Say it’s Thursday evening, and you sit down on your couch after dinner. Just before flipping on the TV, you pause, breathe, close your eyes, and reflect for a moment about your workday.
What do you feel? Do you have a sense of being anxious and overwhelmed? Of satisfaction and accomplish- ment? Of exhaustion or frustration from interacting with a coworker? Or does your mind blank out, avoiding thoughts of work altogether?
For some, perhaps, the wheel of ambition is still turning, and instead of watching Netflix you decide to flip open your laptop and keep working until bed. If that description fits, you might be what Andrew Lynn calls a “creative class evangelical.”
Lynn, a University of Virginia sociologist, is the author of Saving the Protestant Ethic: Creative Class Evangelicalism and the Crisis of Work. In the book, he surveys both this history and the current state of what some call the faith and work movement, which he describes as a “highly organized and well-resourced effort to renegotiate creative-class evangelicalism’s place and relation to power within the institutions and social structures that make up American society today.”
Lynn argues that the contemporary faith and work movement arose principally to meet the needs of a narrow niche of Christians: highly educated evangelicals seeking meaning in their work and a place within an increasingly secular culture. Beginning in the 1980s, as evangelicals attained college degrees and entered the knowledge economy in greater numbers than ever before, there was increasing talk of closing the “Sunday to Monday gap.” Rejecting the notion that work is merely a moneymaking necessity, a rising cohort of evangelical professionals wanted to make theological sense of their newfound success.
HOW WE GOT HERE IS ITS OWN INTERESTing tale, which begins with fundamentalism after the Civil War. When John Nelson Darby published the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909, a frantic concern for eschatology and saving souls took hold. Funding soul-saving ministries became a top priority, and work was simply a way to supply these funds, which, in the words of one writer, needed to be “exchanged” into the “current coin of heaven.”
Later evangelical leaders like Billy Graham abandoned many elements of this earlier funda- mentalism. But the remaining network of Bible institutes, summer camps, media outlets, and para- church ministries still focused on spiritual rather than earthly labors. Echoes of this mindset can be heard in Rick Warren’s 2002 book The Purpose Driven Life, which states, “The consequences of your mission will last forever. The consequences of your job will not.”
Along the way, however, several prominent Christian business leaders began wondering whether their actual work mattered to God, not just the money they made from it. As the inventor and engineer R. G. LeTourneau said at a Chris- tian Laymen’s Crusade in 1941, “We are going to sell laymen the idea that they are going to work for Jesus Christ seven days a week or not callthemselves Christians.” Subsequent decades saw the advent of organizations like the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International (1952), Laity Lodge (1961) and Fellowship of Companies for Christ International (1977). By the 1980s and 1990s, dozens more had been founded.
And from the mid-1980s to the mid-2010s, an explosion of books, conferences, and funders fueled a wave of Christians claiming that work itself—not just soul-saving—was import- ant to God. Out of this movement arose four frameworks for understanding how Christianity ought to influence our work. As Lynn describes them, each was embodied in a dis- tinct group.
The first was the evangelists, for whom faith at work prin- cipally meant workplace evangelism. Second were the achiev- ers. Prominent business figures like J. C. Penney and Henry Parsons Crowell, the owner of Quaker Oats, popularized the idea that business itself was endowed with spiritual value. Notions of “stewardship” and God’s “ownership” reframed work as an arena of holy influence.
The third group, which represents the most common framework within evangelicalism today, consisted of the inte- grators of faith and work. Thinkers like Dorothy Sayers and lesser-known figures like Marquette University professor David Moberg reminded evangelicals that being made in God’s image means being made in the image of a Maker. Work is valu- able simply because God works—and calls us to do likewise.
Lynn also identifies a final group of activists, who called for Christians to pursue the common good through their jobs. Their ranks were smaller than those of the integrators, in part because some evangelicals were skeptical of calls to view work as an engine of advocacy or social change.
But the integrators mainly benefited from larger trends in demographics. As more evangelicals earned college degrees and entered the knowledge economy during the 1970s and early 1980s, they were receptive to messages that affirmed their work as a form of service to God and neighbor.
And yet, whose work were we talking about?
