Reimagining Retirement

photo-1466108333137-d66f5e31b052.jpeg

Anne Bell, a recently-retired researcher at the University of Northern Colorado, spent one of her first years after retirement volunteering with the 5280 Fellowship, a leadership program for young professionals in Denver. Bright and soft spoken, wearing dark-rimmed glasses that match her innate curiosity, she confessed one day to a group of early career professionals, “I’m really searching for what I’m called to,” she confessed, wiping a tear from her check. “I just want to know what’s next.”

... we first need to understand the culture surrounding retirement and the stories that shape our perceptions about work, rest, age, and meaning.

The world is undergoing a massive demographic shift.  Nearly 80 million Baby Boomers will retire in the next 20 years, at a rate of nearly 10,000 per day. By 2035, Americans of retirement age will exceed the number of people under age 18 for the first time in U.S history. Globally, the number of people age 60 and over is projected to double to more than 2 billion by 2050.

But today a growing number of baby Boomers – both Christians and their neighbors – are discontent with current cultural assumptions about retirement.

Decoding the Culture of Retirement: Three Postures

Retirement is an idea with a history. And to understand our purpose, we first need to understand the culture surrounding retirement and the stories that shape our perceptions about work, rest, age, and meaning.

The history of retirement began in America around the idea of a never-ending vacation. Using that theme, here are three postures toward retirement that dominate headlines today:  

1.    Let’s vacation.

Today, the dominant paradigm of retirement is about vacation – how to afford it, and then how to spend it. A Google search for the word retirement shows articles, ads, and tips on how to save enough money for retirement, and a host of books on how to enjoy it: How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free, 101 Fun Things to Do in Retirement, and Design Your Dream Retirement. Retirement gifts follow suit: a coffee mug that reads “Goodbye Tension, Hello Pension.” A kitchen wall-hanging with the acronym for R.E.T.I.R.E says Relax, Entertain, Travel, Indulge, Read, Enjoy. The wine glass that reads, “I can wine all I want. I’m retired.”

A more whimsical version of the Let’s vacation paradigm includes the Red Hat Society, an international women’s organization for women over 50 inspired by Jenny Joseph’s poem, “Warning.”

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat that doesn't go, and doesn't suit me,
And I shall spend my pension
on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals,
and say we've no money for butter.

I’ve been good long enough, so goes the train of thought. Time to let loose and enjoy life. I deserve a vacation.

2. I can’t afford to vacation.

If the dominant paradigm for retirement today is a never-ending vacation, the fastest growing group of retirees are those who know they can’t afford to vacation.

He’s not alone. The economic problems facing most Americans at retirement are mounting. The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College estimates that 52% of Americans may not be able to maintain their standard of living in retirement, which it defines as an income not more than 10% below the replacement rate (65-85% of their previous income). To make that concrete, the average retirement assets of those aged 50-59 in 2013 were just $110,000, yet they need $250,000 just to generate $10,000 in annual income.

If the great American dream is “financial freedom” in a blissful retirement, the great American frustration is that such a dream is out of reach for the majority.

3. Vacation isn’t as satisfying as world-changing.

Quickly pushing out the Let’s vacation paradigm is a widespread movement toward “encore careers.” Led by the talented Marc Freedman, author books like of Encore: Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life and Prime Time: How Baby Boomers Will Revolutionize Retirement and Transform America, the story about retirement is shifting away from leisure toward social entrepreneurship and civic engagement.

Retirement needs a new story. Or better yet, a very old story. 

But there are three weaknesses to this movement. First, it often overlooks the realities of aging. Backs ache. Bodies change. Funerals become a regularity. Time changes us all.

Second, baby boomers are human (like all of us) – which means they are beautiful yet flawed. Saying that the Boomer Generation is a great solution to our social ills belies what we know about ourselves. We’re deposed royalty, says Blaise Pascal, and when we’re honest, we’re drawn to greed as much as generosity, sloth as much as diligence, cowardice as much as courage.

The third problem with movements that stress social change as a story for retirement has to do with the human longing for purpose. Over a generation ago, Bob Buford wrote the best-selling book Halftime, which coined the phrase “from success to significance.” I asked Fred Smith, the president of The Gathering, an annual conference for Christian philanthropists, what he thought about the idea of significance. “It’s like drinking salt water,” he said. “Looking for significance from external things is still competing for somebody else’s ‘OK.’ It just leaves you thirsty.” 

The motivation behind our service is critical. If it’s merely to solve social issues, we will always find more to issues to solve and that we have never done enough. Ironically, the same exhausting treadmill from our careers can follow us into “more meaningful” work.

Ethel Percy Andrus, the founder of the American Association of Retired Persons (now just AARP) established the organization’s motto as “To Serve, Not to Be Served.” If we listen carefully, in the world’s largest nonprofit organization we can still hear the echoes of one who “gave his life as a ransom for many.”

Retirement needs a new story. Or better yet, a very old story. 

Wisdom and Blessing

Gary VanderArk is a not-so-retired physician living in south Denver. In his late 70s, he continues to teach five classes of medical students at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center, serve on nearly a dozen nonprofit boards, and bike almost 20 miles a day. Gary was also the founder of Doctors Care, a nonprofit that has helped thousands of Colorado’s medically underserved.

If anybody has a “right” to hang up his cleats and slow down, it’s Dr. VanderArk. Yet when I interviewed him about what motivates him, he said with a broad grin, “Well, I believe it’s more blessed to give than to receive. I’m enjoying myself too much to stop.”

What’s most needed after a lifetime of work (and often toil) is to take a season of deep sabbath rest.

White hair, bony fingers, and frail voice, to some Gary may seem “old.” But when you speak with him, he seems almost carefree, like a child on Christmas morning. He acknowledges human frailty and death, yet keeps serving others as if death is of no concern to him. He keeps teaching and sitting on nonprofit boards not because of social duty, but instead out of sheer delight. He is quick to listen and slow to speak. His words hold genuine gravitas. He is like “the righteous [who] flourish like a palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon…They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green,” (Ps. 92:12-14).

George MacDonald once wrote, “Old age is not all decay. It is the ripening, the swelling of the fresh life within that withers and bursts the husk.” This is Gary VanderArk.

Gary, like many of God’s people through the ages, isn’t living in a story that culminates on the seventh day, the traditional Jewish day of rest. The story he lives in culminates on Sunday morning. It is the first day of the week. It’s the dawn of a new world.

“What am I going to do with my retirement?” asks Anne Bell, and generation of Baby Boomers entering into a new phase of life. To answer that question, the first thing to do after retirement is not to travel, volunteer, or find a new career.

What’s most needed after a lifetime of work (and often toil) is to take a season of deep sabbath rest.

This article is an adapted excerpt from Jeff Haanen’s An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life. Jeff is the executive director of Denver Institute for Faith & Work and lives with his wife and four daughters in Littleton, Colorado.

A Prayer for the Vocation of Parenting, in Honor of Mother’s Day

photo-1501000035983-81d40027814a.jpeg

Dear Lord, today we honor the vocation of parenting. On a day when our Western culture celebrates mothers, we too recognize the hard work of parenting and the holiness of its nature. We also note the pain that Mother's Day can surface for some, including those who yearn for children, have lost a child, had a hard childhood themselves, or are estranged in a mother-child relationship.

Alongside the church and government, family is one of God’s three ordained structures to promote human flourishing, so the importance of family is clear from the first pages of Scripture to the last.  To be able to influence and mold children, about whom Jesus said, "Let them come to me," is an honor and privilege. It can also be a great joy. Parenting - whether biological or adoptive parents or as "spiritual" parents to the young ones in our midst, allows us to reflect God’s honor, his fairness, his creativity, and his nurturing character.

Yet the difficulties and complexities of parenting can overwhelm both us and the children.  We are broken. The children are broken. And the world is broken. Our parents messed up. We will mess up. All the while doing the best we can parenting the kids who mess up. We grow weary sometimes. The sleeplessness can seem endless as once wake-up calls from the toddlers cease, the late nights waiting for the teens commence. The conflicts are many - their tantrums and our desire for peace;  their mess and our yearning for order, their focus on the present and our obsession with looking to the future, their desire for autonomy and our worship of control.

Lord - as we are your children we know that parenting is a great gift for our growth in Jesus. And as you are the perfect parent and we are very imperfect children, teach us the patience toward the children you give to us. You build us through guiding our children in everyday moments and you teach us we cannot do it alone. Help us to show the humility and repentance of Christ as we long for our children to reflect your character more than ours. And of us to show our need for our Savior as much as we long for them to know their need.

For all of this we give you thanks in Jesus.


© Nashville Institute for Faith and Work, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the Nashville Institute for Faith and Work with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How to Transition Well at Work

photo-1522165078649-823cf4dbaf46.jpeg

What does it look like to transition well?

If you’ve been in the workforce for even just a few years, this question will have entered your periphery at some point.

In 2015, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated the average worker will hold 10 different jobs before the age of 40, with that number only anticipated to grow.

Given the boom of the gig economy in recent years as well, transition at work is not a matter of if, but when, for everyone in the workforce.

The days, for most, of working 40 years in a singular vocation and role and retiring with a gold watch in hand are long gone.

So if transition is inevitable, how do we overcome the tensions and trust God in the wake of vocational disruption?

Transition Tension

Sometimes the transitions happen to us, but other times the pursuit of ultimate fulfillment through our work drives our discontented career shifts.

In his 2005 Stanford University commencement speech, Steve Jobs offered words of insight that have defined vocational pursuits for many over the past decade.

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do,” Jobs said. “If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle.”

There is much truth we can derive from Jobs’ insights. The idea of pursuing, developing, and cultivating the passions and skills God has placed on our hearts and leveraging them for the betterment of the common good for all is incredibly biblical.

But this discontentment has fueled much job-hopping. Instead of seeking to see work as a means of serving my neighbor, we see work as a means to serve our own agenda. We lose sight of what work was intended to be when we pursue it for our own gain.

