Jeff Haanen

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Faith and Work Movement

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A Season of Change: Denver Institute CEO Transition Planned for 2022

Today I announced to the DIFW community that this will be my last year as the CEO. Here’s what we wrote on the transition website: “Denver Institute for Faith & Work’s board of directors announced January 7, 2022, that Jeff Haanen will transition the CEO role to a new leader in 2022. This leadership handoff was initiated by Jeff and comes after 10 years of dedicated service to the organization. The DIFW board will immediately begin preparing to conduct a search for the next leader. Jeff will continue as CEO until a successor is named later in 2022.

I also composed a letter to the DIFW community, which I’ve included below. For more information, see our CEO Transition web page.

Dear Denver Institute Community,

I write today to share the news that after much conversation, reflection, and prayer with the board of directors, I’ve decided to step down as CEO of Denver Institute for Faith & Work at the end of 2022. It has been a privilege and honor founding and then building DIFW over the last 10 years. We believe that now is the right time for a transition that will allow for the right amount of lead time to carry out a search process for a new CEO. I will stay in my role as CEO until a new CEO is appointed in late 2022 and will continue to serve DIFW for the next 9-12 months with the supportive help of our stable and talented staff leadership.

As I reflect on my own professional journey, there are three reasons why I believe now is the right time to transition to a new leader. The first reason is God’s call. Starting and growing an organization has been a gift; it has also come with challenges. Months ago, I began to sense God’s call to “release” Denver Institute. Like many founders, I’ve found that my identity has often been too wrapped up into my work and professional success. I believe God is calling me to love the Caller more than the calling, and open-handedly let go of the CEO role. The time is right to rest, seek renewal, and recenter my heart on Christ himself, my final and deepest gift.

The second reason is institutional renewal. For years I’ve observed the careers of leaders in American Christianity I deeply respect. Several of them made the decision to step down after 10 years of very successful leadership. They realized that institutions need seasons of renewal, like people, and that fresh vision, perspective, and leadership is often key to long-term institutional strength. I believe the Christian church needs leaders who can take up the mantle of responsibility; it also needs those who can just as easily lay it down.  I also believe that leadership is stewardship, not a personal possession. I also believe that ultimately the Resurrected Christ is the leader of DIFW, and He will be faithful to continue his good work through a new leader. 

The third reason is about long-term organizational health. I believe healthy transitions of power are critical to healthy institutions that have staying power – and they’re all too rare. A healthy process of giving power to a new leader is key to seeing DIFW grow and thrive for the next generation. Moreover, DIFW is in a healthy position. We have a strong leadership team, a budget of more than $1M, a group of 250+ committed donors, and highly effective programs such as the 5280 Fellowship, CityGate, public events, the Faith & Work Classroom, the Faith & Work Podcast, and our national events, Women, Work & Calling and Business for the Common Good. The organization is healthy and well-positioned for a new leader.

The board will begin a process of searching for my successor. Board Chair Bob Larkin will be in touch with our constituents over the coming months to answer any questions. I’m deeply grateful to the board of directors for their work in this process. It’s a joy to work alongside such a capable group of leaders. Long term, I intend to stay connected to DIFW not just as the founder, but as a fellow donor, learner and friend.

Paul once wrote to the church in Thessalonica, “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Truly, for so many of you DIFW has been a labor of love, prompted by faith and ultimately inspired by the call of Jesus himself. As my wife and my four daughters await God’s call in this next season of our life, we want to express to you our deep gratitude for all you’ve given, and continue to give.  

You believed. You gave. You came. You worked. You prayed. You loved. And what we have built is a strong, healthy institution centered on the life, death, resurrection and Second Coming of Jesus Christ, and its far-reaching effects for our work and our world.

Thank you for the honor of leading for ten, wonderful years. You have my sincere gratitude.

Grateful,

Jeff Haanen

Founder & CEO

Denver Institute for Faith & Work

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Faith and Work MovementVocationWork

CityGate: Launching a New Initiative for Leaders

It was 2016. I was two years into launching Denver Institute. One day I woke up and realized a painful truth. I have no idea what I’m doing. 

