Jeff Haanen




How to Take a Sabbatical

Over the years, I’ve received probably the most feedback from my retirement book about the topic of sabbatical. I’d like to post here an excerpt from this chapter that makes the case for taking a sabbatical – either in early retirement or during a career – as well as lays out some simple practices for your own sabbatical. Enjoy.

You can find more on sabbaticals, calling, and work in: An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life.

Whether we make work the source of our identity or empty work of any meaning past a paycheck, many newly retired people say: Enough. I’m done. Time to finally spend time on me.

Mary is a sixty-year-old woman. One day, she heard Marc Freedman, the founder of Civic Ventures, waxing eloquent about the civic heroism of older Americans on National Public Radio. She called in and said bluntly, “I would like to disagree with everything that’s been said.” Freedman was stunned. How could anyone disagree with the idea that older adults are a social asset to our communities? She told her story: she landed her first job as a teenager. After raising two kids and working for 40 years straight, she finally grew tired of her boss heaping on more and more work. At the first opportunity she got, she retired.[1]

Mary, like many others, entered into retirement longing for rest and renewal. But vacation isn’t the answer. The answer is to begin retirement with a stretch of deep Sabbath rest.

The Reason for Sabbath

On the dusty sands of the Sinai desert, Moses descended from the mountain with a message from God. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:8-9).

Why include a day of rest among the ten commandments upon which he would build a new society? And why should we consider Sabbath rest – or a season of “sabbatical rest” – as a better category for early retirement than vacation? The Old Testament suggests three reasons.  

1. Trust.

“For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day” (Ex. 20:11). Moses gives the Israelites the reason for Sabbath: God himself rested after six days of work in creating the world. There’s a pattern, woven into the fabric of the universe by Creator. It’s like gravity or the laws of motion. To be like God – and to become fully human – we need both work and rest in proper proportion.  

Sabbath reminds us to recognize our proper role in the cosmos. Biblical scholar Craig Slane says, “In ceasing from labor one is reminded of one’s true status as a dependent being, of the God who cares for and sustains all his creatures, and of the world as a reality belonging ultimately to God.”[2]  Like children dependent upon their parents, Sabbath makes us see that food, clothes, sunlight, friendship, air – all are gifts from the Creator, not mere products of our labor. The Bible continually points to God as the ultimate Provider.

But we have surely worked for and paid for all those “gifts,” right? God does give people the gift of working as co-laborers in his ongoing creation and cultivation of the earth (Genesis 1:27-28; 2:15). But we are not all-powerful. In Sabbath, God says, “Enjoy your work, but think not of yourself as masters of the universe. That is my role.”

ING, a financial services company, aired a series of commercials in 2008 centered on the idea of “What’s your number?” That is, how much money do you need to retire? A man bikes with the number $1,267,407 under his arm. A woman walks into an office, carrying the number $675,423, as if it were a purse. A man sits in a clinic with his pregnant wife, holding “his” number. The idea is that once we have saved a certain amount of money, we will have the ability to “retire in comfort.” Here is where our security lies.

Saving money for future needs is wise (Proverbs 10:4-5). But the Bible suggests trusting in “our number” as a blanket of assurance is idolatry – the worship of a false god.

Jesus tells the story of a man who built two barns as a hedge against insecurity. The wealthy man says to himself, “‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” (Luke 12:19-20).

Sabbath reframes retirement debates about money, retirement, and security. Whether clothed in gold like Solomon or in rags like Lazarus, Sabbath calls us to trust God to provide for our needs.  Taking a sabbatical can release the chains of anxiety and restore us to our proper place as created beings, dependent on God the Father for every good gift (James 1:17)

2. Identity.

“Remember that you were slaves in Egypt,” says Deuteronomy’s version of the fourth commandment, “and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (5:15).  Why not work every day of the week? Only slaves do that, suggests the Bible. God is the one who has redeemed his people from slavery, and Sabbath was to be a continual reminder of their liberty and identity as God’s people.

In 2015, Americans left a total of 658 million vacation days unused.[3] Project Time Off reports that 37% feared they’d return to a mountain of work, and 30% said “nobody else could do my job.” Why the nonstop work? I believe America’s work-a-holism flows from a question of identity. If we’re not our jobs, then who are we? What is our real value?

Centuries ago, the Israelites were called to remember the Sabbath as a reminderthat their value was not derived from their work.The practice of Sabbath was a call to re-center their collective identity on God’s vision for them as a people. The Israelites were God’s treasured possession, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5; cf. 1 Peter 2:9).

Work was created to be an expression of our identity, not the source of our identity.

One of the “thorns and thistles” of retirement is that it reveals where we’ve put our identity too fully in our careers. The report isn’t due, the phone stops ringing, and it feels like nobody needs you anymore. The recently retired often feel a sense of loss and separation.

But this pain, argues Gordon Smith, author and president of Ambrose University in Calgary, can be transfigured into a deepening sense of vocation and contribution.

I am convinced that part of the essence of vocational identity during this period of our lives [the senior years] is that we let go of power and control: people listen to us because we are wise and because we bless, not because of our office or any formal structure of power. [4]

Sabbath calls us to root our identity in God’s action on our behalf, and let go of an identity that was too wrapped up in our jobs. (We’ll return to the theme of identity and calling in the next chapter). Taking a sabbatical can heal past wounds as we re-center our identity on being God’s sons and daughters.  

3. Justice.

The command to observe the Sabbath includes a command to allow those with the least cultural power (children, servants, foreigners) to rest so that they “may be refreshed” (23:12). “On it [the Sabbath] you shall not do any work, neither you nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your town,” (Exodus 20:10). The Bible continually connects the observance of Sabbath with justice.  

My friend Vincent Rose is a greeter at Walmart. As an immigrant from South America now pushing 75 years-old (he’s never been able to afford “retirement”), he recently shared with me about why he often must miss church on Sundays. “I always get scheduled on the weekends. And what can I do? I have to work – but I miss being here,” he said, almost crestfallen. “I’m sorry, Jeff.”

For Vincent, Sunday is not just the chance to worship, it’s a time to be with family and friends. When he must work while others shop, his opportunities for meaningful relationships diminish.

Vincent’s story clarified something for me. Sabbath is not just about individual spiritual practice. It’s also about making space for the restoration of others. There are only two explicit prohibitions in the law regarding Sabbath: no fires were to be kindled in Jewish dwellings (35:3), and no one was to leave their place (16:29). That is, not only were they to cease from productivity (fires were used for everything from cooking to making tools), but they were not to engage in commerce, forcing others to work on the Sabbath.

