Jeff Haanen

Category

Business

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BusinessCraftsmanship & Manual LaborEconomyWork

How to Get Smart About Workforce Development

Let’s assume that you, the reader, are one of three people:

  1. 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

Week 1

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.

Week 2

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.

Week 3

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.  

LISTENWhy 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.

Week 4

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.

Week 5

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.

Week 6

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.

Week 7

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.

Week 8

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.

Week 9

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.

Week 10

READ: KKR to Sell CHI Overhead Doors to Nucor, Generating Windfall for Itself and Employees,” Wall Street Journal. What if when a business sells to a huge private equity firm…the workers, not just management, got a windfall? It’s happening.  

WATCH: Watch one of these case studies on how employee ownership can have transformative impact for both the bottom line and for workers.

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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.

Photo Credit: CHI’s Hourly Workers

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BusinessTheologyVocationWork

The Pearl of Vocation: Why I Bring My Whole Self to Work, Including My Faith

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.

BusinessFaith and Work MovementWork

Business for the Common Good On-Demand

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?

Business for the Common Good On-Demand features keynote presentations and panel discussions with industry leaders from finance, technology, sales, and the nonprofit sector.

Featured presentations include:

  • Work is a Way to Love Our Neighbor: Katherine Leary Alsdorf
  • How Faith Shapes Business: Jeff Haanen
  • My Life as a Christian, Investor, and Business Leader: Robert Doll
  • Generous Business Practices: Aimee Minnich, Alan Barnhart
  • Whole-Hearted Leadership: Lisa Slayton, David Park
  • Faith-Driven Investing: Panel
  • Selling Christianly: Panel
  • Artificial Intelligence: What Every Business Leader Must Know About New Technologies: Becker Polverini
  • The Challenge and Opportunity of Global Business: Panel
  • The Future of Colorado’s Workforce: Hanna Skandera, Bill Kurtz, Renise Walker, Rico Mun

Above is my introduction of the event content and how I think about how faith shapes business. Enjoy and share with your friends.

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BusinessWork

“I am not alone as I work in the world.”

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.”

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BusinessFaith and Work MovementTheologyVocationWork

Lessons Learned from the Global Workplace Forum

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.” 

*Editor’s note—Some names have been changed.

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BusinessEconomyFinanceRetirementWork

A Manifesto for Financial Advisors

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.

Saving is 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).

But 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 daily bread.

Also, 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.

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.

God’s 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).

Christian 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.

Christian 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.

They are 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.

God has 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.

Christian 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.

Christian financial advisors see God’s pattern of six days of work and one day of rest as a blessing that lasts for a lifetime.

Rather 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.

Therefore, 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]

Christian 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.

For a free downloadable version of this manifesto, visit https://www.uncommonretirement.com/financial-advisors.


[i] Nick Thornton, “Here’s What the $27 Trillion US Retirement Industry Looks Like,” Think Advisor, 2 January 2018, Accessed on August 10, 2018: https://www.thinkadvisor.com/2018/01/02/heres-what-the-27-trillion-us-retirement-industry/?slreturn=20180714204623.

[ii] Jeff Haanen, “Theology for Business (Video),” Denver Institute for Faith & Work, Accessed on August 1, 2018: https://denverinstitute.org/video-the-purpose-of-business-today/.

[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.

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BusinessCultureEconomyTheologyWorkWorld

Dreading Monday (Comment Magazine)

The spiritual crisis underneath our jobs.

Reviewing: 

Working The New Press, 2004. 640pp. 

Bullshit Jobs: A Theory Simon & Schuster, 2018. 368pp.

The Job: Work and Its Future in a Time of Radical Change Currency, 2018. 416pp.

“I had no concept of the horrible dread I would feel getting up in the morning to spend all day sitting in an office trying to waste time.”

Rachel grew up in a poor family yet graduated from a prestigious British university with a physics degree. Yet soon after graduation, student debt forced her to take a job as a “catastrophe risk analyst” at a big insurance company.

Rachel recalls the day she hit an existential tipping point at her new job:

The final straw came after months of complaining, when I met my friend Mindy for a drink after a week of peak bullshit. I had just been asked to color coordinate a mind map to show, “the nice-to-haves, must-haves, and would-like-to-have-in-the-futures.” (No, I have no ideas what that means, either.)

