Speaking at Christ Community Tonight

If you are in the greater Kansas City area, come join Matt tonight as he speaks at Christ Community Church. This event is free and open to the public. Matt will speak on gospel-centered productivity and have a time of Q&A. You can find full details about the event here and you can RSVP here.

Tom Nelson, author of Work Matters, is the senior pastor of Christ Community Church. Pastor Nelson’s book provides helpful counsel for those seeking to better understand the theology of vocation and apply it in their own life.

Come join the folks from Christ Community for an evening of discussing faith and work together. See you there!

Dorothy Sayers: Clamor to be Engaged in Work Worth Doing

Sometimes, Dorothy Sayers sounds like Seth Godin. Here’s what she says in her superb essay “Why Work?,” referring to one of the main implications of the view of work she has just outlined:

A fourth consequence is that we should fight tooth and nail, not for mere employment, but for the quality of the work that we had to do. We should clamor to be engaged on work that was worth doing, and in which we can take pride.

The worker would demand that the stuff he helped to turn out should be good stuff….

There would be protests and strikes — not only about pay and conditions, but about the quality of the work demanded and the honesty, beauty, and usefulness of the goods produced. The greatest insult which a commercial age has offered to the worker has been to rob him of all interest in the end-product of the work and to force him to dedicate his life to making badly things which were not worth making.

Fast forwarding about 70 years, I think Sayers would agree whole-heartedly with the vision for work Godin outlines on his blog and books, especially Linchpin

In bestsellers such as Purple Cow and Tribes, Seth Godin taught readers how to make remarkable products and spread powerful ideas. But this book is about you-your choices, your future, and your potential to make a huge difference in whatever field you choose.

There used to be two teams in every workplace: management and labor. Now there’s a third team, the linchpins. These people figure out what to do when there’s no rule book. They delight and challenge their customers and peers. They love their work, pour their best selves into it, and turn each day into a kind of art.

Linchpins are the essential building blocks of great organizations. They may not be famous but they’re indispensable. And in today’s world, they get the best jobs and the most freedom.

As Godin writes, “Every day I meet people who have so much to give but have been bullied enough or frightened enough to hold it back. It’s time to stop complying with the system and draw your own map. You have brilliance in you, your contribution is essential, and the art you create is precious. Only you can do it, and you must.”

God is Much More Secular Than We Often Think

John Piper, in The Pleasures of God

God has an interest in all our nonreligious life. All our business transactions are his concern.

God is not so distant or even ‘religious’ that he only cares about what happens at church and during devotions.

Every square inch of this earth is his and every minute of our lives is a loan from his breath. He is much more secular than we often think.

Join Me in Atlanta this Thursday for the One2 Conference on Faith and Work

I’m excited to be speaking at the One2 Conference in Atlanta this Thursday. The vision for these events is amazing and just what we need when it comes to the faith and work discussion. Here it is in a nutshell:

ONE2 is a one-night event for students and recent graduates who want to do meaningful work that honors God and serves the world.

These events are not like a traditional conference where most of the time consists of teaching. Instead, in addition to the teaching (two 20-minute TED-like talks), there is also table discussions and Q&A. The aim is to create a space for 18-25 year-olds to talk about the intersection of faith and work.

So if you are a student or recent graduate, come to ONE2 Atlanta this Thursday and learn more about how your faith integrates with your work. The other keynote speaker will be Tyler Reagin, executive director of Catalyst, who I can’t wait to hear.

You can register at the website, as well as learn more about ONE2 in general, discover some of the resources they recommend, and read their blog. And here’s a short video trailer on the conference:

Four Meeting Practices that Distinguish Top Leadership Teams

This is a guest post by Ryan T. Hartwig and Warren Bird, authors of Teams that Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadershipwhich is out today.

Certainly meeting advice is ubiquitous; our goal is not to repeat that here. Instead, we just want to report the meeting practices that differentiated thriving teams from underperforming teams in our recent study of nearly 150 church leadership teams. As you read what follows, notice what’s missing: the number of meetings or the number of hours spent in meetings. Thus it appears that “too many meetings” or “too much time spent in meetings” aren’t the scapegoats for poor team performance. Our data shows that there are many different ways to do effective meetings, but a few key practices make a great difference.

1. Teams do more than formally “meet” together. They collaborate continuously.

On top teams, meeting times don’t bound their teamwork. Instead, senior leadership teamwork is ongoing, not just occurring during meetings. In fact, we found that meeting informally for more than one hour per week was a contributing factor to differences between top and mediocre teams.

