Jeff Haanen

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Economy

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Faith and Work Bible Study

Friends, a happy Labor Day to you!

To celebrate your work, I wanted to give you a gift: a free Bible study on Faith and Work.

The study is structured around people’s stories. In a series of articles, I highlighted the way people are living out their faith in the workplace.

Each study has a brief story Bible study participants can read at home. After each article, and before the study, we encourage you to Pause and Reflect on what the story might be telling you about God’s call for your own work.

The Bible study is structured around six sections: Introduce, Discuss, Explore, Apply, Closing Thoughts, and Prayer. It also has additional Resources.

Here are the weekly topics for “His Story, Our Stories: Encountering God Through Our Work”:

(1) “Light for Electricians,” (Creation)

(2) “Investments for the Kingdom” (Calling)

(3) “Showing Hospitality to Strangers and Spring Breakers” (Fall)

(4) “Productivity and Grace: Management and Labor at a Denver Manufacturer,” (Witness at Work)

(5) “A Well-Designed Journal Can Change Your Life,” (Culture)

(6) “A Growing Charter School Planted in Rocky Soil,” (Organizations/Companies)

Enjoy!

Looking for more material? Visit Scatter.org.

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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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EconomyWork

Saving Retirement (Christianity Today, March 2019)

Growing old is not what it used to be. For millions of retirees, that may actually be good news.

Pat Poole felt a mix of relief and uncertainty once he decided to retire from his sales management job at Halliburton at the end of March. An Oklahoma Sooners football fan and an avid golfer, Poole looked forward to more leisure time after leaving the Houston-based global oil service company. But he also had questions. One morning, he put down the TV remote and asked his wife with complete sincerity, “What am I going to do?”  

The world is undergoing a massive demographic shift. More than 70 million Baby Boomers will retire in the next 20 years in the United States alone. By 2035, Americans of retirement age will exceed the number of people under age 18 for the first time in US history. Globally, the number of people age 60 and over is projected to double to more than 2 billion by 2050.

But as retirement looms for Baby Boomers, a growing number of them—both Christians and their neighbors—are discontented with current cultural assumptions about it. They’re asking new questions about money, work, time, family, leisure, and a life of purpose.

As Americans live longer, “we do not know what we will be doing with all that time,” Joseph Coughlin, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab, told The Atlantic. Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, authors of 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity, point out that for that people are living longer than ever before, and the average retiree can expect to live another 20-30 years.

What retirees consistently say they want to do with their time in retirement is spend it with family. But what happens when the realities of caring for needy adult children, looking after aging parents, and spending newfound hours every day with a spouse conflict with desires for rest and leisure? And how much leisure is too much? One study found that inactivity in retirement can increase chances of clinical depression by 40 percent.

Anne Bell, a recently retired researcher at the University of Northern Colorado, spent a year early in her retirement volunteering with the 5280 Fellowship, a leadership development program in Denver. Bright and soft spoken, Bell was speaking one day to a group of early-career professionals when she found herself wiping away a tear. “I’m really searching for what I’m called to,” she confessed. “I just want to know what’s next.”

Bell is one of millions of Baby Boomers, the majority of whom are Christians, who are asking new questions about a new society. Yet considering retirement is one of the most widespread experiences of an aging world,  the Church has been almost silent on the topic.  

Leaving Paradise

The idea of retirement as a never-ending vacation was popularized in the 1950s by developers and the financial services industry. Indeed, the financial services industry—with an estimated total value of $27 trillion—is deeply dependent on the idea. A Google search for the word “retirement” returns a host of retirement calculators and articles on 401ks and IRAs—and images of gray-haired couples blissfully holding hands, walking white-sanded beaches. The message: Save enough, and you too can have paradise.

It’s an ironic picture, given that at its founding in 1958 even the AARP—the world’s largest nonprofit devoted to advocating for seniors—was encouraging retirees “to serve, not to be served.”

But the vacation ideal of retirement has led to a number of unsatisfying options for older Christians across the developed world. First, the dream itself is showing cracks in the hull. “At first, I kind of enjoyed the novelty of it. I felt like I was playing hooky,” says Ben Whittaker, the 70-year-old widower in the 2015 film The Intern, written by fellow Boomer Nancy Meyers. “I used all the miles I’d saved and traveled the globe. The problem was, no matter where I went, the ‘nowhere-to-be’ thing hit me like a ton of bricks. … I know there’s a hole in my life, and I need to fill it. Soon.”

Margaret Mark, former head of research at the advertising agency Young & Rubicam, interviewed retired Americans (age 55 to 70) across socioeconomic spectrums. They reported a love for their newfound freedom and lauded the glories of no longer having a commute. Yet when asked about their overall happiness in retirement, doubts crept in. They reported a powerful sense of loneliness. Even though they had more time for family and friends, they missed the bonds they experienced at work, or “relationships with a purpose.”

