Jeff Haanen

Articles Tagged with

Work

""/
Craftsmanship & Manual LaborPoliticsVocationWork

‘Tis a Gift to Do ‘Undignified’ Work (Christianity Today)

Blue-collar labor often goes unappreciated and under-rewarded. How can that change?

When I was growing up, the best TV shows all featured blue-collar characters. Cheers, The Simpsons, Love and Marriage, The Wonder Years—each centered on the lives of loveable laborers. Cliff from Cheerswas a postman, Homer Simpson pulled levers in a nuclear power plant, and even the disgruntled Al Bundy sold women’s shoes. One episode of The Wonder Yearsfeatured Kevin learning about his dad’s career path from a loading dock worker to a distribution manager. “You have to make your choices,” Mr. Arnold told his son. “You have to try to be happy with them. I think we’ve done pretty well, don’t you?”

What a difference two decades makes. Since 1992, nearly every Emmy for Outstanding Comedy has gone to shows depicting white-collar adults working in Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston, New York, or Washington, usually without kids. The exception would be The Office, but its humor is based on the idea that selling paper is an utterly miserable and meaningless job. In the NBC drama This Is Us, the story of a construction worker is told in a flashback to the 1970s and 1980s, as if Hollywood believes manual-labor jobs only existed three decades ago.

Not only has the working class gone underappreciated in modern America, but over the past 50 years, lower-wage workers have seen their lives get progressively harder. Oren Cass’s The Once and Future Worker: A Vision for the Renewal of Work in America sheds light on the plight of the working class, arguing that the distress that millions of workers feel today owes largely to federal policies that were supposed to help them.

Productive Pursuits

In the past generation, the central focus of policymakers has been the growth of the economy, as measured by Gross Domestic Product (a monetary measure of all goods and services produced in a time period) and rising rates of consumption. And it’s worked. From 1975 to 2015, America’s GDP has tripled, and consumption has ballooned.

The problem is that this period of economic growth has coincided with rising rates of suicide, drug abuse, and social isolation. The nation’s suicide rate climbed 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, deaths from overdoses have risen every year since 2000, and loneliness has now become an “epidemic,” for everyone from older adults to Gen Z.

Though the economy has grown, the standard of living afforded to low-skilled work has declined—and so has our collective appreciation of the work done by millions of lower-wage workers.

The critical issue, says Cass, a policy expert affiliated with the right-leaning Manhattan Institute, is that we’ve prized consumption over production. We’ve built a larger “economic pie” and attempted to redistribute its benefits to those left out rather than build a labor market that allows the majority of workers to support strong families and communities.

Cass’s central idea is that “a labor market in which workers can support strong families and communities is the central determinant of long-term prosperity and should be the central focus of public policy.” Cass calls his big idea productive pluralism, the idea that “productive pursuits—whether in the market, the community, or the family—give people purpose, enable meaningful and fulfilling lives, and provide the basis for strong families and communities that foster economic success too.”

Against those who dream of a post-work future filled with robots and artificial intelligence—underwritten by a universal basic income to cushion the impact of surging unemployment—Cass affirms both that the “role of the worker in society is fundamental” and that “it is within our power to ensure its vitality.”

Concrete Proposals

In The Once and Future Worker, Cass turns high ideals into concrete proposals to actually heal the fractures splintering the American workforce.

The most compelling is the “wage subsidy.” Rather than luring large corporations to town with big tax breaks (like the Amazon HQ2 hysteria of 2017) or levying payroll taxes on low-income workers and then redistributing the money through entitlements, why not “pay for jobs” directly? What if a worker saw a “Federal Work Bonus” on her next paycheck, adding three extra dollars for every hour she had worked?

Cass also advocates building an educational system better suited to the four-fifths of students who do not complete the high-school-to-college-to-career path. Around two-thirds of Americans don’t have a four-year college degree. To better ensure that more of them can get good jobs and contribute to their communities, Cass proposes reinvesting in vocational training and shifting toward a more “tracked” form of schooling—similar to systems found in Europe—where students are grouped according to educational ability rather than lumped together in the same classroom.

