Jeff Haanen

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Faith and Work Movement

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EconomyFaith and Work MovementWork

The Top 5 Struggles of Christian Business Leaders

Behind the veneer of confidence, bold risk-taking, and decisive leadership, all of us in positions of influence struggle – especially CEOs.  Considering these challenges tend to be perennial challenges for Christian business leaders, what experiences and/or resources can pastors, para-church leaders, and other business leaders provide for the executives in their network? What still needs to be done in the faith and work movement to serve leaders in this area?

Recently I grabbed the phone and called my friend Greg Leith, the CEO of Convene, a group that serves other Christian CEOs, to ask his opinion on the topic:

“Greg,” I said, “Based on your experience serving Christian CEOs around the country, what do you believe are the top areas that Christian CEOs struggle with?” 

“I’ll tell you,” Greg said, in a matter-of-fact tone. Turns out, they had recently just polled hundreds of CEOs connected to Convene about the tension points they feel on a daily basis.

“The first one is universal and common among everyone we polled,” he said. The #1 challenge facing Christians CEOs is:

1. Loneliness in leadership. 

If there’s any experience common to all executives, it’s loneliness. In whom do you confide when all complaints go up the chain of command, and not down? When you’re expected to make the decision, set the example, and lead the way? When revenue is down and you sense being in over your head?

It’s tough to share these challenges with other people at church, many of whom can’t identify with the responsibility of leading large staff teams or deciding on major budget issues. Even spouses can sometimes be hard to confide in for wisdom on actual business decisions.

If there’s any one place the Church can start in serving executives, it’s in providing a safe place for relationship among decision-makers.

2. Complexity in a rapidly changing, information-saturated world. 

Opportunities come and go at the speed of the 24/7 news cycle. Big data (and little data) pour into our pockets through iPhones. No information is inaccessible, yet almost all information is incomprehensible without a larger story or framework into which it fits. Filtering the wheat from the chaff is an ever-present challenge in the Information Age.

The truly scarce commodity in today’s business culture is not knowledge, accurate metrics or access to markets, but wisdom.

3. New technology.

Only a decade ago, CRM software or mass communication tools were so expensive only the biggest corporations could afford them. Now every start-up has free access to high quality email communication tools (like MailChimp), event registration (like Eventbrite), or shared calendaring or data storage (like Gmail).

This is great. But new technologies just keep coming. From manufacturing improvements to new software programs, companies are born each day that aspire to be the next unicorn (start-up valued at over $1 billion), offering the tool that will ensure business success for their customers.

So which ones are necessary, and which are simply noise? Who can help here?

4. Balance between profit, people, excellence and God.

Greg shared that this challenges is such an issue among executives that they formed their last national conference around the subject. We pretend like answers for Christian business owners are easier to come by than is really the case. In all honestly, questions abound:

  • Should we return more profit to our shareholders, or raise the wages of our employees?
  • Should we spend more on manufacturing in efforts to build a higher quality product, or will the market bear a similar price using less expensive materials?
  • Should I extend grace to my manager who just yelled at his employees – or fire him?
  • Should I spend time praying or hustling to land the next deal?

To say that the purpose of business is to serve the needs of the world is easy; to make actual decisions on what needs get prioritized often is not.

5. Integrating Christian faith with day-to-day business practices. 

“So many don’t have a clue as to how to integrate their faith into daily business practices.” Greg shared that so many of his CEOs are wonderful men and women who desire to bring God into their business, but often don’t know where to start. They lack, according to Leith, a theology for their actual work life. What’s really lacking are resources that are accessible (“They’re not going to read a tome by Tim Keller”) and directly applicable to what Christian faith says to day-to-day decisions on hiring, firing, profit margins, strategic planning, supply chains, prices, marketing or HR policy.

To this end, Leith and his team are creating more short video resources on topics like “theology for hiring” for busy business leaders eager to learn, but without the luxury of extensive leisure time for academic study.

Moving forward, I wonder what kind of experiences, resources, and communities are needed to address this growing need among the influential, yet often lonely, business leader.

A version of this post first appeared on the Green Room blog. Image credit. 

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Faith and Work MovementTheology

A Better Starting Point for the Faith and Work Movement, Part 2

 

In my last post, I mulled over all the times I buzzed around the topic of faith and work with pastors, only to bump into the screen door of misunderstanding time and time again. Sometimes I felt like a fly; other times like a mime trying to get my message across with frantic hand gestures.

Either way, I’ve concluded that the best place to start conversations around faith and work with pastors is this: Jesus’ death and resurrection begins the redemption of all of creation.

This doesn’t seem all that controversial, but I do think it is unique. Many of the theological voices I respect the most in the faith and work movement start with either Genesis 1-2 or Revelation 21-22. The idea is to regain both a knowledge of God as a Creator (and our identity as sub-creators and workers) or the fact that aspects of human culture (and work) will be in the renewed heavens and earth.  What’s central, they say, is to recover the “book ends” of Scripture.