She ranted at me, and I ranted at her. I made a long, impassioned speech that ended with me shouting, “I cannot wait for the sea levels to rise and the apocalypse to come because I would rather be out hunting fish and cannibals with a spear I’d fashioned out of a fucking pole than doing this fucking bullocks! . . . We both laughed for a long time, and then I started crying. I quit the next day.

Rachel ended her tear-strewn reflection with a response to those who would call her experience of work just a “Millennial problem.” “So, yes, I am the queen crystal of Generation Snowflake melting in the heat of a pleasantly air-conditioned office,” she said, remembering her grandmother’s words to toughen up. “But good Lord, the working world is crap.”

Nearly five decades earlier, Nora Watson, a twenty-eight-year-old staff writer for an institution publishing health care literature, shared her own lament for her new career.

Jobs are not big enough for people. . . . A job like mine, if you really put your spirit into it, you would sabotage immediately. You don’t dare. So you absent your spirit from it. My mind has become so divorced from my job except, except as a source of income, it’s really absurd.

Much has changed about the global workforce in fifty years, yet there are two feelings, felt deeply by millions of Rachels and Nora Watsons across the world, that have endured the test time: the feeling that the modern workplace is an assault on our human dignity, and that work ought to have some broader purpose than just a paycheque, but seems forever beyond our grasp. 

In an age of abundance, we are better fed, housed, and cared for than at any time in world history. Yet three books on work—two new and one old—show that our core longing for our jobs is not fundamentally economic, social, or political in nature.

It’s spiritual.

Purpose, Pain, and PR Researchers

In August 2013, American anthropologist David Graeber published an essay titled “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs.” After more than a million website views in seventeen different languages, stories came tumbling into Graeber’s inbox. A corporate lawyer who believes, “I contribute nothing to this world and am utterly miserable all the time.” An advertiser, whose job, by his own admission, “is a combination of manufacturing demand and then exaggerating the usefulness of products sold to fix it.” Judy, an HR assistant, whose job never requires more than one hour a day. “The other seven hours were spent playing 2048 or watching YouTube.”

Graeber had a hunch that many jobs don’t “really do much of anything: HR consultants, communications coordinators, PR researchers, financial strategists.” His book Bullshit Jobs: A Theory tells the stories of hordes of men and women who believe their very own jobs are just that—bullshit. Rachel, quoted above, is one of those people.

Lest we think Graeber is just cursing to sell books, he offers a technical definition: “A bullshit job is a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence, even though, as part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend that this is not the case.”

Graeber even has a taxonomy to describe these largely white-collar workers: “flunkies” exist only to make others look important; “goons” are those whose work is to aggressively propagate their employer’s agenda; “duct tapers” exist to fix some kind of glitch in a large bureaucracy; “box tickers” do jobs that allow their companies to say they’re doing something that it is not, in fact, doing; and finally, “taskmasters” are those whose work consists purely of assigning more work to others.

And lest we think these are isolated incidences, one poll in Holland found that 40 percent of Dutch workers believe their jobs have no reason to exist. Graeber dedicates nearly a third of the book to describing these jobs as acts of “spiritual violence.”

Ellen Ruppel Shell, a journalist for The Atlantic and Boston University professor, takes a different approach in The Job: Work and Its Future in a Time of Radical Change. Shell zooms out to tell us the broad story of work in our time, told through the eyes of educators, technologists, manufacturers, and laundromat operators. The overarching story is one of middle-class jobs slipping away as the working class languishes, and the new global aristocracy holds ever more power.

There are plenty of jobs left, but they’re mainly bad ones. In 2016 the American unemployment rate sank to below 5 percent. “But many Americans had a reason to feel less gleeful. Fully 58 percent of the job growth was in occupations with a wage of $7.69 to $13.83 an hour, while 60 percent of jobs in the midrange—$13.84 to $21.13 per hour—had vanished.”

Shell’s odyssey for a solution to the growing divide—which extends far beyond the size of a paycheque—takes the reader from Finnish classrooms to small manufacturers in places like the Navy Yard of New York’s Lower East Side. Makershops, employee-owned co-ops, and universal basic income are all proposed as the balm for the wounds of a digital age.