So, I got on the phone and started calling friends and peers around the US. Geoff Hsu at Flourish San Diego; Lisa Slayton, then at Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation; David Kim at the Center for Faith & Work. I invited about 15 leaders from Atlanta to Toronto for three days in Breckenridge to eat, share, discuss, and learn from each other. I gave a simple name to that first gathering: CityGate. 

At about the same time, we were launching our first class of 5280 Fellows. To be honest, as Jill (Hamilton) Anschutz was designing the website and Brian was designing the curriculum, we had no idea if this would fly either. But behold, at our first retreat we met 27 bright, faithful, engaged emerging leaders working in law, architecture, social entrepreneurships, psychiatry, engineering, and more. 

Each of these two communities was a gift of grace. And now, five years later, they come together. 

Today we announce a new initiative at Denver Institute for Faith & Work. CityGate is a national community of leaders in churches, businesses, and nonprofits committed to learning, investing in relationships, and encouraging human flourishing as we bring the gospel to the city gate of our respective communities. It is also our initiative for recruiting, equipping, and supporting leaders who want to launch a fellowship program in and for their city. 

Why would we do this? I’m glad you asked. Below are some of the top questions we’ve received from donors, friends, Fellows, and peers. 

Why name it CityGate?

In the ancient world, the city gate was the center of city life. It was the place of commerce, public assemblies, judicial activities, sacred ceremonies, and cultural life. Today, in a secular age, faith is often divorced from the core activities — business, government, justice,  education, health care, arts — that make up a city. 

We chose the name CityGate as an expression of our value of bringing the gospel into our work, our shared public life, and our culture. 

Why did you start CityGate?

For years we’ve had inquiries from leaders who wanted to run our Fellows program in their own city. We’ve been building out training programs, curriculum, and administrative infrastructure that would position a leader to effectively launch and operate their own program. We started by testing out the idea in one city. The talented David Bell, leading the Circle City Fellows in Indianapolis, has built a strong program over the last two years. So, with what we’ve learned, we’re ready to take the next step in coming alongside leaders in other cities as well. 

Yet we’ve seen that many cities are not quite ready to launch such a comprehensive program and instead have questions that range from how to build a faith and work organization to what emotionally healthy leadership looks like. So, we decided to reignite the early CityGate community of leaders and invite in more leaders into the conversation for monthly “learning labs,” a place where we hear from leaders about best practices in leadership, formation, all-of-life discipleship, and its application across sectors. 

But really, why did you start CityGate? Thanks for asking. Because we believe in a culture as broken as this, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the first and last answer — for our hearts, our relationships, and our shared civic life. 

What will CityGate do?

In 2021, we’re launching two programs: monthly learning labs and CityGate Fellowships. The learning labs are open to the public and will feature speakers, tools that we use in the fellowship, and the chance to learn from peer leaders in their contexts. 

Also, in 2021 we’ll accept applications for CityGate Fellowships, a program designed specifically for leaders who want to launch their own fellowship program. The training offers not only comprehensive content, systems, and training for your Fellows, it also provides comprehensive training for the leaders from marketing a program to alumni retention Our first training for accepted leaders is September 2021. 

Later in 2021, we’re exploring ways more deeply to serve our monthly donors and generous supporters with curated content, leadership tools, and workshops that strengthen the “gospel-ecosystem” across the US. We’re also exploring ways to partner with and strengthen churches, businesses, and peer nonprofits into 2022 and beyond. 

Why should I join?

Well, I’m glad you asked! 

There is a growing, organic community of people who hunger for leading, working, and creating out of a holistic and coherent life deeply rooted in the gospel. Many have been in this space for years. Others are seeking wisdom, support and guidance for their own calling and leadership. 

We invite you to learn, participate, and join CityGate as a community of peers committed to helping you build, grow, and strengthen your leadership as you take the gospel to your own city gate. All can join the free, monthly learning labs. We also invite you to consider either launching a fellowship program or joining the generous community at the heart of CityGate sharing ideas, prayers, tools, insights, and networks. 

