Jeff Haanen

Articles Tagged with

faith and work

""/
TheologyVocationWork

Launch Day! “Working from the Inside Out: A Brief Guide to Inner Work That Transforms Our Outer World” (IVP, 2023)

God is working, I believe, “from the inside out.”

Big day! Today InterVarsity Press is publishing my second book: Working from the Inside Out: A Brief Guide to Inner Work That Transforms Our Outer World.

The book comes from my 10 years of experience leading Denver Institute for Faith & Work and the deepening conviction that “faith and work” is not first about impact, success, or even a way to advance the Gospel in the world—it’s about who we’re becoming in the process of our working lives.

The idea of the book is to give us a place to start this journey of living in a relationship with God in all areas of life. First, I believe we need to focus not on the world’s problems but on our own hearts and minds, seeking deep spiritual and emotional health and theological truth. Second, inner transformation impacts our core relationships and work. And finally, I believe we’re called to engage culture not as conquerors, but as sacrificial servants. God is healing the world first through our interior life, second through our exterior life, and third through our civic life.

What’s the book’s unique value?

●  It’s a great intro on faith and work. Not sure where to start on all things faith, work, and culture? Here’s a good starting point.

●  It’s blessedly brief. We’re all busy! This book has 10 brief chapters you could get through in a sitting or two.

●  It offers a simple model for integrating faith and work. The book simplifies an otherwise esoteric and complex subject through five principles.

●  It’s written for any believer. The book isn’t targeted exclusively to business leaders or professionals. It’s for any believer, from maintenance technicians to journalists to teachers to recent graduates to managers.

●  It has 50+ stories and examples. The book is chock-full of examples, from working in restaurants and manufacturing to selling used cars and caring for patients.

●  It’s holistic. The gospel changes all of our lives—our hearts, the way we think, our relationships, the work we do, and how we engage with the needs of the world. This book is a simple, brief introduction to whole-life discipleship.

Also, a couple bonus points: I’m personally narrating the audio version so readers can hear directly from me—about all the mistakes I’m hoping others can learn from! And all future royalties will be donated to Denver Institute, so sales will help to spur on the faith and work movement.

You can grab a copy today: https://rb.gy/smc90x

And I narrated the audio book(myself!), which will be available on December 19. https://lnkd.in/guqWrGZA

Not ready to buy yet? Here’s an excerpt: https://lnkd.in/gZm8BtzQ

For a 20% discount (from Oct 1 through February), put in the code IVPHAANEN at check out at Intervarsity Press

What are people saying about Working from the Inside Out?

“Jeff Haanen is one of the foremost thought leaders of this generation on the topic of faith and work. In Working from the Inside Out, Jeff provides anecdotal and prescriptive insights that will inspire and move you to action. Jeff’s wisdom and perception are profound in helping readers bridge the sacred/secular divide. This book helps you understand how your work can serve as the most valuable tool Christians have to make a difference in the world. However, we must change internally before we can change the external world.

David Stidham, Vice President of Business Affairs and General Counsel for The Chosen

“I can’t wait to give this book to some important people in my life! As the title suggests, Jeff Haanen’s most valuable contribution is his focus on our inner spiritual life and the promise that a life attuned to the hope, love, and grace of the gospel changes us. Work is a crucible; it forms and shapes us—for better or for worse. Jeff’s five guiding principles (seek deep spiritual health, think theologically, embrace relationships, create good work, and serve others), developed and tested during his decade with Denver Institute for Faith & Work, offer a way toward work forming us ‘for better.’ Read with friends; take this journey together.”

Katherine Leary Alsdorf, Founding Director of Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s Center for Faith & Work

“You don’t need this book—if you love your job, live a balanced life, can’t wait to get up in the morning, and feel content in your relationships with people and God. If not, consider this collection of deep wisdom from an expert in the crucial, but often ignored, intersection of faith and work.” Philip Yancey, Coauthor of Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God’s Image and Where the Light Fell: A Memoir

I cannot tell you what a blessing this book is. I cannot wait to be able to share this with others. The wisdom and guidance in this book is what I wish I would have had when I was graduating college and starting my career and starting out as a young professional. It is also the book that I, as a more seasoned business leader and fledgling entrepreneur, need to cut through the hardened layers that can calcify the soul. With every turn of the page, another piece was chiseled off, providing a fresh reminder for me of the calling I have as a Christian in the work God entrusted to me. I’ve been challenged, convicted, and blessed.

– Josh Rogers, Head of Operations, Leif

Free Study Guide

Considering reading the book with a group? Here’s a free study guide anybody can download, thanks to our friends at Denver Institute: DenverInstitute.org/Working-From-the-Inside-Out. The guide is a great resource for church small groups discussing the book.

""/
TheologyWork

Why Faith & Work? (Pt. 1) – Gospel

It was a Sunday afternoon. I walked out my back garage to toss the trash. I opened the green can, heaved in the white plastic bag, and breathed in … the stench of smoke. As I shut the can I moseyed out to my driveway to investigate. I looked up in the sky. The sun was a dull yellow, filtered through an unnatural cloud that covered the horizon. Smoke from the worst wildfires in Colorado history hung like a lingering ghost. Ash slowly fell around me and the street in my neighborhood was completely empty.

As I turned to walk back inside I heard something. It was a song coming from a truck around the corner. As I paused and peered through the sullen glow, I saw an ice cream truck, driving as if children were going to happily skip outside, eager for an afternoon treat. Yet none emerged from their homes, sequestered by their parents from the pandemic. The truck jingled by, as if from the set of a post-apocalyptic movie.

