Jeff Haanen

Articles Tagged with

Vocation

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CultureWork

Why We Should Redeem Retirement (ERLC)

“What am I going to do with my retirement?” 

The anxious question came from Anne Bell, a recently retired researcher at the University of Northern Colorado. As a staff volunteer for the 5280 Fellowship, a young leaders program in Denver, Anne decided to give her first year of retirement to young professionals struggling with questions about calling. Bright and soft-spoken, wearing dark-rimmed glasses and carrying her teacher’s bag, today Anne came to the office with her own questions about calling. 

As our staff team discussed our weekly reading, Anne looked out on the snow-capped mountains from our seventh-story office. “What do you think, Anne?” I asked. She paused. Her voice began to quiver. “I just don’t know what I’m called to,” she confessed. “I need to know what’s next.”

The world is undergoing a massive demographic shift. Nearly 80 million Baby Boomers will retire in the next 20 years, at a rateof nearly 10,000 per day. By 2035, Americans of retirement age will exceed the number of people under age 18 for the first time in U.S. history. Globally, the number of people age 60 and over is projected to double to more than two billion by 2050. 

But today a growing number of Baby Boomers like Anne Bell – both Christians and their neighbors – are discontent with current cultural assumptions about retirement, and are asking better questions about work, calling, and purpose later in life. 

Today, the dominant paradigm of retirement is about vacation – how to afford it, and then how to make the most of it. A Google search for the word “retirement” shows articles, ads, and tips on how to save enough money for it, and a host of books on how to enjoy it. Retirement gifts follow suit: a coffee mug that reads “Goodbye Tension, Hello Pension.” A kitchen wall-hanging with the acronym R.E.T.I.R.E says Relax, Entertain, Travel, Indulge, Read, Enjoy. The wine glass that reads, “I can wine all I want. I’m retired.” 

Yet cracks are showing in the hull of the never-ending vacation view of retirement. More Boomers are questioning whether living in a Corona commercial can satisfy the heart’s longing for purpose over a lifetime – even if they could afford it. Mitch Anthony, author of The New Retirementality writes, “Retirement is an illusion because those who can afford the illusion are disillusioned by it, and those who cannot afford the illusion are haunted by it.

Some church leaders have responded by saying retirement isn’t “biblical,” (which is of course true, since retirement is a modern construct. The closest the Bible comes is Number 8:25.) “Lord, spare me the curse of retirement!” says John Piper, the former pastor of Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis and best-selling author. The late Ralph Winter, founder of the U.S. Center for World Mission, said, “Most men don’t die of old age, they die of retirement…Where in the Bible do they see [retirement]? Did Moses retire? Did Paul retire? Peter? John? Do military officers retire in the middle of a war?”

Yet the problem here is that most people can’t imagine working 30, 40, or even 50 years without more than two weeks off. Work is often painful. Mind-numbing tasks, humiliating bosses, a lack of autonomy, crammed schedules, co-worker conflict, new technology, oppressive hours. The author of Ecclesiastes writes: “So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind,” (2:17). Work can be creative service. It can also be toilsome pain. 

Might the gospel lead the world’s aging population to a new way forward, which both questions the “dream vacation” view of retirement and a life of unbroken work?

Becoming elders, not elderly 

A new generation of older Americans are seeing retirement as a chance to take a season of sabbatical rest in order to listen to God’s voice, rethink work, and commit to serving their families, neighbors, co-workers and communities as elders.

Bradford Hewitt retired in November 2018 from his role leading Thrivent Financial, a Fortune 500 not-for-profit financial services organization with a faith-based mission. “After being in an executive leadership role for 25 years, I’m planning for the next stage of service,” says Hewitt. “Before I start, I decided to do a sabbatical. The pace of being in leadership is intense. My idea of a sabbatical is just the opposite. I know I need to slow down and listen to God’s voice before I jump into something else.”

More Christians like Hewitt are spending early retirement in an intentional 3, 6, or 12 months of worship, feasting, silence, service, reflection, and learning in order recalibrate their hearts to hear the voice of the Caller.  

Rather than buy into a culture that sees old age as a problem to be solved (think of “anti-aging cream”), a new generation of older Americans is also embracing aging as a “crown of dignity,” wrinkles and all (Proverbs 16:31). 

Far from being an insult, the term “elder”was once associated with wisdom, character, and leadership ability, the assumed fruit of experience and age. “Stand up in the presence of the aged,” says Leviticus (19:32). The term elder (zaqen) is used in the Old Testament as an indication of one’s nobility. The elder taught wisdom at the city gate, the ancient place for public dialogue (Job 32:6–10). 

