the Inside Out (IVP, 2023). Learn more about the book here.

[i] This story is from the film: “Turning,” Faith and Co, Seattle Pacific University,

[ii] See:

[iii] “Bikes and Baptisms: One Ukrainian Couple’s Journey,” Hope International,

[iv] For a more in-depth treatment of Exodus 19-20, see my sermon: “A Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation,” Wellspring Church, 26 July 2022,

[v] Dan Reed, “In Search of Best-In-Class,” Seed Fundraisers, 4 June 2021,

[vi] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2008).

[vii] These quotes are taking from a Denver Institute for Faith & Work podcast interview, which can be found at:


My Two Cents on Not Losing Our Hearts on the Job [Audio]

Since Working from the Inside Out has released, I’ve been honored to speak on numerous podcasts with hosts way smarter than me.

Here are a few of my favorite, where I share about everything from how to handle conflict with co-workers to spiritual rhythms that can infuse life into the workday.


Women Scholar’s and Professionals – Intervarsity

Faith in the Workplace with Jeff Haanen on Christianity Today_Being Human Podcast with Steve Cuss

Live Faith First Podcast with Eliot Sands_Work Can Be a Good Thing with Jeff Haanen

Unhurried Living: 289: Working from the Inside Out (Alan w/ Jeff Haanen) on Apple Podcasts

E 354 How Inner Work Transforms Your Outer World with Saddleback Church on YouTube

A Brief Guide to Inner Work that Transforms Our Outer World with Apollos Watered on YouTube

Episode 274 – Working from the Inside Out with Jeff Haanen with Faith Driven Entrepreneur

Working from the Inside Out with Eric Most and Laurie Bossert on Generosity Now

God’s Story Podcast – Working from the Inside Out with Jeff Haanen

Episode 58 Manly with Andy – Working from the Inside Out with Jeff Haanen

Denver Institute for Faith & Work _ Working from the Inside Out featuring Jeff Haanen

Here’s the Full Audiobook on Audible: Working from the Inside Out: A Brief Guide to Inner Work That Transforms Our Outer World

Free Study Guide: Study Guide_Working from the Inside Out


How to Take a Sabbatical

Over the years, I’ve received probably the most feedback from my retirement book about the topic of sabbatical. I’d like to post here an excerpt from this chapter that makes the case for taking a sabbatical – either in early retirement or during a career – as well as lays out some simple practices for your own sabbatical. Enjoy.

You can find more on sabbaticals, calling, and work in: An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life.

Whether we make work the source of our identity or empty work of any meaning past a paycheck, many newly retired people say: Enough. I’m done. Time to finally spend time on me.

Mary is a sixty-year-old woman. One day, she heard Marc Freedman, the founder of Civic Ventures, waxing eloquent about the civic heroism of older Americans on National Public Radio. She called in and said bluntly, “I would like to disagree with everything that’s been said.” Freedman was stunned. How could anyone disagree with the idea that older adults are a social asset to our communities? She told her story: she landed her first job as a teenager. After raising two kids and working for 40 years straight, she finally grew tired of her boss heaping on more and more work. At the first opportunity she got, she retired.[1]

Mary, like many others, entered into retirement longing for rest and renewal. But vacation isn’t the answer. The answer is to begin retirement with a stretch of deep Sabbath rest.

The Reason for Sabbath

On the dusty sands of the Sinai desert, Moses descended from the mountain with a message from God. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:8-9).

Why include a day of rest among the ten commandments upon which he would build a new society? And why should we consider Sabbath rest – or a season of “sabbatical rest” – as a better category for early retirement than vacation? The Old Testament suggests three reasons.  

1. Trust.

“For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day” (Ex. 20:11). Moses gives the Israelites the reason for Sabbath: God himself rested after six days of work in creating the world. There’s a pattern, woven into the fabric of the universe by Creator. It’s like gravity or the laws of motion. To be like God – and to become fully human – we need both work and rest in proper proportion.  

Sabbath reminds us to recognize our proper role in the cosmos. Biblical scholar Craig Slane says, “In ceasing from labor one is reminded of one’s true status as a dependent being, of the God who cares for and sustains all his creatures, and of the world as a reality belonging ultimately to God.”[2]  Like children dependent upon their parents, Sabbath makes us see that food, clothes, sunlight, friendship, air – all are gifts from the Creator, not mere products of our labor. The Bible continually points to God as the ultimate Provider.

But we have surely worked for and paid for all those “gifts,” right? God does give people the gift of working as co-laborers in his ongoing creation and cultivation of the earth (Genesis 1:27-28; 2:15). But we are not all-powerful. In Sabbath, God says, “Enjoy your work, but think not of yourself as masters of the universe. That is my role.”

ING, a financial services company, aired a series of commercials in 2008 centered on the idea of “What’s your number?” That is, how much money do you need to retire? A man bikes with the number $1,267,407 under his arm. A woman walks into an office, carrying the number $675,423, as if it were a purse. A man sits in a clinic with his pregnant wife, holding “his” number. The idea is that once we have saved a certain amount of money, we will have the ability to “retire in comfort.” Here is where our security lies.

Saving money for future needs is wise (Proverbs 10:4-5). But the Bible suggests trusting in “our number” as a blanket of assurance is idolatry – the worship of a false god.

Jesus tells the story of a man who built two barns as a hedge against insecurity. The wealthy man says to himself, “‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” (Luke 12:19-20).

Sabbath reframes retirement debates about money, retirement, and security. Whether clothed in gold like Solomon or in rags like Lazarus, Sabbath calls us to trust God to provide for our needs.  Taking a sabbatical can release the chains of anxiety and restore us to our proper place as created beings, dependent on God the Father for every good gift (James 1:17)

2. Identity.

“Remember that you were slaves in Egypt,” says Deuteronomy’s version of the fourth commandment, “and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (5:15).  Why not work every day of the week? Only slaves do that, suggests the Bible. God is the one who has redeemed his people from slavery, and Sabbath was to be a continual reminder of their liberty and identity as God’s people.

In 2015, Americans left a total of 658 million vacation days unused.[3] Project Time Off reports that 37% feared they’d return to a mountain of work, and 30% said “nobody else could do my job.” Why the nonstop work? I believe America’s work-a-holism flows from a question of identity. If we’re not our jobs, then who are we? What is our real value?

