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.
“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Investing for the majority of Christians is a puzzle for at least two reasons.
First, investing is incredibly de-personalized. How many of us have actually gone into our 401(k)s or IRAs, looked at what mutual funds we own, then taken the additional step to research those fund’s top ten holdings – and then learned something about the companies we actually own a share in? In my experience, almost nobody. For everyday investors, most simply want to put the quarter in the vending machine, press “buy,” and get a bigger coin back out. In a heavily financialized economy, investing is complex and veiled under layers of lingo, financial instruments, and specialized professionals. Seeing an investment as caring for a group of people operating a business never crosses our minds.
Second, most of us feel powerless. With total investable assets in the US at an estimated $42.1 trillion – which are often controlled by mammoth institutions like Vanguard, Blackrock or sovereign wealth funds – what impact can my widow’s mite tucked away for retirement really have? Wall Street is a powerful system that is beyond our control; even many” powerful” asset managers feel powerless, ever at the whim of market forces and corporate titans that seem almost trans-human.
And yet, most of us don’t feel completely powerless when we go to work and engage in business. Business is a set of human relationships between investors, management, employees, and customers that most of us do have some say-so over. We can’t – and shouldn’t – wash our hands of responsibility for why, how and what we do working in a business; can the Christian really claim that the provision of capital for that same business doesn’t also carry at least some moral responsibility?
If investing is simply ownership over a share of a business, Christians might say that we’d prefer to both invest in and work in businesses that better reflect the kingdom of God rather than the kingdoms of this world. This tricky business because, of course, every business we invest in is a mix of good and evil, sinners and saints, redemptive products and depraved practices. No business (like no person) is perfectly, fully situated in the kingdom of light or the kingdom of darkness.
Yet I believe the New Testament gives us a way to understand what kinds of business better reflect (though not completely embody) God’s will for human relationships, business, and investing. The key, I believe, is wrapped up in a single idea: power.
It’s been said that all models are wrong, but some are useful. This one is no different. However, I believe we can contrast business and investing activities that function in two different paradigms: the kingdom of the world versus the kingdom of God. One is characterized by power accumulated; the other, by power given.
In this world of business, investors exercise power over managers, managers wield power over employees, and employees have power over customers. Simply put, “the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.” It’s the way the world functions. Those with the most money exercise power over those with the least. In the ancient near east they were called “Benefactors.” Today, we’d simply call them investors.
Yet over all of these people, another Power seems to be at work. Sometimes the power is “money,” or “the market,” or a corporation that is so large no one human can control it. They are nameless, faceless powers that seem to be controlling even the lives of the powerful men and women.
The New Testament can be shifty speaking about these powers. They’re sometimes called principalities, thrones, or authorities. Some see a hierarchy of angels and demons. Others see them as powerful institutions. But what’s clear is that they wield enormous control over human affairs, they’re generally associated with darkness, and Christ “disarmed” and “subjected” them through his death and resurrection (Romans 8:38, Colossians 2:15, Ephesians 6:12, 1 Peter 3:22). And they’re invisible. You can’t see the “powers,” but something certainly seems to be “there.”
As it relates to the economy, those inside this system tend toward power-seeking and using others to gain more power. Investors extract money from companies, management uses labor for profit goals, and employees manipulate the desires of customers, ultimately decreasing their freedom and agency. Dominance of others and fear of losing power characterize this economy.
It should be noted that these powerful systems are impersonal and faceless. Again, whether that be Mammon or the economy or a multinational corporation or “market returns,” people serve powerful systems that seem to have a super-human life of their own. Even the “customer” is often made into faceless avatar, holding even a seat on the board of one of the world’s most powerful companies.
Ultimately, in this system, power itself rules, and each person serves others who wield more power than they do.
In contrast, God’s kingdom functions principally by pushing power down a system. The Christian gospel begins here, with the Incarnation of God himself, taking on human flesh as baby in a manger. God empties himself of his immense power, and for the sake of lost sinners, he takes on the nature of a servant (Philippians 2:6-8).
In God’s kingdom, power is given away sacrificially for the benefit of others. It progressively lifts up “neighbors” with less power, particularly those in close proximity. It functions on an upside down logic, where the last become first, you find yourself by losing yourself, and servants are greatest of all.
A “love your neighbor” ethic for business is most obviously seen, I believe, when investors give power to managers, managers to employees, employees to customers, and ultimately customers buy goods and services that raise human potential. Business here becomes an engine of human blessing, a way God provides for the needs of his people and lifts up the poor. The self-giving love of the Trinity is best displayed, economically speaking, when each person first looks to the good of the other.
