“Midway upon the journey of our life,” writes Dante in the first lines of his Inferno, “I had found myself in the dark wilderness, for I had wandered from the straight and true.”
I wonder if Dante was making a comment on the crafty nature of sin, creeping up from behind like a silent fog when we least expect it…or just the bewildering challenges of being middle-aged.
Several weeks ago, I called Dan, one of my friends, who’s nearly forty. “How are you?” I asked. “Well, nothing new,” he said with sigh. “Same job. Same family. Same house.”
He went on to explain that nothing was wrong, per say, other than feeling the reality set in that he was no longer in his twenties, filled with notions of changing the world. He wasn’t depressed, but aspiration had slowly given way to some combination of responsibility and reality, seeing in one hand a mortgage statement and in the other the scars of a thousand tiny disappointments after almost two decades on the job.
“Midlife, especially for middle-class American men,” wrote Robert Bellah, American sociologist and author of Habits of the Heart, “often marks the end of a dream of a utilitarian self established by ‘becoming one’s own man’ and then ‘settling down’ to progress in a career.” Bellah says that around midlife, many realize that they’ll never be “number one” — senior partner, Nobel laureate, principal, CEO. As these dreams die, finding one’s identity in work dissipates and career trajectories flatten. “For many in middle age, the world of work then dims, and by extension so does the public world at large.”
For years in my own work at DIFW we have seen a trend: young professionals in their twenties and thirties come to our events, press into big social issues, and become Fellows, but participation in our programming drops off in one’s forties and fifties. What’s happening here?
Both my friend Dan and Robert Bellah explain what’s happening. First, in middle age, we must reckon with the crushing loss of professional dreams. You have a job, but the idea that you were going to “change the world” is shown for what it is: a postmodern mirage, built around the slippery, individualistic notion we had believed since we were teenagers: “you can be whatever you want to be.” A cloud of grief, loss, and disillusionment fills our horizon — one we’re quick to push back with entertainment, busyness, or consumerism.
The second reason: golden handcuffs. We reach the midpoint of our careers and we find we’re better paid now than we were in our twenties, but our expenses have grown as well. Mortgage payments, grocery bills, and kid’s activity fees all tamper down our desire to risk building something new, step out on a limb at work, or start a new career. Better to play it safe, even if we feel something inside of us crumbling.
Yet not all submit to the resignation of our hopes in midlife.
I’ve observed that some take an alternative path in midlife that acknowledges our limitations, pursues interior freedom, and embraces failure as the only pathway to growth.
Acknowledge Our Limitations
Gordon Smith, author of Courage and Calling, writes, “To embrace our vocations in midlife means that we accept two distinct but inseparable realities. First, we accept with grace our limitations and move as quickly as we can beyond illusion about who we are. Second, it means, positively, that we accept responsibility for our gifts, and acknowledge with grace what we can do.”
Bishop Ken Untener makes a similar point, very applicable to life at midcareer, “We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.”
Our individualistic society is built around “your success.” And most weeks I see people who mistakenly believe that they can find their life’s purpose in their job. When this illusion dies, they often become disengaged — both from their job and the broader culture. And for those who do make it to the top, often they’ve done so by making work their religion.
But some take a humbler path. They take stock of what they are, and what they’re not. They look squarely at their talents and their limitations. They realize that won’t change culture. But they also realize that they can change the world right around them — co-workers, community, church, and family.
And perhaps even more importantly, they become ok with knowing people who are richer, smarter, better looking, and more talented. Seeking approval for performance is calmed by the steady, lasting approval of God.
Pursue Interior Freedom
When New York Times columnist David Brooks set out to explore his own road to character growth, he realized there are two sets of virtues: résumé virtues and eulogy virtues. Résumé virtues are those you bring to the marketplace and post on LinkedIn — degrees, job accomplishments, accolades. Eulogy virtues are virtues people will talk about at your funeral — humility, kindness, courage.
Our careers tend to compensate and reward us for résumé virtues, but at some point, we realize these goals are thin, and we’ll have to decide whether we’ll make the journey into the interior world.
Rev. Jacques Philippe, author of Interior Freedom,says that if we’re continually looking to the external world for our approval, we’ll never be happy because our circumstances are constantly changing. However, he says we can cultivate deep interior freedom by practicing the virtues of faith, hope and love and by connecting deeply to the source of inner freedom — God himself — which no external power can take away.
Philippe and Brooks both are calling us to making a momentous shift in our lives: from exterior success to interior depth.
In this way of thinking, work becomes not just a way to achieve, but the primary context for our spiritual formation and interior growth. When we’re passed over for a promotion, slighted by a prospective client, or enduring a toxic workplace culture, the question becomes not one of escape to a better job, but instead: who am I becoming?
Embrace Failure as the Only Pathway to Growth
Winston Churchill once said, “Success is going from failure to failure without loss of determination.” Commenting on this paradox, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes, “It is not their victories that make people leaders; it is the way they cope with their defeats — their ability to learn, to recover, and to grow.”
