Jeff Haanen




Why Work Is at the Heart of God’s Mission

Almost every Sunday morning at church, as we finish the final songs and benediction (and I prepare to pick up my crew of girls from Sunday School – now four!), I find myself asking the same question: What is the Church sent into the world to do?

This is a question that my friends in pastoral ministry think about often. They do so because it’s so foundational. The “why” of Christian mission, I think, is far less in question: our motivation for ministry is the gospel of Jesus Christ, his atoning death for our sins and his resurrection for our salvation. The free gift of new life in Christ is the spark that ignites the heart of his global people.

But what, then, is the church to do about it? In a previous post, I noted that John Stott, the framer of the Lausanne Covenant and best-selling author, saw a unity between service and witness as central to the church’s mission. Both were at the heart of why God sent Jesus himself into the world.

I recently picked up a book that I hadn’t read in ages that agrees with this view of mission. The authors of The Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (edited by Darrell L. Guder), like Stott, go to the mission of Jesus’ own mission to represent the Kingdom of God. “The church’s own mission,” they write “must take its cues from the way God’s mission unfolded in the sending of Jesus into the world for its salvation.”

They find a three part structure to the church’s own mission: “In Jesus’ way of carrying out God’s mission, we discover that the church is to represent God’s reign as its community, its servant, and its messenger.”

That is, the church is sent:

  • first to live under the reign of God as a distinctive, covenant community;
  • second the church is to represent “the reign of God by its deeds” and as a “servant to God’s passion for the world’s life;”
  • and third it is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ with words, inviting all people to enter the Kingdom by way of the atoning sacrifice of Christ.

What impressed me about this formulation was just how many other “missional thinkers” and leaders in the 20th century missions movement have seen the same structure:

– In the 1950s, Hans Hoekendijk and Hendrik Kraemer articulate the church’s mission in three parts: kerygma(proclamation), diakonia (service), and koinonia(fellowship) 

– In 1961, the New Dehli Assembly of the World Council of Churches organized around the three themes of witness, service and unity

– In 1981, Tom Sine in The Mustard Seed Conspiracy used the themes of “words of love, deeds of love, a life a love” to explain the church’s mission

– The 1972 book Who in the World? presented at Christian Reformed Church conference, organized the church’s mission around truth (message), the life (community) and the way (servant)

My question is this: What if our daily work is the central place that the scattered church (the church throughout the week, Monday through Saturday, cf. 1 Peter 1:1) embodies the gospel in daily living, bears witness to the truth of Christ in all of life, and serves the needs of the world? 

What would change if the daily work of men and women was the center point of how all churches understand their own mission to their community?How would this change the church’s preaching, teaching and programming?

I’m not the first person to ask this question. Elton Trueblood, the great 20th century theologian, said in his little-known book The Common Ventures of Life, “A Church which seeks to lift our sagging civilization will preach the principle of vocation in season and out of season. The message is that the world is one, secular and sacred, and that the chief way to serve the Lord is in our daily work.”

Similarly, the great missionary, apologist and theologian Lesslie Newbigin said, “We need to create, above all, possibilities in every congregation for lay people to share with one another the actual experience of their weekday work and seek illumination from the gospel for their secular duty. Only thus shall we begin to bring together what our culture has divided – the private and public. Only thus will the church fulfill its missionary role.”

For Newbigin, in a culture like ours (the modern West, which is a pluralistic society ruled in the public realm by a secular vision of the world), work is the context in which the church bears witness to Christ, the Lord over all of life, OR retreats in the private sphere without a word of hope for the public life of the world.

The obvious tension, at least for me, comes when I attend so many churches. I hear the gospel. Praise God. I hear lots about ministries involving kids, teens, young marrieds, men, women and singles. Again, praise God. And I often hear about “mission activities,” which primarily means volunteering. But where is work? 

Where are the efforts to bear witness to Christ in corporate board rooms, public schools or the vast medical complex of late modernity? And where is the equipping of the saints for deep acts of love and service in the manual trades, manufacturing, the service industry or accounting? Is this too, not the opportunity we have to serve? Is this not where all those people listening to our sermons spend their weeks – and their lives?

Let’s not stop volunteering. Don’t get me wrong. We NEED volunteers, and we NEED nonprofits. Society crumbles without those stepping in the gap to care for the poor on a volunteer basis. But isn’t job creation in business (work!) central to economic development, too? Isn’t upholding the rule of law absolutely central to protecting and serving those in need (cf. Gary Haugen’s The Locust Effect). These are all dependent on how we do our work, whether that be of a police officer, lawyer or entrepreneur.

The challenge for the Church in the 21st century, and for the myriad of faithful pastors in North America and beyond, will be whether our vision of mission includes the world of work or overlooks work in its preaching, teaching and programming.

This is the challenge for the Church in a post-Christian society. And this is the call of God, who has sent His covenant community into the world to faithfully live, witness and serve. 


10 Steps Toward Becoming a Culturally-Engaged Church

We’ve made huge strides in the past several years on bringing the topic of work to church. But I’ve noticed an ongoing tension. It’s a tension between what we say about work on Sunday and what we do (or don’t do).

On the one hand, talk of “faith & work” and cultural engagement have been popping up across the evangelical landscape. From Lecrae waxing eloquent on the sacred/secular divide at Liberty University to the forthcoming publication of a Faith and Work Study Bible, it’s becoming blessedly normal to embrace the importance of work for Christian cultural engagement.

But on the other hand, painfully few churches actually do anything on a regular basis to equip their own people for works of service in their daily work. Most church services and weekday programs have gone untouched. This leaves many folks sitting in the pews feeling a bit like Van Gogh’s Starry Night – a city full of light, but a church that has gone dark.

