Jeff Haanen

Articles Tagged with

Vocation

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Craftsmanship & Manual LaborWork

Let There Be Light: How Karla Nugent Is Transforming the Trades

“Come, let me show you around.”

As we rise from the conference table, Karla Nugent—cofounder of Weifield Group Contracting, a commercial electrical company in Denver—leads me into the pre-fabrication shop. Coils, wires, and electrical boxes are being assembled for installation. The only woman in the room of more than a dozen men, Nugent introduces me to employee Justin Hales.

“Electrical work is art,” Hales, an electrician’s apprentice, tells me. “Two years ago, they put me on the platform at Union Station. I would lay out the floors, locate everything, like a switch or outlet on the wall.

“When you turn your pipes, make them uniform—that’s art.” He pauses. “It probably goes unnoticed to the average person, but we see it. We take pride in our work.”

Nugent co-founded Weifield in 2002 alongside three business partners. Since then, the company has grown to 250 employees and has emerged at the forefront of electrical construction. For example, Weifield was behind the Net Zero, a LEED-Platinum research facility at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. It’s one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the world, operating solely on power generated at the building site.

Denver’s business community took notice of Nugent because of her philanthropy. As leader of sales, marketing, and human resources, she’s created a culture of generosity at Weifield. The company donates to more than 30 nonprofits in the city, including organizations that support women, veterans, at-risk youth, and the urban poor. Employees join in the generosity as well, taking bike rides to raise money for MS and building houses for Habitat for Humanity on company time.

In 2014, Nugent won the Denver Business Journals Corporate Citizen of the Year Award as well as the award for Outstanding Woman in Business for architects, engineers, and construction.

But light began to flood into Weifield when, several years ago, Nugent decided to bring the community’s needs into the company. After seeing growing income inequality in Denver, she created the Weifield Group apprenticeship program.

Becoming an Apprentice

Scott Ammon, a journeyman electrician at Weifield Group, joined the Army after high school. After serving in Desert Storm and four years in the Middle East, he worked for 11 years in the US Postal Service. “I’d actually been suffering from PTSD while I was there,” Ammon tells me. As a result, he “jumped into a pretty bad coke and meth addiction.” To get treatment, Ammon spent two years at the Stout Street Foundation, an alcohol and drug rehabilitation facility.

During rehab, Ammon heard about an opening for an electrical apprentice at Weifield. The four-year program trains employees in a pre-fabrication process (preparing electrical materials for on-site installation) while paying for their education to become state-certified journeymen electricians.

“I was really nervous when [Nugent] interviewed me because I was in treatment at the time,” Ammon says, figuring he’d be passed over because of his struggle with substance abuse. “But she looked me straight in the eyes and just nodded her head.”

When he got the offer, despite his rocky past, “That made me feel so good,” he says. “I said to myself, ‘From now on, they’ve got my full dedication.’”

In Colorado, 49 percent of all jobs are known as “middle-skill jobs”—one of 11 sectors requiring a GED but not a four-year college degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that in 20 years, 47 percent of all US jobs will still be middle-skilled, since building, plumbing, and wiring cities cannot be outsourced. But Colorado has struggled to find enough skilled tradesmen to keep up with the meteoric pace of Denver’s population growth.

So in addition to leading statewide workforce initiatives like Build Colorado and Skills to Compete, Nugent began reaching out to their charity partners—Denver Rescue Mission, Peer One, Stout Street Foundation—to find more electricians.

When they started the apprenticeship, they had low expectations. “If we get a 25 percent stick [employee retention] rate, we’ll be happy,” Nugent recalls thinking upon launching the program. “Now we’re in our fifth year. I just ran the statistics the other day. We’re at an 85 percent stick rate. They’re ready to work. They’re excited.”

The three keys to success, says apprentice program manager Brad Boswell, are attendance, attitude, and the ability to learn mechanical skills. “If they can do those things, I can make them into an electrician.” Some apprentices who have become journeymen have—in four years—gone from homelessness or addiction to making upwards of $50,000 per year.

After one of the many Weifield fundraisers for a community partner, a teary-eyed mother approached Nugent. “You gave my son a chance,” she said. “He was on his last leg. Nobody believed in him. But you did.”

A Conduit of Hope

“I pray that people see the good we’re trying to accomplish here through the workplace,” Nugent says.

Nugent’s Christian faith began in fourth grade, when she would hop on a Sunday school bus every week to attend church. Though nurtured by church and youth ministries, it was her mother, Rosemarie Craig, an executive at United Airlines and single mother, who gave Nugent a work ethic and vision for the good that business could do in the lives of others.

Today, she is a pillar of support to many employees who come from broken homes. “People start gravitating to you because they see you’re stable and sound, but they don’t realize that it’s your faith.” She’s also become an ethics gauge at her company for everybody from executives facing tough decisions on high-profile projects to apprentices contemplating divorce.

Nugent believes being a woman in a male-majority industry allows her to have conversations that many men couldn’t. “I have meetings with developers, executives, and other owners and usually guide it to some sort of eternal piece,” she says. “Most guys would just talk projects and numbers. But I can pull off that conversation because I’m a woman. It’s my challenge; it’s kind of fun.”

Through these conversations, two of her business partners have become Christians.

“I could live in a little bubble, in my comfortable Christian community,” Nugent says, “but here I [reach] a little bit of everybody, people I normally wouldn’t share life with. I hear their stories and help them find a home.

“Our buildings are really cool, but at the end of the day, it’s about the people. Jesus gave us community to serve each other.”

Rhythms of Rest

Nugent’s husband, Jack, owns an auto transportation company, is a NASCAR driver, and hunts on the weekends. As they raise their two children and excel in their professions, I expected to find a trace of exhaustion in her voice from the demands of work, life, and family.

Instead, Nugent shared with me a set of simple rhythms of rest, prayer, and dedication to her calling to be a wife, mother, and business leader.

As one of Denver’s most networked women, she turns off her phone every Sunday. “It can wait until Monday,” Nugent says. Her emails are brief, her social media presence is minimal, and she takes vacations with her family over the summers.