Most people move into middle age with a growing set of disappoints and failures that lead to resignation. “I’ll never get the job.” “I’ll never make a big impact. That was just the naivety of my twenties.”
Yet there are a few who experience the same set of consistent failures and they learn from them. They adopt a growth mindset. They don’t let their ego get in the way and they instead welcome feedback from family, friends, and co-workers. In the process, they ask questions like: What did I learn from that situation? How did I react? And what does this mean for me and for those around me?
The path to leadership is narrow because the majority want to blame others for their problems. The few decide to take ownership over what they can and let the harsh lessons of life refine them like a fire.
Dante had to make the journey first into the inferno before he made his way to purgatory and then ultimately to paradise.
Perhaps the only way out of the dark wilderness of midlife is first to go further in.
Recently I got a prospectus from a faith-motivated advisory firm that outlines what they invest in as Christians. On one level, the responses were predictable. They don’t invest in alcohol, cannabis, pornography, or weapons. And they do invest in companies that have ethical leadership, policies that value employees, and a “positive societal impact.”
But after reading the prospectus, I had to pause and say to myself: this is really, complex stuff.
On one level, investing is quite straightforward: capital should be used to bring about returns. Yet, what is positive societal impact? What companies are “ethical” and which aren’t? Aren’t all companies – like people, a mix of good and bad, moral and immoral? How do you even think through ethics? And which societal impacts are primary, and which are secondary? Why?
I’m not trying to be esoteric. Here’s an example for you for you make an investment decision, shared with me by a dear friend and leader in the faith-based investing space.
Example 1: Building materials company
Example 2: Restaurant franchise company
Now, both seem to be solid public companies having a good impact on employees and are profitable.
But how do you decide between the two? Returns? Opportunity for low-income employees? Or do you prioritize the product itself: would you rather invest in expanding a building materials company or a fast-food business? Or do you instead decide to look into the environmental practices of their supply chains?
Investment analysis obviously goes through a financial filter. And increasingly so, it goes through some combination of a social or ethical filter. But what of theology? For the secular investment firm, this, of course, makes little sense. (Though, whether they acknowledge it or not, all their investments are going through a philosophical filter.) But for the faith-driven investor, isn’t “the faith once entrusted to the saints” the most central filter for investing in any company (Jude 1:3)?
If so, are you sure that your perspective on faith and investing is coming from historic Christian belief rather than, say, your cultural background, your social class, your family of origin, your education, your political persuasion, or your own church’s emphases?
Let me make that case that every faith-driven investor needs to hire a theologian. Here are three reasons.
1. Combining faith with investing is inherently complex.
Here’s what faith-driven investors are trying to do. They’re trying to take ancient texts written originally in Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew to ancient peoples, grasp the core teachings of these texts enough to then understand the core doctrines of Christian belief developed over 2,000 years of church history, apply those doctrines to the modern social construct of business with all the complexity of finance, marketing, operations, and sales, and then decide on which businesses to invest in based on those beliefs and practices!
To go from the book of Daniel to fintech, or from the Doctrine of the Trinity to human resource practices is not for the faint of heart!
Far too often in the faith-motivated investing space have I seen simplistic interpretations of texts (like the parable of the talents) to investing, without understanding the doctrinal, historical, or social context of particular passages, or even their own biases in reading the Bible as 21st century American Christians. Just like finance, doing theology well requires knowledge, practice, and a breadth of learning.
The reality is, we need experts who can help wade through these waters if we actually want our core investment philosophy to be Christian.
2. Theologians bring a unique set of specialized skills.
Ever since the Protestant Reformation, we’ve believed that since we can all read the Bible for ourselves, we can understand it just as well as the next person. Now, I’m a big fan of everybody reading the Bible, but this has led to a deep devaluing not just of pastors, but those who have literally spent decades studying theology and scripture – like theologians. To say that “anybody can understand the Bible” to a theologian is like me saying to an investor that there’s no difference between a managing partner at Blackrock and an entry-level financial advisor at Thrivent. They’re both equally valuable in the eyes of God, but they’re not both equally competent or knowledgeable when it comes to investing.
Years ago, we at Denver Institute for Faith & Work hired Ryan Tafilowski as a “resident theologian.” He has a Th.M. in ecclesiastical (church) history and a Ph.D. in theology from the University of Edinburgh. He writes and speaks on inter-religious dialogue, historical theology, and ethics. And to top it off, his ability to recall episodes of Arrested Development is astounding (to the great delight of our entire staff team).
Over the years, Ryan has taught our staff team everything from political theology to the doctrine of sin. And when we’re weighing in on tough social issues, ranging from gender to race to immigration to how much profit we should reinvest versus give, his expertise in theological foundations and frameworks has regularly surprised and delighted us. Often, it has completely transformed our views of an issue.
Ryan has education and knowledge that I don’t have. Because this is true, when he speaks, though I’m technically his boss, I’m careful to listen. He actually knows more than I do about the “faith” aspect of “faith and work.” He adds tremendous value to the team, not just in production, but in faithfulness to our own tradition – a tradition I’m still just learning about.
Having a theologian on my staff is incredibly valuable.
