Jeff Haanen

Category

Work

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FinanceVocationWork

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

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

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

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

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

Example 1: Building materials company

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

Example 2: Restaurant franchise company

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Combining faith with investing is inherently complex.

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

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

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

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

2. Theologians bring a unique set of specialized skills.

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

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

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

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

Having a theologian on my staff is incredibly valuable.

3. They’re worth the investment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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Work

From Giving Money to Relinquishing Power: The Three Phases of Generosity

Giving can change us, but I’ve noticed it doesn’t change everybody equally.

Having closely observed hundreds of donors through my work as a fundraiser and nonprofit executive, I’ve tried to ask: what is the actual process of becoming like Christ through our giving? Is there a logic or pattern to the ways people change through their giving, especially Christians? Might giving actually move us backward in character growth, becoming cynical or even resentful of charities?

I’ve found there are generally three phases that God invites a giver to experience, represented by two questions about giving and finally a relinquishing of power.

“How much do I give?”

Spiritual Journey: The first step in the journey is discovering the other. Givers heed Jesus’ call to “love your neighbor as yourself” and use money as a tool to serve the needs of others. This is often an awakening to the needs of the world and the ways that money can be used to help meet spiritual, economic, and social needs.

This Phase is Characterized By: the movement from accumulation to generosity and from consumerism to philanthropy (or the love of anthropos, humans). Givers at this stage experience the exhilaration of giving and a new sense of making a community impact. The thrill of “doing good” for one’s community gives renewed interest in giving as a core aspect of a happy, fulfilled life.

Giving Habits: In this stage, the quantity of personal dollars given increases and is oftentimes sacrificial. They get used to giving larger amounts of money for the first time and are eager to see “impact metrics” or stories of changes from the various causes they support.

Key Scriptures: 2 Cor. 8 & 9; 1 John 3:16; Matthew 28:16-20. Givers in this stage are motivated by the “Macedonian call” for aid coming from the lost, the poor, or the various community needs they touch. Giving as impact and serving others is the core motivation.

“How much do I keep?”

Spiritual Journey: In this stage, the giver experiences a conversion. The conversation changes from “how much can I give?” to “how much should I keep?” The journey moves from one of outward impact to increasing dependence on God and a willingness to “embrace your limits as gifts” from God.

This Phase is Characterized By: the movement from generous giving and making an impact to contentment. The act of giving itself becomes an avenue of receiving God’s joy, and the giver becomes less interested in specifics of nonprofit or charity impact. Instead, new attention is paid to the spiritual lives and hearts of those you give to and those who are giving. Interior riches are increasingly experienced as gifts from God.

Giving Habits: Givers decide to set a ceiling on what they need to live on and give then give away anything they earn above that ceiling. As personal giving drastically increases, personal consumption now decreases as well. They experience humility and spiritual vibrancy, and they have a lessening awareness of sacrifice. Even as they see friends or peers spend money on houses, cars, trips or entertainment, they’re not bothered by what they’re missing out on, but instead find themselves feeling more whole, healthy, and joyful.

Key Scriptures: Philippians 4:11-13. Givers in this stage have “ learned the secret of being content in any situation.” They experience the joy of “enough” and the power of simplicity.

“I finally have everything I need.”

Spiritual Journey: The final stage of generous giving is the giving away not of money, but of power. The final temptation is relinquished and what lies behind money – which is power over others – is finally laid down. Power is gladly handed over to those with less knowledge or skill, both in work and in family, and God’s work through others becomes more tangible and real.

This Phase is Characterized By: the movement from contentment and sacrifice to self-forgetfulness. Money has finally lost its power as a blanket for security and all security is now found in the reality of God’s good provision and enduring Presence. Generosity spreads from giving money to also being generous with one’s time, attention, and prayers. They experience a genuine freedom from money. Simple pleasures – nature, smiles, smells, memories, words – regain their deep pleasure. For those who give away power, they find it easy to submit to the decisions and leadership of others.