In short, retirement as a never-ending vacation is, for many, much more appealing before they actually try it.

Millions more Americans are realizing they could not afford that vacation even if they wanted it, and are instead worried they may not be able to afford basic necessities. The average retirement assets of those aged 50-59 in 2013 were just $110,000, yet they would need $250,000 just to sustain $10,000 a year in retirement income. According to The Wall Street Journal, more than 40 percent of households headed by people ages 55-70 (about 15 million people) lack sufficient resources to maintain their standard of living in retirement. And as traditional pensions disappear for younger workers, one-third of American adults have no retirement savings at all.

As Mitch Anthony, author of The New Retirementality, put it:“Retirement is an illusion because those who can afford the illusion are disillusioned by it, and those who cannot afford the illusion are haunted by it.”

Quickly establishing itself as an alternative to the “let’s vacation” paradigm is a widespread movement toward “encore careers.” Promoted by leaders like Marc Freedman, president and CEO of Encore.org, the story is that retirement isn’t about leisure as much as social entrepreneurship and civic engagement. “Our enormous and rapidly growing older population—commonly portrayed as a burden to the nation and a drain on future generations—is a vast, untapped social resource,” writes Freedman in his book, Prime Time. “If we can engage these individuals in ways that fill urgent gaps in our society, the result would be a windfall for American civic life in the twenty-first century.”

In the past generation, many Christians have bought into the view of retirement as a time to change the world. Two decades ago, Nelson Malwitz was a 50-year-old corporate director at Sealed Air Corporation, the company that invented Bubble Wrap. Stuck in a mid-life crisis, he helped to start the finishing well movement, a gathering of early retirees in the late 1990s hoping to find significance in second-career overseas missions. Drawing from Bob Buford’s popular book Halftime, many older Americans hoped to go “from success to significance” after they retired from “secular work.”  

There’s a lot to praise about the encore movement. It swaps a vision of consumption for service, acquiring for giving, and points out the obvious: Today we tell productive, bright, able citizens in their 60s to stop working and start collecting a pension—often during the prime of their career.

Yet some Christians are wary of promises of overabundant “significance” through encore careers. I asked Fred Smith, the recently-retired president of The Gathering, an annual conference for Christian philanthropists, what he thought about the idea of significance. “It’s like drinking salt water,” he said. “Looking for significance from external things is still competing for somebody else’s ‘OK.’ It just leaves you thirsty.”  Ironically, the same exhausting treadmill of a career can follow the recently retired into more “meaningful work.”

The most prominent Christian voices on retirement today point out  that retirement isn’t “biblical”—which is, of course, true, since retirement is a modern construct. “Lord, spare me the curse of retirement!” says John Piper, the former pastor of Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis and bestselling author. The late Ralph Winter, founder of the U.S. Center for World Mission, echoed Piper’s sentiment: “Most men don’t die of old age, they die of retirement. … Where in the Bible do they see [retirement]? Did Moses retire? Did Paul retire? Peter? John? Do military officers retire in the middle of a war?”

The closest the Bible comes to retirement is Numbers 8:25: “And from the age of fifty years they [the Levites] shall withdraw from the duty of the service and serve no more.” Hauling around the furniture of the tabernacle was hard physical labor. However, later in life, Levites were commanded to “minister to their brothers in the tent of the meeting”—a hint that God didn’t intend for our work to stop completely, but to morph and mature with age.

Yet the main problem with the “resist retirement” view is that most people cannot imagine working nonstop for 40, 50 or even 60 years.  In Habits of the Heart, sociologistRobert Bellah interviewed executives, government employees, school teachers, and small-businesspeople on how they felt about retirement. He found they were “sick of working,” hated “the pressure,” had “paid their dues,” and “wanted to get out of the rat race.” The appeal of the vacation paradigm for aging Americans is an under-recognized spiritual (and often physical) exhaustion and pain that can accompany a lifetime of work (Ecclesiastes 2:17; Genesis 3:17-19).  

So overwhelmingly, those who can retire, do.

Redeeming Retirement

Yet many Christians today are choosing a contrarian path, eschewing both the never-ending vacation and the life of unbroken work. In an age where structures for older Americans lag behind their aspirations for a meaningful life, the church is beginning to experiment with new paradigms for living a fully human life in retirement. 

From Vacation to Sabbatical

“Linda and I decided to take a purposeful pause to listen for God’s voice, ” says Barry Rowan. In 2006, Rowan was the CFO of Nextel Partners, a wireless phone company. After years of high-pressure positions, he decided to take a sabbatical rather than to completely retire and cease from all work.

