Do What You Love?

tomnelsonSipping on a bold blend of my favorite Starbucks coffee, I noticed on my cup words by Oprah Winfrey which read, “Pursue your passion, find your purpose.”   Pursuing our passion seems to be the work mantra of our time, but is it one we are wise to embrace?  Should we pursue doing what we love?  Or would it be wiser to pursue loving what we do?

In a recent Fast Company article, entitled, The Secrets To Career Contentment: Don’t Follow Your Passion, Sebastian Klein takes aim at the popular notion that following our passion is the most important ingredient in job satisfaction and success. Sebastian Klein puts it this way, “Follow your passion, might be the most common career advice, but it is actually bad advice…in a culture that tells people to transform their passions into lucrative careers via will-driven alchemy, it’s no wonder so much of today’s workforce suffers from endless job swapping and professional discontentment.”

Sebastian Klein points to Cal Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You. Newport offers several tips to avoid the work passion trap. First, don’t do what you love. Learn to love what you do.  Second, adopt a craftsman’s mindset. Third, practice hard and get out of your comfort zone. Fourth, acquire rare and valuable skills. What insightful and practical advice for faithful vocational stewardship!

In the midst of so much cultural confusion regarding work, Klein and Newport’s advice is a welcome breath of fresh air. The prescription they offer for workers of all ages, backgrounds and educational levels is to adopt a craftsman’s mindset. A craftsman’s mindset focuses not on the innate desirability of one’s work, but on the quality of one’s work. A craftsman’s mindset embraces a disciplined work style that continually hones one’s skills and increasingly does a better and better job with greater efficiency and creativity. Instead of focusing on passion, the craftsman’s mindset focuses on practice. The most helpful career advice you may ever possibly receive is that the better your skills, the better your work and the better job opportunities that come your way.

I have a hunch that Jesus the carpenter would strongly affirm the wisdom of Klein and Newport.  Rather than pursuing what he loved to do, I believe Jesus learned to love what he did. Each day in the Nazareth carpentry shop with holy sweat on his brow and sawdust on his hands, Jesus became a more and more skilled craftsman. No wonder the Gospel writer Luke described a youthful Jesus growing in wisdom, stature, favor with God and men. Few things give us greater favor with others than the excellence of our work. The loving hands that would one day be nailed to a Roman Cross were the strong hands of a highly skilled craftsman who did his work well. Jesus did not fall for the work passion trap. Let’s follow his wise example.

The Apostle Paul encourages us not to do what we love, but to do our work well. Writing to the church at Colossae, Paul pens these words: “Whatever you do, work heartily as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”  Perhaps it’s time we expend more energy learning to love what we do rather than pursuing what we love. Let’s also keep in mind the One we are ultimately doing our work for each and every day.

Creative Community For The Common Good


Sara and Troy Groves


I have always admired singer Sara Groves for her thoughtful lyrics and musical talents, but Sara and her husband Troy have much more up their vocational sleeves these days than writing and performing great music. Recently I had the joy of participating in a conversation on faith and vocation held at Troy and Sara’s Art House North located in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Art House North

The Art House North


Art House North is a welcoming and hospitable place for meaningful conversation on creative community for the common good. Sara and Troy grasp the integral nature of the Christian faith and how our faith speaks into every nook and cranny of human existence. I was delighted to join Andy Crouch and Skye Jethani and a very thoughtful group of clergy, artists and marketplace leaders for a day of exploration around redeeming work and narrowing the Sunday to Monday gap that is disturbingly prevalent in so much of Evangelical thinking and practice. Dr. Chris Armstrong captured much of the day and rich conversation on his Patheos blog.

Tom at Art House North

Andy Crouch & Skye Jethani

Against the arid landscape of many self-described Christian communities, the Art House North is a welcoming and nourishing oasis of what Vaclav Havel has often described as “living in truth.” I am grateful for Sara and Troy’s warm hospitality and their entrepreneurial embodiment of a faith that narrows the Sunday to Monday gap. If you find yourself in the St. Paul area, stop by the Art House North. Troy and Sara have an inviting welcome mat waiting for you and perhaps a good cup of coffee and a home-made chocolate chip cookie too.


Moody’s Grand Men And Women

Back Camera

Dr. Sajan Mathews

“When I am gone, I shall leave some grand men and women behind.” These prescient words of founder D.L. Moody prominently displayed at Moody Bible Institute were tucked into my heart and mind as I recently walked on the beautiful and spacious Moody campus in downtown Chicago. At the Moody Pastors’ Conference, I met some grand men and women who are making a real difference in our world.

I was invited by Moody Professor, Dr. Sajan Mathews who was a most warm and gracious host. Dr. Mathews is leading Moody Theological Seminary’s faith and work initiative, seeking to bring a more robust theology of vocation in the training of pastors for the evangelical church.