Giving Habits: Givers in this phase give away the means of power, not just money itself. They give away equity in their businesses or decision making-power in their family foundations, including say-so over where the money goes or how it’s spent. In this phase, wealth is given at both personal and business levels. Yet for many, they experience this phase having very little in terms of worldly wealth. They’re released of the need for impact and instead experience a deepening experience of the delight of God. They become indifferent to wealth and cling instead to Christ himself as the final, lasting treasure.

Key Scriptures: Philippians 2:7; Matthew 13:45-46; Philippians 3:7-8; Romans 8:34; Matthew 19:21. This final phase looks like the kenosis, the self-emptying of God through incarnation and ultimately cross of Christ. The call to “sell everything you have and give to the poor” is seen not as a loss, but the great deal that it truly is: the gaining of a treasure of far more value. They “consider all things loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” and enter into deep freedom from anxiety, security and control. Givers finally say, “The Lord is my Shepherd. I have everything I need.”

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BusinessTheologyVocationWork

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post first appeared at Denver Institute.

TheologyWork

Reflections: 2020 Annual Report

The following is an introductory letter for our annual report I wrote to our supporters at DIFW. If you’d like a physical copy of the report, visit this page.

Dear Friends,

Annual reports have a way of being sent, paged through, and put in the recycle bin rather quickly. We know this because we’ve done it so many times, too. 

This is why Denver Institute for Faith & Work created a unique annual report this year that doubles as a personal reflection guide for your own walk with Christ in 2020. 

After a painful, jarring year, we at DIFW reflected on all the changes in our own lives and work. Our reflections centered around four seasons:

  • Celebration: We launched 2020 with our largest event ever.
  • Lament: In March 2020, the world abruptly changed with the arrival of COVID-19, deepening personal, professional, and social tensions.
  • Redirection: Our work abruptly needed to change to adjust to a new reality.
  • Gratitude: As we ended 2020, we were left with a deep and unexpected sense of gratitude. 

We structured each section of this annual report as narrative reflections on our own work at DIFW, and intentionally left space for you to journal, reflect, and pray through your own story in 2020. 

This annual report is meant to be an invitation to pause and invite the Lord into your memories, allowing him to heal wounds and grow his life within. I hope you’ll put this year’s annual report next to your bed and spend some time reflecting on the presence of the Spirit in pain, the goodness of God in seasons of change, and hope of the resurrection of Christ for the year to come. 

I want to thank you again for your generous giving to the formation of men and women to serve God, neighbor, and society through their work. Your prayers, financial support, and participation in our mission continue to make an impact.

Grateful,


Jeff Haanen

Founder & CEO
P.S. You can make a deeper impact by becoming a monthly donor. Visit denverinstitute.org/give to give today. Thank you for your continued support.

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Work

Vacation Email Responder

I recently went on just a short vacation, and the email responder I set up got a bit of attention (mostly positive, some surprised). I post it here in case you need one…that actually allows you to rest.

My Last Vacation Email Reponder

Well, you got this auto-email because I’m on vacation. Actually, not just vacation – I’m trying to actually practice sabbath rest, even for a single week.

In a digital age of being constantly connected – and being a person with constant ideas and a never-ending drive to be productive – I find this difficult. So for the next week of my life, this means three things:

  1. I will spend individual time with my four daughters, bake banana bread, take my wife on a date, work on a coffee table, read books, garden, exercise (and walk slowly past the blooming crabapple trees) and try to practice just 15 minutes of silence per day. 
  2. I will be shutting off my laptop completely, and temporarily deleting the email app from my phone, because I constantly check it, and find it difficult not to. 
  3. I will also never see the email you just sent me. The hard thing about time off for digital workers is that it all stacks up on us until we return, causing a low-level dread even on vacation. The solution: I will delete (and never see) all emails sent to me from Saturday May 8 through Friday at noon, May 14. 

Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t like you or value your time. I do! And I want to hear from you. However, I’d ask you to reach out to me in a week.