While discontentment surely fuels many of the transitions we experience, sometimes job switches happen to us unexpectedly.

Recently John Oliver focused a segment on his Last Week Tonight show on “job automation” and the effects things like automation are having on the workforce.

The piece was enlightening as it laid forth the reality for many in the workforce: transition, loss, and failure are a reality for many as the economy continues to shift in the U.S. and across the world.

“Automation is not going to stop,” Oliver said. “Some people are going to lose their jobs. So we should help those who do and prepare the next generation for the possibility that they may need to be more flexible in their career plans.”

Flexibility in career planning is not merely a nicety for vocational thriving, it has now become a necessity for the future workforce.

When things like our occupation, financial security, and pride are all shaken to the core, it can be hard to trust God’s plans are designed “to prosper you and not to harm you” and are “plans to give you hope and a future” as Jeremiah 29:11 reminds us.

An antidote to our moments of unbelief lies in remembering and proclaiming. We must remember the faithful God who has called us and proclaim that truth to our own hearts.

Transition Reimagined

A 2018 Harvard Business Review article titled “Learn to Get Better at Transitions” unpacks a few practical points on finding ways to live proactively in light of the transition-rich reality of our work.

“Longevity means that, more than ever, we need to plan for change,” the author writes. “Using the gift of decades requires acknowledging their existence and deciding what you want to do with them.”

To transition well we must remind ourselves of the Biblical storyline to best find our place in it and put our tensions in context. In fact, the Bible makes it abundantly clear transitions will be present.

But instead of allowing these times of tumult to drag us down, we would do well to reimagine these new seasons as fresh mercies of God to trust him anew.

This is not to shove down the emotional, financial, and physical toll a job transition can bring. Those are real and present realities.

But part of anchoring one’s hope in the gospel means we don’t see our vocational successes or failures as core to our identity. It is out of our status as children of God that we confidently work out the “good works he has prepared for us” as Ephesians 2:10 tells us.

It is God who goes before us in preparing the works of our hands. We are all made in the image of the creator, and by extension, we bring his image and character to bear in his world by living out his commandments and trusting him in each and every season.

In my own life, it’s been the moments of deep transition (from high school to college, college to the workforce, from the workforce to seminary) that I’ve felt most discombobulated and most reliant on this God who goes before me.

The tension of vocational transition provides a place for us to trust God in a new and deeper way.

May we take this hope to bear as we walk through each season of life the Lord grants.


Gage Arnold

Gage+Headshot+(1).jpg


Gage Arnold is currently a Master's of Divinity Student at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO., and the Communications Director at the Center for Faith and Work Los Angeles (CFWLA). He is formerly a founding team member of the Nashville Institute for Faith and Work (NIFW) and a 2014 graduate of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, where he studied journalism and electronic media. Gage is also an alumni of both NIFW's Gotham Fellowship and the Nashville Fellows Program. Above all else, he finds joy in telling and hearing the stories of others.

Four Common Standards for Integrating Faith and Work in Local Congregations

jeremiah-higgins-148351-unsplash.jpg

How will the Church in the 21st century “equip the saints for works of service” (Eph. 4:12) for the vast challenges we face in the world today? This seems overwhelming at first blush. But then I remember that God’s people are touching every area of our cities through their daily work, and it’s the Church’s privilege and responsibility to send them to be agents of healing through their vocations.

I recently had the privilege of learning from Matt Rusten, Executive Director of the Made to Flourish Pastors Network. On a call for other leaders in the faith-and-work movement, Rusten and Jeff Haanen, executive director of Denver Institute for Faith & Work, discussed the possibility of leaders and churches agreeing upon a set of minimum standards for the integration of faith and work in local congregations. They discussed that “faith and work” isn’t an “add on” ministry, but instead a vision for the sending of God’s people that should be integral to every church’s philosophy of ministry.

Rusten presented a compelling list of four practices that I believe could be a common starting point for churches that embrace historic teachings about vocation. As presented by Rusten, the four practices intersect with four distinct areas of congregational life: corporate worship, pastoral practice, discipleship/spiritual formation, and mission/outreach.

Here’s a brief summary of each of the four practices:

Four Common Standards for Integrating Faith and Work in Local Congregations

1. Corporate Worship: Pastoral Prayers for Workers (1x per month)

  • Pray specifically for congregants’ working lives.

    • General liturgical prayers

    • Vocation-specific prayers

    • Commissioning prayers

2. Pastoral Practice: Workplace Visitation (1x per month)

  • Visit parishioner’s workplaces.

    • Onsite - non-participatory

    • Onsite - participatory

    • Offsite

      • Meetings

      • Sermon prep 

3. Discipleship/Spiritual Formation: Vocational Interviews in Small Groups (regularly)

  • Interview congregants about their daily work. (Use the following sample questions.)

    • Give us a picture of a day in the life of your work.

    • What unique opportunities do you have to love your neighbor through your work?

    • Where do you experience the brokenness of the world in your work?

    • How can we pray for you?

4. Mission/Outreach: Asset Mapping Exercise (annual)

  • Conduct a congregational survey about the varying assets a congregation has that can be deployed for community benefit.

    • Physical/space assets

    • Financial assets

    • Networks

    • Human capital

    • Community

Below is the full presentation by Matt Rusten (from about 4:18 to 19:00) and transcript of the City Gate call. In addition, here’s a simple asset mapping survey that local churches can use.

 We at the Nashville Institute for Faith and Work heartily commend each of these practices in our network, and eagerly look forward to working with local churches to better equip the saints for works of service.

How God Uses our Failures at Work

hannah-wei-84051-unsplash.jpg

Let’s face it. Fear of failure at work is a struggle for almost all of us, regardless of our gender, race, or economic status. I know it has been a struggle for me at times. The fear of doing or saying something wrong that threatens our reputation or employment security makes us anxious.

Failures get our attention.

For those of us who own their own business, the thought of it failing can be overwhelming. We don’t want to let our families, our employees, or our customers down. And we sure don’t want the discomfort of financial and reputational ruin. As Christians, we don’t want to let God down.

The Bible teaches us that failure is one of the main tools God uses to make us more Christ like. He transforms us through these experiences if we allow Him to do so. In addition, God sometimes opens up new opportunities to serve Him.

Failure is Transformational

Gene Veith, in God at Work, provides an astute observation: “Failures in vocation happen all the time. Wise statesmen find themselves voted out of office. Noble generals lose the war. Workers lose their jobs, maybe because they are not good at what they do, despite what they thought.”

Failures get our attention. They cause us to reevaluate our spiritual maturity. God often uses the failures we experience to humble us, remind us of our limitations, make us more willing to depend on God, submit to His commands, and remain open to His leading in our lives.

The Apostle Peter gives us some hope, reminding us of God’s restorative power after we have been broken: “And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10).

Failures Open New Doors of Service

One who failed miserably at work was the late Chuck Colson. He was one of President Nixon’s most trusted staff members. After the Watergate scandal, Colson went to prison. It was during this time the Lord began working on his heart and prompted Colson to begin the Prison Fellowship.

As a direct result of his imprisonment, he became one of the most influential Christian leaders of our modern times. He was radically transformed through his failure, enabling him to minister to many because of his deep understanding of God’s grace, forgiveness, and transforming power.

I am reminded of my own failures at work. I was let go from a church youth ministry position in July 1985. During the first few days of summer vacation, the senior pastor called me at home and asked me to come in for a meeting. He informed me that the church no longer needed me to be the youth director. I had been fired.

However, God had a greater purpose in mind. This providential detour in my career set in motion an unexpected vocational journey that God eventually worked out for my good and for His glory. As a result of being fired, God redirected my life’s work by nudging me to consider joining the military (which I did in February 1986). I spent 20 years on active duty, and 33 years later, I still work for the US Army as a Department of the Army civilian.

I was able to serve God in a greater capacity than I would have experienced in full-time vocational Christian ministry.

Jesus died a criminal’s death, seen by many as a man who was a total failure. That is, until Easter Sunday, when the empty tomb confirmed His victory.

Stories of Failure in Scripture

We read many examples of men and women in the Bible who failed, only to be an illustration of God’s power to transform and open new doors.

A well-known illustration of how God transformed failure at work is King David. His moral failures were his own doing. He committed adultery and murder. He chose poorly and suffered the consequences of his decisions. Ultimately, he repented and confessed his sin (see Ps. 51:1-4).  Despite his sins, God called David “a man after His own heart,” and used him to pen much of the book of Psalms.

What about someone who was perceived as failing to the world’s standards, yet they were doing what God had called them to do? It is common to see someone labeled as a fool or failure because they are working counter-culturally in line with the Gospel.

The one that best illustrates this is Jesus. The religious establishment of the day treated Him as an enemy. They misunderstood Him. They persecuted Him, tried to trap Him, arrested Him, and eventually shouted to the Romans, “Crucify Him!”

Jesus died a criminal’s death, seen by many as a man who was a total failure. That is, until Easter Sunday, when the empty tomb confirmed His victory.

The Apostle Peter reminds the early church and us how to respond when we experience the kind of undeserved suffering that Jesus went through. Peter instructs us to live good lives in order to overshadow the false accusations they may make about us (1 Pet. 2:12). He exhorts us to submit to our employers, even those who give us a hard time (1 Pet. 2:18). He said it was a good thing when we endure “the pain of unjust suffering” as Jesus did (1 Pet. 2:19-21). Peter taught that we should not be surprised when we suffer for our faith; we are to rejoice (1 Pet. 4:12-13).

... our God is more powerful, sovereign, and loving than our failures.

How Does God Work Through Failure?

Below are a few biblical principles on how to handle our failures at work:

  • Do not be surprised by failures; we do not know what a new day may bring (Prov. 27:1);

  • If we think that we cannot fail, our pride will inevitably cause us to fall (1 Cor. 10:12);

  • When our failures are due to our own sin, we need to repent and confess it to God (1 John 1:9); be reconciled and confess our sin to others as appropriate (Matt. 5:23-24);

  • When we do fail, we need to rest in God’s promise to work out all things for His children, even failures, for our good and for His glory (Rom. 8:28);

  • God makes us more compassionate as a result of our failures; it opens doors to pass on the comfort we received from God in our situation to those in the same situation (2 Cor. 1:3-4).