Both of these themes and biblical passages are hugely important. We need to recover the grand biblical narrative.

But at the center of Christian faith is neither Genesis 1 & 2 nor the renewed heavens and earth. The center point of Christianity has always been the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If I share any common point with all pastors (and all Christians), here it is.

We are accustomed to thinking of Jesus’ death and resurrection primarily in terms of substitutionary atonement. And rightly so. But we are less likely to think of the events of Passion Week as a glorious beginning.

Let me try to explain myself by breaking the above statement into three parts:

  • “Jesus death and resurrection begins…” On Sunday morning, the first day of the week, as the morning sun dawned Mary found the tomb empty. She mistook Jesus for the gardener. But in a sense, the resurrected Christ was just the original Gardener: he was taking Mary back to the Garden of Eden. NT Wright makes the case that John’s account of the resurrection in John 20 is trying to point us to the creation narrative. Just as the Spirit of God hovered over the dark primordial chaos of Genesis 1:1-2, so the world was coming apart on Good Friday as dark clouds filled the air. And just as God spoke the universe into existence, so Resurrection Sunday is the beginning of the new world, the new creation.

First century Jews expected the resurrection to happen at the end of time, but in Christ, here is the resurrection in the middle of time. In a sense, because of the resurrection, heaven has already begun in this world.  In Christ, the restoration of the created order has begun, and his followers now are a part of that new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) in this age, in this fallen world.

  • “…the redemption…” In Al Wolters slim classic Creation Regained, he makes the case that the New Testament is loaded with words that begin with re-: re-demption, re-conciliation, re-storation, re-newal. Each has the connotation of going back to a prior healthy or whole state. Redemption is the recovery of freedom after having been enslaved; reconciliation is the making of peace between former friends who had become enemies; restoration is the action of returning something to a former owner, place, or condition. Jesus’ death and resurrection, therefore, means salvation is far wider and broader than my personal soul and spiritual destiny. He is the redeemer of the entire world (Col 1:15-20).
  • “…of all of creation.” Sin has infected everything: our hearts, our relationships, our work, our neighborhoods, our cities, and the physical world itself. But if sin is found all these areas, then Christ is in the business of bringing his resurrection life to all these areas as well. “He comes to make his blessings flow as far as the curse is found.” From golf course management to conservation efforts to the formation of government leaders in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Church, which worships on the first day of the week, lives continually in light of the resurrection today, with a great and glorious hope hidden in our breasts, but soon to be revealed to all the world (Romans 8:19).

So what about work? If we think about “creation” in terms of plants, water or mountains, we’ve missed it. Creation is not just where we go hiking on Saturday. But even taking the example of plants, how do humans principally interact with plants? (1) Agriculture, and feeding the world. (2) Manufacturing, everything from pharmaceuticals to plastic bottles. (3) Conservation efforts, from Brazil to Africa. (4) Gardening! We make plants more fruitful for the sake of providing for human needs (including the need for beauty).

At each point, for better or worse, work is our human act of creation. The arena in which humans participate in, shape, and form creation is principally through work.

It’s a simple idea, but for those of us inside the faith and work movement, I think it’s centrally important to make the case that our message is central to the gospel itself.

If we can do this, we can ask bigger, broader questions about the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection for our calling, our work, our jobs, our neighborhoods, our economy, and all the industries, individuals and institutions that make up human civilization.  We may even convince more pastors to work together on sermons, songs, or Sunday school classes related to “theology of work” and calling.

In so doing we can continue the project that generations of Christians before us have begun – which today we now simply dub “the integration of faith and work.”

Photo Credit: The Empty Tomb, by George Richardson

This blog post first appeared on The Green Room.

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Faith and Work Movement

A Better Starting Point for the Faith and Work Movement, Part 1

 

One of my continual shortcomings as the executive director of Denver Institute for Faith & Work is that I’ve rarely framed our mission so we’re clearly understood – especially by pastors.

More than once, my initial enthusiasm for all things “faith and work” is seen by good, godly pastoral leaders as a niche-y ministry that will likely soon, like chaff, be blown away by the winds of evangelical enthusiasm.

Here’s what I mean: Almost inevitably, the first time I meet with a pastor over coffee and start a conversation about Christianity and work, I can sense two questions behind an ever-gentle, shepherding smile: (1) What is this guy saying?, and (2) Of all the ministries that need my attention, why should I focus my attention here?

“Are you with some kind of career ministry? Do you help people discover their talents to serve in a ministry of their own? Do you meet with business men – and help give them a sense of meaning?” I’ve heard all of these. And they’re all fair questions. Especially since pastors are so often pulled from one parachurch interest to another – all of which are “central” to the church, or so their elders or local nonprofit leaders assure them.

