Jeff Haanen

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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 For information about how to financially support either the 5280 Fellowship or the CityGate initiative, please email [email protected].


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Notes: Learning for Moral Formation


I find that becoming good is difficult, painfully difficult. As I’ve been on my own moral journey, I’ve become more interested in the question, “How are people morally formed, especially in contexts of work, for the sake of leadership?”  In other words, what tend to be the social, spiritual and psychological elements present in a person’s life when they experience significant moral transformation? Might it be possible to even design such learning experiences that lead to moral formation?

Below are some rough notes I’ve written on what I think tends to be the process of moral formation, especially for adults. I’ve posted them on this blog hoping you’ll help me to refine my idea. I’d be grateful if you’d reply on elements I’ve left out, overemphasized, or should not have included. I look forward to getting your feedback.

Notes: Learning for Moral Formation 

1. Learning begins when an individual with a self-identified Problem/Need/Point of Suffering joins a high commitment Community. The Community is first formed by an Emotional/Relational context of genuine vulnerability, bound together by a common Story or Universal History and defined by a set of shared Habits and Practices.

2. Over time, there is a deeper engagement of Ideas and intellectual concepts, discussed in community that affirm the story; a Broader Network which exposes students to new emotions, stories, ideas, habits, and practices; Significant Work which the student is called to perform, challenging the use of new skills and knowledge; and Public Recognition for accomplishment, affirming inclusion in the community and signaling value to the broader public.

3. Through relationship the community facilitates a Deeper Self-Awareness and cultivates new Spiritual Disciplines which open the soul to the transformative power of the Holy Spirit.

Change is facilitated through a combination of:

  • Genuine relationship/friendship
  • Emotional vulnerability and deeper self-awareness
  • A set of new habits and spiritual practices, learned principally through imitation
  • Elevated “loves” founded in a deep, all-encompassing story or theory of history
  • Ideas and concepts which challenge the status quo
  • The interplay between new practices and projects, and learning from those practices (both successes and failures) in community
  • A broader social network, particularly across vocational, ethnic, and gender barriers, and opportunities for professional advancement through loose mentoring networks
  • Learning in context (workplace, clinic, business) rather than a static environment (classroom)
  • The acquisition of new work-related skills, perspectives, and opportunities usually learned not abstractly but through modeling and imitation within the community
  • Developing the habit of leadership, solving problems and taking initiative
  • A deeper sense of both personal humility yet an increased sense human agency
  • “Sending.” A comparison of where the student started, and where she/he is at today

To further study:

  1. Spiritual Formation (Disciplines)
  2. Adult Learning (Conscious direction of learning, isolating need)
  3. Psychology (Habits, emotions, relationships, past)
  4. Narrative and Film (Story)
  5. History (Story)
  6. Psychology (Emotions)
  7. Sociology (Golden web & networks; cultural formation, networks & institutions)
  8. Theology (Virtue, discipleship, biblical studies)
  9. Leadership Studies (Significant work, influence)
  10. Higher Education (Core ideas; New Skills, etc.)
  11. Neuroscience (Brain studies)
  12. Physiology (Habit, Workplace Rhythms as Formative)
  13. Economics (Work, commerce)

Education and Christian Faith


As soon as Christians bring up the topic of faith and education, they quickly divide into two camps. On one side are those that argue passionately for educational equity, and see the foundational expression of the Christian faith in public education as one of equal access and “closing the achievement gap.” Here, justice is the issue.

On the other side are those in Christian schools and home schools who see the integration of faith and education as a plain matter of teaching Bible, theology, and the “Christian worldview” as the centerpiece of the educational experience. For them a version of “Christian education” is the answer. Here, truth is the issue.

Yet what I find disturbing is that these two groups rarely talk to each other. And instead versions of name calling usually take place. Those committed to public schools will call Christian school and homeschool families “separatists,” – they’re ignoring the needs of their community and instead living in a “holy huddle” instead of being “salt and light” in the world. And those in the Christian school and homeschool world look at those in public school with disbelief: how could you let a secular government raise your kids? Don’t you know there’s no such thing as a neutral education?

And because parents have made these decisions for their children, their most precious of treasures, any suggestion that they have made a wrong or “unChristian” decision is most likely to incur rage rather than rational discourse. For this reason, nearly every pastor I’ve ever spoken to about this issue refuses to bring it up. Why incur the wrath of moms on both side when I can just avoid it all together, and say, “Well, it’s a personal choice.”

What we lack almost completely is a view of faith influencing the practice of education itself.

