How do we change?
I’m 34 years old, have four kids, and have been in the workforce for 9 years. And for me, there is no more pressing question in my life today than How do I change?
In the past three years, the stress of leading a growing organization, trying to be a good father, and accomplishing my professional goals has exposed, well, cracks in the foundation of my character. My precious wife has been so patient with me as I stumble, fall, and get up again – only to find myself back where I started.
As I’ve spoken with peers about their lives, careers, and relationships – especially young professionals in Denver and Boulder – I’ve seen common traits among many of us:
- We’re around people and “social networks” all the time, but we feel lonely, and not deeply known by others. It’s the great irony of a social media age. More noise, but less deep relationships.
- In our careers we’ve gotten good at a technical skill for which we were trained in school, like drawing construction plans, scheduling conferences or planning lessons. But we wonder: what about the broader city we live in? Who else is out there like me? How can I go from a microscope (knowing lots about a little) to a telescope (seeing a bigger picture)? Might my career or work be a part of something bigger than just my success?
- In the drive to get things done and accomplish more in a shorter amount of time, I feel like my relationships, my knowledge of myself, and my relationship with God isn’t what I want it to be. I long to live a deep spiritual life, but most days I find this baffling. I need help. Lots of it.
- Only 33% of Americans are engaged with their work. Most show up, do a job, get a paycheck – and would rather be somewhere else. And even for those third that are “highly engaged,” there’s an uncomfortableness, especially in Colorado, with those who make their careers everything, and forget about family, friends, neighbors, recreation, or the needs of others. Is there a way to be engaged, but not make work an idol?
In the last three years, I’ve felt each of these feelings acutely. Changing any of these seems daunting for me. Yet what’s interesting to me is that in the first year of the 5280 Fellows program at Denver Institute, I’ve seen what looks to me like genuine change in the lives of 27 men and women.
- Grant Stone, a banker, shares about a broadening perspective on the financial industry, and what it means for his future career decisions
- Candice Whiteley, a vice principal, shares about the value of a community deeply committed to God, a deeper knowledge of ourselves, and our world
- Banks Benitez, an entrepreneur, shares about a renewed perspective of God that even sees Him at work at a car wash employing autistic men and women
- Rachel Moran, a law professor, shares about no longer feeling alone as she endeavors to live out her Christian life at a secular university
- My friend Hunter Beaumont, lead pastor at Fellowship Denver church, has said, “This program is having a transformative impact on the culture of my church.”
- Paul Frank, who works at a healthcare supply chain management company, said to me recently, “When I started the Fellowship, I hated by job. I had been in a tech company for over a decade – was something wrong with me? But one night, after doing a ‘vocational power assessment,’ somebody in my cohort said: ‘Look, you have incredible vocational power as one of the most senior employees in your company. Maybe God put you there for a reason.’ I now see my work as an incredible opportunity to mentor and serve.”
Why is this? Where is this change coming from?
When I designed the program, to be honest, I kind of had a chip on my shoulder about my previous educational experiences. I loved reading and ideas, but I couldn’t stand reading 500 pages of a boring book, writing a paper about an esoteric topic, or listening to professors lecture for hours without ever asking what I thought. I also developed an affinity for older books (and shorter ones!) that had stood the test of time. Better to build my life on the great ideas and traditions of the past than the latest fad that had become popular in the academy.
In my years after graduate school, I also came to value the primacy of learning from people: people who are further along in their careers, people who have had different training than I have, people who are influencing key conversations across different sectors in our city. Jesus wrote nothing, but he instead gave us his church, a group or people. I could now see why. People were just as important “texts” as were books. And through the Holy Spirit, God actually lives in people.
Moreover, as I grew in my career, I saw myself imitating leaders I knew, and putting into practice what they were feeling and doing, far before I understood the concepts behind their actions.
I also began the incredibly hard process of self-knowledge. Only in the past several years have I really started to plunge deeply into how I react in stressful situations, how I come off in front of others, why I feel energized or exhausted, and the impact my own emotions have on everyone around me.
The Fellows program has been designed for those of us in our careers who long for a deeper change that technical training can’t provide. We built in elements into the program that take into consideration the breadth of what human being is. We are relational, social, physical, emotional, intellectual, habitual creatures who are environmentally-shaped, embedded in culture, and designed for work, for others, and for God.
So what does that mean? In the 5280 Fellowship, it means:
- The relational and emotional context formed by the cohort of Fellows is the core of the program. God is relationship – and we grow only by first opting into a community that commits itself to a set of habits, like spiritual reading, work, discussion, prayer, vulnerability, and learning from others.
- The community is designed around values of theological thinking, redemptive relationships, creating good work, deep spiritual health and sacrificial service. The unspoken values the community holds at the outset of the program shape the environment even before we’ve begun the formal program.
- We strive to cultivate a deeper knowledge of God on two levels: (1) his revelation through Scripture and his church through reading great authors on topics like biblical worldview & mission, calling, theology, work, Christ and culture. (2) We cultivate a direct knowledge of God, the living Person, through practicing the classical spiritual disciplines.
- We set the context for a deeper knowledge of ourselves through a coaching process that includes an EQi assessment, 360 interviews, sharing our stories with the cohort, and evaluating our vocational gifting and power.
- We set the table for a deeper knowledge of our culture by understanding issues through eyes of leaders actually shaping and forming those issues through their work.
- We intentionally build diverse cohorts and expose our Fellows to a broad network of leaders in the city because we believe learning directly from other’s experiences is deeply transformative on a cognitive, relational, spiritual, professional and civic level. Experiences like the 5280 Fellowship are often catalyst experiences that open new opportunities, new perspectives, and new relationships across churches and sectors.
- The program also requires a professional project and a personal development project. Leadership development programs that are all about papers and lectures – but don’t have the teeth of real world projects that will influence real people – are not effective. Conversely, applying your theology to real work contexts and serving real needs, from psychiatry to urban planning to corporate management, is both professionally impactful and is good for the workplaces, communities, industries and cultures we live in.
Tough thing about the program: it’s a big commitment over nine months. And it’s only for those who are serious about change. But here’s the truth: technology is fast, but character formation is slow. And we can’t do it alone. We need each other.
As I was interviewing two of our senior leaders last month during a Saturday teaching session, I closed the session, and looked up to our Fellows and said, “I just want to say one thing. Seven months ago you were strangers – but I now call you my friends. I genuinely love being a part of this community. Thank you. I needed it.”
Change seems impossible to me most days. But following Easter week, when I recall the empty cross and the light-filled tomb – and the growing community of faith in the metro area – I’m filled with hope.
If you’re interested in learning more about the 5280 Fellowship, reach out to me or to Fellowship director Brian Gray.
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This post was published April 17, 2017
Jeff Haanen is the Founder of Denver Institute for Faith & Work and the 5280 Fellowship. He contributes to various magazines and publications, including Christianity Today. He has previously served as a school administrator, a pastor and missionary. He holds a B.A. in International Economics and Spanish from Valparaiso University and a Master of Divinity from Denver Seminary. Jeff attends Littleton Christian Church with his wife and four daughters.