Centuries ago, the Israelites were called to remember the Sabbath as a reminderthat their value was not derived from their work.The practice of Sabbath was a call to re-center their collective identity on God’s vision for them as a people. The Israelites were God’s treasured possession, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5; cf. 1 Peter 2:9).

Work was created to be an expression of our identity, not the source of our identity.

One of the “thorns and thistles” of retirement is that it reveals where we’ve put our identity too fully in our careers. The report isn’t due, the phone stops ringing, and it feels like nobody needs you anymore. The recently retired often feel a sense of loss and separation.

But this pain, argues Gordon Smith, author and president of Ambrose University in Calgary, can be transfigured into a deepening sense of vocation and contribution.

I am convinced that part of the essence of vocational identity during this period of our lives [the senior years] is that we let go of power and control: people listen to us because we are wise and because we bless, not because of our office or any formal structure of power. [4]

Sabbath calls us to root our identity in God’s action on our behalf, and let go of an identity that was too wrapped up in our jobs. (We’ll return to the theme of identity and calling in the next chapter). Taking a sabbatical can heal past wounds as we re-center our identity on being God’s sons and daughters.  

3. Justice.

The command to observe the Sabbath includes a command to allow those with the least cultural power (children, servants, foreigners) to rest so that they “may be refreshed” (23:12). “On it [the Sabbath] you shall not do any work, neither you nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your town,” (Exodus 20:10). The Bible continually connects the observance of Sabbath with justice.  

My friend Vincent Rose is a greeter at Walmart. As an immigrant from South America now pushing 75 years-old (he’s never been able to afford “retirement”), he recently shared with me about why he often must miss church on Sundays. “I always get scheduled on the weekends. And what can I do? I have to work – but I miss being here,” he said, almost crestfallen. “I’m sorry, Jeff.”

For Vincent, Sunday is not just the chance to worship, it’s a time to be with family and friends. When he must work while others shop, his opportunities for meaningful relationships diminish.

Vincent’s story clarified something for me. Sabbath is not just about individual spiritual practice. It’s also about making space for the restoration of others. There are only two explicit prohibitions in the law regarding Sabbath: no fires were to be kindled in Jewish dwellings (35:3), and no one was to leave their place (16:29). That is, not only were they to cease from productivity (fires were used for everything from cooking to making tools), but they were not to engage in commerce, forcing others to work on the Sabbath.

The prophets regularly connect Sabbath observance to a just soci­ety (Isaiah 58: 6-8, 13). Not only does round-the-clock work oppress the powerless, it suggests idolatry. Sabbath observance was an outward sign of whether people were keeping the first and most important commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).

Vacations tend to prioritize our own luxury, consumption, and comfort; Sabbath sets limits for our work in order to create economic, social and spiritual renewal for all social classes.  

Historian Paul Johnson writes about the Sabbath, “The day of rest is one of the great Jewish contributions to the comfort and joy of mankind.”[5] Perhaps taking a post-career sabbatical could also be a great contribution to the contemporary experience of retirement.

Planning a Sabbatical

What if we decided that early retirement was the best time to take a true sabbatical? What might six months, nine months, or even a full year of deep, Sabbath rest look like?[6] How might we spend time in order to expand and redirect our sense of vocation for the next season of life (the topic of the next chapter)?

My argument is that sabbatical is a way to structure time in early retirement to heal past wounds, seek God’s voice, and find God’s call for the next season of life. 

Does this, then, mean a year of twiddling your thumbs? Not at all. Though many put boundaries around technology use, economic consumption, and work activities on their Sabbath days, Sabbath is not only about what not to do. Here are nine practices to consider as you plan your sabbatical year:

1. Prepare.

The Jewish “Day of Preparation” was a weekly rhythm of preparing to rest well – and it required extra work. Jews would store food and goods so they wouldn’t need to purchase them on the Sabbath day. They informed Gentiles (non-Jews) of their intention to take Sabbath rest.

Sabbaticals must be intentionally prepared for rather than stumbled into. I once asked my uncle, Rod Haanen, what he would do after he retired from managing the Thunderbird Lodge in International Falls, Minnesota. “Well, I don’t know. I just know what I won’t be doing.” My uncle, like millions of Baby Boomers, needs a plan for life after retirement.  

Consider taking two or three weeks to consider how you will restructure your time in sabbatical. What responsibilities can you hand off before you begin? What will your days, weeks, and months look like? And most importantly, who will journey with you into sabbatical? Judith Shulevitz’s Then Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time notes that Sabbath is a communal, not individualistic, activity. Consider doing a sabbatical with a friend or spouse and making plans in a trusted community.

2. Feast.

The idea of Sabbath as dour law-keeping is from the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, not from God. In Jewish tradition, Sabbath was a time for richly eating and drinking. It was one of the “festivals of the Lord” which prohibited fasting and outward expressions of mourning (Leviticus 23). Sabbath was to be a “delight and joy,” recounting God’s grace toward his people (Isaiah 58:13).

On your sabbatical, consider having a lavish feast – or several – for former co-workers, family and friends as a way to look back on a career with gratitude. You could do this once a month or once a quarter. In Israel feast days were markers of time. Joyful celebration can also form the chronological foundation of your sabbatical year.

3. Worship.

In Lauren Winner’s short, accessible book Mudhouse Sabbath, she notes the difference between contemporary visions of a day or rest and the biblical vision of Sabbath. “Whom is the contemporary Sabbath designed to honor?,” she asks, tongue in cheek. “Whom does it benefit? Why, the bubble-bath taker herself, or course!”[7] In contrast, Winner says, in the Bible the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. The difference between “indulge, you deserve it” (the popular vision for retirement) and “drink in the joy of God” could not be starker.

As you plan your sabbatical year, leave time for communal worship, for long and short periods of silence, for prayer walks, and for studying Scripture. Worship is the center of Sabbath.

4. Re-create.

Sports, hobbies, music, the theater – these all can play an important role in a sabbatical year. Jewish culture was built around its festivals and celebrations. Recreation as “re-creation,” rather than leisure or vacation, can be an ingredient in renewal. 

But might recreation be turned into a kind of work, a way to “occupy my time” in retirement? Leisure can lead to a busied pattern of entertainment, rather than space to rest, reflect, and heal. Even vacation can be turned into a frantic pace of busied work.

