Why here? Why now? Part II

DIFW Series • Work
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To summarize the last blog post, at the outset of Denver Institute for Faith & Work, we needed to (1) create a new institution that (2) brings quality thinking to bear on practical work contexts, (3) is multidisciplinary, (4) unites both church and city leaders, (5) unites ideas and practical action, and (6) does so faithfully and sustainably in a local context. I would also add that our new organization needed to be simple enough to reproduce in other cities.

And so simple is what we did (there’s really nothing unique in our organization that others haven’t already done). Denver Institute for Faith & Work is compromised of two bodies of leaders and four programs. Our two bodies of leaders are our church advisory council and governing board. Our four core programs are (1) church events and courses, (2) public forums, (3) vocation groups, (4) project mentoring and a business incubator.

Church Advisory Council. First, begin with the local church. The church advisory council is a body of pastors that meet quarterly who: (1) guide our theological vision, (2) offer insight  as to what the local church needs, (3) take leadership for teaching about vocation in the local church, and (4) participate in our programs.  Instead of one home church for DIFW, we have nine. DIFW is based in the gospel, which means our ties to the local church will always be strong, and our mission will be to both serve church and city.

Governing Board. Second, we organized a board of leaders from diverse fields of work who both possess a theological vision for their industry and are called bring the gospel to that industry. Each board member is both a theologian and practitioner, and has a pulse on their segment of the city’s culture that is influenced by their work. An engineer, doctor, PR executive, fundraiser, pastor, business manager – each contribute a unique voice, but is bound to a common vision of applying the gospel to their work.

Programs

Church Events and Courses. Our first program is hosting church events and courses that can open more eyes to the centrality of work in the life of discipleship and can give both a good theological framework for a theology of work and practical examples. Our church events are collaborative and meant to facilitate networks, illumine minds, and stir hearts – all around a dinner table. Our goal is for more people in Denver it take the first step in seeing work as an offering of worship to God and an act of love for neighbor.

Public Forums. Our second program is public forums, which are vocation-specific events that highlight a speaker and key leaders in a field who can address, for example, the gospel and technology, law, business, or health care. These events are meant to offer more specific insights for how practitioners in a field can practically apply their faith to their work. Public forums are a collaborative partnership between at least one church, a sponsoring organization or business, and DIFW.

Vocation Groups. Our third program is vocation groups, regular meetings of Christians working in the same sectors of public life who gather to pray, discuss, and think out the challenges of their work in light of their faith. Their goal is to (1) develop a healthy community (2) that seeks God’s good purpose for work in general and their specific field, (3) unveils the idols, powers and principalities that hinder that purpose, and (4) commit to practical action within companies, communities, and industries. Led by group moderators, we feel that in many ways these strong, sustainable vocational communities are our most important program and at the heart of a healthy discipleship that can accomplish our mission.

Project Mentoring and a Business Incubator. Finally, our fourth program connects ideas with realities, conversation with action. As an outcome of our vocation groups, we hope to see renewed people as well as different kinds of work – products, policies, and programs – that reflect a commitment to the historic Christian faith. To this end, we hope to facilitate these practical applications through both project mentoring – surrounding a leader with the ideas, mentors and resources to take action on an idea – as well as a business incubator, which helps entrepreneurs launch new socially-minded businesses that embody the gospel in all aspects of their work. The business incubator (or “accelerator”) is being launched at the end of this year by a partner organization, Crux Ventures.

Stepping back, for a moment, we envision Denver Institute for Faith & Work as a kind of bridge, uniting church and city, faith and work, gospel and culture. There is inherent tension between modern culture and the kingdom of God, and there is always the need for people in each city to address new issues creatively and in their own way (the Bible gives us trajectories, not step-by-step instructions, for how to live out our faith at work, and ultimately what we make at work must be decided upon in community and led by the Spirit). Because of this tension, we needed our organization by both our church advisory council (church, gospel) and governing board (city, culture). Yet we also needed to build a bridge between these two, which we’re praying our programs can do over time.

Second, any city could do a similar project. It requires one executive director deeply called to forming the organization, a group a pastors, a group of lay leaders, and the commitment to build these four programs strong and solid over time, for which we have several good examples throughout the US. Wherever there is a church and people working, from Tokyo to Toronto, this model could be reproduced.

But is a new organization really necessary? I believe there are at least four reasons why it is:

1. The gospel is not going away any time soon, nor is work. I think we’re at a point in evangelicalism where the “faith and work conversation” is stagnating. Many evangelicals are tired of hearing “work matters” and are ready to ride the next wave. But this should not be. The gospel of the kingdom will be declared to the very end of the age, and as best as I can tell, people will keep working until that age comes (and perhaps even after). There will always be a need to ask how we serve the Lord Jesus in our cultural endeavors and how we bring our daily work under his supreme authority. We will need to explore both a Christian worldview as culture hands us ever more complicated situations and particular embodied practices borne out in community. This need is not going away any time soon.

2. Our world, and our work, desperately needs the gospel. It’s easy to get caught in small religious enclaves that forget about the larger world around us. I’ve been guilty of this many times before. But pick up The Economist or The New York Times – here are all fields of work that are crying out for justice, peace, goodness, truth and beauty. To forget about work is to forget about the world.

3. The sacred/secular divide is still pervasive. Since the Enlightenment, the idea has been growing that religion is personal and best kept in private, and work – science, journalism, education – is public. The private and public exist under two different set of rules – one of values, and one of facts. It’s now so common that to ask questions about how the Christian faith influences how we build buildings or teach students in a public school is odd. Though this is the air we breathe, we can’t forget that this is essentially in tension with the declaration the Jesus is Lord over all (Col. 1:15-20). We need people and organizations that can help bridge this divide, both for the sake of living integrated lives and sewing the seeds of healing in a culture in need of the gospel.

4. The integration of faith and work is central to the mission of the church. British theologian and missionary Lesslie Newbigin once wrote: “We need to create, above all, possibilities in every congregation for lay people to share with one another the actual experience of their weekday work and seek illumination from the gospel for their secular duty. Only thus shall we begin to bring together what our culture has divided – the private and the public. Only thus will the church fulfill its missionary role.” He’s right. Ultimately, DIFW is about equipping the saints for mission (Eph. 4:12), and is a part of God’s mission in the world.

So, as we set the humble foundations of this new organization, I want to extend a huge thank you to the those who have gone before us. We would not have started this without the leaders, thinkers, churches and institutions that have gone before us and paved the way.

And of course, this new organization is still in its infancy. We’re still raising money, praying for leaders, and designing programs. We have a long way to go. But Jesus himself goes before us and has thus far been faithful in leading that which is ultimately for Him. With that great hope, we will take the next small step in building this organization, and in doing so cultivating the dry rocky mountain soil God uses to grow the seeds of new life.