And when she considers a less busy life, she simply prays for direction. “Every time I pray about it, I say, ‘God, maybe I’m not supposed to be here. Am I supposed to do something else?’ But each time, God brings in a new relationship with somebody who’s having a tough time. For now, God wants me here.”

She also is committed to both her husband and two kids as well as her “work family.” “I’m on the front end of this ship, closing deals,” she says. “And if we don’t win deals, we can’t provide for all the families here. And so I balance that with, ‘I’d like to be home for dinner.’”

“As a woman in this industry, it’s easy to be soft. I’m not the construction guy’s guy. But I can be totally different because I’m a woman.”

“She really cares about us,” says Justin Hales.

And as Nugent quietly transforms the trades in Denver, the work of her hands is giving light to a new generation of electricians.

This article first appeared in Christianity Today, the first in a new column entitled “The Work of Our Hands.” I’m writing this column with HOPE International’s Chris Horst, with whom I’ve written about about manual labor and have contributed to This Is Our City. The article first appeared under the title “Light for Electricians: How Christians Bring Hope to Business.” 

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EconomyWork

Banking Alone

 

Recently I received an urgent plea from Mike, a young investment banker in New York.

Mike had just graduated with his BA in financial economics from Columbia University. Having read my review of Kevin Roose’s Young Money, he knew that investment banking meant 100 hour work weeks, acidic professional environments, and often working for the kinds of banks that Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone in 2009 called, “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

Mike knew he needed to prepare spiritually before jumping into a position even as a junior analyst. Before he started his job, he wrote me in an email, “I’m taking advantage of this in-between phase to search for ways to sustain some semblance of a devotional rhythm once my time becomes exceptionally scarce in the near future.”

Mike then confessed the reason for reaching out to me. With utter humility, he wrote, “I’ve been on the hunt for someone, anyone, whether a notable figure or otherwise, who is a force in their craft and who lives a purposeful life of working to usher in the fullness of God’s kingdom in the financial capital of the world so that I can emulate their practices.” Mike was searching for a guide, whether in history or alive today, who could help him navigate through the treacherous waters of a soul-suffocating industry — and leverage capital markets as a force for good.

But after searching for books on Christianity and investment banking, he came up empty- handed. “Nearly all of my own personal discipleship has come from books,” Mike confessed. “I just haven’t had many great leaders in my life (until recently)—so I was tempted to think that I’d find someone who has written something. My approach hasn’t worked.”

After I read that line, my heart sank.

Here Mike had the foresight to see that work isn’t morally neutral, and that working in his industry will present both deep temptations as well as opportunities. And so he searched for mentors who could guide him. But he found none.

He felt alone.

Mike then concluded by saying, “The last line in your review says ‘perhaps it’s time for more Christians to head straight into finance,’ which I obviously agree with. But where will industry relevant discipleship come from when we get there? If you have any resources for me, I would hugely appreciate them.”

After I read this email from Mike this past fall, I felt a resolute conviction to finish building the 5280 Fellowship.

Mike was humble and wise enough to reach out for wisdom on how live out his faith in his work — but he also was isolated from those who could speak truth into his profession. Depending on that path he takes moving forward, he could either leverage billions of dollars of capital to fuel healthy businesses and bless communities around the world — or end up a disillusioned, exhausted, depressed spreadsheet jockey who measures his personal value as a human being in dollar figures. The decisions he makes about his work life will affect him forever. 

The 5280 Fellowship won’t be a silver bullet for all our working woes. But I think it can provide young professionals like Mike a broader theology that touches even investment banking; a community of discernment focused on morally thorny professional issues; a network of like-minded friends working in diverse sectors across the city; practical way to engage the hard issues of our city; and a disposition to listen to God’s voice in the midst of trials.

Mike is taking a noble path. He’s chosen neither retreat (condemning a “godless, money-obsessed” industry), nor accommodation (adopting the prevailing secular values of his profession). He’s headed straight into the darknesses as a bearer of light (Matt. 5:14). After I read his email, I couldn’t help but admire his courage.

I think it’s time we joined him and started journeying this path together.

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Work

Guest Column for the Boulder Daily Camera: “Moving west for meaningful work”

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Boulder Daily Camera on January 27, 2016. 

Erik Nelson, a former VP with a large financial service company, is on the hunt for meaningful work.

He recently moved from Texas to Colorado to find a job in the nonprofit sector, hoping to discover a career with more than monetary benefits.

But after a few months, his search became a maze. He recently asked me, “Honestly, can work be anything other than mundane, routine,  and pressure packed?” In other words, isn’t there more to life that working a 9-5—and then escaping to the mountains for the weekend?

Like the 19th century gold rush, Erik is one of thousands of people are flocking to Colorado. As the economic center of the United States shiftswestward, cities like Boulder are brimming with new faces – especially millenials. We seem to be following Henry David Thoreau’s prophetic words, “Eastward I go only by force, but westward I go free. This is the prevailing tendency of my countrymen.”

But why come to a city like Boulder? Why did Colorado gain over 100,000 residents last year? Is it our snow-kissed slopes? Our booming craft brewing industry? Dreams of trading the congestion of New York for a leisurely bike ride to work in the Colorado sunshine?

Certainly those perks play a role. But I have a thesis: what we’re really longing for is meaningful work. And for most, that search is riddled with anxiety. 

In generations past, many took jobs merely as a means to a paycheck. Sign on with a large company, stay for 30 years, and find fulfillment on the weekend. But the new norm is to find a job with a social mission.

For example, JJ Oslund of Boulder left his job in human resources at Target to join the Global Accelerator Network, a network of short-term schools for entrepreneurs, because “I was in a system where I couldn’t effect change. I knew I wanted my work to make an impact.”

The American historian and broadcaster Studs Turkel described this longing well,“Work 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.”

If work is just a dollars-for-hours swap, then we’re spending nearly 100,000 hours of our lives like Sisyphus — pushing a rock up hill only to see it roll down again. It’s no wonder 75 percent of young adults want to live a more meaningful life.

The trouble is, most aren’t finding what they’re looking for. The average job tenure for millennials is a staggeringly short 16 months. For the rest of the market, it’s only 4.6 years. The search for meaning in work is elusive; as soon as one opportunity knocks, thoughts creep in of a better job around the corner.

