Jeff Haanen




A Conversation on Retirement and Investing with Jeff Haanen

Our Executive Editor Tim Weinhold talks with Jeff Haanen on the biblical challenge to the modern concept of retirement, and how redeeming a biblical vision of our latter years frees us to see investing as God intends.

Tim Weinhold:

Well, we’re really thrilled today. We get a chance to visit with Jeff Haanen. Jeff is the executive director of the Denver Institute for Faith & Work. And although I’m very familiar with the work that you guys have been doing for quite time, Jeff, I’m going to let you briefly describe if you would, for our viewers, the work of the Denver Institute and what you guys focus on when you’re not talking to us.

Jeff Haanen:

Yeah. Well, thanks Tim, for having me on the podcast, and I’d be happy to explain what we’re doing at Denver Institute.

So we’re an educational organization here in Denver. Our mission is to form men and women to serve God, neighbor and society through their daily work. And we’re really trying to bring together a culture separated, which is faith and work, public and private, fact, value. We actually think that the life of faith is a single response to God’s voice in all areas of life. So what we’re doing is we do educational content, we do convenings, we do leadership programs and we work with other organizations in the United States to really help with their local expressions of faith and work and what that looks like in their own cities.

So it’s been a very fun journey leading Denver Institute.

Tim Weinhold:

Something you said during the course of that jumped out at me, the idea that the Lordship of Jesus is meant to apply to every single aspect of our lives. And a lot of what has motivated the establishment of the Eventide Center for Faith and Investing is exactly the sense that a better understanding of how the Lordship of Jesus is meant to apply in the investing world is really needed and something we hope to be part of, which allows in turn an easy segue to what you wrote for us, because you have written a three part series that we consider really meaningful. And I think our readers will as well. You really are talking about the deep intersection in America, between the ideas of a particular kind of retirement and much of the investing that happens in America.

So let’s just start at the very macro level. And if you would just tell us some of your thinking about the relationship between retirement as it’s currently generally understood in America and our investing practices.

Jeff Haanen:

Well, yeah, let me just give you a brief overview to this. I think sometimes we don’t often connect the idea of retirement, particularly it’s popular notions in America, graying hair and swimming pools and pickle ball games with the stock market, with investing. But it is, I think the elephant in the room, why do the majority of people in the United States invest, right? It is because they’re saving for retirement. So the motive behind investing is very much connected to retirement in the United States for most people. And that motive I think, is very fraught on a lot of different levels. And we need to really question why we’re investing into what end and that question is I think very connected to what do I think about retirement? What do I think about my future? What do I think about aging? All those things are very much connected to the why behind most people’s investing.

So that’s why I think it really makes sense for the Eventide Center for Faith in Investing to address those questions.

Tim Weinhold:

So your three part series sort of follows the sequence in part one, how does America tend to think about retirement and to a degree investing related to that.

Part two is how does the Bible really think about our later years? What sort of corresponds to retirement in American thinking. And then once you’ve established that biblical understanding in part two, part three is, okay, how does that really change how we think about investing? So if we could, let’s just go through all three of those and let’s start therefore, with flesh out for us, if you will, how America tends to think about investing

Jeff Haanen:

Yeah. Well, I think that the number one thing that we need to think of about is what have we been sold as the retirement dream? That if you save, if you invest, if you put money in stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, you will one day have a utopian life. Maybe it’s in Florida, maybe it’s in Europe. Maybe it’s happy, fun times with grandkids on your lap, but there’s very much of a utopian vision that is sold that I would say is only partially true and sometimes maybe even completely false in terms of just the realities of life.

We’re always on the side of Eden and there’s good things about any stage of life and there’s difficult things. So I think that’s the first thing that we did think about. But one of the couple of the things that I explored in this first article for you guys is really why I think this is problematic as a core motivation for our investing, that’s retirement.

And it gave a few different reasons I wanted to share. One is what I call the fear-greed combo. I think if a lot of people in the United States are afraid that they’re not saving enough for retirement, there is almost every article that you read about environment says, this is how much you should be saving by age 20, 30, 40. And when you take a look at the statistics, the vast majority of people aren’t doing that and aren’t doing enough. And so there’s a little bit of that fear of will I have enough, which in turn can actually drive greed of thinking I need to accumulate more and more and more and more, which prevents our mind thinking about what is God’s good purpose of investing. It sort of pushes that out for the only purpose of investing is how much can I pile away, so they have the maximum I need for retirement.

So I think that’s a significant fear, particularly with human longevity. People are living longer than ever before. People can expect to be retired 20, 25, 30 years almost as long as their entire career. So the idea of hitting this mythical number could be 1 million for some people it could be two, it just depends on sort of your lifestyle and how much you’ve made during your career.

How do I get there and how do I get there as quickly as possible? I think it’s a very difficult proposition.

The second one, though, just in general with the concept of retirement that’s really challenging is this concept of work. Work is very intrinsic to human beings, God himself worked for six days and rested for one. And he is never tired. He had no need of either retirement or even to actually ever be exhausted, but it was a part of the rhythm of that he put into creation and a lot of people retire as soon as they can. Actually statistics bear that out, but I also think a lot of people miss the contribution in the community of working.

I’ve talked to lots and lots of different folks about this. And so there is a little bit the belonging that’s usually backfilled with what I call just the retirement entertainment complex, which is enormous actually in the United States and thinking about how do I keep myself busy and activities that kind of look like work, even thinking the kind of the false sense of accomplishment after you’ve done 18 holes of thinking, I did my day’s work today and I like golfing, but it can’t be the only way of living.

So I think that’s one thing. And then another thing too, is that a lot of people just say that retirement, if it is seen as what, the number one way, I think America sees it as a never ending vacation.

A lot of people, it’s not satisfying.

How long can you possibly vacation for before you kind of lack a sense of purpose, direction, a real intrinsic desire to contribute to your community. So I think there are various different problems that I explore in the article about why retirement as we conceive of it is a major problem for how Christians think about investing even as well as Christian finance advisors, maybe even that might be watching this too, what are the assumptions going on behind why people are stashing away money? Those I think are where spiritual formation happens, is understanding what are those assumptions? What is good and then what needs to be challenged, particularly from biblical worldview.

Tim Weinhold:

All right. You’ve sort of sketched out some of the problems with the version of retirement that Americans have been sold, as we move into your second piece for us. How does the Bible really suggest we ought to be thinking about our later years?

Jeff Haanen:

Yeah, that’s a good question. So obviously retirement is a modern social construct that’s not necessarily in the Bible, but I do think the Bible gives us some very strong hints. So I have a sentence from my article that I’ll read to you. My conviction is the Bible paints a picture of retirement as laying down past work identities, entering a new season of rest renewal and re-engagement. And then as elders filled with blessing and wisdom for a coming generation.

