Jeff Haanen

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Work

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EconomyFaith and Work MovementWork

The Top 5 Struggles of Christian Business Leaders

Behind the veneer of confidence, bold risk-taking, and decisive leadership, all of us in positions of influence struggle – especially CEOs.  Considering these challenges tend to be perennial challenges for Christian business leaders, what experiences and/or resources can pastors, para-church leaders, and other business leaders provide for the executives in their network? What still needs to be done in the faith and work movement to serve leaders in this area?

Recently I grabbed the phone and called my friend Greg Leith, the CEO of Convene, a group that serves other Christian CEOs, to ask his opinion on the topic:

“Greg,” I said, “Based on your experience serving Christian CEOs around the country, what do you believe are the top areas that Christian CEOs struggle with?” 

“I’ll tell you,” Greg said, in a matter-of-fact tone. Turns out, they had recently just polled hundreds of CEOs connected to Convene about the tension points they feel on a daily basis.

“The first one is universal and common among everyone we polled,” he said. The #1 challenge facing Christians CEOs is:

1. Loneliness in leadership. 

If there’s any experience common to all executives, it’s loneliness. In whom do you confide when all complaints go up the chain of command, and not down? When you’re expected to make the decision, set the example, and lead the way? When revenue is down and you sense being in over your head?

It’s tough to share these challenges with other people at church, many of whom can’t identify with the responsibility of leading large staff teams or deciding on major budget issues. Even spouses can sometimes be hard to confide in for wisdom on actual business decisions.

If there’s any one place the Church can start in serving executives, it’s in providing a safe place for relationship among decision-makers.

2. Complexity in a rapidly changing, information-saturated world. 

Opportunities come and go at the speed of the 24/7 news cycle. Big data (and little data) pour into our pockets through iPhones. No information is inaccessible, yet almost all information is incomprehensible without a larger story or framework into which it fits. Filtering the wheat from the chaff is an ever-present challenge in the Information Age.

The truly scarce commodity in today’s business culture is not knowledge, accurate metrics or access to markets, but wisdom.

3. New technology.

Only a decade ago, CRM software or mass communication tools were so expensive only the biggest corporations could afford them. Now every start-up has free access to high quality email communication tools (like MailChimp), event registration (like Eventbrite), or shared calendaring or data storage (like Gmail).

This is great. But new technologies just keep coming. From manufacturing improvements to new software programs, companies are born each day that aspire to be the next unicorn (start-up valued at over $1 billion), offering the tool that will ensure business success for their customers.

So which ones are necessary, and which are simply noise? Who can help here?

4. Balance between profit, people, excellence and God.

Greg shared that this challenges is such an issue among executives that they formed their last national conference around the subject. We pretend like answers for Christian business owners are easier to come by than is really the case. In all honestly, questions abound:

  • Should we return more profit to our shareholders, or raise the wages of our employees?
  • Should we spend more on manufacturing in efforts to build a higher quality product, or will the market bear a similar price using less expensive materials?
  • Should I extend grace to my manager who just yelled at his employees – or fire him?
  • Should I spend time praying or hustling to land the next deal?

To say that the purpose of business is to serve the needs of the world is easy; to make actual decisions on what needs get prioritized often is not.

5. Integrating Christian faith with day-to-day business practices. 

“So many don’t have a clue as to how to integrate their faith into daily business practices.” Greg shared that so many of his CEOs are wonderful men and women who desire to bring God into their business, but often don’t know where to start. They lack, according to Leith, a theology for their actual work life. What’s really lacking are resources that are accessible (“They’re not going to read a tome by Tim Keller”) and directly applicable to what Christian faith says to day-to-day decisions on hiring, firing, profit margins, strategic planning, supply chains, prices, marketing or HR policy.

To this end, Leith and his team are creating more short video resources on topics like “theology for hiring” for busy business leaders eager to learn, but without the luxury of extensive leisure time for academic study.

Moving forward, I wonder what kind of experiences, resources, and communities are needed to address this growing need among the influential, yet often lonely, business leader.

A version of this post first appeared on the Green Room blog. Image credit. 

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Work

Productivity: 6 Tips for Getting (the Right) Stuff Done

 

There might be nothing so frustrating as working for an entire day, feeling exhausted when the day’s over – and getting nothing done.

How is this possible? More than once, when scanning back through my day I’ve felt bewildered. I’m tired so I must have been productive, right? A phone call, a quick drop-in meeting, a few emails, driving off to a meeting, replying to a text, checking how my latest post did on Facebook. I barely get to the big task on my list and it’s time to pick up my daughter for piano.

What just happened?

Over the weekend I re-read the sparkling book The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufmann, and one of his chapters perfectly diagnosed my conundrum. It’s called the cognitive switching penalty. The gist: we think we can multi-task, but we can’t. We all actually only do one task at a time. Multi-tasking is a myth. When we constantly switch between several tasks (quick question, quick email, quick trip to the fridge, quick email, quick yada-yada-yada…), our productivity plummets.

Living in a distraction-laden world, we struggle to get meaningful work done.

And as a Christian, I believe this situation is doubly dumfounding. “Teach us to number our days that we might gain a heart of wisdom,” writes Moses in Psalm 90. For Moses, time is valuable because we’re like the grass of the morning that sprouts up one day and is blown away by evening. Our days will be gone before we know it. Because our time is short and our projects so fleeting, Moses prays fervently for God to “establish the work of our hands.”

But even setting the scope of eternity aside, spending a day getting nothing of lasting value done is just plain unsatisfying.

All of us long to really make a lasting impact on the world with our work and not waste our time on trifles and minutia. We all love the feeling of getting a major project done – and rue the feeling of time wasted and days frittered away.

So what can be done? Here are six quick tips on how we can improve our productivity:

  1. Make a plan.

This may seem like an obvious place to start. But for most, it’s revolutionary. Before you crack open your computer for the day, make a plan. What needs to get done today? What are the top three things I’ve gotta get done today no matter what? And then what are the the things I’d like to get to if I have time? A tool like the emergent task planner can be tremendously helpful.

You have to start with making sure that your big goals for the month, quarter or year get prioritized in your actual daily task list. Here’s where it starts.

  1. Distinguish between being effective and being efficient.

Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, said it the best: “Efficiency is doing the thing right. Effectiveness is doing the right thing.” There’s no sense in being efficient and getting a long list of things done – if they’re the wrong things to be getting done in the first place.

The first distinction that needs to be made when trying to plan a productive week is: What’s really important here? What will really turn the dial and lead to long term value?

When planning out my week, considering the thousands of details that pull my attention here and there, always start with distinguishing between effective and efficient, between the big projects that are important and the zillions of little tasks that are urgent.