The word vacation derives from the Latine vacare, from which we get “to vacate, make empty, make void.” Many see retirement as a chance to “vacate” their lives, whether on the beaches of Mexico or the mountains of Colorado. But Rowan says, “I left my time off with a deeper level of surrender and a deeper appreciation that I had become less, and God had become more in me.”

Some are now seeing retirement as a social construct that allows them to take an intentional three, six, or 12 months of sabbatical rest to prepare the heart for a new season of fruitfulness (Leviticus 25). Rhythms of preparation, worship, feasting, learning, simplicity, remembrance, and service, are chosen over consumption, travel, or a premature jump into a new field.

Bradford Hewitt retired in November 2018 from his role leading Thrivent Financial, a faith-based Fortune 500 financial services organization. “After being in an executive leadership role for 25 years, I’m planning for the next stage of service,” Hewitt says. But before jumping into whatever may be next, Hewitt is pausing for discernment and taking a six-month sabbatical of prayer, solitude, rebuilding friendships and eating healthier. “The pace of being a CEO is intense. My idea of a sabbatical is just the opposite. I know I need to slow down and listen to God’s voice.”

From Success to Surrender  

“I am convinced that part of the essence of vocational identity during this period of our lives [the senior years] is that we let go of power and control,” says Gordon Smith, author and president of Ambrose University in Calgary. “People listen to us because we are wise and because we bless, not because of our office or any formal structure of power.”

Releasing power allows older adults to freely give to the next generation, without the need to capture titles or wealth. “This season of life is like fly fishing,” said Fred Smith. “When I catch fish, I now don’t need to keep them. I delight in releasing them. Catch and release—this is what retirement means for me.” Ed Wekesser, a 67-year-old coach for Christian CEOs, also sees a deeper freedom in relinquishing power. I asked him what has changed about his developing sense of vocation in his 60s. “Ah, that’s simple,” he said. “It’s not about me anymore.” He says he’s now content to simply work for the success of others.

From “Old” to Eldership

Rather than buy into a culture that sees old age as a problem to be solved (think of “anti-aging cream”), a new generation of older Americans is embracing aging as a “crown of dignity,” wrinkles and all (Proverbs 16:31).

Far from being an insult, the term “elder”was once associated with wisdom, character, and leadership ability, the assumed fruit of experience and age. “Stand up in the presence of the aged,” says Leviticus (19:32). The term elder (zaqen) is used in the Old Testament as an indication of one’s nobility. The elder taught wisdom at the city gate, the ancient place for public dialogue (Job 32:6–10). Cicero, the great Roman statesman, once wrote, “The crowning grace of old age is influence.”

In that spirit, rather than retreat to retirement communities, more Boomers are seeing that retirement can be a season of unique influence. After a full career as a boutique hotelier, Chip Conley was tapped by the young founders of Airbnb to help grow the company into a hospitality giant. Though he didn’t know how to code and he was reporting to a CEO his son’s age, he embraced his role as a modern elder and blended curiosity with intergenerational friendship to shepherd the young company toward global growth.

Though flexible work arrangement for older Americans are often hard to come by, roles for mentoring are not. Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam, who has written eloquently about the growing opportunity gap in America, says, “If America’s religious communities were to become seized of the immorality of the opportunity gap, mentoring is one of the ways in which they could make an immediate impact.”

From Independence to Intergenerational Living

Greg Gast is the vice president of human resources at Hudson River HealthCare, Inc., in Peekskill, New York. Greg and his wife, Nancy, decided to make a bold move and experiment with sharing a house with their oldest daughter, her husband, and their three children. Greg and Nancy take the second floor of the 5,000-square-foot house, while their children and grandchildren take the basement, leaving the main floor as a common area.

Gast says there are distinct advantages to sharing a home: They share the same cable bill, lawnmower, and coffeepot. Sharing a mortgage also helps everyone’s budget. But there are also challenges: Privacy concerns and occasional interpersonal clashes rise to the surface. “We’ve gotten better at communication,” Gast says about their relationship with their daughter and son-in-law. “It’s greatly helped to define our boundaries.”

Intergenerational living is not always easy. But it presents an opportunity for the American church to express love and honor toward retiring parents, many of whom are facing unexpected financial challenges.

From World-Changers to Simple Servants

Susan Cole is a 56-year-old music educator who taught elementary students for more than two decades. But she suffered from fibromyalgia, and the long, high-energy days had taken their toll on her health. “It was a hard decision for me,” she said. “I felt like the job both tore me down and built me up.” She decided to continue working part-time as a piano teacher at a local music school.

Just after Cole’s retirement, her mother broke her femur and her son had a relapse with alcohol addiction. “My availability was totally a God thing,” she recalls. “He was calling me to both care for my students and my family in this season. I was needed here. But I don’t ever see myself giving up teaching.”