This is really perplexing considering the sheer scope of programming some churches can offer.  Ministries for every life stage are common: kids, students, 20s and 30s, college & career, young marrieds, men, women, singles, and so on. Add in short-term missions, volunteering on Sunday, and church-sponsored basketball leagues, and we’ve hit nearly every interest area. Or have we?

More than once many of us have asked, “What about the other 45 hours of the week?” Nurse, school teacher, app developer, accountant, home-maker, small business owner, barista, engineer, city council member. If work is where culture is made, what would it look like in the practical day-to-day structures of Sunday services and weekly programming for church leaders to equip the diverse Body of Christ for witness and service in and through our work?

In addition to Work “Rhythms” for the Local Churchhere are 10 practical steps pastors can take toward becoming a culturally-engaged church. 

On Sunday Morning

1. Host a commissioning service once a year for laity celebrating their work. 

There are several ways to do this. LeTourneau University has an easy to follow formatincluding prayers and benedictions for the people of God who serve Christ across various sectors and professions.

At DIFW we encourage churches to do something even more simple. As a part of the church partnership program, we create short videos of men and women serving Christ in their work. From there, churches take that video of somebody in their own congregation, play it in a service, interview her about her daily work, and then pray for the whole congregation as they serve Christ in their daily work.

2. Pray for people in their work; consider doing so by season. 

Sometimes these prayers will be formal, like this affirmation of our labor found in Book of Common PrayerBishop Slattery’s Prayer for the Work DayMoses in Psalm 90 (“Establish the work of our hands, O Lord!”), a Prayer for All Christian’s in Their Vocation (by Steve Garber) or a even personally written Prayer for Work.

Other times pastors may want to pray for people in different professions according to season. For example, pray for teachers in August as they go back to school; business leaders, managers, and those in retail in November or December around busy shopping season; farmers as they harvest the crops in the early fall; accountants in March and April; and chefs, servers, and restaurant managers on Mother’s Day – America’s favorite day to go out to eat. Just put these seasons on your annual church calendar, and remember to cover the saints in prayer during these key times of the year

3. Select songs that affirm the value of God’s creation. 

Far too many of our worship songs seem to be only about “me and God” or my own personal heart or feelings. Unfortunately as we sing “When the things of this earth grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace…” it leads us to a view of culture that effectively ignores work and our cultural engagement because it doesn’t “matter” compared to individual salvation and the next life. (Ironically, in my experience, when I became a Christian the things of this earth grew strangely bright and exciting in the light of his glory and grace!)

Instead, consider songs that affirm love for God’s world – both in nature and in human society. Everything from “You make beautiful things, from the dust, out of us,” to “The universe declares your majesty” to “All thy works with joy surround thee, heaven and earth reflect thy rays” affirm the original goodness of God’s creation. I also like Isaac Watts’ riff on Psalm 23: “Oh may thy house be mine abode, and all my work be praise.”

The point isn’t in ignoring a personal relationship with Jesus. This is the foundation of a life of faith! But we can push against the individualistic and privatized faith of our current age by affirming how God works among us, in our world, and is drawing all of his creation (from mountains to machines to the work of mechanics) to himself.

4. Hang work-affirming art in the physical space of your church. 

From painting to photography, most evangelical churches could use a dash of heart-expanding beauty in the foyer. (For that matter, so could most businesses!) For example, The American Craftsman Project is both utterly beautiful and affirming of the manual labor of small businessmen across the US.

You’ll need to decide which types of work you would like to feature based on the professions represented in your own congregation. Churches in New York could highlight finance or drama; in Boston the academy; Texas, the energy industry; and in Denver a huge mural of REI employees and ski lift operators!

Doing this is a lot more simple that you think. Hire a photographer or local artist and find out what the Body of Christ does every week – the great, the sad, the beautiful and the broken. Bring this art back to the actual walls of your church building, and let your congregation’s social and vocational imaginations blossom.

5. Use the word “ministry” to refer to the priestly service of  all Christians. 

Too many  well-meaning church leaders share stories of men and women who left the business world to go into “ministry” – quietly suggesting that only paid church workers are in “ministry.” But the word ministry in the New Testament is also translated “service,” such as in Ephesians 4:12. Here, it’s the particular job of pastors, evangelists, apostles and prophets to “equip the saints for works of ministry/service” in all walks of life – not only those in 501(c)3 nonprofits with an explicitly faith-based mission.

My church, Colorado Community Church, does this well. Their task as pastoral leadership is to “disciple every member to be a missionary.” Since obviously not every member is a missionary overseas, that means every member is called to be a missionary – that is a servant and a witness – in all of life, including family, recreation, and work.

Having said this, there’s no need to ignore differences between the work of pastors and, say, landscapers or lawyers. It is a noble thing to desire to be an overseer (1 Tim. 3:1). And we should encourage more young people to choose to become pastors, not less. Yet we can do this as we affirm that the work of all the saints can be a genuine act of neighbor love.

(Pastors: here’s a quick summary of the different sectors of the American workforce. It can be helpful reminder of where “ministry” is happening on any given week.)

6. Do a sermon once per year on theology of work or vocation; use workplace illustrations in every sermon. 

A regular commitment to preaching on work or vocation goes a long way. And in the past few years, the number of quality sermon ideas are out there have multiplied: Tim Keller on workWork as Worship by JR VassarFive sermons by John Piper; a collection of sermons put together by the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation & Culture; a collection of my own sermons on work.

Depending on your preaching schedule and rotation, it may make more sense to preach once per year on the topic, or, for example, do a series of three sermons every three years. The key is to make preaching and teaching about work a regular habit. Our work and cultural engagement is too important a topic to do a single sermon or series and then be “done” with the topic. (Work isn’t ever “done” for any of us.)