  1. Once you’ve prioritized what’s most important, front load your days with “makers” tasks over “managers” tasks.

Tech investor Paul Graham makes the helpful distinction between two kinds of schedules: “makers schedule” and “Manager schedule.” Makers tasks are essentially creative. These are right brain activities that require abstract thought, concentration, and large blocks of times.

Managers tasks are “get-er-done” types of items – sending an email, typing a memo, hanging a picture, visiting a patient, teaching a short lesson. These are left brain activities that require efficiency, a tight schedule, and a clear task list.

When I plan my daily schedule, I always place my “makers tasks” in the first third of the day, knowing that the afternoon – when my circadian rhythms naturally want to make me fall asleep – are a better time for less intellectually challenging activities.

For makers tasks, get quiet and focused; for managers tasks, make a list and start knocking them out. I recommend time blocks of at least 2 hours for managers tasks.

And on the makers tasks, be conservative. You cannot build a Fortune 100 business plan in 2 hours. Set conservative goals on how many big projects you can get done in a day.

  1. Embrace the Ingvar Principle.

Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA, might be the most effective and efficient person on the planet. The business processes he’s built for quality, lost cost furniture are legendary. How does he get so much done?

The Ingvar Principle. Here it is: assume every task takes just 10 minutes.  “That’s ridiculous!” we retort. “Most of my tasks take hours and hours!” Yes, yes, yes. But consider this: most of the time we avoid big projects because our brains are overwhelmed by the thought of spending hours and hours doing the same thing. It’s too big, we feel. And so we answer an email.

But 10 minutes? That’s simple. I can spend 10 minutes on a task. It’s simple and doable enough to get started, which is the hardest part of any project.

Even for much larger tasks, like writing a book or crafting a business plan, break it up into tiny parts that will take you no more than 10 minutes to complete. And watch yourself overcome psychological barriers to even the most challenging project on your plate.

  1. Make a “Not To Do” list.

Jim Collins, international business guru and author of Good To Great gives us this sagacious advice. Make a “Not To Do” list. All of our task lists are already long. So take a look at yours and do two things:

  • Decide what’s unimportant on your task list, and just don’t do it. Watch and see if anybody misses that task not getting done. It’s amazing how you can whittle away the minutia with just this step.
  • Make an actual list of things you know you shouldn’t be doing — those time wasters or things you know you could delegate to somebody more competent than you.
  1. Shut off the internet.

This is perhaps the most valuable insight of this article. Shut off the internet. Really. Social media and the latest depressing, anxiety inducing news article will likely add nothing to your soul, your work or your family.

Take the example of reading. Tim Keller was once asked what he reads. Keller said essentially, You have to read books. Not articles. Shut off the internet. For Keller, the really valuable cultural conversations still happen in the “slow” medium of books. Books develop full arguments. Reading on the same topic for 10 hours has more of an impact on us than reading the first paragraph of an internet article and then moving on. Actually, this kind of reading is more likely to welcome us into what Nicolas Carr calls The Shallows.

We live in an age of distraction. We know this. We also know that most of us need the internet to work. So, let’s do this: check social media, email, and other “fast” media at the end of the day, NOT the beginning.

Save your morning hours for creativity. The swarm of low level tasks can wait until the afternoon.

Paul, Productivity and Sabbath

Productivity isn’t everything. We can make too much of Paul’s injunction to “make the most of every opportunity, for the days are evil.” In a harried American culture, we often just pile on more and more until exhaustion ensues.

But being productive can lead us to resting well. Christians (and Jews) have a unique concept of time, in which productive work is bracketed by Sabbath. Sabbath is a time for not being productive – for worship, for laughter, for long walks, for enjoyment. It’s a time to trust God and remember, “It’s not all up to me.”

Yet getting nothing done in a week can lead the heart also to a frenetic weekend busyness that frets over DIY projects or getting the kids dressed to go to Chik-Fil-A.

Far better to work well, rest well, and return to the week ready to offer our time and skills to serving our neighbors.

Photo Credit: Ingvar Kamprad

Recommended Books:

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LawWork

From Big Law to (Very) Small Law: One Lawyer’s Journey from Practicing in Armani Suits in a High Rise Tower to His Sweatpants in His Bedroom (or, from Billing Machine to Whole-Hearted Solopreneuer)

Guest post by David Hyams, SDG Law

June 1, 2014. That’s when I decided. I was walking the 1.2 miles home at 3:00 in the morning from the train station (my connector bus ran its final route 7 hours earlier) and I said to myself, “I’m done with this.”

I had been working in large law firms as an associate for six years, so such late nights were not uncommon. But something in my heart snapped that night. Fifteen months later I left big law and launched my own firm.

What happened?

As with most things in life, what compelled me to leave big law and hang out my own shingle was not just one thing or one late night, but a culmination of events and circumstances that God use to lead me out of something arguably quite good into something better.

My wife and I have two children, a nine-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son. The three of them wanted me home more. It’s not that I was always gone until 3 am. I’d usually leave in the 6:00 morning hour and return in the 6:00 evening hour. A solid day away from the home, but by no means ludicrous. I rarely traveled for work and I was almost always home for dinner. And I didn’t work weekends much—a Saturday or two a month, sometimes more. (When you’re in the throes of litigation, you do what has to be done. The court and the rules of civil procedure choose the deadlines, you don’t. So there were stints where numerous weekends would string together.) Thus, even though my schedule was tolerable, I wanted more time with my family than dinners in the evening and (most of most) weekends.

We home educate, and I wanted to be more involved with the education and discipleship of my children. Extracting myself physically from the family unit and hub of domestic activity for 12+ hours per day was not only preventing me from understanding what my blessed wife and her pupils were experiencing, but kept me on the periphery of what so much of our family life consisted of. I felt like a guest at the dinner table each night.

I was up for trying my hand at something new. After seven years working in large corporate firms, I had a good sense of what life was going to look like going forward. Sure, there would be the elevation to partner, new cases, and other challenges, but, for the most part, life was going to look pretty much the same. Moreover, repeatedly throughout scripture, the risk-takers are the blessed ones: Noah built the ark, Abraham left his homeland, Moses confronted Pharaoh, David challenged the giant, the disciples “left all” to follow Jesus, the servant invested the talents and saw a return, blind Bartimaeus wouldn’t shut up, the paralytic’s friends dug through the roof, the bleeding woman reached for the hem, Peter stepped out of the boat, Mary poured the nard, Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem, Paul kept preaching. Risk-takers, all of them. They eschewed comfort, security, and fear of the unknown and embraced the greater reward of God and his kingdom. I wanted that.

