Jeff Haanen

Articles Tagged with

faith and work movement

Faith and Work MovementTheologyWork

Broader, Not Deeper


What will allow more pastors to see the importance of work for their church and its mission? How might the faith and work movement help pastors and seminaries to embrace ministry models that equips men and women to serve Christ in the wide array of professions in our culture today? And why is this so difficult?

Last year, I interviewed Michael Lindsay, president of Gordon College, about his new book View from the Top. One of the lasting highlights from our conversation was about his research on the White House Fellows, a leadership development experience that had shaped a significant majority of the 500+ “platinum” leaders in his study. The vast majority of these leaders had experienced a “broadening education” during their time as White House Fellows. Fellows had candid, off-the-record conversations with everybody from zoologists to members of the President’s cabinet. Through this experience, they developed a taste for seeing issues in society broadly, not only from the perspective of their own field,  but from the perspective of others as well.

The reason, says Lindsay, this is so important for leadership development is that most of our career tracks drive us to becoming technicians, not generalists. We go through school and our early career, perhaps get a professional degree, and then get technically proficient at a single thing – whether that be creating pitch books or operating on a L5 vertebrae. And usually, these jobs are handsomely remunerated. The problem is that we have less and less of an incentive to see the broad world outside of our field, and what those kinds of work mean for building a good society. We may start off with a liberal arts education, but we very rarely cultivate a liberal arts lifestyle.

For example, Lindsay interviewed John Mendelsohn, who just stepped down as the head of MD Anderson Cancer Center. Mendelsohn was a top-flight scientist at a prestigious research institution. When Lindsay interviewed him for View from the Top, he asked Mendelsohn what book was on his nightstand. Surely a book on cancer research, or science more broadly. Right? No. The history of opera. Mendelsohn was reading about the history of opera before falling asleep! Why? Because he wanted to know more about the world he lived in.

This practice of broad learning, not deep, is core, says Lindsay, to a kind of leadership that is good for society in general. I’d also argue that it is core to helping more ministry professionals see the world of work outside the walls of a church.

So often, when we teach about professional growth, we go further and further into our own disciplines. More management theory for executives, or more biblical commentaries for pastors. But more often than not, the deepest growth happens at the intersection between fields and the relationships of people leading in vastly different sectors. (This idea has also influenced the formation of the 5280 Fellowship.)

Within the faith and work movement, we often ask the question: how will more leaders of God’s church start seeing the centrality of work to God’s restoration of his creation? We typically do what most professional development programs do: get more people to see it our way. Ask them to read Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavor or Tom Nelson’s Work Matters.  Or come to a conference where Steve Garber or Amy Sherman are speaking. These are all good things to do. Tim, Tom, Steve and Amy are incredible human beings, and we should read more of their work.

But I don’t actually think that an initial step further into theology is the right move. What’s lacking for most is not good theology but good anthropology. Many pastors are wonderful theologians, correctly exegeting Bible passages, expounding gospel-centered ministry, and speaking of God’s kingdom and His redemption coming to all aspects of the world. What we can’t actually see, often, is the world and what human beings are actually doing in that world. We see elders, youth ministry workers, deacons, and volunteers, but it’s hard to see executive coaches, cashiers, community college administrators, nurses, and homeschooling moms filling the pews.

Most men and women need to learn only one other field to grow in the integration of faith and work: theology. Pastors, however, need to not only know theology, but all the fields their people work in: something of finance, K-12 education, health care, retail, manufacturing, agriculture and the social sciences. For starters.

What practices can help church leaders to see the world in which we live, and what Christian faith means for that world? To begin with, I’d say to temporarily put down the Bible commentary, and start to look broader, not deeper.