In stark contrast to the faceless and nameless powers and principalities, God’s kingdom is always personal. God is a person (actually, three persons), and he summons people to know and love people. Rather than fear and dominance, God’s kingdom is characterized by joy and service. Money is dethroned as a power that controls human affairs and instead repositioned as a part of the created world to be used, enjoyed, and given (1 Timothy 6:6-10; 17-19).
Love is an active force in God’s kingdom. Whether it be managers lifting up employees, or employees working for the well-being of customers, love – defined as actively working for the good of your neighbors, and even your enemies – is central to God’s kingdom. It’s also the center point of a healthy economy. Desire in this kingdom is ultimately not for power, but for Christ himself who gives of himself for others.
Again, the problem with both of these models is that we lived in a “mixed” reality, caught between God’s kingdom and the kingdoms of this world. And it’s not just on a social level. Each of our hearts are a battle ground between good and evil. Some days we’re self-dealing, other days we’re self-less. Some days I bow the knee to Jesus; other days, I bow the knee to Myself. Unfortunately, there are no perfectly clean lines between a business that is fully redeemed or fully depraved. We’re living perpetually on Holy Saturday, somewhere between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
And yet, I do believe we can notice signs that a business or economic system is moving toward the kingdoms of this world or the kingdom of God. For instance, I’ve noticed management can often “skip over” or use employees in route to giving a customer whatever he or she wants. Rather than empowering employees to serve customers, they’re often treated as expendable inputs that can be changed out at will. Companies with perpetually low wages, low employee satisfaction, and high turnover often fall into this pattern. Indeed, there are ways to be highly profitable both through lifting up employees or oppressing them.
Or, think of investors with no other ends than high returns. This naked focus on profit at all cost is often veiled with excuses like, “I have to. I’ll lose my own investors if I don’t maximize profit and give them what they want.” This passing on of responsibility for others – rather than taking responsibility for the well-being of others – is characteristic of systems built around the nameless, faceless powers.
This power-accumulating approach also applies to the types of products and services that are created in business. There are many ways to make money, including through manipulating customer’s more base desires. I’d argue that the rise in sports gambling, for instance, while it may be very profitable, does not serve a genuine human good. It preys often on those who are the most vulnerable – a key characteristic of a fallen world (Isaiah 3:14).
In contrast, we can also see signs when business is moving closer to God’s kingdom. Good jobs that incrementally lift up the poor; products and services that meet real human needs; companies that restore the planet through thoughtful environmental stewardship; money invested sacrificially, which takes into account economic as well as social, spiritual, and cultural goods – business as God intended it is indeed a part of God’s will for his creation and can be a part of life in his Kingdom.
Movement toward the kingdom of God looks like power used for the well-being of others. When proximity is brought back to investing, the practice of business itself begins to heal. Co-founder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher once said, “We take great care of our people, they take great care of our customers, and our customers take great care of our shareholders.” Indeed, when investors serve managers, managers serve employees, and employees serve customers – when each serves their economic “neighbor” – business itself can be a noble activity.
The Faithful Investor
How, then, should a Christian invest?
First, Christians serve God and not the market, money or any other power. Because this is true, all Christians should minimally begin conversations about investing with “What is good for people in and around this business?” and not only “How do I maximize my returns?” Christians, who follow a Suffering Servant above all, have the reason to persistently ask questions around moral and relational dynamics of business, especially those we invest in.
Second, Christians can start to pay attention to the power-dynamics even in the businesses in which they work. Is my company moving toward a system where power is hoarded or given, where people are served or used? The first step in noticing the tremendous impact of faith and investing is by paying attention first to your own workplace, and allowing the Spirit to re-shape relationships around the core principle “whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.”
Finally, Christians can lead the way in re-humanizing investing – even in public equities like stocks or bonds – by knowing, praying for, and finding ways to serve management. If the first “neighbor” an investor has is management, which I believe to be the case, Christians ought to first, learn what companies you own, and second, learn who are the people leading those companies. This may occasionally result in shareholder activism; it also may result in divesting yourself of some equities and buying others. But if an investor’s first job is not to realize returns, but instead to serve, we can only serve people we know.
When we take this simple step of knowing and caring for the managers of the companies in which we invest, we take a first step toward transforming investing. In doing so, investing is no longer de-personalized, and we are no longer powerless. We are people with real decisions to make, made in the image of the Son of Man, who “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Our job, in short, is to turn investing upside down.
Jeff Haanen is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the founder of Denver Institute for Faith and Work, an educational organization that creates content and experiences around topics related to faith, work, the economy, and modern culture. He’s the author of An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life as well as two forthcoming books from InterVarsity Press on work, spiritual formation, and the American working class. He lives with his wife and four daughters in Denver, Colorado, and attends Wellspring Anglican Church.