Unlike many who sour on big law, I enjoyed my firm. The people I worked with were wonderful. I was blessed to work on very exciting cases, and I received excellent training (and pay). Nevertheless, just as Egypt was initially the place of salvation for Israel, for it was there that they became a nation, it eventually became its oppressor. To become the nation God envisioned, they had to leave. So, too, did I.

I did, however, grow weary of the billable hours. I was tired of evaluating a day’s work by the number of hours billed (or not). Constantly measuring my life in 6-minute increments was soul-sucking and was warping my understanding of what it meant to be a lawyer. Rather than an advocate for truth and justice, to be a lawyer was to be a billing machine. This cynicism, a poisonous fruit of my training to “think like a lawyer,” was robbing me of my joy. For cynicism “question[s] the active goodness of God on our behalf . . . . [and] creates a numbness toward life.”[i] For my heart’s sake, I had to get out.

Bringing the Strands Together

Modern society pulls us in many different directions: our work life is separate from our family life, which is separate from our worship life, which has nothing to do with our play life, and of course the education of our children has nothing to do with any of it. Each of these activities tends to take place in its own, distinct geographical location, with little overlap in locale or people constituting the respective communities. This results in a dis-integrated, compartmentalized, fragmented existence and an emaciated family life. Packer describes the crisis well:

[I]n the Western world at least, and increasingly elsewhere, the family is in deep trouble. Relentless pressures arising from the centralizations of urban life are eroding domestic relationships, so that their intrinsic primacy in human life is no longer being appreciated or lived out. Instead these pressures cut off husbands and wives from each other, cut off children from their parents and grandparents, and cut off the nuclear family from uncles, aunts, and next-door neighbors. And from being everyday life’s focal center, a sustained source of warmth and joy (“there’s no place like home”) the home turns into a dormitory and snacking point from which family members scatter for most of most days.[ii]

My home was no exception.

Prior to homeschooling, we’d shuttle our daughter across town to attend a school where we knew no one and had no vested interest beyond the hours our daughter occupied the building. Needless to say, we didn’t know the teacher, either, or what our daughter was experiencing or being told while she was apart from us. Meanwhile, I daily extracted myself from our home to go downtown and sit in front of a computer only to return at the end of the day to eat, shower, and sleep. We attended church in yet another part of town, and the people we knew there neither worked, lived, nor schooled where we did. Homeschooling was, in part, an effort to bring two of our “life strands” together and live a more integrated life. Going solo was an attempt to incorporate a third strand; thus, I not only decided to start my own practice, but to do so out of my home.[iii] Working from home has enable me to not only be more present and available to my family, but has allowed me to be more involved with homeschooling and my children get to see their father applying his craft.

Learning from the Gray Hairs

“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16.) As I listened to older men reflect upon their lives and answer the question of what they would have done differently, I observed a consistent refrain: “I would have worked less.” These men were very “successful” in the worldly sense, but it came at a price. They spent their 30’s and 40’s, the years where their children were young and in the home, building their little kingdoms. But once those little kingdoms were built, they realized that not only did it not satisfy their souls, but those they thought cared and mattered, didn’t, and the only ones who actually cared and mattered, had been neglected along the way. I didn’t want that to happen to me.

I felt like someone was pushing me from behind, down a path of life I was at best ambivalent about, if not outright opposed to. Sure, the pay, title, and prestige of all that big law had to offer was before me, but so were the hours, the stresses, the bureaucracy, and constant exposure to the sirens’ seductive singing. I had begun to live someone else’s story, and the longer I lived it, the more it became mine and the harder it was to pull away. I had to get out.

Pastoring Lawyers

Another motivation for my exit was to provide a more flexible vehicle for me to pursue the hearts of other lawyers. Having attended seminary prior to law school, I’ve always thought of my practice of law as a divine calling. I often refer to myself as a “minister of the law.” My time in the trenches of big law exposed me to the profound need for someone who understands the particular demands of the profession to minster to the hearts of those subject to its grueling pressures. Hanging out my own shingle would (hopefully) afford me more freedom to minister to those attorneys God brought into my life while simultaneously serving as a prophetic declaration that there is a better way. I want to help my brothers and sisters of the bar to become whole-hearted lawyers.

Taking the Leap

Once the decision was made, questions inevitably arose: How will I provide for my family? Where will I get clients? Do I have what it takes? Can I make it on my own without the support of staff and supervision of partners? Will I commit malpractice and get disbarred, thereby dooming my career? Will I ruin my family? How will I ever pay my bills, especially my student loans? What will my colleagues think of me? Won’t I disappoint the partners?

The questions generated fear and uncertainty. But God provided me (and my valiant and stalwart wife) the courage and peace to not allow those questions to become debilitating. Thus, with exactly one client (on a relatively dormant matter) and no idea where my next paycheck would come from, I stepped out of the big law boat on September 1, 2015.

Where We Are Now

Over the course of the last nine months, we have seen God’s steady hand of provision meet our every need. We have not missed a bill and the clients are trickling in. And while I’ve yet to match my big law salary, my family life is better, I’m finding more joy in my craft, and my faith, courage, and business acumen have all grown.

It has not been without its challenges, of course. I have more to consider now than just doing the legal work. It’s also more difficult to “leave work at work” when my commute is only six steps. And there is the occasional, wistful longing for the “melons of Egypt.”

Nonetheless, the overall transition has been life-giving and incredibly liberating. I am living a more integrated, whole-hearted life than ever before. And the practice of law has transitioned from merely a job, to an adventure whereby God continues to call us to higher and farther vistas.

David Hyams, Esq. leads SDG Law, LLC based in Denver, Colorado. His specialty is religious institutions, bankruptcy, and business disputes. He also leads the law vocation group at Denver Institute for Faith & Work. SDG stands for Soli Deo Gloria, one of the five “solas” of the Reformation.

[i] Paul Miller, A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World, 77, 79 (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress 2009).

[ii] J.I. Packer, Introduction to Richard Baxter, The Godly Home, 12 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books 2010) (ed. Randall Peterson).

[iii] This is not to say God requires one to work from home in order to flourish. See Ps. 104:23 (“Man goes out to his work and to his labor until the evening.”).

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CultureWorkWorld

American Pluralism: “She Thinks My Land Rover is Sexy”

When driving down Broadway on my way home from work, I’m often entertained by the mosaic of life lining the street. Antique shops, graffiti on the walls, pot shops and gas stations decorate the corridor of cars heading home.

Last week, while at a stop light, I couldn’t help but notice the interesting mix of bumper stickers on the black Land Rover in front of me.

IMG_3810

In two corners were stickers heralding Moab, Utah and skiing Colorado’s mountains. On the right side was a Colorado State University sticker, and right below an SUV boast: “You can go fast, I can go anywhere.” Quintessential Rocky Mountain weekend warrior.