Two key strategies best enable continuous teamwork. The first is to fight like crazy against overwork and busyness. The second strategy is to develop office environments where it is easy for team members to bump into one another. Shared conference rooms and break rooms, stocked fridges, shared administrative support staff members and offices in close proximity to one another encourage team members to frequently bump into one another, creating additional opportunities to continue the team’s important work outside of the boardroom. This active engagement carries over in the boardroom as well.

2. Meeting agendas are distributed to all team members, preferably at least one day in advance.

Distributing meaningful agendas is so powerful for several reasons. First, it forces the meeting facilitator to spend time planning out the priorities and flow of the meeting beforehand, to an extent that it can be shared with others. Second, it informs all participants of the meeting’s purpose and content, which enables each participant to come prepared. Third, it provides structure to the meeting that encourages the team to stay on task and focused throughout the meeting.

3. Meeting agendas are not solely developed by the lead pastor.

Top teams get the whole team involved in setting the agenda. While most senior team meetings were convened and facilitated by either the senior pastor or executive pastor, top teams offered opportunities for other team members to shape the team’s agenda.

This input can be offered in a few different ways. First, meeting conveners can directly ask team members for items to include on the agenda several days prior to the meeting. Second, conveners can offer a standing invitation to send agenda items. Third, conveners can develop the agenda in such a way that a place to discuss the typical issues is slated on the agenda each week.

For instance, each week an agenda may have a slot for “personnel issues,” during which each team member is invited to broach discussions or to bring a decision to the group regarding personnel matters. To make this option work, however, conveners must create space for team members to bring up and discuss important issues, rather than overwhelm the meeting time with other agenda items.

4. Agendas clearly delineate the work for the meeting.

For top teams, the agenda is thoughtfully developed enough to truly guide the team’s discussion and progress through the meeting, rather than agendas that are so vague and routine that no one pays attention to them. Such agendas include:

  • implicit or explicit time periods for each agenda item
  • intentionally ordered items, often leaving the most important discussion items in the middle of the agenda
  • consistent format so that participants know what you expect in each meeting and can find necessary information quickly
  • enough detail to discourage participants from wondering what is coming later in the meeting

Agendas provide a forum to capture what has been decided during the meeting, individual expectations for followup and a framework to develop the agenda for the next team meeting.

———–

Excerpted with permission from chapter 12 of Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership by Ryan T. Hartwig and Warren Bird, InterVarsity Press, 2015. Visit www.TeamsThatThriveBook.com for the book itself, exercises, and other tools to help your team.

Go Slow to Go Fast

From Executive Intelligence, quoting Irene Rosenfeld, former CEO of Frito-Lay:

Because we know speed is of the essence, too often we immediately start moving without first taking the time to think about what we’re trying to accomplish.

There are hundreds of stories about this. Everyone is trying to act quickly, but too often they run out to solve a problem without fully understanding what problem they are trying to solve. This creates a lot of organizational angst which slows things down and leads to all sorts of issues regarding job satisfaction and work-life balance.

Destroying the Success Ethic

There is still sometimes in the church today the thinking that success is a sign that a person is following God well, and difficulty and adversity are signs that they are likely doing something wrong.

While following God’s commands often leads to success, sometimes (due to injustice in the world) it leads to hardship and the opposite of earthly success. Hence, we cannot evaluate whether God is blessing someone simply by their outward success and circumstances. We have to look at character and obedience.

Here are some incredible quotes from some of the greatest theologians in church history on this matter, from Leland Ryken’s book Redeeming the Time: A Christian Approach to Work and Leisure:

Puritan Thomas Watson: “True godliness is usually attended with persecution.”

Puritan Richard Baxter: “Take heed that you judge not of God’s love, or of your happiness or misery, by your riches or poverty, prosperity or adversity.”

Luther: It is “utterly nonsensical” the “delusion” that if someone “has good fortune, wealth, and health, …God is dwelling there.”

Samuel Willard: “As riches are not evidences of God’s love, so neither is poverty of his anger or hatred.”

Thomas Hooker: “Afflictions are no argument of God’s displeasure…but the ensign of grace and goodness.”

Paul Helm on the Call to the Ministry

From my notes on his book The Callings: The Gospel in the World:

The call to the ministry is extraordinary, not in the sense that it is miraculous or accompanied by visions, but because “by it a man is taken out of many of the routine commitments of daily life.” Specifically, “he ought to be freed from the need to earn his daily living in order to give himself exclusively to the word of God (1 Tim 5:17).”

It also is extraordinary in that it arises out of the ordinary. A person generally will carry on a normal calling, and “it is when he is inwardly constrained to preach the gospel, and his gifts — his ability to handle Scripture, to preach, to give leadership — are recognized by the church, that his inward call becomes outwardly ratified. It is as these inward and outward circumstances combined that a man has a warrant for leaving his regular calling and attempting to obtain a position of pastoral oversight.”