Tech entrepreneurs often have the toughest time finding satisfaction in their work. A recent survey by TINYpulse, a specialist in monitoring employee satisfaction, found only 19% of tech employees say they are happy in their jobs, and only 17% feel valued in their work.

Tensions with work are often hardest for women with children. Jesse Minassian, a mother of two and writer living in Aurora, says, “I love what I do. Yet working from home while homeschooling my kids makes it hard. Between working, housekeeping, mothering, teaching and being a wife, I never feel a sense of being ‘finished’ with my responsibilities.”

At Denver Institute for Faith & Work, these are the kinds of tensions we explore. Tensions between faith and work, aimlessness and purpose, family and career, what is and what should be.

Denver founder and city builder John Evans (1814-1897), whose efforts to connect the Denver Pacific railway to Cheyenne saved the metro area from obscurity, once said, “It is the imperative of the Almighty that we shall do all the good we can.” For Evans, his work in medicine, business and higher education, was driven by a deeper meaning than mere personal success.

Evans didn’t just have a career. He had a vocation. A person choosing a career balances financial and psychological benefits with professional advancement. But someone with a vocation obeys a summons, even if it leads to obscurity or suffering. The good of others trumps personal comfort.

Tensions in our work will remain. But hope for the masses moving West for meaningful work won’t be found in self-actualization but instead in the freedom of self-forgetfulness.

Jeff Haanen is the Executive Director of Denver Institute for Faith & Work, a Colorado based educational nonprofit, and co-founder of the 5280 Fellowship

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TheologyWork

Why Work Is at the Heart of God’s Mission

Almost every Sunday morning at church, as we finish the final songs and benediction (and I prepare to pick up my crew of girls from Sunday School – now four!), I find myself asking the same question: What is the Church sent into the world to do?

This is a question that my friends in pastoral ministry think about often. They do so because it’s so foundational. The “why” of Christian mission, I think, is far less in question: our motivation for ministry is the gospel of Jesus Christ, his atoning death for our sins and his resurrection for our salvation. The free gift of new life in Christ is the spark that ignites the heart of his global people.

But what, then, is the church to do about it? In a previous post, I noted that John Stott, the framer of the Lausanne Covenant and best-selling author, saw a unity between service and witness as central to the church’s mission. Both were at the heart of why God sent Jesus himself into the world.

I recently picked up a book that I hadn’t read in ages that agrees with this view of mission. The authors of The Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (edited by Darrell L. Guder), like Stott, go to the mission of Jesus’ own mission to represent the Kingdom of God. “The church’s own mission,” they write “must take its cues from the way God’s mission unfolded in the sending of Jesus into the world for its salvation.”

They find a three part structure to the church’s own mission: “In Jesus’ way of carrying out God’s mission, we discover that the church is to represent God’s reign as its community, its servant, and its messenger.”

That is, the church is sent:

  • first to live under the reign of God as a distinctive, covenant community;
  • second the church is to represent “the reign of God by its deeds” and as a “servant to God’s passion for the world’s life;”
  • and third it is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ with words, inviting all people to enter the Kingdom by way of the atoning sacrifice of Christ.

What impressed me about this formulation was just how many other “missional thinkers” and leaders in the 20th century missions movement have seen the same structure:

– In the 1950s, Hans Hoekendijk and Hendrik Kraemer articulate the church’s mission in three parts: kerygma(proclamation), diakonia (service), and koinonia(fellowship) 

– In 1961, the New Dehli Assembly of the World Council of Churches organized around the three themes of witness, service and unity

– In 1981, Tom Sine in The Mustard Seed Conspiracy used the themes of “words of love, deeds of love, a life a love” to explain the church’s mission

– The 1972 book Who in the World? presented at Christian Reformed Church conference, organized the church’s mission around truth (message), the life (community) and the way (servant)

My question is this: What if our daily work is the central place that the scattered church (the church throughout the week, Monday through Saturday, cf. 1 Peter 1:1) embodies the gospel in daily living, bears witness to the truth of Christ in all of life, and serves the needs of the world? 

What would change if the daily work of men and women was the center point of how all churches understand their own mission to their community?How would this change the church’s preaching, teaching and programming?

I’m not the first person to ask this question. Elton Trueblood, the great 20th century theologian, said in his little-known book The Common Ventures of Life, “A Church which seeks to lift our sagging civilization will preach the principle of vocation in season and out of season. The message is that the world is one, secular and sacred, and that the chief way to serve the Lord is in our daily work.”

Similarly, the great missionary, apologist and theologian Lesslie Newbigin said, “We need to create, above all, possibilities in every congregation for lay people to share with one another the actual experience of their weekday work and seek illumination from the gospel for their secular duty. Only thus shall we begin to bring together what our culture has divided – the private and public. Only thus will the church fulfill its missionary role.”

For Newbigin, in a culture like ours (the modern West, which is a pluralistic society ruled in the public realm by a secular vision of the world), work is the context in which the church bears witness to Christ, the Lord over all of life, OR retreats in the private sphere without a word of hope for the public life of the world.

The obvious tension, at least for me, comes when I attend so many churches. I hear the gospel. Praise God. I hear lots about ministries involving kids, teens, young marrieds, men, women and singles. Again, praise God. And I often hear about “mission activities,” which primarily means volunteering. But where is work? 

Where are the efforts to bear witness to Christ in corporate board rooms, public schools or the vast medical complex of late modernity? And where is the equipping of the saints for deep acts of love and service in the manual trades, manufacturing, the service industry or accounting? Is this too, not the opportunity we have to serve? Is this not where all those people listening to our sermons spend their weeks – and their lives?

Let’s not stop volunteering. Don’t get me wrong. We NEED volunteers, and we NEED nonprofits. Society crumbles without those stepping in the gap to care for the poor on a volunteer basis. But isn’t job creation in business (work!) central to economic development, too? Isn’t upholding the rule of law absolutely central to protecting and serving those in need (cf. Gary Haugen’s The Locust Effect). These are all dependent on how we do our work, whether that be of a police officer, lawyer or entrepreneur.

The challenge for the Church in the 21st century, and for the myriad of faithful pastors in North America and beyond, will be whether our vision of mission includes the world of work or overlooks work in its preaching, teaching and programming.

