Jeff Haanen

Category

Vocation

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Health CareVocationWork

Making All Things New – Jeanne Oh Kim, Pediatrician

In the last of several posts, here I’m highlighting the first-hand experiences of four professionals in Denver. Each of them shared at our annual fundraiser and celebration of vocation, entitle “Making All Things New: Finding Our Place in God’s Mission.” We asked them what they sense is broken in their industries, and how they sense God was using them in his plan to ultimately “make all things new.” Jeanne is a physician living in Denver

As a physician, I work in the confines of a broken medical system with sometimes few answers in relation to the infinitely complex human body.  There is always new evidence to challenge previous practices.  There is also pressure to see over 20 patients a day, which can pose a challenge to meet the true needs of my patients and families at times, especially, since we are in the middle of a mental health crisis, with patients experiencing anxiety, depression, and suicide at an all-time high.  Families are also broken.  Parents are extremely anxious and look to “the University of Google” and certain blood tests to provide answers, while often just feeding this anxiety. 

I believe we are created with a mind, body, and spirit.  Sometimes an illness just attacks the body like with an infection.  However, disease or illness may be from brokenness in our mind or spirit, and it is challenging when families do not know that Jesus is the only way to true healing.  

Each day, I pray for wisdom in how to bring the power and reality of the Kingdom into my exam rooms and that my patients and their families can experience Jesus through me.  I pray that I can see them as He does, beautiful and loved by Him.  By partnering with the Holy Spirit, I may pray in my head over a person, and when I feel led, I will ask patients if they would like me to pray with them and allow God to come and heal supernaturally, as only He can.

It is challenging work, but I feel honored to be able to serve God through my ministry to my patients and their families.  

Through my work as a pediatrician, Christ is making all things new.

Will you join us? become a monthly donor today.

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EducationVocationWork

Making All Things New – Britta Apple, High School English Teacher

In the next several posts, I’m going to be highlighting the first-hand experiences of four professionals in Denver. Each of them shared at our annual fundraiser and celebration of vocation, entitle “Making All Things New: Finding Our Place in God’s Mission.” We asked them what they sense is broken in their industries, and how they sense God was using them in his plan to ultimately “make all things new.” Britta was a 5280 Fellow in 2018-19.

One area of brokenness that I encounter as a high school English teacher is within the lives of my students. It ranges anywhere from troubled family situations to poor choices in relationships to students’ whose learning disabilities make it difficult for them to thrive academically. 

What draws me to my work is the opportunity to introduce students to universal themes of struggle, courage, doubt, risk, and triumph that resonate with their personal experiences. Whether the work we study is classical or modern, students see their experiences reflected in the novels, plays, poetry and biographies we read. 

My role is to select literature that reflects God’s truth – whether those themes are clearly or subtly expressed within the text – and equip students with analytical skills to understand their meaning. While I cannot control the brokenness students face, I believe God can bring healing and hope through encounters with great literature. 

Through my work as an English teacher, Christ is making all things new. 

Will you join us? You can become a monthly donor today.

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RetirementVocationWork

What should I do if I can’t afford to retire – and still need to work?

Though I generally received positive feedback from my March 2019 story for Christianity Today “Saving Retirement,” I also received some pretty significant pushback. One reader, Rodney, wrote in:

“Your article ‘Saving Retirement’ in the March issue was a good summary of the situation facing retirees today. However, most of the examples of retirees doing something purposeful after retirement were people who had held leading positions in their field of work with presumably large salaries. The article definitely needed to portray what some ‘ordinary workers’ have gone on to do.”

Theology editor Caleb Lindgren wrote, “We agreed with Rodney that there is a much broader picture of post-work life that needs to be acknowledged. Do Christian understandings of work and aging accommodate those who can’t afford to retire?”

The brunt of the critique was that the article was class-biased. Since I’m rather sensitive to this subject, having written “God of the Second Shift,” a look at the class bias in the faith and work movement, I was rather miffed to read this! Especially since an earlier draft of “Saving Retirement” cut out a story about Joanne, a “retired” woman who chose to work at Eistein Bagels each morning rather than join her husband for golf – simply because she enjoyed the relationships of the workplace.

But after swallowing my pride for a moment, I came to the conclusion that the question is a good one: “What should I do if I can’t afford to retire – and still need to work?”