Yet there’s one area that government policy can’t do much about: our cultural views about the value of lower-wage workers.

“Waiters, truck drivers, retail clerks, plumbers, secretaries, and others all spend their days helping the people around them and fulfilling roles crucial to the community,” writes Cass. “They do hard, unglamorous work for limited pay to support themselves and their families.” Why shouldn’t we admire those who do harder jobs for lower wages on a broad scale? We’re capable of doing this with police officers, teachers, and firefighters. Why shouldn’t the work done by trash collectors, housekeepers, and janitors deserve the same degree of respect?

For that, we need not just policy reform but a different story about work altogether.

To Bow and Bend

It’s not every day that I pick up a book on the finer points of public policy—or review one for a Christian publication—but pausing to consider the markets, systems, and other largely invisible entities that shape our working lives is well worth the effort. It’s like pulling back the curtain on our workplaces and industries—and the perceived worth we bring to our communities.

Cass is the unusual conservative voice willing to cut both ways. He pushes back on both the left’s commitment to government spending and the right’s unwavering faith in economic growth. And he moves even heady policy discussions down to a level I understand: The goal is to create the conditions for people to have good jobs, raise healthy families, and contribute to their communities. As a Christian, there’s clearly much that resonates here.

Yet I also wanted to hear more about the moral, emotional, and spiritual elements that make for both healthy laborers and healthy labor markets. Tim Carney’s Alienated America makes the case—from sociology, political science, and research, not theology—that local churches are the critical element in the renewal of America. If churches account for 50 percent of American civic life, as Robert Putnam famously pointed out in Bowling Alonedo they not also have a central role in reviving the fortunes of American workers, many of whom experience the pangs of meaninglessness and loneliness?

In a time when economic divides mask the growing dignity divide between professionals and the working class, between prestigious high-wage jobs and unspectacular low-wage jobs, the church can and must play a central role in reviving a vision for work.

The Shaker spiritual “Simple Gifts” reminds us of Protestant traditions that deeply value work, even “undignified” work. “‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free, ‘tis the gift to come down where we ought to be. … When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed.” Turning the other cheek, doing hard and dirty work, and being overlooked by the world—these are familiar notions to those of us who worship a carpenter and a washer of feet.

Christians should join in Cass’s call to restore the dignity of work in America, rounding out his policy argument with the rich resources of our own tradition. We should also recommit to studying which of our favorite policies—on both ends of the political spectrum—actually do more harm than good.

Most importantly, since policy is downstream from culture, we need to rediscover the habit of being public about our own story for work. And perhaps, like Mr. Arnold in The Wonder Years, we could start around the dinner table by telling our kids what we actually do all day.

The article first appeared in Christianity Today online.



""/
BusinessFaith and Work MovementTheologyVocationWork

Lessons Learned from the Global Workplace Forum

I recently returned from the Global Workplace Forum, a conference hosted in Manila by the Lausanne Movement. Started in 1974 by John Stott and Billy Graham, the Lausanne Congress for World Evangelization gathered people from around the world; last week, 850 leaders from 109 different countries met to discuss the next phase of the global missions movement: the activation of the workplace as the central arena of God’s mission in the world.

The highlight was meeting the people* sitting at my table, a small group that discussed the larger live sessions. My table was gloriously diverse: 

  • Jonathan is from India and works in a sports ministry. Because of increased persecution of Christians in India under a Hindu nationalist government, Jonathan shared about his worry for his family, but also said “We’re 100% committed to bringing the gospel to our country.” He plays cricket, hosts a youth group in his home, and humbly serves God in a 650 square-foot flat with his wife and three children, one of whom is an adopted 19-year-old.