Why Investors and Entrepreneurs Need Both Authority and Vulnerability to Heal the World Through Business
One fateful, icy afternoon in Burnsville, Minnesota, I learned the difference between authority and vulnerability.
I was in seventh grade and a friend invited me to snowboard at Buck Hill. I had never snowboarded before, but I figured, how hard could it be? Late that afternoon, I found out. I got off the lift and cautiously slid back and forth, carefully cutting my edges. Then I began to pick up speed on an icy slope. Before I knew it, I was bombing down the hill and lost control. After I regained consciousness, my friends said the crash was “epic,” like a test dummy flying wildly down a hill. I separated my shoulder and had to be carried off the hill by medics.
That day, little did I know when strapping on my boots, I was highly vulnerable to disaster – and the authority of an expert (or even amateur) snowboarder was but a distant dream. For years, whenever I would watch the Olympic games, I would marvel at the exploits of snowboarding legends like Shaun White, who combined the vulnerability of high-flying acrobatics with the authority of an expert snowboarder. The combination of the two led to both drama and admiration. Risk and expertise, I came to learn, was the pinnacle of achievement.
Andy Crouch’s wonderful little book Strong and Weakcombines these two ideas – authority and vulnerability – in a beautiful little 2×2 that I believe has tremendous implications for both investors and the entrepreneurs they serve.
The 2×2 has four quadrants: Flourishing, Suffering, Withdrawing, and Exploiting.
I. Flourishing. First, Crouch says human flourishing comes when you combine authority, which he defines as the capacity for meaningful action, with vulnerability,which is exposure to meaningful risk.
Take, for example, parenthood. Parents can shape flourishing families when they have the ability to lead, love, and care for their children, as well as open themselves to the pain of real relationships with their kids. A healthy family requires parents who take action for the well-being of each other, and open themselves enough to pain that love becomes real. Authority and vulnerability together lead to flourishing.
II.Suffering. Suffering comes, however, when we have vulnerability without authority. Crouch describes poverty as the inability to change one’s circumstances. All risk, no power. Suffering can come in many forms – physical, emotional, psychological, social or spiritual. And it’s something every single person has felt at one point or another in their lives.
The best thing you can do to help somebody who’s suffering is to help them build lasting authority. For example, if somebody is in poverty, giving them a chunk of money rarely has a lasting, positive impact. However, giving that person job training, counseling, new social networks, or a sense of hope increases their agency, their say-so over their lives. People are raised out of poverty when they have the means to take meaningful action once more.
III. Withdrawing. Those who have both low exposure to risk and low ability withdraw from the world around them. This could be an addicted video gamer, men who’ve withdrawn from the workforce, or a wealthy person who’s withdrawn to a country club life of golf and long lunches. Safety becomes the sole aim of these people who become, in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
The temptation for most is not complete apathy, but “busying ourselves” with activities that neither ask much of us nor transform us. We need safety as children to properly grow, but a life without meaningful sacrifice tends to feel empty. Withdrawal is a major problem in the modern workforce, and it’s a temptation that those in rich countries especially face almost daily.
IV. Exploiting. Exploitation is found wherever people maximize power while seeking to eliminate risk, says Crouch. Authority without vulnerability leads to enclaves of separation. On the extreme side, this could be a warlord in sub-Saharan Africa; a more daily experience of this would be hoarding resources for ourselves, hedging our futures against risk through stockpiling money or assets.
Crouch also notes that, in general, risk shed by one group is inevitably borne by others’ suffering. A slumlord who is completely separated from the lives of his tenants, for example, creates unhealthy living environments for his poor renters. Movement out of the exploitation quadrant is characterized by a willingness to take on the risk of those who suffer.
Linking Arms to Move Toward Flourishing
Crouch’s framework is a helpful way to look at both investing and entrepreneurship. In my experience, most investors by default tend to live in the exploiting quadrant, and most entrepreneurs tend to live in the suffering quadrant. Here’s what I mean:
The task of modern investing is sadly often reduced to maximizing returns while minimizing risk. But what does this reduction lead to? Returns at all cost cause for those who allocate capital (either professionally or passively) and the expectation of those returns regardless of the volatility and challenges of real life business. Investors who don’t open themselves to meaningful risk can inadvertently cause oppression by forcing entrepreneurs to make choices that maximize returns, but don’t serve the best interest of employees, customers, or communities. Those who only look at quarterly returns, I’d argue, are at a high risk of finding themselves in the exploiting quadrant by default.