The Financial Crunch Facing Older Americans

In my book, An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life, I note that if the dominant paradigm for retirement today is a never-ending vacation, the fastest growing group of retirees are those who know they can’t afford it.

The economic problems facing most Americans at retirement are mounting. A recent Wall Street Journal article featuring Ted Benna, the “Father of the 401(k),” noted that 25% of Americans have no money saved for retirement at all.

If the great American dream is “financial freedom” in a blissful retirement, the great American frustration is that such a dream is out of reach for the majority.

A mix of factors is creating a perfect storm for Baby Boomers entering retirement:

  • Baby boomers are one of the largest generations in American history.
  • A growing number of Americans struggle financially during their working life, and struggle to save enough for retirement in the first place.
  • Pension plans – from corporations to state governments – are underfunded and some (like the state of Illinois) are facing insolvency.
  • Health care costs are rising.
  • Americans are living longer than ever, thus outstripping their savings.

The question is, what should you do if you – like millions of Americans – find yourself having to work well past official retirement age?

Working in Retirement

Christian faith offers a corrective to contemporary views of work in retirement. On one side of the cultural spectrum, work in retirement is seen as a curse.

This story about work is prevalent today in the financial industry. In 2018, E-Trade, a financial services company, ran a 2018 SuperBowl commercial featuring people working into their 80s. “Dropping sick beats, they call me DJ Nana,” says an 85-year-old granny at a turntable in a dance club. The refrain is sung to the Day-O (the Banana Boat song): “I’m 85 and I want to go home.” An elderly man picks up a fire hose – and is propelled across the room. A small, white-haired woman is dropping UPS packages, clumsily. The punch line: “Over 1/3 of Americans have no retirement savings. This is getting old.” The tag line: “Don’t get mad. Get E-Trade.”

This commercial points to a disturbing economic reality for America, as well as the stewing resentment of the I can’t afford the vacation camp. But it also suggests that if you work in retirement, you’ve failed. It’s as if the financial prophets of Wall Street are saying, “Who sinned, that you are working so late in life? You or your financial advisor?”

In stark contrast, ancient Christians and Hebrews believed work is inherently good and a way we reflect the image of God. In Genesis, God’s creative activity is called work (“By the seventh day God finished the work he had been doing”), which he blesses and calls good (1:31, 2:2). Poems and songs in Hebrew history celebrate God’s creation and his work: “How many are your works, LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures” (Psalm 104:24).

When God creates humanity, he too gives them work to do as a way of reflecting his own character. Gardening (manual labor) and naming the animals (intellectual labor) were part of an original, unstained world (Gen. 2:15,19). “We are made in the image of a Maker,” wrote dramatist and essayist Dorothy Sayers. Work is intrinsic to our nature and essential to a full human life.

The Bible calls Christians to never tire of doing good (Galatians 6:9), because “the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many,” (Mark 10:45).  Though work changes over a lifetime, there’s nothing to suggest this posture ceases at age 62, 65, or 70. 

Working in retirement in modern America, however, is filled with practical challenges. Here are five:

1. You’ll have to make a counter-cultural decision to work in retirement.

If 19% of people over age 65 are were working at least part-time in 2017, that means 81% didn’t. Bucking the trend of increased golfing or television watching is not easy (the average retiree spends 4 hours per day watching television!). If your friends travel three months a year, and you limit your travel to three weeks a year, it will feel strange. It might also feel strange filling out job applications to work for people half your age.

2. Society doesn’t often provide flexible arrangements to work in retirement.

Sociologists like Matilda White Riley have developed the idea of “structural lag.” She says that social institutions – like corporations or policies – are resistant to change and lag behind cultural trends. One example is that when older adults look for meaningful work, instead they often find systems built for a complete cessation of work at retirement.

For example, many companies lack the flexible work arrangements for experienced, older professionals, whether that be part-time work or more time off during the year. A survey from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies (TCRS) found that 47% of workers envision a phased transition into retirement, but only 5% of employers offer a formal phased retirement program.

3. Ageism is a reality.

“I quickly found that with being older, people don’t call me for an interview,” said Sarajul Islam, a 60-year-old man living in the U.K. “When contacted personally or over the phone, a few recruiters have directly said, ‘We don’t call back old people.’”