Thanks for your grace. It’s a delight working alongside you.

For now, I rest.

Template You Can Fill In

Well, you got this auto-email because I’m on vacation. Actually, not just vacation – I’m trying to actually practice sabbath rest, even for a single week.

In a digital age of being constantly connected – and being a person with (reasons why you find it difficult to disconnect and rest) – I find this difficult. So for the next week of my life, this means three things:

  1. I will spend individual time with my (insert family members), (insert activities you will actually do to slow down, disconnect, and rest) and try to practice just 15 minutes of silence per day. 
  2. I will be shutting off my laptop completely, and temporarily deleting the email app from my phone, because I constantly check it, and find it difficult not to. 
  3. I will also never see the email you just sent me. The hard thing about time off for digital workers is that it all stacks up on us until we return, causing a low-level dread even on vacation. The solution: I will delete (and never see) all emails sent to me from (Insert beginning day, date) through (Insert ending day, date)

Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t like you or value your time. I do! And I want to hear from you. However, I’d kindly ask you to reach out to me in (insert duration of your vacation).

Thanks for your grace. It’s a delight working alongside you.

For now, I rest.

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Work

Why Faith & Work? (Part 2) – Work

Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series. To learn more, take a look at Why Faith & Work (Part 1).

We had lost our footing until Stephen Raifsnider showed up. Actually, I ripped it up. 

First the toilet clogged in our main floor bathroom — repeatedly. (How is that possible from such little girls?) So, I bought a new toilet from Home Depot, the kind you can flush seven pool balls down and still be good to go. 

As I unscrewed the toilet flange bolts which held my throne to the floor, I gently lifted the potty…only to have the cracked tile come with it. After looking at the shower (which didn’t work due to a broker diverter valve) and looking back at the cracked tile floor, I took the deep dive into what all homeowners must eventually face: the bathroom remodel.

After demolishing the bathroom (removing the cheap, builders-grade vanity and tossing it in the trash was surprisingly satisfying) and replacing the subflooring, we needed somebody to tile our bathroom. So, I called no less than five flooring companies. Finally, we got one on the calendar. Two days before the scheduled appointment, he sent a text. “I’m not feeling well. I don’t think I should come in today.” So, we called another. And (not joking), the next guy said the same thing. “Hey, I have a fever.” In COVID world — and in a world desperately short of skilled tradesmen — our bathroom remodel stopped completely. 

And then I met Stephen. 

Stephen is the 65-year-old owner of StoneFactor, a stone and tile contractor based in Denver. When I reached out, he responded to an email. His quote was fair. His work was highly reviewed. And he showed up when he said he would. 

The day Stephen arrived with his assistant Juan to tile our bathroom floor, we struck up a conversation as he was setting up his tile saw on my front deck. 

He had been a firefighter for 16 years before getting into the tile business. His business had grown, yet he now confessed he was getting “too old” to do it every day of the week. He also told me he attends a large church on the south side of the Denver area. 

As he peered at our wall hanging that read “Every Moment I Need Thee,” he asked about my work, gathering that we likely shared a common faith. After telling him about my job, he confessed that he wasdeeply troubled by one thing he had heard at church.  

“You know, Jesus says that ‘the servants are the greatest,’” he cautiously said, recalling a passage from the Gospels. “But what have I ever done for God? I mean, I’m not a pastor or a missionary.” He looked at me with an honest question, “Does this mean I won’t have a reward in heaven?” 

Why Work?

Why is focusing on the theme of work so important for the Christian church? I can think of at least three reasons. 

First, timeWe’ll spend one-third of our adult lives at work; some estimate over 90,000 hours. The reality is, we spend a tremendous amount of our lives working — from laying tile to sending email to attending meetings to tightening nuts and bolts. Life isn’t just work, but it certainly is a big chunk of it. 

If we don’t spend time thoroughly understanding why, how, and to what end we work, we end up divorcing our daily lives from our faith. This is rarely done intentionally. But the omission of the real context for our lives in communities of faith leads to living in two different worlds — church and work, values and facts, private and public. 