What a fitting metaphor for our world today, I thought. Our society is burning and our consumer culture offers us an “ice cream cone” to forget our troubles. Of course, as we grow, the “ice cream cone” changes: new car, job promotion, dinner parties, binge watching endless movies in our homes. But each can be a thin veneer that masks what each of us senses: the world we live in is frightfully broken. So many of us live a life distracted by entertainment, but we sense internal emptiness and desolation, one that spreads from souls to jobs to cities. 

We long for a deeper hope that can animate our daily lives. 

Why faith & work? Of all the pressing causes in our world, why care about this one, especially in a time of growing economic disparities, decaying social trust, and the shrinking of the church? Why invest time, attention, and resources in a vision that prioritizes both historic Christian faith and its influence on our daily work?

In this first of three articles, let me suggest three theological truths that open up new horizons for the meaning of Christian faith for our work and world today.  

Gospel. The word simply means “good news.” In the ancient Roman empire, Caesar had his own euangelion, whose reign through military strength was thought to be the guarantor of peace and prosperity. One ancient coin even called Caesar a “Son of God.”

Yet a small group of Jews said that there was another gospel. They claimed that a carpenter from Nazareth was the true Son of God, not Caesar. They said that though he was crucified as a criminal, he had been raised from the dead by God and freely offered forgiveness of sins and eternal life to any and all as free gift. And the essence of this “Son of God” was not power to conquer his enemies but love. Even for one’s enemies.

Fast forward to 21st century America. Today we’re used to hearing the word “gospel” in reference to gospel music or to the notion of “getting saved.” In many conservative Protestant circles, believing the “gospel” means soul salvation: Jesus died, I receive forgiveness, and I go to heaven when I die. Yet this version of the gospel would have seemed very strange to the early Christians. The apostle Paul believed there were four essential elements to his “gospel”: the incarnation of God himself in the person of Jesus (Romans 1:2), the crucifixion of Christ for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:2-3), the resurrection of Christ for our salvation and the salvation of the world (John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 5:19), and the Second Coming of Christ to judge the world and ultimately restore the world as God had originally intended it (Romans 2:16).

In our modern world, we’ve reduced the “gospel” to an individual, private experience involving only me and God. But this is a severe reduction of the breadth of the historic Christian faith. The truth is that sin is much worse than we thought. It has not only infected my heart, but has spread like a cancer into workplaces, industries, cultures, and cities. But the good news, the gospel, is also much better than we thought: Jesus is healing not just our souls but also those same workplaces, industries, cultures, and cities (Colossians 1:20). Indeed, he is not just light for my heart, he is the Light of the World (John 8:12).

Why, then, should we care about work? Teaching kindergarten, practicing law, manufacturing air filters, serving tables: work is the public arena in which the breadth of the gospel can heal our fractured world. When George Washington Carver discovered new uses for the peanut, he listened to the voice of God for scientific discovery. When Bach wrote symphonies, he did so soli Deo Gloria for the glory of God. And when the salesperson wonders if he’s wasting his life in retail, it’s the good news that crowns him with glory and dignity, even in difficult circumstances.

Christians have been entrusted with a spark of good news — one that claims salvation is far bigger and deeper than we had once thought.

Kingdom. The central message of Jesus’ own earthly ministry was about the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15). To Americans who are used to electing their highest political authority to office, talk of kings and kingdoms can seem strange. Yet it’s a common theme in the Old Testament (Psalm 10:16; Isaiah 37:16; 2 Chronicles 20:6). And Jesus insisted on emphasizing it, even commanding his people for all generations to pray, “may your kingdom come, and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

What does the Kingdom of God have to do with our work? First, saying that Jesus is the very highest authority both in your life and in the world is a deeply political, and public, commitment. Every nation, as well as every company, school, or hospital, has a set of values. Immediately, the Christian comes into any work situation first being a citizen of another country (1 Peter 2:13-17). That means when working at Amazon or at the local gas station, some of your values align with your workplace; others are different. This stubborn declaration that Jesus is king over all means your work is a contested arena between His Kingdom and the kingdoms of this world (Revelation 11:15). Each meeting, each project, each task, each relationship takes on a new significance in an age-old battle between darkness and light (Colossians 1:13). Whether you’re in politics, business, or education, the Kingdom of God makes every Christian a reformer.

But second, and more importantly, Jesus is inviting us into a new reality. I’ve often heard Protestants speak of “building the Kingdom.” But this is not how Jesus speaks about the Kingdom. He simply calls people to enter and receive the Kingdom (Matthew 7:21, 23:13, 25:34). That means, in a sense, there is no work to be done. Simply receive the gracious gift of living in a new creation, partaking in the divine nature, and resting in the “easy burden” of the way of Christ. Work is the sphere of life in which we live, day-to-day, in the fullness of the life of God (John 10:10b). Rather than believing spiritual matters are just for church, spiritual depth and joy can spill over into your daily work.  

Mission. Old Testament Scholar and framer of the Lausanne Covenant Dr. Christopher Wright popularized the term the Mission of God. When we hear the word “mission” we often think of missionaries overseas or paid Christian professionals sent by a church either to evangelize or serve the poor. Yet Wright makes the strong — and lengthy! — case that God himself has a mission. From the calling of Abraham and the people of Israel to the culmination of human history in the book of Revelation, God himself is initiating a grand project to restore his fractured creation (Genesis 3).