Then the kaleidoscope gets interesting. On the far left, a white outline of a female body in high heels, bending over, with the message: “She thinks my Land Rover is sexy.” Below is a series of three stickers: a hand gun that reads “Rocky Mountain Gun Owner,” another Land Rover sticker, and an ad for Key West. Below the license plate, a sticker proudly heralding the owner’s favorite brand of smokes: Camel Trophy.

And finally, on the lower right corner, just above the bumper, is a Jesus fish.

Huh.

My brain startled awake on the sweltering ride home. How could the owner of such a sexy Land Rover reconcile all these beliefs? The objectification of women, the sauntering pride of owning a big SUV, advertising for a tobacco company, outdoor adventuring, proudly owning hand guns, and biblical Christianity? The moral, the immoral, the amoral, the recreational, and the transcendent all mixed together like stone soup.

Was there a common thread? Or did this guy’s mom just stick a Jesus fish on the back to balance out a fairly typical Coloradan youth’s affections?

What’s going on here?

The American Pantheon

As the light turned green and I eased on the gas, my mind stretched back to a story told by 20th century British missionary and theologian Lesslie Newbigin:

“When I was a young missionary I used to spend one evening each week in the monastery of the Ramakrishna Mission in the town where I lived, sitting on the floor with the monks and studying with them the Upanishads and the Gospels.”

Newbigin, a missionary to India for 40 years, remembers,

“In the great hall of the monastery, as in all the premises of the Ramakrishna Mission, there is a gallery of portraits of the great religious teachers of humankind. Among them, of course, is a portrait of Jesus.

“Each year on Christmas Day worship was offered before this picture. Jesus was honored, worshipped, as one of the many manifestations of deity in the course of human history. To me, as a foreign missionary, it was obvious that this was not a step toward the conversion of India. It was the co-option of Jesus into the Hindu worldview.

“Jesus had become just one figure in the endless cycle of karma and samsara, the wheel of being we are all caught up in. He had been domesticated into the Hindu worldview.”

In other words, Newbigin observed that Jesus had simply become one of the Hindu gods, worshipped one day a year but ultimately bowing to another religion, another set of ultimate beliefs.

In America today, as Christianity wanes, we do not live in an “secular atheist” culture, where no god is worshipped, but instead in a religiously pluralistic culture, where every god is worshiped. David Foster Wallace, in his famous 2005 speech at Kenyon University, says, “In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”

The reigning American religion today is a pantheon of gods that go by “my personal choice” or “my personal beliefs.” And in this smorgasbord of products, desires and beliefs, Jesus is great. So are sexy women, hiking, smoking on the back porch or whatever floats your boat.

The insight here is not that pluralism is bad. Let’s get clear. Cultural pluralism, where people of many views and beliefs live together in a peaceful co-existence, is indeed good and, I believe, beautiful.

But the dogma of religious pluralism, which is the belief that “the differences between the religions are not a matter of truth and falsehood, but of different perception of the same truth,” has the effect of domesticating Jesus and his claim to be the resurrected Lord of all.

Our real, functional religion is a vast stew of divinities and desires that we pick from every day in the free market of consumer choice. Here, the holy of holies is “me.” We live, as David Brooks says, in the Age of the Big Me.

I’d argue that today, the greatest challenge for Christianity in the West is not just establishing the claim of Jesus’s Lordship over all of life, or even the universal significance of his death and resurrection, but instead in recognizing that we Christians have domesticated Christ in our own lives, work and culture. 

In the Old Testament books of 1 and 2 Kings, consistently the author criticizes the wicked kings not for abandoning worship of Yahweh, but for worshipping him alongside of Asherah, Molech, and the Baals.

Syncretism, not disbelief, was the greatest temptation for ancient Israel. So it is for the Church today.

After all, it’s awfully tempting to (naively) believe “She thinks my Land Rover is sexy.”

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FinanceWork

Stocks, Bonds and Mutual Funds

Months ago I first ran into Tim Weinhold, one of the speakers at next week’s “Stocks, Bonds & Mutual Funds: How Theology Can Renew Investing and Wealth Management.

After I read one of his articles, Business: Engine of Biblical Blessings, I decided to reach out for a phone call. After chatting for 20 minutes, I learned he was a Harvard grad, faculty member at the Seattle Pacific University, and co-founder of four businesses. But what struck me as strange was his current role: Director of Faith & Business at Eventide Funds.

What kind of a mutual fund, I wondered, hires a guy to think about and write articles on Christianity and business?

Months later, I met Robin John, the CEO at Eventide, and his associate, John Siverling, the CEO of the Christian Investment Forum, for happy hour at Yard House in Park Meadows. Over chips and salsa they riffed on topics like “socially responsible investing” and a new term I had never heard before: “biblically responsible investing.”

I was a novice — and knew I needed to learn more.

Before I met the guys at Eventide Funds, and now my friend Chad Hamilton at Mariner Wealth Advisors, I hadn’t given much thought to the $28 trillion dollars currently invested in mutual funds, much less where my own retirement fund is invested.

But these guys made me pause: do I believe in these companies (or even know what companies are in my mutual funds)? Are they doing good in the world — or harming those God cares about? Can I be smarter about where I put the small amount of money entrusted to me?

Here are five reasons to attend “Stocks, Bonds and Mutual Funds” on June 8:

  1. Scripture is not silent on God’s purpose for business, and, thus, God’s view on wealth creation and investing.

Tim Weinhold will speak directly on God’s purpose for business, and what it might mean for how we think about investing. From Mosaic law to Wall Street in 20 minutes—that’s no small leap.

  1. The vast majority of Christians — myself included — have never thought twice about where our money is invested, as long as we get a financial return.

I’m guilty as charged, here. Months ago I simply chose the robo-investor that promised highest returns for the least amount of work. But have I erred? Might I be promoting businesses that are actually causing the problems my charitable giving is addressing?

Oops.

Perhaps taking the mercenary approach (earn a bunch so I can give it away) isn’t quite right. And maybe it’s overlooking the “social return,” as Chad Hamilton says, business are already having right now.

  1. The event will help to clarify a host of perspectives, like “socially responsible investing”, “values based investing,” “biblically responsible investing,” and “impact investing.”

Mystifying. What’s the difference between all of these? What does it mean when a company is “extracting value” vs “creating value?”

There may be no 100% clean answers, but can I at least get clear on the options out there so I can make a more faithful decision with my finances?

  1. We’ll dive into the tough questions related to faith and investing, like “How responsible am I for the business decisions of companies I invest in?” and “What is the best way to do good through investing?

It gets complicated. Once we find out what exact companies are in those mutual funds, what then? What are business practices I wouldn’t want to support? What are ones that would be a good idea to invest more in?

