Jeff Haanen

Category

Theology

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RetirementTheologyWork

How will I spend my time in retirement?

“The first thing you have to know about retirement,” says Allan Spies, a 68-year-old retired US West executive, “is that you could live another 40 years.”

Spies recalled a conversation he had with his pastor when he was on the cusp of an early retirement in his 50s. The pastor reminded Spies of all the time he had ahead of him As Spies started to spend his newfound time, he was also jarred by how much his schedule changed. “The other thing you’ve got to know,” he says, “is that suddenly your clock changes.”

Many enter retirement busied and harried from the last few months of work. Then, like jumping off a moving train, the forward momentum comes to an abrupt halt. Weekdays melt into weekends. Long breakfasts can become early lunches. The time that was lacking in the pressure of raising a family and pursuing a career now floods into a quiet home.  

After an initial honeymoon period, many early retirees find themselves quickly looking for structure to their days and weeks. “I had to do something,” says Lynn Haanen, about her early retirement. “My days lacked a schedule and a sense of purpose.” Initially relieved to leave the “grind” of teaching third graders, Lynn (my mom) gloried in finally having time to herself. But eventually, she realized her weeks were amorphous and needing structure.

Her life in retirement had traded the stopwatch for the lava lamp, with hours and days slowly blobbing into each other without direction.

For millions of Americans, early retirement can feel like entering Dr. Seuss’s “The Waiting Place.” In his classic Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, Seuss warns about “a most useless place” for “people just waiting”:

Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Fear of being caught in a useless cycle of waiting leads many to backfill their days with activities, errands, and “busy work” to avoid the anxiety of purposelessness. Time becomes a burden, something to be used up, like too much corn overflowing a silo after harvest. “Oh, I stay busy,” becomes the anxious response to “How’s retirement?”

New research shows that human longevity is giving people a newfound abundance of years – a change few have planned for.

Time, Time, and More Time  

In 1900, the average male could expect to live to age 46, and the average female age, 48.[1] Today, “if you are now 20 you have a 50 per cent chance of living to more than 100; if you are 40 you have an even chance of reaching 95; if you are 60, then a 50 per cent chance of making 90 or more.” Over the last 200 years, life expectancy has increased at a rate of more than two years every decade.[2]

If you retire at age 65, this means that you will have an evens chance of living 25 years beyond retirement. (Studies show that half of Americans retire from ages 61-65, and a full two-thirds of Americans are out of the full-time workforce by age 66.[3]) If you exercise, eat healthy, minimize alcohol consumption and have generally healthy relationships, plan on at least three more decades of life.

In Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott’s fascinating book The 100 Year-Life, they see drastic changes coming to the world in the next 50 years as it ages – and lives longer than ever before.

  • Out of necessity, people will work into their 70s and 80s. Gratton and Scott ask their MBA students at the London Business School, “If you live you 100 years, save around 10 percent of your income and want to retire on 50 percent of your final salary, at what age will you be able to retire?” The answer: in your 80s. Human longevity is changing the equation of financial planners and government pensions.
  • There will be new jobs, skills, and a new need for life-long education. If you live to 100 and work into your 70s and 80s, the economy will likely have been completely transformed since your high school, undergraduate, or graduate education. The need to learn new job skills – and to take time to re-invest in your education – will rise in importance.
  • Family and home relationships will be transformed. Four generations living at the same time will become a norm, and as Baby Boomer budgets are stressed, intergenerational living will become commonplace.
  • People will be younger for longer. With advances in medical technology, many reporters and social observers have said “60 is the new 50.” Though we should carry a healthy skepticism of the “forever young” narrative of our culture (as we’ll explore in the next chapter), we also shouldn’t ignore the fact that people are now living longer, healthier lives than ever before.

One of the most fascinating changes already happening due to human longevity is that the three-stage life is starting to lose its meaning. For generations, it was assumed that you lived in three stages: first education, then employment, and finally retirement. (Many Christian books have adopted this paradigm and called retirement a “third third,” or a “third calling.” Other books have assumed that “aging” and “retirement” are the same topic, which is no longer true. “Old age” is something that – for most – will happen decades later.) But today, the seasons of life dedicated to work, family, education and rest will become more fluid. You might start a new career at 50, become an undergraduate at 60, and a great grandparent at 70.

Christianity can, and should, dump a bucket of cold water on much of a secular culture’s near-worship of the medical technology that has elongated our lives. “From dust we came,” we say on Ash Wednesday, “and to dust we shall return.”

But Christian thinkers, pastors, and leaders also need to lead the way in communicating that retirement is quite simply no longer a life stage “preparing for the end,” but instead a contemporary social construct that allows men and women to prepare for a new season of life.  

We’ll have to start asking better questions: what will you do with all of this time in retirement? What might Christian faith say about these newfound hours, days, weeks, months and years that lay ahead?

This is an excerpt from my book an Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life.


[1] Lynda Gratton & Andrew Scott, The 100 Year-Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity (London: Bloomsbury, 2016), 2.

[2] Emily Brandon, “The Ideal Retirement Age – and Why You Won’t Retire Then,” US News & World Report, 12 May 2014, Accessed on June 15, 2018: https://money.usnews.com/money/retirement/articles/2014/05/12/the-ideal-retirement-age-and-why-you-wont-retire-then.