Shell calls her readers to embrace the worker’s own ability to construct meaning for themselves. The source of that meaning floats somewhere between creativity, agency, relationship, and economic dignity. “Rather than credit employers with giving us the ‘gift’ of ‘meaningful’ work, let’s agree that the meaning we gain from our work is no gift, but very much a product of our own efforts,” Shell writes. In this story, it us up to each worker to make meaning for herself.

A half century ago, another journalist, Studs Terkel, took up his tape recorder to listen to the American worker in his book Working. A collection of oral history, Working records the knotted, unfiltered voices of farmers, switchboard operators, spot-welders, hair stylists, proofreaders, and industrial designers. (Nora Watson, quoted above, is one of Terkel’s interviewees.)

Terkel gives voice to near universal human experiences at work.

  • We bemoan jobs we feel we can’t control. (“Who you gonna sock? You can’t sock General Motors . . . you can’t sock a system,” says Mike LeFevre, a steelworker.)
  • We feel like our jobs make us into machines. (A receptionist says, “A monkey can do what I do.” A bank teller confesses, “I’m caged.” A fashion model bemoans, “I’m an object.”)
  • And we often feel the need to defend our dignity in the face of “daily humiliations.” (Peggy Terry, a waitress, hears from a customer, “You don’t have to smile; I’m gonna give you a tip anyway.” She replies, “Keep it. I wasn’t smiling for a tip.”)

Terkel ends his introduction to the book with the insightful Tom Patrick, a banker turned fireman. “I worked in a bank. You know, it’s just paper. It’s not real. Nine to five and it’s just shit. You’re lookin’ at numbers,” Patrick remembers, as if to remind the ages that the phenomenon of bullshit jobs is nothing new. “But [as a fireman] I can look back and say ‘I helped put out a fire. I helped save somebody.’ It shows something I did on this earth.’”

Patrick hints at the sense of participating in a larger story through one’s work—a story that has, like a dream, been largely forgotten by a secular society.

Falling to Pieces

Spiritual atrophy is spreading amid many of the world’s workers. Derek Thompson of The Atlantic makes the case that work has become a religion for the college educated, and, as with all idols, is making its adherents miserable. Charles Duhigg of the New York Times seesthe same sickness plaguing his fellow Harvard-educated elites. Yet researchers like Princeton’s Angus Deaton and Anne Case believe that “deaths of despair” among white, middle-aged Americans—who are largely working class—are a part of the same “moral and spiritual crisis.”

Secular society is indeed beginning to crack.

Richard Rohr once said, “When people lose a meaningful storyline for their lives, they disintegrate both personally and culturally.” We rarely connect the spiritual and the cultural, but reading WorkingThe Job, and Bullshit Jobs side by side makes this connection hard to miss.

Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs may fall short in supporting many of its claims (I do actually know quite a few PR professionals and corporate lawyers who do good, important work), but it rises to the surface a vast and very real phenomenon: most people don’t like their work, and they spend the majority of their time doing something they’d rather not. And to those experiencing such a crisis of meaning, it feels something like spiritual death. And the spiritual consequences quickly become cultural. Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute shows that loneliness is tearing America apart. And even though GDP has grown at a healthy 3.5 percent, evidence of social collapse is all around us.

“Only if a man works can he live,” wrote American theologian Landon Gilkey in 1966 about Japanese internment camps in World War II. “But only if the work he does seems productive and meaningful can he bear the life that his work makes possible.” The story of work in our secular age is increasingly about finding ways to make meaning in our lives and careers from activities that feel abjectly meaningless.

The Job is written with warmth and optimism. But what’s missing is also what’s telling. Ruppel doesn’t even consider religion or belief in God as a valid motivation for work, but instead forces people into a secular box that calls people to create meaning for themselves, apart from any religious sources. (She briefly mentions the idea of vocation in connection with Yale researcher Amy Wrzesniewski’s research in job, career, and calling, but the context is about calling as “passion”—not a response to the voice of God.)

Again, if our cultural problem is intrinsically moral and spiritual, can we expect a healthy labour market when the labourers in that market are feeling the effects of a deep spiritual sickness?

Terkel’s Working is perhaps the most honest book of the bunch. It suggests no solutions and allows humans to express their deep humanity. Yet it also shows us injustice, despair, envy, shame, and pride. To where should a secular world look for hope?