The prophets regularly connect Sabbath observance to a just soci­ety (Isaiah 58: 6-8, 13). Not only does round-the-clock work oppress the powerless, it suggests idolatry. Sabbath observance was an outward sign of whether people were keeping the first and most important commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).

Vacations tend to prioritize our own luxury, consumption, and comfort; Sabbath sets limits for our work in order to create economic, social and spiritual renewal for all social classes.  

Historian Paul Johnson writes about the Sabbath, “The day of rest is one of the great Jewish contributions to the comfort and joy of mankind.”[5] Perhaps taking a post-career sabbatical could also be a great contribution to the contemporary experience of retirement.

Planning a Sabbatical

What if we decided that early retirement was the best time to take a true sabbatical? What might six months, nine months, or even a full year of deep, Sabbath rest look like?[6] How might we spend time in order to expand and redirect our sense of vocation for the next season of life (the topic of the next chapter)?

My argument is that sabbatical is a way to structure time in early retirement to heal past wounds, seek God’s voice, and find God’s call for the next season of life. 

Does this, then, mean a year of twiddling your thumbs? Not at all. Though many put boundaries around technology use, economic consumption, and work activities on their Sabbath days, Sabbath is not only about what not to do. Here are nine practices to consider as you plan your sabbatical year:

1. Prepare.

The Jewish “Day of Preparation” was a weekly rhythm of preparing to rest well – and it required extra work. Jews would store food and goods so they wouldn’t need to purchase them on the Sabbath day. They informed Gentiles (non-Jews) of their intention to take Sabbath rest.

Sabbaticals must be intentionally prepared for rather than stumbled into. I once asked my uncle, Rod Haanen, what he would do after he retired from managing the Thunderbird Lodge in International Falls, Minnesota. “Well, I don’t know. I just know what I won’t be doing.” My uncle, like millions of Baby Boomers, needs a plan for life after retirement.  

Consider taking two or three weeks to consider how you will restructure your time in sabbatical. What responsibilities can you hand off before you begin? What will your days, weeks, and months look like? And most importantly, who will journey with you into sabbatical? Judith Shulevitz’s Then Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time notes that Sabbath is a communal, not individualistic, activity. Consider doing a sabbatical with a friend or spouse and making plans in a trusted community.

2. Feast.

The idea of Sabbath as dour law-keeping is from the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, not from God. In Jewish tradition, Sabbath was a time for richly eating and drinking. It was one of the “festivals of the Lord” which prohibited fasting and outward expressions of mourning (Leviticus 23). Sabbath was to be a “delight and joy,” recounting God’s grace toward his people (Isaiah 58:13).

On your sabbatical, consider having a lavish feast – or several – for former co-workers, family and friends as a way to look back on a career with gratitude. You could do this once a month or once a quarter. In Israel feast days were markers of time. Joyful celebration can also form the chronological foundation of your sabbatical year.

3. Worship.

In Lauren Winner’s short, accessible book Mudhouse Sabbath, she notes the difference between contemporary visions of a day or rest and the biblical vision of Sabbath. “Whom is the contemporary Sabbath designed to honor?,” she asks, tongue in cheek. “Whom does it benefit? Why, the bubble-bath taker herself, or course!”[7] In contrast, Winner says, in the Bible the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. The difference between “indulge, you deserve it” (the popular vision for retirement) and “drink in the joy of God” could not be starker.

As you plan your sabbatical year, leave time for communal worship, for long and short periods of silence, for prayer walks, and for studying Scripture. Worship is the center of Sabbath.

4. Re-create.

Sports, hobbies, music, the theater – these all can play an important role in a sabbatical year. Jewish culture was built around its festivals and celebrations. Recreation as “re-creation,” rather than leisure or vacation, can be an ingredient in renewal. 

But might recreation be turned into a kind of work, a way to “occupy my time” in retirement? Leisure can lead to a busied pattern of entertainment, rather than space to rest, reflect, and heal. Even vacation can be turned into a frantic pace of busied work.

What is the difference between work and non-work? Wouldn’t woodworking be work to a carpenter, but a hobby for a banker? Or could Sudoku puzzles be work to a math teacher, but just plain fun for a retired electrician?

The key, I believe, is not to make an extra-biblical set of rules about what counts as work and what doesn’t on a sabbatical (Jewish and Christian history is filled with such failed experiments). The key is to pay attention to internal dialogue of your heart, even during recreational activities.

The Benedictine monks practiced ora et labora (work and pray.) They endeavored to be aware of God’s presences while farming, working, or even doing dishes. Can you take up carpentry during a sabbatical, yet quietly listen to God’s voice? Or internally are you “cranking work out?” The difference between the two heart attitudes is the difference between work and rest, Sabbath keeping and Sabbath breaking.

Audrey Assad and Isaac Wardell, singer-songwriters of the vocation-themed album Porter’s Gate: Works Songs, write, “In the fields of the Lord, our work is rest.” Recreational activities, done in a spirit of rest, can train the heart to re-engage work after a sabbatical in a spirit of peace.

5. Remember.

Take time to write down the good gifts God has given over a lifetime of work. Get out picture albums, invite over old friends for scotch (at least if you’re Presbyterian), and remember. Remembering was a core Sabbath practice for the Israelites. Even amidst the pain of unfaithful kings, the breach of covenant, and eventual exile, they found new life in remembering the Exodus and their nation’s birth out of slavery.

Anne Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts: Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are is a beautiful book that portrays her odyssey of actually writing down and noticing commonplace and everyday gifts.  Experiment with this during your sabbatical. The taste of warm coffee, a phone call from your daughter, the way afternoon light sparkles through the kitchen window. Notice God’s gifts. Remember. Be filled with gratitude.  

6. Love your neighbor.

It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath,” Jesus said as the crippled man “stretched [his hand] out, and it was restored” (Matthew 12:9-12). The Pharisees saw this and conspired to kill him, calling him a law breaker. But Jesus saw that Sabbath was for the restoration of all his people, especially the poor, widow, orphan and foreigner.

During your sabbatical year, consider visiting shut-ins, sitting with tearful friends who’ve lost loved ones, or praying with pregnant teens at a local clinic. My friend Bob Cutillo, a physician at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, once told me, “Don’t serve the poor. See through the eyes of the poor.”

Sabbatical is a space in time for seeing what you otherwise were too busy or distracted to see during your career.

Also, beware of partaking in heroism during your sabbatical. It’s likely that caring for the needs of the poor will be a far greater gift to you than it is to them.