My prayer is that these truths will comfort the ones of us who need comfort and empower the ones who need the courage to press on or take that leap of faith into a new chapter in your spiritual career journey.

Trust that our God is more powerful, sovereign, and loving than our failures.

(Author’s note: Portions of this article were taken from my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press, 2018.)


We are honored to have Russell E. Gehrlein as a guest contributor in this month’s newsletter. Russ is a former youth pastor and a junior/high school math and science teacher. In 2006, he retired from over 20 years of active duty in the US Army in the rank of Master Sergeant. He currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at the US Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear School in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

A potential antidote to workism

Workism.jpg

A Gotham alum’s response to The Atlantic's article on workism.

Bob Dylan once sang, “It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you're gonna have to serve somebody.”

How prophetic those words are to us today in our workplaces.

In a culture of surplus, globalization, technological advancements and a booming gig economy, wouldn’t it be plausible to expect freedom from the captivity of productivity?

Shouldn’t this supposed freedom lead to a recapturing of peaceful shalom and mark a return to Aristotle-esque philosophical leisure?

In Derek Thompson’s latest essay for The Atlantic he outlines a phenomenon faced in the modern workforce: our newfound worship of work not simply as a means for economic advancement but as something core to a person’s identity.

Now the notion of workism, as Thompson calls it, isn’t new at all. People throughout history have been known to work themselves to the bone. Work has always had the potential to be used as a means of numbing or escaping from present realities. Our loves have always been disordered as we approach our work in a broken world.

But what’s frightening in Thompson’s essay are the ways this pervasive bowing down to work has permeated the culture-at-large.

No longer is helping others (81%) or getting married (47%) a core driver for the Millennial generation, according to a Pew Research Report. The newfound goal is having a job or career they enjoy (95%).

“Finding meaning at work,” Thompson writes, “beats family and kindness as the top ambition of today’s young people.”

Thompson helpfully points out that with declining interests in formal religions in the West we’ve seen an uptick in workers putting the identical weight of religious efforts, devotion, and belief into their work.

Work has become our God.

“The decline of traditional faith in America has coincided with an explosion of new atheisms,” Thompson writes. “Some people worship beauty, some worship political identities, and others worship their children. But everybody worships something. And workism is among the most potent of the new religions competing for congregants.”

But what is it costing us?

From a Biblical perspective, at its core work was deemed inherently good before the man’s rebellion in Genesis 3. Now, it bears the marks of enmity given Adam and Eve’s rebellion and mankind’s subsequent sinful nature (Gen. 3:15). The thistles and thorns of our work are felt each and every day (Gen. 3:18). What was intended to be an outlet for glorious image-bearing—mirroring God’s character into the world for His glory—has now become a reminder from where we have fallen and the consequences for man’s disobedience.

So as we look into the workforce, what is the antidote for our unhealthy workism?

We Were Born Sick

A recent Gallup poll revealed 87 percent of worldwide workers are not engaged in their work.

“Our jobs were never meant to shoulder the burdens of a faith,” Thompson writes, “and they are buckling under the weight.”

He’s right. The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes outlines this excellently. Bookended by the notion that our efforts to indulge in all the world has to offer will feel like “vanity” and a “striving after the wind,” the writer names existence as it is.

Compared to some notions of art or society that make an effort to prescribe a quick-fix, Ecclesiastes describes life as it is. And it’s not all pretty.

“Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it,” Ecclesiastes 2:11 reads, “and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”

Commentaries note the word “considered” means to “look something right in the eye.” By seeing it as it really is—squeezing work, life, experiences for all they are worth—the writer lets us see it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

The heart behind a generation of dreamers lost in efforts to seek ascension through the works of our hands is misplaced but comes from a place of goodness. Can you hear it?

In the efforts of using work to find our identity, it’s often masked with the notion of making the world better. There is a biblical drive in the hearts of workers, even if it’s misappropriated in application.

We want the allure and blessings of God without God himself. This is something we all face. Whether it’s independence, added responsibility, financial flexibility, or a few extra letters (VP, CFO, etc.) by our name for our own benefit, we all fall into the trap of seeking our work to serve our own ends.

Pastor Tim Keller helps us understand we fall into this pit of idolatry anytime we take a good gift from God and make it ultimate in our hearts and lives.

Our desks, Thompson writes, were never meant to serve as our altars. A collateral effect of a life filled to the brim with work is a loss of leisure.

In his book Leisure, the Basis of Culture, 20th-century German philosopher Josef Pieper made a defense for the workaholism modern-day workers find themselves in.

“Leisure,” he writes, “is not justified in making the functionary as ‘trouble-free’ in operation as possible, with minimum ‘downtime,’ but rather in keeping the functionary human … and this means that the human being does not disappear into the parceled-out world of his limited work-a-day function, but instead remains capable of taking in the world as a whole, and thereby to realize himself as a being who is oriented toward the whole of existence.”

In essence, Pieper argues we lose what it means to be human when we lose the necessity of rest.

So in our efforts to find ourselves through success, drive, and accomplishments, could it be that instead of solving our identity issues we’ve simply created more?

Cure for Workism

Without the checks and balances of leisure and rest, we’re leaving our vocations to bear weight they were never intended to carry.

Instead of crushing it, our work is crushing us. So how can we escape the spiral?

We must remember that although we were created to work, it was never intended to be core to our identity.

“One solution to this epidemic of disengagement would be to make work less awful,” Thompson writes. “But maybe the better prescription is to make work less central.”

In the opening chapters of Genesis we see Adam living in harmony and working the land (Gen. 2:15), just as God commanded him in Genesis 1:27. This even continued through Adam’s taxonomy of the animals that God graciously invited him to co-labor with him in.

This is what work, at its core, was intended to yield. Following God’s lead by creating structure out of chaos (God created the heavens and earth; Adam creates names and order for the animal kingdom), in an effort to mirror God to every corner of the creation.

This is what we were made for.

But we’ve lost sight of it. In the culture of do more, work faster, hustle harder, the antidote for our plight is complex, yet simple: we must rightly order our loves. Dorothy Sayers helps us understand this by succinctly imploring us to serve the work rather than using it to serve us.

To serve the work means separating it out from the core identity and keeping it in its proper place. Not retreating from the good gift of God, but also not letting it sap our identity as His children.

The writer of Ecclesiastes doesn’t leave us in despair. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might,” Ecclesiastes 9:10 reads, “for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.”

Our work, for many, has become our ultimate source of control and identity. But that doesn’t mean we should view work as a lost cause. Instead, by seeking first the Kingdom of God, the rest is added.

As C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”

The cure for workism is not a striving towards securing an identity but rather resting and working out of a secured identity as a child of God.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” Jesus says in Matthew 11.

Instead of plugging our identity into our vocational successes, may we seek to glorify God by working out of our rest and diligently putting our hand to the plow He has placed in front of us. Only then can we utilize work as it was intended—a means of worship to our Creator.


Gage Arnold

Gage+Headshot+(1).jpg


Gage Arnold is currently a Master's of Divinity Student at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO., and the Communications Director at the Center for Faith and Work Los Angeles (CFWLA). He is formerly a founding team member of the Nashville Institute for Faith and Work (NIFW) and a 2014 graduate of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, where he studied journalism and electronic media. Gage is also an alumni of both NIFW's Gotham Fellowship and the Nashville Fellows Program. Above all else, he finds joy in telling and hearing the stories of others.

Work in Process: Work, Racism, and Moving Forward

photo-1534844447336-b0104061114d.jpeg

Black History Month has been on our communications planning calendar for over a year. How in the world can a white middle-aged lady who grew up in upper-middle-class suburbia have anything relevant, meaningful, or additive to say about black history or diversity?  So, I asked a brilliant and revered African American woman to opine on the topic, but significant illness caused her to have to, understandably, cancel. Too late to contract someone else, I sat with a decision - Let Black History Month slide on by with no mention in our publications?  Publish an article on black history or the importance of diversity in the workplace written from a white perspective? Write a who’s who and laud five great black vocational leaders readers may not know?

Or perhaps confess.  And ask my black brothers and sisters to help me do better.  And ask my white ones to join me.

I grew up in Texas in a white upper-middle-class neighborhood and attended a K-12 school established at the time of “white flight” schools.  In my first week of kindergarten, my grandmother asked me if there were any black children in my class to which I naively replied, “No, but one almost is, because he is already brown.”  Despite having a father who worked long hours in social justice areas, in my 18 years of childhood, I only recall interacting on a regular basis with three African Americans.

The comfort of habits ingrained in my upbringing has been hard to shake, which may be the biggest root of the problem: inertia.  Despite being in jobs over the last 25 years that have increasingly awoken me to my privilege and more importantly, the existence of systemic injustices, I live in an affluent white neighborhood, my youngest child attends a private school that is 80% white, and I have paid or pay dues to organizations/clubs that cultivate exclusion and privilege.  I run a small organization with an all white team. I contract speakers, most of which are white. I teach a curriculum written by nearly all white men. I have worked in a variety of organizations over the past 25 years, some of which have best-in-class “diversity policies,” yet until recent years, I had very few black “friends.” But God is nudging me through the power of relationship.

In the last decade, God has graciously given me some new friends who have been teaching me about systemic racism.  Ten years ago, I thought the goal in racial relations was to be color blind. Oh, please forgive me. That is so dismissive - dismissive of identity, of personal history, of national history, and of God’s design and story.  I learned that we need to understand difference, systemic injustice, and voices at the table. We need to understand racism and celebrate diversity. And I am so woefully insufficient. Talk with no action. Efforts with no risk.  