Back Camera

Moody Pastors’ Luncheon

A highlight of my time at Moody was speaking at a pastor’s luncheon. I found the pastor’s eager and open to consider how they might better equip their congregations to connect Sunday worship with Monday work. After the official program was over, I was encouraged that several pastors stuck around and continued the dialogue.

One of the pastors who had read Work Matters and found it very helpful, strongly encouraged me to have it translated into Spanish. I am not sure I had ever entertained that thought before, but perhaps it is worth pursuing. It was a true delight to be at Moody and to get a small glimpse of how God is at work in this fine and far-reaching evangelical institution.




Shop Class As Soul Craft

tomnelsonI grew up in a family where my three brothers designed and built things. As skilled craftsmen, there was no project too complex or too tough to handle. With my clumsy hands, I usually was relegated to a glorified errand boy. Transparently, I was and still am in awe of my brothers intelligence and skill.

In ninth grade, I remember taking shop class and though my wood and metal work did not receive the highest grades, I did find a sense of accomplishment making things with my hands. I also gained a greater appreciation for many of my classmates who were so gifted to do manual work. Yet my educational experience is now a rarity it seems as many high schools have eliminated shop class from the curriculum.

A growing number of cultural voices are speaking out about the unintended consequences of eliminating shop class and the devaluing of manual work. In his New York Times Bestseller, Shop Class As Soul Craft, Matthew B. Crawford, makes a compelling case as to the importance of manual work. Though he has a doctoral degree in political philosophy, Matthew Crawford writes out of his own experience as a motorcycle mechanic. He makes the point that repairing motorcycles is some of the most intellectually engaging and satisfying work he has ever done. Not only does Matthew Crawford emphasize the rich cognitive demands of manual work, but also its spiritual value and he urges a younger generation that even if they do go to college, “learn a trade in the summers.”

Josh Mandel in a recent Wall Street Journal article, Welders Make $150,000? Bring Back Shop Class also laments the vanishing shop class in our high schools and points to the 600,000 manufacturing jobs that are unfilled nationally because employers cannot find qualified workers. Perhaps we need to re-think the importance of shop class.

By emphasizing the importance of white-collar work, have we as a culture and as a church diminished blue-collar work?  In his 33 years on planet earth, Jesus incarnated and affirmed both blue-collar and white-collar work. Up until around the age of 30, Jesus spent the vast majority of his time as a carpenter working with his hands doing manual work. For about three years, Jesus worked in a white-collar role as a travelling, itinerant rabbi. Is it any wonder the Apostle Paul affirms many kinds of God-honoring work, making the point that, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”

 Let’s enthusiastically affirm manual work again, honoring those whom God has gifted to work so skillfully with their hands. Bringing back shop class is not a bad idea either.





A Hidden Jewel And A Ray Of Hope

When we hear the words, Birmingham, Alabama, the deep wound of our nation’s history of racism usually comes to the forefront of our minds. I must admit that upon landing at the Birmingham airport this week, waves of tragic history flooded my heart and mind.  What would the city of Birmingham be like today? Was the church being a redemptive agent for racial healing and reconciliation? What my pastoral colleague Andrew Campbell and I found in Birmingham was a hidden jewel and a ray of hope.

Beeson Podcast

Podcast with Dr. Mark DeVine

I had been invited to Birmingham by Dr. Mark DeVine to speak on faith, work and economics for a Work Matters conference at Beeson Divinity School located on the campus of Samford University. Dr. Mark DeVine was a most gracious host and from the beginning of our visit to the very end, it was a joy to serve with him as well as the entire Beeson staff.

Beeson Chapel

Andrew Gerow Hodges Chapel

I had the delightful privilege of giving a message to the divinity school faculty and students in the stunning Andrew Gerow Hodges Chapel. Though remarkably different from my regular preaching context, it was quite awe-inspiring to open God’s Word to God’s people under a towering rotunda dome and be delivering a message on a high ornate pulpit.


Beeson Bonhoeffer Bust

Martyred Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Perhaps most impacting to me personally was the stone engraving of martyred pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer that graced my left shoulder as I spoke. Few writers in recent church history have influenced my view of discipleship and pastoral ministry more than Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The entire chapel service was thoughtfully planned, God directed,Gospel-centered and a true joy to experience.

After chapel I also had the privilege of joining Dean Timothy George and several faculty members for a wonderful lunch and conversation. I also enjoyed doing a recorded podcast with Dr. DeVine as well as a conference session with many of the divinity students. I found the Beeson divinity students, committed to Evangelical orthodoxy, rigorous in their thinking, warm of heart, engaging in their questions,and ecumenical in their spirit.Truly these next generation church leaders offer a ray of hope for the church not only in Alabama but around the nation and globe.

Beeson Faculty

Dr. Mark Searby, Dr. Thomas Fuller, Dr. Mark DeVine

An extra treat was enjoying superb Southern hospitality. Dr. Mark DeVine, Dr. Mark Searby and Dr. Thomas Fuller hosted us at one of Birmingham’s authentic restaurants. The food was truly amazing and the warmth of the evening conversation made for the beginning of some new friendships we hope will continue. Beeson Divinity School is truly a hidden jewel in the Evangelical world of seminary education and is bringing to our dark world a ray of hope. Beeson keep up the good work!