7. Practice simplicity.

“Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free.” The classic Quaker song offers a counter-cultural freedom from the entertainment and accumulation-complex of retirement: to possess less and intentionally simplify your lifeis to experience deep freedom.

A common early-retirement practice is to declutter – garages, storage bins, closets. Many also transition to smaller homes. Yet the Christian practice of simplicity adds a layer of spiritual restoration. “Throughout church history followers of Jesus have intentionally vowed to live simply,” says author Adele Calhoun. “Following the example of the Lord, they have given up comfort and possessions and the clutter of life to leave larger spaces for loving God and neighbor. Simplicity creates margins and spaces and openness in our lives.”[8]

In sabbatical, develop the habit of giving things away. Reject things that are causing anxiety in you. Learn to enjoy things without owning them.[9]

8. Renew your mind.  

One of the people who most impressed me during my research,” said Michael Lindsay, the president of Gordon College, “was John Mendelsohn.” As I interviewed Michael about his book View From the Top, he shared about an infectious learner, Dr. Mendelsohn, who used to be the head of the prestigious M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

“When I was doing the interview,” Michael remembered, “he was reading a book on the history of opera.”[10] What does the history of opera have to do with cancer research, I thought? Nothing. And that was Michael’s point about learning and long-lasting contribution: people with deep, long-lasting influence cultivate a “liberal arts mentality,” in which they learn far outside of their field. Such a broadening education allows them to innovate across disciplines, understand society broadly, and influence larger cultural conversations with wisdom (one of the traditional roles of an elder in the Bible).

During sabbatical, consider taking time to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:1-2). Read not only religious books, but anything from neuroscience to wildlife biology to the history of water rights in the West. Our careers have a way of making us technicians – we know everything about one topic, but remain in the dark about most of the world. We’ll return to this in chapter 7, but reigniting your curiosity and sense of wonder is crucial to cultivating wisdom, a virtue the world needs from Baby Boomers in the next generation.

9. Decide when your sabbatical will end.  

As we’ll explore in chapter 4, we’re created to work, and sabbaticals (like Sabbath days) are meant to end. “You shall do your work for six days,” says the commandment, and that commandment is applicable over a lifetime, even as varieties of work may change.  Sabbatical is also a critical time for re-evaluating your sense of calling (which we’ll explore further in chapter 3).  But setting a defined period of time – whether that be 3 months, 6 months, or a full year – focuses a sabbatical, prevents it from melting into a never-ending vacation, and instead prepares the heart to listen to God’s voice for next steps.

I was once preaching on the topic of work and rest when a (very) elderly man came to me and said, “Son, I’m ninety-one years old. Don’t you think I should be able to take a break at my age?” I muttered an embarrassed, “Yes, sir,” as I was only in my early thirties at the time. He continued, “But let me tell you something. I’m a retired professor at Moody Bible College. I love writing, but haven’t done any writing for years. I’m going to take up writing again tomorrow morning.”

He paused, then looked me in the eye. “Thank you, son.”

A Colorful Symphony

In Norton Jester’s classic children’s book Phantom Tollbooth, Milo, the main character, meets Chroma the Great, “conductor of color, maestro of pigment, and director of the entire spectrum.” Milo learns that Chroma is the conductor of a great symphony – piccolos, flutes, clarinets, oboes, bassoons, horns, trumpets and tubas – which causes the sun to rise each day and shed color on nature. Every evening as Chroma lifts his arms, his symphony plays and a dash of color fills the sky. “What pleasure to lead my violins in a serenade of spring green,” Chroma says, “or hear my trumpets blare out the blue sea and then watch the oboes tint it in warm yellow sunshine.”

One day, Milo wonders what it would be like if he tried to lead the orchestra himself. He raises his hands before dawn and a piccolo sends a sprite of yellow in the sky. With another movement of his arms, the cellos make the hills glow red. But then things start to go wrong. As his untrained arms flail, the sun goes up and down and up again, green snow begins to fall, and the flowers turn black. A week passes by in only four minutes. All the colors are now wrong, and Milo says unhappily, “I wish I hadn’t started.”[11]

The instinct in our working lives is to try to conduct the symphony by ourselves. And when things go wrong (as they always do), the instinct is to regain control in retirement by waving our arms and trying to summon satisfaction from fleeting pleasure, deep rest from vacation, or by immediately going into another field of work, hoping it will finally satisfy the longings of the heart.

But this is the counter-cultural wisdom of Christian faith for retirement. Sabbath rest allows us to pause and see the great, colorful symphony that is God’s world. A sabbatical structures time so we can develop the spiritual muscles to hear the voice of God, see the beauty of creation, and embrace our place in it. 

What am I going to do with my retirement?” Anne asked me not so long ago. The still, quiet whisper of the Conductor calls us, I believe, first to take a season of deep, Sabbath rest.

[1] Freedman, vi.

[2] Craig J. Slane, “Sabbath,” Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theological, accessed on January 25, 2018:

[3] “Under-Vacationed America: A State-by-State Look at Time Off,” Accessed on August 11, 2018:

[4] Gordon T. Smith, Courage and Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2011), 85.

[5] Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews (New York: Harper & Row, 1987), 37.

[6] Sabbatical is a term often used for extended time off for academics (and the occasional lucky pastor).  But even in corporate America, the idea is gaining steam. As of 2008, 16 percent of American companies had formal unpaid sabbatical programs, and 5 percent offered paid sabbaticals. The idea of a full year of Sabbath rest is deeply biblical. One year out of every seven Israelites were instructed to let their crops lay fallow and not do any work. “For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of Sabbath rest” (Leviticus 25:4). God promised to provide such a yield in the sixth year that they would have enough to eat until crops from the ninth year were harvested (25:22).

In his book Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power, Andy Crouch asks a provocative question: what if our entire careers were marked by six years of work, and then one of rest – instead of putting all our years of rest on the back-end of our lives (retirement)? As it turns out, the math is pretty provocative. He writes “If one were to start full-time work at twenty-one and retire at the age of sixty-nine, then hoped to enjoy an ‘active retirement’ until, say seventy-seven before being more constrained by the limitations of old age, the forty-eight years of work would be matched by eight years of retirement – exactly the 1-for-6 ratio of the sabbatical year.” See Andy Crouch, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014).

[7] Lauren Winner, Mudhouse Sabbath (Brewster, MS: Paraclete Press, 2003), 11.

[8] Adele Calhoun. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us (InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL, 2005), p. 75.

[9] One of the best treatments of simplicity is penned by Richard Foster. See: Richard Foster, The Celebration of Discipline (Harper & Row Publishers: San Francisco, CA, 1978).

