Re-creation in a Broken World - Sam Thevanayagam

Sam Thevanayagam is the president and CEO of three companies—Parts Life, Inc., DeVal Lifecycle Support, and LC Engineers—focused on aerospace and defense systems used with domestic and international platforms. Sam is a TEDx speaker and the author of The First 10 Runs in Singles: Life Lessons from the Game of Cricket. Sam is devoted to empowering, mentoring, and developing people within his sphere of influence, and is deeply involved in his community and church. He’s here today to talk about God’s work of re-creation and “making all things new” through our everyday work.

 

Scripture References

  • Psalm 51:10
  • Luke 10:38-42
  • Luke 19:1-10
  • Ephesians 2:10

 

Addtional Resources

The First 10 Runs in Singles: Life Lessons from the Game of Cricket by Sam Thevanayagam

 

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Transcript

Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

Sam Thevanayagam is the President and CEO of three companies, Parts Life Incorporated, DeVal Lifecycle Support and LC Engineers focused on aerospace and defense systems used with domestic and international platforms. Sam, is also a TEDx speaker and the author of The First 10 Runs in Singles: Life Lessons From the Game of Cricket. Sam, is devoted to empowering, mentoring and developing people within his sphere of influence and is deeply involved in his community and church. He's here to talk to us today about God's work of re-creation and making all things new through our every day work.

Sam Thevanayagam, welcome to the Making it work podcast.

Sam Thevanayagam: Leah, it's really nice to be here with you.

LA: So I would love if you could start by telling us about the company you founded, Parts Life. What does your company do?

ST: So I started Parts Life in 2007, and when I first started Parts Life, I thought I was going into the automotive aftermarket, which is what I had worked in for many years, but when I started it, the automotive aftermarket was in trouble. It was right in the middle of a recession, and I had to pivot away from the automotive aftermarket into the US military, and it's interesting that God gave me the name Parts Life before he actually gave me the problem to solve. And the problem to solve is the military has a lot of issues that they call DMSMS, it stands for Diminishing Manufacturing Sources and Material Shortages. And it's a long word for obsolescence. It was actually describing a sickness or a problem that they have, that many of their expensive and mission-critical assets are used beyond the life that it was intended to.

And many times they don't have the parts in order to continue to support those assets, and that's where Parts Life comes in. So wouldn't it be like God that he gave me the name Parts Life before I actually found the problem. So it was almost prophetic that he gave me the name of the company first and then gave me a problem to solve. And so that's what we've been doing for many years. And so we are on many critical weapon systems that our nation uses for its defense. And so we do a lot of meaningful work in being able to support the US war fighter while creating value for the taxpayer, not by gauging the taxpayer. So that's a very important part of what we do.

LA: Now, we've heard a lot in this past year about supply chain disruptions, the challenges of supply chain management, especially in this current climate of materials shortages, and it's even more critical when you're supporting huge nationwide infrastructure like you're doing at Parts Life. So the work that you do is very much current in the news. But you actually, in your writing and thinking link this to a biblical issue that's been around since the beginning of time, which is sustaining and making things new. Can you talk a little bit about that?

ST: Yeah, so if you go back to scripture, when David sinned and he talked about... He's saying, "Create in me a clean heart, O God and renew a right spirit within me." If you think about it, God had already created David's heart. So in some ways he was saying, "God recreate within me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me." And so that's what we are about. If you think about it. The understanding of redemption, the understanding of reconciliation is really about us being reconciled to God in a relationship. That's why Jesus died on the cross. And every one of us the Bible says is in need of redemption and reconciliation, and to repair that relationship if you will, that was broken. And so we do that with people and yes, we do that with parts. So like, so many times the parts that we work on have to be recreated.