We need to collaborate. We need to learn from each other. And we need to strengthen not just ourselves, but the whole ecosystem if we’re going to start healing our communities with the transformative power of the gospel. 

Five years after our first conversation in Breckenridge, I do have a bit more knowledge about leading at the intersection of faith, work, justice and culture. But I’m still learning…and I look forward to learning alongside you. 

Want to learn more about CityGate? Visit citygate.com and register for the next learning lab.

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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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What does it really mean to integrate faith and work?

At Denver Institute, we have a straightforward answer to this question: our five guiding principles. Here’s how we measure effectiveness, plan programming, and organize our culture.

I also think they’re helpful frameworks to help you think through just how your own deepest convictions might play out in your heart, mind, relationships, work, and involvement in culture.

1. Think theologically.

Embracing the call to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of Christ, we value programs that enable men and women to verbally articulate how Scripture, the historic church, and the gospel of grace influence their work and cultural engagement.

2. Embrace relationships.

Embracing the doctrine of the Trinity and the incarnation, we value convening face-to-face conversations, building long-term friendships, and investing in deep relationships among individuals, organizations, and churches.

3. Create good work.

Embracing God’s own creation and the hope of the resurrection, we value programs that lead to Spirit-filled action and significant new projects that serve as a sign and foretaste of God’s coming Kingdom.

Embracing the parable of the talents, we value programs that provide measurable returns.

4. Seek deep spiritual health.

Embracing Christ’s call to “come follow me,” we value listening to the Holy Spirit, practicing the classic spiritual disciplines, confessing our sins, submitting to the reign of God, and doing our work in a redemptive manner.

5. Serve others sacrificially.

Embracing the call to costly discipleship, we value high levels of commitment, acts of sacrificial service, and courageous public witness among program participants, staff, board, and volunteers.

Embracing the call to justice, we value programs that serve the needs of the poor and marginalized in our work and communities.

Embracing the call to be the Body of Christ for the life of the world, we value programs that address our most pressing contemporary problems and adopt a broad, interdisciplinary perspective in solving complex and systemic issues.

To learn more, visit denverinstitute.org.

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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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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.

Faith and Work MovementTheologyWork

The Global Workplace Forum: A New Era for Global Mission

Today I fly to Manila.

I’m on my way to speak at the Global Workplace Forum, a gathering of 730 leaders from over 100 countries. Convened by the Lausanne Movement, which was started by Billy Graham and John Stott in the 1970s, today feels like a turning point for how the world’s Christians are understanding the word “mission.”

As I prepare to sit on a panel with a man working with nomadic tribes in Kyrgyzstan, a clinical psychologist from Nairobi, a Filipino-American woman who now works in Silicon Valley expanding Apple stores across the world, and a man who’s worked in global business from the Middle East to Canada, I’m reminded of several truths.

I’m reminded of the diverse and far reaching nature of the Church.

I’m reminded that technology has created, in many ways, a single global culture.

And I’m reminded of the truth that 99% of the world’s Christians have non-occupational ministry jobs, and the workplace is fast becoming the new frontier for global mission.

Thinking back just a hundred years, the great student missions movement brought the gospel from the West to the East and the global South. After World War II, the age of evangelistic crusades brought a renewed fervor for global mission and the conversion of young people through organizations like Campus Crusade for Christ and Young Life. In the seventies and eighties, the seeker movement built the megachurch, and the masses we drawn toward Jesus through rock bands and popular preaching.

But today, we are in a new era. Though much work on Bible translation needs to be done, countries like France have had the Bible for centuries, yet are less than 1% evangelical. As the church of Europe shrinks, Muslims outpace their western counterparts in having children, and the global South is now home to the majority of Christians throughout the world, we’re starting to realize that mission must not be from “us” to “them,” but instead from “everyone to everywhere.”  

To bring the good news of Jesus to either the Muslim world or the secular strongholds of the West, we need every single Christian to be “on mission” every day. This means we are all implicated in being missionaries wherever we are, whether Seattle, Singapore, or South Africa.