Let me try to explain with an illustration. Last week, a well known Christian advocate for educational equity came to Denver and gave a conference at a church. She spoke about her organization, the needs of low-income students around the US, and the idea that access to a quality education is a moral issue – an issue that all Christians that care about justice should support and act upon. What followed were illustrations of Christians in after-school mentoring programs and families moving into low-income neighborhoods to send their kids to underperforming schools. Her argument was supported by biblical verses about justice.

Then the issue of prayer in public schools came up. Shouldn’t kids have the right to pray in school? What about before sports games? But after some discussion, the presenters (and pastors) agreed that Christians shouldn’t just be interested in praying in school – they must simply serve the needs of their community, which, again, meant educational equality.

What was never even brought up was how the Christian faith should influence the actual teaching and learning process. Because we’ve so largely accepted the idea that the gospel belongs in the private sphere (home and personal life, or in this context, homeschool and Christian school), we’ve by and large accepted the idea that speaking the gospel in a public school context is either rude or possibly illegal, and utilizing the gospel as a framework for understanding our work in public education is simply inappropriate.

So what are you saying? That public school teachers should share their faith in front of the classroom – maybe quote a few Bible verses before literature class? Realistically, any Christian teacher that did this would get a barrage of phone calls from parents – and possibly a severe reprimand from her principal. This path won’t realistically work in a pluralistic society.

But I am saying that in a republic that protects freedom of religious expression, there ought to be freedom for Muslims, Christians, Jews, secular humanists, Hindus, or those with modern scientific worldview to openly express their beliefs. Teachers could obviously not lead prayers, but neither should they feel forced to lie about the reasons why they act, think, or speak as they do. Stephen Prothero’s book Religious Literacy cites the huge need that public school kids have for just understanding what religions believe – and several Supreme Court decisions that have protected the teaching of world religions in a public school context.

This alone would be a huge step forward. Right now, people of any explicit faith tradition feel afraid to even share what they believe openly. Instead, a dark cloud of silence rests on most public schools – and students leave schools largely ignorant of history’s most influential movements, ideas and beliefs.

But this is not what I’m arguing for. We need to begin a conversation (or, more accurately, continue from centuries past) about how the Christian faith can and should influence our actual practice of education within a pluralistic society. I see this happening on two planes: (1) placing religion back in the category of knowledge and (2) exploring the subtle, “subversive” ways in which Christian doctrine can influence how and what we teach – and so better serve students and communities.

First, teachers need to ask the basic question, Can claims about God, the supernatural, or even ethics in general be true or false in the same sense that there are true and false answers in calculus or chemistry? In the science labs, teachers expect students to have the right answers, but in literature and “religious studies” it is personal opinion that reigns supreme. Even though the vast majority of school districts would say they want their students to be people of “character” or “integrity,” when teachers try to define exactly what those are – and then teach students about a clear right and wrong, like a mathematics answer can be right or wrong – they are generally left with little institutional support.

A hard question to ask is this: Did Jesus rise from the dead? On Sunday, Christians would say, “Oh, yes. Absolutely.” But when pressed in a public school context, many of those same teachers would say, “Well, that’s what I believe.” But the question remains – did Jesus rise from the dead in the same, plain historical sense in which Caesar crossed the Rubicon or Pompeii was buried in ashes by a volcano? By raising these types of questions, public school teachers can at least highlight the historical claims of the Christian faith, and begin to usher religion back into the category of knowledge – something that can be either true or false. Something that students should all investigate for themselves.

This first strategy I see is one that will largely raise the tension level in many classroom settings. But the second strategy I think can be more covert and “subversive” – but also more of a widespread blessing to people of many backgrounds and beliefs.

My friend Bill Kurtz, the CEO of Denver Schools of Science and Technology, has built a network of public charter schools that are some of the best in the US. And he has done this in part by bringing his underlying Christian faith to bear on how he sees the human person, the human condition, and his motive for serving. So, for example, he believes students are made in God’s image but are fallen and in need of restoration. And so on Wednesday mornings all students at his schools gather to both praise students who have lived out the schools values and to hear public apologies from students who skip class or don’t “do their best” – one of the school’s core values. Restoration is a part of their school’s culture.

He also believes that each student has great potential, black and white, rich and poor, quick learner or slow. He shares this belief with his co-workers from many faith backgrounds – but it is nonetheless significant that he is animated by a hope that each student has value and each student can succeed and attend college. Such an overt and pervasive hope is indeed rare in public education. But he brings this hope ultimately from the story out of which he is living. (It is a hope which has led him to launch 8 schools so far, with 6 more planned in the next 8 years.)