This is the challenge for the Church in a post-Christian society. And this is the call of God, who has sent His covenant community into the world to faithfully live, witness and serve. 

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Theology

10 Steps Toward Becoming a Culturally-Engaged Church

We’ve made huge strides in the past several years on bringing the topic of work to church. But I’ve noticed an ongoing tension. It’s a tension between what we say about work on Sunday and what we do (or don’t do).

On the one hand, talk of “faith & work” and cultural engagement have been popping up across the evangelical landscape. From Lecrae waxing eloquent on the sacred/secular divide at Liberty University to the forthcoming publication of a Faith and Work Study Bible, it’s becoming blessedly normal to embrace the importance of work for Christian cultural engagement.

But on the other hand, painfully few churches actually do anything on a regular basis to equip their own people for works of service in their daily work. Most church services and weekday programs have gone untouched. This leaves many folks sitting in the pews feeling a bit like Van Gogh’s Starry Night – a city full of light, but a church that has gone dark.

This is really perplexing considering the sheer scope of programming some churches can offer.  Ministries for every life stage are common: kids, students, 20s and 30s, college & career, young marrieds, men, women, singles, and so on. Add in short-term missions, volunteering on Sunday, and church-sponsored basketball leagues, and we’ve hit nearly every interest area. Or have we?

More than once many of us have asked, “What about the other 45 hours of the week?” Nurse, school teacher, app developer, accountant, home-maker, small business owner, barista, engineer, city council member. If work is where culture is made, what would it look like in the practical day-to-day structures of Sunday services and weekly programming for church leaders to equip the diverse Body of Christ for witness and service in and through our work?

In addition to Work “Rhythms” for the Local Churchhere are 10 practical steps pastors can take toward becoming a culturally-engaged church. 

On Sunday Morning

1. Host a commissioning service once a year for laity celebrating their work. 

There are several ways to do this. LeTourneau University has an easy to follow formatincluding prayers and benedictions for the people of God who serve Christ across various sectors and professions.

At DIFW we encourage churches to do something even more simple. As a part of the church partnership program, we create short videos of men and women serving Christ in their work. From there, churches take that video of somebody in their own congregation, play it in a service, interview her about her daily work, and then pray for the whole congregation as they serve Christ in their daily work.

2. Pray for people in their work; consider doing so by season. 

Sometimes these prayers will be formal, like this affirmation of our labor found in Book of Common PrayerBishop Slattery’s Prayer for the Work DayMoses in Psalm 90 (“Establish the work of our hands, O Lord!”), a Prayer for All Christian’s in Their Vocation (by Steve Garber) or a even personally written Prayer for Work.

Other times pastors may want to pray for people in different professions according to season. For example, pray for teachers in August as they go back to school; business leaders, managers, and those in retail in November or December around busy shopping season; farmers as they harvest the crops in the early fall; accountants in March and April; and chefs, servers, and restaurant managers on Mother’s Day – America’s favorite day to go out to eat. Just put these seasons on your annual church calendar, and remember to cover the saints in prayer during these key times of the year

3. Select songs that affirm the value of God’s creation. 

Far too many of our worship songs seem to be only about “me and God” or my own personal heart or feelings. Unfortunately as we sing “When the things of this earth grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace…” it leads us to a view of culture that effectively ignores work and our cultural engagement because it doesn’t “matter” compared to individual salvation and the next life. (Ironically, in my experience, when I became a Christian the things of this earth grew strangely bright and exciting in the light of his glory and grace!)

Instead, consider songs that affirm love for God’s world – both in nature and in human society. Everything from “You make beautiful things, from the dust, out of us,” to “The universe declares your majesty” to “All thy works with joy surround thee, heaven and earth reflect thy rays” affirm the original goodness of God’s creation. I also like Isaac Watts’ riff on Psalm 23: “Oh may thy house be mine abode, and all my work be praise.”

The point isn’t in ignoring a personal relationship with Jesus. This is the foundation of a life of faith! But we can push against the individualistic and privatized faith of our current age by affirming how God works among us, in our world, and is drawing all of his creation (from mountains to machines to the work of mechanics) to himself.

4. Hang work-affirming art in the physical space of your church. 

From painting to photography, most evangelical churches could use a dash of heart-expanding beauty in the foyer. (For that matter, so could most businesses!) For example, The American Craftsman Project is both utterly beautiful and affirming of the manual labor of small businessmen across the US.

You’ll need to decide which types of work you would like to feature based on the professions represented in your own congregation. Churches in New York could highlight finance or drama; in Boston the academy; Texas, the energy industry; and in Denver a huge mural of REI employees and ski lift operators!

Doing this is a lot more simple that you think. Hire a photographer or local artist and find out what the Body of Christ does every week – the great, the sad, the beautiful and the broken. Bring this art back to the actual walls of your church building, and let your congregation’s social and vocational imaginations blossom.

5. Use the word “ministry” to refer to the priestly service of  all Christians. 

Too many  well-meaning church leaders share stories of men and women who left the business world to go into “ministry” – quietly suggesting that only paid church workers are in “ministry.” But the word ministry in the New Testament is also translated “service,” such as in Ephesians 4:12. Here, it’s the particular job of pastors, evangelists, apostles and prophets to “equip the saints for works of ministry/service” in all walks of life – not only those in 501(c)3 nonprofits with an explicitly faith-based mission.

My church, Colorado Community Church, does this well. Their task as pastoral leadership is to “disciple every member to be a missionary.” Since obviously not every member is a missionary overseas, that means every member is called to be a missionary – that is a servant and a witness – in all of life, including family, recreation, and work.

Having said this, there’s no need to ignore differences between the work of pastors and, say, landscapers or lawyers. It is a noble thing to desire to be an overseer (1 Tim. 3:1). And we should encourage more young people to choose to become pastors, not less. Yet we can do this as we affirm that the work of all the saints can be a genuine act of neighbor love.

(Pastors: here’s a quick summary of the different sectors of the American workforce. It can be helpful reminder of where “ministry” is happening on any given week.)