[10] Jeff Haanen, “Michael Lindsay: Go Where Decisions are Made,” Christianity Today, August 6, 2014; accessed on January 19, 2018:

[11] Norton Jester, The Phantom Tollbooth (New York: Random House, 1961), 125.


Audio Book Release and a Free Gift: Working from the Inside Out

Hey Friends,

Today we launch the audio book, narrated by yours truly, of Working from the Inside Out. As a big thank you for your support (and patience with my erratic posting on this blog), I’d like to offer the first four people who read this post a FREE copy of the audio book on Audible.


Working from the Inside Out: A Brief Guide to Inner Work That Transforms Our Outer World 



Note: Each code is one-time-use.  


Your free audiobook(s) can be enjoyed via Existing account holders can visit their My Account page to redeem, while new listeners can follow the below instructions. 

2Input your promo code and hit “apply”
3Continue creating your FREE account and then hit “Start Listening”
4Download the free app for Apple or Android devices (see below for links), or listen on your desktop through
5Login and start listening! Your free audiobook(s) will be waiting for you in the My Books section 

Thanks again to you all! I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the audio book! If you think of it, leave a review on audible!


PS. I’ll update this blog post as soon as I hear from you that all four free audible books are claimed.


Launch Day! “Working from the Inside Out: A Brief Guide to Inner Work That Transforms Our Outer World” (IVP, 2023)

God is working, I believe, “from the inside out.”

Big day! Today InterVarsity Press is publishing my second book: Working from the Inside Out: A Brief Guide to Inner Work That Transforms Our Outer World.

The book comes from my 10 years of experience leading Denver Institute for Faith & Work and the deepening conviction that “faith and work” is not first about impact, success, or even a way to advance the Gospel in the world—it’s about who we’re becoming in the process of our working lives.

The idea of the book is to give us a place to start this journey of living in a relationship with God in all areas of life. First, I believe we need to focus not on the world’s problems but on our own hearts and minds, seeking deep spiritual and emotional health and theological truth. Second, inner transformation impacts our core relationships and work. And finally, I believe we’re called to engage culture not as conquerors, but as sacrificial servants. God is healing the world first through our interior life, second through our exterior life, and third through our civic life.

What’s the book’s unique value?

●  It’s a great intro on faith and work. Not sure where to start on all things faith, work, and culture? Here’s a good starting point.

●  It’s blessedly brief. We’re all busy! This book has 10 brief chapters you could get through in a sitting or two.

●  It offers a simple model for integrating faith and work. The book simplifies an otherwise esoteric and complex subject through five principles.

●  It’s written for any believer. The book isn’t targeted exclusively to business leaders or professionals. It’s for any believer, from maintenance technicians to journalists to teachers to recent graduates to managers.

●  It has 50+ stories and examples. The book is chock-full of examples, from working in restaurants and manufacturing to selling used cars and caring for patients.

●  It’s holistic. The gospel changes all of our lives—our hearts, the way we think, our relationships, the work we do, and how we engage with the needs of the world. This book is a simple, brief introduction to whole-life discipleship.

Also, a couple bonus points: I’m personally narrating the audio version so readers can hear directly from me—about all the mistakes I’m hoping others can learn from! And all future royalties will be donated to Denver Institute, so sales will help to spur on the faith and work movement.

You can grab a copy today:

And I narrated the audio book(myself!), which will be available on December 19.

Not ready to buy yet? Here’s an excerpt:

For a 20% discount (from Oct 1 through February), put in the code IVPHAANEN at check out at Intervarsity Press

What are people saying about Working from the Inside Out?

“Jeff Haanen is one of the foremost thought leaders of this generation on the topic of faith and work. In Working from the Inside Out, Jeff provides anecdotal and prescriptive insights that will inspire and move you to action. Jeff’s wisdom and perception are profound in helping readers bridge the sacred/secular divide. This book helps you understand how your work can serve as the most valuable tool Christians have to make a difference in the world. However, we must change internally before we can change the external world.

David Stidham, Vice President of Business Affairs and General Counsel for The Chosen

“I can’t wait to give this book to some important people in my life! As the title suggests, Jeff Haanen’s most valuable contribution is his focus on our inner spiritual life and the promise that a life attuned to the hope, love, and grace of the gospel changes us. Work is a crucible; it forms and shapes us—for better or for worse. Jeff’s five guiding principles (seek deep spiritual health, think theologically, embrace relationships, create good work, and serve others), developed and tested during his decade with Denver Institute for Faith & Work, offer a way toward work forming us ‘for better.’ Read with friends; take this journey together.”

Katherine Leary Alsdorf, Founding Director of Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s Center for Faith & Work

“You don’t need this book—if you love your job, live a balanced life, can’t wait to get up in the morning, and feel content in your relationships with people and God. If not, consider this collection of deep wisdom from an expert in the crucial, but often ignored, intersection of faith and work.” Philip Yancey, Coauthor of Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God’s Image and Where the Light Fell: A Memoir

I cannot tell you what a blessing this book is. I cannot wait to be able to share this with others. The wisdom and guidance in this book is what I wish I would have had when I was graduating college and starting my career and starting out as a young professional. It is also the book that I, as a more seasoned business leader and fledgling entrepreneur, need to cut through the hardened layers that can calcify the soul. With every turn of the page, another piece was chiseled off, providing a fresh reminder for me of the calling I have as a Christian in the work God entrusted to me. I’ve been challenged, convicted, and blessed.

– Josh Rogers, Head of Operations, Leif

Free Study Guide

Considering reading the book with a group? Here’s a free study guide anybody can download, thanks to our friends at Denver Institute: The guide is a great resource for church small groups discussing the book.


Linked Together

How Businesses Can Take Meaningful Action on Forced Labor Through Greater Supply-Chain Transparency

My coffee cup sits next to my glowing laptop, steaming. My iPhone sits on a paper task list. I splurge today and get a mocha. Wearing a black vest, blue zip-up pullover, jeans, and sneakers and feeling comfortable, warm, and well-fed on a rainy day, I wonder for just a moment: Where exactly did all these comforts come from?

It’s disturbing to find out that each of these rich-country comforts I so often enjoy—coffee, chocolate, rechargeable batteries in smartphones, and the cotton in my clothes—has been implicated in using forced labor somewhere in a long, complicated, and oftentimes opaque supply chain.

When I hear the phrase “supply chain,” I think of the inconvenience of sold-out toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic. Sometimes I think of container ships coming from China, bringing untold numbers of widgets to American shores.