Here are three places to start:

  1. Broad Reading. Drawn to reading Tim Keller or James K.A. Smith? Read American history or the Wall Street Journal Drawn to Fox News? Flip on MSNBC. Love reading systematic theology? Me too. But just to toss in a curve ball, consider 18th century literature, or classic psychology. If you’re stuck, ask a friend about their work, and try to read one foundational work in that field before the year’s out. This broad reading will allow us to see a bigger view of “the city” we so often like to talk about renewing – and all the thorny, complex, and beautiful issues and industries in that city.
  1. Broad Listening. I’m so guilty here. Generally speaking, when I feel out of my league after the inevitable “What do you do?” question, I steer the question back to a topic I’m a pro in. It’s easier that way, and I don’t feel stupid when my friend is speaking about pharmaceutical sales or loan underwriting. But what if we simply dove further in, and became more curious about the work of others? I’ve experimented with this, and it’s just like learning a foreign language as an adult: you have to concede that you’ll sound like a kindergartner. But when you do, your imagination for what redemption might look like in physics research or ceramics production grows exponentially. This is really a practice in pastoral ministry – the shepherding of God’s flock for their formation in the pastures that God has placed them.
  1. Broad Relationships. We tend to hang out with people just like us. Again, guilty as charged. Most of my friends are white Christians that work in an occupational ministry-related field, many of whom live in suburban Colorado – like me. But what if we all made a commitment to having lunch, coffee, or dinner with people vastly different than us – ethnically, socio-economically, or vocationally? We would be able to see a far wider perspective on the world. Also, many of our biases against “those” people might be put to rest if we simply listened to their stories: where they grew up, the pains they suffer, the longings they harbor. Here we might be able to find common ground even with our enemies, thus making Jesus’ command to “love our enemies” a bit easier to do..

Perhaps these, not another faith and work conference, are the best next step for a broader cultural engagement, and a church that embraces its missionary role in the world.

This post first appeared on The Green Room. Photo credit.

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Faith and Work MovementTheology

A Better Starting Point for the Faith and Work Movement, Part 2


In my last post, I mulled over all the times I buzzed around the topic of faith and work with pastors, only to bump into the screen door of misunderstanding time and time again. Sometimes I felt like a fly; other times like a mime trying to get my message across with frantic hand gestures.

Either way, I’ve concluded that the best place to start conversations around faith and work with pastors is this: Jesus’ death and resurrection begins the redemption of all of creation.

This doesn’t seem all that controversial, but I do think it is unique. Many of the theological voices I respect the most in the faith and work movement start with either Genesis 1-2 or Revelation 21-22. The idea is to regain both a knowledge of God as a Creator (and our identity as sub-creators and workers) or the fact that aspects of human culture (and work) will be in the renewed heavens and earth.  What’s central, they say, is to recover the “book ends” of Scripture.

Both of these themes and biblical passages are hugely important. We need to recover the grand biblical narrative.

But at the center of Christian faith is neither Genesis 1 & 2 nor the renewed heavens and earth. The center point of Christianity has always been the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If I share any common point with all pastors (and all Christians), here it is.

We are accustomed to thinking of Jesus’ death and resurrection primarily in terms of substitutionary atonement. And rightly so. But we are less likely to think of the events of Passion Week as a glorious beginning.

Let me try to explain myself by breaking the above statement into three parts:

  • “Jesus death and resurrection begins…” On Sunday morning, the first day of the week, as the morning sun dawned Mary found the tomb empty. She mistook Jesus for the gardener. But in a sense, the resurrected Christ was just the original Gardener: he was taking Mary back to the Garden of Eden. NT Wright makes the case that John’s account of the resurrection in John 20 is trying to point us to the creation narrative. Just as the Spirit of God hovered over the dark primordial chaos of Genesis 1:1-2, so the world was coming apart on Good Friday as dark clouds filled the air. And just as God spoke the universe into existence, so Resurrection Sunday is the beginning of the new world, the new creation.

First century Jews expected the resurrection to happen at the end of time, but in Christ, here is the resurrection in the middle of time. In a sense, because of the resurrection, heaven has already begun in this world.  In Christ, the restoration of the created order has begun, and his followers now are a part of that new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) in this age, in this fallen world.