And it's very interesting, we are currently re-manufacturing the launchers on the F-18 air craft. The F-18 air craft is the air craft that was used in the movie Maverick, which is the Top Gun movie that has had over a billion dollars worth of sales. We happen to be the ones to re-manufacture the launcher. So we can't claim to actually manufacture it. Somebody else, the OEM manufactured it, but the Navy is actually using our little company in Moorestown, New Jersey to actually re-manufacture it. And if you think about it, we are actually bringing it back to the intention of what it was intended to do. So we are recreating, we are re-manufacturing, reconditioning that item to be back. And isn't it a great allegory of what God does with our lives? We are broken, we are fallen, and we are without relationship, and through Christ his Son, we are able to be reconciled with him.

LA: Mark, have you ever heard of more concrete link between what someone does for a living and what someone believes in their faith?

MR: You know, I'm not sure but not very often. And never that one, which I just find so fascinating, Sam. That your work... 'Cause we talk more about creative work, right? That's pretty common in faith work kinds of conversations. And that's important and it's wonderful, and God's the creator and we're the creator. But God is also the sustainer. God isn't just making new stuff and then that's the end of it. God is... Continues to be engaged with the world and with the things that God has made, and so God is the sustainer. And in one sense, that's kind of what you're doing. And it's also reflective of the new creation and making all things new, not throwing all things out and making all together new things. But making all things new. So I just think that's so interesting, and I know we'll get into also how that relates to the way you think about people. But even to see just sort of the nuts and bolts if you will, of your job as reflective of the kind of work that God is doing is really quite wonderful.

ST: And if I can say one more thing, one of the things that we do is in some cases, we re-manufacture, in other cases, we do something called replicate. So in a replication process, we are almost copying because the military does not want to change the way things are. Because they need us to carbon copy and replicate exactly what they had the OEM do. And so we actually replicate. And if you think about Christ, that's what he's doing in our lives. He wants us to be an entire image of who he is. And I tell people that many times. If you think about Jesus, and if you think about how exact things were when he walked on this earth. One of the things that is not exact about when he walked on this earth was his facial features, or how tall he was, or what color his hair was, or what color his eyes were. And I believe that that's not an accident, because every one of us has the ability to be who Christ is.

And so if you think about how we can all be. We can all have virtual images. When we act out in a situation, we can be like Christ. Now, many times we fall far short. I'll speak for myself. I fall far short of replicating who Christ is. But there are times when I have been the only Jesus that people have seen or people will encounter. So that is another beautiful way of being able to really think about who Christ is. And so not only does Christ sustain us. In many ways he's cooperating with us and he's giving us the ability to be able to be his hands, his feet and his image in many situations. And that is a huge calling, if you think about it.

MR: Oh, I love that. And so as you're talking I think... You're like Christ in at least two ways here. And one is... So one of the things in the theology of work we like to point out is that Jesus used lots of illustrations from work in his teaching. It's all over in there. That's exactly what you're doing. So you are... In this day I mean, he wasn't manufacturing parts for planes, but he was drawing from the workplace to talk about faith. Exactly like you're doing so that's number one.

ST: Yep. I think he talked about farming and fishing, right? So Israel was a very agrarian society and was also very close to bodies of water. So he would also use fishing a lot...

MR: Yeah.

ST: In his analogy. And if you think about even the book that I wrote, I wrote it on cricket. Because cricket, there is... If you think about the world, there is at least 2 billion people that live in cricket playing countries and love the game of cricket. And so, I was able to draw out of cricket, how we can take the game of cricket and apply it to the game of life. And so the very model that Jesus used, right? Because he used the things that were familiar to be able to talk to us about the kingdom of God. His primary motivation was to teach us about the kingdom, right? He wanted to talk to us about what the kingdom was like, what were the rules? What was the priorities in the kingdom? You take the example of Mary and Martha, in that story it's beautiful because both Mary and Martha did not do anything wrong. What they both chose were not sin. Were not sinful, but the Bible talks about the fact that Mary chose something that was better than Martha and it shows us that Jesus was all about relationship. He was even more interested in relationship than he was interested in productivity.