3. They’re worth the investment.
Now, the vast majority of theologians don’t know the first difference between public equities and private equity. To that end, they need to listen to professional investors. Yet I believe that professional investors also need to listen to theologians.
I believe it’s worth having a full-time theologian on the staff of every faith-motivated investment firm. They should weigh in on every social, ethical, political, or philosophical decision, drawing the company continually back to the great drama of Scripture, the creeds, and the history of the Church, and what they mean for investing today.
One of our five guiding principles at Denver Institute is to think theologically: “Embracing the call to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of Christ, we value programs that enable men and women to verbally articulate how Scripture, the historic church, and the gospel of grace influence their work and cultural engagement.” To do this, we need theologians to guide, illuminate, and advise. This is why having a resident theologian on our staff is a necessity, not a luxury. (Can’t convince your nonbelieving partners to hire a theologian? Fear not: the vast majority of theologians would happily take the title “Philosopher in Residence.”)
And on the bright side, compared to your typical MBA from Kellogg, theologians are relatively cheap. With thousands more PhDs in theology than there are professorships, there is certainly market supply.
Yet I’d say they’re worth their weight in gold. Some may balk at this comparison to theologians and gold: $1764 per ounce, assuming a 150-pound theologian, are they really worth $4,233,600?
Depending on what you’re investing in, they might just be…
Jeff Haanen is the Founder and CEO of the educational nonprofit Denver Institute for Faith & Work, CityGate, a national network of leaders working at the intersection of faith, work, justice and community renewal, and The Faith & Work Classroom, a free, online learning platform.
Giving can change us, but I’ve noticed it doesn’t change everybody equally.
Having closely observed hundreds of donors through my work as a fundraiser and nonprofit executive, I’ve tried to ask: what is the actual process of becoming like Christ through our giving? Is there a logic or pattern to the ways people change through their giving, especially Christians? Might giving actually move us backward in character growth, becoming cynical or even resentful of charities?
I’ve found there are generally three phases that God invites a giver to experience, represented by two questions about giving and finally a relinquishing of power.
“How much do I give?”
Spiritual Journey: The first step in the journey is discovering the other. Givers heed Jesus’ call to “love your neighbor as yourself” and use money as a tool to serve the needs of others. This is often an awakening to the needs of the world and the ways that money can be used to help meet spiritual, economic, and social needs.
This Phase is Characterized By: the movement from accumulation to generosity and from consumerism to philanthropy (or the love of anthropos, humans). Givers at this stage experience the exhilaration of giving and a new sense of making a community impact. The thrill of “doing good” for one’s community gives renewed interest in giving as a core aspect of a happy, fulfilled life.
Giving Habits: In this stage, the quantity of personal dollars given increases and is oftentimes sacrificial. They get used to giving larger amounts of money for the first time and are eager to see “impact metrics” or stories of changes from the various causes they support.
Key Scriptures: 2 Cor. 8 & 9; 1 John 3:16; Matthew 28:16-20. Givers in this stage are motivated by the “Macedonian call” for aid coming from the lost, the poor, or the various community needs they touch. Giving as impact and serving others is the core motivation.
“How much do I keep?”
Spiritual Journey: In this stage, the giver experiences a conversion. The conversation changes from “how much can I give?” to “how much should I keep?” The journey moves from one of outward impact to increasing dependence on God and a willingness to “embrace your limits as gifts” from God.
This Phase is Characterized By: the movement from generous giving and making an impact to contentment. The act of giving itself becomes an avenue of receiving God’s joy, and the giver becomes less interested in specifics of nonprofit or charity impact. Instead, new attention is paid to the spiritual lives and hearts of those you give to and those who are giving. Interior riches are increasingly experienced as gifts from God.
Giving Habits: Givers decide to set a ceiling on what they need to live on and give then give away anything they earn above that ceiling. As personal giving drastically increases, personal consumption now decreases as well. They experience humility and spiritual vibrancy, and they have a lessening awareness of sacrifice. Even as they see friends or peers spend money on houses, cars, trips or entertainment, they’re not bothered by what they’re missing out on, but instead find themselves feeling more whole, healthy, and joyful.
Key Scriptures: Philippians 4:11-13. Givers in this stage have “ learned the secret of being content in any situation.” They experience the joy of “enough” and the power of simplicity.
“I finally have everything I need.”
Spiritual Journey: The final stage of generous giving is the giving away not of money, but of power. The final temptation is relinquished and what lies behind money – which is power over others – is finally laid down. Power is gladly handed over to those with less knowledge or skill, both in work and in family, and God’s work through others becomes more tangible and real.
This Phase is Characterized By: the movement from contentment and sacrifice to self-forgetfulness. Money has finally lost its power as a blanket for security and all security is now found in the reality of God’s good provision and enduring Presence. Generosity spreads from giving money to also being generous with one’s time, attention, and prayers. They experience a genuine freedom from money. Simple pleasures – nature, smiles, smells, memories, words – regain their deep pleasure. For those who give away power, they find it easy to submit to the decisions and leadership of others.