6. Do a sermon once per year on theology of work or vocation; use workplace illustrations in every sermon. 

A regular commitment to preaching on work or vocation goes a long way. And in the past few years, the number of quality sermon ideas are out there have multiplied: Tim Keller on workWork as Worship by JR VassarFive sermons by John Piper; a collection of sermons put together by the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation & Culture; a collection of my own sermons on work.

Depending on your preaching schedule and rotation, it may make more sense to preach once per year on the topic, or, for example, do a series of three sermons every three years. The key is to make preaching and teaching about work a regular habit. Our work and cultural engagement is too important a topic to do a single sermon or series and then be “done” with the topic. (Work isn’t ever “done” for any of us.)

I’ve also seen many pastors do an incredible job of integrating illustrations about work into every sermon. Tom Nelson at Christ Community Church in Kansas City does this well; some pastors have a preaching checklist they go through each week which includes illustrations about work. Often this doesn’t mean changing doctrine, it simply means applying it in a way that is understandable to lay people who spend a significant portion of every week at work.

Again, this is not as hard as it sounds. Preaching on the image of God? Illustrate how teachers or cabinet makers reflect the imago dei when they create new lessons or kitchens. Grace? Illustrate how the manager took the fall for his employee’s mistake. Justice? Speak about the work of International Justice Mission or the unnoticed work of law clerks who labor to provide the information needed to undergird the justice system. The cross?  Illustrate how easy it is to find our identity in our work or success, and how Christ calls us to die to ourselves that we might live for others.

You get the idea. Let your imagine move the truths of Christian doctrine in the daily fabric of our lives.

During the Week

7. Visit the workplaces of people in your congregation. 

This is really simple. Here are two ways you could do this:

1. Have lunch with your congregants at their workplaces. Go to the workplace of, say, Peter who works at EvoSnap, an online payment processor. Have lunch and ask him about his work and the latest opportunities and challenges in credit card processing. Get a tour of his workplace and get to know both what he does and some of his co-workers. End it by requesting to pray for him. Pray 1 Peter 4:10 over him and his work: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” Watch at the amazement of your own people at the great love their pastor has for them!

2. Have a church staff meeting at the workplace of one of your elders or deacons. Not only will this be a welcome break from the weekly routine, but seeing the world of finance, education, or manufacturing will open the eyes of your staff to the lived reality of your church’s own leaders. When you see first-hand both the opportunities and challenges of living out the gospel in post-Christian America, conversations about “being missional” change naturally.

8. Organize a retreat on vocation or a “community vocation dinner.”

Nearly everybody is saying to themselves two things about their job: “What is my calling?” and “It can’t be this!” It’s not just for young people. Boomers ask it just as much after they retire and the thrill of golf and margaritas everyday has lost its thrill. Provide space during a weekend retreat to pray, ask hard questions in community. Read,  laugh and explore foundational themes of discipleship and calling. Experiences like this can be hugely effective in helping laity hear God’s voice for their work.  Andrew Arndt at Bloom Church is organizing just such a retreat in a couple weeks. Chris Ditzenberger has done these retreats at St. Gabriel’s Episcopal.

The ever-brilliant Steve Garber has long suggested vocare dinners: gatherings of believers in similar fields – like business, education, healthcare or politics – to discuss a life “implicated” by the love of God. At DIFW, we organize vocation groups – monthly meetings of men and women in similar fields who want to understand their work in light of the Christian faith and find ways to creatively serve others with the skills and talents God has entrusted to them.

Either way, make time to set the table for the Spirit to speak to us. Word, food, and community go a long way to opening minds and hearts to the Call of God.

9. Host a class or small group on work, calling or culture.

There are all sorts of resources out there for you. Check out this list of vocation resources for the local church for a (biased!) perspective on the best books, video curriculums, small group curriculums, and websites that speak to work, calling and culture. Some of the best resources for small groups are, in my view, the ReFrame CourseFor the Life of the WorldEvery Good EndeavorWork Matters, Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, and the Public Faith Curriculum.

Again, I recommend one per year.  I would disagree with Jack Black who, in School of Rock, exclaimed, “One great show can change the world!” I love Jack Black – but he’s wrong here! Change happens  through developing the right small habits over time. (For proof, check out The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.)  It is through daily, weekly, monthly and even yearly habits that shape people to serve others.

10. Find opportunities for your congregation to donate their vocational skills to local nonprofits or neighborhood outreach projects. 

Amy Sherman’s four pathways of vocational stewardship should be printed on a big poster and pasted on the door out of the church each Sunday. She encourages Christians to (1) bloom where they’re planted in their jobs, (2) donate vocational talent to local nonprofits, (3) start social businesses and (4) adopt a block.

If pastors do the previous nine steps to becoming a culturally engaged church, “bloom where you’re planted” will happen naturally. In addition, churches may to follow Sherman and John Stott’s advice in Christian Mission in the Modern World to create “study and action groups”: groups that learn about a particular challenge such as joblessness or teenage pregnancy and then commit to serving the community in tangible ways. Since Sherman’s book is loaded with examples of this, I’ll simply recommend picking up her book Kingdom Calling. But encourage your congregation to use the skills God has given them to benefit local charities serving the poor, marginalized, left out or forgotten. The inbreaking of God’s shalom into our communities is a sure sign your church has left long-faced religion far behind and have become a culturally-engaged church.

Summary: 10 Steps Toward Becoming a Culturally-Engaged Church

On Sunday Morning

1. Host a commissioning service once a year for laity celebrating their work.

2. Pray for people in their work; consider doing so by season.

3. Select songs that affirm the value of God’s creation.

4. Hang work-affirming art in the physical space of your church.

5. Use the word “ministry” to refer to the priestly service of  all Christians.

6. Do a sermon once per year on theology of work or vocation; use workplace illustrations in every sermon.

During the Week

7. Visit the workplaces of people in your congregation.

8. Organize a retreat on vocation or a “community vocation dinner.”

9. Host a class or small group on work, calling or culture.

10. Find opportunities for your congregation to donate their vocational skills to local nonprofits or neighborhood outreach projects.

Find this helpful? Consider a donation to support the work of Denver Institute for Faith & Work.

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TheologyWork

Video Release: Eugene Peterson on Vocation

On New Years Eve, 1868, Andrew Carnegie sat alone in his room in the St. Nicholas Hotel in New York. Only 33 years old, he had already been successful beyond his wildest dreams. That year he made $56,110 and had accumulated $400,000 in assets. But his heart was restless.