How, then, does this involve our daily work? The marvel of the grand narrative of Scripture is that God calls us — flawed, deeply broken human beings — into his purposes to heal and restore his world. This may include overseas work in microfinance. Yet it may be far closer to home. John Stott, the preeminent 20th-century missiologist, pastor, and author, believed our vocations are the central way we partake in “mission.” Police officers protect and serve, farmers feed their neighbors, teachers educate the mind, janitors and mechanics clean and repair our buildings. It’s through our work that we reflect Jesus’ own high calling “to serve, and not to be served” (Mark 10:45).

So, why faith & work? Ultimately, we live in a story of good news. Death is overcome. The darkness does not win. And God summons all people first to himself, and then sends them back into the world as his ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20).

In a time when it feels like our culture is burning and sending smoke into our nostrils and lives, our spiritual lives can feel desolate like an empty street on a dull Sunday afternoon. Yet the breadth of gospel, the promise of a coming Kingdom, and a call to participate with God in his mission reframes how we live and work. 

This is good news indeed.

 This is the first article of a three-part series on “Why Faith & Work?” The next article will focus on the reality of our jobs and working lives. 

""/
Work

A Letter to the Denver Institute Community

Dear Friends,

In the last four weeks, our work and our world have changed dramatically. Millions are now unemployed, nearly 3.5 billion people are confined to their homes, and each of us is trying to adjust to what feels like a different world. 

Two weeks ago, when I drove down Denver’s 17th Street, I was reminded of the prophet Jeremiah’s lament, “How deserted the city lies, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who was once so great among the nations! … The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to her appointed festivals. All her gateways are desolate, her priests groan, her young women grieve, and she is in bitter anguish” (Lamentations 1:1, 4). 

In the last month, I’ve been on calls with dozens of people in our community. Business owners are shocked that they must shutter the doors of what they’ve worked to build for a lifetime; young professionals have been fired from what seemed like promising careers; families buckle under the pressure of school, work, and isolation. All of us are bewildered by uncertainty. Last week, as I walked through King Sooper’s and saw empty shelves and people wearing face masks, I wondered: what is happening to our world? Anguish is the right word.

But it is not the final word. 

Here at Denver Institute, we remain committed to forming men and women to serve God, neighbor, and society through their daily work. Our call — now more important than ever — is to love God, serve our neighbors, and demonstrate the gospel through our vocations.

As we think about this task, and each of us seeks to listen to God’s voice amidst such pain, it is my conviction that we must first begin not with society, but with ourselves. We must look squarely at the fear and anxiety clouding our senses, and then redirect our eyes toward Jesus, who is the Bread of Life (John 6:35). Each day, we must practice soul care for uncertain times and learn to give our anxieties to God, who cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). The Living Water is ever present to each of us, if only we will drink. We must first learn the spiritual practices and adjust our daily rhythms that will allow us to firmly rest in God’s unchanging love and care for each of us (Matthew 6:25).

Second, we must care for each other. As we all struggle with isolation, now is the time to be present, be vulnerable, and be hopeful. Whether it’s a coworker, a mother-in-law, or a single friend, we need each other. At Denver Institute, in the next 90 days, in lieu of events, we will host more online gatherings for business leaders, for women, for the brave souls in health care, and for those who work in a variety of industries. 

Third, to the best of our ability, we must keep working. We were designed for work. And though we are confined to our homes, and many of us are struggling with grief over work that has been lost, we recognize that work is good for our souls. As such, each day provides opportunity for paid and unpaid service to the common good. Searching for a new job, delivering food to a neighbor, doing homework with children, and doing sales calls — all are needed. The economy — and our neighbor — needs us to inhale the peace of God and exhale the creative goods and services that this brave new world needs the most. Though it feels like we’ve been carried into exile, now is the time to “build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce” (Jeremiah 29:5). 

Also, as we are bombarded daily with haunting news, we must aggressively limit our intake of media and learn to think theologically about our work and cultural moment. What is most needed in a situation without easy answers is wisdom. At Denver Institute, will continue to publish content and courses that reframe our work and our world in light of the biblical story

Finally, now is the time to serve. Now is the time to double down our generosity toward the causes we care most about; now is the time to serve others while physically distancing; now is the time to find innovative solutionsto serve our coworkers, neighbors, and family members. 

We are still here for you. If you have a need of any sort, please reach out to us. We are actively praying through how our programming might expand to better serve our city. In this season, we will commit to calling, praying, thinking, networking, teaching, learning, and finding ways to serve you in an unprecedented moment in our nation’s history.

This is a time to lament, but not to panic; a time to pivot, but not to stray from our core convictions; a time for public concern, but also a time to trust that Jesus is the savior of the world, and we are not. 

As we head into Holy Week, I’ve chosen to fast on Good Friday as I pray for our city, our country, and our world. Yet on Easter Sunday, my family and I will also go outside to our front porch, dial into “zoom” church, and sing a song of resurrection as the sun rises.

The world has changed, but our joy is unchanging. 

Your friend,

Jeff Haanen,
Founder & Executive Director
Denver Institute for Faith & Work

This letter first appeared in an email to the Denver Institute community. If you’d like to receive more updates from Denver Institute on articles, events, educational resources and other opportunities, please subscribe to the monthly newsletter.

""/
BusinessWork

“I am not alone as I work in the world.”

This is what one brave woman wrote in a post-event survey after Business for the Common Good, our annual business conference. I decided to post it here simply so I wouldn’t forget her insight and courage.

“This was the perfect mix of addressing all different levels of how to follow Jesus by honoring him in our work. I loved that there was an emphasis on building a foundation of valuing our own mental health and bringing our shame to Christ. If we don’t allow God to reconcile ourselves – inside of us – it will be hard to bring kindness, patience, and lasting change to our neighbors, coworkers, and the workplace structures we seek to improve.