What is the difference between work and non-work? Wouldn’t woodworking be work to a carpenter, but a hobby for a banker? Or could Sudoku puzzles be work to a math teacher, but just plain fun for a retired electrician?

The key, I believe, is not to make an extra-biblical set of rules about what counts as work and what doesn’t on a sabbatical (Jewish and Christian history is filled with such failed experiments). The key is to pay attention to internal dialogue of your heart, even during recreational activities.

The Benedictine monks practiced ora et labora (work and pray.) They endeavored to be aware of God’s presences while farming, working, or even doing dishes. Can you take up carpentry during a sabbatical, yet quietly listen to God’s voice? Or internally are you “cranking work out?” The difference between the two heart attitudes is the difference between work and rest, Sabbath keeping and Sabbath breaking.

Audrey Assad and Isaac Wardell, singer-songwriters of the vocation-themed album Porter’s Gate: Works Songs, write, “In the fields of the Lord, our work is rest.” Recreational activities, done in a spirit of rest, can train the heart to re-engage work after a sabbatical in a spirit of peace.

5. Remember.

Take time to write down the good gifts God has given over a lifetime of work. Get out picture albums, invite over old friends for scotch (at least if you’re Presbyterian), and remember. Remembering was a core Sabbath practice for the Israelites. Even amidst the pain of unfaithful kings, the breach of covenant, and eventual exile, they found new life in remembering the Exodus and their nation’s birth out of slavery.

Anne Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts: Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are is a beautiful book that portrays her odyssey of actually writing down and noticing commonplace and everyday gifts.  Experiment with this during your sabbatical. The taste of warm coffee, a phone call from your daughter, the way afternoon light sparkles through the kitchen window. Notice God’s gifts. Remember. Be filled with gratitude.  

6. Love your neighbor.

It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath,” Jesus said as the crippled man “stretched [his hand] out, and it was restored” (Matthew 12:9-12). The Pharisees saw this and conspired to kill him, calling him a law breaker. But Jesus saw that Sabbath was for the restoration of all his people, especially the poor, widow, orphan and foreigner.

During your sabbatical year, consider visiting shut-ins, sitting with tearful friends who’ve lost loved ones, or praying with pregnant teens at a local clinic. My friend Bob Cutillo, a physician at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, once told me, “Don’t serve the poor. See through the eyes of the poor.”

Sabbatical is a space in time for seeing what you otherwise were too busy or distracted to see during your career.

Also, beware of partaking in heroism during your sabbatical. It’s likely that caring for the needs of the poor will be a far greater gift to you than it is to them.

7. Practice simplicity.

“Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free.” The classic Quaker song offers a counter-cultural freedom from the entertainment and accumulation-complex of retirement: to possess less and intentionally simplify your lifeis to experience deep freedom.

A common early-retirement practice is to declutter – garages, storage bins, closets. Many also transition to smaller homes. Yet the Christian practice of simplicity adds a layer of spiritual restoration. “Throughout church history followers of Jesus have intentionally vowed to live simply,” says author Adele Calhoun. “Following the example of the Lord, they have given up comfort and possessions and the clutter of life to leave larger spaces for loving God and neighbor. Simplicity creates margins and spaces and openness in our lives.”[8]

In sabbatical, develop the habit of giving things away. Reject things that are causing anxiety in you. Learn to enjoy things without owning them.[9]

8. Renew your mind.  

One of the people who most impressed me during my research,” said Michael Lindsay, the president of Gordon College, “was John Mendelsohn.” As I interviewed Michael about his book View From the Top, he shared about an infectious learner, Dr. Mendelsohn, who used to be the head of the prestigious M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

“When I was doing the interview,” Michael remembered, “he was reading a book on the history of opera.”[10] What does the history of opera have to do with cancer research, I thought? Nothing. And that was Michael’s point about learning and long-lasting contribution: people with deep, long-lasting influence cultivate a “liberal arts mentality,” in which they learn far outside of their field. Such a broadening education allows them to innovate across disciplines, understand society broadly, and influence larger cultural conversations with wisdom (one of the traditional roles of an elder in the Bible).

During sabbatical, consider taking time to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:1-2). Read not only religious books, but anything from neuroscience to wildlife biology to the history of water rights in the West. Our careers have a way of making us technicians – we know everything about one topic, but remain in the dark about most of the world. We’ll return to this in chapter 7, but reigniting your curiosity and sense of wonder is crucial to cultivating wisdom, a virtue the world needs from Baby Boomers in the next generation.

9. Decide when your sabbatical will end.  

As we’ll explore in chapter 4, we’re created to work, and sabbaticals (like Sabbath days) are meant to end. “You shall do your work for six days,” says the commandment, and that commandment is applicable over a lifetime, even as varieties of work may change.  Sabbatical is also a critical time for re-evaluating your sense of calling (which we’ll explore further in chapter 3).  But setting a defined period of time – whether that be 3 months, 6 months, or a full year – focuses a sabbatical, prevents it from melting into a never-ending vacation, and instead prepares the heart to listen to God’s voice for next steps.

I was once preaching on the topic of work and rest when a (very) elderly man came to me and said, “Son, I’m ninety-one years old. Don’t you think I should be able to take a break at my age?” I muttered an embarrassed, “Yes, sir,” as I was only in my early thirties at the time. He continued, “But let me tell you something. I’m a retired professor at Moody Bible College. I love writing, but haven’t done any writing for years. I’m going to take up writing again tomorrow morning.”

He paused, then looked me in the eye. “Thank you, son.”

A Colorful Symphony

In Norton Jester’s classic children’s book Phantom Tollbooth, Milo, the main character, meets Chroma the Great, “conductor of color, maestro of pigment, and director of the entire spectrum.” Milo learns that Chroma is the conductor of a great symphony – piccolos, flutes, clarinets, oboes, bassoons, horns, trumpets and tubas – which causes the sun to rise each day and shed color on nature. Every evening as Chroma lifts his arms, his symphony plays and a dash of color fills the sky. “What pleasure to lead my violins in a serenade of spring green,” Chroma says, “or hear my trumpets blare out the blue sea and then watch the oboes tint it in warm yellow sunshine.”