  • Solomon works in sports broadcasting in Johannesburg, South Africa, and is pursuing his MBA at the Rome Business School during the evenings. He is also a correspondent for BBC World Service and started a project called 70 Christian Heroes, a book that highlights South Africans courageously serving Christ in their daily lives.
     
  • Dennis is an architect living outside Kampala, Uganda. He shared the story about a contractor offering a $30,000 bribe to recommend the contractor’s company for a large project. Dennis turned it down, saying “That would compromise my Christian witness. I already made the decision before I started in this field what I would and would not do.”
     
  • Alex is the owner of a digital marketing company based in Hong Kong. He shared the story of Protestants in Hong Kong leading the way in the peaceful protests against a controversial extradition bill, singing “Hallelujah to the Lord” along with millions of protesters. 
     
  • Dyan is a Pilates instructor from Manila whose husband works at a church. She longs for the church to acknowledge the importance of her work as a genuine ministry outside either her home or her church. 

At the Global Workplace Forum, I met a tech entrepreneur from Puerto Rico working on energy solutions for his country and a payment platform that can help fund missions work. I met the CTO of a technology firm based in Moscow who works in Norway and the U.S., adopted a child, and shared with me his perspective on the 2014 annexation of Crimea. I met a French national who told me “You won, but we played better” regarding the U.S. women’s soccer defeat of the French team, which took place during the conference. I met a Sri Lankan who was studying at Yale, the CEO of the world’s largest Bible translation organization, and a Peruvian economist and lawyer who’s considering whether to run for Congress in Peru or follow his wife to the U.S. as she pursues an advanced degree. I even heard a story of a Turkish national who became a Christian while studying to become a Muslim cleric. 

The idea of “work” is dizzyingly complex and exhilarating at the same time. Truly, God’s people touch every single aspect of culture!

I spoke as part of a panel that explored solutions for how the global church can activate the faith of the 99% of Christians who don’t work occupational ministry jobs, like pastors or missionaries. The panel facilitator had a PhD in electrical engineering from Canada. The other panelists included a clinical psychologist who works outside Nairobi and counsels victims of genocide; a Filipino-American woman who works in international expansion of Apple stores around the world and is helping to start faith-based employee resource groups; and a man who works with nomadic tribes in Kyrgyzstan.

The experience in Manila was enlightening on many fronts. Here are a few things I took away from the event: 

1) I share more in common with other believers from across the globe than I do with my own non-Christian next-door neighbors.  It was a fascinating experience to hear the story of Dmitry, a Christian entrepreneur in Moscow. When he shared about his faith, his family, and his work, I immediately felt at home. He has the same challenges with his kids, the same concerns about his government, and the same struggles with what it meant to be a Christ-follower in his industry. It was almost odd how Christians from across the globe share a common language, common ethos, and common mission.

A.W. Tozer said that Christians are like pianos tuned to the same tuning fork. Not only are we tuned to the same tuning fork, but we’re also tuned to each other. This describes my exact experience at the Forum, and I felt swept into something much bigger than my nationality, my culture, or even my own work. 

2) Globally, the workplace is becoming a commonly accepted paradigm for a new era of missions. In the past, missionaries would raise support for years, find a ministry job abroad, and work with locals to execute that plan. Today, more people are seeing this as a dying model; taking your job with you as a missionary makes far more sense. Instead of quitting your job to become a missionary, more people are keeping their job and become physicians, entrepreneurs, or teachers both at home and abroad while still being on mission

The acceptance of this paradigm of work as a missionary endeavor is not simply an American phenomenon; it’s taking root in the global missions movement across countries. 

3) The conversation is still too biased toward executives. The programming was utterly wonderful, yet several people approached me and said, “Why are we just speaking to business leaders here?” The question for the next season of this movement will be: how do we apply the gospel to the work of hourly wage earners – housekeepers, janitors, book printers, and millions of other working-class jobs?

4) Work is immensely broad. Before the Global Workplace Forum, I never considered work to include activities like the work of nomadic tribesmen in Kyrgyzstan! When we speak about shaping our workplaces as Christians, we are truly talking about global culture and every issue in the modern world, ranging from climate change to human trafficking to artificial intelligence. We covered each of these topics, and more, throughout the week. 

