There’s a small handful of you who read this blog who’ve also been instrumental in the formation and growth of Denver Institute for years. You’ve given time, prayers, money and wisdom to DIFW and to those we serve….for which I am deeply grateful.
Today we reach another milestone: our new website. (The first one I created in the evenings while working at a school – while knowing nothing about WordPress! It showed!) For me, it marks a step in our maturation as an organization and more evidence of God’s grace in our city.
On the new website, you’ll notice new pages the better articulate our mission and serve men and women across Colorado:
Gary, our Communications Director, has built in some fun for our launch day. He has planted an “Easter egg” on the site – and whoever finds it, get’s a prize. Watch the DIFW newsletter for more information!
Today, would you do a big favor and share our new website with your friends online? Here are a few sample posts for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Email:
Today one of my favorite nonprofits, Denver Institute for Faith & Work, launches their new website! Check it out: https://denverinstitute.org
What does faith matter for our work? Check out Denver Institute’s new website: https://denverinstitute.org/why/
Curious about finding your calling? Check out the newly relaunched Denver Institute website to learn more: https://denverinstitute.org/blog/
Thanks again, friends. (You may even find your picture on the site!) Thanks again for your support through the years – and your continued support into the future.
“The real issue we face today,” says Robin John, CEO of Eventide Funds, an asset management company, “is that investors are divorced from their investing.” Most of us invest money for retirement in mutual funds, but many of us also have no real idea of which companies we own, or even how the companies we invest in are being operated.
In April I had the chance to visit the Eventide Funds team in Boston (along with my adorable daughter Lily), to go a little deeper.
In a new DIFW short film (5:23), crafted by award-winning documentary film-maker Nathan Clarke, Finny Kuruvilla, Jason Myre and the Eventide Funds team ask pressing questions about values-based investing, investing as ownership, and how God’s purpose for business might shape our retirement portfolios.
Don’t have time to watch the whole video now? Watch these excerpts and share with a friend.
Note: The following is a speech I gave at the January 13, 2017 fundraiser “Work Makes the World.” To make a donation to Denver Institute, go to our give page.
Thank you for coming tonight. Thanks for Jim Howey and Steve Hill hosting us at Blender Products, and thank you to Cañon Catering for the delightful meal. And thank you to our table sponsors.
And in case I don’t get another chance: a huge thank you to Joanna Meyer, our Program Director at DIFW, for organizing this tonight. Incredible work.
I’m often asked by friends and donors why I started Denver Institute for Faith & Work (DIFW) in 2013. Seems like a strange thing to do in the evenings while working a full-time job that barely paid the bills!
I’d like to share with you tonight three reasons why I started DIFW back in 2013.
I want to camp on the question of why because What we do is easier to explain: we’re a Denver nonprofit that provides theological education on issues of work, calling and culture. Or put in other terms: through our programming we provide a continuing Christian liberal arts education for business leaders, doctors, engineers, pastors, lawyers, creatives, craftsmen, and other professionals in the day-to-day challenges of their careers.
But why grow and build an institution committed solely committed to Christian faith and what it means for our work? Why invest in such an endeavor?
When asked that question, I generally respond that “I started Denver Institute because of three growing convictions in my heart about: (1) the mission of the church, (2) Christian cultural involvement, and (3) the transformative effects of responding to God’s call.”
Conviction #1: Work is critical to the church’s mission in the 21st century.
About 10 years ago I went to seminary. This means I learned how to diagram sentences of Greek grammar, defend the doctrine of the hypostatic union, and play Frisbee golf. I also learned, especially in the years after seminary, that the best theology lessons usually happen at Jake’s Brew Pub in Littleton, Colorado.
In some of these conversations with my friends, I began to digest theologians like Lesslie Newbigin, N.T. Wright, C.S Lewis, and Dorothy Sayers. I came to believe that our daily work was essential – not tangential — to the mission of the church.
Take for example, John Stott. He was an Anglican priest and many see him as the leader of the Evangelical movement in the latter half of the 20th Century. I picked up his book Christian Mission in the Modern World, written in the 1970s. What, he asks, is the mission of the church?
Earlier in his life, he would have pointed only to the Great Commission: Go, make disciples, baptize. But later in his life he came to believe that just as Jesus was sent into the world as a servant, it’s the church’s mission not only to proclaim the gospel but also to serve the needs of the world.
Here’s what he says: “Jesus Christ calls all his disciples to ‘ministry,’ that is, to service. This much is certain: if we are Christians we must spend our lives in the service of God and man. The only difference between us lies in the nature of the service we are called to render.” Some will be pastors. Beautiful. Others commerce, law, education, medicine, manufacturing or farming, government, or homemaking. This is their form of service, their part in God’s mission.
In the years after seminary, this solved a puzzle for me. I felt a strong desire to serve God, but I failed gloriously at being a pastor – every church I applied to rejected my application. A being a lifelong overseas missionary never felt right. Had I missed something? Since I wasn’t in “ministry”, had I failed? I’ve had this conversation with hundreds of men and women: Aren’t I supposed to be doing something more spiritual than this job?