[3] Dan Kadlec, “The Ages When Most People Retire (Hint: Probably Too Young),” Time, 1 December 2016, Accessed on August 12, 2018: http://time.com/money/4584900/ages-people-retire-probably-too-young-early-retirement/.

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BusinessFaith and Work MovementTheologyVocationWork

Lessons Learned from the Global Workplace Forum

I recently returned from the Global Workplace Forum, a conference hosted in Manila by the Lausanne Movement. Started in 1974 by John Stott and Billy Graham, the Lausanne Congress for World Evangelization gathered people from around the world; last week, 850 leaders from 109 different countries met to discuss the next phase of the global missions movement: the activation of the workplace as the central arena of God’s mission in the world.

The highlight was meeting the people* sitting at my table, a small group that discussed the larger live sessions. My table was gloriously diverse: 

  • Jonathan is from India and works in a sports ministry. Because of increased persecution of Christians in India under a Hindu nationalist government, Jonathan shared about his worry for his family, but also said “We’re 100% committed to bringing the gospel to our country.” He plays cricket, hosts a youth group in his home, and humbly serves God in a 650 square-foot flat with his wife and three children, one of whom is an adopted 19-year-old.

  • Solomon works in sports broadcasting in Johannesburg, South Africa, and is pursuing his MBA at the Rome Business School during the evenings. He is also a correspondent for BBC World Service and started a project called 70 Christian Heroes, a book that highlights South Africans courageously serving Christ in their daily lives.
     
  • Dennis is an architect living outside Kampala, Uganda. He shared the story about a contractor offering a $30,000 bribe to recommend the contractor’s company for a large project. Dennis turned it down, saying “That would compromise my Christian witness. I already made the decision before I started in this field what I would and would not do.”
     
  • Alex is the owner of a digital marketing company based in Hong Kong. He shared the story of Protestants in Hong Kong leading the way in the peaceful protests against a controversial extradition bill, singing “Hallelujah to the Lord” along with millions of protesters. 
     
  • Dyan is a Pilates instructor from Manila whose husband works at a church. She longs for the church to acknowledge the importance of her work as a genuine ministry outside either her home or her church. 

At the Global Workplace Forum, I met a tech entrepreneur from Puerto Rico working on energy solutions for his country and a payment platform that can help fund missions work. I met the CTO of a technology firm based in Moscow who works in Norway and the U.S., adopted a child, and shared with me his perspective on the 2014 annexation of Crimea. I met a French national who told me “You won, but we played better” regarding the U.S. women’s soccer defeat of the French team, which took place during the conference. I met a Sri Lankan who was studying at Yale, the CEO of the world’s largest Bible translation organization, and a Peruvian economist and lawyer who’s considering whether to run for Congress in Peru or follow his wife to the U.S. as she pursues an advanced degree. I even heard a story of a Turkish national who became a Christian while studying to become a Muslim cleric. 

The idea of “work” is dizzyingly complex and exhilarating at the same time. Truly, God’s people touch every single aspect of culture!

I spoke as part of a panel that explored solutions for how the global church can activate the faith of the 99% of Christians who don’t work occupational ministry jobs, like pastors or missionaries. The panel facilitator had a PhD in electrical engineering from Canada. The other panelists included a clinical psychologist who works outside Nairobi and counsels victims of genocide; a Filipino-American woman who works in international expansion of Apple stores around the world and is helping to start faith-based employee resource groups; and a man who works with nomadic tribes in Kyrgyzstan.

The experience in Manila was enlightening on many fronts. Here are a few things I took away from the event: 

1) I share more in common with other believers from across the globe than I do with my own non-Christian next-door neighbors.  It was a fascinating experience to hear the story of Dmitry, a Christian entrepreneur in Moscow. When he shared about his faith, his family, and his work, I immediately felt at home. He has the same challenges with his kids, the same concerns about his government, and the same struggles with what it meant to be a Christ-follower in his industry. It was almost odd how Christians from across the globe share a common language, common ethos, and common mission.

A.W. Tozer said that Christians are like pianos tuned to the same tuning fork. Not only are we tuned to the same tuning fork, but we’re also tuned to each other. This describes my exact experience at the Forum, and I felt swept into something much bigger than my nationality, my culture, or even my own work. 

2) Globally, the workplace is becoming a commonly accepted paradigm for a new era of missions. In the past, missionaries would raise support for years, find a ministry job abroad, and work with locals to execute that plan. Today, more people are seeing this as a dying model; taking your job with you as a missionary makes far more sense. Instead of quitting your job to become a missionary, more people are keeping their job and become physicians, entrepreneurs, or teachers both at home and abroad while still being on mission

The acceptance of this paradigm of work as a missionary endeavor is not simply an American phenomenon; it’s taking root in the global missions movement across countries. 

3) The conversation is still too biased toward executives. The programming was utterly wonderful, yet several people approached me and said, “Why are we just speaking to business leaders here?” The question for the next season of this movement will be: how do we apply the gospel to the work of hourly wage earners – housekeepers, janitors, book printers, and millions of other working-class jobs?

4) Work is immensely broad. Before the Global Workplace Forum, I never considered work to include activities like the work of nomadic tribesmen in Kyrgyzstan! When we speak about shaping our workplaces as Christians, we are truly talking about global culture and every issue in the modern world, ranging from climate change to human trafficking to artificial intelligence. We covered each of these topics, and more, throughout the week. 