5) English is the language of global commerce. Imagine my surprise when I went to a conference with attendees from 110 difference countries, and they all spoke my language! I expected wide linguistic gaps. Though there were interpreters at the conference, it made me appreciate that technology has connected the world; in many ways, we share one global culture. We have more opportunities than ever before to learn from others who are serving God from Italy to Uzbekistan. It led me to a greater sense of responsibility as we produce short courses and podcasts that are now being consumed around the world. 

6) I need to build deeper relationships with friends from other cultures. I met one couple, Emanuel and Bianca, who are real estate developers in Romania. As they shared about creating community through new housing developments, I was struck that my wife and I could easily be friends with them if they lived in Colorado. After I came home, I committed to downloading WhatsApp, the global medium for texting and chatting across cultures, staying in touch with friends from abroad, and working to diversify our conversation about the gospel and our culture in Colorado. 

Being abroad and meeting new friends made me realized that we have much to gain and learn from our brothers and sisters around the world. It’s time to embrace Lausanne’s motto: “the whole church bringing the whole gospel to the whole world.” 

*Editor’s note—Some names have been changed.

Faith and Work MovementTheologyWork

The Global Workplace Forum: A New Era for Global Mission

Today I fly to Manila.

I’m on my way to speak at the Global Workplace Forum, a gathering of 730 leaders from over 100 countries. Convened by the Lausanne Movement, which was started by Billy Graham and John Stott in the 1970s, today feels like a turning point for how the world’s Christians are understanding the word “mission.”

As I prepare to sit on a panel with a man working with nomadic tribes in Kyrgyzstan, a clinical psychologist from Nairobi, a Filipino-American woman who now works in Silicon Valley expanding Apple stores across the world, and a man who’s worked in global business from the Middle East to Canada, I’m reminded of several truths.

I’m reminded of the diverse and far reaching nature of the Church.

I’m reminded that technology has created, in many ways, a single global culture.

And I’m reminded of the truth that 99% of the world’s Christians have non-occupational ministry jobs, and the workplace is fast becoming the new frontier for global mission.

Thinking back just a hundred years, the great student missions movement brought the gospel from the West to the East and the global South. After World War II, the age of evangelistic crusades brought a renewed fervor for global mission and the conversion of young people through organizations like Campus Crusade for Christ and Young Life. In the seventies and eighties, the seeker movement built the megachurch, and the masses we drawn toward Jesus through rock bands and popular preaching.

But today, we are in a new era. Though much work on Bible translation needs to be done, countries like France have had the Bible for centuries, yet are less than 1% evangelical. As the church of Europe shrinks, Muslims outpace their western counterparts in having children, and the global South is now home to the majority of Christians throughout the world, we’re starting to realize that mission must not be from “us” to “them,” but instead from “everyone to everywhere.”  

To bring the good news of Jesus to either the Muslim world or the secular strongholds of the West, we need every single Christian to be “on mission” every day. This means we are all implicated in being missionaries wherever we are, whether Seattle, Singapore, or South Africa.

Michael Oh, a Japanese American and the CEO/Executive Director of the Lausanne Movement, recently wrote an op-ed for Christianity Today entitled, “An Apology from the 1% to the 99%.” His message was simple. For too long we’ve assumed that the 1% – occupational pastors, missionaries, and theological educators – were the real missionaries, whereas the 99% of Christians in “secular jobs” were just there to support the 1%.

No more, says Oh. The 1% has the unique and real responsibility to equip the 99% for mission wherever they live their daily lives, whether that be a government official working in Bangladesh, a sports trainer working in Seoul, or a coder working in the Ukraine.

As I head into this conference and meet leaders from across the world, from Norway to Namibia, I can only guess where this will lead the global church.

But here’s my guess.