One day, Milo wonders what it would be like if he tried to lead the orchestra himself. He raises his hands before dawn and a piccolo sends a sprite of yellow in the sky. With another movement of his arms, the cellos make the hills glow red. But then things start to go wrong. As his untrained arms flail, the sun goes up and down and up again, green snow begins to fall, and the flowers turn black. A week passes by in only four minutes. All the colors are now wrong, and Milo says unhappily, “I wish I hadn’t started.”[11]

The instinct in our working lives is to try to conduct the symphony by ourselves. And when things go wrong (as they always do), the instinct is to regain control in retirement by waving our arms and trying to summon satisfaction from fleeting pleasure, deep rest from vacation, or by immediately going into another field of work, hoping it will finally satisfy the longings of the heart.

But this is the counter-cultural wisdom of Christian faith for retirement. Sabbath rest allows us to pause and see the great, colorful symphony that is God’s world. A sabbatical structures time so we can develop the spiritual muscles to hear the voice of God, see the beauty of creation, and embrace our place in it. 

What am I going to do with my retirement?” Anne asked me not so long ago. The still, quiet whisper of the Conductor calls us, I believe, first to take a season of deep, Sabbath rest.

[1] Freedman, vi.

[2] Craig J. Slane, “Sabbath,” Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theological, accessed on January 25, 2018:

[3] “Under-Vacationed America: A State-by-State Look at Time Off,” Accessed on August 11, 2018:

[4] Gordon T. Smith, Courage and Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2011), 85.

[5] Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews (New York: Harper & Row, 1987), 37.

[6] Sabbatical is a term often used for extended time off for academics (and the occasional lucky pastor).  But even in corporate America, the idea is gaining steam. As of 2008, 16 percent of American companies had formal unpaid sabbatical programs, and 5 percent offered paid sabbaticals. The idea of a full year of Sabbath rest is deeply biblical. One year out of every seven Israelites were instructed to let their crops lay fallow and not do any work. “For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of Sabbath rest” (Leviticus 25:4). God promised to provide such a yield in the sixth year that they would have enough to eat until crops from the ninth year were harvested (25:22).

In his book Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power, Andy Crouch asks a provocative question: what if our entire careers were marked by six years of work, and then one of rest – instead of putting all our years of rest on the back-end of our lives (retirement)? As it turns out, the math is pretty provocative. He writes “If one were to start full-time work at twenty-one and retire at the age of sixty-nine, then hoped to enjoy an ‘active retirement’ until, say seventy-seven before being more constrained by the limitations of old age, the forty-eight years of work would be matched by eight years of retirement – exactly the 1-for-6 ratio of the sabbatical year.” See Andy Crouch, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014).

[7] Lauren Winner, Mudhouse Sabbath (Brewster, MS: Paraclete Press, 2003), 11.

[8] Adele Calhoun. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us (InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL, 2005), p. 75.

[9] One of the best treatments of simplicity is penned by Richard Foster. See: Richard Foster, The Celebration of Discipline (Harper & Row Publishers: San Francisco, CA, 1978).

[10] Jeff Haanen, “Michael Lindsay: Go Where Decisions are Made,” Christianity Today, August 6, 2014; accessed on January 19, 2018:

[11] Norton Jester, The Phantom Tollbooth (New York: Random House, 1961), 125.

Craftsmanship & Manual LaborFaith and Work MovementWork

Sacrificial Service & the Sapp Bros. Cheyenne Travel Center

It’s one thing to embrace customer service. It’s quite another to live a life of sacrificial service.

Jesus calls his followers to “take up your cross and follow me.” Peter wrote that serving as Christ did will entail suffering (1 Peter 2:21). It’s one thing to follow Christ when things are going well. But, in the words of biblical scholar Bruce Waltke, how many of us would qualify as the “righteous” – those willing to advantage others, even if it means disadvantaging ourselves?

People who commit to sacrificial service of a community through their work are rare. New York Times Columnist David Brooks wrote in his book The Road to Character that the median “narcissism score” has risen in the last two decades. When young people were asked about whether they agree with statements like “I am an extraordinary person,” or “I like to look at my body,” Brooks says, “Ninety-three percent of young people score higher than the middle score just twenty years ago” — they score about 30 percent higher, to be exact.[i] Behind the thin veil of careers with social impact is often the Almighty Self, ever ready to find the perfect mix of social impact, comfortable work hours, and financial reward in “meaningful work.” Especially since the pandemic, I believe the willingness to sacrifice for a cause greater than ourselves is diminishing.[ii] Especially if it costs us.

Yet, meaningful work is found not in success or financial reward, but in sacrificial service. When people struggle to find a cause worth sacrificing for, boredom and meaninglessness tend to creep in. “Far too many people in this country seem to go about only half alive. All their existence is an effort to escape from what they are doing,” writes author and dramatist Dorothy Sayers about how most people view their work. “And the inevitable result of this is a boredom, a lack of purpose, a passivity which eats life away at the heart and a disillusionment which prompts men to ask what life is all about.”[iii]

People need a reason to sacrifice for something beyond themselves. It’s what puts wind in sails, feet on the ground, and energy in a workday. Paradoxically, what we’re really looking for is the right cross to bear, not the best throne from which to rule.

We live in a cultural moment in which there are multiple issues calling for sacrificial work. Take, for example, the growing inequality in American society. In 1989, the Federal Reserve Reports that the bottom 50% held $22 billion in wealth while the top 10% held $1.7 trillion. Fast forward to 2021, and the bottom 50% held $260 billion in wealth while the top 10% swelled to $36 trillion.[iv] To make that clearer, the top 1% of US households has 15 times more wealth than the bottom 50% of households combined.[v] The simmering discontent and anger so prevalent in American society has its root, I believe, in millions of people seeing the wealthy get much wealthier — even in the last 20 years — while their standard of living stagnates or declines.

And yet, some decide that sacrificial love for others trumps personal comfort.

Julie (Sapp) Stone works as an investment director focused on family economic mobility at Gary Community Investments, a philanthropic organization in Denver. Before that she worked at Teach for America, an organization that places talented young teachers in low-income schools. Bright, energetic, connected, and committed, Julie was deeply formed by Catholic social teaching, which motivates her work on behalf of low-income families. When I asked Julie about her commitment to issues around justice, I was surprised to learn it didn’t come from academic study. Rather, it came from growing up at a truck stop on the Wyoming-Nebraska border.