From Soul to System

The Anglican priest George Herbert (1593–1633) believed that the elixir for our work was found in Christian teachings of vocation: “Teach me, my God and King / In all things Thee to see, / And what I do in anything / To do it as for Thee.” Christianity teaches that work is not first a social phenomenon, a policy problem, or an economic activity. It is first a response to God, an act of obedience that makes manifest our freedom and reflects God’s love.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky adds in his classic The Brothers Karamazov, “So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship.”

From the perspective of secular society, this instinct is often overlooked, but at other times we subsume it into a larger humanistic narrative of being the captain of our own souls. Yet from the perspective of Christianity, worshipping yourself, your company, your family, or your workplace identity creates chaos. It is idolatry. The only way to heal society is to first heal the soul.

The challenge with both Bullshit Jobs and The Job is that they suggest political policies to fix spiritual and moral problems. The two are related of course; policies are certainly worthwhile and important, and corporate structures can certainly make living dignified, meaningful lives either harder or easier. But cultural issues facing workers can’t be considered in isolation from our deepest beliefs about God, ourselves, others, and our place in the world.

Christianity sees the need for redemption for both individuals and powerful systems. It crowns workers considered lowly by society with unsurpassable worth and dignity. Hotel janitors, landscapers, HR consultants, and even goons, flunkies, duct-tapers, box-tickers, and taskmasters have deep value. They may have bullshit jobs. But there are no bullshit people.

Yet Christianity also casts a wide net of responsibility on the powerful, and calls for reform. Policy makers, entertainers, CEOs, nonprofit leaders, and unions—indeed workers themselves—are called to reorient systems toward what’s good for employees, customers, and communities as persons. To whom much is given, much will be required (Luke 12:48).

A recipe for healing cannot be found in policies alone, but must move from souls quickened by divine love to reforming systems designed for human flourishing. This is what Christianity can offer our global conversation about work.

The enduring value of all three of these books is that they clearly show a world that’s dreading Monday. Each of these books is worth an honest reading to hear the unedited (and often profanity-laced) anguish of so many of those whom God so dearly loves (John 3:16). Yet they also make clear a call for Christians and their neighbours to look squarely at the systems—and morally questionable jobs so many despise—in need of reform.

Christian faith offers a secular world a picture of a God who was crucified on the roughhewn beams of his own work, and offers hope to all people at all times and in all situations.

Even to those melting in the sweltering heat of pleasantly air-conditioned offices.

This essay first appeared in Comment Magazine.


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BusinessEconomyWork

Who am I? The Identity of an Entrepreneur

What really motivates us as entrepreneurs?

I ask the question because in the past 6 months, I’ve started to notice some disconcerting cracks in my own character. In 2018, as an entrepreneur, father and husband, externally, things have thrived. Internally, however, I’ve struggled.

I’ve noticed my patience has gotten shorter with my kids. I haven’t been the kind of husband I want to be. My ability to deal with stress almost seems to be diminishing. I’ve felt spiritually fragile. As I’ve tried to understand what’s happening inside of me, I’ve come back to the question: what is really motivating me to build, grow, and achieve? What is driving me?

In 2013, I started Denver Institute for Faith & Work. It was exhilarating. We pitched the idea to a handful of donors. They started giving and we took off. Beginning in January of 2014, we hosted over 600 people at 6 events over 7 months. More donors came, and we eventually hired a communications director and event director. In 2016, we launched the 5280 Fellowship, our flagship program for emerging leaders in theology, work and culture. Recently, we launched a new online learning platform called Scatter. For a few years, everything looked up and to the right.

Last year, however, I hit a wall. I was doing too much. I was connected in too many spots. I felt exhausted. The this-is-cool thing wore off, and I thought of tossing in the towel. So we restructured. I gave more responsibility to my COO who now leads our internal operations. We built more systems to stabilize and bring about trust and accountability. 

Yet even with the changes, I’ve realized that something inside of me is driving me – something that I wish would quiet down. There’s a good desire in me to build, create, make a positive impact on my city. But there’s also something that’s unhealthy that is bubbling under the surface.

What is it? What really motivates me? What really motivates us as entrepreneurs?

At a recent gathering of the Entrepreneur’s Forum at Denver Institute for Faith & Work, I asked that question to a room of 60 founders and early stage entrepreneurs. Stories emerged.