I’ve also seen many pastors do an incredible job of integrating illustrations about work into every sermon. Tom Nelson at Christ Community Church in Kansas City does this well; some pastors have a preaching checklist they go through each week which includes illustrations about work. Often this doesn’t mean changing doctrine, it simply means applying it in a way that is understandable to lay people who spend a significant portion of every week at work.

Again, this is not as hard as it sounds. Preaching on the image of God? Illustrate how teachers or cabinet makers reflect the imago dei when they create new lessons or kitchens. Grace? Illustrate how the manager took the fall for his employee’s mistake. Justice? Speak about the work of International Justice Mission or the unnoticed work of law clerks who labor to provide the information needed to undergird the justice system. The cross?  Illustrate how easy it is to find our identity in our work or success, and how Christ calls us to die to ourselves that we might live for others.

You get the idea. Let your imagine move the truths of Christian doctrine in the daily fabric of our lives.

During the Week

7. Visit the workplaces of people in your congregation. 

This is really simple. Here are two ways you could do this:

1. Have lunch with your congregants at their workplaces. Go to the workplace of, say, Peter who works at EvoSnap, an online payment processor. Have lunch and ask him about his work and the latest opportunities and challenges in credit card processing. Get a tour of his workplace and get to know both what he does and some of his co-workers. End it by requesting to pray for him. Pray 1 Peter 4:10 over him and his work: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” Watch at the amazement of your own people at the great love their pastor has for them!

2. Have a church staff meeting at the workplace of one of your elders or deacons. Not only will this be a welcome break from the weekly routine, but seeing the world of finance, education, or manufacturing will open the eyes of your staff to the lived reality of your church’s own leaders. When you see first-hand both the opportunities and challenges of living out the gospel in post-Christian America, conversations about “being missional” change naturally.

8. Organize a retreat on vocation or a “community vocation dinner.”

Nearly everybody is saying to themselves two things about their job: “What is my calling?” and “It can’t be this!” It’s not just for young people. Boomers ask it just as much after they retire and the thrill of golf and margaritas everyday has lost its thrill. Provide space during a weekend retreat to pray, ask hard questions in community. Read,  laugh and explore foundational themes of discipleship and calling. Experiences like this can be hugely effective in helping laity hear God’s voice for their work.  Andrew Arndt at Bloom Church is organizing just such a retreat in a couple weeks. Chris Ditzenberger has done these retreats at St. Gabriel’s Episcopal.

The ever-brilliant Steve Garber has long suggested vocare dinners: gatherings of believers in similar fields – like business, education, healthcare or politics – to discuss a life “implicated” by the love of God. At DIFW, we organize vocation groups – monthly meetings of men and women in similar fields who want to understand their work in light of the Christian faith and find ways to creatively serve others with the skills and talents God has entrusted to them.

Either way, make time to set the table for the Spirit to speak to us. Word, food, and community go a long way to opening minds and hearts to the Call of God.

9. Host a class or small group on work, calling or culture.

There are all sorts of resources out there for you. Check out this list of vocation resources for the local church for a (biased!) perspective on the best books, video curriculums, small group curriculums, and websites that speak to work, calling and culture. Some of the best resources for small groups are, in my view, the ReFrame CourseFor the Life of the WorldEvery Good EndeavorWork Matters, Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, and the Public Faith Curriculum.

Again, I recommend one per year.  I would disagree with Jack Black who, in School of Rock, exclaimed, “One great show can change the world!” I love Jack Black – but he’s wrong here! Change happens  through developing the right small habits over time. (For proof, check out The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.)  It is through daily, weekly, monthly and even yearly habits that shape people to serve others.

10. Find opportunities for your congregation to donate their vocational skills to local nonprofits or neighborhood outreach projects. 

Amy Sherman’s four pathways of vocational stewardship should be printed on a big poster and pasted on the door out of the church each Sunday. She encourages Christians to (1) bloom where they’re planted in their jobs, (2) donate vocational talent to local nonprofits, (3) start social businesses and (4) adopt a block.

If pastors do the previous nine steps to becoming a culturally engaged church, “bloom where you’re planted” will happen naturally. In addition, churches may to follow Sherman and John Stott’s advice in Christian Mission in the Modern World to create “study and action groups”: groups that learn about a particular challenge such as joblessness or teenage pregnancy and then commit to serving the community in tangible ways. Since Sherman’s book is loaded with examples of this, I’ll simply recommend picking up her book Kingdom Calling. But encourage your congregation to use the skills God has given them to benefit local charities serving the poor, marginalized, left out or forgotten. The inbreaking of God’s shalom into our communities is a sure sign your church has left long-faced religion far behind and have become a culturally-engaged church.

Summary: 10 Steps Toward Becoming a Culturally-Engaged Church

On Sunday Morning

1. Host a commissioning service once a year for laity celebrating their work.

2. Pray for people in their work; consider doing so by season.

3. Select songs that affirm the value of God’s creation.

4. Hang work-affirming art in the physical space of your church.

5. Use the word “ministry” to refer to the priestly service of  all Christians.

6. Do a sermon once per year on theology of work or vocation; use workplace illustrations in every sermon.

During the Week

7. Visit the workplaces of people in your congregation.

8. Organize a retreat on vocation or a “community vocation dinner.”

9. Host a class or small group on work, calling or culture.

10. Find opportunities for your congregation to donate their vocational skills to local nonprofits or neighborhood outreach projects.

Find this helpful? Consider a donation to support the work of Denver Institute for Faith & Work.


Video Release: Eugene Peterson on Vocation

On New Years Eve, 1868, Andrew Carnegie sat alone in his room in the St. Nicholas Hotel in New York. Only 33 years old, he had already been successful beyond his wildest dreams. That year he made $56,110 and had accumulated $400,000 in assets. But his heart was restless.