Even as I type this, I am tempted not to publish, because it might call me to discomfort and publicly expose areas of hypocrisy in my life.  It might grieve my mother to know that the amazing life she provided me created a sheltered blind spot. Yet my friends teach me and beckon me further.  I don't mean for this to be a judgment upon anyone who shares in my “whiteness”, rather an encouragement in all that God is showing me about the value of difference and relationship and the impact on our systems.  As my world has expanded with black friends and an increasing appreciation of the black narrative, my life has become more. More discomfort, but more importantly, more beauty, more perspective, more depth, more Truth, more meaning.

To my black friends:  
It is increasingly amazing to me that you would befriend me in spite of my blind spots.  Thank you for your efforts, your time, your patience and your friendship, especially when I can be slow, dense, and occasionally defensive.  Please keep pushing me. Thank you for your forgiveness.

To my white friends:
It can be easy to ignore the topic of racism, especially if we have some black friends.  We can co-labor for years with black colleagues, yet be blind to our privilege. It feels more comfortable to convince ourselves that if a black man can be president, then the problem is solved.  We can believe that tutoring at a low performing school is doing our part. Or that “they” are not doing theirs. We can say “I am not racist” and believe it. And we can convince ourselves that the problems are so big that they are insurmountable, and just stay comfortable.  But if we look at our practices, our systems, our institutions, and our choices, are we complicit? Can we at least acknowledge complicity? While certainly not sufficient, can we all commit to moving at least one step forward? Can we confess and see that complicity actually IS racism?  

With the encouragement of some mentors and friends and with God’s grace for my mistakes, I have been journeying to move deeper into issues around race in baby steps at both a systems level and a personal level.  Being aware is not enough. Talking about it is not enough.

How do we move forward?

Personal lives can be hard to change since relationships often evolve from the institutions in our lives.  Via human nature, often we are drawn to churches and schools where people look most like us, and so the social capital cycle continues around and around.  Through clients in my work, I have been gifted some relationships with people very different from me, and they have become dear friends. Sharing our hearts and struggles, developing trust, and forging through misunderstandings have been life-giving; appreciating each other’s differences is what I am convinced God wants in friendship.

At a systems level, our small organization has created some processes that reduce the tendency to always take the most efficient routes of using social capital to get things done.  For instance, we have instilled “invite collaboration from diverse communities” as a step in the planning of our large events. We have instituted processes in our director hiring protocols to avoid the “similar to me” bias, and we have pushed our curriculum writers to diversify the author list.  We have created team margin for attending events to cultivate diverse relationships, and we have made increasing diversity of our constituents a stated strategic priority. Most important, we have been able to receive counsel from the minority voice alumni of our leadership intensive about ways we can change and evolve.  These steps are not all working perfectly, but we are learning.

Admittedly these personal and work adjustments are a thimble of water in a desert when what is needed is an oasis, but nevertheless, they are movement forward. Would you like to join me as I attempt to keep growing?  I have some suggested next steps below, but in particular, would you join me on April 8 at the Center for NonProfit Management for Introduction to Systemic Racism?  I look forward to all that we will learn.

I do know that with Christ as a mediator, any walls can crumble.

For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. (Ephesians 2:14)


Want to take one more step? Consider these other opportunities:

  • Read.  Read books about racism in modern-day America.

    • On Waking up White:  Irving’s story of a big “aha” to her blind spots in racism is a riveting call to the many who don’t buy into the “white privilege” thing. I found this book helpful, important, and challenging.

    • The Color of Compromise:  The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism  Currently on my bedside table, this is a new release highlighting the role of the church in racism today.

    • White Picket Fences:  Another new release, Becker analyzes that “The notion that some might have it better than others, for no good reason, offends our sensibilities. Yet, until we talk about privilege, we’ll never fully understand it or find our way forward.”

  • Educate. Attend community gatherings that will educate you about issues of diversity.

  • Cultivate. Seek out relationships with those different from you.  Spend time together. Share your deepest hurts. Ask theirs. Have no agenda but to find commonalities.  Enjoy. Listen.

  • Include.  Where can you work harder for inclusion within your sphere of influence?  In your hiring practices at work?  In your social circles? In your schools?

  • Call out.  Reject racist practices and stereotypes.  And by all means, ruthlessly suppress racist humor at all costs.  Silence is complicity. Complicity is racism.

  • Pray.  Commit to praying about your role in racism.  Ask God to reveal your blind spots to you. Ask for healing. Ask for direction. Pray for marginalized communities. Talk to your pastor.

What If My Work Isn’t My Passion?

I was recently asked if it is honoring God to have a “day job that pays the bills” instead of one aligned with your “passions“ Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. We hear this adage over and over, assuming it as a universal truth without analyzing its validity. So I went on a search for the quote’s origin, the science behind passion and work, and what Christianity might say about it all. Because if finding our passion is not, in fact, a path to vocational satisfaction, then what is?

A quick Google search reveals controversy over the quote's origin: Some sources attribute it to Confucius, others to an unnamed teacher highlighted by a Princeton professor in 1982. Whether it originated with an Eastern philosopher 2,000 years ago or an American academician 30 years ago, the quote’s prevalence as a job-search mantra has increased significantly over the last 10 to 20 years. When I was seeking my first full-time job in 1989, not once did the career counseling office at my college ask me about my great loves. And you can be sure my parents did not either. Their concerns were, “Have you found a job? When does it start? Does it pay enough to support you?”

Yet in recent years, nearly every person I’ve talked to about jobs—whether they're 20 and looking for an internship, or 50 and looking for a C-suite transition—somehow reference passion as part of their job search. Google search history affirms the trend: Since 2010, internet searches for “passion at work” have more than doubled, with workers in the United States the most likely to be interested in the topic.

At the same time, Gallup reveals that over two-thirds of the American workforce is disengaged (51 percent) or miserable (16 percent) at work. So if more people are searching for passion in their work, yet most are dissatisfied, where is the disconnect? I propose that both social science and God's Word refute passion as a major job-search criterion.

Here are four principles to bear in mind.

  1. “Finding your passion” assumes passion is a fixed and/or inherent quality, whereas social science research suggests it's more of a developing and changing quality. Seeing passion as "fixed" can be limiting. Recently social scientists at Stanford and Yale-National University of Singapore published a paper arguing that passions are cultivated, not discovered. The study claims, “Urging people to find their passion may lead them to put all their eggs in one basket but then to drop that basket when it becomes difficult to carry.”

  2. Passions, when channeled into work, often don't translate to giftings. For instance, we all know people who love to cook and might even call themselves passionate about food and cooking. Should they open a restaurant? How many have the skills or natural gifts to manage large numbers of people with various educational levels, have the wiring to work under intense time pressure, and have the financial acumen to create a profitable business in a low-margin industry?

  3. Science reveals that turning a passion into paid work can cause it to lose its inherent pleasure.Research shows that being paid to do something can make it mean less to us," wrote David Silverman, a senior executive at a Fortune 500 company. "By turning something enjoyable, like a jigsaw puzzle or a knitting project, into a paid activity, we turn hours of freely given effort into a commodity. It’s no longer a labor of love; it’s $10 an hour. The intangible nature of pleasure that derives from the activity is lost.”

  4. Scripture reveals that even though God created us to take dominion and create productive flourishing, all work includes toil, regardless of its alignment with our interest and giftings. In secular verbiage, “work” is called “work” because it is “work.” The only people I've ever met who claim they “never worked a day in their lives” are ones reflecting back on their careers—and perhaps forgetting the difficulties the way a mother forgets the pain of labor. But those in the trenches, no matter how "called" they feel or how much they adore their work, almost always admit to its challenges and brokenness.

So if passions can evolve over time, are sometimes divorced from our natural giftings, and can lose their sense of pleasure if they become paid work, what should we consider in our job selections?

Of all the books I've read about career discernment, I find a section of Os Guinness’s The Call to be incredibly clarifying and encouraging. First, Guinness encourages us to think of having a “Caller” before a “calling.” So as you consider your work and your passions, are you considering what your Caller wants for you and how you can serve him by advancing his kingdom?

Guinness goes on to explain that we're all awaiting our “call” on a megaphone, yet very few receive it with such crystal clarity. Without the certainty, therefore, we should consider our gifting and circumstance. Weighing our abilities and our situations allows for incredible vocational inspiration and hope, while at the same time honoring financial needs, relationships, geographic constraints, educational access, and more.

So, as a very long-winded way to answer the tension between provisional duty and passion,, I heartily endorse “a less exciting ‘day job’ that pays the bills when needed. Are some people thoroughly enjoying their work? Certainly so, but let’s stop seeking that as the imperative goal.

I encourage you to assess the following:

  • What are your gifts and wirings?  Do you know? There are many aptitude tests available, but one that is highly accessible online at a low price point is YouScience. There, you can learn how your unique aptitudes properly equip you for thousands of jobs.

  • What are your immediate circumstances? Consider your finances, relationships, geographic location, and education.

  • Which of your circumstances do you desire to change, and which do you see as fixed?

  • Given your current situation, your desired future circumstances, and your unique abilities, how does your Caller nudge you to work?

  • How can you reframe your perspective about work? Have you considered how you can serve the work instead of looking for the work to serve you (as Dorothy Sayers asks in “Why Work?”)?

I'm thankful we live in a world where discussion about vocational fulfillment and satisfaction is even possible, as the privilege of choosing work is a first-world opportunity that reflects a movement from scarcity to abundance. While God may enable us to work for him in our "sweet spot," we must acknowledge and steward the gift of that choice, remembering that our only true fulfillment is in him.

This piece was originally published at thegospelcoalition.org.

When You Lose a Job and Didn’t See it Coming: My Experience with the Career Discernment Program

I’ve worked for only three companies since graduating college in 1997. I’ve been in Healthcare Sales for 20 years and most recently finished my 9th year as a Sales Director for a midsize diagnostic laboratory. This past May, I was one of four sales managers affected by a “reduction in force initiative.” In other words, after almost 20 years of stability, I found myself without a job. I was caught off guard and felt lost. My resume had not been updated in years, and I asked myself, what’s next?