Julie’s grandpa and his brothers were Depression-era survivors who bought a car dealership, which turned into car leasing and eventually into a small truck stop chain headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska. Her dad became the general manager of Sapp Bros. Cheyenne Travel Center, and her mom the store manager. The establishment employed over 100 people between a motel, gas station, restaurant, and store. Julie grew up just a few miles away and started to work in the family business alongside her brother at just age five, picking up trash around the truck stop because of her parent’s pride in their work. As she grew, she waited tables, stocked shelves, and served the truckers. Her dad would famously pause mid-bite while eating in the restaurant to check out a customer after their dinner because “nobody should have to wait to pay.”

“I’ll pound the table in defense of truck drivers. They are an extraordinary community,” Julie says. “They’re hard working, responsible, God fearing, family centered, and make tremendous sacrifices for their work.” Julie pauses, with almost reverence in her voice. “My dad always trusted that I’d be okay at the truck stop, whether he was there or not. Truckers know that their actions reflect on other drivers, which creates a sense of shared responsibility. If there was ever a conflict or a tactless comment, without fail, another driver would step in and sort things out.”

Sapp Bros. was employee-owned, provided full healthcare coverage, and even paid for college tuition, which was practically unheard of in the 1980s. Julie’s parents believed that their job was to lead and serve their employees sacrificially. “I remember one Christmas my dad had it out with corporate. Since the combined portfolio of travel stations didn’t turn a profit that year, there would be no Christmas bonuses,” she recalls. “I watched my mom and dad divide their past and future paychecks to make bonuses happen for the Cheyenne employees.”

Julie believes her parents’ leadership was built on love. “At the end of the day Mom and Dad recognized that each employee was giving of their time and talent to help make our company successful. My parents were genuinely grateful for their people, which explains why so many who were hired on opening day in 1983 were still there when I graduated from college in 2003.”

Julie’s commitment to justice today isn’t abstract. She sees the faces of those who worked for her parents for 30 years in front-line jobs — people of enormous integrity. “I see working families first. They show up for the physical work. They provide services and make products the rest of us rely on, they almost always go unnoticed. These are the families whose sacrifices benefit us all.”[vi]


This is an excerpt from my new book Working from the Inside Out: A Brief Guide to Inner Work That Transforms Our Outer World (IVP, 2023). Buy a copy or listen to the audio book today.

[i] David Brooks, The Road to Character (New York: Penguin Random House, 2016).

[ii] See my article: Jeff Haanen, “Where Are All the Workers?” Comment, September 1, 2022,

[iii] Dorothy Sayers, “Vocation in Work,” quoted in: William C. Placher, Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005).

[iv] See: The Rationale, Ownership Works,

[v] Tommy Beer, “Top 1% of U.S. Households Hold 15 Times More Wealth than Bottom 50% Combined,” Forbes, October 8, 2020,

[vi] Candidly, this was my favorite interview in the book. A special thank you to Julie Stone for sharing her story, and for her beautiful revisions.

Spiritual FormationTheologyWork

How to Change

An Excerpt from Working from the Inside Out

It had been a hard week.

As I got out of the shower, my mind was spinning with the minor defeats of a middle-aged man. The time I lost my temper with my daughters at the dinner table. The day I felt about four inches tall when I was talked down to by somebody with more money and power than me. The crouching sloth I was silently battling when overwhelmed by too much to do and too little motivation. And then that Saturday afternoon on my back patio when I felt a wave of depression sweep over me.

That morning I looked at myself in the foggy mirror. Crow’s feet had set in around my eyes. Gray hairs were sprouting from my sideburns. Alone in the bathroom, I said out loud, “God, when do I really change?”

I had been a Christian for twenty-two years, attended thousands of church services, and led a Christian organization, yet that day the promise of being conformed to the image of Christ had never felt so remote. Change, I’ve found the hard way, is elusive. Real, interior transformation—or what the New Testament simply calls abundant life—is the promise of the Christian gospel (John 10:10). And yet we struggle through addiction, broken relationships, and moral failures time and time again.

And it’s not just a problem for Christian leaders blazing back to earth after a fall from grace. It’s all of us. “Trying harder next time” seems to make it even worse.

To become good—actually, thoroughly good—feels like grasping smoke on a windy day.
As I pass my fortieth birthday, one question sits behind every other question in my life: Who am I becoming? That is often followed by another: Can I really change?”


“To be honest, I’ve become adept at finding new ways to say I’ll change but then remaining stuck. The habits of sin—or even just the habits of our culture—have a way of reemerging like an unwanted trick birthday candle.

So, how do we change? Unfortunately, reading a book alone won’t do it. This is sad news for an author. But I’ve come to believe that reading alone won’t lead to real interior transformation. Think about your experience reading this book. Likely, it’s before bed, after a hard day, or consumed in snippets on vacation or between sittings. Once you close the book—even if it’s a self-help bestseller—you’re still surrounded by anxieties, responsibilities, media, family, coworkers, and a thousand other noisy influences. It’s not that books can’t change you. I believe they can, but they rarely do so in isolation from the rest of life.

How about getting more schooling? I’m a big believer in education, but many of our educational systems have largely adopted a narrow, heady version of change. Read a book, write a paper, take a quiz, then you’ll change. And yet, in higher education or in high school, the curriculum that really changes people are the unwritten values and norms of a school—not just what the syllabus says.

Most churches—at least word-centered Protestant churches—are similar. Though rarely stated, the unwritten message tends to be that the right combination of church attendance, music, and preaching will finally bring about the wholeness we desire. And yet, at least in my family, the van ride home from church often looks more like Chernobyl than the Garden of Eden. Some mysterious pattern of emotion, experience, and habit short-circuits even the most powerful experiences of God from creating real moral formation. I believe church is central to change, but we need to rethink what experiences actually lead to genuine Christian formation.

After researching the topic for years, I’ve discovered that trying to understand the way people change can leave you drowning in a quicksand of information: psychology, history, literature, sociology, andragogy, educational studies, history, theology, neuroscience, economics, current events, anthropology, sociology, philosophy—the author of Ecclesiastes wasn’t wrong when he wrote, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body” (Ecclesiastes 12:12).