Entrepreneurs, however, usually live in the suffering quadrant. Our culture tends to make entrepreneurs into heroes, people with the utmost agency to chart the course for the future. But entrepreneurship is a wild, uncertain, and highly stressful ride. Take for example, the case of Rivian, the electric vehicle startup. Recently I listened to Guy Raz’s interview with Rivian founder RJ Scaringe. To build a car company, Scaringe had a nearly impossible task: not only invent an electric truck, but raise enormous amounts of capital (over $1B), hire staff (and keep up staff morale), pivot numerous times even when it wasn’t clear what problem they should be solving, and project confidence despite internally struggling with doubts (I bet he was even doing this on the podcast.) Entrepreneurs look powerful from the outside, but are hugely vulnerable, and their authority to make significant change is often far less than the news stories would make us think.
What entrepreneurs need is an investor who truly believes in what they’re doing, is willing to take meaningful risk, and be patient. Entrepreneurs living under returns-at-all-costs investors may be unable to invest in important, long-term choices that are needed for the holistic health of employees, customers, and the broader business. Long-term decisions often must bow to short-term returns, and true growth becomes difficult to fund. Short-term thinking also renders it challenging to build company programs that, say, provide flexible work schedules for single moms or second-chances to ex-offenders. The ‘minimize risk, maximize return’ profile trickles down into decisions that have real, long term impact on the poor and vulnerable.
What would the healing of this dynamic look like? I believe it would look like investors who take meaningful risk, seeking to level the playing field of information disparities between professional investors and entrepreneurs through transparency, and through structuring financing that is a win-win as co-owners of a business alongside the entrepreneur. They’d be willing to invest first in the long-term health of the entrepreneurs they serve, rather than succumb to the all-too-common dynamic of entrepreneurs serving investors. They wouldn’t pressure them for an exit, but would work collaboratively with CEOs to understand what’s best for the business.
It would also mean investing expertise along with capital in entrepreneurs, helping them to deeply understand their customers, lead their employees, and make decisions for the business that lead to long-term health. In short, investors would team up with entrepreneurs to take meaningful risk together, putting the tools in entrepreneurs hands that give greater capacity for meaningful action, so that the investor and entrepreneur can flourish together.
This healed vision of business would also start to remedy the supposed trade off between impact and risk. Business is fundamentally about serving an unmet need, yet for millions around the world, their most basic needs go unmet daily. Moving into “risky” markets, like sub-Saharan Africa, or building businesses in underserved markets, like a low-income area of Dallas, requires investors and entrepreneurs who exercise authority and vulnerability together. When this happens, the enterprise itself becomes thoroughly good, pulling people at all levels of the business from the quadrants of exploiting, withdrawing, and suffering into the realm of human flourishing.
Today, I still marvel at the skiers and snowboarders who expertly conquer moguls or jumps. Yet in Crouch’s book, he asks an interesting question about the skiing metaphor (that I shamelessly borrowed from his book): what if at the bottom of the hill there was an injured child, alone and in the snow, that only the skier could save? Would that change how you view the task ahead, and the risks involved?
To become this expert ‘champion’ who sees business as a noble calling requires forging new alliances between investors and entrepreneurs who have their sights set higher than simply maximizing shareholder return.
Let’s assume that you, the reader, are one of three people:
Through news, personal experience, or another avenue, you’ve noticed the drastic (and growing) economic disparities between hourly-wage workers and those who own capital (some asset, usually in the form of stock in a business or home equity). You may be unsure what to do to help, but you feel that something ought to change.
You’re a business owner or manager and you’re having an awfully hard time hiring people, and you’re seeing that increasing wages or offering one-time bonuses just isn’t doing the trick.
You work in the civic sector, and you’ve noticed that getting somebody an entry-level job is really no longer sufficient to get somebody out of poverty because capital is growing faster than wages, and the people you serve just seem to be getting further and further behind.
Ok, maybe you’re none of these three, but you simply care about growing economic inequality and you believe that something must be done. That’s where I was years ago when I discovered the field of workforce development. For me, workforce development sat between my interest in Christian cultural engagement through work and God’s ever-present concern for the vulnerable (James 5:4). It’s a field of wide-ranging interest in educating and training workers, that ranges from employee benefits to workplace learning programs to employee stock ownership programs.
I wrote on the topic in my 2018 Christianity Today article “God of the Second Shift” (and forthcoming book), but I’ve never provided a simple guide to introduce people to this industry. The reality is, before we take action in helping low-income workers, we must commit to first learning. Having put together this ten week “curriculum” for a friend recently, I now share it with you.
Before you begin, you should know that I think a variety of learning formats is the best way to really grow, including reading, listening, meeting with experts in person, and processing what you’ve learned with trusted friends. Also, a disclaimer: I’m a Denverite, so I’ll drop some names on here who I think are particularly knowledgeable about this topic. If you don’t know them yet, I encourage you to offer to buy them lunch. If you’re out of town, reach out on LinkedIn to see if they’ll do a call.