I immediately got to work getting my LinkedIn and resume up to date, but I knew I needed more. I met Missy Wallace and knowing my situation, she asked if I would be willing to participate in the Career Discernment Program, a partnership between the Nashville Institute for Faith and Work and the VOCA Center in New York. I reached out to the Principal Consultant and Executive Director, Dr. Chip Roper, and I realized what I was missing in my job hunt.

My Career Discernment Program was individually tailored and lasted about six weeks. I participated in one-on-one advising, multiple assessments, reading assignments, and 360-degree feedback from prior colleagues. The in-depth Highlands Ability Battery, Myers-Briggs, and 360 feedback not only validated abilities I knew I had but revealed new strengths I hadn’t even realized. The assessments uncovered my particular learning style which I could immediately apply to my job search and future work.

This process was not only about deeper learning of my wiring, but I also created tangible resources that I can reference. In fact, I have an entire “playbook” on me. I keep an actual notebook divided into sections and include all my assessment results, 360 feedback, and supporting information. My “playbook” has clearly revealed my God-given gifts and has dramatically equipped my decision making and overall career discernment. I have also had some perspective shifts on how I should use my God-given gifts to serve the work instead of seeking only for the work to serve me and my ambitions.

I am more focused and better prepared for my continued job search, interviews, and future career. While I did not decide to make a major industry shift, I have refined my interests, skills, and made a more succinct job search plan that has thus far resulted in exciting opportunities for me. Interestingly, the knowledge I gained allowed me to confidently turn down a job offer, which was the right decision but hard to do as an unemployed father of three teens. Based on the conversations with my advisor, findings of the online assessments, and referencing my “playbook,” I am able to more clearly identify the type of work and workplaces where my specific wiring will be fruitful. I have not landed in my new job yet, but I feel well-equipped to choose one where I can thrive.

Congratulations to Corner to Corner, Recipient of the Stewarding Influence Grant

The Nashville Institute for Faith and Work (NIFW) has awarded its $5,000 Stewarding Influence Grant to Corner to Corner. Using a mantra of “Connect, Invest, Grow,” Corner to Corner exists to extend hope to communities in Nashville who encounter a cycle of despair often caused by high-rates of incarceration. In particular, Corner to Corner is teaching entrepreneurial skills, and this grant is expected to generate $500,000 of annual economic impact into Nashville’s most underserved neighborhoods.  

THE STEWARDING INFLUENCE GRANT

Modeled after the concepts presented by Andy Crouch at NIFW’s “Stewarding Influence” forum on October 4, the grant was offered to an organization, group or individual with a project that uses authority and vulnerability to promote flourishing for all people across Nashville and beyond. At the forum held at Clementine in West Nashville, Crouch encouraged over 300 guests to examine their spheres of influence and challenged them to use authority and vulnerability (taking meaningful risk) to increase flourishing for others. The event concluded with the launch of the grant competition.

If you missed the forum, read all about the powerful evening here.

CORNER TO CORNER

Corner to Corner is a faith-based, community led, and community driven nonprofit teaching entrepreneurship in underserved neighborhoods. The organization has had over 100 entrepreneurs graduate from The Academy using the Co-Starters “Urban” curriculum, of which they are the only licensed entity in Nashville to do so.

“Corner to Corner is led by influencers in the communities it serves and through that, one life is able to impact another with meaningful new businesses as an outcome,” said Missy Wallace, Executive Director of NIFW. “Since its inception, Corner to Corner has graduated 104 entrepreneurs on various stages of launching or growing their small business and over 80% are still in business within one year of graduation. What a privilege to partner with an organization which is helping underserved individuals experience flourishing through the joy of innovation and work.”  

Corner to Corner will use the $5,000 grant towards extending the Co-Starters curriculum to three new cohorts, training another 45 “underestimated” community members to start their own business.  Based on their past success, this will lead to over $500,000 of economic development poured back into some of Nashville's most impoverished neighborhoods.

Will Acuff, Executive Director of Corner to Corner, said, “We are so excited to be partnering with NIFW, taking steps to ensure that underestimated entrepreneurs have on-ramps to opportunities across the city. We believe that every neighbor in the city with the God-given passion, creativity, and drive should have the opportunity to turn their business-dream into a money-making reality.”

Watch this video to hear more from Corner to Corner about how they plan to use their $5,000 grant.

To learn more about Corner to Corner, please visit theacademynashville.org.

The institute is thrilled to extend the concepts from our Stewarding Influence forum on October 4 through this competition. We received 14 submissions, forcing the committee to choose between many truly amazing organizations and groups. We had a rigorous grooming process with a committee who narrowed it down to four finalists.

Click on the name of the other finalists to hear more about their initiatives:

Work: Can we hate it enough to change it, yet love it enough to think it worth changing?

Chesterton2.jpeg

“Love is not blind; that is the last thing that it is. Love is bound;
and the more it is bound the less it is blind.”
- G.K. Chesterton

In the busy grind of work, sometimes we need an awakening to the paradoxes of following Jesus in the marketplace. One Christian writer who brought that awakening for me is the British journalist and theologian, G.K. Chesterton. C.S. Lewis claimed Chesterton as a spiritual father. “If I were stranded on a desert island and could bring only one book apart from the Bible, it would be Chesterton’s Orthodoxy,” wrote author Philip Yancey. When I first read Orthodoxy, I knew I would be getting in deep waters, but I couldn’t have known how challenging one chapter called “The Flag of the World” would be for my faith. In that chapter, Chesterton pounds you with a paradox that I believe lies at the heart of the intersection of faith and work. I want to suggest some implications of this paradox for work.

“When you love a thing, it’s gladness is a reason for loving it, but its sadness is a reason for loving it more,” says Chesterton. Love is an unconditional commitment; it is bound. But that commitment is also the basis of our deepest criticism; it is not blind. Chesterton explains this paradox in a marital illustration. In his customary wit, he writes, “A man’s friend likes him but leaves him as he is; his wife loves him and is always trying to turn him into somebody else.” Whether you are a husband or wife, I bet you can relate! In our workplace or within our industries, we can hate the dysfunctional relationships or systemic brokenness, but we also belong and are bound to our work and our workplace. To be a change agent in our work, we need what Bonhoeffer called a kind of “this-worldliness” to our faith. I want to suggest three practical applications of this paradox: in leading others, in giving feedback, and in staying connected to people.

First, compassion is the foundation of any effort to lead change. Chesterton warns about the error of the optimist and the pessimist. The pessimist finds error but “does not love what he chastises.” She is like the person who claims to “just be honest” and at the same time is hiding the fact that she takes pleasure in saying unpleasant things. The optimist is more inclined to defending than reforming; they want thriving without conflict. To lead, we need both the optimist and the pessimist on our team. We need to say to our colleagues, “we are so committed to you that we think you can be better.” I remember the challenge of a newly hired faculty member during a time of low morale at a university where I worked. He was observing how few stickers of the university he saw on cars in the parking lot. This was a small thing, but it told a big truth: we had not planted our flag. Leaders point out when our criticisms lack loyalty and when our commitment shields us from change.

Do we have it in us to stay engaged and committed to those in the world that we sharply disagree? Can we keep a critical and loyal connection instead of a distanced debate? You may be thinking politics, but this is for our industries and workplaces. Innovative teams mix critical debate and camaraderie. A sign of organizational health is the degree to which “troublemakers” are protected.

The second implication is how we give difficult feedback. Think about the last time you felt disgusted with someone’s behavior: did you feel committed to that person at the same time? There is something darkly insistent in human nature about distancing ourselves from those with whom we find fault. When we give difficult feedback to our employees and co-workers, our feedback is not Christian if we don’t do it with a genuine and consistent loyalty to their well-being as people. Research on giving healthy feedback finds that correction and critique is only helpful if the giver conveys to the receiver that he/she belongs here, that we have high expectations, and that they have what it takes to reach those expectations. To grow and be productive, people need feedback that is specific and shared in the context of unconditional safety and connection. When you have a criticism, get right to it, but find a way to convey it with the context of commitment to them as people. Believe in them and show it.

Our intentional connection to those with whom we may sharply disagree is a third application. G.K. Chesterton wrote during the time of the philosophical movements of fascism, determinism, Darwinism, and the eugenics movement in the early 20th Century. Among Chesterton’s best friends were the atheist playwright George Bernard Shaw and the socialist writer H.G. Wells. He was not only in literary conversation with the philosophical ideas of his day, but in personal contact with the people who held them. It seemed to be authentically part of his “this-worldliness”. It was also the source of his harshest criticism. Do we have it in us to stay engaged and committed to those in the world that we sharply disagree? Can we keep a critical and loyal connection instead of a distanced debate? You may be thinking politics, but this is for our industries and workplaces. Innovative teams mix critical debate and camaraderie. A sign of organizational health is the degree to which “troublemakers” are protected.

Chesterton’s challenge for us a century later is beautifully summed up in these lines,

“We do not want joy and anger to neutralize each other and produce a surly contentment; we want a fiercer delight and a fiercer discontent. We have to feel the universe as at once an ogre’s castle, to be stormed, and yet as our own cottage, to which we can return at evening.”

For our work, the question Chesterton poses is “can we hate it enough to change it, yet love it enough to think it worth changing?” Leaders like Gandhi and King that have shown us that apathy, not hate, is the opposite of love. It is when we disengage from one other and that we all lose. We see apathy show up when people are uncritically loyal or when we criticize while keeping distance. In our apathy, workplaces can be filled with harsh critique or fearful acquiescence. When we love our work, our sense of accomplishment and contribution is a reason to love it, but its brokenness is a reason to love it more.


JoshHaydenHeadshot.jpeg

Josh Hayden is a guest contributor for the Nashville Institute for Faith and Work (NIFW). Josh has almost 20 years administrative and university teaching experience and is a leadership consultant awaiting his departure to work as an educator in Western Europe with Global Scholars. He is an alumni of the Gotham program, NIFW’s nine-month faith and work intensive.