Often older adults are passed up for jobs or opportunities because of false assumptions about age.  Though outlawed in most countries, tacit ageism is still active in many companies and cultures.

4. Health and family issues impact work more frequently in retirement.

Many find that staying healthy in retirement is one of the most important factors in being able to work. Nearly 40% of workers retire for unexpected health reasons. Personal health issues affect your ability to work in retirement – and can quash plans to work into retirement if not addressed.

5. Social class and income will deeply impact your view of work in retirement.

And this point directly addressed the concerns of our working-class friends who often have a very different view of retirement.

There are two very different visions for work, depending on which of the two very different Americas you inhabit. If you have a college degree and worked in the professions, the challenge in retirement will be resisting the temptation to splurge on grandkids, over travel, or otherwise live for yourself. But you’re far more likely to work in retirement – even though you may not have to financially. You probably enjoyed your career, and wouldn’t mind doing it part-time well into retirement.

But if you’re a part of America’s working class, working in retirement may feel very different. Doug Muder grew up in farm country, Illinois. As a kid he remembered his dad working in a factory that made cattle feed. He “came home stinking of fish oil,” Muder recalls. It was a good job in that it paid the bills, but his dad had a very different relationship to his work than Muder did as a journalist.  Muder offers an important insight on work in retirement:

“Here’s what sums it up to me: When professionals retire, we keep dabbling. The retired newspaper editor in my hometown still writes. When the professor retires, he’ll keep reading journals and going to talks. But in the thirty years since my Dad took early retirement, he has never brought home some fish oil and mixed up a batch of cattle feed in the garage. When you retire from Wal-Mart, you don’t set up a bar-code scanner in the basement, just to stay busy. You do that stuff for money, and when they stop paying you, you never, ever do it again.”

Working class Americans experience more barriers than their college-educated peers when attempting to re-engage work in retirement. For example,

  1. Physical labor is much harder to do at 65 or 70, making re-entering the workforce especially difficult for those in the trades or manual labor.
  2. Wages are likely to be lower for working-class Americans, providing less incentive to work.
  3. If you didn’t enjoy your work or you’d need significant education to find a new job after retirement, the road back to work may have more obstacles.

Fully acknowledging these challenges, if you find yourself having to work – either full-time or part-time – later in life, might Christianity reframe our conversation around work in retirement?

Is Working Part-Time in Retirement “Significant?”

In the aforementioned critique, Amy Zietlow, pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Decatuar, Illinois, told the story of Bob, one of her congregants who retired at age 58 from a career working at a local power plant. Because his work was physically taxing, he was counting down the days to retirement. Yet he knew that financially, he couldn’t completely stop working. So he got a job at a local Home Depot. He now works from 5am-10am at a loading dock.

Zietlow followed this story with a critique of the article:

I found it interesting in the article, the sense of even if you do seek part-time employment or an encore profession vocation, that that should be one of significance. So, I started thinking about the folks in the pews here in Decatur and realizing I think Bob would even tell you, he’s a pretty funny guy, like ‘look my work at Home Depot is not significant.’ You know, it does draw on some of his skills some of his background in terms of his expertise in life, but he would say this is a necessity, and not necessarily something he would say he feels called to do in the sense of other people who find ways to do maybe more what they might consider more significant work. However, having that part-time employment allows him to do other significant things, so it’s more of a means to an end.

Bob doesn’t necessarily want to be working, but needs to work to maintain his standard of living. But I’d ask Bob – and Zietlow – this question: is working at Home Depot part-time less significant than working during your career?

Zietlow goes on to say, “And I find for folks like Bob—and we have many kind of recently retired late 60s, mid-60s folks in our congregation—it both frees up time for them to serve more at church and be more actively involved in sort of the day-to-day maintenance and care for the church—which isn’t necessarily exciting, but is really necessary in terms of just cleaning, and yard work, and general maintenance for the church.” But is general maintenance for a church building more important to God than general maintenance at Home Depot?

Here’s the big picture: Only Christianity crowns the daily work of laborers – even done out of necessity – with intrinsic worth and dignity. The truth is that meaning does not come from “meaningful work,” but from the God who endows every moment with a sense of meaning when it’s offered back to God in worship and love. Even when our lives are painful.