As is, most of us in the the church today see mission merely as a two week trip overseas or a volunteer activity downtown.
But what if mission included these things, but touched a much broader swath of human life?
I started to ask, what if the church was sent out into all of creation, including fields like manufacturing, retail, the trades, business or health care? What if work was at the heart of all-of-life discipleship; to bringing the good news of Jesus to every area of our secular culture; and to humbly serving the needs of our world, from providing good paying jobs to America’s working class to caring for terminally-ill patients?
My first conviction that led to the founding of Denver Institute was that a renewed focus on work was necessary to carry out a broader understanding of the gospel, one that sees the death and resurrection of Jesus renewing every corner of the world.
This is core to the church’s own mission – yet so often overlooked. In the words of Steve Reinemund, former Pepsi CEO and Dean of the Wake Forest Business School, “The workplace is the greatest mission field there is.”
Conviction #2: Work is at the heart of Christian cultural engagement.
The values we bring to work and the products and services we make at work form the unspoken heart of our civilization. As go our businesses, hospitals, government institutions, schools and workplaces, so goes our world.
Let me give you an example. In December, I had the privilege of profiling Robin John, the founder of a mutual fund company called Eventide Funds, for Christianity Today. One of his first jobs after graduating from college took him from Boston back to India, the land of his birth, to train new employees. One day, staying in the guest house of an Indian firm, he asked the housekeepers where they slept. He discovered that in the four-bedroom house, they slept in a closet behind the kitchen on the concrete floor, with just a mat and rags for a pillow. Outraged, he notified his company of the housekeepers living conditions – but the two men begged him not to pursue the the matter or they’d lose their jobs and be back in the slums.
When Robin returned to the US, the air of his bank’s home office was also heavy with tension. Outsourcing to India meant cutting jobs in the US. Now his American co-workers would also plea with them: “If my job is going to India, you have to let me know. I’ve got a family.”
Robin had an “Aha” moment. “I started realizing that work is not just work. People’s lives are being impacted.” Work was shaping the culture around him – and shaping people’s lives.
Today, we gather together at Blender Products, a local metal manufacturer, to say “Work Makes the World.” Work makes our buildings, our schools, our clinics, our laws, our art, our policies, and our wealth.
And Christians have been at it for centuries: Fourth century Bishop Basil of Caesarea created the first public hospital; Italian merchants set the foundations for capitalism in the 12th century; Bach wrote symphonies, signing them Soli Deo Gloria; Ministers created the majority of American universities in the early republic well before they secularized in the late 19th and early 20th century; Martin Luther King led the civil rights movement as a Baptist preacher and Francis Perkins advocated for labor rights. Work not only makes the world, it makes – or breaks – civilizations.
Yet it stands today, and really for the last half century or so, many Christians have felt that the only way to influence culture is through electing the right political leaders in Washington. As we can see in a fractured republic, this has not worked out well for us. Our witness has been comprised by aligning ourselves with political ideologies, and the church has less influence than ever in America history. Washington is important, but it cannot solve the great moral crises of our day. We cannot pass the buck any longer; it is our responsibility to care for our neighbors.
There’s a better way: No need to wait until the next election to influence culture – the chance to shape culture is staring us in the face every Monday morning. The choices we make daily in health care, finance, philanthropy, science, education, raising families — this is where we can best shape culture.
Conviction #3: Men and women who respond to God’s call in their professional lives have a transformative impact on those around them.
When I began to see this, the phrase “Faith and work” for me became synonymous with St Irenaeus famous statement: “The glory of God is man fully alive.”
Example abounded. Bill Kurtz, spurred by a sense of God’s call, founded Denver Schools of Science and Technology over a decade ago, whose students now perform in the top 5% of DPS schools, and 100% of whom have been accepted to a 4-year college. One of our guests tonight, Barry Rowan, financially turns around a publicly-traded company, saving hundreds of jobs – and doing so as a response to the Holy Spirit’s prompting. Two of our Fellows, whom you’ll hear from tonight – Banks Benitez and Rachel Moran – start social enterprises around the world and defend racial minorities in court from systemic discrimination.
The historic response of Protestants to God’s call on their lives and work laid the foundations for global capital markets, the spread of literacy, and better health care, and higher volunteer involvement in nongovernmental institutions throughout the world.
University of Virginia professor James Davison Hunter, “In short, fidelity to the highest practices of vocation before God is consecrated and in itself transformational in its effects.”
As it is today, though, we have two enormous problems facing us at work. One one side, we undervalue work. Gallup polls show that only 13 percent of employees worldwide are “engaged” in their jobs — that is, they are consistently emotionally invested in, and focused on creating value for, their organizations. 63 percent are not engaged and 24 percent are actively disengaged.
Perhaps even more concerning is that the labor participation rate in America has steadily been dropping for the past 50 years. Today, about 10 million prime age men (25-54) are either unemployed or have dropped out of the workforce altogether — not even looking for work. Our attitudes about work have drifted significantly from historic ideas about calling.