Gordon Smith, president of Ambrose University in Calgary, believes two ideas – wisdom and blessing – are the biblical model for fruitful living in retirement. “To bless is simply to affirm the other, to take particular delight and joy in the other in a nonjudgmental manner,” he writes. 

Smith tells the story of speaking at a family camp for Christian doctors and dentists. “These men seemed to have no other agenda than to enjoy the teens at the camp. And they had an immeasurable influence on my two [teenage] sons,” Smith remembers. “It seemed like they never used the word should, which all teens hate, and had no other plan than to bless my sons and the teens at the camp.” 

The psalmist writes, “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green,”(92:12-14). Retirement may not be biblical. But becoming an elder filled with life, hope, memory, and wisdom for a coming generation certainly is.

This is an adapted excerpt from my book An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life (Moody Publishers, May 2019) and was recently posted by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

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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.

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VocationWork

Don’t Waste Your Retirement (The Gospel Coalition)

John Beeble recently retired from his job as construction executive in Denver, Colorado. Not wanting to fully retreat from working life, John started his own consulting company.

“There’s only one rule about my consulting company—no employees. I did that for 20 years,” he said, with a note of weariness in his voice. Yet he violated his rule less than a year into starting his firm. As clients multiplied, he needed an executive assistant to manage the demands on his time.

“I’m trying to discern what’s next in this phase of life,” said Beeble, feeling the tug between rest, family, and work. “I want to stay engaged, but not in the same way as during my career. Give me some time to figure this out.”

He’s not alone. Baby boomers are retiring at an average of 10,000 per day; over the next 20 years, an estimated 70 million boomers will stop working. Those over age 65 are the fastest-growing age demographic in the United States.

It’s not just America, either. The world is rapidly aging.

“From 2025 to 2050 the older [over age 65] population is projected to almost double to 1.6 billion globally,” the U.S. Census Bureau reported. In 2015, only 8.5 percent of the world was over 65; by 2050, that number is expected to reach 16.7 percent.

For most of them, retiring from work is not a financial option. Among those who can, many—both Christians and their neighbors—are expressing a growing sense of unease about the future.

Across the developed world, the dominant paradigm for retirement is about vacation—how to afford it and then how to make the most of it. A Google search for the word “retirement” shows articles, ads, and tips on how to save enough money for it and a host of books on how to enjoy it. Retirement gifts follow suit—a coffee mug that reads “Goodbye Tension, Hello Pension.” A kitchen wall-hanging with the acronym R.E.T.I.R.E says Relax, Entertain, Travel, Indulge, Read, Enjoy. A wine glass that reads, “I can wine all I want. I’m retired.”

Yet older Christians are sounding the alarm that retirement as a never-ending vacation promises more than it can ever deliver.

Reimagining Retirement

The closest the Bible comes to our modern idea of retirement is found Numbers 8:25: “And from the age of 50 years [the Levites] shall withdraw from the duty of the service and serve no more.”

Since hauling tabernacle furniture was hard physical labor, older Levites were commanded to instead “minister to their brothers in the tent of the meeting”—a hint that God doesn’t intend for our work to completely stop, but rather to morph and mature with age.

Though retirement may be foreign to Scripture, the Old Testament idea of becoming an elder is not. Far from being an insult, the term “elder” was associated with wisdom, character, and leadership ability—the assumed fruit of experience and age.

“Stand up in the presence of the aged,” says Leviticus (19:32). The term elder (zaqen) is always used in the Old Testament as an indication of one’s nobility. One example is the elder teaching wisdom at the city gate, the ancient place for public dialogue (Job 32:6–10).

Scripture is replete with elders playing a critical role in redemptive history. Sarah was 90 when she miraculously gave birth to Isaac. Moses was 80 and Aaron was 83 when they confronted Pharaoh. Anna, an 84-year-old widow who devoted herself to fasting, prayer, and worship, “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Israel” (Luke 2:38). Far from being whisked off to desert golf courses or Caribbean cruises, elders were sought out for time-tested wisdom (Proverbs 31:23).

Gordon Smith, author of Courage and Callingbelieves two ideas—wisdom and blessing—comprise the biblical model for fruitful living in retirement. “To bless is simply to affirm the other, to take particular delight and joy in the other in a nonjudgmental manner,” he writes. Elders are called lay down former titles and professional roles, yet take up a mantle of wisdom and affirmation for a coming generation.