So there’s a few parts of that. The first is laying down past work identities. Retirement is actually mentioned a couple places, the Bible one’s in Numbers, and it talks about hauling around the furniture of the tabernacle that God calls the older men to lay down the heavy lifting and to give that to the younger men, but to keep on essentially mentoring and caring for them and ministering at the tent of the meeting.

I think this talks about the concept of laying down a past work identities. This is actually particularly true with men, a little less so with women, but your identity can get very much wrapped into your work that prevents actually people from letting go. And I actually think that of a letting go and allowing others to lead and mentoring a new generation is actually very, very important.

The second part I talk about entering a new season of rest renewal and re-engagement. The Bible paints an interesting picture of work and rest. That’s not only one day out of every seven, but Leviticus 5 talks about the biblical could you… I’m sorry, 25 talks about the biblical Jubilee, talks about resting or letting the fields lay fallow for one year out of every seven. Now I think it would be a myth for most people to think, oh, I could take one year off out of every seven years of working and it just doesn’t economically work out very well.

But I do think actually when most people move into early in some sort of a real sabbatical season and sabbatical, not just right for pastors or academics, but for anybody moving into this thinking before I hop into something, either the never ending vacation version or I’m going to finally find my dream job that I never had during my career. I think a season of rest is actually very important. And the concept there in Sabbath really is to reorient the heart toward trust in God, that to really be living a life of worship, as well as to reorient your heart to justice.

There’s a lot of connections in the Bible between Sabbath and justice. So I think this season of thinking about, take a season of rest and for the sake of renewal of the heart before you think about, and this is the third part that I think is strong in the Bible is reengaging.

As elders filled with wisdom and blessing for a coming generation. The Bible has this word elders, of course the new Testament, it’s an office and local churches, but that actually comes from the old Testament. The elders were the leaders. They were the leaders of Israel. So our modern American notions of elder or elderly, that’s an insult, right? But the Bible, these are people filled with nobility with the fruit of experience that are meant for the wellbeing of a society.

So I think elders in the biblical, they don’t do the hard work either of lifting or warfare, right. But they do do the work of leadership and to think about, I’m going to take a season of rest and then reengage as an elder, as a person of wisdom that I’ve collected of my life, a blessing of caring for a coming generation of giving that. I think that’s a real needed way of thinking about re-engaging as a servant of God for all of life. That is not only continuing your same job for 50 years, it’s a different type of a work, but nonetheless, it is a work a service to the world that I think the Bible paints that picture very clearly of what elders can be for the coming generation.

Tim Weinhold:

So your piece has actually spoke to me and made me think about this issue of the transition between if you will, the primary product, the years of our career, and then our later years, whether that’s still a version of career or whether that might be in volunteer type activities. But it made me think quite a bit about that. And it struck me that there is such a meaningful difference in a lot of ways between the productivity thrust, the carrying the heavy furniture, if you will, during our many career years before we get to our senior years and what those senior years need to look like.

And we’re not very light actually to transition from the first to the second very well, unless we’ve actually taken some time to do what you say, to lay down essentially the identities we had adopted during those productive years and to then embrace the very different sort of understanding for our senior years. So I really, really love that.

I wonder whether that will become a more conscious part of how Christians make that transition. I think for many of us, myself included, we didn’t really think about that transition. We’re just sort of doing life. And so I hope that people, as they read your pieces, it may strike a sympathetic chord with a lot of people and they may say, ah, I really do need to think very consciously about how to do that transition.

Jeff Haanen:

Yeah. Well, thanks for saying that, Tim. That’s yeah, very kind. I’m obviously not quite to retire myself, but the need to rest and renew is universal. And I felt that even in late ’30s, ’40s, not that I’m at is that I think it’s just an essential aspect. And I think one thing to think about too, for our, our listeners today, if you liked your work, usually the laying down will be past identities where I was over identified with my work and my productivity, and this is really who I am and the challenge there to be recentering yourself just on Christ.

And if you didn’t like your work, laying down those things, that’s not very difficult actually. There was one article that I read saying, if you worked at Walmart for a career, you don’t just go in the basement and retirement and just scan stuff for fun to stay busy.

This is just not what you do. That’s stuff you do for your pay, then you never ever do again once you’re done with it. So I think the challenge a lot for particularly a working class America in this conversation is to rest and renew. But a sabbatical is a fixed period of time, say six months, nine months, 12 months. But I am now going to deeply rest and say, God, what do you have for me next? Because there is, almost everybody has a lot of pain connected to their work too. And it takes time to heal that.

It could be humiliation of a boss, it could be an unmet expectation, it could be under appreciation, it could be a lot of these things in our work, but whether it’s one side of the identity work or the other side of healing, some of the pain in our work, I do think those seasons are really necessary. So future contribution can actually be kingdom fruit rather than me trying to solve a problem I couldn’t solve during my career.

Tim Weinhold:

Well, that’s good. So let’s assume somebody has done a good job of this interim sabbatical between the productive years and when senior years, which have a shift in focus, how do you think they really ought to… What’s the overarching objective that they ought to bring to how they think about what they’re doing during those senior years?

Jeff Haanen:

Yeah. Well, I think the overarching objective, I think, in some ways that’s very much connected to an overarching objective with all of our years, love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and love your neighbor has yourself. So I think that equation, it just changes a little bit. Rather than either the extremes of I’m going to work forever and never rest, or I’m going to take my never ending vacation over here. I actually think it’s now as I live in this responsive relationship with God in a moment by moment, as I listen to his voice, what is he actually calling me to in this next season? And so I think those ways of contribution, they do look different in senior years.

It could be working full time. It may not be working at all for a while and it might be spending time with a sick parent that’s dying. These are very noble ways of thinking about caring for family. It may be caring for grandkids as a vocation, as a commitment as something that you’re going to limit yourself from, or it might be working part-time either volunteering or for pay again, there’s I think a lot of openness and flexibility here, but there is, I think some things this scriptures say that is out of bounds.

Idleness is out of bounds, a life of self focused pleasure, where I just wake up thinking about how I can entertain myself rather than care for the wellbeing of others. This is out of bounds. Actually, Paul speaks about this of people that make their gods their stomachs, actually there’s some very strong, I think words Paul would have for retirement culture that’s very kind of self focused and pleasure focused in the United States.

So there are some things that I think are out of bounds, but there is I think great freedom and a responsiveness to God’s voice of saying, what do I, then, if I laid this down, this past work identity, Lord, what are you now putting in my hand to take up once more?