Giving Habits: Givers in this phase give away the means of power, not just money itself. They give away equity in their businesses or decision making-power in their family foundations, including say-so over where the money goes or how it’s spent. In this phase, wealth is given at both personal and business levels. Yet for many, they experience this phase having very little in terms of worldly wealth. They’re released of the need for impact and instead experience a deepening experience of the delight of God. They become indifferent to wealth and cling instead to Christ himself as the final, lasting treasure.
Key Scriptures: Philippians 2:7; Matthew 13:45-46; Philippians 3:7-8; Romans 8:34; Matthew 19:21. This final phase looks like the kenosis, the self-emptying of God through incarnation and ultimately cross of Christ. The call to “sell everything you have and give to the poor” is seen not as a loss, but the great deal that it truly is: the gaining of a treasure of far more value. They “consider all things loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” and enter into deep freedom from anxiety, security and control. Givers finally say, “The Lord is my Shepherd. I have everything I need.”
When I was in elementary school, my mother took my older sister and I to Lake Itasca State Park for summer vacation, located in the cool northern woods of Minnesota. A life-long teacher, she would glory in making the outdoor visit into a lesson: spotting the diving loons in search of breakfast, explaining the history of old-growth red pines towering over the landscape, and proudly declaring that we were looking at the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi River.
My sister and I, however, were more concerned with the number of times we could skip a rock across the glassy surface and the tiny creatures we discovered on the lakeshore. Barefoot and with a cool breeze in my curly blond hair, I would spend afternoons hunting for tadpoles or grabbing tiny oysters to crack them open, in search of treasure. Though I never did find a pearl in those oysters, the shell’s rainbow iridescence, shimmering in the sunlight, hinted at a joy embedded deeply within creation.
Three decades later, with a wife and four daughters of my own — and nearing forty years of age — I now spend more time landscaping behind my mortgaged house, cleaning dishes, and checking email than I do whimsically searching for marine treasures. Yet amidst the ever-present responsibility of directing a nonprofit, paying bills, and supporting family, I’ve found that my daily work has become the central arena in which I sense the magic of the Creator’s handiwork in my own life.
Like the refracted light of a rainbow, faith shapes the breadth of my human experience, including the one-third of my life I spend working. When I feelthe neck-tingling stress of hitting financial goals or the sadness of a coworker who’s lamenting singleness, I pause to pray. When I discuss future office space needs with my COO and the wild uncertainty of our current cultural moment, I draw on the Christian doctrines of the Trinity and the incarnation to think through the problem. When I lose motivation to knock out my task list on a long, hot afternoon, I draw fresh inspiration from Christian authors like Dorothy Sayers, who remind me, “We are made in the image of a Maker,” and my work is a part of my humanity. When I read a news story that recounts the millions of women who’ve lost jobs due to the pandemic, I rework plans for our largest annual event, Business for the Common Good, to reflect God’s own concern for the vulnerable (Exodus 3:17). There is simply no extracting faith from my daily work. My working life is spent at the intersection of my human experience. If I was to remove faith from my working life, it would make me not just less Christian, but less human.
Why should we bring our whole self to work, including our faith? Well, for the Christian, there is no other option. The very oldest Christian confession is, “Jesus is Lord,” (1 Corinthians 12:3). For the early church, calling Jesus kurios (“lord”)was a challenge to Caesar’s claim to that same title. Both Jesus and Caesar claimed ultimate allegiance, forcing early Christians to make a choice. The early church chose the name ekklesia tou Theou (“church of God”), refusing the official protection of “private cults” by the Roman empire, precisely because an ekklesia was a public assembly to which all people in the empire were summoned to discuss the public affairs of the city. The followers of Jesus were making their own self-understanding clear: the church would not be merely a “private religion,” but would instead be public assembly by which all humanity is summoned, called by God himself.
Today, our modern notions of a strict divide between public and private, sacred and secular, faith and work trace their ancestry originally to Greek dualism, and more recently to Enlightenment thinking, which places the individual human at the center of the universe. Indeed, the idea that people could be “religious” at some times and “secular” at others is a relatively new notion. (Peter Berger’s The Sacred Canopy and Charles Taylor’s A Secular Ageare helpful here.) Yet it is that awkward but unspoken expectation of fencing off our deepest convictions that still dominates most government, corporate, and nonprofit entities today. And so, millions of men and women across faith traditions are forced to ask, how am I supposed to be fully human at work, but ignore the very source of my humanity for the majority of my waking hours?
In my own tradition — I am a Presbyterian drawing from the rich well of historic American Protestantism — there has been much handwringing about this question, especially in the context of a changing culture. Pew reports that in just the last 30 years, the percentage of U.S. adults who identify as Christians has declined from 87% to 65%, whereas the number of adults who claim to be “religiously unaffiliated” has swelled from 8% to 26%. That’s 30 million more “nones” than just 10 years ago.