“As a woman, I have increasingly found myself facing fears of being discounted and undervalued in a society that historically does so to women in the workplace. At this conference, however, I found myself being moved to empathy toward men instead of defensiveness as the sessions pointed towards faith in Jesus as the ultimate redemptive force inside of humanity.

“Seeing so many Christian men in business sitting under this teaching at the conference gave me a sense that my fight is not against them, but rather injustice. And this fight I can only navigate when I am rooted in my value in Jesus, not the salary I successfully negotiate or the roles I obtain. He holds my concerns close to his heart, and he does for all of us, men and women, and I am not alone as I work in the world.”

VocationWorkWorld

“A Fully Activated Workplace” (Global Workplace Forum, Lausanne Movement)

This last summer I was deeply honored to serve on a panel in Manila on “A Fully Activated Workplace.” I shared the stage with a clinical psychologist in Nairobi working with refugees, an electrical engineer in Canada, a manager at Apple, and a man doing church planting with nomadic tribes in central Asia. I shared about my research on the American working class.

Incredible what God’s doing around the world…Bravo Lausanne Movement. And bravo to all of you for stepping into God’s call in your life wherever you may be walking on the planet earth today…

""/
BusinessCultureEconomyTheologyWorkWorld

Dreading Monday (Comment Magazine)

The spiritual crisis underneath our jobs.

Reviewing: 

Working The New Press, 2004. 640pp. 

Bullshit Jobs: A Theory Simon & Schuster, 2018. 368pp.

The Job: Work and Its Future in a Time of Radical Change Currency, 2018. 416pp.

“I had no concept of the horrible dread I would feel getting up in the morning to spend all day sitting in an office trying to waste time.”

Rachel grew up in a poor family yet graduated from a prestigious British university with a physics degree. Yet soon after graduation, student debt forced her to take a job as a “catastrophe risk analyst” at a big insurance company.

Rachel recalls the day she hit an existential tipping point at her new job:

The final straw came after months of complaining, when I met my friend Mindy for a drink after a week of peak bullshit. I had just been asked to color coordinate a mind map to show, “the nice-to-haves, must-haves, and would-like-to-have-in-the-futures.” (No, I have no ideas what that means, either.)

She ranted at me, and I ranted at her. I made a long, impassioned speech that ended with me shouting, “I cannot wait for the sea levels to rise and the apocalypse to come because I would rather be out hunting fish and cannibals with a spear I’d fashioned out of a fucking pole than doing this fucking bullocks! . . . We both laughed for a long time, and then I started crying. I quit the next day.

Rachel ended her tear-strewn reflection with a response to those who would call her experience of work just a “Millennial problem.” “So, yes, I am the queen crystal of Generation Snowflake melting in the heat of a pleasantly air-conditioned office,” she said, remembering her grandmother’s words to toughen up. “But good Lord, the working world is crap.”

Nearly five decades earlier, Nora Watson, a twenty-eight-year-old staff writer for an institution publishing health care literature, shared her own lament for her new career.

Jobs are not big enough for people. . . . A job like mine, if you really put your spirit into it, you would sabotage immediately. You don’t dare. So you absent your spirit from it. My mind has become so divorced from my job except, except as a source of income, it’s really absurd.

Much has changed about the global workforce in fifty years, yet there are two feelings, felt deeply by millions of Rachels and Nora Watsons across the world, that have endured the test time: the feeling that the modern workplace is an assault on our human dignity, and that work ought to have some broader purpose than just a paycheque, but seems forever beyond our grasp. 

In an age of abundance, we are better fed, housed, and cared for than at any time in world history. Yet three books on work—two new and one old—show that our core longing for our jobs is not fundamentally economic, social, or political in nature.

It’s spiritual.

Purpose, Pain, and PR Researchers

In August 2013, American anthropologist David Graeber published an essay titled “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs.” After more than a million website views in seventeen different languages, stories came tumbling into Graeber’s inbox. A corporate lawyer who believes, “I contribute nothing to this world and am utterly miserable all the time.” An advertiser, whose job, by his own admission, “is a combination of manufacturing demand and then exaggerating the usefulness of products sold to fix it.” Judy, an HR assistant, whose job never requires more than one hour a day. “The other seven hours were spent playing 2048 or watching YouTube.”

Graeber had a hunch that many jobs don’t “really do much of anything: HR consultants, communications coordinators, PR researchers, financial strategists.” His book Bullshit Jobs: A Theory tells the stories of hordes of men and women who believe their very own jobs are just that—bullshit. Rachel, quoted above, is one of those people.

Lest we think Graeber is just cursing to sell books, he offers a technical definition: “A bullshit job is a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence, even though, as part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend that this is not the case.”

Graeber even has a taxonomy to describe these largely white-collar workers: “flunkies” exist only to make others look important; “goons” are those whose work is to aggressively propagate their employer’s agenda; “duct tapers” exist to fix some kind of glitch in a large bureaucracy; “box tickers” do jobs that allow their companies to say they’re doing something that it is not, in fact, doing; and finally, “taskmasters” are those whose work consists purely of assigning more work to others.

And lest we think these are isolated incidences, one poll in Holland found that 40 percent of Dutch workers believe their jobs have no reason to exist. Graeber dedicates nearly a third of the book to describing these jobs as acts of “spiritual violence.”

Ellen Ruppel Shell, a journalist for The Atlantic and Boston University professor, takes a different approach in The Job: Work and Its Future in a Time of Radical Change. Shell zooms out to tell us the broad story of work in our time, told through the eyes of educators, technologists, manufacturers, and laundromat operators. The overarching story is one of middle-class jobs slipping away as the working class languishes, and the new global aristocracy holds ever more power.