Tim Weinhold:

And if I could, let me ask you though, very specifically around the idea of being an elder or being a mentor might be a word we would more commonly use today. What does that look like in particular, how should folks approaching their senior years be, or who may like myself be into their senior years, how should we think about what that elder mentor role ought look like?

Jeff Haanen:

Yeah, I think that’s a great question. I included a chapter on that in my book “An Uncommon Guide to Retirement” about mentoring and I actually started off with a few mentoring relationships that I had had where I was being mentored that didn’t end very well. They weren’t very fruitful and it was sort of mentoring as the awkward we’re going to get together once a month. You’re going to download what I need to be doing as the younger person for about 60 minutes, and I’ll go home and kind of do all of that.

And it feels actually true I think one way. And I think actually a lot of people that are in retirement think, do I have anything to give? I’m not sure. I don’t know if I want to do that. I don’t know if anybody will want to listen to the experiences I’ve had.

The short answer is what I think is the most fruitful way of thinking about mentoring is intergenerational friendship. I think it’s actually genuine friendship where older is listening to younger. Younger is listening to older. There’s a real exchange of both experience, but also of pain and difficulty. I found that the people that have most powerfully affected me as mentors are those that I was baffled that they listened to my experience because I didn’t have much, I still don’t in many ways, but that opened up my ears to listening well from their experience of thinking they’ve been there beyond, but it’s that sort of gentle humility of real friendship. I would love to see more intergenerational friendships between people in their 60s and 30s or 70s and 20s, whatever it might be of a real interest.

And I actually think with that kind of, that humble perspective of we’re both here to listen and we’re both here to give. I could see a lot of the starting to grow.

Tim Weinhold:

I love that. That said it strikes me that America doesn’t make that intergenerational friendship connection easy. And so it’s probably something that we’ll have to put, for many of us, real thought into how to find the opportunities, find particular, maybe organizational or nonprofit ways to engage with others and so forth. Because probably normally it’s just not going to happen that much on its own.

Any particular advice about that, about how to be intentional about finding those opportunities for intergenerational friendship?

Jeff Haanen:

Yeah, I would just say, I think young people and old people can do this equally. Don’t close yourself from people that are different. It tends to be that churches are very homogenous communities, whether it be racially, ethnically socioeconomically, but even generationally as well.

So go to a church where there’s a bunch of young people and the music is too loud or when you’re at hanging out with your friends, genuinely invite friends, 20s, 30s somethings to go and hang out with you without sort of an agenda. Think about what you want to do with your friends, think about what are the interests that you have and then go find people that actually could do the same same things, right?

Again, I’ll redeem golf here. Golf could be a context for that, right? It could be a context for actually building those friendships rather than just playing with the other people like in retirement communities. I think there are some values, there are particular values to retirement communities in terms of healthcare and actual onset of old age. I think that’s a very good thing and needed thing, but the kind of enclaves where you separate yourself off from the world, as well as for people that are different. I think we can do better.

Tim Weinhold:

Maybe I’ll need to take up, hang gliding.

Jeff Haanen:

There we go. There we go. Hang gliding. Sounds fun.

Tim Weinhold:

At the end of your part two piece for us, you said something approximately that if we shift the narrative about retirement, that changes our motive for investing.

Jeff Haanen:

Well, let, yeah, let’s talk about that.

So two different motives for investing. Investing for retirement and the retirement dream or investing for human flourishing. Okay. So when we think about even the greed-fear combo driving so much investing day, I think what if we were to replace that with a simple trust that God will provide for me over a lifetime, that I’ll have enough in the future, I have enough now.

I think it will temper down some of those need for a huge asset buildup by age 65, knowing that income, but maybe continue later in life with working, but also actually staying connected to work will even statistically reduce some of the health care issues that actually set quite quickly oftentimes for people that retire and disconnect from work environments, I’ve actually seen it with my family as well as with people that I’ve interviewed as well.

I also think that early in life, we have sometimes a very unhealthy drive and unhealthy work rhythms that really kind of crush into family and emotional health, but really this myth of financial freedom of thinking once I have this amount of money in the bank, I can finally retire and have sort of the dream. I just think we need to drain the retirement myth of its false promises of thinking of this side of Eden will always be longing for the kingdom. There’s always work for us to be done. And I think that sort of myth of financial freedom can be replaced by just a deeper freedom of contentment and this life that we have now as well as our future life.

I really think that so much of even just day to day work culture is driven by how much longer do I have to do this until I have enough money where I don’t have to do it anymore. You can hear the pain in that, but that’s actually a lot of the narrative of people’s entire working life that’s really driven by once I have this, then I’ll finally be free into the retirement. The truth of the gospel is you are free right now. You are free right now because of what Christ has promised and given to you.

So I think if we actually have that sort of steadiness of heart of thinking about a lifetime of work, rest, re-engagement, right? It allows us to temper a little bit of thinking, if I invest and investing is good and saving is actually good. The Bible talks a lot about saving as well. Maybe I should be thinking about my investments more in terms of their social and cultural impact rather than I just have to get the maximum returns to fund my lifestyle, right. That I think is a critical change that could happen and open up much more people to thinking about investing first and foremost, as a subcategory of human flourishing.

Tim Weinhold:

If you would spell out the particular kinds of changes that you think are possible when one shifts from an investment as a way to fund my retirement to investment as calibrated to human flourishing. Tell us about the particulars of that.

Jeff Haanen:

Yeah. So I have a few different things that I wrote about in the articles. One is that a biblical view of retirement, I think opens a door to your portfolio being really wholly focused on human flourishing. Obviously you can have returns and thinking about human flourishing, even tied to the net for a very long time too, but you have to, I think start that conversation with redemption is more important than returns and very particularly, I think that we need to think about if we’re thinking about our work in our daily life, in terms of how can I contribute to the common good? How is God calling me to serve? What does this look like now? And even as I age long time into the future, that sort of work as a category of human flourishing, we can marry that to investing as a category of human flourishing, because what you’re investing in is businesses where people are working, of businesses of which you’re a partial owner.

So I do think it really opens up to think, I want a lifetime of human flourishing for myself. I want to be invested in those businesses that are going to and do that for others too. So that’s the first thing.

The second thing I wrote briefly about is particularly it’s a better vision for, I think that the vocation of financial advisors. I have spoken to a lot of financial advisors is am I just here to help wealthy people get wealthier so they can have more things in the future? There’s a lot of pain there. There’s a lot of pain there for a lot of financial advisors. And I think financial advisors are really the cultural caretaker of this idea of retirement, because they’re constantly talking with people about money and investing about financial planning as well as about people’s future. Right?