5) English is the language of global commerce. Imagine my surprise when I went to a conference with attendees from 110 difference countries, and they all spoke my language! I expected wide linguistic gaps. Though there were interpreters at the conference, it made me appreciate that technology has connected the world; in many ways, we share one global culture. We have more opportunities than ever before to learn from others who are serving God from Italy to Uzbekistan. It led me to a greater sense of responsibility as we produce short courses and podcasts that are now being consumed around the world. 

6) I need to build deeper relationships with friends from other cultures. I met one couple, Emanuel and Bianca, who are real estate developers in Romania. As they shared about creating community through new housing developments, I was struck that my wife and I could easily be friends with them if they lived in Colorado. After I came home, I committed to downloading WhatsApp, the global medium for texting and chatting across cultures, staying in touch with friends from abroad, and working to diversify our conversation about the gospel and our culture in Colorado. 

Being abroad and meeting new friends made me realized that we have much to gain and learn from our brothers and sisters around the world. It’s time to embrace Lausanne’s motto: “the whole church bringing the whole gospel to the whole world.” 

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

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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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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CultureTheology

Subversion

These three paragraphs, penned in 1991 by Lesslie Newbigin, changed my life as soon as I read them. Part of a larger treatment of “the gospel as public truth,” I repeat them here so I don’t forget the central why behind my seemingly endless (and multiplying) labors at Denver Institute.

And I post them for you, my fellow “undercover agents,” so that we might both know that we are not alone.

First, while the Church as a corporate society cannot identify itself with particular political programs, it must be the responsibility of the Church to equip its members for active and informed participation in public life in such a way that the Christian faith shapes that participation. Public life is the area where the principalities and powers operate. There are structures and forces which have a transpersonal character. The person who operates within them is not free to act as if he or she was a free individual. There is some freedom, but it is limited by the structure of the whole. If I understand the teaching of the New Testament on this matter, I understand the role of the Christians as that of being neither a conservative nor anarchist, but a subversive agent. When Paul says that Christ has disarmed the powers (not destroyed them), and when he speaks of the powers as being created in Christ and for Christ, and when he says that the Church is to make known the wisdom of God to the powers, I take it that this means that a Christian neither accepts them as some sort of eternal order which cannot be changed, nor seeks to destroy them because of the evil they do, but seeks to subvert them from within and thereby bring them back under the allegiance of their true Lord.

There is a beautiful illustration of this in Paul’s dealing with the runaway slave Onesimus. In the letter which goes to Colossae he tells Christian slaves to obey their earthly masters, because they are in fact serving the Lord in doing so. He does not tell Onesimus to go underground in Rome or wherever. He sends him back to his master as a slave, but he sends him back with the status of an apostolic nuncio. The structure is not simply smashed – as so much popular political rhetoric advocates; it is to be subverted from within.

But undercover agents need a great deal of skill. We do not spend enough of our energies in training undercover agents. A psychiatrist who was a devout Christian was recently asked whether her Christianity informed her work in the consulting room. She replied: “But that would be unprofessional conduct.” What kind of preparation is needed to enable a psychiatrist to discern the ways in which her profession could be subverted from its allegiance to other principles and become an area where the saving work of Christ is acknowledged? What would be the specific kind of training for a teacher in the public schools, for an executive in a big corporation, for a lawyer or a civil servant? Do we not need to invest much more of the Church’s resources in creating the possibility for such training? It cannot be done by clergy, though they have a part. It calls for the vigorous development of lay programs in which those in specific areas of secular work can explore together the possibilities of subversion. I know that much has been said along these lines, and yet there is little to show for it. In small enterprises of this kind in which I have been involved I have found that there was great enthusiasm once the purpose was understood. For undercover agents, it is a great thing to know that you are not alone.

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PoliticsTheologyWork

From the Archives: Book Review, “Migration Miracle”

Who doesn’t love a good adventure story? In my opinion, there are few contemporary stories filled with more hope and tragedy than those of Central Americans and Mexicans taking their chances and migrating north to America. I recently published a review of Jacqueline Maria Hagan’s Migration Miracle: Faith, Hope and Meaning on the Undocumented Journey (Harvard Press, 2012, paperback) in The Review of Faith and International Affairs. Here it is:

Suffocating from the sweltering heat, Cecelia, a migrant from Puebla, Mexico, crammed into the back seat of a sealed van. She and a dozen other women and children dared not speak, despite the lack of oxygen, because their coyote insisted immigration officials were close behind. During the seemingly eternal trip across the U.S. Border, in tears Cecelia remembered, “I prayed in silence to God and pleaded with him to let me live.”

Compelled by stories like Cecilia’s, sociologist Jacqueline Maria Hagan tells the harrowing tales of undocumented migrants traveling from Central America and Mexico to the United States in Migration Miracle: Faith, Hope and Meaning on the Undocumented Journey (Harvard University Press, 2008). In contrast to books that explain immigration solely in social or economic terms, Hagan sets out to investigate the central role of religion in migration. From Pentecostal ayunos (fasts) in the Guatemalan highlands to the shrines of Catholics saints checkered along the desert journey, Hagan gives voice to stories of faith among these “desperate and dignified people,” and so attempts to put a human face on the immigration debate.