A Q&A on Shining Light on Darkness, with Jay Cherry of Open Door

The Nashville Institute for Faith and Work is excited to welcome Jay Cherry and Kevin Roddey for our Faithfully Working Lunch on December 6 from 11:30 a.m. - 1 p.m. We all work in industries with elements of brokenness, and both Jay and Kevin have forged unique paths to shine light in their respective fields. Taste a bit of what Jay Cherry might share at lunch by reading below about his experience with integrating his faith into his work.

Q: What have you most learned about integrating your faith into your work in the last year?

Jay: God will continue his work in us and through us, and asks that we are engaged and present. I believe He works in profound ways simply through our a) diligence and b) availability.

Q: What idols most plague you in a working environment?

J: Pride and control.

Q: How does your industry most reveal God's character?

J: We were made by a Creator who continually remakes and rebuilds. In Real Estate, we get to make, create, build, and rebuild in the physical world. In residential real estate, these physical places we build create a sense of place, become a home, and remind us all of our true longing for home.

Q: Where is your industry or work in tension with Christianity?

J: Real estate is one of the greatest avenues of wealth creation and generational transfer for most Americans, however this opportunity has a high barrier of creditworthiness, income, and understanding in order to access -- and thereby can perpetuate inequality for a large portion of society that does not have the privilege of this access.

Q: How do you think about shining light on darkness in your industry?

J: I believe that we can empower and enable more people to have a path to transact in Real Estate if we can simplify process, reduce the friction, and eliminate the opaqueness of the transaction.

Click the button below to register for the December Lunch.


Jay is currently the General Manager at Open Door in Nashville. Prior to joining Open Door, he led a team of 700+ people across 3 states as a Division Vice President with DaVita. He was born in Franklin, TN, grew up in Florida, and returned to Nashville in 2013. Jay and his wife, Diana, spent two years after college living in Haiti, where they started a business, learned Haitian Creole, and developed a strong affinity for fried goat. Jay holds an MBA from Stanford and a B.S from the University of Florida. He and Diana have two incredible kids, Finley (age 6) and Shepherd (age 3), and live in East Nashville.

Register for any of our other upcoming events HERE.

Learn more about the integration of faith, work, and culture at NIFW.org or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram.

On Success

On Success 2.jpeg

Being first usually implies victory: a deal closed, a battle won, a goal accomplished. It is a typical benchmark in the working world. But as Christians, how do we reconcile success when Jesus clearly calls the least, the last, and the lowly?

It’s not just coming out on top, but also being the first to listen, to apologize, and to make amends in the mundanity of office life.

Our goal for work cannot be society’s template for success: win at all costs, climb higher, work longer and harder. Work becomes all-consuming. Preaching a sermon on work, Tim Keller says, “You will not have a meaningful life without work but work cannot be the meaning of your life.”

As Christians, the very notion of success is turned on its head in the finished work of Jesus. Christ’s work on the cross was only for the last, the least, and the lowly. Said another way, anyone with a pulse. Because of His selfless act, we no longer ask, “where can I succeed?” Instead, we ask, “Where can I serve?” It's not just coming out on top, but also being the first to listen, to apologize, and to make amends in the mundanity of office life. Instead of wondering when the next bonus will come, we can ask, “where is the darkness in my work and how can I shed light?” Or, “How can I model excellence in my specific line of work?”

Christ never promised the success of His people in the eyes of the world. He has promised something far better; that He would return and renew all things, including our work. To that end we labor unto glory; our success fueled in simple faithfulness to the King of this world and the work that happens within it.

On Replacing Partisan Politics With Persuasive Lives

clem-onojeghuo-400043-unsplash.jpg

Whatever one’s place in life, whatever age or influence, all Christians are filled with the Holy Spirit’s power, endowed with the Father’s wisdom through Scripture, and energized by the love of Jesus. As such, all Christians are called as Christ’s ambassadors into the places where they live, work, play, and worship, with the glorious purpose of leaving it better than they found it. This is, we might say, the universal Christian job description.

As a father of two daughters, I sometimes offer them advice on their various endeavors. One endeavor for our oldest daughter was to build a thriving babysitting business in her mid-teen years. Since my wife, Patti, and I had previous experience “employing” babysitters to keep watch over our home and children, I felt qualified to offer constructive advice that might help our daughter succeed.

My advice about babysitting focused on two, simple actions. First, she should resist the urge to be on her phone and social media, and should instead actively engage and play with the kids until their bedtime. Second, after putting the kids to bed, she should tidy the house or apartment—especially the main living space, sink, and kitchen—so that when the parents arrived home, the house would be in better shape at the end of the evening than it was at the beginning.

Thankfully, our daughter embraced and implemented this advice. Before long, she was getting so many babysitting opportunities that she had to start referring some parents to her friends. These two, simple actions of playing with the kids and cleaning the home made her the favorite babysitter to the kids and the parents of virtually every family that she served. Even now, when a break from college is on the horizon, parents will line up to “preorder” her babysitting services for the weeks she will be at home. You might say that she has positioned herself, from a consistent commitment to be fully present with people—and to consistently care for places and things—to enjoy “the favor of all the parents.” 

In a similar way, Christians are called to serve the world as engaged servants, fully present and always looking for opportunities to leave people, places, and things better than they found them.

This dynamic was pervasive especially among first-century Christians, whose life of love toward one another, toward their neighbors, and toward the towns and cities in which they lived, caused them to enjoy “the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:47). Their neighbors, whether Christian or not, came to value and esteem them as a life-giving part of their own lives.

These Christians did not feel a need to become a powerful “moral majority” in order to impact the world around them for they realized, as Jesus had clearly told them, that his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). Rather than control the world through coercive and politically partisan force, Jesus’ method was to win the world through the persuasive power of kindness and neighbor love.

Indeed, Jesus and his tribe of followers gained favor and influence by living among their neighbors and colleagues—including those who were poor, marginalized, and forgotten—as an intentional, creative, love-driven, and life-giving minority. As they freely gave to their neighbors the gift of love, service, and presence, they seized every opportunity to leave places and things better than they found them. It would be fair to say that if these Christians were taken out of the world, their neighbors would have sorely missed them.

Sadly, we in the 21st-century West have in many ways let this universal job description for living as a love-driven, life-giving minority slip away. Rather than denying ourselves, taking up our crosses, and following Jesus, many of us have instead opted instead to deny our neighbors and take up our comforts…all in an attempt protect our own interests and follow our personal dreams.

As the haunting lyric from singer-songwriter Jason Isbell reminds us, “Your creature comforts aren’t the only things worth fighting for.”

Perhaps lyrics like these can function as a clarion call to Christians to return to our roots and to once again live as Jesus’ ambassadors, aroma, and “sent ones” for the healing and restoration and rejuvenation of our tired, sin-sick world. Now is the time to repent of the ways we have contributed to the world’s sorrow and brokenness, and instead seek to be a healing agent of the world’s sorrow and brokenness.

Let’s begin today, shall we?

Article originally published at ScottSauls.com.

Andy Crouch Delivers a Powerful Night of Fellowship and Flourishing at Stewarding Influence

Holy conversation happened in a holy place in West Nashville at our fall forum, Stewarding Influence, featuring Andy Crouch.  Over 300 people gathered in Clementine Hall, a newly renovated event space that highlights the tensions of new versus old Nashville, and engaged in an evening that focused on using our spheres of influence to promote flourishing for all people across Nashville and beyond.

Andy Crouch stood in front of the beautiful antique organ and asked audience members to consider their own history. Had they grown up in a place of control, safety, suffering, or flourishing? Further, had they considered what it meant to move from whatever place they are in toward flourishing? A key, said Crouch, is how vulnerability and authority create opportunities for flourishing.  Crouch then challenged the audience to examine their own influence and ask - right now, am I in a place of idolatry, withdrawal, suffering, or flourishing? Through live-texting the audience saw themselves as a part of a whole and then as a group learned the path to flourishing, which in the end involves great sacrifice.

Some guest testimonials of Andy’s keynote include: “Perfect portrayal of the gospel and our sin nature,” “Articulate, smart, inspiring, convicting,” “Spoke to my heart,” “One of the best talks I've ever heard.”

Crouch then challenged the audience to examine their own influence and ask - right now, am I in a place of idolatry, withdrawal, suffering, or flourishing?

At the conclusion of the evening, NIFW launched this year’s Stewarding Influence Grant Competition.  Organizations and individuals are encouraged to submit proposals aligned with the concepts of using authority and vulnerability that create flourishing for others for a $5,000 grant. The grant proposal process is meant to extend the conversation past the evening and seep into the day-to-day for the flourishing of Nashville and beyond. Applicants are asked to fill out an application in its entirety and submit a two-minute video no later than November 15, 2018 at 11:59 p.m. CST.  Click here for an application.  Questions about the grant process can be directed to info@nifw.org.

Complete with networking, food, and fellowship, the evening also featured live music from gospel, jazz, funk fusion band, Cotten, and original compositions from Songs for the Church (“Do Not Fear” and “Strong and Weak” are available here). Missy Wallace, Executive Director of NIFW, gave a brief history of the venue, Clementine, Nashville, and the theology of work.

Perfectly tying the beauty of the evening together, Tammy Bullock closed the program with a powerful rendition of, “Establish the Work of our Hands” (you can listen to the original recording of it here).

“Flourishing is about living the life we are meant to live which begs the question - what is the other life and how do we know which life we are living?” Missy Wallace said, “Andy walked us through a transformative evening of understanding how we use control and withdrawal to avoid taking meaningful risk.  In the end, it is a combination of meaningful risk and authority which leads not only us but those who we lead, into the life prepared for us by Christ. And this changes everything at work for the better.”

The night would not have been possible without the support and collaboration from our sponsors: Jarrard Phillips Cate Hancock, Christ Presbyterian Church, St. George’s Episcopal Church, Parks Church, Harpeth Hills Church of Christ, St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, and Marketplace Chaplains.