And can I still make at least a significant return on my money for retirement? With four little kids at home I feel old age fast approaching….

  1. We’ll have the chance to examine the values that drive our own investing, and what different choices we might make with the capital entrusted to us.

So how much should I give, save, spend and invest? And why?  Do I want to retire early because I’m just burnt out on work? If so, will that make me happy? What values do I want my kids to adopt about money? How will I teach that to them? What does it mean to have real impact in the world with my portfolio?

Investing for Social Impact from Chad Hamilton on Vimeo.

We’ll dive into these questions on the evening of June 8 at the Commons @ Champa. I hope you’ll join us for a bright conversation on faith, money and investing for good in the world.

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ArtCultureWork

The Christian Retreat from the World: Chatting with Hans Rookmaaker on the Back Porch

Hans Rookmaaker - 1.001We all struggle to explain what we do. I’m no different. Actually, I have rehearsed a set of responses for when people ask the inevitable question: “What do you do for work?”

“I lead an educational nonprofit in Denver.”

If I can get them to bite with this amorphous answer, they’ll often ask, “Oh, really? What kind?”

“I direct an organization called Denver Institute for Faith & Work. We offer educational programming on how Christianity can shape and influence a wide variety of work we do, from business to law to art to education.”

At this point, they pause, tip their head sideways, and say, “Oh, how interesting.”

And…I lost them.

It’s not that they’re uninterested. But there’s really no category in most people’s minds for this kind of work. It’s just strange. Perhaps esoteric. Sheet metal manufacturing and folding clothes at The Gap — these kinds of work make sense. We need metal. We need clothes. But why on earth do we need Denver Institute for Faith & Work?

Fair question.

While sipping coffee this past week, I picked up Hans Rookmaaker’s slim 1970’s book Art Needs No Justification. After reading the second chapter, I thought to myself, “Maybe this is the shortest, easiest way to explain why we do what we do at DIFW.”

So, imagine the three of us, me, you, and Hans, are in my backyard, sipping a glass of wine after dinner as we watch the sun set. He starts right in the middle of a train of thought to explain the Christian retreat from the world in the past 300 years:

Hans: If, as we have said, in the 18th century our world began to change, as its inner direction was set on a humanistic track, where man is the master, and pleasure (through money) and power are the ultimate values, where were the Christians?

Jeff: Good question, Hans. You’re referring to that period in European history called The Enlightenment, when a small group of intellectuals declared a new age of reason and progress, in contrast to the tradition and faith of the Church. Man became the center of the universe and individual autonomy replaced God as the center point for all questions of society and meaning. But Hans, there were certainly many Christians at that time, weren’t there?

You: Of course there were! Wasn’t this the age of America’s Great Awakenings and John Wesley’s preaching and revivals throughout Great Britain? There were lots of Christians in Western society at that time, right?

Hans: They were not few in number, and some people even call that same period one of great revival. The mainstream of Christianity turned to a kind of pietism in which the idea of the covenant, as preached in the books of Moses and through the whole of Scripture, was by-passed. The Old Testament was often neglected, and the meaning of the Christian life was narrowed to that of the devotional life alone.

You: Narrowed? From what?

Hans: Too easily, large areas of human reality, such as philosophy, science, the arts, economics and politics were handed over to the ‘world’, as Christians concentrated mainly on pious activities. If the world’s system was a secularized one, missing true spirituality, the Christian’s attitude also became a reduced one, missing its foundation in reality and uninterested in the created world. It became sometimes a ghost-like spirituality without a body.

Jeff: Interesting way to put it: “a ghost-like spirituality without a body.” You know, you should come and give the introduction at DIFW events. I often struggle to explain that Christianity was once a cultural system, leading to everything from the birth of science to the concept of universal human rights. Today, so many of us Christians, especially Protestants, seem content to go to church, have “quiet time,” and let our public world be ruled by another set of values completely…

You: Not so fast. Christians even today are incredibly active in the world. We have mammoth para-church organizations like Compassion International or World Vision. We have churches who not only preach the gospel, but have cared for so many of the world’s most vulnerable. This is a huge witness – even in a secular age.  We’re still active today…

Hans: Christians have indeed been active. But they have often optimistically believed that it was enough to preach the gospel, and to help in a charitable way.

In concentrating on saving souls they have often forgotten that God is the God of life, and that the Bible teaches people how to live, how to deal with our world, God’s creation. The result is that even if many became Christians, nevertheless our present world is a totally secularized one, in which Christianity has almost no influence. Our society’s drive is determined by the world and its values, or lack of values.

Jeff: I see what you’re saying. It’s wonderful to preach a gospel of personal salvation and help charitably. But the set of values that shapes everything from art to science to politics to economics today, is now driven almost completely by another “religion,” namely, secularism. Or more accurately by millions of religions that go by the name individual choice and consumer preference.

You: If Jesus is Lord – really, Lord of all the universe and the earth – then what would it look like to infuse our work and our culture with the divine life of Christ the Savior and Redeemer of all things?

Jeff: Another good question. We should start an organization in Denver to address just that very question…

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CulturePoliticsWork

From Rage to Responsibility: Why Our Work Matters More Than Our Vote

 

“Against stupidity we are defenseless.” German pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer could have written this about the 2016 GOP election race.

I’m like most Americans. Religious, white, middle class, and ticked off.

But far from supporting either Trump or Bernie Sanders, after months of feeling outrage and then disbelief, my anger at the American political machine has subsided, and now I find myself looking for hope far outside of Washington—and much closer to home.

Here’s what I mean: the past six months of political campaigning have given me emotional heartburn. The unpleasant reflux came in three phases.

The first emotion was shock. When Trump calls Mexicans who cross the border rapists, enthusiastically endorses torture, hints that Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia was assassinated, and advocates the killing of terrorist’s families, my blood boils. How could Americans be voting for this man to lead the party of Abraham Lincoln? And how could 37 % of evangelicals support him? What on earth is going on here?

Second, moral outrage gave way to disbelief. Twitter battles about Melania Trump and Heidi Cruz grab headlines, Ted Cruz threatens to “make the sand glow” by flattening the Syrian city of Raqqa (innocent families and all), and Ben Carson’s friend supposedly gets a divine vision telling him to endorse Trump.  And he does it.

We have entered the Twilight Zone.

Bonhoeffer saw the same inexplicable stupidity overtake so many of his countrymen during Christmas of 1942: “In conversation with him [the stupid person], one virtually feels that one is dealing not all with him as person, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like that have taken possession of him.”

Make America great again. Feel the Bern.