Hope on the Border

Drawing on interviews with over 300 migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, Migration Miracle elucidates the importance of religion from making the decision to migrate through arrival.  Margot, an evangelical from Guatemala, fasted and read her Bible for a “sign” from God as she agonized over whether to leave her family. She prayed that if a local coyote (a guide who transports migrants across the border for money) would accept the $1500 payment after she arrived in the U.S., she would accept it as a divine sign. When the coyote agreed, and Margot’s pastor confirmed the sign, she decided to leave. Though sociologists tend to bristle at attributing human behavior to the supernatural, Hagan rightly notes signs are “powerful agents of action” that are “real in their consequences.”  Migrants like Margot not only look for divine signs but also pray, fast, consult clergy and even make pledges of reciprocity (called la promesa) to saints in exchange for safe travels. The study found that 9 out 10 migrants sought spiritual guidance from God before making the final decision to journey north.

To ward off danger, many migrants turn to shrines and images, such as Guatemala’s popular El Cristo Negro (Black Christ) de Esquilipas, a darkened wood image revered for its miraculous powers. Miguel, who left Honduras in 2001, purchased a medallion of El Cristo Negro and promised not to remove it until it fell off his neck. He credits his safe arrival in the U.S. to the image.  Nearly 90% of Mexicans self-identify as Catholic, and devotion to saints and icons deeply shapes their migration experience.

Perhaps the keynote of the discordant migrant song is an undying hope. One group of migrants sought a priestly blessing before crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.  Apprehended by U.S. Border patrol officials, they were brought back to Mexico. They promptly returned to the priest for another blessing. With a touch of irony, the priest asked “So the blessing didn’t help you that much, did it?” One of the young men responded with genuine devotion: “Father forgive me if I contradict you, but with that blessing we arrived as far as Houston. If we had not had your blessing, who knows how far we might have gone? Probably not even to the border.”

Religion is not only important on a personal level, but institutions also help to pave the migrant trail. Churches, nonprofits and humanitarian organizations form a transnational network of advocacy and aid. Among the most notable are the Scalabrianian Missionaries, a Roman Catholic order of priests and nuns whose primary mission is to provide pastoral care to migrants and refugees. Their international network bandages wounds, provides water and food, and gives spiritual guidance to thousands – their Casa del Migrante in Tapachula, Mexico sees as many as 500 migrants a day. The Scalabrianian missionaries stand squarely in the camp of Catholic social theology which practices a theology of solidarity, advocacy and hospitality, defending migration as a fundamental human right for those those who cannot find employment in their own countries to support their families.

Even smaller Protestant organizations contribute to the international aid network.  Humane Borders, Inc., has placed dozens of water tanks in the arid Arizona desert for migrants on foot suffering from dehydration. Father Bob Carney, founder of the interfaith organization Healing Our Borders, commented, “The gospel demands that we act…We must respond to what we are witnessing along the border. If not, one day our Savior will ask why we didn’t do anything in the face of death.” Many Protestant and Catholic leaders view the vulnerable migrant as a stranger they are commanded to serve as if he was Christ himself (Matthew 25:44; cf. Luke 25:15-16).

A Humane Sociology

Jacqueline Maria Hagan’s panoply of first-hand testimonies successfully brings a human face to immigration. One mother prayed for her child’s forgiveness for leaving without first waking him to say good-bye.  Another migrant remembered the soul-convulsing guilt of leaving a teenage girl behind because she could not keep up with the group. The stories are heart-wrenching.  Even the surprising anecdotes of hope—like the virtuous coyote who took his human cargo to an Arizona emergency room to be treated for dehydration—have a way of humanizing an otherwise political issue. It is difficult to read this book and remain detached from the harsh realities of immigration.

Yet the book also succeeds sociologically; her depiction of migrant religious practice is both fascinating if not bizarre. For example, legend has it that Juan Castillo Morales, a private in the Mexican army wrongly accused of murder, was told he would be freed if he could run across a marked line. Although he was killed by his commanding officer, he came to represent immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, seen by outsiders as a criminal, but by the faithful as a saint. Today Juan Soldado (as he’s known) is revered in Tijuana among migrants. As such, travelers stock up on Juan Soldado trinkets, beseeching his favor before crossing over to California. Similarly, thousands flock to the shrine of St. Toribio in Jalisco, Mexico each year. Known as the “coyote saint,” St. Toribio is worshiped for the reported miracles he has granted to migrants in peril. Hagan’s religious survey manages to strike a balance between compassion for migrants and objective sociological research – it’s no wonder Migration Miracle won a prestigious award in 2010 from the American Sociological Association for distinguished research.

Some may criticize Hagan for not offering policy solutions to the perplexing debates surrounding immigration reform (many of which were discussed in the Spring 2011 Issue of The Review of Faith and International Affairs). Issues like security, the American labor force, and social integration won’t be resolved by this book. But that wasn’t her purpose. Migration Miracle delivers readers a vision of both human suffering and dignity by not so much speaking for or against migrants as speaking to them. Their stories of struggle, hardship and faith make readers ask a simple question: “What if I was in their place?” It wasn’t long ago that European migrants to the U.S. (my ancestors included) were telling similar tales of woe and hope.

Recently a young Mexican man was apprehended by INS in southern Arizona. After being kicked by border patrol agents and attacked by dogs, the crouching migrant was turned over and revealed a Bible pressed desperately to his chest. After seeing the faith of these travelers, perhaps those who set immigration policy, like the border patrol agent, might consider calling off the dogs.