But I think financial advisors is to saying, okay, let’s think about work and rest over a lifetime than me tacitly propping up this myth that if you bring me all this capital we’re going to be finally happy together. Right?

I actually think the vocation of financial advisors of thinking about challenging some of those narrative about work for a lifetime it’s much more fruitful. Thinking I am here to contribute both with investing, but also for my clients, a vision for their good and for their health and for their wholeness as well.

A couple other things that I put in the article is I think a biblical view of retirement REITs show investing in proper proportion to giving, saving and spending money. I mean, how much do we need for retirement?

There are millions of articles online of how much you really need, but it’s really dependent on what your vision for retirement will look like. And if you have a more humble vision for your future, you actually may right now with your money decide to give more of it or save up for an angel parent’s condo. Or you actually may decide to take your family on the big vacation now when they’re young and you actually can shape their life rather than the big vacation in your 70s, when you actually can’t get your kids time anymore, because they’re too busy with other things.

Like you just need to put the, I think, saving for retirement back in proper proportion. And I think a biblical view of retirement does that because it humbles sort of our expectations for what we need in the future.

And then a basic idea too, is I think a biblical view of retirement heals our vision of work and rest over a lifetime. We need to work because God himself worked. We need to rest, even though God himself can never tire it’s as in Isaiah 40, right? God himself rests as well. And so us thinking about what that could look like even now in our life, these visions of work and rest and how to finance that. I think it actually has some interesting policy implications for how we even think about retirement savings account and using some of those resources now. So those are four ideas of how I think it could practically influence how we’re thinking about our life in a way that both brings about human flourishing to our visions of work and our life as well as to what we invest in and why we invest in it.

Tim Weinhold:

What you seem to be saying is that a financial advisor ought to be thinking not just about how they help a client prepare financially for classic American retirement, they ought to be in a sense helping their clients rethink whether that’s really going to be the approach that makes best sense for their later years. That’s a different understanding, a richer, deeper understanding of maybe the role that a financial advisor can play in the life of a client. Can you just elaborate on that a little bit?

Jeff Haanen:

Yeah. I’d be sure to share some thoughts.

So saving probably talked about savings is wise, giving there’s lots of scripture, synchrony eight and nine about giving and generosity. It won’t talk much about that too, but when we even think about investing in values based investing, I think there’s a fun role for advisors to sort of surface questions in terms of what are your core values and would you like your investments to align with values? That’s I think a very important conversation and that’s really the foundation. I think of financial advisors can actually suggest those rather than say, well, my clients didn’t demand this product, so I’m not going to talk to them about that. Well, it’s a relationship. You can talk to people. You can actually suggest stuff of aligning your values with your investments. I think there’s a strong reason as well to say, what are your values and do those align with your vision of the future.

Do those align with how you’re thinking about your family, with how you’re thinking about work, with how you’re thinking about contribution and legacy? Is it only in terms of money or are there other things that you want to be thinking about in terms of season of rest and re-engagement? Is there a different type of a work? How do you want to help prepare your kids for the future? I do think those conversations of financial advisors becoming savvy and saying, what’s the worldview here? What is the desire? What’s the tell us, that’s really driving this person to use their money.

There is an important role, I think for financial advisors to think about what are the values and how does that play out investing, but what are the values, not only how does that play out, but with the money right now, but how does that play out to their vision of what kind of life they want to live? What’s good there that they can be cheered on and what can be gently challenged as friends that want the best for other friends?

Tim Weinhold:

I love that. It reminds me one of my favorite financial advisors was telling me about the transition that had occurred in his own life as an advisor, from how he viewed it in his earlier years and then how he came to view it much more in the ways you’ve just described. And he said specifically that when he started to have those values kinds of conversations with his clients, suddenly the conversations with those clients went way deeper, became more personal, became more substantive. And he really said I’ve ended up becoming as much or more a pastor in the lives of my client as you know, the pastor at our church does.

I, in fact, in many cases, I think I get a chance to have deeper conversations with my clients than a pastor typically even gets to have with those same people. So I think that conversation, honestly for me, sort of changed my understanding of the potential significance of financial advisors. So I love that you’re emphasizing the very same idea.

Any concluding thoughts that my questions haven’t allowed you to share yet that you’d like to offer to our listeners.

Jeff Haanen:

Yeah. It’s worth rethinking what is the story behind retirement? That’s it. Let’s just rethink it.

Let’s rethink what’s going on there, because it’s a huge, huge influencer of everything from stock markets to investing to financial advisors, to how we think about our work today, to how we think about our future, to how we think about big policy issues. It’s worth rethinking of what stories behind retirement and how does the book less story influence that and hope those conversations can grow and continue.

This interview first appeared at the Eventide Center for Faith & Investing.

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A Season of Change: Denver Institute CEO Transition Planned for 2022

Today I announced to the DIFW community that this will be my last year as the CEO. Here’s what we wrote on the transition website: “Denver Institute for Faith & Work’s board of directors announced January 7, 2022, that Jeff Haanen will transition the CEO role to a new leader in 2022. This leadership handoff was initiated by Jeff and comes after 10 years of dedicated service to the organization. The DIFW board will immediately begin preparing to conduct a search for the next leader. Jeff will continue as CEO until a successor is named later in 2022.

I also composed a letter to the DIFW community, which I’ve included below. For more information, see our CEO Transition web page.

Dear Denver Institute Community,

I write today to share the news that after much conversation, reflection, and prayer with the board of directors, I’ve decided to step down as CEO of Denver Institute for Faith & Work at the end of 2022. It has been a privilege and honor founding and then building DIFW over the last 10 years. We believe that now is the right time for a transition that will allow for the right amount of lead time to carry out a search process for a new CEO. I will stay in my role as CEO until a new CEO is appointed in late 2022 and will continue to serve DIFW for the next 9-12 months with the supportive help of our stable and talented staff leadership.

As I reflect on my own professional journey, there are three reasons why I believe now is the right time to transition to a new leader. The first reason is God’s call. Starting and growing an organization has been a gift; it has also come with challenges. Months ago, I began to sense God’s call to “release” Denver Institute. Like many founders, I’ve found that my identity has often been too wrapped up into my work and professional success. I believe God is calling me to love the Caller more than the calling, and open-handedly let go of the CEO role. The time is right to rest, seek renewal, and recenter my heart on Christ himself, my final and deepest gift.

The second reason is institutional renewal. For years I’ve observed the careers of leaders in American Christianity I deeply respect. Several of them made the decision to step down after 10 years of very successful leadership. They realized that institutions need seasons of renewal, like people, and that fresh vision, perspective, and leadership is often key to long-term institutional strength. I believe the Christian church needs leaders who can take up the mantle of responsibility; it also needs those who can just as easily lay it down.  I also believe that leadership is stewardship, not a personal possession. I also believe that ultimately the Resurrected Christ is the leader of DIFW, and He will be faithful to continue his good work through a new leader. 