Michael Oh, a Japanese American and the CEO/Executive Director of the Lausanne Movement, recently wrote an op-ed for Christianity Today entitled, “An Apology from the 1% to the 99%.” His message was simple. For too long we’ve assumed that the 1% – occupational pastors, missionaries, and theological educators – were the real missionaries, whereas the 99% of Christians in “secular jobs” were just there to support the 1%.

No more, says Oh. The 1% has the unique and real responsibility to equip the 99% for mission wherever they live their daily lives, whether that be a government official working in Bangladesh, a sports trainer working in Seoul, or a coder working in the Ukraine.

As I head into this conference and meet leaders from across the world, from Norway to Namibia, I can only guess where this will lead the global church.

But here’s my guess.

The idea of work as the central place for global mission will start to take hold. Churches will begin to start thinking about the work of their people as the central way they’re called to be involved in “mission.” And churches that embrace worship, teaching, and preaching that “equips the saints for works of service” will begin to displace the churches built on consumerism and entertainment.

Conversely, I believe that churches that have relied on attracting people with the right mix of rock music, smoke machines, and paper-thin preaching – while ignoring their people’s lives and the condition of their cities – will begin to shrink. I believe theological schools, which are facing unprecedented enrollment challenges, will have to start innovating and creating more classes targeted toward the laity in order to survive. And mission agencies will have to not only care for the poor and sharing the gospel, but will need to grow their ability to work with native leaders who can reform systems and demonstrate the gospel through companies, city councils, clinics, and schools.

I started Denver Institute for Faith & Work because of my own convictions arising from my study of missiology. Leaders like John Stott and Lesslie Newbigin pointed to the workplace as the next era of global mission, and now it’s starting to take place right before our eyes.

The Lausanne Movement is intent on “the whole church bringing the whole gospel to the whole world.” When I look at my fellow believers from around the world, I realize how little I’ve given for the gospel. And how much it’s cost so many of them.

We are at the dawn of a new movement of the Holy Spirit and a new era for global mission. And each of us has a role to play in the divine drama.

May His kingdom come, and His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.


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Craftsmanship & Manual LaborFaith and Work MovementWork

The Thinker

Back of the beating hammer
   By which the steel is wrought,
Back of the workshop’s clamor
   The seeking may find the thought;
The thought that is ever master
   Of iron and steam and steel,
That rises above the disaster
   And tramples it under heel!

The drudge may fret and tinker,
   Or labor with lusty blows,
But back of him stands the thinker,
   The clear-eyed man who knows;
For into each plow or sabre,
   Each piece and part and whole,
Must go the brains of labor
   Which gives the work a soul!

Back of the motor’s humming,
   Back of the belts that sing,
Back of the hammer’s drumming,
   Back of the cranes that swing,
There is the eye which scans them,
   Watching through stress and strain,
There is the mind which plans them—
  Back of the brawn, the brain!

Might of the roaring boiler,
   Force of the engine’s thrust,
Strength of the sweating toiler,
   Greatly in these we trust.
But back of them stands the schemer,
   The thinker who drives things through;
Back of the job—the dreamer,
   Who’s making the dream come true!


—Berton Braley (1882-1966)

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“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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Faith and Work MovementWork

Stephen Blankenship to Join Denver Institute as the New Director of Scatter

Well, today is a good day. Big news: Stephen Blankenship is the new director of Scatter, Denver Institute for Faith & Work’s new learning platform designed to equip the Body of Christ to serve God in all areas of life.

 

Stephen is one of the first graduates of tech stars, a startup accelerator in Boulder, and was the co-founder and former CTO of the DailyBurn, a fitness website now with an estimated 2.5 million members.

 

A software engineer by trade and entrepreneur by experience, having Stephen take the helm at Scatter bodes well not just for DIFW, but for the millions of men and women seeking to serve God and their neighbors Monday through Saturday, scattered into every corner of culture.

 

Plus, working with somebody with that kind of beard game, who wouldn’t be excited?

(Official press release is here.)

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