This is an Author’s Original Manuscript of an article submitted for consideration in the The Review of Faith and International Affairs [copyright Institute for Global Engagement]; The Review of Faith and International Affairs  is available online at http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/XnwEFgYNhsDjb4W73WrH/

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TheologyVocationWork

The Church in Public Life: Pastoring for the Public Good of Your Community

 

The following is the talk I gave at Thriving Churches, Thriving Cities, Denver Institute’s annual gathering for pastors and ministry leaders. The topic: what does it mean for pastoral leaders and their churches to be involved in healing the public life of their communities? 

Thank you again for coming today. I’d like to introduce our final set of conversations today by speaking to the topic of pastors and public engagement.

Today we’ve spoken about pastoral wholeness and integrity, and, in the breakouts, growing in pastoral excellence through navigating change and conflict. What might it mean, then, for pastors to lead churches working toward the healing of their cities?

Let me first tell you a personal story. My first pastorate after seminary was serving Iglesia Bautista Nueva Esperanza, a Spanish-speaking church in Brighton, Colorado. I preached in Spanish, led youth group in English, and, as the only white guy there, stuck out like a sore thumb.

I realized a year into my pastorate that about 80% of my congregation was related to each other. They were nearly all from Chihuahua, Mexico.

I also realized something important: that just holding church services and doing Bible studies would not be enough to serve my congregation and allow them to experience wholeness in Christ.

As immigrants, they were driven to leave their home because of economic factors. They were seeking good jobs. And many of the men were gone on Sundays working as painters and roofers. Education was also so important. They wanted their kids to get a good education, but they often struggled to navigate the system. And they were worried their kids would get caught up in gangs. Culture, too, was deeply formative. They were worried that America would instill in their families materialism over a love of family. Many were also aware of their Mexican culture and its tendency toward corruption.

As I pastor of my first congregation, I realized work, community, and culture were not abstract ideas. They were the fabric of real, daily lives.

Early in my life as a minister, I asked a question I want to now ask us today. Are we influencing culture, or are we being influenced by culture?

Or more pointedly, I recently started to ask about my own preaching: do I use culture to illustrate the gospel? Or does the gospel illustrate culture? That is, would I use the latest headline about business or government to illustrate a point from the book of Romans, or was I using the book of Romans to illustrate – shed light on – business and government?

What about us as pastors and ministry leaders in Denver, Colorado today? What does it mean to be the church in this place and time?

A generation about, pastor and missionary Leslie Newbigin wrote a slim book called The Other Side of 1984. He was addressing the world council of churches about what it meant to be “on mission” in the secular West. He wrote something about the nature of the church I’ve never forgotten.

In the book, he tells the story of early Christians in the Roman empire, and the debate of what to call themselves. He explains that in the Roman empire, there were many “private cults” that enjoyed protection from the Emperor. The opponents of Christianity used these words to refer to early Christians, but no Christian apparently ever did so. In other words, the Church did not regard itself as a society for the promotion of the personal salvation of its members.

The obvious choice for what to call a congregation of God’s people would have been sunagogos, or synagogue, which was already used to address Jewish minorities throughout the empire. But they didn’t use this either. Early Christians opted for the word ecclesia, which denoted the public assembly called by the civic authority, in which all citizens were summoned to discuss and settle the affairs of a city. By calling itself the ecclesia Theou, the Church made its own self-understanding clear: It was the public assembly by which all humanity was summoned, called by God himself.

The essential message of the early church was about Jesus’ kingship. Jesus was God incarnate, who died for our sin, was resurrected for our salvation, and now is Lord of all. All authority and heaven and earth has been given to Him.

That is, church has never only been about Sundays and souls; it’s about souls and cities. If something is going wrong in a city, it is the church’s responsibility to act. We are not only about defending our rights to worship as we please; we are about showing the invisible reign of Jesus through our words, lives, and actions.

In John Stott’s 1970s classic Christian Mission in the Modern World, he states,

“If we are to love our neighbor as God made him, we must inevitably be concerned for his total welfare, the good of his soul, his body and his community. When any community deteriorates, the blame should be attached where it belongs: not to the community which is going bad but to the church which is failing in its responsibility as salt to stop it from going bad.”

What does it mean to be a pastor who is publicly engaged and cares for souls as well as bodies, communities, companies, and cities?

Let me briefly suggest three things for the pastor’s role in public life.

  1. Publicly-engaged pastors commit to preaching a gospel for all of life.

Here’s Newbigin again: “The message of Jesus was about the kingship, the universal sovereignty of God. It was not a message about the interior life of the soul in abstraction from the public life of the world.” Christian discipleship therefore means that Jesus is Lord of all – not only of our religious life, but of all of creation, including communities, cities, companies, schools, hospitals and cultures. The good news transforms our souls as much as it does our businesses.

The good news is that by Jesus’ death and resurrection, the power of sin has been broken, and he’s healing all that has been fractured by the Fall. This is both individual and institutional. Pastors have the unique and often times offensive job of preaching that Jesus really is King of all, and all final allegiance belongs to Him.

Publicly engaged pastors read far outside of their field and humbly learn from people living and working in sectors far different from their own in order to explore what Jesus’ kingship might look like for those areas of human life.