A new generation of Boomers are opting less for civic heroism or overseas mission assignments and instead choosing for a lifetime of humble service, in both paid and unpaid roles, right where they are.  

A Scent of Resurrection

Dwight L. Moody once said, “Preparation for old age should not begin later than one’s teens. A life which is empty of purpose until 65 will not suddenly become filled on retirement.” Though that’s true, a new generation of older Americans see retirement as a contemporary social construct that affords them the opportunity to re-explore their God-given purpose for a new season of life.

Gary VanderArk is a not-so-retired physician living in south Denver. In his late 70s, he continues to teach medical students at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center, serve on nearly a dozen nonprofit boards, and bike almost 20 miles a day. VanderArk was also the founder of Doctors Care, a nonprofit that has helped thousands of Colorado’s medically underserved.

With his white hair, slender fingers, and frail voice, VanderArk may seem “old.” But when you speak with him, he seems almost carefree, like a child on Christmas morning. He acknowledges human frailty and death, yet keeps serving others as if death is of no concern to him. He keeps teaching and sitting on nonprofit boards not because of social duty, but instead out of sheer delight. He is quick to listen and slow to speak. His words hold genuine gravitas. He is like “the righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon . . . They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green” (Ps. 92:12–14).

Not all the questions about retirement have easy answers for the nearly 78 million Baby Boomers who are facing it. But many older Christians across the developed world are embracing not a vacation mentality, world-changer ethos, or grudging burden of working later in life. They are simply being ever renewed, and continue to serve God and neighbor as elders in their spheres of influence (2 Corinthians 4:16).

Retirement needs a new story. Or better yet, a very old story. J

This first appeared in the March 2019 issue of Christianity Today. It is an adapted excerpt from my forthcoming book An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life  (Moody, May 2019).

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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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Craftsmanship & Manual LaborEconomyWork

Six Differences Between How Professionals and the Working Class See Their Daily Work


America is working pretty well for the top third of society. It’s the other two-thirds who are struggling.

I came to this conclusion after reading Robert Putnam’s stunning book Our Kids.  After seeing the growing class divide separating American society, I also started to ask: how does the working class see their work?  

As I spend nearly all my time working with and for professionals (those with a four-year college degree), in a recent article I confessed that as I grew older, I realized I didn’t have a single working-class friend. Their world was foreign to me. And so was their work.

Joan C. Williams is a law professor at the University of California, Hastings who studies social class. Her book The White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America explains how differently professionals and the working class see their daily work.  Her research is a wise, honest look into working class values, beliefs, and opinions about their families and work.

Here are six differences between how professionals and the working class see their work.

Discernment versus discipline. For professionals, the spiritual and occupational challenge of work is discernment. There are so many good things we could do with our lives, how do we choose? The challenge is to stay inspired for eleven-hour work days without burning out.

But for the working class, endless choice isn’t a luxury they have. Instead, getting and keeping a good job through discipline and moral integrity is the higher priority. Consistently Williams research shows working class families value honesty, having integrity, and being hardworking, while they look down on dishonesty, being irresponsible, and being lazy.

“Hard work for elites is associated with self-actualization; ‘disruption’ means founding a start-up,” writes Williams. “Disruption, in working-class jobs, just gets you fired.”

For the working-class, self-control, discipline, and saying no to temptation is the only way out of the maze.

Achievement versus struggle. Professionals see work as a chance to achieve and prove yourself. Many college educated young adults, says David Brooks in The Road to Character, see work as the arena to maximize financial and psychological benefit while minimizing discomfort.

The working class, however, sees work as a constant struggle for survival. Job insecurity, dropping wages, and balancing child care put constant stress on working class families. Many working class families feel at a constant disadvantage.  Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, decided to join the working-class by taking jobs as a waitress, nursing home aide, Wal-Mart sales clerk and living in the motels and cheap trailer parks. She found that no job is truly “un-skilled,” that enormous mental and physical effort is needed to survive, and that often one job isn’t enough – two is necessary if you want a roof over your head.

Networks versus “real work.” Many professional jobs involve social skills and managing networks of influence. Yet the working class feel that their work, which often involves technical expertise, is both more down-to-earth than the work of professionals, and more practically valuable.

Many in the working class also feel a deep sense of pride in their work. Matthew Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soul Craft, points out the dignity the manual laborer feels after a day’s work. “He can simply point: the building stands, the car now runs, the lights are on.”

One values relational influence, the other tends to value practical usefulness.  

Work-identity versus Communal-identity. In professional communities, work-a-holism and busyness is a sign of success. Missing your kid’s swim meet is honorable, if it’s for a deposition (or a writing assignment.) For professionals, you are what you do. They derive their identity from their work.   