Finally, disbelief gave birth to apathy. The world is going to pot (quite literally here in Colorado), and what can do about it? News pours into my iPhone, and I’m no longer surprised at anything. Nor do I feel responsible.

And this creeping cynicism is what turned my heartburn into shame. Czech playwright, philosopher and former president Václav Havel (pictured above) once said:

“Whenever I have encountered any kind of deep problem with civilization anywhere in the world — be it the logging of rain forests, ethnic or religious intolerance or the brutal destruction of a cultural landscape that has taken centuries to develop — somewhere at the end of a long chain of events that gave rise to the problem at issue I have always found one and the same cause: a lack of accountability to and responsibility for the world.”

After reading this, I thought, Maybe the problem isn’t our dysfunctional political system. Maybe it’s us.

Working for Good 

Several months ago, Pastor Greg Thompson of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia spoke to a small group of leaders in Denver. Speaking at the Taxi Development in the RiNo (River North) district, which overlooks the Mile High city, he said, “Politics does not in fact create culture change, but actually expresses a larger cultural system of which it is a part.”

For Thompson, a civil rights scholar and social theorist, culture isn’t created by government officials. Instead, it flows from “the public,” or a network of institutions in fields like economics, energy, art, medicine, religion and education that form a “social ecology.”

Culture, in other words, is formed by our work.

When I heard this, I felt a release of tension from my neck. So many Americans believe the next president will either save us or doom us. But neither is the case. Politics is downstream from culture. In reality, we create culture everyday.

As much as I respect Franklin Graham, this is why his nationwide tour to “Pray. Vote. Engage.” feels like an empty drum of water. Rod Dreher, columnist at The American Conservative is right: “Voting Republican, and expecting judges to save us, is over. It’s all about culture now.”

And culture change starts when we pull into the office.

For example, Karla Nugent, the Chief Business Development Officer at Weifield Group Electrical Contracting, created an apprentice program that hires would-be electricians from Denver Rescue Mission, the Stout Street Foundation, and other programs for men coming from addiction, incarceration or homelessness.

It’s one thing to gripe about jobs and the economy, as so many Americans do. It’s yet another to take responsibility for the issue and create career-track jobs for the American underclass struggling to keep pace, as did Nugent.

For thousands of Christians, work is the best avenue to obey Jesus’ teaching to “love your neighbor as yourself” and take responsibility for the direction of society.  

Robin John, for example, CEO of Omaha-based Eventide Funds, a mutual fund, expresses his faith by only investing in businesses that create genuine value for communities, especially customers and employees. He believes an ethics-based approach is more socially responsible and also more profitable.

Similarly, Josh Mabe, owner of Twenty1Five, a reclaimed wood furniture business, believes he can reflect Jesus own vision of cosmic renewal (Rev. 21:5) through crafting artistic tables and chairs. Mabe says, “The ugly wood I use is a metaphor for our lives. Most of this stuff,” pointing to a knotted board, “is beat up, discarded lumber. But if you see beyond some of those scars, you can make something really beautiful out of it.”

Work isn’t only a paycheck for Mabe. It can also be an act of beauty.

I’m often tempted to fall prey to cynicism when I see the cycle of anger and disillusionment with presidential candidates turn into a blazing cannonball of destructive rhetoric. But people like Nugent, John, and Mabe give me hope.

And hope starts with seeing Monday morning with new eyes.

A Hopeful Exile 

Whatever might happen at the Republican convention in July, three things look likely:

1. The exile from the Republican party, especially among millenials, will continue. Today half of all millennials are politically unaffiliated. Blame Trump, Cruz, or Fox News, millions of us now largely share the sentiment of evangelical writer Trevin Wax, “I don’t feel at home in the Republican Party anymore.”

2. New methods of Christian public engagement will continue to surface. From Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option” to sociologist James Davison Hunter’s paradigm of “faithful presence,” in post-Christian America, more believers will continue to experiment with new ways to live out their faith in public.

3. We’ll still have to go to work. And when 148 million working adults in America arrive at offices, clinics, schools, stores, and construction sites, they’ll have to make decisions about what is good, true and beautiful. And in so doing, they’ll shape American culture, for better or worse.

I’m not saying that voting doesn’t matter. It matters deeply. But the best way to affect cultural change is through our daily work, not voting.

In an election year like this, it’s tempting to imitate Pontius Pilate, wash our hands of a messy world, and ask, “What stupidity must I endure next?”

But that’s the wrong question.

“The ultimately responsible question,” says Bonhoeffer, “is not how I extricate myself from a situation but how a coming generation is to go on living.”

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Architecture and DesignNonprofitWork

The Tree of Life: The Story of 600 Grant St., Suite 722

 

As I awoke, I heard a voice. “In the beginning, God created the tree of life.”

My guide took me to a garden, green and blooming, with four rivers running through it. And at the center, the tree of life stood tall, giving life to all of creation. A man and a woman tilled the soil, ate of its fruit, and were satisfied.

“But it came to pass,” he explained, “that man and woman ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. When sin entered the world, so did death.” And I saw an angel drive the man and the woman out of the garden. With a flaming sword, flashing back and forth, the angel blocked the way to the tree of life.

Banished from the garden, the man worked the ground. But no longer did it produce fruit. Up sprang thorns, thistles, and the desire to rule. Work became toil. Splinters caused pain. A curse frustrated man’s best efforts to once again eat from the tree of life. Labor left him with an incomplete longing.

1

Wood gave way to bronze, iron and stone. “And men,” my guide explained, “sought to build their own city, forged in iron, as a hedge against death, a man-made source of life.”

Then I saw men from every tribe, tongue and nation build a tower, rising to heaven. It was a monument to Self. And suddenly I saw it crash to the ground, its workers babbling in confusion.

The curse worked its way from cement to cities, from single projects to civilizations. I looked onto the world, and I wept.

3

“What can be done?” I cried out. “Is there no way home?”

And then he said, “The ancient storytellers have seen far into the future. And they see another tree. Listen to their words.”

4

I lifted my head. My guide said, “I have seen the throne of God. And flowing from the throne down the great street of the city is a river, clear as crystal. And behold, bursting through the city street is the tree of life. It yields fruit forevermore, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of nations.”

5 - Tree of Life

“Let me sit in its shade,” I said. He replied, “You cannot. You must see one more tree.”

And he took me to a small, dusty carpenter’s shop. At the center was a man, humble yet fierce, crafting a table for his mother. “Why have you taken me here?” I asked as I saw the unfinished  table surface.

6

He simply replied, “Behold, the man.”

As I turned around, I felt a cool rush of darkness sweep over me. I saw a crowd, spitting, mocking the carpenter. As he lay on the ground, a soldier threw a beam on him, rough hewn, splintered. The solider forced the man to carry the harsh beam up the hill, as clouds overtook the sky.