This lack of coherence leads to everything from the bewildering ethics violations in large public corporations by those who regularly teach Sunday school to the fiction that there is a “neutral” space in society where faith is optional. The truth is, we all worship something. And so do our companies, schools, clinics, and governments. Faith or some set of ultimate beliefs is indeed basic to all of human life and all institutions. 

Not to bring Christian faith to work means we unwittingly worship at the altar of some other god from 9 to 5. 

Second, influence. The total GDP of the American economy in 2019 was $21.43 trillion. That’s not just a lot of money, it’s an immense array of products and services, bought and sold each year. It’s also one measurement of the enormous influence of everyday workers. 

Work is where we shape one small corner of the world. For my mom, wife, and sister, it’s been public education. For my dad, it was print advertising. For my father-in-law, it was engineering everything from roads to sewer systems. For my grandpa, it was in a wood shop. For my kids, it’s in the classroom. Work is where we form human civilization, in all its specificity and beauty. 

What we see in so many ministries, churches and theological communities today is a tacit assumption that “ministry” is only for those who are paid by Christian nonprofit organizations. The Bible knows nothing of this. Though there is an important call to be a leader in a local church (1 Timothy 3:1), it also affirms that work of all kinds should be seen as “ministry” or “service” (Ephesians 4:12), whether that be driving kids to theater practice, grooming dogs, or selling earbuds at an Apple store. Work is one arena of our spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1-2). 

The question for Christians when they leave church on Sunday is whether they stay activated during the week. (This illustration of red dots by Neil Hudson at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity is one of my favorite pictures of the gravity of this truth.) The challenge is to bring the life of the resurrection from the worship, preaching, baptism and Eucharist of church into the lesson plans, client calls, or job sites of our daily life. 

Finally, pain. The truth is, work is a source of pain for nearly all of us: Christians, Muslims, Hindus, secularists, and everything in between. Projects don’t turn out as we hope. We’re humiliated by a boss or superior. Our career trajectory tanks rather than takes off. We struggle to afford the increasing costs of education, health care, or housing. 

One Gallup poll showed only 15% of the global workforce is engaged in their work, and nearly all of us are still longing for that holy grail of a job where “my deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

The secular story of work is one of success, a neat life of “up-and-to-the-right” stories, whether rags to riches or simply college to a well-paying job. Though Christians have their own prosperity gospel, the secular prosperity gospel of individual success and living my “personal destiny” is even more pervasive. 

The truth is, each of us suffers. Work is where we sense the “thorns and thistles” of a broken creation that groans for redemption (Romans 8:19). It’s also often the place we’re happy to flee at 5pm on Friday (or 3pm if you live in Denver). 

Only the cross can truly make sense of the suffering we experience in our work and daily lives. Only Jesus can truly understand the poor Latino laborer, for he too was a laborer. Only Jesus can truly walk alongside the dejected banker when he’s been fired, because he too endured the utter isolation of Calvary. Only Jesus can answer the deepest longings for purpose in work, because he was there when work was created and he’ll be there when work finds its final culmination in the heavenly city (Revelation 21-22).  

So why faith & work? Work is far too pervasive, expansive, and painful for the global Church to ignore. 

Laying Tile

When Stephen asked me this question about rewards in heaven, I was somewhat dumbfounded. He had gotten the impression from his church that the only truly valuable work was in paid occupational ministry. 

But here he was, on his hands and knees, laying tile, while I watched. Here he was humbly asking a question and eager to learn. Here he was laying tile and reflecting the work of him who “came not to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). Here he was doing a task for me I could not do on my own, with a gentle kindness I would not soon forget.

What’s the value of “faith and work” for Stephen Raifsnider? Perhaps it’s simply the knowledge that with each tile laid, the value of his work is much more than a contract. 

“Well done, good and faithful servant,” is the final reward for Stephen and all those who offer their work to God in love.