There are plenty of jobs left, but they’re mainly bad ones. In 2016 the American unemployment rate sank to below 5 percent. “But many Americans had a reason to feel less gleeful. Fully 58 percent of the job growth was in occupations with a wage of $7.69 to $13.83 an hour, while 60 percent of jobs in the midrange—$13.84 to $21.13 per hour—had vanished.”

Shell’s odyssey for a solution to the growing divide—which extends far beyond the size of a paycheque—takes the reader from Finnish classrooms to small manufacturers in places like the Navy Yard of New York’s Lower East Side. Makershops, employee-owned co-ops, and universal basic income are all proposed as the balm for the wounds of a digital age.

Shell calls her readers to embrace the worker’s own ability to construct meaning for themselves. The source of that meaning floats somewhere between creativity, agency, relationship, and economic dignity. “Rather than credit employers with giving us the ‘gift’ of ‘meaningful’ work, let’s agree that the meaning we gain from our work is no gift, but very much a product of our own efforts,” Shell writes. In this story, it us up to each worker to make meaning for herself.

A half century ago, another journalist, Studs Terkel, took up his tape recorder to listen to the American worker in his book Working. A collection of oral history, Working records the knotted, unfiltered voices of farmers, switchboard operators, spot-welders, hair stylists, proofreaders, and industrial designers. (Nora Watson, quoted above, is one of Terkel’s interviewees.)

Terkel gives voice to near universal human experiences at work.

  • We bemoan jobs we feel we can’t control. (“Who you gonna sock? You can’t sock General Motors . . . you can’t sock a system,” says Mike LeFevre, a steelworker.)
  • We feel like our jobs make us into machines. (A receptionist says, “A monkey can do what I do.” A bank teller confesses, “I’m caged.” A fashion model bemoans, “I’m an object.”)
  • And we often feel the need to defend our dignity in the face of “daily humiliations.” (Peggy Terry, a waitress, hears from a customer, “You don’t have to smile; I’m gonna give you a tip anyway.” She replies, “Keep it. I wasn’t smiling for a tip.”)

Terkel ends his introduction to the book with the insightful Tom Patrick, a banker turned fireman. “I worked in a bank. You know, it’s just paper. It’s not real. Nine to five and it’s just shit. You’re lookin’ at numbers,” Patrick remembers, as if to remind the ages that the phenomenon of bullshit jobs is nothing new. “But [as a fireman] I can look back and say ‘I helped put out a fire. I helped save somebody.’ It shows something I did on this earth.’”

Patrick hints at the sense of participating in a larger story through one’s work—a story that has, like a dream, been largely forgotten by a secular society.

Falling to Pieces

Spiritual atrophy is spreading amid many of the world’s workers. Derek Thompson of The Atlantic makes the case that work has become a religion for the college educated, and, as with all idols, is making its adherents miserable. Charles Duhigg of the New York Times seesthe same sickness plaguing his fellow Harvard-educated elites. Yet researchers like Princeton’s Angus Deaton and Anne Case believe that “deaths of despair” among white, middle-aged Americans—who are largely working class—are a part of the same “moral and spiritual crisis.”

Secular society is indeed beginning to crack.

Richard Rohr once said, “When people lose a meaningful storyline for their lives, they disintegrate both personally and culturally.” We rarely connect the spiritual and the cultural, but reading WorkingThe Job, and Bullshit Jobs side by side makes this connection hard to miss.

Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs may fall short in supporting many of its claims (I do actually know quite a few PR professionals and corporate lawyers who do good, important work), but it rises to the surface a vast and very real phenomenon: most people don’t like their work, and they spend the majority of their time doing something they’d rather not. And to those experiencing such a crisis of meaning, it feels something like spiritual death. And the spiritual consequences quickly become cultural. Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute shows that loneliness is tearing America apart. And even though GDP has grown at a healthy 3.5 percent, evidence of social collapse is all around us.

“Only if a man works can he live,” wrote American theologian Landon Gilkey in 1966 about Japanese internment camps in World War II. “But only if the work he does seems productive and meaningful can he bear the life that his work makes possible.” The story of work in our secular age is increasingly about finding ways to make meaning in our lives and careers from activities that feel abjectly meaningless.

The Job is written with warmth and optimism. But what’s missing is also what’s telling. Ruppel doesn’t even consider religion or belief in God as a valid motivation for work, but instead forces people into a secular box that calls people to create meaning for themselves, apart from any religious sources. (She briefly mentions the idea of vocation in connection with Yale researcher Amy Wrzesniewski’s research in job, career, and calling, but the context is about calling as “passion”—not a response to the voice of God.)

Again, if our cultural problem is intrinsically moral and spiritual, can we expect a healthy labour market when the labourers in that market are feeling the effects of a deep spiritual sickness?

Terkel’s Working is perhaps the most honest book of the bunch. It suggests no solutions and allows humans to express their deep humanity. Yet it also shows us injustice, despair, envy, shame, and pride. To where should a secular world look for hope?

From Soul to System

The Anglican priest George Herbert (1593–1633) believed that the elixir for our work was found in Christian teachings of vocation: “Teach me, my God and King / In all things Thee to see, / And what I do in anything / To do it as for Thee.” Christianity teaches that work is not first a social phenomenon, a policy problem, or an economic activity. It is first a response to God, an act of obedience that makes manifest our freedom and reflects God’s love.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky adds in his classic The Brothers Karamazov, “So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship.”