And yet, here we are, limping along. We’re ever hoping things will get better, looking for salvation in every job offer, relationship, or vacation, yet feeling the subtle weight of encrusted sin, unhealthy habits, fractured relationships, and unmet dreams. If we really want to live a life that is truly healthy from the inside out, what kind of experiences might lead to real growth?

Unfortunately, I can’t answer that question fully. I, too, am just learning. But I have a working theory I want to explore with you in this chapter:

  Formation begins when an individual self-identifies a problem, need, or point of suffering and then joins a high-commitment community. The community is formed by an emotional and relational context of genuine vulnerability, bound together by a common story or universal history, and defined by a set of shared habits and practices.

  Over time, change is solidified by a deeper engagement of ideas and concepts discussed in community that affirm the story; a broader relational network that exposes learners to new emotions, stories, ideas, habits, and practices; significant work, which the learner is called to perform using new skills and knowledge; and public recognition for accomplishment, which shapes the learner’s identity.

   Long-term change happens when the learner chooses to grow in self-awareness and cultivate new spiritual disciplines, which open the soul to the transformative power of the Holy Spirit.

That’s a mouthful. Let’s take each of these movements one by one.

This is an excerpt from chapter 8 in Working from the Inside Out: A Brief Guide to Inner Work That Transforms Our Outer World. You can buy the paperback or audiobook wherever books are sold.


Audio Book Release and a Free Gift: Working from the Inside Out

Hey Friends,

Today we launch the audio book, narrated by yours truly, of Working from the Inside Out. As a big thank you for your support (and patience with my erratic posting on this blog), I’d like to offer the first four people who read this post a FREE copy of the audio book on Audible.


Working from the Inside Out: A Brief Guide to Inner Work That Transforms Our Outer World 



Note: Each code is one-time-use.  


Your free audiobook(s) can be enjoyed via Existing account holders can visit their My Account page to redeem, while new listeners can follow the below instructions. 

2Input your promo code and hit “apply”
3Continue creating your FREE account and then hit “Start Listening”
4Download the free app for Apple or Android devices (see below for links), or listen on your desktop through
5Login and start listening! Your free audiobook(s) will be waiting for you in the My Books section 

Thanks again to you all! I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the audio book! If you think of it, leave a review on audible!


PS. I’ll update this blog post as soon as I hear from you that all four free audible books are claimed.


Launch Day! “Working from the Inside Out: A Brief Guide to Inner Work That Transforms Our Outer World” (IVP, 2023)

God is working, I believe, “from the inside out.”

Big day! Today InterVarsity Press is publishing my second book: Working from the Inside Out: A Brief Guide to Inner Work That Transforms Our Outer World.

The book comes from my 10 years of experience leading Denver Institute for Faith & Work and the deepening conviction that “faith and work” is not first about impact, success, or even a way to advance the Gospel in the world—it’s about who we’re becoming in the process of our working lives.

The idea of the book is to give us a place to start this journey of living in a relationship with God in all areas of life. First, I believe we need to focus not on the world’s problems but on our own hearts and minds, seeking deep spiritual and emotional health and theological truth. Second, inner transformation impacts our core relationships and work. And finally, I believe we’re called to engage culture not as conquerors, but as sacrificial servants. God is healing the world first through our interior life, second through our exterior life, and third through our civic life.

What’s the book’s unique value?

●  It’s a great intro on faith and work. Not sure where to start on all things faith, work, and culture? Here’s a good starting point.

●  It’s blessedly brief. We’re all busy! This book has 10 brief chapters you could get through in a sitting or two.

●  It offers a simple model for integrating faith and work. The book simplifies an otherwise esoteric and complex subject through five principles.

●  It’s written for any believer. The book isn’t targeted exclusively to business leaders or professionals. It’s for any believer, from maintenance technicians to journalists to teachers to recent graduates to managers.

●  It has 50+ stories and examples. The book is chock-full of examples, from working in restaurants and manufacturing to selling used cars and caring for patients.

●  It’s holistic. The gospel changes all of our lives—our hearts, the way we think, our relationships, the work we do, and how we engage with the needs of the world. This book is a simple, brief introduction to whole-life discipleship.

Also, a couple bonus points: I’m personally narrating the audio version so readers can hear directly from me—about all the mistakes I’m hoping others can learn from! And all future royalties will be donated to Denver Institute, so sales will help to spur on the faith and work movement.

You can grab a copy today:

And I narrated the audio book(myself!), which will be available on December 19.

Not ready to buy yet? Here’s an excerpt:

For a 20% discount (from Oct 1 through February), put in the code IVPHAANEN at check out at Intervarsity Press

What are people saying about Working from the Inside Out?

“Jeff Haanen is one of the foremost thought leaders of this generation on the topic of faith and work. In Working from the Inside Out, Jeff provides anecdotal and prescriptive insights that will inspire and move you to action. Jeff’s wisdom and perception are profound in helping readers bridge the sacred/secular divide. This book helps you understand how your work can serve as the most valuable tool Christians have to make a difference in the world. However, we must change internally before we can change the external world.

David Stidham, Vice President of Business Affairs and General Counsel for The Chosen

“I can’t wait to give this book to some important people in my life! As the title suggests, Jeff Haanen’s most valuable contribution is his focus on our inner spiritual life and the promise that a life attuned to the hope, love, and grace of the gospel changes us. Work is a crucible; it forms and shapes us—for better or for worse. Jeff’s five guiding principles (seek deep spiritual health, think theologically, embrace relationships, create good work, and serve others), developed and tested during his decade with Denver Institute for Faith & Work, offer a way toward work forming us ‘for better.’ Read with friends; take this journey together.”

Katherine Leary Alsdorf, Founding Director of Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s Center for Faith & Work

“You don’t need this book—if you love your job, live a balanced life, can’t wait to get up in the morning, and feel content in your relationships with people and God. If not, consider this collection of deep wisdom from an expert in the crucial, but often ignored, intersection of faith and work.” Philip Yancey, Coauthor of Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God’s Image and Where the Light Fell: A Memoir

I cannot tell you what a blessing this book is. I cannot wait to be able to share this with others. The wisdom and guidance in this book is what I wish I would have had when I was graduating college and starting my career and starting out as a young professional. It is also the book that I, as a more seasoned business leader and fledgling entrepreneur, need to cut through the hardened layers that can calcify the soul. With every turn of the page, another piece was chiseled off, providing a fresh reminder for me of the calling I have as a Christian in the work God entrusted to me. I’ve been challenged, convicted, and blessed.