But the working-class dismiss work devotion as narcissism. One technician criticized people who are “so self-assured, so self-intense that they really don’t care about anyone else. It’s me, me, me.” Ambition is seen as trying to get ahead, a way to leave behind the community that cared for you in pursuit of personal success.

Instead, the working-class prizes traditional values and family loyalty. If you’re from professional family, moving to Silicon Valley is a fun opportunity. But if you sell toilets, it’s safer to hang out with people who won’t judge you for your dirty job. “Familiar faces provide a buffer against humiliation,” writes Williams.

Creativity versus dependability. Professionals value entrepreneurial initiative, boundary breaking, and creativity. They signal initiative by “breaking the rules.” But the working-class values dependability and stability, which are useful dispositions if you’re an order-taker rather than an order-maker.

At one electrical contractor in Denver, there are three characteristics of successful apprentices: show up on time, have a good attitude, and be willing to learn. Creativity just might get you electrocuted.

Now What?

Take a look at this list of questions as ask which you more identify with:

Professionals Working Class
How can I stay inspired? How can I keep my job?
How can I make an impact? How do I get through the week?
Who can you connect me to? Who will notice what I’ve made?
“What do you do?” “Where did you grow up?”
How can I challenge the status quo? How do I get me and my family out of the maze?

My guess is that nearly all of you reading this will identify more with the first list than the second. If you’re reading the second list and say, “Yes, that’s me,” leave a comment below.

I’d like to meet you and learn more about your world.

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Craftsmanship & Manual LaborCultureEconomyFaith and Work MovementVocationWork

“God of the Second Shift: The Missing Majority in the Faith and Work Conversation” (Christianity Today Cover Story)

By Jeff Haanen

The following is the cover story for the October 2018 print issue of Christianity Today. To access the full article for free, click the “friends and family” link below. Also, if you’re not a subscriber, please consider subscribing to Christianity Today to support their work. Here’s an excerpt of the story.

Our group was white, college-educated, and passionate about helping people find meaning in their careers. We looked at Josué “Mambo” De León, pastor of a bilingual working-class congregation called Westside Church Internacional, eager to hear his thoughts on a recent “faith and work” conference. 

“For us, work isn’t about thriving,” Mambo said. “It’s about surviving.” 

Between bites of salad, it slowly became clear who the man in a red baseball cap, World Cup T-shirt, and jeans really was: an emissary from another world. 

“You start with the premise that you have a job and that you feel a lack of purpose,” he said. “But that doesn’t resonate with us. How are you supposed to find purpose and flourish when you don’t even have opportunities?” 

On my way home from the office of the nonprofit I run, Denver Institute for Faith & Work, I stewed over Mambo’s comments. They reminded me of a similar conversation I’d had with Nicole Baker Fulgham, president of an educational reform group called The Expectations Project. Baker Fulgham, an African American working with low-income kids, asked me bluntly: “So when do we start talking about faith, work, and life for fast-food employees?” 

In the past decade, the faith and work movement has exploded. Hundreds of new conferences, books, and organizations have sprung up from San Diego to Boston. But there’s a growing anxiety among Christian leaders that our national vocation conversation has a class problem. 

A hundred years ago, partnerships between clergy and labor unions flourished. Yet as the forces of industrialization transformed the trades in the late 19th century, and vocational education and liberal arts schools parted ways, a new mantra for the college-educated took root: “Do what you love.” The late Steve Jobs, in a 2005 Stanford commencement speech, stated, “You’ve got to find what you love. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” Work done out of necessity was devalued, and eventually conversations about Christianity and work applied the word vocation mostly to college kids contemplating work they would most enjoy.

Today, when American evangelical leaders talk about work, the working class—which is two-thirds of the American workforce—is largely absent. What are we missing? 

Daily Meaning or Daily Humiliations?

Years ago, I started Denver Institute after reading Studs Terkel’s 1971 classic Working, an oral history of working-class Americans. Work, Terkel says, “is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” 

Of course! I thought. This fit well with my graduate school angst (and growing boredom with my assignments). I liked the quote so much that I put it in my email signature. 

But somewhere along the way, I forgot that Terkel also believed work was centrally about “violence—to the spirit as well as the body. It is about ulcers as well as accidents, about shouting matches as well as fistfights, about nervous breakdowns as well as kicking the dog around. It is, above all (or beneath all), about daily humiliations.” 

This didn’t sound like the workplaces I was used to. But the tension between Terkel’s two statements has started to resonate with me. In the past five years, we in Denver have hosted thousands of doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and other young professionals at our events. But there’s been a conspicuous absence of home care workers, retail sales clerks, landscapers, janitors, or cooks. 