The idea of work as the central place for global mission will start to take hold. Churches will begin to start thinking about the work of their people as the central way they’re called to be involved in “mission.” And churches that embrace worship, teaching, and preaching that “equips the saints for works of service” will begin to displace the churches built on consumerism and entertainment.

Conversely, I believe that churches that have relied on attracting people with the right mix of rock music, smoke machines, and paper-thin preaching – while ignoring their people’s lives and the condition of their cities – will begin to shrink. I believe theological schools, which are facing unprecedented enrollment challenges, will have to start innovating and creating more classes targeted toward the laity in order to survive. And mission agencies will have to not only care for the poor and sharing the gospel, but will need to grow their ability to work with native leaders who can reform systems and demonstrate the gospel through companies, city councils, clinics, and schools.

I started Denver Institute for Faith & Work because of my own convictions arising from my study of missiology. Leaders like John Stott and Lesslie Newbigin pointed to the workplace as the next era of global mission, and now it’s starting to take place right before our eyes.

The Lausanne Movement is intent on “the whole church bringing the whole gospel to the whole world.” When I look at my fellow believers from around the world, I realize how little I’ve given for the gospel. And how much it’s cost so many of them.

We are at the dawn of a new movement of the Holy Spirit and a new era for global mission. And each of us has a role to play in the divine drama.

May His kingdom come, and His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.


""/
EducationVocationWork

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

""/
BusinessCultureEconomyTheologyWorkWorld

Dreading Monday (Comment Magazine)

The spiritual crisis underneath our jobs.

Reviewing: 

Working The New Press, 2004. 640pp. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s spiritual.

Purpose, Pain, and PR Researchers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terkel gives voice to near universal human experiences at work.

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

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

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

Falling to Pieces

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

Secular society is indeed beginning to crack.

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Soul to System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This essay first appeared in Comment Magazine.


""/
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)


""/
Faith and Work MovementWork

How To Start Your Own Faith & Work Institute

 

Over the years, I’ve often received the question How did you do that? That is, how did you start Denver Institute for Faith & Work? The founding of DIFW was a one part grace (both God’s and other’s), one part luck, and one part perseverance. The great thing about our story is that we didn’t need anybody famous to make it work. We prayed, we convened, we planned, we executed, we failed, and then we tried again.

Are you interested in starting your own Faith & Work Institute? Here’s a few practical steps on how to get started:

1. Make a plan.

You can’t get anybody on board without a plan — with deadlines. A simple 2 page document is enough. Include measurable goals, action points, and deadlines, and hold yourself to them. Include goals for programming, fundraising, administration, and communication. This will be how you recruit your board.

2. Form a strong board.

Your board members are your best cheerleaders, strategic advisors, donors, and, early on, co-workers. Recruit a board that (1) Follows Christ, (2) Believes in your mission, (3) Gives generously and (4) Contributes a particular skill set you need, and (5) Connects you to a key part of the city.

3. Draw in pastors / industry leaders in an advisory role.

At the outset of DIFW, I found that our church advisory council and our advisory board did two things very quickly for us: (1) They built public trust in our new organization, and (2) They helped to form the programming we designed for our market. “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.”

4. File for 501(c)3.

If you’re not an independent 501(c)3, you need to file ASAP. Legitimacy in the nonprofit world depends on this little note from the IRS. Find a friend who’s a lawyer, and get it filed ASAP.

5. Initiate branding, website, and communication rhythms early.

Even before we initiated our first program, we got an identity package (logo), worked on a simple website, and started sending monthly newsletters. This is key to starting the long road to building trust in your mission.

6. Get a public event on the calendar.

Do it early. Even before you’re ready. I recommend an event because it’s easy to pull off, gets your name out to the community, and is easy to communicate to donors what you did. (Make sure to video record it.) This will be your next step toward legitimacy.