This is the second article of a three-part series on “Why Faith & Work?” The previous article focused on the gospel and why it matters for our work. The next article will talk about work and its importance to culture.

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Faith and Work MovementVocationWork

CityGate: Launching a New Initiative for Leaders

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why name it CityGate?

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

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

Why did you start CityGate?

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

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

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

What will CityGate do?

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

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

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

Why should I join?

Well, I’m glad you asked! 

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

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

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

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

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

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CultureTheologyWork

Easter is More than a Metaphor (Op-Ed for the Denver Gazette)

When I think of Easter, I think of the pink crabapple trees blossoming in early April along the north side of Caley Avenue in my home town of Littleton. 

I think of Easter egg hunts on budding green church lawns packed with girls in pastel dresses and boys in clip-on ties, carrying baskets filled with eggs, chocolate, and plastic green grass (that ends up on my carpet). I think of Easter brunch: fruit, egg bakes, and mimosas. And I think of leisurely walks through garden centers, smelling fresh soil, fresh seeds and new beginnings. 

Yet for me at least, the metaphor of Easter as a mere symbol is falling short. This year was simply filled with too much pain. 

This last year, I remember looking into a hazy, yellow sky and feeling the ash fall on my face from raging Colorado wildfires. I remember a friend of mine telling me about the piercing anxiety he felt as he watched from his balcony the dumpster fires move closer to home after the George Floyd protests. I remember walking along Civic Center Park and running my fingers along the splintered plywood now covering the windows of the old Denver Post building on 101 West Colfax. I remember the ghostly feeling of walking through an empty 16th Street Mall on a sunny April afternoon. I remember the tears my daughters cried when I told them their summer swim team, the Franklin Fish, had been canceled.

And this week, I remember the 10 lives lost in the Boulder King Soopers shooting, opening yet again the 20-year-old wound of Columbine that casts a shadow over our “best-state-to-live-in” reputation. 

Springtime sentimentality is no match for the harsh finality of death. 

And yet, Easter is not a metaphor. 

American poet and novelist John Updike once wrote:

Make no mistake: if He rose at all

It was as His body;

If the cells dissolution did not reverse, the molecules

Reknit, the amino acids rekindle

The Church will fall.

In other words, the Christian church and faith rests on a single, historical event: the resurrection of Jesus’ physical body. 

Updike writes, “Let us not mock God with metaphor, analogy, sidestepping transcendence,” alluding to the categorization of Christian faith as myth. The resurrection was not like a spring garden nor a parable of well wishes. Christians assert, “the same valved heart / that – pierced – died, withered, paused, and then / regathered out of enduring Might.” 

The early apostles struggled to believe in an actual, physical resurrection. Thomas famously said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my fingers where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” John the apostle reports Jesus’ reply: “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 

The New Testament authors were making a clear claim: Jesus was no ghost. He could be touched. He ate food with his disciples. He had a body. Here was no ancient mythology of life, death and rebirth. Death itself was being unraveled by the Author of Life. 

Denver can feel like a polarized place, like the rest of our country. Yet on Easter morning, men and women across the city declare a single truth with a rare unity. 

From the Episcopalians at Saint John’s Cathedral to the evangelicals of Fellowship Denver Church; from the multicultural worshippers at Colorado Community Church to the Pentecostals at Potter’s House; from the Anglicans at Wellspring Church in Englewood to the Wesleyans at Trinity Methodist tucked between skyscrapers at 18th and Broadway; from the professionals at Cherry Creek Presbyterian in the Tech Center to the homeless at Denver Rescue Mission to the online worshippers quarantined in their homes from Northglenn to Castle Pines — for one morning, each echo the words of an angel, “Do not be afraid, for I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see.” 

So what? What does the resurrection mean for a city still aching with emptiness, loss, and pain?

I believe it means three things. First, it means death is not the end. Second, it means that Christ has come not just to give meaning to life after death, but to bring his life to this world. His bodily resurrection is the beginning point of a new way to be human. And third, it means that the hard work ahead of reopening restaurants, helping students catch up, and rebuilding our economy is indeed work worth doing, because God seems to think this world is worth saving (John 3:16). 