The third reason is about long-term organizational health. I believe healthy transitions of power are critical to healthy institutions that have staying power – and they’re all too rare. A healthy process of giving power to a new leader is key to seeing DIFW grow and thrive for the next generation. Moreover, DIFW is in a healthy position. We have a strong leadership team, a budget of more than $1M, a group of 250+ committed donors, and highly effective programs such as the 5280 Fellowship, CityGate, public events, the Faith & Work Classroom, the Faith & Work Podcast, and our national events, Women, Work & Calling and Business for the Common Good. The organization is healthy and well-positioned for a new leader.

The board will begin a process of searching for my successor. Board Chair Bob Larkin will be in touch with our constituents over the coming months to answer any questions. I’m deeply grateful to the board of directors for their work in this process. It’s a joy to work alongside such a capable group of leaders. Long term, I intend to stay connected to DIFW not just as the founder, but as a fellow donor, learner and friend.

Paul once wrote to the church in Thessalonica, “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Truly, for so many of you DIFW has been a labor of love, prompted by faith and ultimately inspired by the call of Jesus himself. As my wife and my four daughters await God’s call in this next season of our life, we want to express to you our deep gratitude for all you’ve given, and continue to give.  

You believed. You gave. You came. You worked. You prayed. You loved. And what we have built is a strong, healthy institution centered on the life, death, resurrection and Second Coming of Jesus Christ, and its far-reaching effects for our work and our world.

Thank you for the honor of leading for ten, wonderful years. You have my sincere gratitude.


Jeff Haanen

Founder & CEO

Denver Institute for Faith & Work


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.

Faith and Work MovementVocationWork

CityGate: Launching a New Initiative for Leaders

It was 2016. I was two years into launching Denver Institute. One day I woke up and realized a painful truth. I have no idea what I’m doing. 

So, I got on the phone and started calling friends and peers around the US. Geoff Hsu at Flourish San Diego; Lisa Slayton, then at Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation; David Kim at the Center for Faith & Work. I invited about 15 leaders from Atlanta to Toronto for three days in Breckenridge to eat, share, discuss, and learn from each other. I gave a simple name to that first gathering: CityGate. 

At about the same time, we were launching our first class of 5280 Fellows. To be honest, as Jill (Hamilton) Anschutz was designing the website and Brian was designing the curriculum, we had no idea if this would fly either. But behold, at our first retreat we met 27 bright, faithful, engaged emerging leaders working in law, architecture, social entrepreneurships, psychiatry, engineering, and more. 

Each of these two communities was a gift of grace. And now, five years later, they come together. 

Today we announce a new initiative at Denver Institute for Faith & Work. CityGate is a national community of leaders in churches, businesses, and nonprofits committed to learning, investing in relationships, and encouraging human flourishing as we bring the gospel to the city gate of our respective communities. It is also our initiative for recruiting, equipping, and supporting leaders who want to launch a fellowship program in and for their city. 

Why would we do this? I’m glad you asked. Below are some of the top questions we’ve received from donors, friends, Fellows, and peers. 

Why name it CityGate?

In the ancient world, the city gate was the center of city life. It was the place of commerce, public assemblies, judicial activities, sacred ceremonies, and cultural life. Today, in a secular age, faith is often divorced from the core activities — business, government, justice,  education, health care, arts — that make up a city. 

We chose the name CityGate as an expression of our value of bringing the gospel into our work, our shared public life, and our culture. 

Why did you start CityGate?

For years we’ve had inquiries from leaders who wanted to run our Fellows program in their own city. We’ve been building out training programs, curriculum, and administrative infrastructure that would position a leader to effectively launch and operate their own program. We started by testing out the idea in one city. The talented David Bell, leading the Circle City Fellows in Indianapolis, has built a strong program over the last two years. So, with what we’ve learned, we’re ready to take the next step in coming alongside leaders in other cities as well. 

Yet we’ve seen that many cities are not quite ready to launch such a comprehensive program and instead have questions that range from how to build a faith and work organization to what emotionally healthy leadership looks like. So, we decided to reignite the early CityGate community of leaders and invite in more leaders into the conversation for monthly “learning labs,” a place where we hear from leaders about best practices in leadership, formation, all-of-life discipleship, and its application across sectors. 

But really, why did you start CityGate? Thanks for asking. Because we believe in a culture as broken as this, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the first and last answer — for our hearts, our relationships, and our shared civic life. 

What will CityGate do?

In 2021, we’re launching two programs: monthly learning labs and CityGate Fellowships. The learning labs are open to the public and will feature speakers, tools that we use in the fellowship, and the chance to learn from peer leaders in their contexts. 

Also, in 2021 we’ll accept applications for CityGate Fellowships, a program designed specifically for leaders who want to launch their own fellowship program. The training offers not only comprehensive content, systems, and training for your Fellows, it also provides comprehensive training for the leaders from marketing a program to alumni retention Our first training for accepted leaders is September 2021. 

Later in 2021, we’re exploring ways more deeply to serve our monthly donors and generous supporters with curated content, leadership tools, and workshops that strengthen the “gospel-ecosystem” across the US. We’re also exploring ways to partner with and strengthen churches, businesses, and peer nonprofits into 2022 and beyond. 

Why should I join?

Well, I’m glad you asked! 

There is a growing, organic community of people who hunger for leading, working, and creating out of a holistic and coherent life deeply rooted in the gospel. Many have been in this space for years. Others are seeking wisdom, support and guidance for their own calling and leadership. 

We invite you to learn, participate, and join CityGate as a community of peers committed to helping you build, grow, and strengthen your leadership as you take the gospel to your own city gate. All can join the free, monthly learning labs. We also invite you to consider either launching a fellowship program or joining the generous community at the heart of CityGate sharing ideas, prayers, tools, insights, and networks. 

We need to collaborate. We need to learn from each other. And we need to strengthen not just ourselves, but the whole ecosystem if we’re going to start healing our communities with the transformative power of the gospel. 

Five years after our first conversation in Breckenridge, I do have a bit more knowledge about leading at the intersection of faith, work, justice and culture. But I’m still learning…and I look forward to learning alongside you. 

Want to learn more about CityGate? Visit and register for the next learning lab.