As culture has shifted from a Judeo-Christian social consensus to a secular one in the last 60 years, I lament that the Christian response has largely been around the politicization of faith, the privatization of belief, or the accommodation to culture. In one camp, the culture wars rage on and faith is politicized in a battle for control over the future of America. Others largely retreat from culture, content either to restrict faith to “just my private belief” or live in evangelical subcultures neatly removed from mainstream culture. Yet, by far the most common response is Christians accommodating to popular culture, adopting whatever social, cultural, or economic practices are popular in the moment. Each of these play out as Christians try to answer the question: what does faith mean for my life, my work, and the world I live in?
At Denver Institute for Faith & Work, we believe that work is a way to love God, serve our neighbors, and demonstrate the gospel. We believe vocation is first a call to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, and your mind,” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27; Matthew 22:37-40). Vocation is our response to God’s voice in all areas of life, including our work.
I think many people, including much of corporate America, see this view and feel concerned that bringing your faith to work will cause conflict between people of divergent beliefs. But in my experience, the opposite has been the case. Pete Ochs creates and runs Seat King, a company that manufactures car seats inside a medium-security prison and gives prisoners a fair wage, “life lessons,” and a newfound sense of dignity. Young professionals tackle the challenges of social media, innovate new HR benefits for refugees working in pallet company, and highlight the plight of undocumented immigrants in local newspaper — all as an expression of their faith. From tech workers advocating for better family leave policies to investors humbly admitting they have an anger problem and recommitting to emotional healing, faith in the workplace can be a powerful force for good.
Of course, Christians also sin, and as such, “bringing your whole self to work” can also mean bringing greed, lust, pride, envy, prejudice, and laziness to the workplace as well. I myself have been a fine example of many of these vices to my coworkers and family. Yet, it’s in moments of being drawn to addiction, self-aggrandizement, or brute selfishness that I need God in my own work all the more. Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn once wrote in The Gulag Archipelago, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart….” I think many of us are tempted to believe that the problem with our world today is “them.” But daily I’m reminded that the greatest problem our world faces beats within my own breast.
Two millennia ago, when Jesus was being crowded by throngs of admirers, he hopped in a boat, pushed off from shore, and began to teach. Voice echoing off the water’s surface, he told the story of a farmer who found a treasure buried in a field. Wild with excitement, he sold all he had to buy the field, knowing that in the end he was getting an incredible deal. Similarly, he told the story of a merchant in search of pearls. When he found one, overcome with joy, he too sold everything he had just to possess that single treasure (Matthew 13:44-45).
When I was a boy, strolling along the shores of Lake Itasca and hunting for oysters, my work was simply to delight in the world around me. Now as an adult, nonprofit leader, husband, and father, my work now is to allow that same pearl of God’s grace to permeate my daily life. For me, like the headwaters of the Mississippi River, God is the Living Water who has given me new life (John 4:14-16). If everybody worships, as the late David Foster Wallace claimed, is it such a strange thing to acknowledge that source of life in our working life?
So why faith and work? Like a merchant finding a pearl — or a child finding a shell on a lakeshore — the answer for the Christian is simple: joy.
This post first appeared at Denver Institute.
The following is an introductory letter for our annual report I wrote to our supporters at DIFW. If you’d like a physical copy of the report, visit this page.
Annual reports have a way of being sent, paged through, and put in the recycle bin rather quickly. We know this because we’ve done it so many times, too.
This is why Denver Institute for Faith & Work created a unique annual report this year that doubles as a personal reflection guide for your own walk with Christ in 2020.
After a painful, jarring year, we at DIFW reflected on all the changes in our own lives and work. Our reflections centered around four seasons:
We structured each section of this annual report as narrative reflections on our own work at DIFW, and intentionally left space for you to journal, reflect, and pray through your own story in 2020.
This annual report is meant to be an invitation to pause and invite the Lord into your memories, allowing him to heal wounds and grow his life within. I hope you’ll put this year’s annual report next to your bed and spend some time reflecting on the presence of the Spirit in pain, the goodness of God in seasons of change, and hope of the resurrection of Christ for the year to come.
I want to thank you again for your generous giving to the formation of men and women to serve God, neighbor, and society through their work. Your prayers, financial support, and participation in our mission continue to make an impact.
Founder & CEO
P.S. You can make a deeper impact by becoming a monthly donor. Visit denverinstitute.org/give to give today. Thank you for your continued support.
I recently went on just a short vacation, and the email responder I set up got a bit of attention (mostly positive, some surprised). I post it here in case you need one…that actually allows you to rest.
My Last Vacation Email Reponder
Well, you got this auto-email because I’m on vacation. Actually, not just vacation – I’m trying to actually practice sabbath rest, even for a single week.
In a digital age of being constantly connected – and being a person with constant ideas and a never-ending drive to be productive – I find this difficult. So for the next week of my life, this means three things:
Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t like you or value your time. I do! And I want to hear from you. However, I’d ask you to reach out to me in a week.
Thanks for your grace. It’s a delight working alongside you.
For now, I rest.
Template You Can Fill In
Well, you got this auto-email because I’m on vacation. Actually, not just vacation – I’m trying to actually practice sabbath rest, even for a single week.