Today a growing number of boomers are making a shift from a Let’s vacation mentality to a life of service; from purposelessness to thoughtful re-engagement; from consumption to “wisdom and blessing;” from free floating days to committed work for the well-being of their neighbors over a lifetime.  And the Christian church could encourage many who have to work well into the retirement years to re-engage both well-paid and poorly-paid jobs as “elders” who see the needs of their neighbors in whatever they do and respond with love, humility, and wisdom (Matthew 25).

As millions of men and women find themselves in a tight spot financially as they enter retirement, Christian leaders can whole-heartedly help the men and women who are not living the retirement “dream” to go back to work and live a better, deeper dream, borne not of self-actualization but self-surrender.

This article adapted several sections of An Uncommon Guide to Retirement (Moody, 2019).

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RetirementVocationWork

Today is Launch Day! An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life

Dear Friends,

Today is the official launch day for my first trade book An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life.

We have an opportunity in this moment to push on our culture’s view of retirement, and give our friends, parents, family members, neighbors, and co-workers a more beautiful vision of work, rest, eldership, and a life a sacrificial love based in the hope of the gospel.

In the coming weeks, I’ll post on this blog excerpts from the book. Can I ask you a big favor? Would you consider taking about 3 minutes and posting a review of the book on Amazon.com today?

Here are a few themes you might consider mentioning. An Uncommon Guide for Retirement helps readers:

  • Discern God’s call for their retirement years;
  • Challenge cultural assumptions about retirement;
  • Adopt a healthy vision for Sabbath rest, work and meaningful contribution for a lifetime;
  • Embrace a biblical view of time and a deeper understanding of what human longevity means for the retirement years;
  • Live out practical insight for retirement living on topics like learning, family systems, mentoring, and health.

Thanks for allowing me to to learn from you. If you’d like more information on the book, group discounts or the free study guide, make sure to visit UncommonRetirement.com. And feel free to leave comments on this blog!

Thanks again,
Jeff

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VocationWork

Don’t Waste Your Retirement (The Gospel Coalition)

John Beeble recently retired from his job as construction executive in Denver, Colorado. Not wanting to fully retreat from working life, John started his own consulting company.

“There’s only one rule about my consulting company—no employees. I did that for 20 years,” he said, with a note of weariness in his voice. Yet he violated his rule less than a year into starting his firm. As clients multiplied, he needed an executive assistant to manage the demands on his time.

“I’m trying to discern what’s next in this phase of life,” said Beeble, feeling the tug between rest, family, and work. “I want to stay engaged, but not in the same way as during my career. Give me some time to figure this out.”

He’s not alone. Baby boomers are retiring at an average of 10,000 per day; over the next 20 years, an estimated 70 million boomers will stop working. Those over age 65 are the fastest-growing age demographic in the United States.

It’s not just America, either. The world is rapidly aging.

“From 2025 to 2050 the older [over age 65] population is projected to almost double to 1.6 billion globally,” the U.S. Census Bureau reported. In 2015, only 8.5 percent of the world was over 65; by 2050, that number is expected to reach 16.7 percent.

For most of them, retiring from work is not a financial option. Among those who can, many—both Christians and their neighbors—are expressing a growing sense of unease about the future.

Across the developed world, the dominant paradigm for retirement is about vacation—how to afford it and then how to make the most of it. A Google search for the word “retirement” shows articles, ads, and tips on how to save enough money for it and a host of books on how to enjoy it. Retirement gifts follow suit—a coffee mug that reads “Goodbye Tension, Hello Pension.” A kitchen wall-hanging with the acronym R.E.T.I.R.E says Relax, Entertain, Travel, Indulge, Read, Enjoy. A wine glass that reads, “I can wine all I want. I’m retired.”

Yet older Christians are sounding the alarm that retirement as a never-ending vacation promises more than it can ever deliver.

Reimagining Retirement

The closest the Bible comes to our modern idea of retirement is found Numbers 8:25: “And from the age of 50 years [the Levites] shall withdraw from the duty of the service and serve no more.”

Since hauling tabernacle furniture was hard physical labor, older Levites were commanded to instead “minister to their brothers in the tent of the meeting”—a hint that God doesn’t intend for our work to completely stop, but rather to morph and mature with age.