From the perspective of secular society, this instinct is often overlooked, but at other times we subsume it into a larger humanistic narrative of being the captain of our own souls. Yet from the perspective of Christianity, worshipping yourself, your company, your family, or your workplace identity creates chaos. It is idolatry. The only way to heal society is to first heal the soul.

The challenge with both Bullshit Jobs and The Job is that they suggest political policies to fix spiritual and moral problems. The two are related of course; policies are certainly worthwhile and important, and corporate structures can certainly make living dignified, meaningful lives either harder or easier. But cultural issues facing workers can’t be considered in isolation from our deepest beliefs about God, ourselves, others, and our place in the world.

Christianity sees the need for redemption for both individuals and powerful systems. It crowns workers considered lowly by society with unsurpassable worth and dignity. Hotel janitors, landscapers, HR consultants, and even goons, flunkies, duct-tapers, box-tickers, and taskmasters have deep value. They may have bullshit jobs. But there are no bullshit people.

Yet Christianity also casts a wide net of responsibility on the powerful, and calls for reform. Policy makers, entertainers, CEOs, nonprofit leaders, and unions—indeed workers themselves—are called to reorient systems toward what’s good for employees, customers, and communities as persons. To whom much is given, much will be required (Luke 12:48).

A recipe for healing cannot be found in policies alone, but must move from souls quickened by divine love to reforming systems designed for human flourishing. This is what Christianity can offer our global conversation about work.

The enduring value of all three of these books is that they clearly show a world that’s dreading Monday. Each of these books is worth an honest reading to hear the unedited (and often profanity-laced) anguish of so many of those whom God so dearly loves (John 3:16). Yet they also make clear a call for Christians and their neighbours to look squarely at the systems—and morally questionable jobs so many despise—in need of reform.

Christian faith offers a secular world a picture of a God who was crucified on the roughhewn beams of his own work, and offers hope to all people at all times and in all situations.

Even to those melting in the sweltering heat of pleasantly air-conditioned offices.

This essay first appeared in Comment Magazine.


""/
CultureTheology

Subversion

These three paragraphs, penned in 1991 by Lesslie Newbigin, changed my life as soon as I read them. Part of a larger treatment of “the gospel as public truth,” I repeat them here so I don’t forget the central why behind my seemingly endless (and multiplying) labors at Denver Institute.

And I post them for you, my fellow “undercover agents,” so that we might both know that we are not alone.

First, while the Church as a corporate society cannot identify itself with particular political programs, it must be the responsibility of the Church to equip its members for active and informed participation in public life in such a way that the Christian faith shapes that participation. Public life is the area where the principalities and powers operate. There are structures and forces which have a transpersonal character. The person who operates within them is not free to act as if he or she was a free individual. There is some freedom, but it is limited by the structure of the whole. If I understand the teaching of the New Testament on this matter, I understand the role of the Christians as that of being neither a conservative nor anarchist, but a subversive agent. When Paul says that Christ has disarmed the powers (not destroyed them), and when he speaks of the powers as being created in Christ and for Christ, and when he says that the Church is to make known the wisdom of God to the powers, I take it that this means that a Christian neither accepts them as some sort of eternal order which cannot be changed, nor seeks to destroy them because of the evil they do, but seeks to subvert them from within and thereby bring them back under the allegiance of their true Lord.

There is a beautiful illustration of this in Paul’s dealing with the runaway slave Onesimus. In the letter which goes to Colossae he tells Christian slaves to obey their earthly masters, because they are in fact serving the Lord in doing so. He does not tell Onesimus to go underground in Rome or wherever. He sends him back to his master as a slave, but he sends him back with the status of an apostolic nuncio. The structure is not simply smashed – as so much popular political rhetoric advocates; it is to be subverted from within.

But undercover agents need a great deal of skill. We do not spend enough of our energies in training undercover agents. A psychiatrist who was a devout Christian was recently asked whether her Christianity informed her work in the consulting room. She replied: “But that would be unprofessional conduct.” What kind of preparation is needed to enable a psychiatrist to discern the ways in which her profession could be subverted from its allegiance to other principles and become an area where the saving work of Christ is acknowledged? What would be the specific kind of training for a teacher in the public schools, for an executive in a big corporation, for a lawyer or a civil servant? Do we not need to invest much more of the Church’s resources in creating the possibility for such training? It cannot be done by clergy, though they have a part. It calls for the vigorous development of lay programs in which those in specific areas of secular work can explore together the possibilities of subversion. I know that much has been said along these lines, and yet there is little to show for it. In small enterprises of this kind in which I have been involved I have found that there was great enthusiasm once the purpose was understood. For undercover agents, it is a great thing to know that you are not alone.

""/
TheologyVocationWork

The Church in Public Life: Pastoring for the Public Good of Your Community

 

The following is the talk I gave at Thriving Churches, Thriving Cities, Denver Institute’s annual gathering for pastors and ministry leaders. The topic: what does it mean for pastoral leaders and their churches to be involved in healing the public life of their communities? 

Thank you again for coming today. I’d like to introduce our final set of conversations today by speaking to the topic of pastors and public engagement.

Today we’ve spoken about pastoral wholeness and integrity, and, in the breakouts, growing in pastoral excellence through navigating change and conflict. What might it mean, then, for pastors to lead churches working toward the healing of their cities?

Let me first tell you a personal story. My first pastorate after seminary was serving Iglesia Bautista Nueva Esperanza, a Spanish-speaking church in Brighton, Colorado. I preached in Spanish, led youth group in English, and, as the only white guy there, stuck out like a sore thumb.