From Retirement to Sabbatical

The issue in today’s culture is twofold: We don’t have clearly marked rites of passage into “eldership” (outside of the formal New Testament church office), and most men and women entering retirement feel the need for renewal—sometimes physically, most often spiritually.

Because of this, rather than completely ceasing from work, a growing number of older adults entering retirement are taking a sabbatical—an intentional 3, 6, or 12 months to rest, worship, remember, and listen for God’s voice in order to discern next steps. The idea is rooted in Leviticus 25, where God gives instructions for a sabbath year to allow the land to rest before resuming productivity.

“When we moved to a new state following my retirement, I decided to take a private sabbatical,” says Lowell Busenitz, a retired professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Oklahoma. “One goal of my sabbatical was to use it to get a clearer perspective on this phase of life in order to get my future launched in the right direction.” Busenitz used early retirement to take long walks in the Colorado sunshine, read, study the life of King David, visit family, and reflect how God has shaped his career and working life.

“While I do not want to continue the teaching and research with the same intensity as before, the Holy Spirit has brought home in me that I was to stay reasonably close to my roots in entrepreneurship,” Busenitz said. “Some directions remain a puzzle right now, but I am becoming increasingly okay with that.”

Staying Faithful

Some older Christians elect to live out their vocation right where they are.

Ellen Snyder, a retired lifelong hospital volunteer, continues to serve at a day center for the homeless. Verona Mullison, a retired Cru missionary, sees retirement as an opportunity to explore the sciences, which she’s loved since she was a child. Joanne Butler, 68, a cashier at an Einstein Bagels in southern Colorado, makes a countercultural choice to wake up each morning to coffee and cinnamon crunch bagels.

“Yeah, I’m supposed to be retired,” Butler said. “But I like talking to people. This is where I belong.”

After a sabbatical, Barry Rowan, the former CFO of Nextel and Vonage, decided to return to business.

“I came to see that the purpose of business is to bring about a better society as seen through the eyes of God,” Rowan said. After his sabbatical, his work was endowed with renewed peace and purpose. He saw his work as not just a way to make money, but a God-given opportunity to build businesses around “responsible value creation, creating an environment where employees can flourish, serving customers, and being good corporate citizens.” Now in his 60s, he is also seeking to mentor young Christian business leaders. “I don’t think I’ll ever fully retire,” Rowan said.

For many, retirement is a new season to “use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Pet. 4:10), yet from a heart being ever renewed by the gospel (2 Cor. 4:16).

Perhaps the coming “gray dawn” of the global church will not produce an economic apocalypse, but rather a movement of older Americans who choose a truly uncommon path for retirement—one of a deeper rest, a deeper sense of peace, a deeper acceptance of the realities of aging, and a deeper sense of responsibility for the world God so loves (John 3:16).

“Give me some time to figure this out,” says retired executive John Beeble. Indeed, now is the time for pastors, scholars, and Christian leaders to paint a more beautiful picture of work, rest, vocation, and aging for the millions of older adults longing to hear God’s voice for the next season of life.

This article first appeared at The Gospel Coalition, and is an adapted excerpt from my forthcoming book An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life.

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Craftsmanship & Manual LaborFaith and Work MovementWork

The Thinker

Back of the beating hammer
   By which the steel is wrought,
Back of the workshop’s clamor
   The seeking may find the thought;
The thought that is ever master
   Of iron and steam and steel,
That rises above the disaster
   And tramples it under heel!

The drudge may fret and tinker,
   Or labor with lusty blows,
But back of him stands the thinker,
   The clear-eyed man who knows;
For into each plow or sabre,
   Each piece and part and whole,
Must go the brains of labor
   Which gives the work a soul!

Back of the motor’s humming,
   Back of the belts that sing,
Back of the hammer’s drumming,
   Back of the cranes that swing,
There is the eye which scans them,
   Watching through stress and strain,
There is the mind which plans them—
  Back of the brawn, the brain!

Might of the roaring boiler,
   Force of the engine’s thrust,
Strength of the sweating toiler,
   Greatly in these we trust.
But back of them stands the schemer,
   The thinker who drives things through;
Back of the job—the dreamer,
   Who’s making the dream come true!


—Berton Braley (1882-1966)

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Vocation

In the Fields of the Lord

 

This last weekend for me was difficult. And it was difficult for me, because of me.