New Years Eve was a time of sober reflection for Scottish Calvinists. Though an atheist, Carnegie the Scot picked up a pen and wrote that night, “To continue much longer overwhelmed by business cares and with most of my thoughts wholly upon the way to make more money in the shortest time must degrade me beyond hope of permanent recovery.”

Though he delayed in taking action, that night he committed to get a thorough education, take part in “public matters especially those connected with education and the improvement of the poorer classes” and “choose the life which will be the most elevating in character.”

For many of us, New Years is a time to examine our lives and make plans for next year. Many of us have questions about our work. What am I called to? If it’s not just making money – what’s the purpose of my work? What if I don’t like my job? These are tough questions for any of us. Many of us need a guide.

Today, on New Years Eve, we release four short interviews of Eugene Peterson’s wisdom on work and vocation. If you find yourself with a moment of quiet reflection before 2015, watch these brief videos and ask yourself the questions below. Take time to write in a journal your answers and what you might change in 2015 about your work, your family, or how you spend your time.

I wish you a Happy New Years, and a heart that finds its rest ultimately in Him.

The Role of Work in the Plan of God from Denver Institute on Vimeo.

  • Peterson says that taking a Sabbath “activates” and renews our work. How does weekend rest and worship influence your motivation to work on Monday?
  • In what way is your job “creation work” – work the participates in the creative work of God himself? Could your work next year be more creative?
  • Peterson mentioned that many people feel like they don’t have any worth unless they’re making money. Have you ever felt this? If so, why do you think this is?

 

Cultivating Vocation from Denver Institute on Vimeo.

  • Peterson said that some write poems, but others are poets; some have jobs as doctors, but others are doctors 24 hours a day. What has God made you “24 hours a day?”
  • Do you have mentors in your life who speak truth you need to hear? Are you mentoring others? 
  • What practices can you integrate into your weekly rhythm in 2015 that help to cultivate a sense of vocation or divine calling? What activities hinder your ability to hear God’s call? 

 

Suffering in Work from Denver Institute on Vimeo.

  • Peterson says: “Not many people have the ability or the opportunity to have a job that fits them.” Does this describe you? Are there ways to be faithful to Christ in your work even when you’re suffering?
  • Peterson’s dad was a butcher. Though he didn’t particularly enjoy his work, he had “contempt for the hackers who just wanted to get through the day as fast as they could.” Have you felt this way before? Is there a way to serve with excellence even in a job you don’t particularly enjoy? 

 

Busyness, Sabbath, and Work as a Gift from Denver Institute on Vimeo.

  • Do you find yourself so busy that you feel like you don’t have any control of your life? Why is this?
  • What role does technology play in our busyness? What does a truly restful Sabbath look like for you?
  • Peterson says, “Work is a gift.” How might your attitude change toward your work if you truly believed that your daily work was God’s gift to you? 
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TheologyWork

Four Sermons on Work

In the past several months, I’ve been honored to give four different sermons on work in the Denver Metro area. If you have some time this week, download them onto your iPhone or iPod (remember those?) and listen on your way to or from work. I’d love to get your feedback.

Here they are. I’ve included the title, time & place, biblical text, description, brief outline, and highlights for your scanning pleasure. Happy listening.

“The Gospel as Public Truth”

Listen Now: The Gospel as Public Truth

Date: July 27, 2014

Location: Fellowship Denver Church

Key Text: Acts 25:23-26:27

Description: Why does it seem like the public worlds of business, politics, technology or art seems so isolated from the world of church? In this sermon, Jeff Haanen explores Paul’s testimony before King Agrippa and Festus in Acts 25-26 to find a model for cultural engagement for our modern culture. Based on Paul’s own call, Jeff explains what it means to be a witness and servant of the gospel of grace in our work and culture today.

Brief Outline:

I. My Story: Does God also care about the public world?

II. Paul testified to the gospel publicly before King Agrippa

III. Modern culture – like ancient Rome – divides public truth from private values

IV. Living out the gospel as public truth: What Jesus didn’t do in his culture

V. Living out the Gospel as public truth: Servant and Witness

Three Highlights:

“Before King Agrippa, Paul testified to the gospel in the most public of places.”

“The early church believed Jesus’ message: Repent, believe the good news. The kingdom of God is near. They refused to privatize their faith because they believed that the first and final affirmation they made about all of reality was that Jesus is Lord.”

“When engaging culture, Jesus didn’t choose the path of the Essene or the Zealot…He chose a third path. That of servant and witness.”

“Wisdom and Work”

Listen Now: Wisdom and Work

Date: July 6, 2014

Location: New Denver Church

Key Text: Ecclesiastes 3:9-13

Description:  With growing student debt, nagging unemployment, and an epidemic of workplace disengagement globally, how should we understand our work? Qohelet, the author of Ecclesiastes, could see the futility of seeing work only as a means to accumulation, ambition, or self-actualization. But he could also see that work was a gift from God, and a way to “do good” while we live. In this sermon, Jeff Haanen unpacks the wisdom of the sages and applies it to our work lives today.

Brief Outline:

I. Globally the world is disengaged from their work

II. Qohelet – the author of Ecclesiastes – saw the futility of accumulation, abmition, and self-actualization through our work

III. Work is a gift.

IV. Work is an opportunity to serve.

Three Highlights:

“Money is not nothing. It’s important. But if it’s the driving factor in work choices, we’ll have found ourselves exchanging the hours of our lives for cars, houses, trips, and REI camping gear that we’ll leave to somebody else.”

“Do what you love. We’ve said it for so long to graduating college seniors it’s become almost gospel. Do what you love. Do what you’re passionate about. Don’t settle for just a job. Follow your dreams. But is this wisdom or just hot air?”

“The door into God’s will for our work is not my talents, my opportunities, or even what the world needs. It is gratitude.”