I realized a year into my pastorate that about 80% of my congregation was related to each other. They were nearly all from Chihuahua, Mexico.

I also realized something important: that just holding church services and doing Bible studies would not be enough to serve my congregation and allow them to experience wholeness in Christ.

As immigrants, they were driven to leave their home because of economic factors. They were seeking good jobs. And many of the men were gone on Sundays working as painters and roofers. Education was also so important. They wanted their kids to get a good education, but they often struggled to navigate the system. And they were worried their kids would get caught up in gangs. Culture, too, was deeply formative. They were worried that America would instill in their families materialism over a love of family. Many were also aware of their Mexican culture and its tendency toward corruption.

As I pastor of my first congregation, I realized work, community, and culture were not abstract ideas. They were the fabric of real, daily lives.

Early in my life as a minister, I asked a question I want to now ask us today. Are we influencing culture, or are we being influenced by culture?

Or more pointedly, I recently started to ask about my own preaching: do I use culture to illustrate the gospel? Or does the gospel illustrate culture? That is, would I use the latest headline about business or government to illustrate a point from the book of Romans, or was I using the book of Romans to illustrate – shed light on – business and government?

What about us as pastors and ministry leaders in Denver, Colorado today? What does it mean to be the church in this place and time?

A generation about, pastor and missionary Leslie Newbigin wrote a slim book called The Other Side of 1984. He was addressing the world council of churches about what it meant to be “on mission” in the secular West. He wrote something about the nature of the church I’ve never forgotten.

In the book, he tells the story of early Christians in the Roman empire, and the debate of what to call themselves. He explains that in the Roman empire, there were many “private cults” that enjoyed protection from the Emperor. The opponents of Christianity used these words to refer to early Christians, but no Christian apparently ever did so. In other words, the Church did not regard itself as a society for the promotion of the personal salvation of its members.

The obvious choice for what to call a congregation of God’s people would have been sunagogos, or synagogue, which was already used to address Jewish minorities throughout the empire. But they didn’t use this either. Early Christians opted for the word ecclesia, which denoted the public assembly called by the civic authority, in which all citizens were summoned to discuss and settle the affairs of a city. By calling itself the ecclesia Theou, the Church made its own self-understanding clear: It was the public assembly by which all humanity was summoned, called by God himself.

The essential message of the early church was about Jesus’ kingship. Jesus was God incarnate, who died for our sin, was resurrected for our salvation, and now is Lord of all. All authority and heaven and earth has been given to Him.

That is, church has never only been about Sundays and souls; it’s about souls and cities. If something is going wrong in a city, it is the church’s responsibility to act. We are not only about defending our rights to worship as we please; we are about showing the invisible reign of Jesus through our words, lives, and actions.

In John Stott’s 1970s classic Christian Mission in the Modern World, he states,

“If we are to love our neighbor as God made him, we must inevitably be concerned for his total welfare, the good of his soul, his body and his community. When any community deteriorates, the blame should be attached where it belongs: not to the community which is going bad but to the church which is failing in its responsibility as salt to stop it from going bad.”

What does it mean to be a pastor who is publicly engaged and cares for souls as well as bodies, communities, companies, and cities?

Let me briefly suggest three things for the pastor’s role in public life.

  1. Publicly-engaged pastors commit to preaching a gospel for all of life.

Here’s Newbigin again: “The message of Jesus was about the kingship, the universal sovereignty of God. It was not a message about the interior life of the soul in abstraction from the public life of the world.” Christian discipleship therefore means that Jesus is Lord of all – not only of our religious life, but of all of creation, including communities, cities, companies, schools, hospitals and cultures. The good news transforms our souls as much as it does our businesses.

The good news is that by Jesus’ death and resurrection, the power of sin has been broken, and he’s healing all that has been fractured by the Fall. This is both individual and institutional. Pastors have the unique and often times offensive job of preaching that Jesus really is King of all, and all final allegiance belongs to Him.

Publicly engaged pastors read far outside of their field and humbly learn from people living and working in sectors far different from their own in order to explore what Jesus’ kingship might look like for those areas of human life.

  1. Publicly-engaged pastors commit to serving the vulnerable in their communities, both personally and through the volunteer efforts of their congregations.

Pastors who are publicly engaged commit to social justice and civic renewal in response to Jesus’ command to “love your neighbors as yourselves.”

Practically speaking, you can think about how to do this a few different ways. But one way is the think about your church and the volunteer capacities of your people, and decide together – what will be the one or two needs in our community that we will take responsibility for? It could be homelessness, loving immigrants, caring for pregnant teenagers, or mentoring. Sometimes it’s a program you’re doing; sometimes it partnering with a local nonprofit or civic imitative. But from what I’ve seen, this isn’t doing everything, but it is doing something. And doing it for a long time.

Another way is to become personally involved in the critical issues of your community. We’ll hear shortly from two pastors who’ve done this through sitting on local boards to investing in real estate projects. If you care, your people will care.

  1. Publicly-engaged pastors commit to vocational discipleship and forming men and women to be agents of restoration and reconciliation in their workplaces and communities.

Here’s a word of good news for you. You don’t have to do everything. God has people touching every part of our civilization. The pastor’s role is to shape the imaginations of your people for their lives and vocations.

Here’s how NT Wright puts it: “Your task is to find symbolic ways of doing things differently, planting flags in hostile soil, setting up signposts that say there is a different way to be human.” To be “raised with Christ” is a creative calling to find ways our daily work and lives to point beyond ourselves to Christ, the Light of the World.

Let me also briefly make the case for an institution like Denver Institute for Faith & Work. We exist to serve churches – both pastors and laity – as we explore the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection for our work, whether that be business, health care, retail, or transportation.