We had friends over, neighbors over, and church members over to our house on Saturday and Sunday. Our home was filled with the noise of laughter, but it was also filled with the tears of children…and adults. My wife and I are wrestling with educational choices for our daughters, trying to discern what’s best for them and what God is calling us to. And our dearest third born continually both delights us and baffles us. Her emotional swings – from joy to incapacitated sadness – weigh heavy on our hearts.

I went to bed last night utterly exhausted from the weekend. As a 5 on the enneagram (“the investigator”) I’ve come to learn about myself that whereas most people start the day with an emotional tank 100% full, my “full” each day is about 20%. I’m at once overwhelmed by gratitude for all God has given me…and just overwhelmed. Holding my own emotions together on a day-to-day basis is an enormous task.

This morning I woke up and headed to the work, anxious to recover from the weekend. I listened to a CD that I have loved since it was released two years ago, “Work Songs: Porter’s Gate.” For an anxious heart, “In the Fields of the Lord” whispered to me a deep peace.

 

In the fields of the Lord our work is rest

He is moving in our hands and feet to bless

In the fields of the Lord, in the fields of the Lord

In the fields of the Lord, our work is rest

 

In the vineyards of the Lord our work is light

He is tending every leaf and every vine

In the vineyards of the Lord, in the vineyards of the Lord

In the vineyards of the Lord our work is light

 

In the garden of the Lord our work is sound

He is weaving every thorn into a crown

In the garden of the Lord, in the garden of the Lord

In the garden of the Lord, our work is sound

 

At the harvest of the Lord the fields are white

He will wipe away the tear from every eye

At the harvest of the Lord, at the harvest of the Lord

At the harvest of the Lord the fields are white

 

This song reminds me that God can use even my clumsy attempts at parenthood or serving a nonprofit organization to bless others.

It reminds me that the results are not all up to me, whether raising children or fundraising, because God is first “tending every leaf and every vine.” It is, after all, his vineyard, not my own.

It reminds me that the pain I experience – whether the deep doubts I have about being a father, or internal chaos I feel in an extroverted world – that God is willing to take the thorns of sin and place them on his own head, and give me a place in his kingdom.

And it reminds me the day is coming when God will soon wipe away the tears from every eye.

It is a strange and new place for me to realize that all of the great challenges of my life are inside me. To submit decisions to Christ, rather than to grasp for control. To be patient with my kids, rather than frustrated at the frailties they show – which I even see in myself. To be present to the people in my life, when realizing the utter necessity to set boundaries in order to live an emotionally healthy life. To seek love, joy, peace, patience ,kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control, yet to realize these virtues cannot be taken. They must be given.

For such a journey, I need others. I need songs like this. And I need to finally let go of my own grasping attempts to control my environment. The fields are the Lord’s.

 

If you’d like to learn to play “In the Fields of the Lord” on either guitar or piano, here’s the song book, kindly shared by Isaac Wardell at Porter’s Gate, and open for public use.

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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.

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Craftsmanship & Manual LaborWork

Be a gardener

Be a gardener,

dig and ditch,

toil and sweat,

and turn the earth upside down

and seek the deepness

and water the plants in time.

Continue this labor

and make sweet floods to run

and noble and abundant fruits

to spring.

Take this food and drink

and carry it to God

as your true worship.

Julian of Norwich (CA.1342-1416)


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NonprofitTheologyWork

The 10 Characteristics of a Thriving Pastor

For years we at DIFW have focused on what it means to live out the gospel in supposedly “secular” work, like business, medicine, law, or the arts. But several years ago we came to the uncomfortable realization that there was one field we had overlooked: pastoral ministry.

Now, we hadn’t completely overlooked pastors. But we had done two things. First, we assumed being a pastor was intrinsically “sacred.” But as my colleague at DIFW Brian Gray says, who was a pastor for 10 years, “It’s possible to wait tables very ‘sacredly,’ but pastor very ‘secularly.’” In our work with pastors, we’ve seen being a pastor, too, can devolved into just being a “job.”

Second, I felt like we had started to look at pastors as a means to an end. That is, we hoped pastors would come to “get it,” meaning that they would teach their congregants to be missionaries and servants of God in society through their work. And once they “got it,” we wanted them to influence their congregations with a robust theology of vocation. But after several of our key church relationships cooled off, I began to ask: have we been using pastors to get to their people, or had we been serving pastors? Had we really asked what might it look like for pastors to deeply live out their own faith through their work?