  1. Publicly-engaged pastors commit to serving the vulnerable in their communities, both personally and through the volunteer efforts of their congregations.

Pastors who are publicly engaged commit to social justice and civic renewal in response to Jesus’ command to “love your neighbors as yourselves.”

Practically speaking, you can think about how to do this a few different ways. But one way is the think about your church and the volunteer capacities of your people, and decide together – what will be the one or two needs in our community that we will take responsibility for? It could be homelessness, loving immigrants, caring for pregnant teenagers, or mentoring. Sometimes it’s a program you’re doing; sometimes it partnering with a local nonprofit or civic imitative. But from what I’ve seen, this isn’t doing everything, but it is doing something. And doing it for a long time.

Another way is to become personally involved in the critical issues of your community. We’ll hear shortly from two pastors who’ve done this through sitting on local boards to investing in real estate projects. If you care, your people will care.

  1. Publicly-engaged pastors commit to vocational discipleship and forming men and women to be agents of restoration and reconciliation in their workplaces and communities.

Here’s a word of good news for you. You don’t have to do everything. God has people touching every part of our civilization. The pastor’s role is to shape the imaginations of your people for their lives and vocations.

Here’s how NT Wright puts it: “Your task is to find symbolic ways of doing things differently, planting flags in hostile soil, setting up signposts that say there is a different way to be human.” To be “raised with Christ” is a creative calling to find ways our daily work and lives to point beyond ourselves to Christ, the Light of the World.

Let me also briefly make the case for an institution like Denver Institute for Faith & Work. We exist to serve churches – both pastors and laity – as we explore the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection for our work, whether that be business, health care, retail, or transportation.

You, pastors, have the privilege of walking alongside of men and women and explore what it means to salt in society, yeast in our culture, and a city on a hill in a dark world. As your people scatter throughout society during the week, you can give them a vision for the redemptive angle of their work has on the public life of our society.

In summary, publicly-engaged pastors preach the breadth of our good news, show the depth of God’s love for the poor, and work to form God’s people in their vocations scattered throughout our cities during the week.

Pastors are critical to the health of churches, and churches are critical to the health of our cities. Thank you for your work.

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NonprofitTheologyWork

The 10 Characteristics of a Thriving Pastor

For years we at DIFW have focused on what it means to live out the gospel in supposedly “secular” work, like business, medicine, law, or the arts. But several years ago we came to the uncomfortable realization that there was one field we had overlooked: pastoral ministry.

Now, we hadn’t completely overlooked pastors. But we had done two things. First, we assumed being a pastor was intrinsically “sacred.” But as my colleague at DIFW Brian Gray says, who was a pastor for 10 years, “It’s possible to wait tables very ‘sacredly,’ but pastor very ‘secularly.’” In our work with pastors, we’ve seen being a pastor, too, can devolved into just being a “job.”

Second, I felt like we had started to look at pastors as a means to an end. That is, we hoped pastors would come to “get it,” meaning that they would teach their congregants to be missionaries and servants of God in society through their work. And once they “got it,” we wanted them to influence their congregations with a robust theology of vocation. But after several of our key church relationships cooled off, I began to ask: have we been using pastors to get to their people, or had we been serving pastors? Had we really asked what might it look like for pastors to deeply live out their own faith through their work?

When working with pastors in our city on topics surrounding vocation, we also realized that getting churches to engage the social and cultural needs of their cities through their congregant’s work was often nearly impossible because they were dealing with too many issues in their own churches. Difficult elders, flighty volunteers, shrinking budgets, conflict amongst members, unclear goals. We realized that if churches weren’t led by pastors with unusual skill and competence, spanning from preaching and teaching to conflict resolution, community impact was nearly impossible.

Yet pastoral excellence, too, is elusive! We also realized that attaining pastoral excellence is difficult for many pastors (just as excellence is for people in any field!) because they were dealing with so many of their own spiritual and emotional issues—or  not dealing with them. In a survey we did this last spring with nearly 20 pastors in Denver, many told us anonymously about their own loneliness, fears and doubts. Many were longing for communities of clergy peers with whom they could be honest, vulnerable, and open – and found that this was usually difficult to do inside their own congregations. Pastoral ministry can be hauntingly lonely.

As part of a grant application process we did this last spring (for which we were summarily rejected – so take this following list with a grain of salt!), we put together our convictions about what it means to be a thriving pastor.

We summarized the marks of a thriving pastor in three categories: personal (points 1-3 below), professional (4-5), and public (6-8). We also believe thriving pastors put themselves in the right context (9-10) to grow. Thriving pastors lead from the inside out: they draw on the life of Christ from within, pursue excellence in their craft of pastoral leadership, and influence their churches for the sake of their cities and the flourishing of their communities.

Drawing on our work with pastors in the Denver metropolitan area along with external research on pastoral health, we at DIFW believe there are ten characteristics of a thriving pastor.

Personal

1.Personal Humility and Deep Spiritual Health. Thriving pastors “face their own shadow” in the context of vulnerable relationships. They open their hearts to God’s transforming grace through practicing spiritual disciplines, and they sustain pastoral habits of mental, emotional, and physical self-care. Their first call is to love God with all of their heart, mind, soul and strength.