Your Work: More Than A Paycheck

DTS table conf (3621)

Speaking at the Table Conference

My wife Liz and I spent six wonderful years living in Dallas in the 1980′s and It was a delight to back in Dallas this past weekend for The Table Conference hosted by the Hendricks Center for Christian Leadership and Cultural Engagement. The theme of the conference was Your Work: More Than A Paycheck and I had the joy of serving along with an outstanding team of thoughtful leaders who are committed to see the church more effective in connecting Sunday to Monday.

DTS table conf (3625)

Interview With Dr. Darrell Bock



It  was a special privilege to reconnect and serve with Dr. Darrell Bock who is an outstanding New Testament scholar and one of my Greek professors during my graduate studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. Dr. Bock now gives leadership to the Hendricks Center for Christian Leadership and Cultural Engagement and I am very encouraged by Dallas Theological Seminary’s growing institutional commitment to train pastors with a robust theology of vocation.


Bill Hendricks

I also had the joy of reconnecting with Bill Hendricks whose warm friendship and good thinking on faith and work sowed some early seeds of thought in my mind twenty five years ago. Enjoying dinner with Bill and serving with him during the conference was a special delight. Bill continues to be invested in the faith and work conversation as well as is giving leadership in the area of personal gifting as he very capably leads The Giftedness Center. 


David Greusel


David Greusel who is a gifted architect and a member of Christ Community also presented at the conference. David added a great deal of insight and value to the conference giving needed perspective regarding congregational culture and workplace realities. Every time I get to serve with David, I am always amazed at his gifted and Christ like leadership.

Liz and I left Dallas delighted to have connected with some seldom seen friends and encouraged by the good work God is doing there. Hats off to the entire Table Conference team for your good work well done!


What’s On Your Bucket List?

tomnelsonIt seems not a day goes by when I don’t hear a news report, read a blog or hear a conversation about the growing number of baby boomer “retirees” who are leaving the paid workforce to check more things off their “bucket list.”  While the church has been virtually silent on this cultural icon of a “work free retirement,” other voices in our culture are beginning to speak up.

In a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece, entitled America Needs to Rethink Retirement,” the authors, Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute and Michael Hodin of the Global Coalition on Aging make a compelling case why our current paradigm of retirement needs adjusting. Rethinking retirement is crucial not only for the economic flourishing of our nation, but also the personal well-being of those who are growing older.

Rethinking retirement makes sense economically. With growing life expectancy and more healthy lifestyles, older Americans are able to be productive and contribute longer as active members of the paid workforce. Future economic growth will not only require more employment opportunities for younger workers to enter the paid work force, but also will require continuing employment opportunities for older workers. These are not mutually exclusive requirements, but rather symbiotic opportunities propelling a growing economy with greater human flourishing. Mr. Eberstadt and Mr. Hodin astutely point out, “Unleashing the economic power of older workers is essential for U.S. prosperity.”  

Rethinking retirement also makes sense personally. A growing level of research is suggesting that the current retirement paradigm does not lead to personal fulfillment or a high quality of life for older Americans. Mr. Eberstadt and Mr. Hodin point to this growing body of research by saying,  “There is also mounting evidence that working later in life correlates with better individual health and satisfaction, and may contribute to them. Amid skyrocketing age-related health-care costs, this advantage can scarcely be overstated.” 

Mr. Eberstadt and Mr. Hodin conclude their insightful article by getting to the heart of the issue, “But first a profound transformation is needed in how we think about work, activity, aging and retirement.” So how will this needed transformation regarding our work occur? A new story of work is needed, one that will reshape our cultural imagination, priorities and practices. I see an exciting  window of opportunity opening  for those of us who embrace the Christian faith to speak into our cultural moment in a winsome, persuasive and non-partisan way.

The Christian story of work says we were created and redeemed with work in mind and whether or not we are compensated for the contribution we make, from cradle to grave our work really matters. Will the church leave its often marginalized place in society, venturing out from the shadows of complacency and make a loving and persuasive case that the current American view of retirement is foreign to the biblical story we indwell? That an ancient way brimming with timeless wisdom is actually the best way forward in the modern world for all to flourish?  Will we as salt and light graciously show our fellow citizens a better way forward? And could a rethinking of retirement be an open door for the Gospel to transform the lives of many older Americans who are experiencing those “golden years” as not so golden after all?

Whether the older years are a long way off for you, or you are fast approaching these maturing years or you are now in the senior season of life, God wants you to keep contributing to His good, but broken world.  Perhaps it is time to add to your “bucket list,”  a commitment to stay in the paid work force significantly longer? Maybe the “golden years” can be more golden than you think.