Lynn notes that two groups were often over- looked in faith-and-work conversations: women and blue-collar laborers. It was business leaders, on the whole, who were credited with breaking down the sacred-secular divide, and attendees at faith and work conferences tended to be male, white, and college educated. Over time, the lan- guage of “calling ” and “vocation” became attached to entrepreneurs, lawyers, and other “creative” or high-status professionals.
Lynn also faults the faith and work movement for being too susceptible to influence from the polit- ical Right. He argues that organizations like the Acton Institute, the Kern Foundation, and the Insti- tute for Faith, Work & Economics baptized laissez faire capitalism, channeled evangelicals away from progressive causes, and even “lowered the ethical floor” of what qualifies as “dignified labor.”
But the movement largely succeeded in shifting evangelicals from postures of cultural separatism and embattlement toward a spirit of stewardship and production. Buttressed by Dutch theologian and statesmen Abraham Kuyper’s theology of public engagement, leaders like the late Tim Keller and his ministry’s Center for Faith & Work promoted this shift. D. Michael Lindsay’s 2007 book Faith in the Halls of Power highlighted evangelical involvement in the upper reaches of media, business, government, entertainment, and higher education.
LYNN ACKNOWLEDGES THAT FAITH-AND-work conversations face an uphill climb in an era of growing distrust for institutions. In such a climate, he writes, “inner-worldly asceticism mobilizing zealous participation in secular institutions appears to be a tough sell.” The problem is especially acute for Christians who work at the lower levels of these institutions and have little power to change them.
Alongside the risks of resistance or indifference goes perhaps an even greater risk: the lure of cultural accommodation. Lynn wonders whether the faith and work movement might serve as its own “gravedigger” as it “shuttles evangelicals from subcultural institutions centered on evangelical distinctives into full admission within mainstream societal institutions.” There’s a historical warning here: In the latter half of the 20th century, mainline churches were full of educated elites who enjoyed leadership roles across society, but this didn’t spur revival within those churches. It would be a shame to watch the faith and work movement launch believers into positions of leadership, only to see them changed by the world rather than changing it for Christ.
Despite these warnings, however, I remain hopeful for the faith and work movement. Chris- tians will keep working, and they’ll keep asking what their faith means for their work. And yet, as someone deeply involved in this movement, I have three suggestions.
First, knowledge-class evangelicals should commit to using their power for the vulnerable, not only in society at large but also within their own workplaces. And they should give greater weight to the concerns of organized labor. Evangelicals could work to rediscover Catholic social teaching on this topic, or at least remember the days when Wesleyans, Free Methodists, and Salvation Army groups championed the rights of workers.
Second, continuing to affirm that work matters to God, we should recognize the extent to which workers are feeling anxious, stressed, and bur- dened. The faith and work movement has been geared toward power and cultural influence, but the future of the movement, I believe, will be rooted in spiritual formation. Work is not only about suc- cess, influence, or even gospel impact—it’s about who we’re becoming as followers of Christ. Indeed, Puritans like John Cotton, who helped shape the Protestant work ethic, warned that making one’s labor “the chiefest good” would only lead to selfish materialism. Lynn (and others) are right to regard a spiritual vibrancy as the foundation not just for work but for all of life.
Finally, the future of the faith and work move- ment depends on deeper rootedness in local church communities. Lynn helpfully points out that non-Anglo churches have excelled at creating communal bonds and “collective identities that resist some of the excessive pulls of capitalism and careerism.” Indeed, one historic distinctive of the Protestant ethic is congregations that provide ref- uge and solidarity to workers facing dangerous con- ditions, punishing demands, or economic volatility. At its best, Lynn remarks, the church draws people “toward forms of social relations not determined by status, wealth, or achievement.” What would it look like to center our identities on our local congrega- tions rather than our professional titles?
In sum, building a faith and work movement that appeals to a broader swath of Christians means a renewed emphasis on justice, spiritual formation, and the church. Perhaps, then, we can sit on our couches after a long day, close our eyes, and breathe in the lasting peace of knowing we have spent a day simply working with God.
It was 2016. I was two years into launching Denver Institute. One day I woke up and realized a painful truth. I have no idea what I’m doing.