– Josh Rogers, Head of Operations, Leif

Free Study Guide

Considering reading the book with a group? Here’s a free study guide anybody can download, thanks to our friends at Denver Institute: The guide is a great resource for church small groups discussing the book.

Faith and Work MovementTheologyUncategorizedWork

The Uncertain Future of the Faith and Work Movement (Christianity Today, December 2023)

Can it broaden its appeal beyond evangelicals in high-status professions?

Say it’s Thursday evening, and you sit down on your couch after dinner. Just before flipping on the TV, you pause, breathe, close your eyes, and reflect for a moment about your workday.

What do you feel? Do you have a sense of being anxious and overwhelmed? Of satisfaction and accomplish- ment? Of exhaustion or frustration from interacting with a coworker? Or does your mind blank out, avoiding thoughts of work altogether?

For some, perhaps, the wheel of ambition is still turning, and instead of watching Netflix you decide to flip open your laptop and keep working until bed. If that description fits, you might be what Andrew Lynn calls a “creative class evangelical.”

Lynn, a University of Virginia sociologist, is the author of Saving the Protestant Ethic: Creative Class Evangelicalism and the Crisis of Work. In the book, he surveys both this history and the current state of what some call the faith and work movement, which he describes as a “highly organized and well-resourced effort to renegotiate creative-class evangelicalism’s place and relation to power within the institutions and social structures that make up American society today.”

Lynn argues that the contemporary faith and work movement arose principally to meet the needs of a narrow niche of Christians: highly educated evangelicals seeking meaning in their work and a place within an increasingly secular culture. Beginning in the 1980s, as evangelicals attained college degrees and entered the knowledge economy in greater numbers than ever before, there was increasing talk of closing the “Sunday to Monday gap.” Rejecting the notion that work is merely a moneymaking necessity, a rising cohort of evangelical professionals wanted to make theological sense of their newfound success.

HOW WE GOT HERE IS ITS OWN INTERESTing tale, which begins with fundamentalism after the Civil War. When John Nelson Darby published the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909, a frantic concern for eschatology and saving souls took hold. Funding soul-saving ministries became a top priority, and work was simply a way to supply these funds, which, in the words of one writer, needed to be “exchanged” into the “current coin of heaven.”

Later evangelical leaders like Billy Graham abandoned many elements of this earlier funda- mentalism. But the remaining network of Bible institutes, summer camps, media outlets, and para- church ministries still focused on spiritual rather than earthly labors. Echoes of this mindset can be heard in Rick Warren’s 2002 book The Purpose Driven Life, which states, “The consequences of your mission will last forever. The consequences of your job will not.”

Along the way, however, several prominent Christian business leaders began wondering whether their actual work mattered to God, not just the money they made from it. As the inventor and engineer R. G. LeTourneau said at a Chris- tian Laymen’s Crusade in 1941, “We are going to sell laymen the idea that they are going to work for Jesus Christ seven days a week or not callthemselves Christians.” Subsequent decades saw the advent of organizations like the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International (1952), Laity Lodge (1961) and Fellowship of Companies for Christ International (1977). By the 1980s and 1990s, dozens more had been founded.

And from the mid-1980s to the mid-2010s, an explosion of books, conferences, and funders fueled a wave of Christians claiming that work itself—not just soul-saving—was import- ant to God. Out of this movement arose four frameworks for understanding how Christianity ought to influence our work. As Lynn describes them, each was embodied in a dis- tinct group.

The first was the evangelists, for whom faith at work prin- cipally meant workplace evangelism. Second were the achiev- ers. Prominent business figures like J. C. Penney and Henry Parsons Crowell, the owner of Quaker Oats, popularized the idea that business itself was endowed with spiritual value. Notions of “stewardship” and God’s “ownership” reframed work as an arena of holy influence.

The third group, which represents the most common framework within evangelicalism today, consisted of the inte- grators of faith and work. Thinkers like Dorothy Sayers and lesser-known figures like Marquette University professor David Moberg reminded evangelicals that being made in God’s image means being made in the image of a Maker. Work is valu- able simply because God works—and calls us to do likewise.

Lynn also identifies a final group of activists, who called for Christians to pursue the common good through their jobs. Their ranks were smaller than those of the integrators, in part because some evangelicals were skeptical of calls to view work as an engine of advocacy or social change.

But the integrators mainly benefited from larger trends in demographics. As more evangelicals earned college degrees and entered the knowledge economy during the 1970s and early 1980s, they were receptive to messages that affirmed their work as a form of service to God and neighbor.

And yet, whose work were we talking about?

Lynn notes that two groups were often over- looked in faith-and-work conversations: women and blue-collar laborers. It was business leaders, on the whole, who were credited with breaking down the sacred-secular divide, and attendees at faith and work conferences tended to be male, white, and college educated. Over time, the lan- guage of “calling ” and “vocation” became attached to entrepreneurs, lawyers, and other “creative” or high-status professionals.

Lynn also faults the faith and work movement for being too susceptible to influence from the polit- ical Right. He argues that organizations like the Acton Institute, the Kern Foundation, and the Insti- tute for Faith, Work & Economics baptized laissez faire capitalism, channeled evangelicals away from progressive causes, and even “lowered the ethical floor” of what qualifies as “dignified labor.”

But the movement largely succeeded in shifting evangelicals from postures of cultural separatism and embattlement toward a spirit of stewardship and production. Buttressed by Dutch theologian and statesmen Abraham Kuyper’s theology of public engagement, leaders like the late Tim Keller and his ministry’s Center for Faith & Work promoted this shift. D. Michael Lindsay’s 2007 book Faith in the Halls of Power highlighted evangelical involvement in the upper reaches of media, business, government, entertainment, and higher education.

LYNN ACKNOWLEDGES THAT FAITH-AND-work conversations face an uphill climb in an era of growing distrust for institutions. In such a climate, he writes, “inner-worldly asceticism mobilizing zealous participation in secular institutions appears to be a tough sell.” The problem is especially acute for Christians who work at the lower levels of these institutions and have little power to change them.