7. Fundraising: Share your vision with everybody.

Coffee is cheap. So go an have coffee with anybody and everybody who will meet with you. Do only 50% of the talking, but be sure to share the nut of your vision. Ask for permission to stay in touch. Year-end giving and your board will be the core of your early revenue streams.

8. Start new programs, learn from your mistakes, change, and start again. 

Entrepreneurs make mistakes. Lots of them. The secret is to do it often and cheaply.  Put the plans for a program together, get it out to the world, humbly accept feedback, make changes, and try again. Be courageous. Your identity is not at stake.  And put your idea out there .

9. Embrace institution-building and becoming a generalist. 

Building a new organization is tons of work. What is a website widget? I’ve never read P&L statements before! Do I really have to do board reports? So much of your work is not just administration – it’s building a new institution. One you believe can last for generations. You’ll have to start learning to do things way outside your expertise. That’s ok.  The work of an institution-builder is the work of a generalist.

10. Make the Entrepreneurial Leap: Put in your notice and start as the full-time Executive Director. 

This takes courage. And trust in Christ. But once you have 3-6 months of your salary in the bank, give your notice, and do this work full-time. It’ll seem nuts. But this will also motivate you. If this is where God has called you, then don’t turn back. God is with you.

11. Pray, show gratitude, and give the glory to Christ.

Launching a new organization – and having a measure of success — is a gift of grace. Thank God often in your prayers. Thank your board, thank your donors, thank your program participants. Gratitude is central to building a lasting institution, and it is what gives our work a lasting and deep joy.

Since DIFW started in 2012, God has been at work in other cities. Check out what other Faith & Work Institutes have been popping up around the US: Nashville Institute for Faith and Work, Los Angeles Center for Faith & Work, Chattanooga Institute for Faith & Work

Need some help getting started? Contact me. 

 

""/
Work

Can I Really Change? Formation in the 5280 Fellowship

Tonight is the final information session for the 2018-19 class of the 5280 Fellowship, the flagship program of Denver Institute for Faith & Work. As the application period closes on April 30, I thought I’d re-post this article I wrote last year on the underlying philosophy of the 5280 Fellowship, along with some new pictures from this year’s class of Fellows. If you’re longing for meaning and a deeper sense of purpose in your work, I’d encourage you to apply an explore if the program is right for you.

How do we change?

I’m 34 years old, have four kids, and have been in the workforce for 9 years. And for me, there is no more pressing question in my life today than How do I change?

In the past three years, the stress of leading a growing organization, trying to be a good father, and accomplishing my professional goals has exposed, well, cracks in the foundation of my character.  My precious wife has been so patient with me as I stumble, fall, and get up again – only to find myself back where I started.

As I’ve spoken with peers about their lives, careers, and relationships – especially young professionals in Denver and Boulder – I’ve seen common traits among many of us:

  • We’re around people and “social networks” all the time, but we feel lonely, and not deeply known by others. It’s the great irony of a social media age. More noise, but less deep relationships.
  • In our careers we’ve gotten good at a technical skill for which we were trained in school, like drawing construction plans, scheduling conferences or planning lessons. But we wonder: what about the broader city we live in? Who else is out there like me? How can I go from a microscope (knowing lots about a little) to a telescope (seeing a bigger picture)? Might my career or work be a part of something bigger than just my success?
  • In the drive to get things done and accomplish more in a shorter amount of time, I feel like my relationships, my knowledge of myself, and my relationship with God isn’t what I want it to be. I long to live a deep spiritual life, but most days I find this baffling. I need help. Lots of it.
  • Only 33% of Americans are engaged with their work. Most show up, do a job, get a paycheck – and would rather be somewhere else. And even for those third that are “highly engaged,” there’s an uncomfortableness, especially in Colorado, with those who make their careers everything, and forget about family, friends, neighbors, recreation, or the needs of others. Is there a way to be engaged, but not make work an idol?

In the last three years, I’ve felt each of these feeling acutely. Changing any of these seems daunting for me. Yet what’s interesting to me is that in the first year of the Fellows program at Denver Institute, I’ve seen what looks to me like genuine change in the lives of 27 men and women.