But I’ve found that we need to refocus conversations about Christianity and work on a new starting point, one that immediately resonates with the core mission of Jesus’ church and the pastors who are her shepherds, oversees, and leaders.

After years of conversational dead ends, fits and starts, and fumbling introductions, when meeting with pastors I’ve decided not to start the faith and work conversation with:

  1. The sacred/secular divide. 

Yes, since the Enlightenment it’s true that fact and value, public life and private life, science and religion have been separated into different spheres. Folks like Schaeffer, Pearcey, and Colson have made this abundantly clear. And yes, so so many business leaders feel like their work is less valuable than “ministry” work – and wonder what role supply chains, value creation, or marketing plans play in the Kingdom. BUT, I’ve found that when I lead with the sacred/secular divide, the conversation tends to denigrate either pastors or business people.

An older generation tended to see the holiest kind of work as a pastor or missionary, to the deprecation of the “mere” business person. But today, we’ve over corrected, and in stressing that “all work can be a ministry” those in the faith and work movement tend to down play becoming a pastor, and have often crowned the work of the entrepreneur as holiest of work. Entrepreneurs are expected to alleviate global poverty, fuel a lagging economy, and create new businesses that can impact dozens, hundreds – even thousands – of lives.

Let it be known: I love both pastors and entrepreneurs. Both are beautiful callings, and both have their particular pitfalls and challenges.  But when I sit down with pastors, the last thing I want to do is downplay the call to become an overseer of God’s people, which is clearly biblical and clearly good (1 Tim. 3:1, 1 Peter 5:2). The pendulum has swung too far to one side of this debate – which means this is not usually the best way to start the conversation with pastors.

  1. Calling or vocation.

This is a much better starting point. Protestants have a category for calling. To most, it sounds like bringing a deeper sense of meaning to one’s work. However, to many others I’ve found it sounds like, (1)  I’m trying to help people find their ideal jobs (Actually, this has happened so many times I thought about starting a professional recruitment firm on the side.) Or (2) I’d like to give people gift inventories that helps them either find a good place to volunteer at the church, or…find their ideal jobs.

Sigh.

For years I’ve tried to save language of calling and vocation from the “vocation=my ideal job = my ideal me” equation, and follow sages like Steve Garber who winsomely argue for calling be an entire life lived in response to the voice of God. But alas, starting here has gotten me into many a murky water – waters best left to explore after we’ve set out on a common journey together.

  1. Theology of work.

Whether I’m speaking to pastors, business leaders, nurses, teachers, or cashiers, this phrase almost immediately sounds narrow or niche-y – like I joined the wrong Google+ group of academics.

The problem here is not the phrase. After all, I lead an organization with the term “faith and work” in the title. This phrase can be saved with ample conversation about the theme of work in the Bible and the obvious reality of our lives, which is consumed almost entirely by sleep, family, and work.

But I’m convinced that we need a much larger story that leads to theology for work, calling, and culture – but doesn’t necessarily start here.

I always say, if my aunt can’t understand what my job is, I have a serious branding issue.

  1. “Transforming the culture.”

For many of us, James Davison Hunter has permanently buried this phrase. But I’d still say that for most Christian institutions doing this kind of work – whether they be higher ed, para church, or church – talk of transforming the culture or changing the world is still commonplace. (After all, we have money to raise.)

The problem? It’s triumphalistic. As I look at the broad sweep of Western culture today, I’m not sure that broad cultural transformation should be a goal. I’ve become skeptical even of terms like “cultural renewal.” Yes, we can certainly renew aspects of culture – the values of tech development team, a mutual fund with an overtly theological mission, hiring formerly incarcerated men to become electricians – but transforming “the culture?” Like, the whole thing? Apart from Christ returning, I have no idea what that means.

  1. Political stances or platforms. 

As we’re seeing with this election, it’s so easy for those of us who care so deeply about what Christianity means for work, the economy and our respective sub-cultures to get co-opted by the political ideologies of day.

This is not to say we shouldn’t be political. No, I think man is inherently a political creature. We can’t help but organize ourselves into a polis and ask questions about a good society.

But far more often than not, the church and her attendant institutions, can get absorbed into the caustic right/left, conservative/liberal debates of our day, as happened to one respected systematic theologian this past week.

Today’s wisest leaders– like Tim Keller or John Piper – preach the wide, good and beautiful gospel, and allow men and women in their stations of life to make logical political conclusions from Christian doctrine. But they don’t get pulled in too deep into the dogfight lest their Christian witness and Kingdom distinctiveness become compromised.

So what, then, is a better starting point for the conversation about Christian faith and our work in the world?  I’m sure many will disagree with me, but for what it’s worth, here’s where I stand: Jesus’ death and resurrection begins the redemption of all of creation.

Explaining why I believe that this simple phrase is the best starting point will take one more blog post…

Photo Credit: NYTimes

This post first appeared on The Green Room

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