A Q&A on Faith and Entrepreneurship with James Granberry, Partner at OakPoint, and Erick Goss, CEO of Creative Trust

James Granberry, Partner at OakPoint

James Granberry, Partner at OakPoint

Erick Goss, CEO of Creative Trust

Erick Goss, CEO of Creative Trust

The Nashville Institute for Faith and Work is excited to welcome James Granberry and Erick Goss for our October Faithfully Working Lunch on October 25 from 11:30 a.m. - 1 p.m. Entrepreneurship is hard and doing it redemptively with God at the center is countercultural.  Come learn how James and Erick have weathered different seasons of their entrepreneurial journeys.

Q: What have you most learned about integrating your faith into your work in the last year?

James:  Integrating my faith into my work does not mean handing out tracts to my employees, having a fish on my business card, or quoting scripture in a negotiation.  It means doing excellent work because God calls us to excellence in all things. It means asking: How can I love in this particular situation (whether good or bad) to this particular person (co-workers, investors, partners, competitors, vendors)? My work is a platform to reflect the love God has shown me. This may seem easy in good times but exceedingly difficult in difficult times.

Erick:  God's work is my work.  He calls us to participate in what He is doing in the world.  I need to always be attentive to what He is saying through the Bible, through circumstances, through people, through prayer.  I want to be attentive to what is He calling me to do. It's easy to attempt to make my own way on his behalf. Engaging God daily and looking for the Spirit's work is really the only way I've found to stay in sync and not fall into a pattern of relying on myself.  I think it's actually less about integration and more about surrender. Integration could be viewed as taking a spiritual thing called "faith" and integrating into a non-spiritual thing called “work”. Rather, I feel my work is an outward expression of my spirituality and relationship with Christ, just like being a parent, serving at church or being involved in the community would.

Q: What idols most plague you in a working environment?

J:  Pride -- my desire to be liked, to be respected.

E:  There are probably too many to list!  Reputation, ego, money, success, ease, etc.  It's pretty clear that I've got an idol problem when what I want isn't happening the way I want it to.  When anxiety, frustration, jealousy, despair, and/or anger manifest themselves, it is clear that my desires are disordered, and that God and His Kingdom aren't my primary concern.

Q: How does your industry most reveal God's character?

J:  God is the ultimate steward.  He stewards his power, wisdom, and creativity perfectly in his unfolding plan starting with creation and eventually culminating in our eternal fellowship with him.  Real Estate investing is about stewarding investment capital, land, structures, and people. The more we look to the ways the ultimate steward uses His power and influence in His master plan, the more redeemed our own work can be.

E:  We work in children's digital media.  There are a number of disciplines required to do good work.  They include creativity, storytelling, economy, stewardship, teaching, support, and nurture, engineering.  All of these disciplines communicate different aspects of God's character as Creator and King.

Q: Where is your industry or work in tension with Christianity?

J:  Generally, my industry is about making as much money as possible for investors and our company, with that you can lose sight of the human element throughout our value chain.  With investors -- we have a large incentive to put money to work in investments regardless of the investment quality. With employees -- there is more work than time - we can demand a lot and not provide time for restorative rest with family, friends, and God.  With our tenants -- we can dehumanize them, thinking of them as units of occupancy/rent instead of God's divine creation to be cherished.

E:  Most of our industry doesn't acknowledge the spirituality of parents and children.  God isn't a part of the conversation despite the incredible volume of stories being told and produced.  The "telos" or ultimate aim of the majority of the companies in our industry has little to do with anything transcendent or spiritual.  The industry as a whole has accepted that "material" reality such that there really isn't room for stories that mention or acknowledge "faith"...much less Christianity.

Click the button below to register for the October Lunch.


JAMES GRANBERRY

James is a founding partner of OakPoint Investments. His efforts center on managing the company’s $350 million investment portfolio across the US, in addition to maintaining relationships with investor partners.  He is a Texas native, Furman graduate, and Vanderbilt MBA holder with expertise in portfolio and asset management, financing, acquisitions, and dispositions.  James is married with three girls (2,4, and 6) and when he isn’t working or attending tea parties with his girls, he likes to read, play golf, or listen to his latest favorite podcast. 

ERICK GOSS

Erick is CEO and Co-founder of Creative Trust Ventures where leads all retail, e-commerce, online video, and mobile operations.  At CTV, he launched JellyTelly, a new children’s digital network, and subscription video-on-demand platform and, in partnership with VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer, launched the bestselling video series Buck Denver Asks…What’s in the Bible?. Read more here.

Register for any of our other upcoming events HERE.

Learn more about the integration of faith, work, and culture at NIFW.org or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram.

Why Does Labor Day Matter To Christians?

LABOR DAY 04.jpg

Someone who knows my passion for the theology of work recently asked me an excellent question - “What makes Labor Day significant for Christians?”  

Let me provide a brief backdrop of the history and meaning of this holiday, and then illustrate why Christians should wholeheartedly celebrate this holiday.


A day to celebrate labor

I did a little research to find out why we celebrate Labor Day in the U.S. on the first Monday in September.  Wikipedia states that the holiday “honors the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, laws and well-being of the country.”[1]

Reading further, I am reminded that during the trade union movement in the late 1800s, it was suggested that there be a holiday to celebrate the laborer.  Shortly thereafter, in 1887, it is reported that the first state to make it a public holiday was Oregon. Over the next seven years, thirty states had begun to celebrate Labor Day, and it was deemed a federal holiday in 1894.[2]

Certainly, Christ-followers should celebrate the many social reforms that came out of the labor movement, which resulted in establishing child labor laws, guaranteeing more livable wages and safer working conditions for all.  It should be obvious to the Christian that this movement was biblically appropriate, considering the Lord’s concern for the least, the lost, and the last. Solomon observes in Proverbs 29:7 that the righteous care about justice for the poor.  This implies that Christians should speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, defending the rights of the poor and needy.  (See also Proverbs 31:8–9.)

It should be obvious to the Christian that this [Labor] movement was biblically appropriate, considering the Lord’s concern for the least, the lost, and the last.

Work matters because it matters to God

There are hundreds of Bible verses that address some aspect of work.  

In Genesis, we see in the creation story that depicts God as a worker.  He calls humans to work with Him to expand His handiwork. We also see the downside of work, where Adam’s sin brought a curse on work, making it unnecessarily difficult and resulting in sweat, unfruitfulness, and disharmony among workers.  In the Old Testament (OT) narratives, we read about well-known men and women who successfully integrated their faith in God at work—Moses, Joseph, Ruth, David, and Nehemiah. We also read about ordinary people such as Bezalel and Oholiab, who were called and gifted to work with God in the construction of the tabernacle.  We find principles on how we should work from the OT writings (Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes). The prophets give us some insights about the future of human work in the new creation.

In the New Testament, we read what Jesus taught about work in the Gospels, as well as what Paul and others wrote in their epistles.  We see how Jesus redeems and transforms workers. Finally, the book of Revelation has some things to teach us about the eternal value of our work.
 

Work matters because God upholds His creation and brings shalom through our work

Our Creator sustains His creation mostly through human labor.  

God created us as His coworkers with various talents so that He could meet all of the complex physical, mental, social, and spiritual needs of people.  God loves people through human work. Tim Keller confirms this in his book, Every Good Endeavor. He reminds us, “God’s loving care comes to us largely through the labor of others.  Work is a major instrument of God’s providence; it is how he sustains the human world.”[3]

Isaiah 28:23–29 supports this concept well.  The prophet describes how a farmer does the work of God as His coworker.  God provides the wisdom needed and instructs the farmer how to do the work the right way to cultivate the field, gather the harvest, and process the grain so that His people can eat.  He emphasizes that all of this ultimately comes from God.

Lee Hardy, in his book, The Fabric of This World, presents Luther’s view.  “Through the human pursuit of vocations across the array of earthly stations the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, the sick are healed, the ignorant are enlightened, and the weak are protected … In the activity of work, God is present as the one who provides us with all that we need.”[4]

The end result of all of this hard work that God orchestrates is a world where shalom increases.
  

Work matters because through it God brings blessings to His people

Doug Sherman and William Hendricks in Your Work Matters to God have observed several things that the Bible teaches (verses mine).  Through work God meets the needs of people who are of eternal value to Him (Psalm 104:10-31).  Through work God meets our needs and our family’s needs (1 Thessalonians 4:11–12).  Through work God provides extra money so that we can give some of it to those in need (Ephesians 4:28).  Through work we love God and neighbors by serving them both (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:37–40). [5]

In addition, God’s blessings take a variety of forms.  Sherman and Hendricks wisely indicate some of the byproducts of work.  “People need work. They need its challenge, its product, its achievement, its aesthetic and emotional rewards, its relational dynamics, its drama, its routine, and its remuneration.”[6]  This idea is supported with our understanding of the creation mandate in Genesis 1:28.  There, we read that Adam was created to be a worker, or rather a co-worker with God.  We were also created by God for a purpose. Each of us were given the appropriate gifts, skills, abilities, and desires to be able to perform various functions through our jobs.

Believe it or not, Christians who live “under the Son” rather than merely “under the sun” can find some measure of satisfaction in our work.  Ecclesiastes 3:12–13 states that man should “be happy and do good while they live … eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God.”  It is indeed possible in the Lord to find joy and contentment in our work.

It was stated earlier that we love God through work.  Sherman and Hendricks explain how work relates to loving God (Deuteronomy 6:5).  “Just think about how much of your heart, soul, and might go into your work.  Imagine, then, as you spend yourself at that task, being able to say, ’I’m here to do something God wants done, and I intend to do it because I love Him.’  The person who can make this statement has turned his work into one of his primary means of obeying the greatest of God’s commandments.”[7]  Amen!

I want to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ to celebrate Labor Day with praise to the triune God who is a worker and a new appreciation for His gift of work.