  • “…the redemption…” In Al Wolters slim classic Creation Regained, he makes the case that the New Testament is loaded with words that begin with re-: re-demption, re-conciliation, re-storation, re-newal. Each has the connotation of going back to a prior healthy or whole state. Redemption is the recovery of freedom after having been enslaved; reconciliation is the making of peace between former friends who had become enemies; restoration is the action of returning something to a former owner, place, or condition. Jesus’ death and resurrection, therefore, means salvation is far wider and broader than my personal soul and spiritual destiny. He is the redeemer of the entire world (Col 1:15-20).
  • “…of all of creation.” Sin has infected everything: our hearts, our relationships, our work, our neighborhoods, our cities, and the physical world itself. But if sin is found all these areas, then Christ is in the business of bringing his resurrection life to all these areas as well. “He comes to make his blessings flow as far as the curse is found.” From golf course management to conservation efforts to the formation of government leaders in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Church, which worships on the first day of the week, lives continually in light of the resurrection today, with a great and glorious hope hidden in our breasts, but soon to be revealed to all the world (Romans 8:19).

So what about work? If we think about “creation” in terms of plants, water or mountains, we’ve missed it. Creation is not just where we go hiking on Saturday. But even taking the example of plants, how do humans principally interact with plants? (1) Agriculture, and feeding the world. (2) Manufacturing, everything from pharmaceuticals to plastic bottles. (3) Conservation efforts, from Brazil to Africa. (4) Gardening! We make plants more fruitful for the sake of providing for human needs (including the need for beauty).

At each point, for better or worse, work is our human act of creation. The arena in which humans participate in, shape, and form creation is principally through work.

It’s a simple idea, but for those of us inside the faith and work movement, I think it’s centrally important to make the case that our message is central to the gospel itself.

If we can do this, we can ask bigger, broader questions about the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection for our calling, our work, our jobs, our neighborhoods, our economy, and all the industries, individuals and institutions that make up human civilization.  We may even convince more pastors to work together on sermons, songs, or Sunday school classes related to “theology of work” and calling.

In so doing we can continue the project that generations of Christians before us have begun – which today we now simply dub “the integration of faith and work.”

Photo Credit: The Empty Tomb, by George Richardson

This blog post first appeared on The Green Room.

Faith and Work Movement

A Better Starting Point for the Faith and Work Movement, Part 1


One of my continual shortcomings as the executive director of Denver Institute for Faith & Work is that I’ve rarely framed our mission so we’re clearly understood – especially by pastors.

More than once, my initial enthusiasm for all things “faith and work” is seen by good, godly pastoral leaders as a niche-y ministry that will likely soon, like chaff, be blown away by the winds of evangelical enthusiasm.

Here’s what I mean: Almost inevitably, the first time I meet with a pastor over coffee and start a conversation about Christianity and work, I can sense two questions behind an ever-gentle, shepherding smile: (1) What is this guy saying?, and (2) Of all the ministries that need my attention, why should I focus my attention here?

“Are you with some kind of career ministry? Do you help people discover their talents to serve in a ministry of their own? Do you meet with business men – and help give them a sense of meaning?” I’ve heard all of these. And they’re all fair questions. Especially since pastors are so often pulled from one parachurch interest to another – all of which are “central” to the church, or so their elders or local nonprofit leaders assure them.

But I’ve found that we need to refocus conversations about Christianity and work on a new starting point, one that immediately resonates with the core mission of Jesus’ church and the pastors who are her shepherds, oversees, and leaders.

After years of conversational dead ends, fits and starts, and fumbling introductions, when meeting with pastors I’ve decided not to start the faith and work conversation with:

  1. The sacred/secular divide. 

Yes, since the Enlightenment it’s true that fact and value, public life and private life, science and religion have been separated into different spheres. Folks like Schaeffer, Pearcey, and Colson have made this abundantly clear. And yes, so so many business leaders feel like their work is less valuable than “ministry” work – and wonder what role supply chains, value creation, or marketing plans play in the Kingdom. BUT, I’ve found that when I lead with the sacred/secular divide, the conversation tends to denigrate either pastors or business people.