In a digital age of being constantly connected – and being a person with (reasons why you find it difficult to disconnect and rest) – I find this difficult. So for the next week of my life, this means three things:
Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t like you or value your time. I do! And I want to hear from you. However, I’d kindly ask you to reach out to me in (insert duration of your vacation).
Thanks for your grace. It’s a delight working alongside you.
For now, I rest.
Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series. To learn more, take a look at Why Faith & Work (Part 1).
We had lost our footing until Stephen Raifsnider showed up. Actually, I ripped it up.
First the toilet clogged in our main floor bathroom — repeatedly. (How is that possible from such little girls?) So, I bought a new toilet from Home Depot, the kind you can flush seven pool balls down and still be good to go.
As I unscrewed the toilet flange bolts which held my throne to the floor, I gently lifted the potty…only to have the cracked tile come with it. After looking at the shower (which didn’t work due to a broker diverter valve) and looking back at the cracked tile floor, I took the deep dive into what all homeowners must eventually face: the bathroom remodel.
After demolishing the bathroom (removing the cheap, builders-grade vanity and tossing it in the trash was surprisingly satisfying) and replacing the subflooring, we needed somebody to tile our bathroom. So, I called no less than five flooring companies. Finally, we got one on the calendar. Two days before the scheduled appointment, he sent a text. “I’m not feeling well. I don’t think I should come in today.” So, we called another. And (not joking), the next guy said the same thing. “Hey, I have a fever.” In COVID world — and in a world desperately short of skilled tradesmen — our bathroom remodel stopped completely.
And then I met Stephen.
Stephen is the 65-year-old owner of StoneFactor, a stone and tile contractor based in Denver. When I reached out, he responded to an email. His quote was fair. His work was highly reviewed. And he showed up when he said he would.
The day Stephen arrived with his assistant Juan to tile our bathroom floor, we struck up a conversation as he was setting up his tile saw on my front deck.
He had been a firefighter for 16 years before getting into the tile business. His business had grown, yet he now confessed he was getting “too old” to do it every day of the week. He also told me he attends a large church on the south side of the Denver area.
As he peered at our wall hanging that read “Every Moment I Need Thee,” he asked about my work, gathering that we likely shared a common faith. After telling him about my job, he confessed that he wasdeeply troubled by one thing he had heard at church.
“You know, Jesus says that ‘the servants are the greatest,’” he cautiously said, recalling a passage from the Gospels. “But what have I ever done for God? I mean, I’m not a pastor or a missionary.” He looked at me with an honest question, “Does this mean I won’t have a reward in heaven?”
Why is focusing on the theme of work so important for the Christian church? I can think of at least three reasons.
First, time. We’ll spend one-third of our adult lives at work; some estimate over 90,000 hours. The reality is, we spend a tremendous amount of our lives working — from laying tile to sending email to attending meetings to tightening nuts and bolts. Life isn’t just work, but it certainly is a big chunk of it.
If we don’t spend time thoroughly understanding why, how, and to what end we work, we end up divorcing our daily lives from our faith. This is rarely done intentionally. But the omission of the real context for our lives in communities of faith leads to living in two different worlds — church and work, values and facts, private and public.
This lack of coherence leads to everything from the bewildering ethics violations in large public corporations by those who regularly teach Sunday school to the fiction that there is a “neutral” space in society where faith is optional. The truth is, we all worship something. And so do our companies, schools, clinics, and governments. Faith or some set of ultimate beliefs is indeed basic to all of human life and all institutions.
Not to bring Christian faith to work means we unwittingly worship at the altar of some other god from 9 to 5.
Second, influence. The total GDP of the American economy in 2019 was $21.43 trillion. That’s not just a lot of money, it’s an immense array of products and services, bought and sold each year. It’s also one measurement of the enormous influence of everyday workers.
Work is where we shape one small corner of the world. For my mom, wife, and sister, it’s been public education. For my dad, it was print advertising. For my father-in-law, it was engineering everything from roads to sewer systems. For my grandpa, it was in a wood shop. For my kids, it’s in the classroom. Work is where we form human civilization, in all its specificity and beauty.
What we see in so many ministries, churches and theological communities today is a tacit assumption that “ministry” is only for those who are paid by Christian nonprofit organizations. The Bible knows nothing of this. Though there is an important call to be a leader in a local church (1 Timothy 3:1), it also affirms that work of all kinds should be seen as “ministry” or “service” (Ephesians 4:12), whether that be driving kids to theater practice, grooming dogs, or selling earbuds at an Apple store. Work is one arena of our spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1-2).
The question for Christians when they leave church on Sunday is whether they stay activated during the week. (This illustration of red dots by Neil Hudson at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity is one of my favorite pictures of the gravity of this truth.) The challenge is to bring the life of the resurrection from the worship, preaching, baptism and Eucharist of church into the lesson plans, client calls, or job sites of our daily life.
Finally, pain. The truth is, work is a source of pain for nearly all of us: Christians, Muslims, Hindus, secularists, and everything in between. Projects don’t turn out as we hope. We’re humiliated by a boss or superior. Our career trajectory tanks rather than takes off. We struggle to afford the increasing costs of education, health care, or housing.