Though retirement may be foreign to Scripture, the Old Testament idea of becoming an elder is not. Far from being an insult, the term “elder” was associated with wisdom, character, and leadership ability—the assumed fruit of experience and age.

“Stand up in the presence of the aged,” says Leviticus (19:32). The term elder (zaqen) is always used in the Old Testament as an indication of one’s nobility. One example is the elder teaching wisdom at the city gate, the ancient place for public dialogue (Job 32:6–10).

Scripture is replete with elders playing a critical role in redemptive history. Sarah was 90 when she miraculously gave birth to Isaac. Moses was 80 and Aaron was 83 when they confronted Pharaoh. Anna, an 84-year-old widow who devoted herself to fasting, prayer, and worship, “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Israel” (Luke 2:38). Far from being whisked off to desert golf courses or Caribbean cruises, elders were sought out for time-tested wisdom (Proverbs 31:23).

Gordon Smith, author of Courage and Callingbelieves two ideas—wisdom and blessing—comprise the biblical model for fruitful living in retirement. “To bless is simply to affirm the other, to take particular delight and joy in the other in a nonjudgmental manner,” he writes. Elders are called lay down former titles and professional roles, yet take up a mantle of wisdom and affirmation for a coming generation.

From Retirement to Sabbatical

The issue in today’s culture is twofold: We don’t have clearly marked rites of passage into “eldership” (outside of the formal New Testament church office), and most men and women entering retirement feel the need for renewal—sometimes physically, most often spiritually.

Because of this, rather than completely ceasing from work, a growing number of older adults entering retirement are taking a sabbatical—an intentional 3, 6, or 12 months to rest, worship, remember, and listen for God’s voice in order to discern next steps. The idea is rooted in Leviticus 25, where God gives instructions for a sabbath year to allow the land to rest before resuming productivity.

“When we moved to a new state following my retirement, I decided to take a private sabbatical,” says Lowell Busenitz, a retired professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Oklahoma. “One goal of my sabbatical was to use it to get a clearer perspective on this phase of life in order to get my future launched in the right direction.” Busenitz used early retirement to take long walks in the Colorado sunshine, read, study the life of King David, visit family, and reflect how God has shaped his career and working life.

“While I do not want to continue the teaching and research with the same intensity as before, the Holy Spirit has brought home in me that I was to stay reasonably close to my roots in entrepreneurship,” Busenitz said. “Some directions remain a puzzle right now, but I am becoming increasingly okay with that.”

Staying Faithful

Some older Christians elect to live out their vocation right where they are.

Ellen Snyder, a retired lifelong hospital volunteer, continues to serve at a day center for the homeless. Verona Mullison, a retired Cru missionary, sees retirement as an opportunity to explore the sciences, which she’s loved since she was a child. Joanne Butler, 68, a cashier at an Einstein Bagels in southern Colorado, makes a countercultural choice to wake up each morning to coffee and cinnamon crunch bagels.

“Yeah, I’m supposed to be retired,” Butler said. “But I like talking to people. This is where I belong.”

After a sabbatical, Barry Rowan, the former CFO of Nextel and Vonage, decided to return to business.

“I came to see that the purpose of business is to bring about a better society as seen through the eyes of God,” Rowan said. After his sabbatical, his work was endowed with renewed peace and purpose. He saw his work as not just a way to make money, but a God-given opportunity to build businesses around “responsible value creation, creating an environment where employees can flourish, serving customers, and being good corporate citizens.” Now in his 60s, he is also seeking to mentor young Christian business leaders. “I don’t think I’ll ever fully retire,” Rowan said.

For many, retirement is a new season to “use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Pet. 4:10), yet from a heart being ever renewed by the gospel (2 Cor. 4:16).

Perhaps the coming “gray dawn” of the global church will not produce an economic apocalypse, but rather a movement of older Americans who choose a truly uncommon path for retirement—one of a deeper rest, a deeper sense of peace, a deeper acceptance of the realities of aging, and a deeper sense of responsibility for the world God so loves (John 3:16).

“Give me some time to figure this out,” says retired executive John Beeble. Indeed, now is the time for pastors, scholars, and Christian leaders to paint a more beautiful picture of work, rest, vocation, and aging for the millions of older adults longing to hear God’s voice for the next season of life.

This article first appeared at The Gospel Coalition, and is an adapted excerpt from my forthcoming book An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life.