When working with pastors in our city on topics surrounding vocation, we also realized that getting churches to engage the social and cultural needs of their cities through their congregant’s work was often nearly impossible because they were dealing with too many issues in their own churches. Difficult elders, flighty volunteers, shrinking budgets, conflict amongst members, unclear goals. We realized that if churches weren’t led by pastors with unusual skill and competence, spanning from preaching and teaching to conflict resolution, community impact was nearly impossible.

Yet pastoral excellence, too, is elusive! We also realized that attaining pastoral excellence is difficult for many pastors (just as excellence is for people in any field!) because they were dealing with so many of their own spiritual and emotional issues—or  not dealing with them. In a survey we did this last spring with nearly 20 pastors in Denver, many told us anonymously about their own loneliness, fears and doubts. Many were longing for communities of clergy peers with whom they could be honest, vulnerable, and open – and found that this was usually difficult to do inside their own congregations. Pastoral ministry can be hauntingly lonely.

As part of a grant application process we did this last spring (for which we were summarily rejected – so take this following list with a grain of salt!), we put together our convictions about what it means to be a thriving pastor.

We summarized the marks of a thriving pastor in three categories: personal (points 1-3 below), professional (4-5), and public (6-8). We also believe thriving pastors put themselves in the right context (9-10) to grow. Thriving pastors lead from the inside out: they draw on the life of Christ from within, pursue excellence in their craft of pastoral leadership, and influence their churches for the sake of their cities and the flourishing of their communities.

Drawing on our work with pastors in the Denver metropolitan area along with external research on pastoral health, we at DIFW believe there are ten characteristics of a thriving pastor.

Personal

1.Personal Humility and Deep Spiritual Health. Thriving pastors “face their own shadow” in the context of vulnerable relationships. They open their hearts to God’s transforming grace through practicing spiritual disciplines, and they sustain pastoral habits of mental, emotional, and physical self-care. Their first call is to love God with all of their heart, mind, soul and strength.

2. Embracing the Call to Be a Pastor. Thriving pastors listen to God’s voice over a lifetime and embrace a professional identity without being unhealthily dependent on that identity for a sense of personal worth. They embrace a distinct call to be a pastor. They recognize their limitations and leverage their God-given gifts for their congregations and communities.

3. Healthy Families, Marriages, and Friendships. Thriving pastors are surrounded by healthy relationships, including first their spouses, then children, family and friends. Safe, open and honest relationships are critical to pastoral flourishing.

Professional

4. Leadership Management and Skill. Thriving pastors exhibit pastoral competence and learn new leadership skills often left untaught in seminary education (e.g., casting vision, managing projects, managing budgets, hiring well, etc.). They recognize short-comings and depend on mentors to navigate leadership challenges, especially early in their career.

5. Emotional Intelligence. Thriving pastors exhibit growing emotional intelligence and self-awareness, especially as it relates to leading and “reading” their church and its key leaders. They are able to build trust and lead healthy growth and change in their congregations.

Public

6. Social Engagement. Thriving pastors lead churches that serve the needs of their particular community, especially the poor. They commit to social justice and civic renewal in response to Jesus’ commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

7. Vocational Discipleship. Thriving pastors lead churches committed to forming men and women in their vocations as agents of reconciliation and restoration in families, workplaces and cities.

8. Evangelistic Witness. Thriving pastors lead evangelistic churches committed to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed with their communities and the world.

Context

9. Community of Peers and Mentors. Thriving pastors have communities of clergy peers and mentors who help them navigate personal, professional, and community challenges over a career. They embrace friendships with other pastors and leaders outside their church.

10. Becoming an Adult Learner. Finally, thriving pastors take ownership for their own development and embrace learner-directed, problem-oriented, and contextualized learning environments over a lifetime. They write their own “syllabus” and embrace peer feedback.

Today pastors face increasing complexity in their ministerial roles: the pull to be both spiritual and organizational leaders, and the pressure to offer cultural leadership in communities that no longer recognize their moral authority. Pastors – like all of us – need rhythms of spiritual formation, self-care, family health, and professional development to thrive with resilience.

We all face deep challenges in the workplace and long for God to use us to bless and heal this broken world. Perhaps one day, both lay leaders and pastors will lock arm and lean on one another to imitate King David who “shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them” (Psalm 78:2).

I’d be interested to hear from you. What do you think we missed in this list? What did we get right, and what did we get wrong? What specific examples can you give of deep pastoral health and resilience?