On the other side, many of the upwardly mobile nearly worship their work. It becomes our primary source of meaning and value – until one day our hearts tell us the pursuit of mere career success has left us spiritually empty.
But there’s a middle way between undervaluing or overvaluing our work. For those who see their work as a gift from God and chance to serve their neighbor – that is, as a vocation – social, economic, and cultural ripple effects leaven entire communities. Tonight, we’ll have the chance to hear one of those stories right here in Denver, that of Karla Nugent, co-founder of Weifield Group Electrical Contracting.
Those were my three convictions that led to the founding of Denver Institute: the mission of the church, Christian cultural involvement, and the power of responding to God’s call.
Yet as I’ve been doing this work for the past four years now, a fourth reason has emerged. It’s invisible, yet it’s become the most important one for me.
Let me tell you a story about the Haanen family dinner table. I think we were arguing about asparagus. I had just sat down to dinner with my wife and daughters and amidst the noise and food flying to plates, I started to eat. I love asparagus. I really do. But when I waited until half way through the meal to put in on my plate, my wife made a comment, I retorted, and before I knew it, we were arguing about asparagus.
It had been a long week. She went downstairs and I started clearing the table, bewildered at what just had happened. My three girls were silent. So, in a vain attempt at humble confession, I said to our 6 year-old, “Sierra, there’s sin in the world. One day Jesus will come and wipe away all of our sin. You know what sin is, right Sierra?”
She replied. “Oh yeah dad. Like when you put Denver Institute in the place of God.”
I froze. In the weeks prior, I realized I had made work an idol. I realized at that point something critical: Because of my own sin, I might be causing just as many problems at DIFW as I’m solving. I need to change, grow, and mature – and I find this incredibly hard to do.
In 1910, a London newspaper sent out a question to their readers: “What’s the biggest problem in the world?” As you can imagine, they got a wide variety of responses: war, poverty, lack of education, access to health care, corruption. GK Chesterton, the famous author, wrote back a short response to the question “What’s the biggest problem in the world today?” He wrote to the editors, “Dear Sirs, I am. Sincerely Yours, G.K. Chesterton.”
He knew we can’t solve the world’s problems and forget the central problem: the sin in our own hearts. Christians have what Immanuel Kant called “a crooked timber” view of humanity. We’re bent to the side. Sin shows up even in our best efforts to serve the world.
The challenge: we live in an age of what philosopher Charles Taylor calls “exclusive humanism,” the view that we humans can solve whatever problems we have without need of God. And we’ve all seen this. We’ve been to fundraisers for every social issue under the sun and read daily about new technologies or companies that will make us live longer, happier, and healthier. It feels like our culture has said that God is unnecessary for our public life.
But as I take a look at even myself in the last week, the times I lost patience with my kids or was short with a co-worker, I haven’t even lived up to my own standards. I am bent. I am often overwhelmed, and filled with anxiety. I can’t even fix myself! I need God.
I need a community that can help me to find and serve God in my working life. That is what I hope Denver Institute for Faith & Work will become.
When I think of the future, I’m filled with hope and gratitude.
We at DIFW can’t solve all of our city’s problems. But because, as the old hymn says, “Our hope is built, on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness”, I have a deep hope for what God might do through us in the coming years. And so I dream.
What might it look like to build a gathering of business leaders in Colorado committed to a deep walk with Christ, strong theological thinking about wealth creation and business practices, and to serving the key social needs of our state? What might it look like to leverage the power of the internet to equip the global church in the area of faith, work and culture? What might it look like in 10 years, when the 5280 Fellows are leading in industries across Colorado, and do so with a deep humility?
I’m grateful you’ve come tonight to join us on the journey. You have my deep gratitude. I hope you enjoy the evening we have planned.
“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?
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…
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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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]).
Today is Colorado Gives Day, Colorado’s biggest one-day event to give to your favorite nonprofit. As I take a look at the past year, I can see all kinds of reasons to give to Denver Institute for Faith & Work (but hey, since I’m the Executive Director, I’m biased!). But perhaps one of the best reasons to give is the stories of hope we’ve told this past year.
As you give today to your favorite charities, enjoy these stories of men and women in Colorado being a cultural witness to the “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10) through their work. Merry Christmas!
Jim DeWeese, Owner of Trademark Electric, shares about his calling to hire a man from transitional housing and the satisfaction he finds in being a part of “God’s redemptive story” as an electrician.
Ellen Snyder, a 91 year old volunteer, shares about her calling to serve at the St. Francis Center and live a more redemptive retirement.
Trevor Lee, pastor at Trailhead Church in Littleton, shares about his calling to pastoral ministry, and why he’s found joy in helping other men and women find their callings.
Matt Turner, CFO at MorningStar Senior Living, shares about how his company serves seniors and gives them a chance to live out their own callings in the last third of life.
Helen Hayes, a mother and former investment manager, shares about her struggle to balance work and family – and the joy of knowing she lives ultimately for an “Audience of One.”