What is Denver Institute for Faith & Work?

by Jeff Haanen

It doesn’t take much to make the case that the world is deeply broken. 

Even as you read this, my guess is that today – in your own experience – you can feel the fallenness of our culture all around. From anger and fear in the news to our day-to-day experience of broken relationships, we know that something is amiss. 

As the executive director and founder of Denver Institute for Faith & Work, I, too, feel that something is deeply wrong with the world. I’m often asked by donors, “What problem are you at Denver Institute trying to solve?” Let me try to answer by briefly sharing about the why, the how, and the what of our mission at Denver Institute.

First, why? Take a moment to think about the ways you long for healing in our world today. We know that our society is deeply broken; loneliness, division, and economic disparity are growing. The Church in the U.S. is shrinking rapidly: today, there are 30 million more people who claim no religious affiliation than just 10 years ago, according to Pew Research. We live in a time of pain and uncertainty, not just for Christians, but for our entire culture.

Yet, as Christians, ultimately we live in a story of hope. We believe Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was not just for the salvation of our souls, but for the salvation of the world. This salvation includes my heart, but it also includes cities and cultures. Isaac Watts once wrote, “He comes to make his blessings flow as far as the curse is found.” At Denver Institute, we talk about the depth and the breadth of the gospel; we believe that if sin has infected both souls and systems, so can grace. 

But I think there’s a question we must ask about each of these: the pain of our culture and the breadth of salvation Christians embrace. What do these have to do with me?

This is where our daily work comes in. 

Our mission at Denver Institute for Faith & Work is to form men and women to serve God, neighbor, and society through their daily work. Why work? We spend one-third of our waking lives at work. Work is where we make culture, from legal systems to art to carburetors. It’s also where we come into contact with our pluralistic world through co-workers, clients, patients, and students. Work is central to God’s mission in the world to redeem both souls as well as systems and structures.

So, how does Denver Institute think about its own role in equipping the saints for works of service through their work (Ephesians 4:12)? Let me briefly share about our “how.” We believe in “transformation from the inside out.” That is, rather than first looking at the world’s problems, we must first look at our own souls.

We believe there are three major movements of transformation. First is the interior life. We believe change first happens as people seek deep spiritual and emotional health and as they learn to think theologically about their work. This is why we talk about spiritual disciplines, Christian theology, and a deep interior renewal as the basis for a whole life and Christian mission. 

Second, we believe faith also changes our exterior life. Namely, we at DIFW come alongside people to create good work and embrace redemptive relationships. The community needs your work. From investing to teaching in public schools, we believe work is an act of loving our neighbors. Rather than work only being about personal success or earning a paycheck, we believe the work we do and the relationships we form are central to God’s calling in our lives.

Finally, we at DIFW talk about civic life. The onset of the pandemic in March 2020 has made it clear that we are economically, politically, socially, and culturally connected. We believe that as Christians set their faces toward culture, the posture of a sacrificial servant – the way of the cross – is the way to show people the gospel through our deeds. We at DIFW deeply care about the pressing social issues of our day because we believe they’re a category of neighbor love. Indeed, “for God so loved the world… .” If God loves the world and sent his Son to save it, we too must commit to healing this fallen world as those sent by God the Healer. 

So, what on earth does Denver Institute do? I’m glad you asked! We’re an educational nonprofit and we do work in three primary categories: public engagement, thought leadership, and intensive formation. In the category of public engagement, throughout the year we host a podcast and we host events. Each year we do two larger events called Women, Work and Calling and Business for the Common Good, and we do smaller events on topics such as the sciences, arts and culture, work and calling, and poverty and opportunity. We want to engage the public with the meaning of the good news for our work and world.

Second, thought leadership. We create short courses, books, articles, and other educational resources that connect Christian thinking with the wide world of work. Resources such as Spiritual Disciples for Your Work and the Faith & Work Classroom help you and those at your church or in your place of work dive deeper into the radically transformative nature of Christian faith for our world today. 

And finally, intensive formation. We are now in our fifth class of the 5280 Fellowship, a nine-month program for emerging leaders in spiritual formation, professional development, and civic engagement. Years ago, we built a program around the idea of transformation from the inside out that has deeply shaped the hearts and careers of our fellows. For years, leaders in other cities have asked us to help them develop similar programs in their cities, and as we look to the future, we are prayerfully considering helping additional leaders launch fellows programs in their cities throughout the U.S. 

But for now, what is Denver Institute for Faith & Work? An educational organization? Yes, but not only that. We are a network of people. We are a community of people who care deeply about our faith in Christ and our work, and our commitment to engaging the needs of the world while staying rooted in God’s love.

There it is: an answer to the question, “What is Denver Institute for Faith & Work.”  But don’t click away quite yet. I want you to find a co-worker or family member today and simply share your own dreams for what gospel impact might look like in your work and community. Where is God calling you into his great story of redemption?  

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Jeff Haanen

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. Jeff lives with his wife and four daughters in Denver, Colorado.