One Gallup poll showed only 15% of the global workforce is engaged in their work, and nearly all of us are still longing for that holy grail of a job where “my deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
The secular story of work is one of success, a neat life of “up-and-to-the-right” stories, whether rags to riches or simply college to a well-paying job. Though Christians have their own prosperity gospel, the secular prosperity gospel of individual success and living my “personal destiny” is even more pervasive.
The truth is, each of us suffers. Work is where we sense the “thorns and thistles” of a broken creation that groans for redemption (Romans 8:19). It’s also often the place we’re happy to flee at 5pm on Friday (or 3pm if you live in Denver).
Only the cross can truly make sense of the suffering we experience in our work and daily lives. Only Jesus can truly understand the poor Latino laborer, for he too was a laborer. Only Jesus can truly walk alongside the dejected banker when he’s been fired, because he too endured the utter isolation of Calvary. Only Jesus can answer the deepest longings for purpose in work, because he was there when work was created and he’ll be there when work finds its final culmination in the heavenly city (Revelation 21-22).
So why faith & work? Work is far too pervasive, expansive, and painful for the global Church to ignore.
When Stephen asked me this question about rewards in heaven, I was somewhat dumbfounded. He had gotten the impression from his church that the only truly valuable work was in paid occupational ministry.
But here he was, on his hands and knees, laying tile, while I watched. Here he was humbly asking a question and eager to learn. Here he was laying tile and reflecting the work of him who “came not to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). Here he was doing a task for me I could not do on my own, with a gentle kindness I would not soon forget.
What’s the value of “faith and work” for Stephen Raifsnider? Perhaps it’s simply the knowledge that with each tile laid, the value of his work is much more than a contract.
“Well done, good and faithful servant,” is the final reward for Stephen and all those who offer their work to God in love.
This is the second article of a three-part series on “Why Faith & Work?” The previous article focused on the gospel and why it matters for our work. The next article will talk about work and its importance to culture.
It was 2016. I was two years into launching Denver Institute. One day I woke up and realized a painful truth. I have no idea what I’m doing.
So, I got on the phone and started calling friends and peers around the US. Geoff Hsu at Flourish San Diego; Lisa Slayton, then at Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation; David Kim at the Center for Faith & Work. I invited about 15 leaders from Atlanta to Toronto for three days in Breckenridge to eat, share, discuss, and learn from each other. I gave a simple name to that first gathering: CityGate.
At about the same time, we were launching our first class of 5280 Fellows. To be honest, as Jill (Hamilton) Anschutz was designing the website and Brian was designing the curriculum, we had no idea if this would fly either. But behold, at our first retreat we met 27 bright, faithful, engaged emerging leaders working in law, architecture, social entrepreneurships, psychiatry, engineering, and more.
Each of these two communities was a gift of grace. And now, five years later, they come together.
Today we announce a new initiative at Denver Institute for Faith & Work. CityGate is a national community of leaders in churches, businesses, and nonprofits committed to learning, investing in relationships, and encouraging human flourishing as we bring the gospel to the city gate of our respective communities. It is also our initiative for recruiting, equipping, and supporting leaders who want to launch a fellowship program in and for their city.
Why would we do this? I’m glad you asked. Below are some of the top questions we’ve received from donors, friends, Fellows, and peers.
In the ancient world, the city gate was the center of city life. It was the place of commerce, public assemblies, judicial activities, sacred ceremonies, and cultural life. Today, in a secular age, faith is often divorced from the core activities — business, government, justice, education, health care, arts — that make up a city.
We chose the name CityGate as an expression of our value of bringing the gospel into our work, our shared public life, and our culture.
For years we’ve had inquiries from leaders who wanted to run our Fellows program in their own city. We’ve been building out training programs, curriculum, and administrative infrastructure that would position a leader to effectively launch and operate their own program. We started by testing out the idea in one city. The talented David Bell, leading the Circle City Fellows in Indianapolis, has built a strong program over the last two years. So, with what we’ve learned, we’re ready to take the next step in coming alongside leaders in other cities as well.
Yet we’ve seen that many cities are not quite ready to launch such a comprehensive program and instead have questions that range from how to build a faith and work organization to what emotionally healthy leadership looks like. So, we decided to reignite the early CityGate community of leaders and invite in more leaders into the conversation for monthly “learning labs,” a place where we hear from leaders about best practices in leadership, formation, all-of-life discipleship, and its application across sectors.
But really, why did you start CityGate? Thanks for asking. Because we believe in a culture as broken as this, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the first and last answer — for our hearts, our relationships, and our shared civic life.
In 2021, we’re launching two programs: monthly learning labs and CityGate Fellowships. The learning labs are open to the public and will feature speakers, tools that we use in the fellowship, and the chance to learn from peer leaders in their contexts.
Also, in 2021 we’ll accept applications for CityGate Fellowships, a program designed specifically for leaders who want to launch their own fellowship program. The training offers not only comprehensive content, systems, and training for your Fellows, it also provides comprehensive training for the leaders from marketing a program to alumni retention Our first training for accepted leaders is September 2021.