7

They pierced his hands and feet, and hung him to the wood, the object of his work. “Why?” I cried out. “His eyes are good. Why?” And my guide simply said, “Cursed is the man who hangs on a tree.”

“Must I watch?” I begged. “There is only one way back to the tree of life,” He replied. “And it is through this tree of death.”

I wept.

And then there was silence.

“Look,” he said. I saw another garden. The sun was rising. And the carpenter’s tomb was empty. And two angels, clothed in light, said to me, “There is no death here. He is alive. He is alive! Now go and do his work.”

“What work shall I do?” I asked. Suddenly, I saw the city, but now light was streaming over the mountains onto its spires. And I saw the carpenter’s work before me, now complete.

8 9

I received no answer to my question. He only said, “Come, follow me.”

“Sir, one more question,” I asked. “When may I eat once more of the tree of life?”

And he replied simply with a promise. “For like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.”

He finally whispered into my ear, “Behold, I make all things new.”

10 11 12 13

The above pictures were taken at the new offices of Denver Institute for Faith & Work at 600 Grant St., Suite 722, home of the 5280 Fellowship. The furniture was made by Josh Mabe, owner of Twenty1Five, a reclaimed wood furniture business based in Monument, Colorado ([email protected]). 

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Craftsmanship & Manual LaborWork

Let There Be Light: How Karla Nugent Is Transforming the Trades

“Come, let me show you around.”

As we rise from the conference table, Karla Nugent—cofounder of Weifield Group Contracting, a commercial electrical company in Denver—leads me into the pre-fabrication shop. Coils, wires, and electrical boxes are being assembled for installation. The only woman in the room of more than a dozen men, Nugent introduces me to employee Justin Hales.

“Electrical work is art,” Hales, an electrician’s apprentice, tells me. “Two years ago, they put me on the platform at Union Station. I would lay out the floors, locate everything, like a switch or outlet on the wall.

“When you turn your pipes, make them uniform—that’s art.” He pauses. “It probably goes unnoticed to the average person, but we see it. We take pride in our work.”

Nugent co-founded Weifield in 2002 alongside three business partners. Since then, the company has grown to 250 employees and has emerged at the forefront of electrical construction. For example, Weifield was behind the Net Zero, a LEED-Platinum research facility at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. It’s one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the world, operating solely on power generated at the building site.

Denver’s business community took notice of Nugent because of her philanthropy. As leader of sales, marketing, and human resources, she’s created a culture of generosity at Weifield. The company donates to more than 30 nonprofits in the city, including organizations that support women, veterans, at-risk youth, and the urban poor. Employees join in the generosity as well, taking bike rides to raise money for MS and building houses for Habitat for Humanity on company time.

In 2014, Nugent won the Denver Business Journals Corporate Citizen of the Year Award as well as the award for Outstanding Woman in Business for architects, engineers, and construction.

But light began to flood into Weifield when, several years ago, Nugent decided to bring the community’s needs into the company. After seeing growing income inequality in Denver, she created the Weifield Group apprenticeship program.

Becoming an Apprentice

Scott Ammon, a journeyman electrician at Weifield Group, joined the Army after high school. After serving in Desert Storm and four years in the Middle East, he worked for 11 years in the US Postal Service. “I’d actually been suffering from PTSD while I was there,” Ammon tells me. As a result, he “jumped into a pretty bad coke and meth addiction.” To get treatment, Ammon spent two years at the Stout Street Foundation, an alcohol and drug rehabilitation facility.

During rehab, Ammon heard about an opening for an electrical apprentice at Weifield. The four-year program trains employees in a pre-fabrication process (preparing electrical materials for on-site installation) while paying for their education to become state-certified journeymen electricians.

“I was really nervous when [Nugent] interviewed me because I was in treatment at the time,” Ammon says, figuring he’d be passed over because of his struggle with substance abuse. “But she looked me straight in the eyes and just nodded her head.”

When he got the offer, despite his rocky past, “That made me feel so good,” he says. “I said to myself, ‘From now on, they’ve got my full dedication.’”

In Colorado, 49 percent of all jobs are known as “middle-skill jobs”—one of 11 sectors requiring a GED but not a four-year college degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that in 20 years, 47 percent of all US jobs will still be middle-skilled, since building, plumbing, and wiring cities cannot be outsourced. But Colorado has struggled to find enough skilled tradesmen to keep up with the meteoric pace of Denver’s population growth.

So in addition to leading statewide workforce initiatives like Build Colorado and Skills to Compete, Nugent began reaching out to their charity partners—Denver Rescue Mission, Peer One, Stout Street Foundation—to find more electricians.

When they started the apprenticeship, they had low expectations. “If we get a 25 percent stick [employee retention] rate, we’ll be happy,” Nugent recalls thinking upon launching the program. “Now we’re in our fifth year. I just ran the statistics the other day. We’re at an 85 percent stick rate. They’re ready to work. They’re excited.”

The three keys to success, says apprentice program manager Brad Boswell, are attendance, attitude, and the ability to learn mechanical skills. “If they can do those things, I can make them into an electrician.” Some apprentices who have become journeymen have—in four years—gone from homelessness or addiction to making upwards of $50,000 per year.

After one of the many Weifield fundraisers for a community partner, a teary-eyed mother approached Nugent. “You gave my son a chance,” she said. “He was on his last leg. Nobody believed in him. But you did.”

A Conduit of Hope

“I pray that people see the good we’re trying to accomplish here through the workplace,” Nugent says.

Nugent’s Christian faith began in fourth grade, when she would hop on a Sunday school bus every week to attend church. Though nurtured by church and youth ministries, it was her mother, Rosemarie Craig, an executive at United Airlines and single mother, who gave Nugent a work ethic and vision for the good that business could do in the lives of others.

Today, she is a pillar of support to many employees who come from broken homes. “People start gravitating to you because they see you’re stable and sound, but they don’t realize that it’s your faith.” She’s also become an ethics gauge at her company for everybody from executives facing tough decisions on high-profile projects to apprentices contemplating divorce.

Nugent believes being a woman in a male-majority industry allows her to have conversations that many men couldn’t. “I have meetings with developers, executives, and other owners and usually guide it to some sort of eternal piece,” she says. “Most guys would just talk projects and numbers. But I can pull off that conversation because I’m a woman. It’s my challenge; it’s kind of fun.”

Through these conversations, two of her business partners have become Christians.

“I could live in a little bubble, in my comfortable Christian community,” Nugent says, “but here I [reach] a little bit of everybody, people I normally wouldn’t share life with. I hear their stories and help them find a home.

“Our buildings are really cool, but at the end of the day, it’s about the people. Jesus gave us community to serve each other.”