For more on this topic, see:

  • Bob Burns, Tasha Chapman, and Donald Guthrie: Resilient Ministry
  • Pete Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality
  • Gordon Smith, Courage and Calling
  • Barna Group, The State of Pastors: How Today’s Faith Leaders are Navigating Life and Leadership in an Age of Complexity
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Craftsmanship & Manual LaborEconomyWork

Six Differences Between How Professionals and the Working Class See Their Daily Work


America is working pretty well for the top third of society. It’s the other two-thirds who are struggling.

I came to this conclusion after reading Robert Putnam’s stunning book Our Kids.  After seeing the growing class divide separating American society, I also started to ask: how does the working class see their work?  

As I spend nearly all my time working with and for professionals (those with a four-year college degree), in a recent article I confessed that as I grew older, I realized I didn’t have a single working-class friend. Their world was foreign to me. And so was their work.

Joan C. Williams is a law professor at the University of California, Hastings who studies social class. Her book The White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America explains how differently professionals and the working class see their daily work.  Her research is a wise, honest look into working class values, beliefs, and opinions about their families and work.

Here are six differences between how professionals and the working class see their work.

Discernment versus discipline. For professionals, the spiritual and occupational challenge of work is discernment. There are so many good things we could do with our lives, how do we choose? The challenge is to stay inspired for eleven-hour work days without burning out.

But for the working class, endless choice isn’t a luxury they have. Instead, getting and keeping a good job through discipline and moral integrity is the higher priority. Consistently Williams research shows working class families value honesty, having integrity, and being hardworking, while they look down on dishonesty, being irresponsible, and being lazy.

“Hard work for elites is associated with self-actualization; ‘disruption’ means founding a start-up,” writes Williams. “Disruption, in working-class jobs, just gets you fired.”

For the working-class, self-control, discipline, and saying no to temptation is the only way out of the maze.

Achievement versus struggle. Professionals see work as a chance to achieve and prove yourself. Many college educated young adults, says David Brooks in The Road to Character, see work as the arena to maximize financial and psychological benefit while minimizing discomfort.

The working class, however, sees work as a constant struggle for survival. Job insecurity, dropping wages, and balancing child care put constant stress on working class families. Many working class families feel at a constant disadvantage.  Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, decided to join the working-class by taking jobs as a waitress, nursing home aide, Wal-Mart sales clerk and living in the motels and cheap trailer parks. She found that no job is truly “un-skilled,” that enormous mental and physical effort is needed to survive, and that often one job isn’t enough – two is necessary if you want a roof over your head.

Networks versus “real work.” Many professional jobs involve social skills and managing networks of influence. Yet the working class feel that their work, which often involves technical expertise, is both more down-to-earth than the work of professionals, and more practically valuable.

Many in the working class also feel a deep sense of pride in their work. Matthew Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soul Craft, points out the dignity the manual laborer feels after a day’s work. “He can simply point: the building stands, the car now runs, the lights are on.”

One values relational influence, the other tends to value practical usefulness.  

Work-identity versus Communal-identity. In professional communities, work-a-holism and busyness is a sign of success. Missing your kid’s swim meet is honorable, if it’s for a deposition (or a writing assignment.) For professionals, you are what you do. They derive their identity from their work.   

But the working-class dismiss work devotion as narcissism. One technician criticized people who are “so self-assured, so self-intense that they really don’t care about anyone else. It’s me, me, me.” Ambition is seen as trying to get ahead, a way to leave behind the community that cared for you in pursuit of personal success.

Instead, the working-class prizes traditional values and family loyalty. If you’re from professional family, moving to Silicon Valley is a fun opportunity. But if you sell toilets, it’s safer to hang out with people who won’t judge you for your dirty job. “Familiar faces provide a buffer against humiliation,” writes Williams.

Creativity versus dependability. Professionals value entrepreneurial initiative, boundary breaking, and creativity. They signal initiative by “breaking the rules.” But the working-class values dependability and stability, which are useful dispositions if you’re an order-taker rather than an order-maker.

At one electrical contractor in Denver, there are three characteristics of successful apprentices: show up on time, have a good attitude, and be willing to learn. Creativity just might get you electrocuted.

Now What?

Take a look at this list of questions as ask which you more identify with:

Professionals Working Class
How can I stay inspired? How can I keep my job?
How can I make an impact? How do I get through the week?
Who can you connect me to? Who will notice what I’ve made?
“What do you do?” “Where did you grow up?”
How can I challenge the status quo? How do I get me and my family out of the maze?

My guess is that nearly all of you reading this will identify more with the first list than the second. If you’re reading the second list and say, “Yes, that’s me,” leave a comment below.

I’d like to meet you and learn more about your world.

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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.)


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