What I rarely consider, however, are the questions surrounding supply-chain transparency. How responsible am I for using and enjoying a product that well may have been made by a modern-day slave? And how would I even know if this was the case? And what can business do about it?

Forced Labor Is a Problem for Everyone, Including Business

Forced labor is hauntingly common in the modern world. Matt Friedman, CEO of the Mekong Club, a Hong Kong–based organization, works with a range of businesses and partners to prevent modern slavery within their supply chains.  Friedman notes that in 2011, the United  Nations estimated that the number of people in modern slavery was 21 million.  The new revised figure that recently came out in November 2022 is 50 million. This increase resulted from better data and more people falling prey to trafficking during the pandemic.

When I hear the word “slavery,” I often think about transatlantic chattel slavery from the 16th to 18th centuries. Yet today, slavery wears a different mask. Friedman painted a picture for me of how a worker is first deceived into, and then trapped in, forced labor.

Imagine you’re a Nepalese man who earns $50 per month. A recruiter says you can make $250 per month working in a factory in Malaysia. You say, “Great—where do I sign up?” He says the process costs $1,500, but he’ll lend you the money to make it happen. The rough calculations still make sense.

But once you get to Malaysia, you sign an employment contract you can’t read, you earn $125 per month rather than $250, and your debt actually is $3,000. After working for a year, you realize your debt is only growing with interest, and you ask to go home. But your manager confiscates your passport and says you must keep working until you’ve paid off your debt. If you go to the local police, it’s your word against the company’s. Hope turns to despair, and you’ve become a modern-day slave.

Sometimes these workers’ conditions look like a cobalt mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the topic of Siddharth Kara’s book Cobalt Red: How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives. Sometimes people are trafficked through wide-ranging criminal networks moving them from Latin America to the United States. Other times, forced labor is even state sponsored, as in the case of the estimated 100,000 Uyghurs in western China reported by the US Department of Labor.

What’s clear is that the practice persists because it’s so profitable. Human trafficking and forced labor are second only to drug trafficking in profitability. The US Department of Homeland Security estimates forced labor makes about $150 billion in annual profit. And on a pound-to-pound basis, humans are often far more valuable than drugs. Ashleigh Chapman, founder of the Alliance for Freedom, Restoration, and Justice, says, “[Somebody] can sell a drug or a weapon only once. . .  But [you] can sell a child 20 times a night.”

Despite widespread condemnation of modern slavery from governments and civic leaders across the world, forced labor is growing, not shrinking. And though it’s obviously a human rights issue, highlighted by everyone from the United Nations to International Justice Mission, it’s a huge problem for business, for at least three reasons.

First, if a large business is found to have forced labor somewhere in its supply chain, that can crush the brand’s reputation, especially given that 83 percent of socially conscious young consumers say they want to support brands that align with their beliefs. If you sell clothes and, say, the French government files a lawsuit against you for committing “crimes against humanity” by using cotton made by slaves, needless to say, you have a big public relations problem on your hands.

Second, if forced labor or human trafficking is found in your supply chain, it can be hugely expensive. Australia’s Westpac, one of the country’s largest banks, was hit with a $578 million fine for enabling payments between known child sex offenders. Governments are holding companies accountable for not only whose payments they process but also whom they hire and purchase from.

Third, government regulation against forced labor is ramping up across the world. The US is cracking down on child labor and passing legislation on supply-chain transparency and human trafficking. Australia, Britain, Canada, France, and Germany have strict legislation regarding forced labor and supply chains. Clean and transparent supply chains are necessary to doing business with Europe and the wealthy West. Conversely, US Customs and Border Protection can seize a shipment if there is forced labor at any stage of its supply chain.

Yet supply chains can be anything but transparent. Say you’re Microsoft, and you have 58,000 suppliers. How would you know if any of them used forced labor? Or say you’re a college student launching a fulfilled-by-Amazon e-commerce business. How would you know which of the goods you purchased on Alibaba were made by modern-day slaves?

Investing in Supply-Chain Transparency

“I’m descending through a cloud layer to reveal the city of Marawi, Philippines. . . . The crew of 11 under my command is tired from night after night of combat missions,” remembers Wes Lyons, a general partner at Eagle Venture Fund and former Navy officer. “The radio crackles with our tasking for the day: ‘. . . ISIS . . . children . . . bait for an ambush . . . find them before it’s too late.’”

Lyons became passionate about combating human trafficking after a harrowing experience hunting ISIS in the US military and seeing firsthand how the vulnerable are exploited globally. After his experience in the armed forces, he sought ways to combat forced labor and human trafficking through investing in scalable, sustainable solutions. One such solution is Evidencity, a “Knowledge as a Service” provider that “seeks the truth about your network of professional relationships: customers, suppliers, or vendors.”

Samuel Logan, CEO of Evidencity, worked in the 2000s as a journalist specializing in black-market economics. He wrote stories about coyotes moving immigrants to the US, drug dealers shipping cocaine via plane to the Caribbean, and secret networks in northern Mexico trafficking people in manufacturing. “Illicit economic actors overlap with licit economic activities,” Logan told me in an interview. “Say you have a 20 foot semi-truck, the last 5 feet are golf balls and the other 15 feet are human cargo. The company controls the trailer, but the truck is loaded by a subcontractor. The only person that knows about the people is the guy running the loading dock at 3am.” Rooting out forced labor, Logan came to see, would require a hybrid approach, combining data and on-the-ground investigation to find out what was going on.

Logan says there are three options for understanding whether there’s forced labor in your supply chain. The first is a tool such as Sourcemap, a supply-chain mapping software. Yet the challenge here is that since companies self-report, not all the information may be entirely accurate. The second option is a big data solution. Upload an entire supply-chain spreadsheet, and tools such as AI can highlight areas of risk, principally by region. So if you have 30 suppliers in Bangalore, India, big data will tell you where to look, but not how.

Third, and this how Evidencity works, is a hybrid solution that combines big data and a boots-on-the-ground approach. Say you’re a golf products supply company in Mexico with 1,000 suppliers. By monitoring criminal watch lists, derogatory social media posts, and sanctions and using other tools, you can narrow down that list to 120 flagged suppliers. Evidencity has a suite of products that, depending on the customer, takes a list anywhere from a basic review to a deep dive. From there, Evidencity takes a consultative approach, and, leveraging networks in 88 countries, it can find investigators to get offline information about potential practices involving human trafficking or forced labor.