Here both Christian school / homeschool and public school teachers need to begin a more robust conversation about faith and education by asking how doctrines like creation, incarnation, justification, original sin, and eschatology influence everything from how we evaluate the critical thinking movement to how we structure our lesson plans. (This, by the way, is needed just as much in Christian schools as it is in public schools.) This is the mostly untested, untried arena of Christian faith and education in a pluralistic setting. And here Christians ought to be unafraid to venture, because we believe (for there is no knowledge without belief, said Augustine) that the Christian faith is the best revealer of reality – for all people at all times and in all places.

Here is the great conversation we must begin between Christian faith and education. Here is a project that brings us beyond offended parents, fearful teachers, and cultural assumptions that say we must choose either justice or truth. Here is a better way than either crusading for our religious rights or passively adopting the assumptions of secular humanism. Here is the needed cultural space we must create between church and school – a space that is more faithful to God and a better servant of our neighbors.


The Music of the Universe


Rarely do I finish a book and exclaim, “I have never even thought about most of these ideas.” Yet when I finished Stratford Caldecott’s Beauty for Truth’s Sake, I was dumbfounded. Although a bit heavy in quotations in some spots, this book opened a new world to me. That new world was the unity of knowledge. Christians often teach about not dividing sacred from secular and integrating the Bible into all of life, but most of these efforts amount to very little other than applying obscure Bible passages in strange ways. Caldecott, a Catholic theologian at Oxford, has given Christians interested in education a new vocabulary for “Christian worldview.”

The book is about the classical Liberal Arts tradition of the West that “once offered a form of humane education that sought the integration of faith and reason, and that combined the arts and the sciences, before these things became separated, fragmented, and trivialized.” For Caldecott, this tradition can only be recovered by going back to the sources (ressourcement). The most important source for Caldecott is not Boethius, Augustine or even Socrates and Plato. It is Pythagoras. Pythagoras? The right-angle triangle guy? That’s what I mean by “I’ve never even thought about that before.”

Caldecott introduces the book by quoting Pope Benedict at length. His book The Spirit of the Liturgy attempts to connect prayer and action, the soul and the exterior world, society and the universe, into a single harmonious whole. The ordering of the soul is deeply connected, of all things, to the mathematical ordering of time, space and matter. I’ll join Caldecott and quote Pope Benedict at length:

“Among the Fathers, it was especially Augustine who tried to connect this characteristic view of the Christian liturgy with the worldview of Greco-Roman antiquity. In his early work ‘On Music’ he is still completely dependent on the Pythagorean theory of music. According to Pythagoras, the cosmos was constructed mathematically, a great edifice of numbers. Modern physics, beginning with Kepler, Galileo and Newton, has gone back to this vision and, through the mathematical interpretation of the universe, has made possible the technological use of its powers.

“For Pythagoreans, this mathematical order of the universe (‘cosmos’ means ‘order’!) was identical with the essence of beauty itself. Beauty comes from meaningful inner order. And for them this beauty was not only optical but also musical. Goethe alludes to this idea when he speaks of the singing contest of the fraternity of the spheres: the mathematical order of planets and their revolutions contains a secret timbre, which is the primal form of music. The courses of the revolving planets are like melodies, the numerical order is the rhythm, and the concurrence of the individual courses is the harmony…

“But a further step was taken with the help of the Trinitarian faith, faith in the Father, the Logos [the Son], and the Pneuma [Holy Spirit]. The mathematics of the universe does not exist by itself, nor, as people now came to see, can it be explain by stellar deities. It has a deeper foundation: the mind of the Creator. It comes from the Logos, in whom, so to speak, the archetypes of the world’s order are contained. The Logos, through the Spirit, fashions the material world according to these archetypes. In virtue of his work in creation, the Logos is, therefore called the ‘art of God’. The Logos himself is the great artist, in whom all works of art—the beauty of the universe—have their origin.”

Let me try to summarize with my pea-sized brain: All of creation and thus all knowledge finds its source in Jesus, the Logos, the great bridge between God and man. He creates the world through an great ordering of all things (Genesis says God created order from chaos). This order is mathematical and constant, and the universe itself is set to a kind of rhythm that resembles a cosmic song. This “great edifice of numbers” carries with it a serene simplicity and unity that can only be called beautiful.

Western civilization lost its connection to a cosmic order at the Enlightenment. All was separated and dissected when, at the same time, it lost its faith in God. God became relevant only to one’s personal values, but was dethroned as God of the Universe. But in this vision of the world – this old vision – the natural world is the overflow of the Mind of the Maker. God is Lord of both the individual as well as the universe. Caldecott is trying to re-infuse meaning into education by recovering an ancient view of the world’s unity in Christ.

Like I said, I’ve never even thought about most of these ideas. I think this book will require several blog posts…

This post appeared originally on Redeeming Education.

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