New Years Eve was a time of sober reflection for Scottish Calvinists. Though an atheist, Carnegie the Scot picked up a pen and wrote that night, “To continue much longer overwhelmed by business cares and with most of my thoughts wholly upon the way to make more money in the shortest time must degrade me beyond hope of permanent recovery.”

Though he delayed in taking action, that night he committed to get a thorough education, take part in “public matters especially those connected with education and the improvement of the poorer classes” and “choose the life which will be the most elevating in character.”

For many of us, New Years is a time to examine our lives and make plans for next year. Many of us have questions about our work. What am I called to? If it’s not just making money – what’s the purpose of my work? What if I don’t like my job? These are tough questions for any of us. Many of us need a guide.

Today, on New Years Eve, we release four short interviews of Eugene Peterson’s wisdom on work and vocation. If you find yourself with a moment of quiet reflection before 2015, watch these brief videos and ask yourself the questions below. Take time to write in a journal your answers and what you might change in 2015 about your work, your family, or how you spend your time.

I wish you a Happy New Years, and a heart that finds its rest ultimately in Him.

The Role of Work in the Plan of God from Denver Institute on Vimeo.

  • Peterson says that taking a Sabbath “activates” and renews our work. How does weekend rest and worship influence your motivation to work on Monday?
  • In what way is your job “creation work” – work the participates in the creative work of God himself? Could your work next year be more creative?
  • Peterson mentioned that many people feel like they don’t have any worth unless they’re making money. Have you ever felt this? If so, why do you think this is?


Cultivating Vocation from Denver Institute on Vimeo.

  • Peterson said that some write poems, but others are poets; some have jobs as doctors, but others are doctors 24 hours a day. What has God made you “24 hours a day?”
  • Do you have mentors in your life who speak truth you need to hear? Are you mentoring others? 
  • What practices can you integrate into your weekly rhythm in 2015 that help to cultivate a sense of vocation or divine calling? What activities hinder your ability to hear God’s call? 


Suffering in Work from Denver Institute on Vimeo.

  • Peterson says: “Not many people have the ability or the opportunity to have a job that fits them.” Does this describe you? Are there ways to be faithful to Christ in your work even when you’re suffering?
  • Peterson’s dad was a butcher. Though he didn’t particularly enjoy his work, he had “contempt for the hackers who just wanted to get through the day as fast as they could.” Have you felt this way before? Is there a way to serve with excellence even in a job you don’t particularly enjoy? 


Busyness, Sabbath, and Work as a Gift from Denver Institute on Vimeo.

  • Do you find yourself so busy that you feel like you don’t have any control of your life? Why is this?
  • What role does technology play in our busyness? What does a truly restful Sabbath look like for you?
  • Peterson says, “Work is a gift.” How might your attitude change toward your work if you truly believed that your daily work was God’s gift to you? 

Four Sermons on Work

In the past several months, I’ve been honored to give four different sermons on work in the Denver Metro area. If you have some time this week, download them onto your iPhone or iPod (remember those?) and listen on your way to or from work. I’d love to get your feedback.

Here they are. I’ve included the title, time & place, biblical text, description, brief outline, and highlights for your scanning pleasure. Happy listening.

“The Gospel as Public Truth”

Listen Now: The Gospel as Public Truth

Date: July 27, 2014

Location: Fellowship Denver Church

Key Text: Acts 25:23-26:27

Description: Why does it seem like the public worlds of business, politics, technology or art seems so isolated from the world of church? In this sermon, Jeff Haanen explores Paul’s testimony before King Agrippa and Festus in Acts 25-26 to find a model for cultural engagement for our modern culture. Based on Paul’s own call, Jeff explains what it means to be a witness and servant of the gospel of grace in our work and culture today.

Brief Outline:

I. My Story: Does God also care about the public world?

II. Paul testified to the gospel publicly before King Agrippa

III. Modern culture – like ancient Rome – divides public truth from private values

IV. Living out the gospel as public truth: What Jesus didn’t do in his culture

V. Living out the Gospel as public truth: Servant and Witness

Three Highlights:

“Before King Agrippa, Paul testified to the gospel in the most public of places.”

“The early church believed Jesus’ message: Repent, believe the good news. The kingdom of God is near. They refused to privatize their faith because they believed that the first and final affirmation they made about all of reality was that Jesus is Lord.”

“When engaging culture, Jesus didn’t choose the path of the Essene or the Zealot…He chose a third path. That of servant and witness.”

“Wisdom and Work”

Listen Now: Wisdom and Work

Date: July 6, 2014

Location: New Denver Church

Key Text: Ecclesiastes 3:9-13

Description:  With growing student debt, nagging unemployment, and an epidemic of workplace disengagement globally, how should we understand our work? Qohelet, the author of Ecclesiastes, could see the futility of seeing work only as a means to accumulation, ambition, or self-actualization. But he could also see that work was a gift from God, and a way to “do good” while we live. In this sermon, Jeff Haanen unpacks the wisdom of the sages and applies it to our work lives today.

Brief Outline:

I. Globally the world is disengaged from their work

II. Qohelet – the author of Ecclesiastes – saw the futility of accumulation, abmition, and self-actualization through our work

III. Work is a gift.

IV. Work is an opportunity to serve.

Three Highlights:

“Money is not nothing. It’s important. But if it’s the driving factor in work choices, we’ll have found ourselves exchanging the hours of our lives for cars, houses, trips, and REI camping gear that we’ll leave to somebody else.”

“Do what you love. We’ve said it for so long to graduating college seniors it’s become almost gospel. Do what you love. Do what you’re passionate about. Don’t settle for just a job. Follow your dreams. But is this wisdom or just hot air?”