So, grab a friend, put some 30-minute blocks on the calendar for discussion, and commit to getting smarter about the most important social issue of our time: the plight of our world’s workers.
How to Get Smart About Workforce Development in 10 Weeks
READ: God of the Second Shift, Christianity Today cover story, by Jeff Haanen. This article is an introduction to workforce development from the perspective of yours truly.
LISTEN: “The Good Jobs Advantage,” by Jeff Haanen. In this 15-minute talk, I give an overview to why I believe a good job can be transformative not only for the employee, but also a competitive advantage for a business.
READ: The Pinkerton Papers, Job Quality Series, #1 by Steven Dawson. Workforce development expert Steven Dawson gives an overview to why we need a “better jobs strategy” to really roll back poverty in the US.
MEET: Dan Kaskubar. Dan is a friend, consultant, and former COO at Activate Workforce Solutions. He’s worked with businesses to serve their frontline workers and seen transformative impact. Well worth picking his brain over coffee or a call.
READ: The Pinkerton Papers, Job Quality Series, #3 by Steven Dawson. In this paper, Dawson makes the case that if you really want to see big change, we’ll need engagement from both business and nonprofits/governments.
LISTEN: Why it Pays to Raise Pay, by Adam Grant. Might it actually be more profitable long-term to raise the pay of your lowest paid workers? Best-selling author and Wharton professor Adam Grant believes so.
READ: Pinkerton Papers, Job Quality Series, #6 by Steven Dawson. In a tight labor market, now even more than before the pandemic, Dawson argues we need to build alliances between employers and workforce development practitioners.
MEET:Julie Stone. She is the expert on family and worker economic mobility in Denver. Learn from her over lunch or a call, and hear her insights into the critical gap between a starting, hourly wage and an income that could actually support a family.
READ: Top Ten Job Quality Resources, by Steven Dawson. This is an incredible overview to the organizations and best resources on workforce development in the US today, both for employers and civic organizations.
LISTEN: Light listening this week! Just listen to these testimonials of people who got a good job, and how it changed their lives. We at DIFW made this video for an event on this years ago.
READ: “The Good Jobs Strategy” Harvard Business Review, by MIT Professor Zeynep Ton. (And peruse this website.) There’s a way to better your competitors and provide higher paying jobs: the secret is in product selection, operations, and culture…
LISTEN: “The Four Qualities of a Just Leader” by David Spickard. What does it mean to be “just” in a position of influence? Look no further. This podcast by former Jobs for Life CEO David Spickard is tops.
READ: “Building from the Bottom Up.” Here’s an HBS report on how businesses can better uplift and give opportunity to low-income workers. Crunched on time? Skip to page 82 and just take action on these bullet points.
LISTEN: Hardly Working by Brent Orrell at the American Enterprise Institute. This intro podcast is a good place to start on how Brent and his team at AEI think about vocation, career, work and poverty alleviation. Really, anything he writes is worth reading.
READ: “Employer Resource Networks.” The Employer Resource Network (ERN) is “an innovative model through which local networks of employers collectively provide work support services to their entry-level workforces, with the goal of enhancing productivity and retention.” Well worth learning about. (The ROI for businesses is really quite astounding.)
LISTEN: Here’s a short video of Karla Nugent, the Chief Business Development Officer at Weifield Group. She’s innovated an apprenticeship program at her business for those coming out of poverty. She offers an incredible example of risk-taking that ultimately just looks like good business.
READ:“The Company of Second Chances,” Wall Street Journal. An incredible story of a faith-motivated company, Nehemiah Manufacturing, and their work employing those with a criminal past.
MEET:Zoe Schlag. Zoe is doing innovative work on Employee Ownership Trusts and how they can be both a viable exit plan for business owners and a transformative ownership opportunity for workers.
WATCH: Watch one of these case studies on how employee ownership can have transformative impact for both the bottom line and for workers.
REFLECT: Now that you’ve take some time to learn about business’s most important asset – its people – write down at least three takeaways that will influence your work. Then share those insights with a friend, family member or co-worker.
Not sure where to start? But interested in taking action on transforming the lives and families of your company’s workers? Reach out to schedule a call.
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.
Today at Denver Institute we are launching Business for the Common Good On-Demand, a resource we are giving away to you for free. The videos and discussion guides address questions like:
How do you determine if a business is successful? Is it reflected in a positive balance sheet, gleaming customer reviews, or a charismatic CEO? What if God measured success by a broader standard—by the way businesses help every employee, supplier, consumer, or community they touch to thrive?
This is what one brave woman wrote in a post-event survey after Business for the Common Good, our annual business conference. I decided to post it here simply so I wouldn’t forget her insight and courage.