Alongside the risks of resistance or indifference goes perhaps an even greater risk: the lure of cultural accommodation. Lynn wonders whether the faith and work movement might serve as its own “gravedigger” as it “shuttles evangelicals from subcultural institutions centered on evangelical distinctives into full admission within mainstream societal institutions.” There’s a historical warning here: In the latter half of the 20th century, mainline churches were full of educated elites who enjoyed leadership roles across society, but this didn’t spur revival within those churches. It would be a shame to watch the faith and work movement launch believers into positions of leadership, only to see them changed by the world rather than changing it for Christ.

Despite these warnings, however, I remain hopeful for the faith and work movement. Chris- tians will keep working, and they’ll keep asking what their faith means for their work. And yet, as someone deeply involved in this movement, I have three suggestions.

First, knowledge-class evangelicals should commit to using their power for the vulnerable, not only in society at large but also within their own workplaces. And they should give greater weight to the concerns of organized labor. Evangelicals could work to rediscover Catholic social teaching on this topic, or at least remember the days when Wesleyans, Free Methodists, and Salvation Army groups championed the rights of workers.

Second, continuing to affirm that work matters to God, we should recognize the extent to which workers are feeling anxious, stressed, and bur- dened. The faith and work movement has been geared toward power and cultural influence, but the future of the movement, I believe, will be rooted in spiritual formation. Work is not only about suc- cess, influence, or even gospel impact—it’s about who we’re becoming as followers of Christ. Indeed, Puritans like John Cotton, who helped shape the Protestant work ethic, warned that making one’s labor “the chiefest good” would only lead to selfish materialism. Lynn (and others) are right to regard a spiritual vibrancy as the foundation not just for work but for all of life.

Finally, the future of the faith and work move- ment depends on deeper rootedness in local church communities. Lynn helpfully points out that non-Anglo churches have excelled at creating communal bonds and “collective identities that resist some of the excessive pulls of capitalism and careerism.” Indeed, one historic distinctive of the Protestant ethic is congregations that provide ref- uge and solidarity to workers facing dangerous con- ditions, punishing demands, or economic volatility. At its best, Lynn remarks, the church draws people “toward forms of social relations not determined by status, wealth, or achievement.” What would it look like to center our identities on our local congrega- tions rather than our professional titles?

In sum, building a faith and work movement that appeals to a broader swath of Christians means a renewed emphasis on justice, spiritual formation, and the church. Perhaps, then, we can sit on our couches after a long day, close our eyes, and breathe in the lasting peace of knowing we have spent a day simply working with God.

This book review was first published in the December 2023 print issue of Christianity Today.


The Emotional Journey of the Entrepreneur

At some point in our entrepreneurial journeys, we need to not only ask What am I accomplishing? but instead Who am I becoming?

I spent 10 years building an organization I truly loved, from the early founding days in an office by myself to an exit and transition to new executive leadership. After I was finished, I realized, however, that the journey took an emotional toll. The process of entrepreneurship had changed me emotionally and spiritually.

As I shared my story with friends and other founders – and listened to theirs – I found that entrepreneurs often experience four phases in our spiritual and emotional journeys.

The first phase is the launch. This is fun. Entrepreneurship at its inception is filled with casting vision, convening investors, building a product, growing a team, iterating a prototype, raising capital, and seeing your dream become a reality. Customers, employees, revenue all materialize, it feels, from an entrepreneur’s wild idea. The overriding emotion here is exhilaration.

The second phase is trial. This is much harder than I thought. Now the entrepreneur experiences real difficulty. The product line doesn’t fly; capital begins to dry up; employees quit; investors start pressing for outcomes. At this point, the entrepreneur doubles down and works twice as hard. Stress becomes as normal as breathing, and many times it’s here that entrepreneurs develop unhealthy habits to cope. The overriding emotion now is anxiety.

The third phase is divergence. Can I really keep this up? At this point, the organization has reached some kind of scale, and many entrepreneurs experience a divergence between their external and internal lives. Externally, they project confidence to investors, employees, and customers. “We can do it!” they say. We have to. Internally, however, they face real doubt. They’re not sure if the company will survive. And though their community has placed the entrepreneur on a social pedestal, they now seriously doubt their own gifting. They genuinely wonder if they can make the transition from Founder/Entrepreneur to CEO/Manager. And they feel trapped because they’ve made promises that they now must keep, though they don’t know if they can.

This phase is the most dangerous because here the entrepreneur gets used to being two different people: the confident, risk-taking, leader in the spotlight, and the chaotic, uncertain, stressed, frustrated, even fearful individual who wakes up at 4:00 a.m. solving problems. Sometimes entrepreneurs here start to believe their own legend and disconnect from reality. This is when friendships and family relationships begin to suffer. They also can be drawn into the face-paced speed of entrepreneurship, and find it difficult, if not impossible, to slow down, rest, and truly pay attention to others. The emotion in the divergence phase is doubt. Not far behind is often shame, knowing there’s now duplicity buried in their character.

The fourth phase is reckoning. Who am I becoming? is the question that quietly rumbles under the surface. Generally, before or during an exit (deciding to sell the business), the question of burnout arises. They look for a way out. After putting so much into their business, they often ask daunting questions. What have I sacrificed? What habits have I developed? What is worth it? Did I demand too much from others? Will they love me when I’m gone? Who have I become? 

Externally, people wonder why the now-wealthy entrepreneurs who’ve sold their businesses aren’t ecstatic. They lived the entrepreneurial dream. But internally, they often feel lost. Am I now better off than when I started? What will I do next? Who am I if I’m not leading this business?

Our work forms us – and deforms us. Of course, not all entrepreneurs experience these four phases. But I’d argue most do. We might ask ourselves: How might a relationship with God influence the emotional and spiritual journeys of entrepreneurs? And secondly, What practices might help entrepreneurs lead more emotionally and spiritually healthy work lives? 

But for now, we need to acknowledge that entrepreneurs don’t just change the world; they themselves are being changed by the world around them. This move toward self-awareness is the first step toward living healthier emotional and spiritual lives as entrepreneurs.

This post first appeared at the Center for Faithful Business at Seattle Pacific University.

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