“A Fully Activated Workplace” (Global Workplace Forum, Lausanne Movement)

This last summer I was deeply honored to serve on a panel in Manila on “A Fully Activated Workplace.” I shared the stage with a clinical psychologist in Nairobi working with refugees, an electrical engineer in Canada, a manager at Apple, and a man doing church planting with nomadic tribes in central Asia. I shared about my research on the American working class.

Incredible what God’s doing around the world…Bravo Lausanne Movement. And bravo to all of you for stepping into God’s call in your life wherever you may be walking on the planet earth today…


Reimagining Retirement: Recovering a Vision of Elderhood for the Global Church (Lausanne Global Analysis)

This essay on retirement, targeted toward ministry leaders, was first published in the November 2019 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis. Here it is in its entirety.

Greg Haanen recently turned 65 and retired from a career selling print advertising. For over 14 years, he lived in Minneapolis, while his wife Gayle ran Interlachen Inn, a small restaurant in Alexandria, Minnesota. Having lived apart from her for over a decade, he was ready to say good riddance to the two-hour commute every weekend, to spending nights alone, and to a life of hurry and obligation. They sold their house in Minneapolis and renovated their cabin with a deluxe fireplace, big screen TV, and farmhouse kitchen. He was eagerly awaiting a new season of rest and relaxation.

Yet his honeymoon period was short-lived. Less than three months after retirement, his sister went in for another round of chemotherapy, having battled cancer for years. However, this time, she started to decline fast. In only weeks, he found himself coordinating hospice details, calling family, and moving her out of her apartment. As images of a carefree retirement on a beach slowly receded, he confessed to me, his son, ‘I feel like there’s something more for me; but I’m just not sure what.’[1]

An aging world

My father is part of a larger, global trend. The world—and the Christian church—is aging quickly:[2]

  • Roughly 10,000 Baby Boomers retire each day in the US,[3] and, this year, for the first time in American history, there will be more Americans over age 60 than under 18.[4]
  • By 2050, the global population of adults over age 65 is expected to double to 1.6 billion.[5]
  • The median age of Christians is also on the rise. In the US it is 53 (higher if you are in a mainline denomination); in the UK, 61. Pew reports that Christians, unlike Muslims, are dying faster in Europe than they are being born.[6]

Yet people are also living longer, which makes the current experience of retirement such an awkward fit for people like my father:

  • For example, if you were born in 1947, you can expect to live to age 85.
  • If you were born in 1967, your life expectancy is 91.
  • For those born in 2007, life expectancy is now 103.[7]

In an age of human longevity, people are asking how they are going to spend what could be 20, 30 or even 40 years after official retirement.

Furthermore, governments are asking how they are going to foot the bill. A USA Today staff editorial claims, ‘The Congressional Budget Office estimates that in just ten years, half of all federal spending (except for debt service) will be benefits to senior citizens.’[8] As global pensions are stretched (especially in Europe), promises of never-ending government benefits for retirees are looking thinner by the day.[9] One TIME magazine article made the case that China’s aging population is a major threat to its future, largely due to its one-child policy and the imbalance of older to younger adults. Many believe an aging population is China’s biggest economic problem.[10]

‘Retirement’ relevance?

Globally, paradigms for aging are beginning to show cracks. The notion of sitting on the porch while living out one’s ‘golden years’ is becoming less attractive to healthy, older adults.[11] Yet that ambition is tempered by the fact that most retirees have deep seated (and empirically founded) fears about affording the retirement ‘dream’.[12] Why, then, in an age where people are healthier for much longer than at any time in modern history, does the idea of ‘retirement’ persist?

One reason is that retirement may be the most lucrative idea in the global economy. By one estimate, the US retirement industry alone is worth about USD 27 trillion.[13] While we have rarely connected the global economy and the notion of retirement, the primary reason most individuals invest in the stock market is that they are saving for retirement. Work, often laced with deep money-based fears, becomes a frenzy of activity all directed toward the goal of ‘hitting your number’ so that you can finally retire and ‘be free’.

Have Christians been complicit in this narrative? What can be done to reform our views of work, rest, aging, and retirement in a new moment in global history?[14]

Pathways forward

The time has come to change our views about retirement—not only for the sake of the global economy, but for the sake of the millions of men and women, like my father, who are longing to make a meaningful contribution with their lives, but live in a society that has relegated them to the margins.

Christians have started to reimagine retirement, but efforts to date are incomplete. Some Christians have attempted to baptize the idea of the retirement village, without a deeper view of age, rest, vocation, and elderhood. Several of these faith-based living communities exist around the world, yet look very much like secular retirement communities, complete with pools, shopping, happy hour, and golf courses. The only visible difference is more Bible studies.

Other leading voices are calling for Christians never to retire. ‘Lord, spare me the curse of retirement!’, says John Piper, former pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. Yet the problem with the ‘never retire’ stance is that people are tired—sometimes physically, almost always spiritually—from their careers. When we observe that 87 percent of the world is disengaged from their work[15] and that many have made their work their religion,[16] it becomes understandable that as soon as people are eligible to retire, they generally do.[17] What is needed is a recovery of the balance between work and rest, not a call to plough the thistles and thorns until you die (Gen 3:17-18).

Other proposals from Christians call for various versions of ‘refirement’ or ‘rehirement’—calls to muster new energy in retirement—but often fail to acknowledge that work can, and should, change as we age. The closest the Bible comes to the subject of retirement is Numbers 8:25: ‘And from the age of 50 years they [the Levites] shall withdraw from the duty of the service and serve no more’. Since hauling around the furniture of the tabernacle was hard physical labor, later in life Levites were commanded to ‘minister to their brothers in the tent of the meeting’, a hint that God did not intend for our work to stop completely, but to morph and mature with age.[18]

Finally, many aging churches and denominations organize a ‘seniors’ ministry’ for the ‘elderly’; but can we do better than pulling older adults out of society and recruiting them to be door greeters?

Four practical suggestions

Here are four practical ways to bring biblical hope to the millions of men and women approaching or experiencing retirement:

1.     Encourage rhythms of rest, renewal and re-engagement as people enter retirement.

What if Christian leaders across the world encouraged those entering retirement to take an intentional three, six, or twelve months of Sabbath rest, rather than planning for a vacation? Leviticus 25 and the Ten Commandments suggest that God intends not only for a day of rest, but seasons of rest, in order to reorient the heart to trust God, re-center one’s identity in being God’s people, and heal social divides.

Brad Hewitt, the recently retired CEO of Thrivent Financial, says: ‘After being in executive leadership for 25 years, I decided to take a sabbatical before the next season of service. I know I need to slow down before I jump into something else. This sabbatical season may be short, yet at the end I trust God will show me the next place or way to serve.’ Hewitt plans on a six-month sabbatical to pray, be silent, rebuild old relationships, and listen to God’s call for his next assignment.