We are honored to have Russell E. Gehrlein as a guest contributor in this month’s newsletter. Author of "Immanuel Labor - God's Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work", Russ is a former youth pastor and a junior/high school math and science teacher. In 2006, he retired from over 20 years active duty in the US Army in the rank of Master Sergeant. He currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at the US Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear School in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labor_Day.
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labor_Day.
[3] Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (New York: Dutton, 2012), 184.
[4] Lee Hardy, The Fabric of This World: Inquiries into Calling, Career Choice, and the Design of Human Work (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 47-48.
[5] Doug Sherman and William Hendricks, Your Work Matters to God (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1987), 87.
[6] Sherman and Hendricks, Your Work Matters to God, 71.
[7] Sherman and Hendricks, Your Work Matters to God, 94.

Learn more about the integration of faith, work, and culture at NIFW.org or follow us on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, or Instagram.

A Q&A with Greg Adams, COO of the State of Tennessee

The Nashville Institute for Faith and Work is excited to welcome Greg Adams for our September Faithfully Working Lunch on September 20 from 11:30 a.m. - 1 p.m. Read below to see a few thoughts he has to offer as a preview for his talk:

FWL - web_greg (2).jpg

Q: What intrigues you most as you consider the concept of working faithfully?

A: How we live out the calling to do our work with excellence unto the Lord and our mission of declaring His glory through our actions as we interact with co-workers/people naturally.

Q: Can you name specific examples of ways you see faithfully working played out in your various industries (business, political, etc.)?

A: In both business and government, I have seen faithfully working most clearly played out when one is being mistreated or how one responds in difficult times. An attitude of hope, gentleness and reverence in the situation and towards authority is a stark contrast on the way non-Christians think. It often causes them to reflect on your behavior and ask where this comes from.

Q: Do you believe it's possible for those transitioning in and out of different industries to continually exhibit faithfully working? And if so, how is that possible?

A: It is possible, but you need the right perspective. If I believe my transition is all about me, money, status, and retirement then I will struggle with faithfully working. However, if I believe my work, and any transitions, are connected to God's bigger purpose, where I see His provisions and His management over my work life, then it is possible to exhibit faithfully working.


Greg Adams serves as Chief Operating Officer for the State of Tennessee. He joined the governor’s senior team in July of 2013 after working for IBM for 36 years. Adams was a member of the company’s senior leadership team, most recently as a managing director in the financial services sector. In the governor’s ongoing effort to make Tennessee the best managed state in the nation, Adam’s role is to work with state departments to ensure they’re operating in the most efficient way possible. For more, click here.

You can register for the September lunch HERE or register for any of our other upcoming events HERE.

Learn more about the integration of faith, work, and culture at NIFW.org or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram.

Meet our 2018-19 Gotham Class

Gotham, our nine month faith and work intensive, launched last weekend with an opening retreat focused on the year ahead. We are very encouraged by the breadth and depth of vocational, spiritual, and personal experiences in the new Gotham class.  We have a representation of 15 churches, 15 industries, 60/40 female/male, 3 races - all coming together to focus on Christ in their lives. Get to know our new Gotham class below.

Do You Need to Tame the Lion? Entrepreneurial Liturgies for Relying on God

wade-lambert-486181-unsplash.jpg

NIFW Executive Director, Missy Wallace was featured on Faith Driven Entrepreneur's blog and podcast. Listen to the podcast (click here) and read her article below:

One crisp fall morning in Nashville, six CEOs of entrepreneurial enterprises gathered to discuss their woe of the week. While the conversation started with the idle chit-chat of kids, traffic and weather change, an awkward silence overtook the room when our facilitator led with, “so what is really going on this week....”

Eyes diverted to the floor. The silence lasted and lasted. Typically one to fill the air with commentary, I had to bite my tongue to allow the discomfort to encourage vulnerability. Finally, John, a CEO usually full of theological wisdom and confidence, shakily shared, “I think this is really the week.”

He was referring to the week when the precarious house of cards might really fall. When the receivables aren’t coming in. When the cash on hand might not cover payroll. When that clinch “investor” is leaning towards a “no thank you,” and the bank is calling the line. The week when he just might have to call it quits. Pack up. Send 30 people home with pink slips.

Somewhere around his second sentence, the tears started falling, brushed with hints of both anger and hope. “Why the f*&$ did I leave a senior position at Google to serve God as a CEO if this is the outcome?... But I feel God is in this.”

Moments later, another CEO, David, sheepishly and after much cajoling, confessed that he would be experiencing his first “major liquidity event” later that week - “a low seven figure payout, not life changing, but significant.” To our surprise, he continued with his own vocal shake, “I know this seems really weird, but I am actually jealous of John right now.”

We all sat stunned. Again, awkward extended silence.

David went on, “The money makes me feel like a king. And that I need to do it again and again. I do not feel close to God.....It’s hard to be dependent on God when I just created this for myself. If I do not handle this with extreme caution, it could push me from God.”

Some say life in our weekly meeting, Entrepreneur Support Group, can occasionally seem like an AA meeting since the emotional vacillation of “entrepreneurism” can feel like something from which to recover. “I am Jane, I am an entrepreneur. I vacillate between my vision of 'it' working, bringing me wealth, fame, and of course making the world a better place...... And utter despair, because I am terrible, I cannot get it done, and it’s going to fail.”

And that vacillation is weekly, if not daily or sometimes even hourly. It is the norm for the call of “entrepreneur.”

In an article in Inc. Magazine titled “The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship,” Toby Thomas, CEO of EnSite Solutions likens the CEO role to riding beasts, 

“‘People look at (the CEO) and think, This guy's really got it together! He's brave!’ says Thomas. ‘And the man riding the lion is thinking, How the hell did I get on a lion, and how do I keep from getting eaten?’"

What is it about entrepreneurship that creates the swinging pendulum? Does entrepreneurship create the vacillation or is the person hard wired to the role and its consequences? And does the pendulum swing include turning to and from God?

Our group has found that some “liturgical” practices can reduce the swings:

1. SUPPORT AND BE SUPPORTED

Being a start-up CEO requires many situations where communication between aspiration and reality can diverge. Don’t create more than necessary. Surround yourself with other Christian entrepreneurs trying to work through what being dependent on God looks like in the context of building a business. Our group meets weekly with two facilitators to discuss key stressors in the business. We do not intend to solve the marketing problems, or advise each other on investor contract details - rather, we offer Kingdom perspective. We reiterate what God says about success and failure - about our worth. We anchor each other in God’s story instead of our own. As important, avoid groups which encourage you to posture unnecessarily about how well you and your company are doing.
 

2. UNDERSTAND GOD’S WORD ON YOUR CALLING

Arm yourself with a theology of entrepreneurism. Understand what God says about work (we were created for it), and creativity (it came from Him and is a gift to steward), leadership (we are given opportunities to love people, places, and things to life), wealth (in and of itself it is not evil, but making it a god is), brokenness (we are broken, systems are broken), and startups (creating something out of nothing is God’s first act on the first page of the Bible).
 

3. SELF REFLECT: UNDERSTAND YOUR PERSONAL AREAS OF BROKENNESS

Are you feeling jealous or overly controlling? Is your anxiety spinning out of control? Is fear taking over? Are you soothing yourself with alcohol, social media, or excessive work hours? See those as symptoms to your root areas of brokenness. Take one symptom and keep asking, “why, why, why.” For instance, Why am I jealous? Because I am scared their company will thrive and mine will fail? Well, why am I scared? Because if it fails my reputation might be ruined? Well, why does that matter? What do I need? Why? Ultimately our brokenness leads back to the fact that we either do not believe that God is in control, do not believe we are his adopted children and he plans for our good, or we do not feel good enough for him without performance. (P.S. Psalm 73 is a great balm for jealousy.)
 

4. INDUSTRY REFLECT: HOW DOES YOUR INDUSTRY AND COMPANY AT THEIR BEST ALIGN WITH GOD’S CHARACTER?

Financial services can show God’s sense of order; entertainment can show His creativity. What about yours? What problems does it solve? Likewise, where are systems and processes not aligned with God? Are people extorted? Is greed a problem? Is the earth exploited? Can you shine light on the brokenness? Can you engage differently?
 

5. STOP DREAMING OF QUITTING

In one group meeting, one CEO queried, “how many of you dream of quitting every week?” All raised their hands. Every. Single. One. By understanding that thought pattern as the norm can help you carry-on steadfastly, until you believe God wants you to stop.
 

6. CREATE LISTENING RHYTHMS

One of the questions we are most asked is “How do we know what God is telling us to do?” And our response is, “Are you making time to listen?” In addition to regular involvement with a church and personal devotional time with Scripture, we encourage the practice of a regular day of silence - a whole day. Ours consist of silently marinating on two Scriptures for six hours. No strategic planning, no to-do list making, no catching up on reading. Only time with Jesus. It renders peace, confidence, further belief in God, and likewise leadership encouragement. As the day approaches, everything can tell us to skip - too much to do at work, a child is sick, the company website is down, the lawyers have an issue. Mother Teresa, while building great networks of poverty alleviation which required incredible busyness, committed to the practice as noted by her comment, “In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. ... Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.”
 

And Most Important:

7. YOUR TREASURE IS THE KEY TO PEACE

Does “upside” really matter? Do you really believe that God has your best in store for you? Do you really believe that you are good enough because you are a child of God? Do you believe your company is His for you to steward? Can you believe that the company's success or failure is not who you are? Rarely have I met a CEO who can live in these beliefs hour to hour and day to day, but some are on their way because they are grounded in Christ.
 

And that sense of calm, that only Jesus can offer....well it’s like taming the lion you’re riding. By the way, it’s been a year, and John’s company is still alive.

(Entrepreneur Support Group, co-led by Missy Wallace and Ken Edwards, is a project of the Nashville Institute for Faith and Work, an organization dedicated to helping individuals and groups integrate their Christian faith into their day-to-day work in a way that brings about human and organizational flourishing.)

Note: Some small details of the opening anecdote are changed to protect confidentiality.