Carolina In My Mind

In my mind I’m going to Carolina. Can’t you see the sunshine, can’t you just feel the moonshine? These words made famous by singer James Taylor wafted through my mind as we landed in Asheville, North Carolina.  My pastoral colleague Mike Roop and I were warmly greeted by Tom Oxenreider who serves as the Associate Dean for Calling and Career at Montreat College.Tom’s warm smile was matched with his gracious hospitality treating some very hungry travelers to the finest farm to table burger in all of Asheville and perhaps all of North Carolina.

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A Warm And Welcoming Montreat College

I was delighted to participate in a Montreat College symposium on work and vocation held at its beautiful campus nestled in the North Carolina mountains. Not every Christian college cancels classes for two days for the entire academic community to engage in a serious and thoughtful conversation about calling, work and vocation, yet that is the commitment Montreat College has made to indwell a seamless Christian faith.

 

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Dr. Steve Garber

I found the Montreat students and faculty a delight to be with, seriously engaged in the life of the mind, and on a dedicated pursuit of the proper ordering of the loves of the heart.  One of my personal joys was catching up again with my dear friend Steve Garber who also served as a plenary speaker for the symposium. Steve’s latest book, Visions of Vocation, asks the important question of whether we can truly know the world and still love the world. If you have not yet read Visions of Vocation, I think it is a great read.

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Dr. Paul Maurer, President, Montreat College

 

It was also a treat to meet up again with Dr. Paul Maurer who is now serving as President of Montreat College. I had the joy of  getting to know Dr. Maurer several years ago when he was serving at Trinity International University in Chicago. I am confident that with Dr. Maurer’s capable leadership very fruitful days are ahead for this fine institution of Christian higher learning. Though I am not going back to Carolina anytime soon, Carolina is still in my mind.

Faith@Work Summit

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This past weekend, one of my pastoral colleagues Andrew Jones and I had the privilege of joining over 260 leaders in the faith and work movement for the Faith@Work Summit.

We met for two days in Boston for the purpose of assessing the faith and work movement. Where are we now? And what still needs to be done. I heard and read many positive comments like, “This was indeed a defining moment in the faith at work movement,” “I can’t wait to see how the effects of this summit continue to ripple outward over the coming months,” “The conference was outstanding, an important moment of maturation for the movement,” and “An amazing event that was clearly God inspired and Spirit led.”  

I too was very encouraged by the outstanding talks delivered and the delightful diversity that was represented at the summit. I was given the opportunity to give one of the TED type talks focusing on Jesus’ teaching on The Great Commandment and the importance of indwelling a neighborly love that embraces both Christ-like compassion as well as economic capacity. In my own congregation as well as across our nation, the cry I hear is not only whether my work really matters, but whether there is work for me to do. What the world needs now is jobs sweet jobs, yet by and large the church is awkwardly silent. We must realize both theologically and sociologically that a vital aspect of human flourishing is economic flourishing. God cares about human economic life and so should we. (If you would like to check out the talk I gave in Boston, I don’t believe it is available to be downloaded yet, but when it is I will let you know in a later blog). The organizers of Faith@Work are planning to publish a forthcoming book from the talks given at the summit.

I am grateful for David Gill, Bill Peel and Al Erisman who provided such capable leadership for our time together. I was also delighted to catch up with many friends in Boston who share the same passion for connecting Sunday to Monday. I was encouraged that God is using Work Matters in many spaces and places including the country of Bolivia. Who could have imagined that?

Thinking Well On The Job

tomnelsonFor quite some time I have appreciated the remarkable insight of author and New York Times columnist David Brooks. In one of his op-ed pieces entitled, The Mental Virtues, Brooks raises this important question. “We all know what makes for good character in soldiers. We’ve seen the movies about heroes who display courage, loyalty and coolness under fire. But what about somebody who sits in front of a keyboard all day? Is it possible to display and cultivate character if you are just an information age jockey, alone with a memo or your computer?

Brooks is pointing to something I believe we think too little about, namely the way we think as we do our work. Brooks answers his question by making the point that thinking well in the midst of the bombardment of the information age is as courageously needed for our character formation as fighting under a hail of bullets. Brooks highlights the importance of intentional cultivation of virtues in our workplace such as love of learning, courage to hold unpopular views, humility and generosity.

I hear in Brook’s insightful words a similar echoing from the Apostle Peter whose vocation as a fisherman not only produced well-worn hands, but also virtuous character. Peter who experienced the transforming power of the Gospel, who knew what it was to be a partaker of the divine nature in Christ also exhorts us to grow in virtue. Peter writes, “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue knowledge and knowledge with self-control, and steadfastness with godliness.”

When we embrace a Gospel faith that speaks to all of life our ensuing spiritual formation occurs in all of life—including our work. We were designed with work in mind and we spend a great deal of time doing our work. Are you thinking well at work? Do you see your work as a primary way you are being spiritually formed? A primary way your virtue and character is being forged? Are you seeing the inevitable difficulties and trials of your workplace as opportunities not only to serve others, but also to grow in your own virtue? Brooks ends his article, “Character tests are pervasive even in modern everyday life. It’s possible to be heroic if you’re just sitting alone in your office. It just doesn’t make for a good movie.”

A Work Of Art

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             The Grohmann Museum

Ever since I first visited the Grohmann Museum in Milwaukee a couple of years ago, I have wanted to tell the story of work utilizing the magnificent works of art that line its walls. From Dutch painter Walter Verschuur’s “The Quarry,” to German painter Ludwig Knaus’ “Potato Harvest,” to British painter Walter Dexter’s “The Carpenter’s Shop,” both the exhilaration and exhaustion of human work is displayed in breathtaking ways with each skillful brush stroke. 