I listened to a Jewish rabbi speak, his name is, Rabbi Daniel Lapin. He talks about the fact that the word worship and the word work comes from the same Hebrew word. So when God created us to worship him, we actually do that also by working. We worship him through... In spirit and in truth. But part of that truth is for us to go to work. And the way we work is by serving God's other children. And by doing that, we find purpose and potential. I tell people all the time potential and purpose is what God is doing. I cannot... That's what God has created in every single person he has created people with purpose and created people with potential. That's what Ephesians 2:10 tells us. But I can certainly partner with him by creating an environment. By being that person to make sure that the right ingredients are in that environment so that people can achieve their God given potential.

LA: I wanna talk a little bit more about how you do manage people within your company, because I've heard incredible stories about people coming out of prison and working for you. People having their lives transformed, recreated in the same way that you are recreating your parts. So I wonder if you could talk a little bit about of what is your method of working with workers and even choosing the people you wanna work for you.

ST: Yeah. So I'm very careful about picking the right people, but on the other hand, I also... So attitude is very important for me. To make sure that people have the right attitude, the right mindset. But on the other hand, I'm very good about giving people second and third chances. It's part of the fallen nature of human beings that we are fallen. And the truth of the matter is that God loved us unconditionally, and the things that we do don't necessarily separate us from who he is and the way that he relates to us. So it's the kind of philosophy that I employ, doesn't mean that we haven't let people go because of either performance or something like that, but I don't take those things lightly, and that's very important to me, but so that's on the... That's not on the separation side, but as far as people working for me, there is a pastor called David Dickerson, who wrote a book called Enabling Us.

And he talks about the fact that it takes four things to fundamentally change society. It takes an education, it takes a job, healthcare and a place to live. And if you think about somebody who has a job, they usually have healthcare and a place to live along with it. But we also do a very good job of educating our people. One of the things that I measure is the training hours that we put in, the training dollars that we put in, it's very important for me to develop people. So I'm not necessarily...

I don't hire people for a job, I am thinking in terms of a career, I have four children who work for me, and recently I was with some classmates who are high achievers, and you know their children are also high achievers, and I was challenged to say, Did I give my children a job or am I teaching them a career, am I teaching them a domain and would they be able to go to work for somebody else? And I'm happy to tell you that I have actually put them in careers, I'm actually teaching them work and how to work, not necessarily a job, and I would love to tell you that I don't only do that with my children, I do that with every single person that works for me.

So I have many children, not just my four children, because I see how God has placed every one of these people for me to lead. And I don't take that lightly.

LA: It reminds me of this biblical story about a man named Zacchaeus and Jesus meeting him on the road, and I wonder, Mark, could I ask you to summarize that story?

MR: Sure, it's a great story. It's one that... Children love it because of one of the things we know about Zacchaeus is he was short, and if you are short or if you're a child, you know what it's like to be in a crowd and you can't see. So anyway, Zacchaeus was also a tax collector, and in that day, that meant he was really one of the bad guys, he had sold out to Rome, and it would be way worse than working for the IRS, it'd be more like working for the IRS for a country that was dominating you and wasn't your own country. So anyway, he was short and he was hated, and Jesus was coming to town, and for some reason, we don't know why, he really wanted to check out Jesus, but because he was little and because no one would let him through, he ends up climbing this tree to see Jesus, and Jesus stops when he sees him, and says Zacchaeus, come on down, I'm gonna be with you in your house today, and basically invites himself over, and so they go to Zacchaeus' house and we don't know all that happened in the dialogue, but at some point Zacchaeus says, I'm gonna turn my life around.