Calvin College philosopher James K. A. Smith—who once pulled 10-hour graveyard shifts on an air filter assembly line—observes, “The bias of the [faith and work] conversation toward professional, ‘creative,’ largely white-collar work means that many people who undertake manual or menial labor simply don’t see themselves as having a voice in this conversation.” 

It may be time to do some soul-searching. Have we, by which I mean myself and presumably many of this magazine’s readers, seen the culture-shaping power of work but been blind to the “daily humiliations” of those whose work we depend on each day? Have we been interpreting Scripture through our own professional class bias and failed to ask how working-class Americans think and feel about their work? 

The Great Divide

“Because hard work was such a high value for our family, it was also demoralizing,” says pastor Jim Mullins of Redemption Church in Tempe, Arizona. “One of the most difficult aspects of growing up was not the lack of money but the shame that would come with not having opportunities. That shame would boil into anger. I think a lot of the drug use and alcohol [use] that we experienced was a sort of numbing of the shame.”

Mullins’s story echoes the stories of millions of working-class Americans who have seen life deteriorate over the past 50 years in nearly every economic and social category. (I use the term “working-class” to mean those without a four-year college degree.)

The growing body of research is astounding…

(Read the rest of the article at Christianity Today.)


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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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BusinessCraftsmanship & Manual LaborEconomyWork

The Good Jobs Advantage (Speech Text)

 

Good afternoon. Thanks for joining us to think about good jobs, and how business and nonprofit partnerships are renewing the trades. A particular thank you to our speakers and panelists tonight, and special gratitude to Karla Nugent for hosting us at Weifield Group Electrical Contracting, a fitting location for our topic today. And thank you for allowing a writer, entrepreneur, and former pastor to address you.

Why are we here today?

First, businesses can’t find enough people to work in the trades. Wages are high. Demand is soaring. But we can’t find enough people. The National Association of Homebuilders reported that in July of 2016 there were 225,000 open jobs in homebuilding, the highest level since 2007. Last August, the Associated General Contractors of America found that 85% of Colorado construction companies were having a hard time filling hourly jobs.

What happened? When did working as a carpenter, welder, or electrician drop off the map as a viable option for America’s youth? In this iconic 1932 photo, “Lunch atop a Skyscraper”, the story that Americans largely believed was that these were the people who built America. One question we must ask is, How do we recover the dignity of the trades?

Second, nonprofits are finding that society isn’t working for 2/3 of Americans. America has always prized itself as the land of opportunity. But today, for many that vision is fading.

Nobel Prize winning economist Angus Deaton and his wife, fellow Princeton professor Anne Case, have found that suicide rates have been on a decades long rise. They coined this “deaths of despair,” and found that the “suicide belt” – a run of states in the West with high suicide rates – runs right through Colorado.

Here’s what the stats show: you’re more than twice as likely to kill yourself if you only have a high school degree rather than a college degree.

And only about a third of Americans have a college degree. In short, life is working out pretty well for the college educated, but has steadily deteriorated for those without college degrees.

Nicholas Eberstadt’s book Men Without Work shows that from 1948 to 2015, the percentage of prime age men in the workforce dropped from 85.8% to 68.2%, a rate lower than it was in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. So, people that could be working are choosing not to and are instead dropping out of the workforce.

These growing class divides are causing anger, especially in rural America. The American dream is intact for 1/3 of Americans; and splintering for 2/3s of Americans.

Our nonprofits are seeing this, and trying to move more people into career track jobs. But this is hard work. Housing issues. Racism. Broken Families. Addiction. Mass incarceration. We see huge challenges in American life, especially for our underserved communities. Jobs are there, but our civic fabric has been crumbling.

Third, what binds together businesses and nonprofits today is we share a common belief that a good job is the surest way to get somebody out of poverty, and keep them out of poverty. It’s also the best way to build a sustainable, profitable business.

I’m going to come back to that idea. And I’m also going to kick us off this afternoon with three, very practical tips you can apply to your business tomorrow. But first, by way of trying to solve these problems, let me speak briefly about the stories we tell ourselves about our work, why I believe they’re broken, and why they’re SO critical to workforce development.

A Story about Business

Let me start off by addressing that top 1/3 of America, those with college degrees. These are the people who are leading businesses today, and probably the majority of people in this room.  

In other contexts, I’ve spoken at length why I believe business is inherently good. It provides the goods and services we need, the jobs we depend on, and the wealth needed to afford those goods and services.

Yet as I see it today, the purpose of business has become either “mere profit or my personal success.” It tends to ask only, How can I personally be successful?