2. Embracing the Call to Be a Pastor. Thriving pastors listen to God’s voice over a lifetime and embrace a professional identity without being unhealthily dependent on that identity for a sense of personal worth. They embrace a distinct call to be a pastor. They recognize their limitations and leverage their God-given gifts for their congregations and communities.

3. Healthy Families, Marriages, and Friendships. Thriving pastors are surrounded by healthy relationships, including first their spouses, then children, family and friends. Safe, open and honest relationships are critical to pastoral flourishing.

Professional

4. Leadership Management and Skill. Thriving pastors exhibit pastoral competence and learn new leadership skills often left untaught in seminary education (e.g., casting vision, managing projects, managing budgets, hiring well, etc.). They recognize short-comings and depend on mentors to navigate leadership challenges, especially early in their career.

5. Emotional Intelligence. Thriving pastors exhibit growing emotional intelligence and self-awareness, especially as it relates to leading and “reading” their church and its key leaders. They are able to build trust and lead healthy growth and change in their congregations.

Public

6. Social Engagement. Thriving pastors lead churches that serve the needs of their particular community, especially the poor. They commit to social justice and civic renewal in response to Jesus’ commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

7. Vocational Discipleship. Thriving pastors lead churches committed to forming men and women in their vocations as agents of reconciliation and restoration in families, workplaces and cities.

8. Evangelistic Witness. Thriving pastors lead evangelistic churches committed to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed with their communities and the world.

Context

9. Community of Peers and Mentors. Thriving pastors have communities of clergy peers and mentors who help them navigate personal, professional, and community challenges over a career. They embrace friendships with other pastors and leaders outside their church.

10. Becoming an Adult Learner. Finally, thriving pastors take ownership for their own development and embrace learner-directed, problem-oriented, and contextualized learning environments over a lifetime. They write their own “syllabus” and embrace peer feedback.

Today pastors face increasing complexity in their ministerial roles: the pull to be both spiritual and organizational leaders, and the pressure to offer cultural leadership in communities that no longer recognize their moral authority. Pastors – like all of us – need rhythms of spiritual formation, self-care, family health, and professional development to thrive with resilience.

We all face deep challenges in the workplace and long for God to use us to bless and heal this broken world. Perhaps one day, both lay leaders and pastors will lock arm and lean on one another to imitate King David who “shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them” (Psalm 78:2).

I’d be interested to hear from you. What do you think we missed in this list? What did we get right, and what did we get wrong? What specific examples can you give of deep pastoral health and resilience?

For more on this topic, see:

  • Bob Burns, Tasha Chapman, and Donald Guthrie: Resilient Ministry
  • Pete Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality
  • Gordon Smith, Courage and Calling
  • Barna Group, The State of Pastors: How Today’s Faith Leaders are Navigating Life and Leadership in an Age of Complexity
CultureTheologyWork

A Vision for Denver: Speech from “The Sounds of Work”

 

Good evening. Thank you for coming tonight to experience the Denver Institute community and “The Sounds of Work.”  Thank you to our board and advisory board for bringing your friends tonight. Thank you to our 5280 Fellows, past and present, for your dedication to this experience. And thank you to Fellowship Denver for hosting us tonight. Many churches contributed to the formation of Denver Institute, but none were more instrumental than Fellowship Denver.

I was asked to give a vision not only for Denver Institute tonight, but for our city.  Tall order! But I think I can do it succinctly. Actually, it’s printed in your program. Read with me this quote from author Os Guinness:

“Grand Christian movements will rise and fall. Grand campaigns will be mounted and grand coalitions assembled. But all together such coordinated efforts will never match the influence of untold numbers of followers of Christ living out their callings faithfully across the vastness and complexity of modern society.”

History is filled with grand campaigns, great coalitions, and mighty leaders. But this isn’t my vision for Denver. Nor is it my vision for Denver Institute. My vision is simply, “the influence of untold numbers of followers of Christ living out their callings faithfully across the vastness of modern society.”

It’s a vision of the daily, humble service of God’s people that brings life and hope to our city and culture.  

American culture today is filled with tension. Though we are wealthy, millions struggle with despair and meaninglessness. Though God’s church is present, it’s shrinking. Though we have the best universities in the world, our children our afraid to go to school. In the US we’ve had 22 school shootings – just since the beginning of the year.

What are we, the Christian people of America, going to do? (Pause.)

The American church is searching for a way to be public, yet not political; culturally engaged, yet not divisive; hopeful, yet not triumphalistic. Our vision at Denver Institute is this: faith expressed through work in the public sphere, clothed in the humility of Christ.  This is the vision.

Let me share with you what I’ve seen this last year in the Denver Institute community.

  • I’ve spoken with a fellow nonprofit executive who took is son to our event on faith and science, who thanked me afterwards that such a conversation could happen in the evangelical community. He valued a community that could talk about scientific excellence and a life of faith in the same conversation.
  • We received a message after our Business for the Common Good from a woman who said, “Something changed with my husband after he attended the event. He has new vision and energy for his work. Thank you.”
  • Just last week, I spoke with Brian Gray, our Director of the 5280 Fellowship, after a conversation our Fellows had on faith and health care, who told me: “I just saw a doctor process decisions about vaccination through the lens of Christian theology. It was stunning.” Such a nerdy comment – and I, too, thought it was stunning!
  • I’ve watched new communities of entrepreneur’s spring up in our city; the formation of a new community of Denver’s professional women longing for a place to process questions of work, calling, family and career; just this afternoon I saw a gathering of worship leaders ask how worship music might sanctify the imaginations of their parishioners.