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Vocation

In the Fields of the Lord

 

This last weekend for me was difficult. And it was difficult for me, because of me.

We had friends over, neighbors over, and church members over to our house on Saturday and Sunday. Our home was filled with the noise of laughter, but it was also filled with the tears of children…and adults. My wife and I are wrestling with educational choices for our daughters, trying to discern what’s best for them and what God is calling us to. And our dearest third born continually both delights us and baffles us. Her emotional swings – from joy to incapacitated sadness – weigh heavy on our hearts.

I went to bed last night utterly exhausted from the weekend. As a 5 on the enneagram (“the investigator”) I’ve come to learn about myself that whereas most people start the day with an emotional tank 100% full, my “full” each day is about 20%. I’m at once overwhelmed by gratitude for all God has given me…and just overwhelmed. Holding my own emotions together on a day-to-day basis is an enormous task.

This morning I woke up and headed to the work, anxious to recover from the weekend. I listened to a CD that I have loved since it was released two years ago, “Work Songs: Porter’s Gate.” For an anxious heart, “In the Fields of the Lord” whispered to me a deep peace.

 

In the fields of the Lord our work is rest

He is moving in our hands and feet to bless

In the fields of the Lord, in the fields of the Lord

In the fields of the Lord, our work is rest

 

In the vineyards of the Lord our work is light

He is tending every leaf and every vine

In the vineyards of the Lord, in the vineyards of the Lord

In the vineyards of the Lord our work is light

 

In the garden of the Lord our work is sound

He is weaving every thorn into a crown

In the garden of the Lord, in the garden of the Lord

In the garden of the Lord, our work is sound

 

At the harvest of the Lord the fields are white

He will wipe away the tear from every eye

At the harvest of the Lord, at the harvest of the Lord

At the harvest of the Lord the fields are white

 

This song reminds me that God can use even my clumsy attempts at parenthood or serving a nonprofit organization to bless others.

It reminds me that the results are not all up to me, whether raising children or fundraising, because God is first “tending every leaf and every vine.” It is, after all, his vineyard, not my own.

It reminds me that the pain I experience – whether the deep doubts I have about being a father, or internal chaos I feel in an extroverted world – that God is willing to take the thorns of sin and place them on his own head, and give me a place in his kingdom.

And it reminds me the day is coming when God will soon wipe away the tears from every eye.

It is a strange and new place for me to realize that all of the great challenges of my life are inside me. To submit decisions to Christ, rather than to grasp for control. To be patient with my kids, rather than frustrated at the frailties they show – which I even see in myself. To be present to the people in my life, when realizing the utter necessity to set boundaries in order to live an emotionally healthy life. To seek love, joy, peace, patience ,kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control, yet to realize these virtues cannot be taken. They must be given.

For such a journey, I need others. I need songs like this. And I need to finally let go of my own grasping attempts to control my environment. The fields are the Lord’s.

 

If you’d like to learn to play “In the Fields of the Lord” on either guitar or piano, here’s the song book, kindly shared by Isaac Wardell at Porter’s Gate, and open for public use.

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TheologyVocationWork

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Craftsmanship & Manual LaborCultureEconomyFaith and Work MovementVocationWork

“God of the Second Shift: The Missing Majority in the Faith and Work Conversation” (Christianity Today Cover Story)

By Jeff Haanen

The following is the cover story for the October 2018 print issue of Christianity Today. To access the full article for free, click the “friends and family” link below. Also, if you’re not a subscriber, please consider subscribing to Christianity Today to support their work. Here’s an excerpt of the story.

Our group was white, college-educated, and passionate about helping people find meaning in their careers. We looked at Josué “Mambo” De León, pastor of a bilingual working-class congregation called Westside Church Internacional, eager to hear his thoughts on a recent “faith and work” conference. 

“For us, work isn’t about thriving,” Mambo said. “It’s about surviving.” 

Between bites of salad, it slowly became clear who the man in a red baseball cap, World Cup T-shirt, and jeans really was: an emissary from another world. 

“You start with the premise that you have a job and that you feel a lack of purpose,” he said. “But that doesn’t resonate with us. How are you supposed to find purpose and flourish when you don’t even have opportunities?” 