The problem is that it tends to look at people, both customers and employees, as a means to the end. It uses people to serve money, rather than uses money to serve people. This gets us stuck. We see people like interchangeable parts of a machine – and so we build systems that move people in and out. High turnover is built into the cost of doing business. It’s because our story about the purpose of business is distorted.

Yet as a person of Christian faith, I believe the purpose of business is linked to the great commandment: to “love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Business is a way to love and provide for our neighbors. The view of business broadens its purpose to serving many stakeholders:  including investors, owners, and customers, but also employees and communities. The key question becomes: how can I serve? And what role can my business play in the broader flourishing of this community?

Faith leads us to a story about business that evolves from serving mere money to serving people. And, when people are served, long term, those companies are more profitable.

A Story about Work

Now let’s talk about the rest of America, the 2/3 of Americans without college degrees. The story about work is very different. It’s not about achievement. It goes like this: work is painful. Work is just something I have to do until I make enough money and don’t have to work anymore.  This is not everybody. But for many Americans, work is more about survival than pleasure, and they’d rather not do it.

The stats bear this out: Gallup says nearly 70% of Americans are disengaged from their jobs.

Where does this idea come from? Take the example of Pandora’s Box, from Greek mythology. The story goes like this: Zeus told Pandora not to open the box, and Pandora was so curious, she stole the key and opened it. And out come sickness, crime, envy, hate, and worry – evil. You know what else came out? Work!  Work was a curse. For the Greeks, the highest life was that of philosophers, who thought about ideas all day. Manual labor was for slaves.

But let me contrast that story with the Hebrew origin story. In this story, God creates the physical world in six days, calls it good, and directly says that it was work. In the book of Hebrews, God is once called an Architect and Builder of the heavenly city. And when the invisible God wanted to show himself to the world, he became a tekton. A craftsman. Jesus was a carpenter, and possibly a stone mason.

One story says manual labor is for slaves. The other says manual labor is the work of the Son of God!

Let me share with you an observation from much of Colorado’s workforce development conversation today. We’re still trying to motivate people with just money. It goes like this: you can make more money than your college-educated peers, so get a job in the trades.

This won’t work.

We all want to know that the work itself we’re doing has worth. We all want to know we’re making a contribution to the human story with our lives.

Justin Hales was an electrician’s apprentice here at Weifield. Here’s how he described his work: “Two years ago, they put me on the platform at Union Station. I would lay out the floors, locate everything, like a switch or outlet on the wall. “When you turn your pipes, make them uniform—that’s art.” He pauses. “It probably goes unnoticed to the average person, but we see it. We take pride in our work.”

The story we tell about the meaning and value of work is critical to renewing the trades.

Now, let me give you three things you can practically use as business leaders who are looking to solve the labor challenges in Colorado’s construction market today.

  1. Attracting talent with just pay is no longer enough. It requires a culture shift toward building companies that benefit all stakeholders.

The labor market is too tight, and everybody is now offering higher paying jobs. This is just enough to get you in the game. But what will distinguish you from your competitors?

Let me use an example not far from home: our friend Karla Nugent, who is hosting us today. Years ago Karla decided to have a community impact with Weifield. They started to give philanthropically to four areas: the less fortunate, women, children, and veterans. They also did staff volunteer days, where her employees would spend time volunteering on the clock. It gave her entire company a sense of ownership, a sense that it’s for employees, that it’s about something bigger than just making money.

They also started working with community nonprofits to fill their own labor shortages, which we’ll hear about later this afternoon.

Businesses need to satisfy investors and customers. But I think employees are the critical element in business success. 

Co-founder of Southwest Airlines Herb Kelleher put it well and simply: “We take great care of our people, they take great care of our customers, and our customers take great care of our shareholders.” Happy employees mean happy customers. This creates happy investors, which means business can create more value for our communities.

People will be attracted to work at a company with a strong sense of mission, purpose, and community good.  Nobody wants to believe that their work is only about making you – or even themselves – money. It must go deeper.

Attracting talent with just pay is no longer enough. It requires a culture-shift toward building companies that benefit all stakeholders.

  1. Attracting the right talent also requires a culture-shift toward designing and investing in good jobs.

Let me share another story with you. I was speaking with a bright woman who does workforce development in Colorado. She expressed to me what fine work they do to prepare people through pre-apprenticeship programs for careers in the trades. Here’s what she told me: 

“The real problem is not in the training, but in the companies that hire them. I’ve seen far too many construction companies treat new employees like just a pair of hands – hours are terrible, there’s no chance for advancement, workplace culture is toxic, and benefits are scarce. We need companies who not just hire people for dead end jobs, but create good jobs where people can find a hope and a future.”

That is, some jobs are actually bad jobs that can hurt, not help, people’s lives!