The Gospel-Centered Business

From Tim Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf’s Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work:

The gospel-centered business would have a discernible vision for serving the customer in some unique way, a lack of adversarial relationships and exploitation, an extremely strong emphasis on excellence and product quality, and an ethical environment that goes ‘all the way down’ to the bottom of the organizational chart and to the realities of daily behavior, even when high ethics mean a loss of margin.

In the business animated by the gospel worldview, profit is simply one of many important bottom lines.

Keller nails it here. It is also very interesting that his statement that profit should be only one of many bottom lines syncs up with the research of Jim Collins. In the landmark book Built to LastCollins’ research shows that the most profitable companies actually don’t put profit first — they put the customer and the mission first.

This doesn’t mean they don’t seek profit (just as Keller isn’t saying not to seek profit). Rather, it’s that they realize that profit is not the point. Making a contribution and serving the customer is. You have to do this in a profitable way, but ironically, Collins’ research shows, you will be more profitable when you pursue more than profit rather than just profit. 

And so here we see that the nature of a gospel-centered business is very much in line with what the best business research is showing as well. Common grace and the gospel are allies, not opponents.

Four Points on Faith and Work from Keller’s Every Good Endeavor

I’m going through Keller’s Every Good Endeavor again and taking some notes. Here are four central points from my overall summary of the book (quotes are, interestingly, from the dust jacket — which for most books does a great job of highlighting the core points):

  1. A Christian view of work is “that we work to serve others, not ourselves.”
  2. We can indeed have “a thriving professional and balanced personal life.” This is a Christian goal, not just a worldly goal (though, due to suffering and the priorities of the gospel, sometimes it is not possible for some seasons – and that does not mean we are sinning or disobedient).
  3. Excellence, integrity, discipline, creativity, and passion in the workplace all matter and are to be done as acts of worship — not just self interest.
  4. We are able to — and called to — serve God through the secular arena as well as the ministry arena.

Why are these points so important, and why have I focused in on these? Here’s why.

Point four addresses the dichotomy between “sacred and secular” that robs work of meaning for so many people. It is life giving and liberating to realize that Christ can be served through the so-called secular tasks of reconciling bank statements or taking out the trash just as much as in ministry work.

Points two and three address issues which I find Christians sometimes disputing due to a some incorrect views of the fall, human nature, and God’s expectations of us. Because of the fact that we live in a fallen world, some Christians fall into the notion that we are to work only for a paycheck. Sometimes it is reasoned that life is so hard that the most you can expect out of your job is to provide for your financial needs. To seek meaning in work is just not possible or, at best, a nice bonus only available to a select fortunate few.

But that view treats us as merely economic beings. It is an overly reductionistic view of people. Since we are social, intellectual, and spiritual as well as economic, work needs to tap into those capacities as well. This is part of how God has designed work. The fact that the fall really screwed things up does not deny or remove this reality. It simply means that in each of these realms we will have hardship as well as success — not that we should reduce work to merely the economic dimension.

I would submit that one reason life does feel so hard sometimes, in fact, is because of employers who try to treat people as merely economic beings. If employers did a better job of managing to the whole person, quality of life for everyone would go up.

More could be said here, but the statement affirming the possibility of “a thriving professional life” affirms this reality (as does the rest of the book) that it is indeed possible to thrive in our work beyond just the economic side of things, and that it is good and right to seek this as Christians. So also creativity, passion, and excellence in our work are right, and in fact part of how we find meaning and purpose in our work, when done for the glory of God, because these things especially tap into our social, intellectual, and spiritual dimensions.

Finally, point one is the foundation of any truly Christian view of work. In the world, work is often viewed as something we do ultimately for ourselves. This often results in work that may benefit the company (in the short-term), but doesn’t really give the customer what they actually need (and want).

Of course, self-interest is not wrong in itself. But a Christian view of work is that we work for more than ourselves and even more than our families. We work for the good of everyone (cf. Jeremiah 29:7, which applies to us as Christians because we are in exile, 1 Peter 1:17) — especially the good of the customers our organization services.

This means that it is not enough to simply work in order to make the sale or get the paycheck. We have to work in such a way that people will truly be benefited. If doing our work in a certain way will earn the money, but not truly benefit the other person (perhaps by cutting corners on quality), we are not doing our work in a Christian way. Christians in the workplace should seek profit, but they should also seek more than profit. 

If more people worked this way, the entire world would be a better place. And, perhaps, if we worked this way from distinctly Christian motives and were tactful and winsome about our faith, more people would ask us for the reason for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15), and the gospel would spread more fully throughout our vocations (that’s the meaning of a close reading of Matthew 5:16 and Ephesians 5:8-17; for more on this in the Ephesians passage, see Peter T O’Brien’s commentary).