On my way home from the office of the nonprofit I run, Denver Institute for Faith & Work, I stewed over Mambo’s comments. They reminded me of a similar conversation I’d had with Nicole Baker Fulgham, president of an educational reform group called The Expectations Project. Baker Fulgham, an African American working with low-income kids, asked me bluntly: “So when do we start talking about faith, work, and life for fast-food employees?” 

In the past decade, the faith and work movement has exploded. Hundreds of new conferences, books, and organizations have sprung up from San Diego to Boston. But there’s a growing anxiety among Christian leaders that our national vocation conversation has a class problem. 

A hundred years ago, partnerships between clergy and labor unions flourished. Yet as the forces of industrialization transformed the trades in the late 19th century, and vocational education and liberal arts schools parted ways, a new mantra for the college-educated took root: “Do what you love.” The late Steve Jobs, in a 2005 Stanford commencement speech, stated, “You’ve got to find what you love. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” Work done out of necessity was devalued, and eventually conversations about Christianity and work applied the word vocation mostly to college kids contemplating work they would most enjoy.

Today, when American evangelical leaders talk about work, the working class—which is two-thirds of the American workforce—is largely absent. What are we missing? 

Daily Meaning or Daily Humiliations?

Years ago, I started Denver Institute after reading Studs Terkel’s 1971 classic Working, an oral history of working-class Americans. Work, Terkel says, “is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” 

Of course! I thought. This fit well with my graduate school angst (and growing boredom with my assignments). I liked the quote so much that I put it in my email signature. 

But somewhere along the way, I forgot that Terkel also believed work was centrally about “violence—to the spirit as well as the body. It is about ulcers as well as accidents, about shouting matches as well as fistfights, about nervous breakdowns as well as kicking the dog around. It is, above all (or beneath all), about daily humiliations.” 

This didn’t sound like the workplaces I was used to. But the tension between Terkel’s two statements has started to resonate with me. In the past five years, we in Denver have hosted thousands of doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and other young professionals at our events. But there’s been a conspicuous absence of home care workers, retail sales clerks, landscapers, janitors, or cooks. 

Calvin College philosopher James K. A. Smith—who once pulled 10-hour graveyard shifts on an air filter assembly line—observes, “The bias of the [faith and work] conversation toward professional, ‘creative,’ largely white-collar work means that many people who undertake manual or menial labor simply don’t see themselves as having a voice in this conversation.” 

It may be time to do some soul-searching. Have we, by which I mean myself and presumably many of this magazine’s readers, seen the culture-shaping power of work but been blind to the “daily humiliations” of those whose work we depend on each day? Have we been interpreting Scripture through our own professional class bias and failed to ask how working-class Americans think and feel about their work? 

The Great Divide

“Because hard work was such a high value for our family, it was also demoralizing,” says pastor Jim Mullins of Redemption Church in Tempe, Arizona. “One of the most difficult aspects of growing up was not the lack of money but the shame that would come with not having opportunities. That shame would boil into anger. I think a lot of the drug use and alcohol [use] that we experienced was a sort of numbing of the shame.”

Mullins’s story echoes the stories of millions of working-class Americans who have seen life deteriorate over the past 50 years in nearly every economic and social category. (I use the term “working-class” to mean those without a four-year college degree.)

The growing body of research is astounding…

(Read the rest of the article at Christianity Today.)


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ScienceVocation

Callings in Conflict? Pursuing Scientific Excellence and a Life of Faith

 

Widespread sentiment suggests that science and faith are at odds, at war for leadership in modern culture. Yet many of history’s great minds were people of deep faith. They were driven to science by an insatiable hunger to learn about and celebrate God. Can Christians working in the sciences recover this passion without compromising professional excellence Can we seek truth in science and in Scripture?

Those will be a few of the questions DIFW will ask at a Forum on February 15 at the Colorado School of Mines on “Callings in Conflict? Pursuing Scientific Excellence and a Life of Faith.”

Our keynote speaker will be Praveen Sethupathy from Cornell University, a geneticist and a board member at Board of BioLogos, a nonprofit that promotes the harmony of science and biblical faith through an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation. It’ll also feature a panel of local scientists who endeavor to life a life of faith and scientific integrity.

I hope you’ll join the conversation in less than two weeks. Here’s a taste of what’s to come:

 

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