Wow, strong words. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There’s a new movement afoot. Zeynep Ton’s books The Good Jobs Strategy, Jim Clifton’s The Coming Jobs War, and some of the best research on workforce development put out but the Pinkerton Foundation – which my bright friend Dan Kaskubar at Activate Workforce Solutions alerted me to – points to the companies who are re-thinking how they design work in order attract loyal, high quality talent. The key elements of a good job are:

  • Wages sufficient to reach the middle class
  • Stable, yet flexible schedules
  • Benefits
  • Healthy workplace culture
  • Opportunities for advancement
  • Pride in their work

This is not only a recruiting and placement question: this is a question for the top business minds in America. How do we create profitable models, and win the ever-narrowing war for talent? Job quality matters deeply.  

Some Colorado companies are investing in people only dedicated to supporting their employees

A quick example: This is Adrienne Tafilowski. Her job title is Care Team Culture Director at L&R Pallet, a Pallet company here in NE Denver that employees over 80 refugees from Myanmar. She was brought on by her boss James Ruder originally to support his employees, the majority of whom are Burmese immigrants. She does things like connect employees to services at nonprofits for needs ranging from transportation to financial counseling; when there are family issues she finds support; they even have a staff soccer team.

As a result, L&R Pallet is winning. Their annual retention number dropped from 300%-400% average annual turnover rate – to 30%. Their culture changed from being self-described as “toxic” to “a family.” A good job for frontline employees is intimately connected to the overall health of the business.

  1. Finally, attracting talent requires that we participate in and support the entire workforce development ecosystem. 

An ecosystem is a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment. In short, in ecosystems, each part needs the others. 

The problem is, today we tend to just think about our own needs. We have to think outside of our organizations and strengthen the entire workforce development ecosystem if we’re going to build strong businesses that serve the 2/3 of Americans who are suffering.

Businesses create jobs and the wealth we all need to support our families; governments set the rules of the game, and establish a fair playing field; nonprofits represent the voiceless and connect people to opportunities and critical services; churches deal with the spirit, and the renewed heart. We need each other.

Historically, business and government have a tense working relationship. But right now, we need government to work on issues like the cliff effect in order to support employees inside of businesses that are earning too much to receive government support, but not enough to be self-sufficient.

Nonprofits are often seen as junior partners – or ignored. But they are the key advocates for the poor in American today. If we don’t give a voice to the voiceless, all of our workforce development initiatives will come to naught.

And I even believe religion must have a seat at the table. The Princeton economists I cited who have studied “deaths of despair” said they believe the key driver is a “spiritual and moral crisis,” where people lose the will to live. People are moral and spiritual creatures. If we don’t’ look at core beliefs, core wounds, and deep inner healing, our workforce will always feel less than human while at work. We must allow our churches, mosques, and synagogues a place at the table.

Though we don’t have to become faith-based, assuming everybody shares our believes, I believe we can all become faith-friendly. This means we don’t exclude people’s deepest held beliefs but invites them to the table as a core element of a rich, full life.

Again, I’d like to use our host tonight, Weifield Group Contracting, as an illustration. They have lots of jobs to be filled, but in the last 12 years, they’ve grown from a new company to over 300 employees. Here’s what’s interesting: I see Weifield everywhere in our civic ecosystem – at functions that don’t directly benefit Weifield,  like charity fundraisers, Denver Business Journal events, and Denver Institute gatherings. They actually care about the community for its own sake. And you know what happens, people are attracted to Weifield. A top place to work in Denver is also a top notch company.

Weifield Group is a living example of a rule I’ve found to be just as true in the business sector as in our charitable giving: Give and it shall be given to you.

A brief summary:

  1. Attracting talent with just pay is no longer enough. It requires a culture-shift toward building companies that benefit all stakeholders.
  1. Attracting the right talent also requires a culture-shift toward designing and investing in good jobs.
  1. Finally, attracting talent requires that we participate in and support the entire workforce development ecosystem.

 

This speech was originally given on April 5, 2018 at the Denver Institute event “Good Jobs: How Businesses and Nonprofits are Partnering Together to Renew the Trades.” 

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CultureEconomyWork

Why “Deaths of Despair” Point to a Crisis for American Capitalism

 

There may be no issue that bothers my conscience more in American public life than this one. Watch the video below. The Wall Street Journal reports:

“Two Princeton economists are sounding off on what they consider to be warning signs of a crisis of American capitalism.Prof. Anne Case and Nobel Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton see increases in suicides and other “deaths of despair”—particularly among middle-aged, white Americans—as a sign that “something is not right,” with society.If we can only generate good lives for an elite that’s about a third of the population, then we have a real problem.’”

 

“In the video above, they argue that it’s not simply a function of economics. It’s a ‘failure of spiritual and social life that drives people to suicide,’ Mr. Deaton says.”

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