And if I've cheated anyone, I'm gonna pay them back. And I'm gonna... I am, from now, gonna do my work in a way that is right and good. And I mean, there's so much in the story, and Sam, I know you have a lot to say about this, but we have no idea, no evidence that Jesus told him to do that. It was just the response to God's presence and grace, and Jesus changed his life, but it wasn't just as Zacchaeus said, so now I'm gonna go to synagogue every week and I'm gonna memorize Torah, and he may well have done that. But instead, I'm gonna make restitution for where I have done wrong, and I am now going to work in a right way, and so that encounter with Jesus was transforming to his work. Now, Sam, you have done a lot of work with Zacchaeus. How does Zacchaeus inform you? 'Cause I didn't steal all your punch line, you still got some things to say.

ST: Yes, yes, the Bible says, To whom much is given, much is also required, and so from a leadership perspective, and then, When you do it for the least of these, your brethren, you're doing it as unto me. So if you think about it, my challenge to leaders is, every one of us has a lot of Zacchaeuses in our lives, and many times as leaders, we want to spend time with those people who have the same social status as us or somebody who is at a higher social status with us, but when Jesus chose, he chose to have a meal at Zacchaeus's house, he could have gone to anywhere he wanted to, he could have gone to the mayors, the governors, he could have decided to have dinner with whoever he wanted to, he chose Zacchaeus to do that with.

And so if you... And what you just said, Mark, is actually transformational. So the fact that Jesus had an encounter with Zacchaeus, it extreme... It transformed his life. And so we have as leaders, we have that same ability to bring transformational change to people, and it's our responsibility to be sensitive to the spirit, to make sure that we are picking those people to have meals with and to spend time with, because that's how transformation will happen. My mother used to say, To whom much is given, much is also required.

And so when you have the mantle of leadership, you have a lot of resources, you have the ability to be able to do a lot, and so we have to make sure that we are using those wisely. And so when I speak, I talk a lot about entrepreneurship and stewardship, and that's the two sides of the same coin. if you think about it, it's a great way to think about being an entrepreneur, that it's not all about us. As part of being successful, our responsibility is to be a good steward. And when you talk about stewardship, it's actually being a good steward with people.

MR: You know, Sam...you know what I love about your work with the Zacchaeus story, so I've been a pastor for a long time. I've preached, I've taught in that text in the context of theology of work. We often use Zacchaeus and always the point is we need to be like Zacchaeus. In other words, as we encounter Jesus, we need to be transformed in our work. What you are doing with it, which I think is brilliant, and you're saying, we also need to be like Jesus in the story, right? Those of us who follow Jesus, we need to see Zacchaeuses. And I just think, oh my gosh, that is such a powerful application of this story. And I will confess until I started engaging with you and your work, I never thought of it that way. But you're absolutely right. And I love that vision you have for seeing the Zacchaeuses. That God can use you to help bring transformation to them. That's just so... That's really awesome.

ST: Thank you, Mark.

LA: Now, how do you find Zacchaeuses? And how do you invite them to a meal? Especially when you're working in a very hierarchical industry, like military and defense. What does it take practically in your day-to-day work to be a leader who can be looking for Zacchaeuses and calling them out?

ST: I mean, especially being the president of a company, there are people all around me. Like two weeks ago, I had lunch with two Afghani refugees who now work for me. So it was very important for me. And I had my oldest son who I'm teaching recruiting too, and I had him with us and we had a very Middle Eastern type meal. I wanted to make sure that I was... The cultural context was right. And both of them happened to be Muslims. It was very important for me to have the right meal, to create the right environment. Not only talk to them, but on what was on my heart, but also to listen to them and find out what was on theirs. And so, as you've heard, we've had people who have been incarcerated, who've come to work for us. I've had meals with them.

So I am very intentional about spending time with them to kind of learn what's going on with them. What are some of the struggles that they're dealing with? Because I think one of the most important things that we as leaders need is empathy, right? Empathy is very important. A discernment is important. And so, I try to ask the Lord and I'm open to his spirit to be able to make sure that I'm listening to what he's telling me as far as who I need to spend time with and that kind of stuff. Right? So, because I don't think we, that's a... I mean, I've gone on missions trip. I'm going on one pretty soon here in a week or two to fire up some people that I'm working with in India and Nepal.