“The door into God’s will for our work is not my talents, my opportunities, or even what the world needs. It is gratitude.”

“Sheep and Goats: Loving the World Through Work”

Listen Now: Sheep and Goats: Loving the World Through Work

Date: November 23, 2014

Location: Littleton Christian Church

Key Text: Matthew 25: 31-46

Description: The parable of the sheep and the goats is one of Jesus’ most well-known calls to justice. Yet what is he talking about when he said “I was hungry, thirsty, and in need of clothes” and you cared for me? In this sermon, Jeff Haanen connects this parable to daily work – the way we serve the needs of others every day. In it he notes the difference between sheep and goats today, and draws lessons for our modern success-oriented culture.

Brief Outline:

I. In this parable, Jesus is not just talking about isolated acts of charity, but instead our work.

II. Goats serve themselves – and ignore the needs of others.

III. Over a lifetime, we actually become either sheep or goats.

Three Highlights:

“What does it take for just a single loaf of bread to feed my hunger? … The difference between me going hungry and me being satisfied by just a loaf of bread is the work of dozens – if not hundreds – of other people. It was people working, serving the needs of others.”

“I believe those whose work is the home, with kids and household work, each of these needs to met almost everyday! I’m hungry! I’m thirsty! I’m sad and lonely! I need clothes on! I’m in prison! Ok…maybe not in prison literally. But certainly in the chains of original sin that must be disciplined regularly.”

“As we take a look at judgement, let’s not be afraid, but also let’s not be arrogant. C.S. Lewis once said that we had spent far too much time and energy thinking about who gets into heaven and who doesn’t. The better way to think about it is who’s walking toward God and who’s walking away from him.”

“The Creator”

Listen Now: The Creator

Date: October 14, 2012

Location: Littleton Christian Church

Key Texts: Genesis 1:1-3, 2:2-3; Psalm 104:31

Description: Why is it that we spend so much time and effort at work, and yet find it difficult to speak about our daily work at church? This need not be. God’s own work of creation is a model for human work. From creating skyscrapers to manufacturing silly putty, we are “made in the image of the maker” and to work as an expression of the image of God in us. We were not designed to merely go to work, get money, buy stuff and die. Work is part of our creative calling, and the way in which we offer ourselves to God.

Brief Outline:

I. Why talk about work at church?

II. God’s work is creative.

III. We are made in the image of the Creator.

IV. Too often our work today is defined only by making money, consumption, and then trying to escape from the job.

V. Creativity is a paradigm for shaping culture.

Three Highlights:

“God said in Exodus 20: ‘Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall do all your work…’Why should we rest one day a week and not work? Because that’s what God did. His rhythm of work and rest must become ours.”

“Every week we humans make skyscrapers, sirens and spaghetti dinners. Dorothy Sayers was right: ‘Man is a maker, who makes things because he wants to, because he cannot fulfill his true nature if he is prevented from making things for the love of the job. He is made in the image of the Maker, and he himself must create or become something less than man.’”

“What would it look like to start gather with other Christians in your field, to talk about your work, talk about your creative calling, and needs you see around you, and begin to serve God through your vocation?”


Saving the Three “E”s


I think we’ve been a bit too hard on the three “e”s.

Here’s how the argument often goes. In a past generation, those interested in “faith at the workplace” stressed the three “e”s: excellence, ethics, and evangelism. Each of these are “good but insufficient.” We need people to actually see the value of the work itself, and not just get people converted or be nice to co-workers.

Now, I sympathize with this line of reasoning. I was recently at a Christian business conference, and one man gave his testimony of how he lives out his faith at work. As the owner of a company that produces dental products, he proudly noted how he begins staff meetings with prayer. What he failed to mention, however, was that producing artificial teeth for his clients was itself an act of neighbor love and a way to provide for the needs of the world.

Indeed, for many of us younger folks interested in faith/work integration, we react against a highly individualistic view of Christianity that understood the core expression of “faith at work” was “ethics” in the sense of being kind to co-workers so that they would come to a prayer meeting or Bible study at the office. In our evangelical fervor, we often forgot about the value of the work itself – and that the world needs education, legal systems, restaurants, component parts, and works of art to flourish.

Indeed, work itself can be an act of neighbor love and should always be an act of worship, a living sacrifice offered to Christ the Lord (Romans 12:1-2).

Got it.

Having said that, we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. In emphasizing the inherent value of our work, whether that be making tables, providing childcare care, or serving in the military, we don’t want to overlook the centrality of the three “e”s to a Christian understanding of work. 

I’ll give you an example. My friend Bill Kurtz exemplifies excellence in his work. He’s the founder and CEO of Denver Schools of Science and Technology (DSST). In a recent email newsletter, he reported that DSST has 5 of the top 6 schools in Denver (out of 181 schools). With a 100% college admission rate for his student, most of whom are from a low-income background, DSST has drawn national attention. Why does he do it? This is what he says,

“We know that despite our success, we have a long way to go to be the system of schools we need to be. We still aren’t meeting the needs of every single student; students with special needs, students learning the English language, students at the lowest proficiency levels—we need to serve these students better. We must get better. Not because of rankings, but because these extraordinary results remind us of what can be accomplished for all students.”

Why is Bill so incredibly committed to excellence? He’s driven by an undying desire to serve – and to provide an excellent education for every single student.

Secular people, Jews, pluralists, Muslims, and Christians alike have to take note of Bill’s work. He’s literally changing the charter school landscape in America. Because he does work at such an incredibly high caliber, people ask, “Who is this? What drives him?” Indeed, in an article I wrote about Bill for Christianity Today, he confesses that he believes it is his vocation, his calling from God, to serve the needs of students and build these schools.