  • Grant Stone, a banker, shares about a broadening perspective on the financial industry, and what it means for his future career decisions
  • Candice Whiteley, a vice principal, shares about the value of a community deeply committed to God, a deeper knowledge of ourselves, and our world
  • Banks Benitez, an entrepreneur, shares about a renewed perspective of God that even sees Him at work at a car wash employing autistic men and women
  • Rachel Moran, a law professor, shares about no longer feeling alone as she endeavors to live out her Christian life at a secular university
  • My friend Hunter Beaumont, lead pastor at Fellowship Denver church, has said, “This program is having a transformative impact on the culture of my church.”
  • Paul Frank, who works at a healthcare supply chain management company, said to me recently, “When I started the Fellowship, I hated by job. I had been in a tech company for over a decade – was something wrong with me? But one night, after doing a “vocational power assessment,” somebody in my cohort said: ‘Look, you have incredible vocational power as one of the most senior employees in your company. Maybe God put you there for a reason.’ I now see my work as an incredible opportunity to mentor and serve.”

Why is this? Where is this change coming from?

When I designed the program, to be honest, I kind of had a chip on my shoulder about my previous educational experiences. I loved reading and ideas, but I couldn’t stand reading 500 pages of a boring book, writing a paper about an esoteric topic, or listening to professors lecture for hours without ever asking what I thought. I also developed an affinity for older books (and shorter ones!) that had stood the test of time. Better to build my life on the great ideas and traditions of the past than the latest fad that had become popular in the academy.

In my years after graduate school, I also came to value the primacy of learning from people: people who are further along in their careers, people who have had different training than I have, people who are influencing key conversations across different sectors in our city. Jesus wrote nothing, but he instead gave us his church, a group or people. I could now see why. People were just as important “texts” as were books. And through the Holy Spirit, God actually lives in people.  Moreover, as I grew in my career, I saw myself imitating leaders I knew, and putting into practice what they were feeling and doing, far before I understood the concepts behind their actions.

I also began the incredibly hard process of self-knowledge. Only in the past several years have I really started to plunge deeply into how I react in stressful situations, how I come off in front of others, why I feel energized or exhausted, and the impact my own emotions have on everyone around me.

The Fellows program has been designed for those of us in our careers who long for a deeper change that technical training can’t provide. We built in elements into the program that take into consideration the breadth of what human being is. We are relational, social, physical, emotional, intellectual, habitual creatures who are environmentally-shaped, embedded in culture, and designed for work, for others, and for God.

So what does that mean? In the 5280 Fellowship, in means:

  • The relational and emotional context formed by the cohort of Fellows is the core of the program. God is relationship – and we grow only by first opting into a community and commits itself to a set of habits, like spiritual reading, work, discussion, prayer, vulnerability, and learning from others.
  • The community is designed around values of theological thinking, redemptive relationships, creating good work, deep spiritual health and sacrificial service. The unspoken values the community holds at the outset of the program shape the environment even before we’ve begun the formal program.
  • We strive to cultivate a deeper knowledge of God on two levels: (1) his revelation through Scripture and his church through reading great authors on topics like biblical worldview & mission, calling, theology work, Christ and culture. (2) We cultivate a direct knowledge of God, the living Person, through practicing the classical spiritual disciplines.
  • We set the context for a deeper knowledge of ourselves through a coaching process that includes an EQi assessment, 360 interviews, sharing our stories with the cohort, and evaluating our vocational gifting and power.
  • We set the table for a deeper knowledge of our culture by understanding issues through eyes of leaders actually shaping and forming those issues through their work.
  • We intentionally build diverse cohorts and expose our Fellows to a broad network of leaders in the city because we believe learning directly from other’s experiences is deeply transformative on a cognitive, relational, spiritual, professional and civic level. Experiences like the 5280 Fellowship are often catalyst experiences that open new opportunities, new perspectives, and new relationships across churches and sectors.
  • The program also requires a professional project and a personal development project. Leadership development programs that are all about papers and lectures – but don’t have the teeth of real world projects that will influence real people – are not effective. Conversely, applying your theology to real work contexts and serving real needs, from psychiatry to urban planning to corporate management, is both professionally impactful and is good for the workplaces, communities, industries and cultures we live in.