Easter may not be a metaphor, but it is a new beginning. It reminds us that today is a time to plant, to hope, and to begin new projects that can bloom, like a budding crabapple blossom lining the streets of a waiting city. 

Jeff Haanen is the founder of Denver Institute for Faith & Work and the 5280 Fellowship, a nine-month experience in spiritual formation, professional development, and civic engagement for emerging leaders in Denver. This op-ed first appeared in the Denver Gazette.

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Work

How Effective is the 5280 Fellowship?

“How do you measure your results?” It’s usually not the first question I receive from a donor interested in our work, but it is the second or third. And it’s not always easy to answer. 

Measuring impact in the nonprofit sector can be tricky business. In the business world, it’s much more straightforward: profitability is still the standard-bearer for an “effective business.” But in the nonprofit sector, especially educational organizations like Denver Institute, our goal is to shape human lives. How would we know if we were effective at a program like, say, the 5280 Fellowship? 

The Process

In early 2020, we recruited two outside researchers — Stephen Assink (MAR) and Andrew Lynn (PhD), both from the University of Virginia — to help us with that question. As trained social scientists with experience doing research for the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture and the Thriving Cities Group, Stephen and Andrew brought both objectivity and expertise to our question. So, how did we tackle this question of impact?

First, we clarified our outcomes, which are all built around our five guiding principles. What do we mean by “effectiveness”? We mean people who think theologically about their work, embrace redemptive relationships, create good work, seek deep spiritual health, and serve others sacrificially in their communities and city. 

Second, we gave them an overview of the 5280 Fellowship program, and the elements we’ve built into the program to bring about real formation. City leader meetings, cohort discussions, mentoring triads, retreats, Saturday sessions, personal formation projects, professional impact projects — each element is carefully chosen to fuel change around our five guiding principles.

From there, Stephen and Andrew conducted both qualitative (interview) surveys and quantitative (online, multiple choice) surveys of pre-program participants (Year 5), and alumni — both recent graduates (Year 4) and our initial cohort (Year 1). 

Between 65 participants and 4,000 unique data points, what did they find?  

Measurable Results

Today we’re publishing 5280 Fellowship Assessment results, which is the first step in a multi-year study measuring the impact of the 5280 Fellowship. 

Here’s a sample of what we learned:

OutcomeIndicatorBefore After
Vocational MissionI view my work as a mission from God. 50%88%
Redemptive WorkI know how my work makes my city or culture better.71%100%
Spiritual GrowthI do weekly spiritual disciplines beyond Bible study or prayer.36%71%
Work RelationshipsMy spiritual disciplines improve my work habits. 78%95%
Civic EngagementI’m active in a nonprofit or civic organization. 29%50%

In the study, we measured the Fellows’ change in five areas: theology, relationships, views about their work, professional leadership, and civic engagement. 

We found strong growth particularly in three areas: theological thinking about their work and our culture, new and lasting relationships between  Fellows and leaders in our city, and adopting spiritual practices that lead to internal wholeness and health. 

One CEO said about the program, “I can’t stress enough how I’ve seen people’s mentality change as a result of the program.” A seminary lecturer commented about the program, “I think the biggest change for [the Fellows] is a shift from … an instrumental versus intrinsic value of work.” They now ask, “Does my work actually contribute toward the mission of God to reconcile all things to himself?”

Assink and Lynn also measured the 5280 Fellows in comparison with a control group of their evangelical peers across the US and found a marked difference in values and practices, especially with respect to weekly church attendance (49% national average compared to 76% for Fellows), participating in monthly in Bible study or prayer group (28% nationally, 80% Fellows), and pursuing excellence in their work because of their faith (78% nationally, 89% Fellows).