My friend Matt Turner, who’s the CFO of Morning Star Senior Living in Denver, also exemplifies this type of excellence. In the past five years, he has helped Morning Star go from 5 to 12 properties, each with an acute attention to excellent service of their residents, and the inherent dignity of the elderly in America. (And publicly proclaiming that their work “honors God” to boot.) As a result, the Denver Business Journal recently highlighted Matt and asked him about his work.

Doing excellent work is a testimony to the God who creates. And it allows Christians a voice in a secular culture that they don’t have when they do sloppy, half-hearted or incomplete work. Doing work well, as if we are doing it for Christ himself (Col. 3:23), is an important aspect of living out our faith through our work.

Or take the example of ethics. I can see why so many have criticized the highly individualistic  (and reductionistic view) that sees all  the historic Christian faith can offer to us at work is not cheating our clients or working with integrity. (Don’t our secular friends believe the same thing?) If we mean by “ethics” only how we treat co-workers, then I agree with this critique. We can’t just reduce the world-altering power of the gospel to not sending nasty emails.

However, if we take a look at ethics in the bigger sense, and look at the essentially moral questions that shape and form values in organizations, our interactions with the broader community, and the moral framework that sits at the basis of all “professions” (long ago we used assume that “professing” a set of ethical standards was the basis of many industries such as law, banking, government or the manual trades), ethics needs to be at the core of the faith and work movement.

Let me illustrate. Two weeks ago I had the chance to visit Duke University to attend a round table discussion on “Reimagining Medicine”, which is a part of their program in Theology, Medicine and Culture. It was hosted by Duke Divinity School and led by people like: Warren Kingshorn, a Harvard-trained psychiatrist; Jeff Bishop, a doctor, philosopher, and author of the ground-breaking The Anticipatory Corpse; Rich Payne, a former cancer doctor at Sloans Kettering (one of the nation’s finest cancer centers), and Dr. Ray Barfield, a pediatrician and philosopher at Duke University. As ministers, academics, doctors, and administrators, we gathered to discuss topics like: historical Christian views of the suffering and ill; time and the pace of life for physicians; justice and health equity issues; the mechanization of the dying process; the vocation of nurses and chaplains; and ways congregations can partner with health care institutions.

Upon reflecting on the event, I was struck that every single conversation was essentially debating a vision of “the good.” That is, each was inherently ethical. And in many ways, we were debating competing values, and not merely good or bad, but a better harmony of many “goods.” For example, when many leveled critiques at secular medicine’s unwillingness to acknowledge that we are indeed human and will will actually die (!), nobody took the view that the advances in medical care in the last century didn’t have value! No, instead we sought a more humane way of understanding palliative care and end-of-life issues, acknowledging that despite the powerful tools of modern medicine, we cannot relieve the human condition.

Of course, this is just one example among literally thousands. I wrote last year about the severely toxic environment of investment banking in New York City. As a summary of Kevin Roose’s book Young Money, a portrayal of eight young investment bankers, I wrote:

“If we were making a laundry list of everything that can be depraved about human work, Young Money would hit nearly all the highlights:

  • Boring, Repetitive Labor. “Many entry level bankers conceive of themselves as lumps of body mass who perform uncreative and menial work, and whose time can be exchanged for labor at any moment.”
  • Measuring the Worth of Employees With Dollars. “In Jeremy’s little corner of the trading world, all that mattered was a person’s P&L and a related number, called ‘gross credits’ (or just “GCs”), which measured revenue generated by a single employee.”
  • Isolating your Morals from Your Work. “Many of the Wall Street analysts I’d met were thoughtful, robust ethical thinkers in their private lives. But professionally, they were foot soldiers.”
  • Loss of Freedom. “‘It’s not the hours that kill you—it’s the lack of control of the hours,’ one analyst told me. ‘My life doesn’t belong to me anymore.’”

Now, I’m just pointing out the obvious here. But each of the problems here are essentially ethical. That is, it’s wrong to pile debt onto a struggling company and profit off their demise; it’s wrong to make people work from 9am to 5am in the morning; it’s wrong to reduce people’s worth to a numeric value of how much money they make for an investment firm.

If we reduce ethics to simply how we treat co-workers, then I agree, this view of “good but insufficient” is spot on. But if we open our eyes to the moral purposes of the institutions of which we take part each day, and boldly stand for the good, and expose the evil (both individual and systemic), then conversations about “ethics” are exactly what those of us in the faith and work movement must be doing on a daily basis.

Finally, evangelism. In recent decades, the workplace was seen merely as the venue for personal evangelism – or possibly a way to gain a platform to tell  co-workers about sin and the need for personal salvation at the water cooler. The criticism here is that they’re not looking at how the Christian faith actually informs the work they do, but instead see the workplace only as an opportunity to share one’s personal testimony. And in the process they assume that daily work is just a way to make money, fund “ministry,” or invite people to church.

Again, I can understand the criticism. This view of “faith at work” essentially views the structures of our shared life – whether that be the corporate values of Google or the principles of design for a new apartment complex – as either neutral or simply unimportant. Or it can’t seem them at all, and assumes that “winning one individual at a time” is the only path for fulfilling the great commission.  This, clearly, is a mistake, as the Scriptures see sin as both a personal issue and a systematic power or “principality” that keeps men and women in bondage in unjust structures.

But again, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. First, all Christians clearly do have the responsibility to share their faith in private and in public, when they get up and lay down, when they walk to the board room or when they eat lunch on a construction site. We never, ever want to deprecate personal evangelism. This has always been a part of Christian mission, and always will.

But if we understand evangelism more broadly, the “good news” that through Jesus’ death and resurrection he has been made the King, the Lord of all creation, then we need to be “evangelists” all the more! If Christ is really Lord of all, and everything was made for him and through him (Col. 1:15-20), then we should seek ways to testify to his creative and redeeming work as we consider how to handle a bankruptcy case, how to craft a story for a newspaper, or how to put together a chemistry curriculum. Testimony, here, is both for the sake of personal salvation, and for the sake of co-laboring with Christ in his work of restoring the created order.