So I think those things are important, but we don't necessarily need to go overseas in order to be able to do that. Right? They are in our environment, there are people that we can actually reach out to and touch. And you know what? Part of being stewards is when you focus on the little things, the big things will take care of themselves. And when you take care of the little things, God will also give you more opportunity. Right? So opportunities come in disguised forms, and it's important for us to be able to take advantage of those things. And when we do that, I mean, I tell this to my children all the time, when we do these things, when we do the little things right, God's also gonna give us more opportunity to be able to do more.

LA: Sam, when I was hearing you tell that story, I actually thought of a new connection to the Zacchaeus story that I never thought of before. I always thought that it was an imposition when Jesus said, "I'm having dinner over at your house tonight." What I'm realizing now is that actually was probably the best way to make Zacchaeus feel comfortable when Jesus said, "I'm gonna have dinner at your house." He's saying, "I'm entering into your environment. I'm entering into your sense of what's important. And I wanna listen to that." And I really heard that reflected in the way you just spoke of having a meal with two Afghani refugees and wanting to make sure that they were comfortable in the cultural context of the meal.

ST: Yeah. Because if you think about it, it's the primary way that you validate somebody, right? So if you think about the Middle Eastern culture, sharing salt of a meal is very, very important to them, right? So when you are having a meal with somebody, if you think about it, you're sitting in the same environment. You're sharing the same meal. In fact, growing up in Sri Lanka, I know that a lot of my Muslim friends, they would actually all eat from the same vessel. They had this huge vessel and they would all eat from the same vessel. It actually creates oneness. It creates fellowship. It creates relationship. And if you think about it, even in the last supper, Jesus was all about that, right? He was all about having a meal together, spending time together, being able to exchange ideas.

And so when... It's one thing for somebody to invite you, but when you say I wanna come to your house to eat, that is such a form of... What a beautiful thing. You are inviting yourself to them. Right? And if you think about that context, it's so beautiful because Jesus knew that this would be very honoring for him, right? Because if you think about it the day after Jesus left or after Jesus left, can you imagine how Zacchaeus's stock went up? Because there was... That he could have had eaten anywhere he wanted to, but the son of God actually supped at Zacchaeus's house. So a beautiful thing.

LA: I wonder... I'm thinking of how this applies to leaders at work today. Even if you can't take people out for a meal or invite yourself over for a meal. Even entering into someone else's work space as opposed to, "I'm gonna invite you to my office and it's gonna be scary." I think that is a really powerful lesson that leaders can take into their every day jobs.

ST: Yep. Absolutely. Because if you think about it, the meal can be something that you are sharing together. You don't have to buy that meal for that person. Meal times are important, break times are important, because that's... And we talk about the water cooler in an office. It's important casual conversations that you're able to have in being able to really be in relationship with one another. And it's actually spending face time with people. And I think that as we talk about ministry at work, the primary way that ministry happens is through relationship. So you can't be a slacker and do that, you have to be somebody who does good work, but you also have to take time to build relationship and to be able to listen to other people, to be able to empathize, to be able to invite people and that kind of thing.

LA: It's really beautiful the dual ways that you're in your work, inviting transformation through the actual work of parts and processes, and you're also inviting transformation of both yourself and the people that you work with through these relationships. So I wonder what advice you would give to someone who's... I don't know, someone who's just in a mid-level marketing role at a big corporation or someone who says, "I don't... I'm not actually reclaiming parts for the national defense system," or "I don't manage a whole lot of people." How could you transfer this idea of re-creation of making things new into someone who's maybe not the boss of the company, who's at a different level in their career?

