Equipping Marketplace Leaders

Rick-Kathy-400w

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.

Creative Community For The Common Good

17-groves-630x630

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!