“This was the perfect mix of addressing all different levels of how to follow Jesus by honoring him in our work. I loved that there was an emphasis on building a foundation of valuing our own mental health and bringing our shame to Christ. If we don’t allow God to reconcile ourselves – inside of us – it will be hard to bring kindness, patience, and lasting change to our neighbors, coworkers, and the workplace structures we seek to improve.
“As a woman, I have increasingly found myself facing fears of being discounted and undervalued in a society that historically does so to women in the workplace. At this conference, however, I found myself being moved to empathy toward men instead of defensiveness as the sessions pointed towards faith in Jesus as the ultimate redemptive force inside of humanity.
“Seeing so many Christian men in business sitting under this teaching at the conference gave me a sense that my fight is not against them, but rather injustice. And this fight I can only navigate when I am rooted in my value in Jesus, not the salary I successfully negotiate or the roles I obtain. He holds my concerns close to his heart, and he does for all of us, men and women, and I am not alone as I work in the world.”
Here’s one video (of several) in which I give my off-the-cuff thoughts on the big questions we need to be asking ourselves about business today, and why our biggest story about what it means to be human affects everything about business.
I recently returned from the Global Workplace Forum, a conference hosted in Manila by the Lausanne Movement. Started in 1974 by John Stott and Billy Graham, the Lausanne Congress for World Evangelization gathered people from around the world; last week, 850 leaders from 109 different countries met to discuss the next phase of the global missions movement: the activation of the workplace as the central arena of God’s mission in the world.
The highlight was meeting the people* sitting at my table, a small group that discussed the larger live sessions. My table was gloriously diverse:
Jonathan is from India and works in a sports ministry. Because of increased persecution of Christians in India under a Hindu nationalist government, Jonathan shared about his worry for his family, but also said “We’re 100% committed to bringing the gospel to our country.” He plays cricket, hosts a youth group in his home, and humbly serves God in a 650 square-foot flat with his wife and three children, one of whom is an adopted 19-year-old.
Solomon works in sports broadcasting in Johannesburg, South Africa, and is pursuing his MBA at the Rome Business School during the evenings. He is also a correspondent for BBC World Service and started a project called 70 Christian Heroes, a book that highlights South Africans courageously serving Christ in their daily lives.
Dennis is an architect living outside Kampala, Uganda. He shared the story about a contractor offering a $30,000 bribe to recommend the contractor’s company for a large project. Dennis turned it down, saying “That would compromise my Christian witness. I already made the decision before I started in this field what I would and would not do.”
Alex is the owner of a digital marketing company based in Hong Kong. He shared the story of Protestants in Hong Kong leading the way in the peaceful protests against a controversial extradition bill, singing “Hallelujah to the Lord” along with millions of protesters.
Dyan is a Pilates instructor from Manila whose husband works at a church. She longs for the church to acknowledge the importance of her work as a genuine ministry outside either her home or her church.
At the Global Workplace Forum, I met a tech entrepreneur from Puerto Rico working on energy solutions for his country and a payment platform that can help fund missions work. I met the CTO of a technology firm based in Moscow who works in Norway and the U.S., adopted a child, and shared with me his perspective on the 2014 annexation of Crimea. I met a French national who told me “You won, but we played better” regarding the U.S. women’s soccer defeat of the French team, which took place during the conference. I met a Sri Lankan who was studying at Yale, the CEO of the world’s largest Bible translation organization, and a Peruvian economist and lawyer who’s considering whether to run for Congress in Peru or follow his wife to the U.S. as she pursues an advanced degree. I even heard a story of a Turkish national who became a Christian while studying to become a Muslim cleric.
The idea of “work” is dizzyingly complex and exhilarating at the same time. Truly, God’s people touch every single aspect of culture!
I spoke as part of a panel that explored solutions for how the global church can activate the faith of the 99% of Christians who don’t work occupational ministry jobs, like pastors or missionaries. The panel facilitator had a PhD in electrical engineering from Canada. The other panelists included a clinical psychologist who works outside Nairobi and counsels victims of genocide; a Filipino-American woman who works in international expansion of Apple stores around the world and is helping to start faith-based employee resource groups; and a man who works with nomadic tribes in Kyrgyzstan.
The experience in Manila was enlightening on many fronts. Here are a few things I took away from the event:
1) I share more in common with other believers from across the globe than I do with my own non-Christian next-door neighbors. It was a fascinating experience to hear the story of Dmitry, a Christian entrepreneur in Moscow. When he shared about his faith, his family, and his work, I immediately felt at home. He has the same challenges with his kids, the same concerns about his government, and the same struggles with what it meant to be a Christ-follower in his industry. It was almost odd how Christians from across the globe share a common language, common ethos, and common mission.