What It Means

Here’s what the report means for us and those we serve:

  1. Leading a Commitment to Measurable Change. Our goal is to lead the way in for similar programs across the nation to both measure their impact and to commit to the rigor of testing their hypotheses. Looking to larger studies like D. Michael Lindsay’s study on the White House Fellowship, we believe that early-career fellowship programs can and should be measured — and are critical in an emerging leader’s life. DIFW is a standard-bearer here for other faith-motivated and secular programs. 
  1. We Can Still Improve. The value of outside researchers is that they’re not there just to tell you how great you are. They found areas where we see less growth in our Fellows to date: growth in professional leadership and commitment to civic engagement and community involvement. As we plan and prepare to train leaders in other cities to launch their programs through CityGate, we are seeking to invest in improved processes, curriculum, and training that helps our Fellows truly live “from the inside out” and make a measurable impact on their workplaces, industries, and cities. We also need to do more study over time to see stronger correlations between the program and Fellows’ lives, careers, and civic impact. 
  1. It Works. The 5280 Fellowship — and the forthcoming CityGate Fellowships — really are effective. The educational model is a unique blend of spiritual formation, professional development, theological learning, network-building, leadership growth, and community engagement. Research has found that one’s twenties are an even more important time for career and leadership formation than college or even childhood. The 5280 Fellowship is blazing new ground in shaping men and women to love God, serve their neighbors, and demonstrate the gospel to an unbelieving world

For more information about becoming a Fellow, visit 5280Fellows.com. For information about how to financially support either the 5280 Fellowship or the CityGate initiative, please email [email protected]

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Work

Responding to the Changing World of Work (Part 2)

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble,” writes the author of Psalm 46. “Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging…. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts…. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

The changes to the world of work since the pandemic began feel like this psalm: waters roar, mountains quake, nations are in uproar, and my daily work rhythms just got blown up.  

Yet in this cultural context of change, Christians bring a unique perspective: the unchanging reality of God. If you’re a secular person, focused just on the individual and your ability to control your own destiny, the storyline is actually chaos. Each day is a grasping attempt to bring security and stability in a world being tossed by the fierce winds of an economic, social, and cultural storm.

In contrast, the Christian can breathe. “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

She believes Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). God is a rock and a fortress, an anchor that allows for stability, resolve, and peace even amidst turmoil (Psalm 18:2, Hebrews 6:19). It’s this foundation that both brings down the decibel level around current debates and allows people of faith to be reformers as citizens of another kingdom.

Following up on my first article, here I will suggest three macro changes to our world as a result of the pandemic, as well as how Christians might understand those changes and what practices we might consider in light of those truths.

Systemic Change #1: The tech sector will continue its pervasive growth into the economy.

Eventually we will go back to in-person gatherings and offices, but digital connectivity is speeding up. The world’s most powerful companies (Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and Google) are all in the tech sector and during the pandemic, each saw record stock prices. Zoom (and dozens of other video chat services) are here to stay.

Former Fed Chair Jerome Powell said that the pandemic accelerated technology trends that were already there, and many workers (especially women) lost competitive ground on their peers in 2020.  

Theological Frame: Vocation. How should we think about the pervasiveness of digital technology in our lives? Vocation isn’t first about job choice or “meaningful” work. Vocation calls us first to love God, and then our neighbor. It is a summons to offer ourselves completely to God in all areas of life, including our hearts, our family lives, and our work.

I believe vocation also puts a certain priority onproximity and place. When God speaks, He wakes us up from being connected to everyone and everywhere, and reconnects us to our real, daily lives. “I have a spouse and children. I have neighbors. I have family. I have co-workers.” Vocation pushes back on the “everything, anywhere, right now” culture of tech.  

There are positives and negatives to the tech sector and its growing influence on our work. But vocation reminds us first to be present to God and to our actual, embodied lives.

Practice: “Identity, Context, Practice.” Here’s a simple practice you might consider to interrupt the domination of screens over your working life. Close your laptop, find a notebook, and write down answers to three questions:

  • Who am I? (Identity)
  • Where am I? (Context)
  • Based on my answers to these two questions, how should I respond? (Practices)

Putting limits on tech resituates us back into our real, embodied lives, and can reattune the heart to hear the voice of God.