Rhythms of Rest

Nugent’s husband, Jack, owns an auto transportation company, is a NASCAR driver, and hunts on the weekends. As they raise their two children and excel in their professions, I expected to find a trace of exhaustion in her voice from the demands of work, life, and family.

Instead, Nugent shared with me a set of simple rhythms of rest, prayer, and dedication to her calling to be a wife, mother, and business leader.

As one of Denver’s most networked women, she turns off her phone every Sunday. “It can wait until Monday,” Nugent says. Her emails are brief, her social media presence is minimal, and she takes vacations with her family over the summers.

And when she considers a less busy life, she simply prays for direction. “Every time I pray about it, I say, ‘God, maybe I’m not supposed to be here. Am I supposed to do something else?’ But each time, God brings in a new relationship with somebody who’s having a tough time. For now, God wants me here.”

She also is committed to both her husband and two kids as well as her “work family.” “I’m on the front end of this ship, closing deals,” she says. “And if we don’t win deals, we can’t provide for all the families here. And so I balance that with, ‘I’d like to be home for dinner.’”

“As a woman in this industry, it’s easy to be soft. I’m not the construction guy’s guy. But I can be totally different because I’m a woman.”

“She really cares about us,” says Justin Hales.

And as Nugent quietly transforms the trades in Denver, the work of her hands is giving light to a new generation of electricians.

This article first appeared in Christianity Today, the first in a new column entitled “The Work of Our Hands.” I’m writing this column with HOPE International’s Chris Horst, with whom I’ve written about about manual labor and have contributed to This Is Our City. The article first appeared under the title “Light for Electricians: How Christians Bring Hope to Business.” 

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CulturePoliticsWork

The MLK Option

 

Tim Keller once said we’re now living in the autumn of Christianity’s influence in the West: the leaves are falling to the ground and winter is approaching.

For many of us, the cold wind that reminds of us the coming winter storm is the loss of religious freedom so many evangelicals see in American life today.

A Christian student group at Vanderbilt University loses official school recognition; Chick-Fil-A gets grilled by the Denver City Council for trying to move into theDenver International Airport; in California an Intervarsity Christian Fellowship is forced to elect non-Christian leaders.

Many evangelicals feel like a cat backed into a corner. A combination of fear and outbursts of rage (usually on our Twitter feeds and Facebook pages) often define our response.

Times have changed. Christians committed to the public implications of their faith are now a minority in American life. 

Today many Christians are frantically searching to find a way to live in American society without cultural power.

New options are being proposed.

For example, Rod Dreher, the conservative editorial writer, has suggested the “Benedict Option. Keep the flame of faith alive in private communities as the larger culture deteriorates. Though I’m not sure Benedict — who believed his monastic communities were essentially a missionary endeavor — would opt for this route, I’m not sure how this option works with the essential Christian confession, “Jesus is Lord of all.”

In response, Michael Gerson, columnist for the Washington Post, has suggested the “Wilberforce Option,” which advocates for defending human rights in the seats of power. Yet the “Wilberforce Option” assumes Christians actually have power to change laws, which seems to be less true with each passing year — and has been untrue of Christians of ethnic minorities for centuries.

Where in church history should we look for faithful, public responses to persecution, discrimination, and marginalization? I suggest we look to the preeminent expression of public faith in American history: the American Civil Rights Movement. Perhaps moving forward, we should embrace a distinctly American legacy: The MLK Option.

The MLK Option

Instead of a non-stop protest against unfairness or unequal treatment, we’d be wise to embrace Martin Luther King Jr’s model of social change and cultural witness. MLK can help the white church see what has been true for hundreds of years for the black church: the meaning of a faithful public life without cultural power.

Now more than ever the entire American church needs to come and learn at the feet of MLK’s counter-cultural, yet deeply Christian, vision of nonviolent love, even for our enemies.

In an age of caustic political debates and divided communities, Martin Luther King Jr.’s words echo as true today as they did a half century ago: “Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and evil. The greatest way to do that is love.”

What would the way of love look like for evangelicals in America today? Here are four places we could start:

1. Acknowledge that Christians are a minority in American culture (and this isn’t going to change any time soon).

What does it mean to be a minority people in a majority culture? The black church could be a wise counselor to white churches that are now experiencing this for the first time.

Suffering and lament choruses, like the blues, might need to become just as common as praise and worship songs. Being prepared to respond to discrimination with dignity may be just as important to church discipleship as quarterly marriage seminar. I admit, as a white evangelical myself, I have a lot to learn here.

But it’s important to first recognize that we’re not going to “take America back for God” and become a majority culture any time soon. That ship has sailed. As MLK said in 1956, “We must prepare to live in a new world.”

2. Embrace the central principle of Martin Luther King’s leadership: love your enemies. 

After centuries of oppression, public shame, and suffering, it’s incredible that MLK could conjure such character to counsel African Americans “to meet the forces of hate with the power of love…We’ve got to learn not to hit back. We must learn to love the white man.”

This makes me wonder: could Christians be known centrally for their acts of grace in American culture?

To do this would require us to bring gourmet meals to pro-choice co-workers; to pray deeply and honestly for our political leaders of that other political party (whether that be Democrat or Republican); it would mean finding those we despise in our neighborhoods and treating them as if they were Christ himself.

In the famous words of Abraham Lincoln, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

“Love your enemies” and “turn the other cheek” is not an impossible ethic.  It is a logical plan of action for a persecuted minority.

3. Expect to suffer. 

In September 1958, Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta accompanied Ralph Abernathy to the courthouse.  Abernathy had been assaulted by police and spent several days in the hospital.

As King began to explain their reason for coming, two officers raced up to King, grabbed him and yelled, “Boy, you done it. Let’s go.” King later recalled, “The police tried to break my arm. They grabbed my collar and tried to choke me…When they got me to the cell, they kicked me in.”

King endured injustice at the hands of those in power in order to awaken the conscience of America. He suffered for his cause. We should be prepared to do the same.

Very few white evangelicals in America have ever experienced this kind of persecution for their faith. But should the day come, and it might, suffering for doing what’s right is perhaps the most powerful act of public witness possible.

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult,” the apostle Peter commands us, “On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called.”

4. Remain resolutely hopeful. 

In 1963 Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The forces that threaten to negate life must be challenged by courage…This requires the exercise of a creative will that enables us to hew out a stone of hope from a mountain of despair.”

We need not despair over American culture, nor believe that we will return to a golden age of American Christianity.

We have lost cultural power, but to live in the fullness of Christ requires neither influence nor power. It merely means we are willing to take up our cross and walk in the way of the Suffering Servant.

In the end, the goal for Christians in American culture today is not triumph but love.

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