A.W. Tozer said that Christians are like pianos tuned to the same tuning fork. Not only are we tuned to the same tuning fork, but we’re also tuned to each other. This describes my exact experience at the Forum, and I felt swept into something much bigger than my nationality, my culture, or even my own work.
2) Globally, the workplace is becoming a commonly accepted paradigm for a new era of missions. In the past, missionaries would raise support for years, find a ministry job abroad, and work with locals to execute that plan. Today, more people are seeing this as a dying model; taking your job with you as a missionary makes far more sense. Instead of quitting your job to become a missionary, more people are keeping their job and become physicians, entrepreneurs, or teachers both at home and abroad while still being on mission.
The acceptance of this paradigm of work as a missionary endeavor is not simply an American phenomenon; it’s taking root in the global missions movement across countries.
3) The conversation is still too biased toward executives. The programming was utterly wonderful, yet several people approached me and said, “Why are we just speaking to business leaders here?” The question for the next season of this movement will be: how do we apply the gospel to the work of hourly wage earners – housekeepers, janitors, book printers, and millions of other working-class jobs?
4) Work is immensely broad. Before the Global Workplace Forum, I never considered work to include activities like the work of nomadic tribesmen in Kyrgyzstan! When we speak about shaping our workplaces as Christians, we are truly talking about global culture and every issue in the modern world, ranging from climate change to human trafficking to artificial intelligence. We covered each of these topics, and more, throughout the week.
5) English is the language of global commerce. Imagine my surprise when I went to a conference with attendees from 110 difference countries, and they all spoke my language! I expected wide linguistic gaps. Though there were interpreters at the conference, it made me appreciate that technology has connected the world; in many ways, we share one global culture. We have more opportunities than ever before to learn from others who are serving God from Italy to Uzbekistan. It led me to a greater sense of responsibility as we produce short courses and podcasts that are now being consumed around the world.
6) I need to build deeper relationships with friends from other cultures. I met one couple, Emanuel and Bianca, who are real estate developers in Romania. As they shared about creating community through new housing developments, I was struck that my wife and I could easily be friends with them if they lived in Colorado. After I came home, I committed to downloading WhatsApp, the global medium for texting and chatting across cultures, staying in touch with friends from abroad, and working to diversify our conversation about the gospel and our culture in Colorado.
Being abroad and meeting new friends made me realized that we have much to gain and learn from our brothers and sisters around the world. It’s time to embrace Lausanne’s motto: “the whole church bringing the whole gospel to the whole world.”
Financial advisors play a critical role in the future of America.
They are stewards of a sacred trust, helping clients to save money for when they can no longer work, live a life of generosity, invest in businesses that align with God’s purposes for the world, spend wisely, and re-discover their calling to work and serve their neighbors over a lifetime.
If you’re a financial advisor, or you know one, what might it look like integrate Christian truth into this entire field, a $27 trillion-dollar industry that is shaping the destinies of millions?[i] (Click here to access a free downloadable pdf of this “Manifesto for Financial Advisors.”)
Here’s a place to begin.
1.Christian financial advisors help clients save money for when they can no longer work.
wise (Proverbs 21:20). Financial advisors have the privilege of encouraging
people to prepare for the day when they cannot work due to old age or health.
They also have the honor of helping clients still have enough to share with
others (Proverbs 13:22; 1 Timothy 6:17-19).
Christian financial advisors resolutely resist the narrative about saving for
retirement built on utopian dreams of travel, never-ending vacation, and a
care-free lifestyle. They recognize that sin and the Fall have affected all
people, both wealthy and poor, and that there is no such dream of heaven on
earth until Christ comes again. They also boldly call into question fear-based
motives for saving in retirement, pointing people to trust God alone for their
since retirement (the cessation of work for a lifetime) is essentially a
foreign concept to the Bible, Christian financial advisors work diligently to
help people save for the day when they can no longer work due to health
concerns, not for the day when they don’t want to work.
is to be human.
Financials advisors help their clients save money for retirement in order to provide for themselves in old age or illness, their family, and their community.
2. Christian financial advisors encourage clients to live a life of generosity.
call to generous giving could not be clearer (Matthew 6:19-21; 10:42; Luke 21:1-4;
2 Corinthians 8:12-15; 1 John 3:16-18; Proverbs 11:24-25). Generous living most
closely reflects God’s grace toward his people (2 Corinthians 8:9).
financial advisors counsel clients toward sacrificial giving toward the mission
of the church, the well-being of the poor, and the critical social, economic,
and cultural needs of our day. They explore creative ways to facilitate their
clients giving their cash, assets, time, skills, relationships, and influence.
They lead by example.
Even though Christian financial advisors often don’t have a financial incentive to encourage generosity amongst their clients, they do so anyway because God first gave generously to them (John 3:16).