Systemic Change #2: Everything is politicized and workplace culture is anxious.

We’ve been on this train for a while, but the pandemic accelerated this trend. We also feel it at work. CEOs make statements on nearly every new social issue. We find it difficult to have a conversation with coworkers about issues we disagree on. People come to work on pins and needles, caught in an anxious cycle of news, performance, loneliness, and more news.

Theological Frame: Reconciliation. In such a tense environment, God calls his people to a message of reconciliation, as if “God were making his appeal through us,” (2 Corinthians 5:20). The New Testament idea of reconciliation conjures images of making peace between two warring parties — an image we’re not unfamiliar with in a culture of deep divisions that find their way into homes, churches, hospitals, schools, and workplaces. 

Practice: Spheres of Influence. How do we really become people of reconciliation in a hyper-politicized environment? How can we model gentleness, conviction, and real love for others as we seek to live out our faith amongst our coworkers and our areas of influence?

Part of the answer is to think through what we can control, what we can influence, and what we cannot control.

The temptation is to think that the news and the thick anxiety of our culture is something that we can and must change right now. But the constant influx of media fools us and fuels the workplace and personal anxiety that acts like an acid, burning through our most precious relationships and most important tasks.

With what we can control (attitudes, motivations, behaviors, use of our time), let’s offer them in worship, surrendering to God and living life “with God” at work. With what we can influence (other people), let’s witness, demonstrating the reconciling love of God to others through our work and with our words. And finally — this is important — what we can’t control, we release. Don’t hang on to the news and global events, believing you can control more than you can. Pray and release those things to God and ask him to do the cosmic work of reconciliation that only he can do (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Systemic Change #3: Social and economic disparities are vast — and growing.

You’ve probably heard the term a K-shaped recovery. It comes from looking at a graph: as we recover from the pandemic, those connected to education, technology, and financial capital will come out ahead. Those with less education, less connection to tech, and in a lower income bracket are bearing the brunt of the negative impact of the pandemic.

The pandemic didn’t cause these macro trends, but again, it is accelerating trends that sociologists like Robert Putnam at Harvard University have seen growing since the mid-1960s. Inequality is now as vast as the Gilded Age (the late 1800s).

Theological Frame: Shalom. Shalom is a word that encompasses ideas of both peace and justice. It is about right relationship with God, with ourselves, and with others in our community. Shalom is about wholeness spreading from peace with God to restoration in our cities. The prophet Jeremiah insists that there can be no shalom until there is an end to oppression, greed, and violence in our social relationships (Jeremiah 6:1-9; 8:11). In an age of vast disparities, which the pandemic has made worse, the call of God is to “establish justice in the gate” (Amos 5:15).

Practice: Creation and Compassion.If you’re one of the lower- to middle-income workers, let me say this to you: God is with you. Feel his hope and his power. He has called you to himself and sent you to serve him with the talents he’s entrusted to you (1 Peter 4:10). You may be serving him in a job you don’t like, or you may be struggling to find a job. Either way, God is with you. Your secular counterpoints may cheer you on, too — but it’s just cheerleading. As a Christian, you actually have the Triune God at your side. He is with you and calling you to create (Genesis 2:15).

If you’re a higher-income worker who hasn’t been very affected by the pandemic, now’s the time to get in the game. You’re called to love and serve those with less power than you. There are so many opportunities to get involved: through your church, by offering opportunity to an entry-level employee, by getting involved with charities serving low-income communities. God is calling you to compassion (1 John 3:17).  

The world of work has changed. Yet Christians have a unique foundation and calling to rest in God’s character, listen to his voice, seek reconciliation, and work for justice through our work.

“The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our Fortress.”


The first article of this series took a look at three macro trends and how the pandemic changed our work. For more resources on faith and work, subscribe to the Faith & Work Podcast or sign up for a free account on the Faith & Work Classroom  

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