Mission always goes forward in both word and deed. I’ve written about this previously on this blog. So for now, I’ll just say that we really can’t have a full, robust understanding of Christian mission without both evangelism and service, a clear verbal proclamation of the gospel and a humble self-giving love manifested in whatever we do, including our work.

Just look at Christian history. Augustine was obviously powerful in word, but he also sought the freedom of slaves in North Africa as a pastor of a congregation. Catherine of Siena too was a strong verbal witness – but she also got involved in politics, and had some very clear words for the pope regarding his involvement in the crusades. Martin Luther King Jr thundered truth from the pulpit and led freedom marches to right the historical wrongs of racial segregation. Evangelism (broadly understood) and service are two sides of the same coin.

To say that our work has value to God simply because we are image-bearers, and we reflect the one who worked for six days and rested for one, is good. But we begin to depart from our historical roots when we say things like, “Let’s just recognize that work has inherent value.” Of course it does. But what makes Christians unique is this message which infuses our work with a sense of purpose and excellence, as it’s done for Christ; a commitment to moral action, as it’s done in response to God’s grace; and a deep love for our neighbors, as it was God who first loved us; and a commitment to justice and shalom, as we follow the Lord, the Prince of Peace.

Well, that was an egregiously long blog post just to say, As we affirm the inherent value of work, let’s not forget to embrace the three “e”s: excellence, ethics, and evangelism.  For many of us, we’ll need to expand our view of each of these, but nonetheless each is a worthy contributor to bringing the gospel into our world. Plus, the alliteration is awfully catchy.


A Prayer for Work


O Lord!

May all my work today be for you, and you alone!

Teach me to see my daily labor in the piercing light of your Truth. Open my ears to hear the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before me, that I might walk in paths of righteousness for your name’s sake.

Stir my heart to speak and embody your gospel of grace to all, employees and co-workers, bosses and clients, patients and students – to all that all might have life, life, eternal life!

O Christ of the cross, in the pain of my work, give me the courage to sacrifice for the good of others, all the while pointing to you, he who suffered and died, and overcame death! May I not turn back from the plow, but may the sweat of my brow bring the first fruits of new life!

O incarnate King of Heaven, show me where I might draw close to others as you draw close to us, that the human family might truly become a community, as you are Community, Triune Creator and Redeemer!

O Savior who has even called us the Body of Christ, may we too give our bodies, our very flesh for the life of the world!

When darkness and death overwhelm, may we be as bold as lions, and stand against evil in our work, and in our world! May sin not rule over us, but may you reign, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Lord of life!

Lord of all wisdom, teach us to be innocent as doves yet wise as serpents as we seek to solve intractable problems and unyielding difficulties. Fill our minds with your unsearchable wisdom!

Defender of the weak, open our eyes to the poor and marginalized in our midst. Teach us to not just to serve the poor, but to see the poor. And may we too become poor, as you became poor, that we all might be filled with the riches of heaven.

Lord of the Vine, I can bear no fruit apart from you. Draw near to me, Savior, as I draw near to you. And by your mercy, bring abundant fruit and everlasting life from my labor this day!

Lord, may each word, each email, each meeting, each idea, each product, each service, each goal – May all that I am and all that I have be consecrated to you, my sweet reward, my secret joy, my firm hope.

O Lord!

May all my work today be for you, and for you alone!


A Light in the Darkness


“Again.” That was the headline the next day in The Denver Post. I first found out from a text message from my wife: “Shooting at Arapahoe High School.” I froze, and then checked the nearest TV screen at the rec center. For Colorado, it was an all too familiar scene. Students running out of a building led by a black-armored SWAT Team. Mothers embracing their children in tears. Disbelief hanging on the faces of teenage boys.

Except this time it was different – my own cousin was in the building that day. She heard the shots – “like somebody had dropped a big pan.” She hid in her classroom, and trembled when somebody shook the doorknob. On Friday, December 13, 2013, an unwelcome cloud eclipsed the sun, and Colorado was overshadowed by a familiar darkness.

Long ago, Mary could well identify with such darkness. Living under Roman occupation, Israel was captive to a foreign power, mourning in a “exile” from home, from justice, from the long-awaited Messiah. From a “suburban,” lower-income family, subject to larger cultural tides and winds, she was small, and powerless to change her world.

Yet Israel had a glimmer of hope. Maybe as a young girl she read on her daddy’s lap the prophecy, written long ago: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.” But what light could there be amidst such pain and suffering?

One dark night, light spilled into Mary’s room. “Rejoice, you who are highly favored,” announced the angel Gabriel. “The Lord is with you.” An odd thing to say to a teenager in such a circumstance. Rejoice. She had good reason to be “greatly troubled.” What announcement could bring joy for her people, so accustomed to suffering?

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus,” the angel declared. “He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

For centuries, Christians have looked to that teenage mother, and her baby boy, and described Advent with that brief, luminescent word: joy. “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.” “O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy.” “Joyful all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies.” “O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant.” Joy perhaps isn’t what Joseph was thinking that first Christmas, as he helped his fiancée recover and care for a newborn between the snorting of cattle and the dull bleating of sheep. But the light of heaven beamed from that grotto, nonetheless – God arrived in the midst of the confusion.

Yet it was joy, not despair, grumbling or lesser pleasures, that welled up in Mary’s heart (Luke 1:47). She had joy in all the everydayness of life – work, worship, cleaning the dishes. Even under the thumb of oppression, she fell on her bed, and perhaps hummed the words of Isaiah: “They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” Or maybe Mary’s deepest happiness came simply from the angel’s first words “The Lord is with you.” Emmanuel, God with Us.