3. Christian financial advisors counsel their clients to invest in businesses that align with God’s purposes for the world.
financial advisors believe that God owns everything (Psalm 24:1), including
both their client’s money and also the money that is invested in companies
through stocks, bonds, and mutual funds.
leaders in the space of socially responsible investing (some Christians also
call this values-based investing, or biblically responsible investing). They
believe God’s purpose for business is to provide for the needs of world by
serving customers and creating meaningful work, while giving glory to God.[ii]
Profit, therefore, is a means to an end, not the end of business. They believe
investments are intended to help businesses grow and bless their communities.
Christian financial advisors also believe business has been tainted by the
Fall, and today corporations, like individuals, are bent toward greed and
injustice (Micah 6:8-10). There are no “neutral” investments.
Inasmuch as they are able, Christian financial advisors seek out investments for their clients that align with their client’s values and God’s good purposes for business. They take leadership in providing ample returns for their clients and multiplied societal blessing through their client’s investments.[iii]
4. Christian financial advisors counsel their clients to spend wisely.
given us money to be enjoyed and spent wisely. But Christian financial advisors
also recognize that “godliness with contentment is great gain,” and Christian
history is filled with vows of poverty and commitment to simple living for the
sake of more deeply enjoying the riches of Christ (1 Timothy 6:6, 17-19). Frugality is not a curse but a means to
experiencing the abundance of God’s love, care, and heavenly riches.
financial advisors are uniquely able to speak to our cultural moment and the
current “retirement crisis” because they believe God himself, not the pleasures
of this world, is our greatest joy. They believe in a deeper wealth than what
money can offer.[iv]
Christian financial advisors counsel their clients to avoid debt, live within their means, defer gratification, and discover non-consumeristic ways to enjoy life and God’s good world.
5. Christian financial advisors counsel their clients to consider the different seasons of work over a lifetime.
financial advisors see God’s pattern of six days of work and one day of rest as
a blessing that lasts for a lifetime.
than preparing clients to completely cease from work at retirement, they
encourage sabbaticals and seasons of rest to renew a sense of calling for the
next phase of life.
they are instigators of a deeply counter-cultural movement. They begin to help
clients save money for both sabbaticals and for when their clients can no
longer work. They ask pointed questions to help their clients see a deeper
purpose to life than entertainment or pleasure. Christian financial advisors, then, become
sages, mentors, theologians, and philosophers who help their clients prepare
for the next season of work, whether they are 60, 70, or 80 years old.[v]
financial advisors are the innovators who call for a new movement of work,
sabbatical, and re-engagement based on God’s design for work over a lifetime
(Leviticus 25).[vi] They openly challenge
the Let’s vacation paradigm of
retirement, and honor the men and women who work later in life as the dignified
elders of our churches, communities, and society.
They are the first to point out the valuable, brilliant, and creative work of men and women stewarding their skills, knowledge, and abilities into the sunset of their lives.
[i] Nick Thornton, “Here’s What the $27 Trillion US
Retirement Industry Looks Like,” Think Advisor, 2 January 2018, Accessed on
August 10, 2018:
[ii] Jeff Haanen, “Theology for Business (Video),” Denver
Institute for Faith & Work, Accessed on August 1, 2018:
[iii] Organizations like the Christian Investment Forum and
faith-friendly mutual funds like Eventide Funds actively explore how to pursue
competitive returns for their shareholders while upholding Christian values.
For examples of philosophies of Christian faith and investing, watch the video
“Investing 360 – The Story of Eventide Funds”: https://vimeo.com/223488058 or read “Integrating Faith Into the Way We Invest,”
by Tim Macready, CIO of Christian Super, an Australian Pension Fund: https://denverinstitute.org/integrating-faith-way-invest/.
[iv] For an excellent treatment on faith, money, and
retirement, see: Chad S. Hamilton, Deep
Wealth (Denver: PFI Publishing, 2015).
[v] I recognize this is almost unheard of today. But my
thesis in this book is that this rhythm of work and rest is more biblical than
the contemporary idea of retirement and it more closely aligns with God’s
intent for us to work, in different capacities, over a lifetime.
[vi] Rob West, the CEO of Kingdom Advisors, a Christian
ministry to financial professionals, says, “One of the roles of the advisor is
to not only help the client to answer the question, ‘How much is enough
financially?’ – in terms of our financial finish line so we can maximize giving
– but also, ‘What are you going to do in the retirement season?’ Even if we
stop our vocation, what are we going to do to be of service to the Lord
full-time for God’s glory?” Both Rob West and Ron Blue, the founder of Ron Blue
Co. believe both wise financial decisions and a lifetime of work, which changes
in different seasons, are biblical.