So, I got on the phone and started calling friends and peers around the US. Geoff Hsu at Flourish San Diego; Lisa Slayton, then at Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation; David Kim at the Center for Faith & Work. I invited about 15 leaders from Atlanta to Toronto for three days in Breckenridge to eat, share, discuss, and learn from each other. I gave a simple name to that first gathering: CityGate.
At about the same time, we were launching our first class of 5280 Fellows. To be honest, as Jill (Hamilton) Anschutz was designing the website and Brian was designing the curriculum, we had no idea if this would fly either. But behold, at our first retreat we met 27 bright, faithful, engaged emerging leaders working in law, architecture, social entrepreneurships, psychiatry, engineering, and more.
Each of these two communities was a gift of grace. And now, five years later, they come together.
Today we announce a new initiative at Denver Institute for Faith & Work. CityGate is a national community of leaders in churches, businesses, and nonprofits committed to learning, investing in relationships, and encouraging human flourishing as we bring the gospel to the city gate of our respective communities. It is also our initiative for recruiting, equipping, and supporting leaders who want to launch a fellowship program in and for their city.
Why would we do this? I’m glad you asked. Below are some of the top questions we’ve received from donors, friends, Fellows, and peers.
In the ancient world, the city gate was the center of city life. It was the place of commerce, public assemblies, judicial activities, sacred ceremonies, and cultural life. Today, in a secular age, faith is often divorced from the core activities — business, government, justice, education, health care, arts — that make up a city.
We chose the name CityGate as an expression of our value of bringing the gospel into our work, our shared public life, and our culture.
For years we’ve had inquiries from leaders who wanted to run our Fellows program in their own city. We’ve been building out training programs, curriculum, and administrative infrastructure that would position a leader to effectively launch and operate their own program. We started by testing out the idea in one city. The talented David Bell, leading the Circle City Fellows in Indianapolis, has built a strong program over the last two years. So, with what we’ve learned, we’re ready to take the next step in coming alongside leaders in other cities as well.
Yet we’ve seen that many cities are not quite ready to launch such a comprehensive program and instead have questions that range from how to build a faith and work organization to what emotionally healthy leadership looks like. So, we decided to reignite the early CityGate community of leaders and invite in more leaders into the conversation for monthly “learning labs,” a place where we hear from leaders about best practices in leadership, formation, all-of-life discipleship, and its application across sectors.
But really, why did you start CityGate? Thanks for asking. Because we believe in a culture as broken as this, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the first and last answer — for our hearts, our relationships, and our shared civic life.
In 2021, we’re launching two programs: monthly learning labs and CityGate Fellowships. The learning labs are open to the public and will feature speakers, tools that we use in the fellowship, and the chance to learn from peer leaders in their contexts.
Also, in 2021 we’ll accept applications for CityGate Fellowships, a program designed specifically for leaders who want to launch their own fellowship program. The training offers not only comprehensive content, systems, and training for your Fellows, it also provides comprehensive training for the leaders from marketing a program to alumni retention Our first training for accepted leaders is September 2021.
Later in 2021, we’re exploring ways more deeply to serve our monthly donors and generous supporters with curated content, leadership tools, and workshops that strengthen the “gospel-ecosystem” across the US. We’re also exploring ways to partner with and strengthen churches, businesses, and peer nonprofits into 2022 and beyond.
Well, I’m glad you asked!
There is a growing, organic community of people who hunger for leading, working, and creating out of a holistic and coherent life deeply rooted in the gospel. Many have been in this space for years. Others are seeking wisdom, support and guidance for their own calling and leadership.
We invite you to learn, participate, and join CityGate as a community of peers committed to helping you build, grow, and strengthen your leadership as you take the gospel to your own city gate. All can join the free, monthly learning labs. We also invite you to consider either launching a fellowship program or joining the generous community at the heart of CityGate sharing ideas, prayers, tools, insights, and networks.
We need to collaborate. We need to learn from each other. And we need to strengthen not just ourselves, but the whole ecosystem if we’re going to start healing our communities with the transformative power of the gospel.
Five years after our first conversation in Breckenridge, I do have a bit more knowledge about leading at the intersection of faith, work, justice and culture. But I’m still learning…and I look forward to learning alongside you.
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:
Above is my introduction of the event content and how I think about how faith shapes business. Enjoy and share with your friends.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
Looking for more material? Visit Scatter.org.
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:
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.
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.
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)