2.     Change the conversation from one of benefits to championing the work of elders in our communities.

Today, conversations around retirement are often embroiled in controversy. As pension funds buckle (like that of the state of Illinois, which has a USD 134 billion hole in its public pension system[19]), older adults are often seen as a problem to be solved. To call somebody ‘elderly’ is an insult. However, the Judaeo-Christian tradition shows us elders were once associated with wisdom, character, and leadership ability, the assumed fruit of experience and age (Lev 19:32).

As older Americans re-engage in both paid and unpaid roles, the way to normalize this biblical notion of ‘love your neighbor’ through our vocations in the latter years is through storytelling. Marc Freedman, the talented CEO of, is leading the way in telling these stories of intergenerational friendships, civic service, and the counter-cultural decision to work—even after ‘retirement’.[20]

3.     Challenge financial advisors to counsel their clients to consider the different seasons of work over a lifetime.

The cultural caretakers of the idea of retirement are financial advisors, and they have a critical role to play in the future of an aging world. Rather than unthinkingly adopting secular notions of retirement as self-focused pleasure, what if they spoke with clients about seasons of work and rest over a lifetime?

Alongside encouraging generous giving, wise spending, prudent saving, and investing in businesses that align with God’s good purposes for the world, financial advisors could be the key change agents in healing broken notions of vocation and elderhood for an aging world.[21]

4.     Encourage intergenerational relationships in the church.

Elders have much to give a coming generation. Rather than practicing age-segregation, many churches are deploying the elders of their congregation for the well-being of a coming generation:

  • Providence Mount St Vincent’s Intergenerational Learning Center in Seattle—the subject of the documentary film ‘The Growing Season’—has excelled at spawning intergenerational relationships.[22]
  • St John’s-St Margaret’s Church in Singapore has built Project Spring-Winter,[23] inspired in part by Zechariah’s vision, ‘Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem. . . and the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets’, (Zech 8:4-5).

A biblical picture of retirement is not one of heroism nor hedonism, but listening to God’s voice and responding in love as elders, intent on sharing wisdom and blessing with the next generation. It is simply a life of service, pointing beyond our self to the Servant in whose image we are made.

I recently called my father. He told me he was contemplating a new way to spend his retirement. After caring for his dying sister, and having always felt an acute concern for ailing family and friends, he told me that after a career in advertising he was going to attend a training session to become a hospice volunteer at Knute Nelson Hospice in Alexandria, Minnesota.

‘I think I could do that, Jeff’, he told me, contemplating a new vocation. ‘I visited my dying friend Hugh today. It was a powerful reminder of what a beautiful gift each new day is.’

Jeff Haanen is the author of An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life and the founder and CEO of Denver Institute for Faith & Work. He lives in Colorado, USA, with his wife and four daughters.


[1] This story was adapted from my book An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life (Chicago: Moody, 2019).

[2] Editor’s Note: See article by Peter Brierley, entitled, ‘The Aging Church and Its Implications’, in May 2016 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis aging-church-implications.

[3] Glenn Kessler, ‘Do 10,000 Baby Boomers Retire Every Day?’ Wall Street Journal, 24 July 2014,

[4] Marc Freedman, ‘Building Bridges Across the Generational Divide’, Wall Street Journal, 1 November 2018,

[5] Wan He, Daniel Goodkind, and Paul Kowal, ‘An Aging World: 2015’, United States Census Bureau, March 2016,

[6] Conrace Hackett and David McClendon, ‘Christians Remain World’s Largest Religious Group, But They Are Declining in Europe’, Pew Research Center, April 5, 2018,

[7] ‘No Matter Your Age, Ignore It At Your Peril’, 100 Year Life website, accessed on 28 December 2017:

[8] ‘Social Security Plan Robs from Future to Pay for Past’, USA Today, 13 February 2019:, emphasis mine.

[9] John Mauldin, ‘Europe’s Pension Funds Are Running Low as Boomer Retire’, Forbes, 2 July 2018:

[10] Charlie Campbell, ‘China’s Aging Population is a Major Threat to Its Future’, TIME, 7 February 2019:

[11] Nancy Cook, ‘Will Baby Boomers Change the Meaning of Retirement?’, The Atlantic, 18 June 2015:

[12] Heather Gillers, Anne Tergesen and Leslie Scism, ‘A Generation of Americans is Entering Old Age the Least Prepared in Decades’, The Wall Street Journal, 22 June 2018,

[13] Nick Thornton, ‘Here’s What the $27 Trillion US Retirement Industry Looks Like’, Think Advisor, 2 January 2018,

[14] Editor’s Note: See article by Mats Tunehag, entitled, ‘Creating and Sharing Wealth’, in May 2019 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis

[15] ‘The Engaged Employee’, Gallup,

[16] Derek Thompson, ‘Workism is Making Americans Miserable’, The Atlantic, 24 February 2019,

[17] ‘American Project Average Retirement Age’, Gallup,

[18] Jeff Haanen, ‘Saving Retirement’, Christianity Today, 15 February 2019,

[19] Amanda Albright and Danielle Moran, ‘Illinois Turns Warily to Bonds to Plug $134 Billion Pension Hole’, Bloomberg, February 20, 2019,

[20] For more information, visit

[21] Jeff Haanen, ‘A Manifesto for Financial Advisors’, available at:

[22] ‘The Growing Season’, Trailer:

[23] Project Spring-Winter, Thank you to Eunice Nichols for making me aware of both ‘The Growing Season’ and Project Spring-Winter.

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Faith and Work Bible Study

Friends, a happy Labor Day to you!

To celebrate your work, I wanted to give you a gift: a free Bible study on Faith and Work.

The study is structured around people’s stories. In a series of articles, I highlighted the way people are living out their faith in the workplace.

Each study has a brief story Bible study participants can read at home. After each article, and before the study, we encourage you to Pause and Reflect on what the story might be telling you about God’s call for your own work.

The Bible study is structured around six sections: Introduce, Discuss, Explore, Apply, Closing Thoughts, and Prayer. It also has additional Resources.

Here are the weekly topics for “His Story, Our Stories: Encountering God Through Our Work”:

(1) “Light for Electricians,” (Creation)

(2) “Investments for the Kingdom” (Calling)

(3) “Showing Hospitality to Strangers and Spring Breakers” (Fall)

(4) “Productivity and Grace: Management and Labor at a Denver Manufacturer,” (Witness at Work)

(5) “A Well-Designed Journal Can Change Your Life,” (Culture)

(6) “A Growing Charter School Planted in Rocky Soil,” (Organizations/Companies)


Looking for more material? Visit

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‘Tis a Gift to Do ‘Undignified’ Work (Christianity Today)

Blue-collar labor often goes unappreciated and under-rewarded. How can that change?