Later in 2021, we’re exploring ways more deeply to serve our monthly donors and generous supporters with curated content, leadership tools, and workshops that strengthen the “gospel-ecosystem” across the US. We’re also exploring ways to partner with and strengthen churches, businesses, and peer nonprofits into 2022 and beyond.
Well, I’m glad you asked!
There is a growing, organic community of people who hunger for leading, working, and creating out of a holistic and coherent life deeply rooted in the gospel. Many have been in this space for years. Others are seeking wisdom, support and guidance for their own calling and leadership.
We invite you to learn, participate, and join CityGate as a community of peers committed to helping you build, grow, and strengthen your leadership as you take the gospel to your own city gate. All can join the free, monthly learning labs. We also invite you to consider either launching a fellowship program or joining the generous community at the heart of CityGate sharing ideas, prayers, tools, insights, and networks.
We need to collaborate. We need to learn from each other. And we need to strengthen not just ourselves, but the whole ecosystem if we’re going to start healing our communities with the transformative power of the gospel.
Five years after our first conversation in Breckenridge, I do have a bit more knowledge about leading at the intersection of faith, work, justice and culture. But I’m still learning…and I look forward to learning alongside you.
When I think of Easter, I think of the pink crabapple trees blossoming in early April along the north side of Caley Avenue in my home town of Littleton.
I think of Easter egg hunts on budding green church lawns packed with girls in pastel dresses and boys in clip-on ties, carrying baskets filled with eggs, chocolate, and plastic green grass (that ends up on my carpet). I think of Easter brunch: fruit, egg bakes, and mimosas. And I think of leisurely walks through garden centers, smelling fresh soil, fresh seeds and new beginnings.
Yet for me at least, the metaphor of Easter as a mere symbol is falling short. This year was simply filled with too much pain.
This last year, I remember looking into a hazy, yellow sky and feeling the ash fall on my face from raging Colorado wildfires. I remember a friend of mine telling me about the piercing anxiety he felt as he watched from his balcony the dumpster fires move closer to home after the George Floyd protests. I remember walking along Civic Center Park and running my fingers along the splintered plywood now covering the windows of the old Denver Post building on 101 West Colfax. I remember the ghostly feeling of walking through an empty 16th Street Mall on a sunny April afternoon. I remember the tears my daughters cried when I told them their summer swim team, the Franklin Fish, had been canceled.
And this week, I remember the 10 lives lost in the Boulder King Soopers shooting, opening yet again the 20-year-old wound of Columbine that casts a shadow over our “best-state-to-live-in” reputation.
Springtime sentimentality is no match for the harsh finality of death.
And yet, Easter is not a metaphor.
American poet and novelist John Updike once wrote:
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cells dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
Reknit, the amino acids rekindle
The Church will fall.
In other words, the Christian church and faith rests on a single, historical event: the resurrection of Jesus’ physical body.
Updike writes, “Let us not mock God with metaphor, analogy, sidestepping transcendence,” alluding to the categorization of Christian faith as myth. The resurrection was not like a spring garden nor a parable of well wishes. Christians assert, “the same valved heart / that – pierced – died, withered, paused, and then / regathered out of enduring Might.”
The early apostles struggled to believe in an actual, physical resurrection. Thomas famously said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my fingers where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” John the apostle reports Jesus’ reply: “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
The New Testament authors were making a clear claim: Jesus was no ghost. He could be touched. He ate food with his disciples. He had a body. Here was no ancient mythology of life, death and rebirth. Death itself was being unraveled by the Author of Life.
Denver can feel like a polarized place, like the rest of our country. Yet on Easter morning, men and women across the city declare a single truth with a rare unity.
From the Episcopalians at Saint John’s Cathedral to the evangelicals of Fellowship Denver Church; from the multicultural worshippers at Colorado Community Church to the Pentecostals at Potter’s House; from the Anglicans at Wellspring Church in Englewood to the Wesleyans at Trinity Methodist tucked between skyscrapers at 18th and Broadway; from the professionals at Cherry Creek Presbyterian in the Tech Center to the homeless at Denver Rescue Mission to the online worshippers quarantined in their homes from Northglenn to Castle Pines — for one morning, each echo the words of an angel, “Do not be afraid, for I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see.”
So what? What does the resurrection mean for a city still aching with emptiness, loss, and pain?
I believe it means three things. First, it means death is not the end. Second, it means that Christ has come not just to give meaning to life after death, but to bring his life to this world. His bodily resurrection is the beginning point of a new way to be human. And third, it means that the hard work ahead of reopening restaurants, helping students catch up, and rebuilding our economy is indeed work worth doing, because God seems to think this world is worth saving (John 3:16).
Easter may not be a metaphor, but it is a new beginning. It reminds us that today is a time to plant, to hope, and to begin new projects that can bloom, like a budding crabapple blossom lining the streets of a waiting city.
Jeff Haanen is the founder of Denver Institute for Faith & Work and the 5280 Fellowship, a nine-month experience in spiritual formation, professional development, and civic engagement for emerging leaders in Denver. This op-ed first appeared in the Denver Gazette.