One founder in Denver built a recruiting company. He told me many of the CEOs he works for come home to their families with significant stress, principally because of staffing issues. In a tight labor market like Denver, entry-level employees are tough to come by – and tough to keep. Sometimes they don’t show up, can’t get to work, or they have some kind of personal issue. And at the end of the day, the company can’t fulfill orders due to personnel problems, and it’s the CEOs responsibility.  

And so one day I asked my friend, “Why don’t they simply invest more in their frontline employees? Wouldn’t this help to retain their labor and help fix their biggest headache?”

My friend shared with me over coffee that every single CEO he works with says they would invest 10% of their salary if they could solve their staffing issues. But when the time comes, the vast majority don’t. Why?

“Because when you start making over $1 million dollars a year,” my friend at the recruiting company posited, “and you drop below that mark, you feel like you’re failing. And so they protect their salary even if it’s causing them and those around them pain.”

They feel like they’re failing. Though I couldn’t identify with making over $1 million a year, I could identify with the feeling of failure – no matter what had happened in my organization last month.  Oddly enough, after I publish a big article or pull off a big event for business leaders, this is precisely the time in the year when I feel like I’m failing the most.

After the big deal is done, so many of founders I know feel like they’re failing deeply. Why is this? Where does the feeling of failure come from?

What is really driving so much of our entrepreneurship? I believe that its fundamentally about our identity. Too many of us are trying to prove our worth in a world that seems empty of it.

At one of the early small groups at DIFW’s Entrepreneur’s Forum, over lunch we shared about how we see ourselves. One day, the topic of our fathers came up. This particular group happened to be mostly men, and a full three quarters of us realized we had really significant issues with our dads and significant pain we’ve taken into adulthood. We realized in our conversation that there’s a part of us that’s longing to be recognized. Because it wasn’t there early in life, there’s something inside of us that keeps driving us. To go, create, achieve. To prove our worth. We simply want somebody to notice out of an internal voice that incessantly says, “It’s never enough.”

No success is ever enough to fill the void within.

Culturally, I believe we’re in a weird spot with entrepreneurship. We have a hero complex we’ve built around entrepreneurs. They’re the formable founders who fuel the economy, suffer the pains of a startup, and finally “make it” and either sell or IPO. They sacrifice their bodies, their relationships, their minds, their time – everything – for the sake of their startup.  

Whenever I hear those stories, I must confess, they sound like a savior story. Both the founder – and their fans – are really longing for salvation. 

I’ve come to believe that Christianity can offer all entrepreneurs – including myself – the only, final healthy motive for building a business. That foundation is this: in Christ, your identity is already spoken for. It cannot change. It is never at risk. Your success or your failures can’t touch it.

Recently a video of 10-year-old Ivey Zezulka made its way around the internet. It was of a girl who just realized she was going to be adopted. Her adoptive parents gave her a package. When she opened the package, she read a picture frame and said, “I’m going to be adopted?” And when she said this she covered her mouth and began to cry. And so did I.

Why? Because not only do kids in the foster system struggle with deep, internal narratives of who will really accept me – but I do, too. When I am completely exposed and internally sense that I’m a failure who will never really amount to much, where do I turn?

This is the critical difference that Christianity can offer entrepreneurs that no other religion or worldview can offer.

Jesus says to entrepreneurs, “You are mine. All the work has been done through my death and resurrection. You can add nothing to it and take nothing from it. Now be free. To work. To create. To build a business. To fail. No matter what, you no longer need to prove yourself. You are now a part of the family. Your identity is spoken for. You are mine. You are home.”

The freedom for the faith-motivated entrepreneur is that in Christ, all the work is finally finished. Our work, then, is simply to listen, obey, and to tend the vine given to us. And when it grows, to marvel at the handiwork of the Gardener.

This post first appeared on Faith Driven Entrepreneur and was based on a talk I gave at DIFW’s Entrepreneur’s Forum.  

Image credit: Inc

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BusinessEconomyWork

Faith and Entrepreneurship

 

Two weeks ago I shared with our newly formed “Entrepreneur’s Forum,” a quarterly gathering of founders and early stage investors in the Denver area. The topic was faith and entrepreneurship, and I laid out what I thought were three starting points for thinking about entrepreneurship as a Christian: Creation, Fall, and the Great Commandment.

Here’s the audio. Eventually, the audio and the Powerpoint will be available on our new learning platform at Scatter.org.

Enjoy.

 

 

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