“Sheep and Goats: Loving the World Through Work”

Listen Now: Sheep and Goats: Loving the World Through Work

Date: November 23, 2014

Location: Littleton Christian Church

Key Text: Matthew 25: 31-46

Description: The parable of the sheep and the goats is one of Jesus’ most well-known calls to justice. Yet what is he talking about when he said “I was hungry, thirsty, and in need of clothes” and you cared for me? In this sermon, Jeff Haanen connects this parable to daily work – the way we serve the needs of others every day. In it he notes the difference between sheep and goats today, and draws lessons for our modern success-oriented culture.

Brief Outline:

I. In this parable, Jesus is not just talking about isolated acts of charity, but instead our work.

II. Goats serve themselves – and ignore the needs of others.

III. Over a lifetime, we actually become either sheep or goats.

Three Highlights:

“What does it take for just a single loaf of bread to feed my hunger? … The difference between me going hungry and me being satisfied by just a loaf of bread is the work of dozens – if not hundreds – of other people. It was people working, serving the needs of others.”

“I believe those whose work is the home, with kids and household work, each of these needs to met almost everyday! I’m hungry! I’m thirsty! I’m sad and lonely! I need clothes on! I’m in prison! Ok…maybe not in prison literally. But certainly in the chains of original sin that must be disciplined regularly.”

“As we take a look at judgement, let’s not be afraid, but also let’s not be arrogant. C.S. Lewis once said that we had spent far too much time and energy thinking about who gets into heaven and who doesn’t. The better way to think about it is who’s walking toward God and who’s walking away from him.”

“The Creator”

Listen Now: The Creator

Date: October 14, 2012

Location: Littleton Christian Church

Key Texts: Genesis 1:1-3, 2:2-3; Psalm 104:31

Description: Why is it that we spend so much time and effort at work, and yet find it difficult to speak about our daily work at church? This need not be. God’s own work of creation is a model for human work. From creating skyscrapers to manufacturing silly putty, we are “made in the image of the maker” and to work as an expression of the image of God in us. We were not designed to merely go to work, get money, buy stuff and die. Work is part of our creative calling, and the way in which we offer ourselves to God.

Brief Outline:

I. Why talk about work at church?

II. God’s work is creative.

III. We are made in the image of the Creator.

IV. Too often our work today is defined only by making money, consumption, and then trying to escape from the job.

V. Creativity is a paradigm for shaping culture.

Three Highlights:

“God said in Exodus 20: ‘Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall do all your work…’Why should we rest one day a week and not work? Because that’s what God did. His rhythm of work and rest must become ours.”

“Every week we humans make skyscrapers, sirens and spaghetti dinners. Dorothy Sayers was right: ‘Man is a maker, who makes things because he wants to, because he cannot fulfill his true nature if he is prevented from making things for the love of the job. He is made in the image of the Maker, and he himself must create or become something less than man.’”

“What would it look like to start gather with other Christians in your field, to talk about your work, talk about your creative calling, and needs you see around you, and begin to serve God through your vocation?”

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Work

What’s Wrong with, “Do What You Love”?

 

We’ve said it for so long to graduating college seniors it’s become almost gospel. Do what you love. Do what you’re passionate about. Don’t settle for just a job. Follow your dreams. But is this wisdom or just hot air?

Gordon Marino recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times about his experience at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. In contrast to the college students who came into his office, “rubbing their hands together, and furrowing their brows,” wondering if they should become doctors, philosophers, or stand-up comics, many people in Northfield delivered papers at 5am or became roofers. Marino’s own father worried very little about “doing what he loved.” He worked at a job he hated for most of his career in order to take care of his family.

The rub, says writer Miya Tokumitsu, is that the “do what you love” ethos is actually elitist because it undermines work that is not done out of “passion.” Moreover, it severs the traditional connection between work, talent and duty. The vast majority of the world’s workers are not working because they love the job, but instead are simply providing for their loved ones, and they had little choice in the matter.

Kate Harris of The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation & Culture has aptly pointed out that in today’s culture, the word vocation has been twisted from its original meaning of living one’s entire life in response to the call of God. Instead, for many it refers to an ideal job, one that forever seems over the rainbow. In my own experiences in Denver, I’ve found this to be the case as well. Mentioning the word vocation elicits a range of responses, mostly involving: “I feel called to…” or “I don’t feel called to…” The emphasis is on our personal feelings, self-fulfillment, and career preferences, not necessarily on hearing and obeying the voice of God.

Throughout its usage in Christian history  vocation has rarely if ever meant “do what you love.” More often than not, the call of God was actually a call to suffer for the sake of others. Moses was called from the desert to free the Israelites from slavery, only to be burdened with the task of another 40 years of wandering the desert with a bunch of grumblers. Jeremiah was called to suffer as a prophet to the nations; a calling he rued later is his life. (“Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed!” [Jeremiah 20:14]). Paul was called to be the great apostle to the Gentiles, and God tells him through Ananias, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name,” (Acts 9:16). Not exactly “do what you love.”

Of course, the biblical idea of calling is not for sake of suffering, it’s for the sake of Christ, and for the sake of serving others. This is why Tokumitsu’s critique is so ripe. There is a historical connection between being called, and using your gifts to serve the needs of others. For some this means doing what you love. But for most, it means doing what you must. It means using your skills to bring value and life to your community.

Is this life, this call to do what you must, inherently unsatisfying? I don’t believe so. My mother was a public school teacher in Hopkins, Minnesota for 35 years. Her days were long, and when she came home, she cooked, brought us to basketball practice, and most nights corrected papers for her third graders until she dozed off. Did she love it? Many days, yes. All the time? No way. Being a single mother supporting two kids is a life of duty and a life of service. It’s not one of self-actualization. But in the giving, my mother made a huge impact on the lives of my sister and myself.

Ironically, when we think about work, chasing after our own happiness will never bring us happiness. It is in serving others and pointing beyond ourselves that happiness is tossed in along the way. To find happiness, forget about passion. Give yourself to what the world needs. Or better yet, give yourself to God, and let him use you as He sees fit.

At the conclusion of Christopher Wright’s magisterial The Mission of God, he says, “I may wonder what kind of mission God has for me, when I should ask what kind of me God wants for his mission.” Exactly. But be prepared, this just may not be a job that you love.

This article first appeared on the Missio blog at The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture. 

Illustration by Leslie A. Wood

 

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Work

What would you ask Eugene Peterson about your work?