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              The Man At Work Collection

So you can imagine my enthusiasm when I was contacted earlier this year by Rightnow Media in Dallas to do a series of short teaching videos at the Grohmann Museum for a nationwide church curriculum on faith and work. It was a delight to work with the Grohmann Museum staff as well as Phil Warner and the Right Now Media team.

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Video Shoot At The Grohmann

Their attention to artistic detail and wholehearted commitment to telling the biblical story of work accented with masterpiece art brought to mind Dorothy Sayers words that “Christian work is good work well done.”  When edited and completed I am hopeful this project will make a contribution to the broader faith and work movement.

Presently Rightnow Media serves some 8000 churches in the United States providing them a wide variety of trustworthy biblical content for discipleship in all dimensions of congregational life. I am most grateful for the Kern Family Foundation and their generous and enthusiastic support of this project. Please join me in prayer that God will multiply these few “loaves and fishes,” so that a growing multitude in the church will better connect Sunday worship with Monday work.

 

 

 

Equipping Marketplace Leaders

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Rick & Kathy Boxx

One of the things that encourage me most in the area of faith, work and economics are the number of organizations that have emerged in the broader faith at work movement. Recently I chatted with Rick Boxx who along with his bride Kathy, live in Kansas City, are members of our Christ Community family and have for several years helped others better connect Sunday to Monday.

In 2001 Rick Boxx founded Integrity Resource Center  with the mission “To glorify God by helping others learn, model and teach God’s principles in their workplace.” I am grateful for Rick’s encouraging friendship and the good work he and Kathy are doing. Here are some of Rick’s thoughts from our conversation.

Tom:  What were some of the factors that led you to get involved in the faith and work movement?

Rick: I began working for a bank president in 1989 who frequently directed me to scripture to guide the business decisions we were making. Seeing the Bible used practically in business began me on a journey that led to my salvation then ultimately to developing a passion for understanding what else the Bible said about business. God began stirring my heart that someone needed to teach His principles to business leaders. So in 1995 I left banking to form a consulting practice. This consulting practice eventually led me to founding Integrity Resource Center, a nonprofit dedicated to training and equipping leaders to do business God’s way.

Tom:  What are the greatest challenges you see in helping marketplace leaders better connect Sunday to Monday?

Rick:  Many Christians have experienced teaching and equipping for their marriage and family issues and many personal areas of life, but few have had any training for their work, which is where they typically spend at least 45% of their waking hours. That coupled with many of them having flawed views that only pastors and missionaries have callings can be a big hurdle for those in the workplace to fully engage their God-given talents in the vocational calling God has for them.

Tom: How can local church leaders better equip congregants for their vocational callings?

Rick: Churches could be very helpful to their congregants by teaching and emphasizing the importance of our work and the calling to it that God has for those designed to flourish in the marketplace. We have used our daily “Integrity Moments” vignettes as a way to share practical workplace stories and biblical principles on a regular basis. It has now grown to being aired on over 250 radio stations and over 2 million people receive an email version. These sort of tools could be used or developed in the local church as a way to remind congregants that the Bible is practical for the workplace.

Rick, keep up the good work at Integrity Resource Center!

 

 

Instead Of Service, How About Service Work?

tomnelsonIn an article recently published in the New Republic entitled, “Don’t  Send Your Kid to the Ivy League, former Yale professor William Deresiewicz has offered a stinging critique of an elite college education.  He writes, “Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid and lost, with little intellectual credibility and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they are doing, but with no idea why they’re doing it.”

Dr. Deresiewicz makes a compelling argument by pointing to extreme admission standards, abandonment of a liberal arts education, lack of moral reflection and income inequality being perpetuated by many of our elite colleges and universities. While I resonate with much of what Deresiewicz is saying, one thing in particular stands out as a word of timely wisdom for parents, students and educators in this back to school season.

Dr. Deresiewicz urges an emerging generation of bright and talented college and perspective college students to learn about the world not through building impressive college resume community service hours in order to impress an admissions committee, but rather to make it a priority to personally experience a service sector job. To an emerging generation of students, Dr. Deresiewicz writes, “Instead of service, how about service work? That’ll really give you insight into other people. How about waiting tables so that you can see how hard it is, physically and mentally? You really aren’t as smart as everyone has been telling you; you’re only smarter in a certain way.”

I don’t know what if any faith commitments William Deresiewicz embraces, yet he is a welcome and needed voice in our time. His new book, entitled, Excellent Sheep: The Misdirection of the American Elite and The Way to a  Meaningful Way of Life is due to be released, August 19 and will be fodder for thought for those who care deeply about higher education in our nation. I believe the church as well as the culture at large must recover the value of work such as sweeping floors, making beds, cleaning bathrooms, flipping burgers, waiting tables, painting houses, mowing lawns  or a host of other less “desirable” jobs. Service sector jobs are often relatively low paying and that can be problematic in some ways, but these work opportunities bring with them much more value than a paycheck. Learning to work hard and serve an often thankless public encourages personal character formation and gives the high school or college student an invaluable life education in a diverse world.

Looking back at my high school and college years, I am very grateful for the summers I spent working at a Dairy Queen in a one stoplight Minnesota town.  During those very formative years, I learned a great deal about life, people, hard work and leadership at a Dairy Queen. This important life education, a college classroom simply cannot deliver. While I am a big fan of a college education and the goodness of classroom learning, an on-the-job education is also worth its weight in gold. Perhaps an antidote to the toxic entitlement mentality so pervasive in our culture is a renewed understanding of the high value of service sector jobs that teach us how to work hard and to serve others.

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.