ST: Yeah, and so I was about 44 years old when I started my company. So most of my career, I work for somebody else. And if you look at the Ephesians 2:10, it says that God actually created a good work for us. He has actually set aside work for us to do. So he's not just throwing anything at us. That specific thing that he has for us to do is something that he created us to do, and he has prepared us for us to do that. So if you think about it from a position of faith, he actually did that for us.

And I'll give you a quick example of how I think about that. My degree is in marketing. When I came to this... I came from a very small country in Sri Lanka. My parents didn't necessarily have the money to support me to do that. My mother had to take a job in the Middle East in order to support the fact that I was here in the US, and she went through quite a bit of difficulty. It was very uncomfortable for her in that culture, to be able to do what she did, and so it took a lot for me to get my degree.

And the funny thing is that most of my career, I did not work in marketing and... Or sales for that matter. And so a couple of years ago, I was feeling a little sorry for myself. And I said to the Lord, "Lord, you know how difficult it was for my family in order for me to get this degree. Why is it that you didn't allow me or give me an opportunity to work in sales and marketing?" What he said to me was fascinating. He said to me, "I knew you knew how to do that, I had to teach you everything else." I'm gonna say that one more time. He said that, "I knew you knew how to do that. I had to teach you everything else." And if you think about it, if you talk about exercising, you're not necessarily exercising those muscles that are already strong, you're exercising those muscles that are not strong. So God already knew everything I needed in order for me to do what I'm doing as a president and CEO of a company, and I had to learn all of the other stuff. He knew that if I only worked in sales and marketing, I would have been a one-trick pony, and so he needed to teach me everything.

The reason I tell that story is because in his providence, he already knows who we are and he's preparing us for that work that he has for us. So once you understand that and you have the freedom of recognizing that you're not just doing a mundane job, that God has actually prepared you for that, he's actually got you in the specific place, and that this is something that will continue to happen. A lot of people ask me, "How do you pray for God's will?" Well, you pray for God's will using Ephesians 2:10. So I can say, "Leah is God's workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which he has prepared in advance for Leah to do." So when you understand that what you are currently doing is God's will for you now, and that he will continue to lead, guide and direct you, that should empower you to be able to do a good job, number one and number two, to look for opportunities of how you're continuing to serve him. And to make sure that good things will continue to happen because you're in God's will.

LA: Mark, I love the way that Sam just turned my question on it's head. 'Cause I was asking, "How can you do good work maybe for other people, through your job?" And he really turned it around and he says, "No, I think God is transforming us through our work as well."

MR: Which is just... It's... For many years, the Christians who sort of discovered the connection between faith and work, generally emphasize the fact that we can live out our faith in work, much like you were talking, Leah. I think it's been a more recent discovery for many of us. And Sam, you just illustrated it beautifully, that actually there's the other piece that in the workplace, God is at work in us. So it's not just what we do, it's what God is doing in us through our workplaces.

LA: So I... You're still a young guy, Sam, and you are... You started your own company, you bought another company, you're the head of three companies, what do you feel like is the next phase that God is bringing you to in your faith and in your work?

ST: That is a good question, Leah. I just feel like I'm very fulfilled. I feel like those things that I wanted to accomplish, I have. The book that I've written, we are translating it into the seventh language so that the people in Afghanistan can also understand and comprehend what it is that I'm saying through cricket. So I have those types of ideas and thoughts and goals, but really, I try to live one day at a time and to be open to whatever it is that where God leads, so I don't have this next big BHAG, that they call it the Big Hairy Audacious Goal. From a business standpoint, we would like to be on every major weapon system, so we have a mission and the mission and core values and stuff like that, but really I try to live one day at a time recognizing that we are pilgrims passing through, that Earth is certainly not our home and tomorrow is not promised. So it's just important for us to do what we can do today to leave the world a better place and to create a legacy really for my children to actually walk in.

LA: That really does put things in perspective. Mark, do you have last thoughts of perspective that you've gotten from this conversation?