Businesses can also use other tools to address forced labor and human trafficking. Investors can use broad tools such as World Wide Generation, which collects data on companies that track with UN Sustainable Development Goals, of which sustainable supply chains are one part. Companies can hire businesses such as Arena CX, a platform for business process outsourcing that provides alternative jobs for people in areas most susceptible to forced labor. The Mekong Club has worked with partners to innovate tools such as DiginexLUMEN, which helps companies collect standardized and comparable information about working conditions through anonymous surveys.

Businesses now have a suite of options to shed light on their supply chains, as well as a practical ethical and financial reason to do so.

Taking Action

“The first question I get,” Lyons told me, “is ‘what can I do?’” Most—including me—want to know practically how they can address forced labor in their supply chains.”

The first action step we can take is building awareness. “You cannot address an issue you don’t understand,” says Logan. Fortunately, there is a wealth of resources to help you better understand the issue. You can learn about the types of goods child labor produces and which fast-fashion trends depend on forced labor. You can learn how many slaves work for you and which products you purchase likely depend on modern slave labor. You can read books such as Where Were You? A Profile of Modern Slavery and listen to podcasts about reforming systems of care, identifying slaves in everyday life, building multisector partnerships, and advocating change. Education is the beginning of change.

The second step is pursuing vocation, or taking action right where you live and work. Vocation suggests that we can’t do everything, but we can do something. And that something is right in front of us. Take, for example, Kurt Johnson. Johnson is CEO and founder of FreightPOP, a software startup for shipping and transportation management. Because the majority of trafficking goes through trucking, Johnson and his investors at Eagle Venture Fund saw an opportunity. Being at a crucial nexus in the supply chain, Johnson decided to display on FreightPOP the truckers who had received training from Truckers Against Trafficking, a group that educates and equips truckers to recognize and report human trafficking. “Would you like to show your customers which truckers have been through this training? All things being equal, they may pick your company to ship their products,” Johnson told me in an interview. Johnson found one small area where he could make a change, and he took action.

Of course, few people actually work in supply-chain logistics. But if you’re a teacher, you can educate students about human trafficking. If you’re a nurse, you can learn to see the signs of human trafficking in hospitals. If you work in HR, you can hire an engineer who has survived human trafficking. If you attend a church, you can host a study on the topic and how your church can address the need. Vocation is a summons to respond to a call to love your neighbor wherever you are and whatever your field of work.

Finally, invest in change. Sometimes, this may include divesting yourself of public equities or businesses profiting from forced labor in, say, the solar panel supply chain. Other times, it may mean investing in for-profit businesses committed to designing market-ready solutions for eradicating forced labor from supply chains. By investing time, charitable capital, investment capital, and influence, businesses can take meaningful action on forced labor through greater supply-chain transparency.

Linked Together

Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

Am I responsible for the products I consume, the supply chains that bring them to me, and the people’s lives affected along the way? As I sip coffee, wear comfortable clothes, and type on my laptop, I cannot help but think that the global economy has linked us all together in a common fabric of a single, human story.

We are buyers and sellers, employers and employees, suppliers and purchasers—but most fundamentally, brothers and sisters who all yearn to breathe free.

This article first appeared at Eagle Venture Funds.

Craftsmanship & Manual LaborVocationWork

Where Are All the Workers? (Comment, September 1, 2022)

How to Revive a Wilting Workforce

This week, Comment published my essay “Where Are All the Workers? How to Revive a Wilting Workforce.”

In the essay, I address something we’re all feeling, whether at the airport or the local restaurant: the labor shortage. We are facing a historic pinch: the global workforce is aging, birthrates are declining, labor participation rates are decreasing, and many people are not willing to take middle skill jobs – or really any job. In my paper I argue, however, the pandemic has changed our mood around work. From China to the US, we’re now living in an age of anti-ambition, characterized by what the medieval church called acedia, or sloth – which is not just laziness, but a sorrow at having to do good, challenging work.

I make three key points in the paper. First, work as an expression of one’s gifts, interests, and talents, rather than simply extracting maximal wages for minimal effort, is the critical element of a dynamic, growing economy. Second, historic ideas of Christian vocation can be translated into a secular economy to revive a weary workforce. And third, work, and the plight of the world’s workers, is the great social issue of our age.

Here’s how I begin the essay:

It was a Sunday afternoon and I was setting up for a game of musical chairs on my back deck. As the sun shone, I carefully counted black lawn chairs and placed them facing out, in a circle, with one chair less than the number of RSVPs for my daughter’s seventh birthday party. It felt a little cruel to set up a rigged game like this, but I reasoned it was a classic of childhood competition. What could be more American?

Before the pandemic, the labour market felt like a game of musical chairs. Employers created jobs, expected more applications than positions, and when the music stopped, they chose the best employees for the role. Of course, some were left out, but they could be trained to run faster next time and grab a chair, right?

But in the last two years, for both employees and employers, it feels like somebody tipped over the chairs, threw some into the yard, and shut off the music. And half of the kids left early from the birthday party, deciding they didn’t really want to play musical chairs anyway.

Not only has the pandemic has created a labour shortage, it has changed the world of work for all us. We now desperately need to find new ways to infuse life into a weary workforce.

Read the rest of the essay at Comment.

Spiritual FormationTheologyVocationWork

“A Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation” – A Sermon on Exodus 19-20

I recently had the chance to preach at my home church, Wellspring Anglican in Englewood, Colorado. I spoke on Exodus 19-20 and focused on God’s promise to the new nation of Israel in Exodus 19:5-6: “Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

In the sermon dive into what it would have meant to be a “kingdom of priests” and how Israel was called to be a “holy nation” in both their personal and public lives. I also ask some hard, personal questions about how – if it’s even possible – we might become holy.

I hope you enjoy listening. I’d be glad for your feedback below in the comments section.

“A Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation” – A Sermon on Exodus 19-20


Why Every Faith-Driven Investment Firm Needs to Hire a Theologian

Recently I got a prospectus from a faith-motivated advisory firm that outlines what they invest in as Christians. On one level, the responses were predictable. They don’t invest in alcohol, cannabis, pornography, or weapons. And they do invest in companies that have ethical leadership, policies that value employees, and a “positive societal impact.”

But after reading the prospectus, I had to pause and say to myself: this is really, complex stuff.

On one level, investing is quite straightforward: capital should be used to bring about returns. Yet, what is positive societal impact? What companies are “ethical” and which aren’t?  Aren’t all companies – like people, a mix of good and bad, moral and immoral? How do you even think through ethics? And which societal impacts are primary, and which are secondary? Why?

I’m not trying to be esoteric. Here’s an example for you for you make an investment decision, shared with me by a dear friend and leader in the faith-based investing space.