Tough thing about the program: it’s a big commitment over nine months. And it’s only for those who are serious about change. But here’s the truth: technology is fast, but character formation is slow. And we can’t do it alone. We need each other.

As I was interviewing two of our senior leaders last month during a Saturday teaching session, I closed the session, and looked up to our Fellows and said, “I just want to say one thing. Seven months ago you were strangers – but I now call you my friends. I genuinely love being a part of this community. Thank you. I needed it.”

Change seems impossible to me most days. But as we near Easter week and I take a look at the empty cross and the light-filled tomb – and the growing community of faith in the metro area – I’m filled with hope.

If you’re interested in learning more about the 5280 Fellowship, fill out the form at the bottom of the 5280 Fellowship page or reach out to me personally. We accept applications for the Class of 2018-19 through April 30, 2018.

""/
Faith and Work MovementTheologyWork

7 Ways to Pastor Working Men and Women in Your Church

 

Here’s a recent presentation I gave at recent event for pastors in the DIFW article. This article appeared originally in the DIFW blog. I hope it helps you think about to ‘equip the saints for works of service’ in the rhythms of your church. Here are the slides. 

Pastoring Professionals_Presentation

Living out our faith at work looks different for doctors, lawyers, accountants, and professionals in various industries, and ministry leaders often struggle to fully understand the challenges their members face in the workplace. At a recent event for our Church Partnership Network, Jeff Haanen shared seven practical ways to disciple the professionals in our pews.

1.   Visit your members in the workplace.

“Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” (Ephesians 4:11-12)

One of the easiest ways to learn how church attendees spend the majority of their time is to visit them where they work. It’s also the best way to understand the challenges they face in their respective jobs or industries, which will enable ministry leaders to pray for and encourage them in relevant and specific ways.

Frequency: 2-4 times per year

2.   Host a commissioning service for church members in the workplace.

“As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21)

Many churches formally commission missionaries and mission teams prior to field assignments. The same attention can be given to lay members of the congregation as they go “out” to their work.

Frequency: Annually

3.   Use workplace illustrations in your sermons.

Most of us spend about 90,000 hours at work, but only 5,000 at church on Sundays. Relate to church members with relevant examples and sermon illustrations from their jobs or industries that connect with each week’s teaching. Even better: use examples right from your congregation.

Frequency: Weekly

4.   Pray for people in different industries.

“Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field…” (Matthew 9:38)

If we believe in the power of prayer, why not pray specifically for church attendees during tough or busy times? Pray for teachers in the fall, retail employees during the holidays, etc.

Frequency: Seasonally

5.   Feature worship music that affirms work and creation.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Church attendees will experience a deeper sense of connection when they see their work affirmed through corporate worship. Check out the new Porter’s Gate: Work Songs album, or attend our upcoming workshop for pastors and worship leaders to learn more about bridging work and worship.

Frequency: 1-2 times per month

6.   Select small group curriculum that focuses on work, calling, and culture.

“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37­–39)

Many believers struggle with feelings of isolation at work. Address this growing frustration through industry based small group curriculum that explores issues of calling, cultural engagement, and the challenges unique to a variety of industries. Take a look at Scatter and download a free lesson plan to get started.

Frequency: 1-2 times per year per group

7.   Host “all-of-life” interviews in your worship services.

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that is in you.” 1 Peter 5:13.

Find an attendee who is fully living out the gospel in their unique work context and share their story. Redemption Church in Tempe provides a great example.

Frequency: Monthly

For more resources for churches and ministry leaders, take a look at our Church Partnership Network.

1 2 3 4