And God is not far from us today. He is not far from Arapahoe High School, or  the mourning parents of 17 year-old Claire Davis, who recently lost her battle for life in the hospital. He is not far from us when we experience crushing career disappointments. He is not far from our Christmas celebrations, too often laced with family tension. God, the Almighty One, has come to be with us, even as we are.

As Colorado suffers once again, this Christmas, we can cling to Him who “disperses the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows puts to flight.” Since we, along with Zechariah, have seen “a rising sun coming to us from heaven,” we can join the song of Mary and rejoice in God our Savior. Because in the distance we can still hear the echoes of angels, singing the praises of the Lamb, who will one day wipe every tear from our eyes.


Jesus Set Priorities


We’d be less busy if we understood our callings. Knowing your calling allows you to say No to good, worthwhile things, simply because God has other things for you to do.

In Mark 1, Jesus is in Capernaum, near his hometown. He spends a day healing the sick and driving out demons. The next morning, Jesus awakes before dawn, “left and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” His disciples get up and begin frantically searching for him. There are demons to drive out, and people to heal! When they find him, in exasperated tones, they declare “Everyone is looking for you!”

Jesus replied: “Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”

Jesus tells his disciples he’s not going to stay and heal all the folks in Capernaum who needed his help. Did he care about them? Absolutely (Mark 8:2). But after prayer, he was very clear on his mission – to preach the Kingdom of God in other villages as well (Mark 1:38).

I recently interviewed Kevin DeYoung on his new book Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book on a (Really) Big Problem. We “freak out” about our kids, try to prove ourselves through big cars, houses, and promotions, and respond to every How are you? with a singular response: Busy. Americans have willfully put too much on their plates.

But DeYoung points out that Jesus set priorities. Even the son of God, who could have done it all, chose not to. He turned away from doing good things because he knew his mission. If this isn’t permission to say no the the 1001 activities we sign up for, what is?

At work, if we simply chose to do the most important work, and ignore (or at least postpone) the rest, our companies and organizations would thrive. Instead, we get busy and let ourselves be pulled this way and that – between email, side projects, or just long conversations. Because we never define (actually write on a piece of paper) what our God-given mission is (and the goals that mission entails), too often we spin our wheels and never leave the gate. A better way would be to clearly define our priorities – and let all the details that make us so busy stay on the sidelines, where they belong.

Two simple questions: (1) What is your top priority today? (2) What will you put on your “not to-do” list?

Photo: Overwhelmed


Satisfying Work in the New Jerusalem


What’s heaven like? In Isaiah 65, God promises to create new heavens and a new earth, to undo a world of suffering and renew his beloved Jerusalem.

“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.”

So what will this new Jerusalem be like? And is there anything we can do now to better reflect this new world? Isaiah 65 gives four key features of the new heavens and earth in this passage – and one that we hardly ever mention:

  1. Long Life. In the new Jerusalem, there will no longer be infants who live just a few days, or people who do not live out their years to old age. Untimely, tragic death will be no more, and life will reign (Is. 65:20).
  2. Peace and Justice. “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox…They will neither harm nor destroy on my holy mountain” (Is. 65:25). There will no longer be violence or destruction. Peace and justice will flow in the streets – and even the fields – of the new Jerusalem. Strong and weak, powerful and powerless, will sit at the table of fellowship, a vision not much different from Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision that one day “on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
  3. Renewed Family. No longer will women “bear children doomed to misfortune” but instead God will bless families and their descendants (Is. 65:23).
  4. Satisfying Work. Because we so rarely mention work in the context of heaven, I’ll quote Isaiah 65:22-23a at length: “They will build houses, and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards, and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands. They will not labor in vain.”

There are two things to notice about this passage:

  1. The structure of the passage is built around Genesis 3 and 4. The new heavens and earth is a reversal of the effects of the Fall. Death was a result of sin (Gen. 3:19, Rom. 5:8), and Isaiah states God will reverse the effects of death with fruitful life (Is. 65:20). God curses both childbearing and work as a result of sin (Gen. 3:16-19), but both the family and work are restored in the new heavens and earth (Is. 65:22-23). Finally, one of the most devastating effects of the Fall is violence. Genesis 4 – when Cain murders his brother Abel – prefigures a world of injustice and bloodshed; Isaiah 65 envisions wolfs and lambs living side-by-side in peace.
  2. Satisfying work is at the center of the new heavens and earth. The reason God’s chosen ones “enjoy the work of their hands” is because the can live in the houses they built, and enjoy the fruit of the vineyards they planted. The very opposite of this is “laboring in vain” and having others live in the houses they built, and others eat the vineyards they plant. Now, I think the immediate context of this passage is a promise that foreign armies would no longer rule over Israel, and essentially plunder their wealth (homes and vineyards). But nonetheless, this passage makes it clear that seeing and enjoying the work of your own hands is central to shalom, to peaceful communities. (Ecclesiastes makes similar statements about the curse of toiling so that others might enjoy your work, and, conversely, the divine blessing of finding satisfaction in your work [Ecc. 2:17-18, 3:13]).

In this post, I wanted to just lay some biblical groundwork for discussing further questions about satisfying work down the road. But for now, I’d really like to get your feedback on a couple simple questions:

What makes for satisfying work? Or, perhaps more easily answered, what do you think are the core features of frustrating work? In what situations do you say, “That was a good day’s work?”, and when do you lament, “I accomplished absolutely nothing today?”

(Note: Thank you to Robert Gelinas and Colorado Community Church for asking us [the congregation] to memorize this passage. It’s well worth our in-depth reflection.)

Photo: Jerusalem Sunrise

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