Example 1: Building materials company

  • The employee stock ownership plan or ESOP is 9.5% of total shares outstanding. To date, 40K employees participate and the company matches up to 6% contribution.  
  • Their promote-from-within culture focuses on investing in talent and yields a low voluntary turnover rate of 7-8%. Post-college entry-level training program (with average starting salary ~$47k according to Glassdoor) teaches how to manage store P&L. The CEO came up through the same program.

Example 2: Restaurant franchise company

  • 95%+ of US franchisees started as drivers or hourly workers in stores. “Everyone is trained to become a manager from the first day”, according to a former franchise employee. Cross-training is the norm. 
  • Store start-up cost is $300K vs $4-5M for some other large concepts, making franchise ownership accessible to the middle class. According to one industry expert, “for someone making $60K a year, opening a franchise is possible”.
  • Franchisees go through franchise management school program to ensure success.
  • During COVID, the company paid $10M in year-end bonuses to >10K company employees in addition to bonuses paid in March/April 2020 and expanded/extended sick leave benefits.

Now, both seem to be solid public companies having a good impact on employees and are profitable.

But how do you decide between the two? Returns? Opportunity for low-income employees? Or do you prioritize the product itself: would you rather invest in expanding a building materials company or a fast-food business? Or do you instead decide to look into the environmental practices of their supply chains?

Investment analysis obviously goes through a financial filter. And increasingly so, it goes through some combination of a social or ethical filter. But what of theology? For the secular investment firm, this, of course, makes little sense. (Though, whether they acknowledge it or not, all their investments are going through a philosophical filter.) But for the faith-driven investor, isn’t “the faith once entrusted to the saints” the most central filter for investing in any company (Jude 1:3)?

If so, are you sure that your perspective on faith and investing is coming from historic Christian belief rather than, say, your cultural background, your social class, your family of origin, your education, your political persuasion, or your own church’s emphases?

Let me make that case that every faith-driven investor needs to hire a theologian. Here are three reasons.

1. Combining faith with investing is inherently complex.

Here’s what faith-driven investors are trying to do. They’re trying to take ancient texts written originally in Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew to ancient peoples, grasp the core teachings of these texts enough to then understand the core doctrines of Christian belief developed over 2,000 years of church history, apply those doctrines to the modern social construct of business with all the complexity of finance, marketing, operations, and sales, and then decide on which businesses to invest in based on those beliefs and practices!

To go from the book of Daniel to fintech, or from the Doctrine of the Trinity to human resource practices is not for the faint of heart!

Far too often in the faith-motivated investing space have I seen simplistic interpretations of texts (like the parable of the talents) to investing, without understanding the doctrinal, historical, or social context of particular passages, or even their own biases in reading the Bible as 21st century American Christians. Just like finance, doing theology well requires knowledge, practice, and a breadth of learning.

The reality is, we need experts who can help wade through these waters if we actually want our core investment philosophy to be Christian.

2. Theologians bring a unique set of specialized skills.

Ever since the Protestant Reformation, we’ve believed that since we can all read the Bible for ourselves, we can understand it just as well as the next person. Now, I’m a big fan of everybody reading the Bible, but this has led to a deep devaluing not just of pastors, but those who have literally spent decades studying theology and scripture – like theologians. To say that “anybody can understand the Bible” to a theologian is like me saying to an investor that there’s no difference between a managing partner at Blackrock and an entry-level financial advisor at Thrivent. They’re both equally valuable in the eyes of God, but they’re not both equally competent or knowledgeable when it comes to investing.

Years ago, we at Denver Institute for Faith & Work hired Ryan Tafilowski as a “resident theologian.” He has a Th.M. in ecclesiastical (church) history and a Ph.D. in theology from the University of Edinburgh. He writes and speaks on inter-religious dialogue, historical theology, and ethics. And to top it off, his ability to recall episodes of Arrested Development is astounding (to the great delight of our entire staff team).

Over the years, Ryan has taught our staff team everything from political theology to the doctrine of sin. And when we’re weighing in on tough social issues, ranging from gender to race to immigration to how much profit we should reinvest versus give, his expertise in theological foundations and frameworks has regularly surprised and delighted us. Often, it has completely transformed our views of an issue.  

Ryan has education and knowledge that I don’t have. Because this is true, when he speaks,  though I’m technically his boss, I’m careful to listen. He actually knows more than I do about the “faith” aspect of “faith and work.” He adds tremendous value to the team, not just in production, but in faithfulness to our own tradition – a tradition I’m still just learning about.

Having a theologian on my staff is incredibly valuable.

3. They’re worth the investment.

Now, the vast majority of theologians don’t know the first difference between public equities and private equity. To that end, they need to listen to professional investors. Yet I believe that professional investors also need to listen to theologians.

I believe it’s worth having a full-time theologian on the staff of every faith-motivated investment firm. They should weigh in on every social, ethical, political, or philosophical decision, drawing the company continually back to the great drama of Scripture, the creeds, and the history of the Church, and what they mean for investing today.

One of our five guiding principles at Denver Institute is to think theologically: “Embracing the call to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of Christ, we value programs that enable men and women to verbally articulate how Scripture, the historic church, and the gospel of grace influence their work and cultural engagement.”  To do this, we need theologians to guide, illuminate, and advise. This is why having a resident theologian on our staff is a necessity, not a luxury. (Can’t convince your nonbelieving partners to hire a theologian? Fear not: the vast majority of theologians would happily take the title “Philosopher in Residence.”)

And on the bright side, compared to your typical MBA from Kellogg, theologians are relatively cheap. With thousands more PhDs in theology than there are professorships, there is certainly market supply.

Yet I’d say they’re worth their weight in gold. Some may balk at this comparison to theologians and gold: $1764 per ounce, assuming a 150-pound theologian, are they really worth $4,233,600?

Depending on what you’re investing in, they might just be…


Jeff Haanen is the Founder and CEO of the educational nonprofit Denver Institute for Faith & Work, CityGate, a national network of leaders working at the intersection of faith, work, justice and community renewal, and The Faith & Work Classroom, a free, online learning platform.


The Pearl of Vocation: Why I Bring My Whole Self to Work, Including My Faith

When I was in elementary school, my mother took my older sister and I to Lake Itasca State Park for summer vacation, located in the cool northern woods of Minnesota. A life-long teacher, she would glory in making the outdoor visit into a lesson: spotting the diving loons in search of breakfast, explaining the history of old-growth red pines towering over the landscape, and proudly declaring that we were looking at the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi River.