The vision is “the influence of untold numbers of followers of Christ living out their callings faithfully across the vastness of society.”

I see these hints of redemption in our city and state and it fills my imagination. And I say to myself, can you imagine?

  • Imagine a city where despair and meaninglessness are drowned out by a pervasive belief that God is at work redeeming all things.
  • Imagine a city where people across neighborhoods, sectors, ethnicities, and social classes trade isolation for collaboration, and loneliness for deep friendship.
  • Imagine the church intentionally sending scientists, entrepreneurs, teachers, and nurses into their fields as agents of love, reconciliation, and restoration.
  • Imagine that our fragmented, busy, and overwhelmed lives are infused with a deep sense of peace, rest, and hope.
  • Could you imagine if Christians were taking leadership in the key issues of our city – and we were known more for our acts of love and message of good news than what we’re against?

Can you imagine?

But then I look at myself, into my own heart, and I think. Impossible. That day will never come. I’m leading this thing, and I see darkness inside of me.

Several weeks ago, I was driving in my car with my wife on our way on a date. As we rolled in our beat-up Honda Odyssey, my wife brought up memories of the founding of Denver Institute back in 2012. She says to me, “Jeff, do you know you were able to found Denver Institute? Because you’re so unimpressive.”

Thanks?!? I think?!?

But her point was clear: there are no famous people here. No heroes. Just people like you and me, walking with a severe limp in life. With doubts, short tempers, fears, and unmet desires.

Yet as I think about the actual people involved in the DIFW community, I’m reminded of the biblical story. God chooses not Jesse’s oldest son to be king, but his youngest! God chooses stuttering Moses to be his spokesperson before the world’s most powerful man, Pharaoh. When God decided to clothe himself in flesh, he did not become a Greek philosopher or Roman senator, but a simple, carpenter!

We – me and you – are God’s plan to restore his world. Just as a father delights in gardening with his daughters on a sunny, Saturday morning, so God invites us into his work, to cultivate and create a new world.

And that’s one way the Christian people are distinct in this city. The secular story says that this is your world conquer. You can do anything you want! Have your dreams. It’s about individual achievement.  The story is Big Me, little world.

But the Christian story is the opposite: it’s little me, and Big Story. Like Frodo Baggins, we are unimpressive, but chosen for a great task. This is the vision. This is what it means to be called.

I would like to ask you to consider to do two things tonight.

1. This is a fundraiser, and so I’d like you to respectfully ask you to consider giving monthly to the ministry of Denver Institute for Faith & Work. We need financial resources to operate, grow, and impact our city. Actually, tonight we have a matching opportunity: Our goal is 15 new monthly donors, of any amount. Once we hit that, a private donor will match at $5,000. I would like to ask you to consider giving. Ninety percent of our budget comes from generous donors who believe in our mission of forming men and women to serve God, neighbor and society through their daily work. I’d be honored if you’d consider becoming a monthly donor. We’ll have a reminder at the end of tonight’s program as well.

2. But second, tonight, I’d like to ask you to participate. Instead of only telling you about your work, tonight is a bit different. We want you to experience Tonight is experiential – you will have the chance to read Scripture, respond to liturgy, hear stories of people in the DIFW community. You will also have the chance to experience our message through song. We’re honored tonight to have Sandra McCracken performing songs from a new vocation-themed worship album. They’re meant to be sung not just tonight, but as you build homes, clean toys, treat patients, sit in meetings. They are our gift to you – a song for your heart as you live out your day-to-day life, as Os Guinness said, “a follower of Christ living out your calling across the vastness of modern society.”

Our vision for Denver is a Body of Christ, built up and strong in our city, yet also willing to wash the feet of our neighbors. As Martin Luther said,

“A cobbler, a smith, a farmer, by means of his own work or office must benefit and serve every other, that in this way many kinds of work may be done for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the community.” We are motivated by “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

But it’s not our primary motivation. Our primary motivation is an entire life lived in response to God’s immense love for us. Our vision is every day, every moment, every meeting, every client, every interaction with a co-worker – all in response to the Great Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart, mind, soul and strength.”

In any given year, you will see Denver Institute doing events across the city: on the manufacturing floor of an electrical contractor; at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts; at the Colorado School of Mines; shared co-working spaces. Why? Why do we do this?  

Because we believe the horizontal beams of the cross stretch to the very corners of creation. The Lamb who was slain is making all things new.

Our true, deep, and lasting motivation is simply joy.

Come, now, join us not only for a time of worship – but a life of worship.

 

This speech was given on May 19, 2018 at “The Sounds of Work”, Denver Institute’s annual celebration and fundraiser. 

 

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TheologyWork

Looking Forward to Hearing Sandra McCracken May 19

 

This morning I woke up feeling a little sour. So I pulled out an old worship song I’ve loved, “Thy Mercy, My God,” only to see that it was originally written by Sandra McCracken, whom Denver Institute is hosting May 19 for it’s annual celebration. (And we’re also hosting a special gathering for pastors and worship leaders with Sandra that afternoon.)  I’m so looking forward to our time that evening, I thought I’d post some of my favorite Sandra McCracken songs on my blog this morning. Enjoy – and I hope to see you in a couple weeks.

 

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