When I was growing up, the best TV shows all featured blue-collar characters. Cheers, The Simpsons, Love and Marriage, The Wonder Years—each centered on the lives of loveable laborers. Cliff from Cheerswas a postman, Homer Simpson pulled levers in a nuclear power plant, and even the disgruntled Al Bundy sold women’s shoes. One episode of The Wonder Yearsfeatured Kevin learning about his dad’s career path from a loading dock worker to a distribution manager. “You have to make your choices,” Mr. Arnold told his son. “You have to try to be happy with them. I think we’ve done pretty well, don’t you?”

What a difference two decades makes. Since 1992, nearly every Emmy for Outstanding Comedy has gone to shows depicting white-collar adults working in Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston, New York, or Washington, usually without kids. The exception would be The Office, but its humor is based on the idea that selling paper is an utterly miserable and meaningless job. In the NBC drama This Is Us, the story of a construction worker is told in a flashback to the 1970s and 1980s, as if Hollywood believes manual-labor jobs only existed three decades ago.

Not only has the working class gone underappreciated in modern America, but over the past 50 years, lower-wage workers have seen their lives get progressively harder. Oren Cass’s The Once and Future Worker: A Vision for the Renewal of Work in America sheds light on the plight of the working class, arguing that the distress that millions of workers feel today owes largely to federal policies that were supposed to help them.

Productive Pursuits

In the past generation, the central focus of policymakers has been the growth of the economy, as measured by Gross Domestic Product (a monetary measure of all goods and services produced in a time period) and rising rates of consumption. And it’s worked. From 1975 to 2015, America’s GDP has tripled, and consumption has ballooned.

The problem is that this period of economic growth has coincided with rising rates of suicide, drug abuse, and social isolation. The nation’s suicide rate climbed 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, deaths from overdoses have risen every year since 2000, and loneliness has now become an “epidemic,” for everyone from older adults to Gen Z.

Though the economy has grown, the standard of living afforded to low-skilled work has declined—and so has our collective appreciation of the work done by millions of lower-wage workers.

The critical issue, says Cass, a policy expert affiliated with the right-leaning Manhattan Institute, is that we’ve prized consumption over production. We’ve built a larger “economic pie” and attempted to redistribute its benefits to those left out rather than build a labor market that allows the majority of workers to support strong families and communities.

Cass’s central idea is that “a labor market in which workers can support strong families and communities is the central determinant of long-term prosperity and should be the central focus of public policy.” Cass calls his big idea productive pluralism, the idea that “productive pursuits—whether in the market, the community, or the family—give people purpose, enable meaningful and fulfilling lives, and provide the basis for strong families and communities that foster economic success too.”

Against those who dream of a post-work future filled with robots and artificial intelligence—underwritten by a universal basic income to cushion the impact of surging unemployment—Cass affirms both that the “role of the worker in society is fundamental” and that “it is within our power to ensure its vitality.”

Concrete Proposals

In The Once and Future Worker, Cass turns high ideals into concrete proposals to actually heal the fractures splintering the American workforce.

The most compelling is the “wage subsidy.” Rather than luring large corporations to town with big tax breaks (like the Amazon HQ2 hysteria of 2017) or levying payroll taxes on low-income workers and then redistributing the money through entitlements, why not “pay for jobs” directly? What if a worker saw a “Federal Work Bonus” on her next paycheck, adding three extra dollars for every hour she had worked?

Cass also advocates building an educational system better suited to the four-fifths of students who do not complete the high-school-to-college-to-career path. Around two-thirds of Americans don’t have a four-year college degree. To better ensure that more of them can get good jobs and contribute to their communities, Cass proposes reinvesting in vocational training and shifting toward a more “tracked” form of schooling—similar to systems found in Europe—where students are grouped according to educational ability rather than lumped together in the same classroom.

Yet there’s one area that government policy can’t do much about: our cultural views about the value of lower-wage workers.

“Waiters, truck drivers, retail clerks, plumbers, secretaries, and others all spend their days helping the people around them and fulfilling roles crucial to the community,” writes Cass. “They do hard, unglamorous work for limited pay to support themselves and their families.” Why shouldn’t we admire those who do harder jobs for lower wages on a broad scale? We’re capable of doing this with police officers, teachers, and firefighters. Why shouldn’t the work done by trash collectors, housekeepers, and janitors deserve the same degree of respect?

For that, we need not just policy reform but a different story about work altogether.

To Bow and Bend

It’s not every day that I pick up a book on the finer points of public policy—or review one for a Christian publication—but pausing to consider the markets, systems, and other largely invisible entities that shape our working lives is well worth the effort. It’s like pulling back the curtain on our workplaces and industries—and the perceived worth we bring to our communities.

Cass is the unusual conservative voice willing to cut both ways. He pushes back on both the left’s commitment to government spending and the right’s unwavering faith in economic growth. And he moves even heady policy discussions down to a level I understand: The goal is to create the conditions for people to have good jobs, raise healthy families, and contribute to their communities. As a Christian, there’s clearly much that resonates here.

Yet I also wanted to hear more about the moral, emotional, and spiritual elements that make for both healthy laborers and healthy labor markets. Tim Carney’s Alienated America makes the case—from sociology, political science, and research, not theology—that local churches are the critical element in the renewal of America. If churches account for 50 percent of American civic life, as Robert Putnam famously pointed out in Bowling Alonedo they not also have a central role in reviving the fortunes of American workers, many of whom experience the pangs of meaninglessness and loneliness?

In a time when economic divides mask the growing dignity divide between professionals and the working class, between prestigious high-wage jobs and unspectacular low-wage jobs, the church can and must play a central role in reviving a vision for work.

The Shaker spiritual “Simple Gifts” reminds us of Protestant traditions that deeply value work, even “undignified” work. “‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free, ‘tis the gift to come down where we ought to be. … When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed.” Turning the other cheek, doing hard and dirty work, and being overlooked by the world—these are familiar notions to those of us who worship a carpenter and a washer of feet.

Christians should join in Cass’s call to restore the dignity of work in America, rounding out his policy argument with the rich resources of our own tradition. We should also recommit to studying which of our favorite policies—on both ends of the political spectrum—actually do more harm than good.

Most importantly, since policy is downstream from culture, we need to rediscover the habit of being public about our own story for work. And perhaps, like Mr. Arnold in The Wonder Years, we could start around the dinner table by telling our kids what we actually do all day.

The article first appeared in Christianity Today online.

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Lessons Learned from the Global Workplace Forum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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