 

If you could sit down with Eugene Peterson, the author of The Message, and ask him any question about your work or career, what would it be?

This fall, Denver Institute for Faith & Work, along with Cherry Creek Presbyterian, New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Littleton Christian Church, and Bloom Church, is hosting a special dinner for the residents of Colorado.  The dinner will feature several short video clips of Eugene Peterson answering your toughest and most honest questions about calling, theology, and career.

To get the video, this Spring we will be traveling to Eugene Peterson’s home in Montana to ask him your questions about work, vocation, career and the Bible. And so before we go to his home, we want to hear your heart and thoughts. We will be collecting questions from you for the next two week on anything related to calling, work, career and the Christian faith. The top three questions will both actually be asked to Eugene Peterson for the video recording and will earn you a free dinner this Fall.

So, if you were sitting next to Eugene Peterson, what would you ask him about your work?

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Economy

Vocation: The Holy Grail of Corporate America

 

Five hundred billion dollars. That’s how much economists estimate the US economy loses every year due to employee disengagement.

A recent Gallup poll showed that 70% of Americans are disengaged from their work – either simply punching in and punching out each day, or actually working to sabotage the company they work for.

Globally it’s worse: recently Harvard Business Review noted that 80% of the global workforce is disengaged – 10% worse than America. And the numbers aren’t getting better. Back in 2007-2008, the Global Workforce Survey conducted by Towers Perrin (now Towers Watson) polled 90,000 workers in 18 countries. Five years ago, 79% were disengaged worldwide. That’s one percentage point better, showing the world has lost ground in the past 5 years.

Imagine a global economy of Dilberts, wandering in a forest of cubicle boredom– and a sea of managers doing little to stem the tide of corporate ennui. If images of The Office are popping into your head (without the entertaining antics of Michael Scott), you wouldn’t be far from the truth.

But why hasn’t this question garnered more of our attention?  Employee disengagement costs not only the US economy, but it dearly costs businesses, both large and small, in annual revenue and profits. And if these numbers are accurate for Christians as well as people of other faiths, that means that 4/5ths of the Body of Christ would rather be playing Angry Birds, checking Facebook posts from high school buddies, or taking naps under their desks than actually working.

Considering we live in an economy ever more dependent on creativity and innovation, we have to ask the question: How did the modern world become so disengaged from work, and what can be done about it?

Gary Hamel, named by the Wall Street Journal as the world’s foremost business strategist, tried to tackle this question in his book The Future of Management. He introduced a simple framework for ranking employee engagement, which he called “A Hierarchy of Human Capabilities at Work.”

A Hierarchy of Human Capabilities at Work

Level 6: Passion

Level 5: Creativity

Level 4: Initiative

_____________________

Level 3: Expertise

Level 2: Diligence

Level 1: Obedience

At the bottom is obedience – employees who show up each day and follow the rules and procedures. Obedience is necessary for large-scale organizations, but people on Level 1 simply do what they’re told. Next is diligence. These employees stay until the job is done and take personal responsibility for their work. They’re hard workers, and want to do a good job. Level 3 is expertise, or personal competence. They’re not only hard workers, but they’re good at what they do. They’re well-trained, many have great skills, and they’re eager to learn more.

Here’s the problem, however, with Levels 1-3. “Trouble is, obedience, diligence and competence are becoming global commodities,” writes Hamel, in his new book What Matters Now. “You can buy these human capabilities just about anywhere in the world, and in places like India and China, they can be bought for next to nothing.” And corporations have realized this, which is why millions of jobs have been outsourced from American and Europe to the Far East. If you’re an employee under the line in Hamel’s Hierarchy of Human Capabilities at Work (Levels 1-3), it’s likely that sooner or later, you’ll be looking for a job.

What, then, of the higher levels? Beyond expertise is initiative. These are employees who see problems or opportunities, and don’t wait to be told what to do. They’re proactive, and find ways to initiate new projects that create value for their company.

Level 5 is creativity. Here, “employees are eager to challenge conventional wisdom and are always hunting for great ideas that can be imported from other industries.” They challenge tired industry norms, pay attention to emerging trends, leverage existing skills and assets, and meet needs that customers didn’t know they yet had. For example, the creatives at Apple weren’t the first to invent a smart phone, but they did combine the idea of a smart phone with web browsing, a music player, email, alarm clock, calendar and an ecosystem of other apps. Level 5 employees are culture-makers – they create new ways of doing and thinking, and in the process shift companies, and occasionally industries.

Yet the apex of Hamel’s Hierarchy is what he simply calls “passion.” Hear how he defines passion: “[These are] employees who see their work as a calling, as a way to make a positive difference in the world. For these ardent souls, the dividing line between vocation and avocation is indistinct at best…While other employees are merely present, they are engaged.” Vocation – a deep sense of calling, a zeal to work for a purpose beyond oneself – is the single greatest need for corporations across the globe. In a creative economy, audacity, imagination and passion create the most long-term value.

But Hamel sees a problem: “[Here’s] the rub. These higher order human capabilities are gifts; they cannot be commanded. You can’t tell someone to be passionate or creative. Well, you can, of course, but it won’t do much good.”

Let’s take a step back and summarize. Most of the world can’t stand their work. It costs the economy and businesses billions of dollars, and it costs individuals of a sense of purpose. The world’s best business thinker sees this problem and crafts  a hierarchy that puts action, creativity, and, of all things, vocation, at the top of his list of most valuable assets. But the problem is that these traits can only be gifts. That is, they must be given.

 You can probably see where I’m going here.

It’s one thing to say that we ought to think about how to live out our faith in the business world. It’s another thing to say that the most desperate need the world – and our companies – has is people who are called to initiate and to create, both activities that have their very foundation in God himself (bara is the Hebrew word for “create” or “initiate”, used to describe God’s activity in creating the universe in Genesis 1).

What’s the takeaway? One of the wisest use of resources for any company is to help people discover their vocation, and then create fertile environments whereby employees can use their gifts to grow, create, and make a difference.

I’d also say that it would be fiscally wise for corporate leaders to leave space for honest expressions of faith, recognizing that you can’t give your employees creativity or passion. But perhaps Another can.

This post first appeared on the Denver Institute Blog.

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