You, pastors, have the privilege of walking alongside of men and women and explore what it means to salt in society, yeast in our culture, and a city on a hill in a dark world. As your people scatter throughout society during the week, you can give them a vision for the redemptive angle of their work has on the public life of our society.

In summary, publicly-engaged pastors preach the breadth of our good news, show the depth of God’s love for the poor, and work to form God’s people in their vocations scattered throughout our cities during the week.

Pastors are critical to the health of churches, and churches are critical to the health of our cities. Thank you for your work.

""/
Craftsmanship & Manual LaborCultureEconomyFaith and Work MovementVocationWork

“God of the Second Shift: The Missing Majority in the Faith and Work Conversation” (Christianity Today Cover Story)

By Jeff Haanen

The following is the cover story for the October 2018 print issue of Christianity Today. To access the full article for free, click the “friends and family” link below. Also, if you’re not a subscriber, please consider subscribing to Christianity Today to support their work. Here’s an excerpt of the story.

Our group was white, college-educated, and passionate about helping people find meaning in their careers. We looked at Josué “Mambo” De León, pastor of a bilingual working-class congregation called Westside Church Internacional, eager to hear his thoughts on a recent “faith and work” conference. 

“For us, work isn’t about thriving,” Mambo said. “It’s about surviving.” 

Between bites of salad, it slowly became clear who the man in a red baseball cap, World Cup T-shirt, and jeans really was: an emissary from another world. 

“You start with the premise that you have a job and that you feel a lack of purpose,” he said. “But that doesn’t resonate with us. How are you supposed to find purpose and flourish when you don’t even have opportunities?” 

On my way home from the office of the nonprofit I run, Denver Institute for Faith & Work, I stewed over Mambo’s comments. They reminded me of a similar conversation I’d had with Nicole Baker Fulgham, president of an educational reform group called The Expectations Project. Baker Fulgham, an African American working with low-income kids, asked me bluntly: “So when do we start talking about faith, work, and life for fast-food employees?” 

In the past decade, the faith and work movement has exploded. Hundreds of new conferences, books, and organizations have sprung up from San Diego to Boston. But there’s a growing anxiety among Christian leaders that our national vocation conversation has a class problem. 

A hundred years ago, partnerships between clergy and labor unions flourished. Yet as the forces of industrialization transformed the trades in the late 19th century, and vocational education and liberal arts schools parted ways, a new mantra for the college-educated took root: “Do what you love.” The late Steve Jobs, in a 2005 Stanford commencement speech, stated, “You’ve got to find what you love. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” Work done out of necessity was devalued, and eventually conversations about Christianity and work applied the word vocation mostly to college kids contemplating work they would most enjoy.

Today, when American evangelical leaders talk about work, the working class—which is two-thirds of the American workforce—is largely absent. What are we missing? 

Daily Meaning or Daily Humiliations?

Years ago, I started Denver Institute after reading Studs Terkel’s 1971 classic Working, an oral history of working-class Americans. Work, Terkel says, “is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” 

Of course! I thought. This fit well with my graduate school angst (and growing boredom with my assignments). I liked the quote so much that I put it in my email signature. 

But somewhere along the way, I forgot that Terkel also believed work was centrally about “violence—to the spirit as well as the body. It is about ulcers as well as accidents, about shouting matches as well as fistfights, about nervous breakdowns as well as kicking the dog around. It is, above all (or beneath all), about daily humiliations.” 

This didn’t sound like the workplaces I was used to. But the tension between Terkel’s two statements has started to resonate with me. In the past five years, we in Denver have hosted thousands of doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and other young professionals at our events. But there’s been a conspicuous absence of home care workers, retail sales clerks, landscapers, janitors, or cooks. 

Calvin College philosopher James K. A. Smith—who once pulled 10-hour graveyard shifts on an air filter assembly line—observes, “The bias of the [faith and work] conversation toward professional, ‘creative,’ largely white-collar work means that many people who undertake manual or menial labor simply don’t see themselves as having a voice in this conversation.” 

It may be time to do some soul-searching. Have we, by which I mean myself and presumably many of this magazine’s readers, seen the culture-shaping power of work but been blind to the “daily humiliations” of those whose work we depend on each day? Have we been interpreting Scripture through our own professional class bias and failed to ask how working-class Americans think and feel about their work? 

The Great Divide

“Because hard work was such a high value for our family, it was also demoralizing,” says pastor Jim Mullins of Redemption Church in Tempe, Arizona. “One of the most difficult aspects of growing up was not the lack of money but the shame that would come with not having opportunities. That shame would boil into anger. I think a lot of the drug use and alcohol [use] that we experienced was a sort of numbing of the shame.”

Mullins’s story echoes the stories of millions of working-class Americans who have seen life deteriorate over the past 50 years in nearly every economic and social category. (I use the term “working-class” to mean those without a four-year college degree.)

The growing body of research is astounding…

(Read the rest of the article at Christianity Today.)


1 2 3
Privacy Settings
We use cookies to enhance your experience while using our website. If you are using our Services via a browser you can restrict, block or remove cookies through your web browser settings. We also use content and scripts from third parties that may use tracking technologies. You can selectively provide your consent below to allow such third party embeds. For complete information about the cookies we use, data we collect and how we process them, please check our Privacy Policy
Youtube
Consent to display content from - Youtube
Vimeo
Consent to display content from - Vimeo
Google Maps
Consent to display content from - Google
Spotify
Consent to display content from - Spotify
Sound Cloud
Consent to display content from - Sound