An older generation tended to see the holiest kind of work as a pastor or missionary, to the deprecation of the “mere” business person. But today, we’ve over corrected, and in stressing that “all work can be a ministry” those in the faith and work movement tend to down play becoming a pastor, and have often crowned the work of the entrepreneur as holiest of work. Entrepreneurs are expected to alleviate global poverty, fuel a lagging economy, and create new businesses that can impact dozens, hundreds – even thousands – of lives.

Let it be known: I love both pastors and entrepreneurs. Both are beautiful callings, and both have their particular pitfalls and challenges.  But when I sit down with pastors, the last thing I want to do is downplay the call to become an overseer of God’s people, which is clearly biblical and clearly good (1 Tim. 3:1, 1 Peter 5:2). The pendulum has swung too far to one side of this debate – which means this is not usually the best way to start the conversation with pastors.

  1. Calling or vocation.

This is a much better starting point. Protestants have a category for calling. To most, it sounds like bringing a deeper sense of meaning to one’s work. However, to many others I’ve found it sounds like, (1)  I’m trying to help people find their ideal jobs (Actually, this has happened so many times I thought about starting a professional recruitment firm on the side.) Or (2) I’d like to give people gift inventories that helps them either find a good place to volunteer at the church, or…find their ideal jobs.


For years I’ve tried to save language of calling and vocation from the “vocation=my ideal job = my ideal me” equation, and follow sages like Steve Garber who winsomely argue for calling be an entire life lived in response to the voice of God. But alas, starting here has gotten me into many a murky water – waters best left to explore after we’ve set out on a common journey together.

  1. Theology of work.

Whether I’m speaking to pastors, business leaders, nurses, teachers, or cashiers, this phrase almost immediately sounds narrow or niche-y – like I joined the wrong Google+ group of academics.

The problem here is not the phrase. After all, I lead an organization with the term “faith and work” in the title. This phrase can be saved with ample conversation about the theme of work in the Bible and the obvious reality of our lives, which is consumed almost entirely by sleep, family, and work.

But I’m convinced that we need a much larger story that leads to theology for work, calling, and culture – but doesn’t necessarily start here.

I always say, if my aunt can’t understand what my job is, I have a serious branding issue.

  1. “Transforming the culture.”

For many of us, James Davison Hunter has permanently buried this phrase. But I’d still say that for most Christian institutions doing this kind of work – whether they be higher ed, para church, or church – talk of transforming the culture or changing the world is still commonplace. (After all, we have money to raise.)

The problem? It’s triumphalistic. As I look at the broad sweep of Western culture today, I’m not sure that broad cultural transformation should be a goal. I’ve become skeptical even of terms like “cultural renewal.” Yes, we can certainly renew aspects of culture – the values of tech development team, a mutual fund with an overtly theological mission, hiring formerly incarcerated men to become electricians – but transforming “the culture?” Like, the whole thing? Apart from Christ returning, I have no idea what that means.

  1. Political stances or platforms. 

As we’re seeing with this election, it’s so easy for those of us who care so deeply about what Christianity means for work, the economy and our respective sub-cultures to get co-opted by the political ideologies of day.

This is not to say we shouldn’t be political. No, I think man is inherently a political creature. We can’t help but organize ourselves into a polis and ask questions about a good society.

But far more often than not, the church and her attendant institutions, can get absorbed into the caustic right/left, conservative/liberal debates of our day, as happened to one respected systematic theologian this past week.

Today’s wisest leaders– like Tim Keller or John Piper – preach the wide, good and beautiful gospel, and allow men and women in their stations of life to make logical political conclusions from Christian doctrine. But they don’t get pulled in too deep into the dogfight lest their Christian witness and Kingdom distinctiveness become compromised.

So what, then, is a better starting point for the conversation about Christian faith and our work in the world?  I’m sure many will disagree with me, but for what it’s worth, here’s where I stand: Jesus’ death and resurrection begins the redemption of all of creation.

Explaining why I believe that this simple phrase is the best starting point will take one more blog post…

Photo Credit: NYTimes

This post first appeared on The Green Room

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