My sister and I, however, were more concerned with the number of times we could skip a rock across the glassy surface and the tiny creatures we discovered on the lakeshore. Barefoot and with a cool breeze in my curly blond hair, I would spend afternoons hunting for tadpoles or grabbing tiny oysters to crack them open, in search of treasure. Though I never did find a pearl in those oysters, the shell’s rainbow iridescence, shimmering in the sunlight, hinted at a joy embedded deeply within creation.

Three decades later, with a wife and four daughters of my own — and nearing forty years of age — I now spend more time landscaping behind my mortgaged house, cleaning dishes, and checking email than I do whimsically searching for marine treasures. Yet amidst the ever-present responsibility of directing a nonprofit, paying bills, and supporting family, I’ve found that my daily work has become the central arena in which I sense the magic of the Creator’s handiwork in my own life.

Like the refracted light of a rainbow, faith shapes the breadth of my human experience, including the one-third of my life I spend working. When I feelthe neck-tingling stress of hitting financial goals or the sadness of a coworker who’s lamenting singleness, I pause to pray. When I discuss future office space needs with my COO and the wild uncertainty of our current cultural moment, I draw on the Christian doctrines of the Trinity and the incarnation to think through the problem. When I lose motivation to knock out my task list on a long, hot afternoon, I draw fresh inspiration from Christian authors like Dorothy Sayers, who remind me, “We are made in the image of a Maker,” and my work is a part of my humanity. When I read a news story that recounts the millions of women who’ve lost jobs due to the pandemic, I rework plans for our largest annual event, Business for the Common Good, to reflect God’s own concern for the vulnerable (Exodus 3:17). There is simply no extracting faith from my daily work. My working life is spent at the intersection of my human experience. If I was to remove faith from my working life, it would make me not just less Christian, but less human.

Why should we bring our whole self to work, including our faith? Well, for the Christian, there is no other option. The very oldest Christian confession is, “Jesus is Lord,” (1 Corinthians 12:3). For the early church, calling Jesus kurios (“lord”)was a challenge to Caesar’s claim to that same title. Both Jesus and Caesar claimed ultimate allegiance, forcing early Christians to make a choice. The early church chose the name ekklesia tou Theou (“church of God”), refusing the official protection of “private cults” by the Roman empire, precisely because an ekklesia was a public assembly to which all people in the empire were summoned to discuss the public affairs of the city. The followers of Jesus were making their own self-understanding clear: the church would not be merely a “private religion,” but would instead be public assembly by which all humanity is summoned, called by God himself.

Today, our modern notions of a strict divide between public and private, sacred and secular, faith and work trace their ancestry originally to Greek dualism, and more recently to Enlightenment thinking, which places the individual human at the center of the universe. Indeed, the idea that people could be “religious” at some times and “secular” at others is a relatively new notion. (Peter Berger’s The Sacred Canopy and Charles Taylor’s A Secular Ageare helpful here.) Yet it is that awkward but unspoken expectation of fencing off our deepest convictions that still dominates most government, corporate, and nonprofit entities today. And so, millions of men and women across faith traditions are forced to ask, how am I supposed to be fully human at work, but ignore the very source of my humanity for the majority of my waking hours?

In my own tradition — I am a Presbyterian drawing from the rich well of historic American Protestantism — there has been much handwringing about this question, especially in the context of a changing culture. Pew reports that in just the last 30 years, the percentage of U.S. adults who identify as Christians has declined from 87% to 65%, whereas the number of adults who claim to be “religiously unaffiliated” has swelled from 8% to 26%. That’s 30 million more “nones” than just 10 years ago.

As culture has shifted from a Judeo-Christian social consensus to a secular one in the last 60 years, I lament that the Christian response has largely been around the politicization of faith, the privatization of belief, or the accommodation to culture. In one camp, the culture wars rage on and faith is politicized in a battle for control over the future of America. Others largely retreat from culture, content either to restrict faith to “just my private belief” or live in evangelical subcultures neatly removed from mainstream culture. Yet, by far the most common response is Christians accommodating to popular culture, adopting whatever social, cultural, or economic practices are popular in the moment. Each of these play out as Christians try to answer the question: what does faith mean for my life, my work, and the world I live in?

At Denver Institute for Faith & Work, we believe that work is a way to love God, serve our neighbors, and demonstrate the gospel. We believe vocation is first a call to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, and your mind,” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27; Matthew 22:37-40). Vocation is our response to God’s voice in all areas of life, including our work.

I think many people, including much of corporate America, see this view and feel concerned that bringing your faith to work will cause conflict between people of divergent beliefs. But in my experience, the opposite has been the case. Pete Ochs creates and runs Seat King, a company that manufactures car seats inside a medium-security prison and gives prisoners a fair wage, “life lessons,” and a newfound sense of dignity. Young professionals tackle the challenges of social media, innovate new HR benefits for refugees working in pallet company, and highlight the plight of undocumented immigrants in local newspaper — all as an expression of their faith. From tech workers advocating for better family leave policies to investors humbly admitting they have an anger problem and recommitting to emotional healing, faith in the workplace can be a powerful force for good.

Of course, Christians also sin, and as such, “bringing your whole self to work” can also mean bringing greed, lust, pride, envy, prejudice, and laziness to the workplace as well. I myself have been a fine example of many of these vices to my coworkers and family. Yet, it’s in moments of being drawn to addiction, self-aggrandizement, or brute selfishness that I need God in my own work all the more. Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn once wrote in The Gulag Archipelago, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart….” I think many of us are tempted to believe that the problem with our world today is “them.” But daily I’m reminded that the greatest problem our world faces beats within my own breast.

Two millennia ago, when Jesus was being crowded by throngs of admirers, he hopped in a boat, pushed off from shore, and began to teach. Voice echoing off the water’s surface, he told the story of a farmer who found a treasure buried in a field. Wild with excitement, he sold all he had to buy the field, knowing that in the end he was getting an incredible deal. Similarly, he told the story of a merchant in search of pearls. When he found one, overcome with joy, he too sold everything he had just to possess that single treasure (Matthew 13:44-45).

When I was a boy, strolling along the shores of Lake Itasca and hunting for oysters, my work was simply to delight in the world around me. Now as an adult, nonprofit leader, husband, and father, my work now is to allow that same pearl of God’s grace to permeate my daily life. For me, like the headwaters of the Mississippi River, God is the Living Water who has given me new life (John 4:14-16). If everybody worships, as the late David Foster Wallace claimed, is it such a strange thing to acknowledge that source of life in our working life?

So why faith and work? Like a merchant finding a pearl — or a child finding a shell on a lakeshore — the answer for the Christian is simple: joy.

This post first appeared at Denver Institute.

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