MR: Oh, many things, but I'll mention two. And one I already did mention, and Sam, and that's the way you dealt with the Zacchaeus story, that was a new thing. But the other thought, as you were talking about Jesus, I've done a fair amount of teaching of Jesus in my life, I wrote a book on Jesus and we often think about Jesus in terms of his work as a carpenter or a craftsman, and... But honestly until today, I never thought of the fact that he probably spent a lot of time fixing stuff, right? So he's not only making new tables, somebody's chair leg breaks, they bring it to Jesus, he makes the part. It just never occurred to me to think about how much Jesus was probably fixing roofs, not just building them. And for one who's been a Christian now for 59 years, I'd never thought about that before, so thank you for many gifts, but one of... Two of them having to do with just seeing some new things in Jesus.

LA: I love the... Oh go ahead Sam.

ST: Yeah, one of the things that I would also like to say is going back to that Zacchaeus story, Jesus took somebody that was diminished and made him whole. And so I think that's true about work, it's true about us as human beings that at the end of the day, he makes us his friend. We are not slaves, we are not servants, he has called us his friends and so that's a beautiful thing.

LA: Sam Thevanayagam, thank you so much for being with us on the podcast today. This was really enlightening, thank you.

ST: You're very welcome.

 

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Prayer at Work - Barbara Myrick

You might feel out of place praying at work or offering to pray for someone you work with. But guest Barbara Myrick credits prayer at work with stronger relationships and even better work results. Barbara Myrick is the president of B&M Construction Inc. Barbara has grown the company to become one of the most respected construction companies in Colorado. She's obtained many awards in her industry, with the most recent being that 2020 enterprising Woman of the Year 2018 Southern Colorado Women's Chamber of Commerce Minority Business of the Year and the 2018 Women's Veterans Business Enterprise of the Year given by JPMorgan Chase & Co and the National Veteran Owned Business Association. Barbara believes in people and community and in remembering that every individual has a contribution to offer. And she talks to us about the power of prayer at work.

 

Scripture References

  • Psalm 23

 

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Transcript

Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

You might feel out of place praying at work or offering to pray for someone you work with. But some Christians, including our guest today, Barbara Myrick, credit prayer at work with stronger relationships and even better business results. Barbara Myrick is the president of B&M Construction Inc. Barbara has grown the company to become one of the most respected construction companies in Colorado. She's obtained many awards in her industry, with the most recent being that 2020 enterprising Woman of the Year 2018 Southern Colorado Women's Chamber of Commerce Minority Business of the Year and the 2018 Women's Veterans Business Enterprise of the Year given by JPMorgan Chase & Co and the National Veteran Owned Business Association. Barbara believes in people and community and in remembering that every individual has a contribution to offer. And she's here today to talk to us about the power of prayer at work. Barbara, welcome to the Making It Work podcast.

Barbara Myrick: Well, good morning and good afternoon wherever we are located. What an opportunity just to get together and have a conversation about prayer in the workplace. And it is such a part of me, and not just at work, but everywhere I go.

LA: Well, could you start off by giving us an image of what prayer has done in you, for you and for your workplace?

BM: So prayer just impacted me from a child. My grandmother was a prayer warrior. She just her... She walked out her faith in front of me. She was a widow, a young widow with five kids that she had to raise. Back in the 30s. And I watched her just take God's word and raise five children single in that day and what they became as an individual. But she took me to church. She talked about God, the importance of prayer and the importance of faith, the importance of forgiveness, the importance of love. And so she really set that foundation for me. I really didn't know when I started praying. And then one God... One day God showed me as I was having a meltdown about life. Yeah well I think I was in probably about 35, 40. And I'm standing in the kitchen and having a meltdown about life. And and I said to God, where are you? And he took me back to when I was a child of how he just walked me all of that time through life in the struggles that he knew I would face in life.

BM: And so when he brought that remembrance back to me, I just said, Oh my gosh, you've been with me all the time. He said, You've been praying for a long time. A long time.

And then I joined a church out here in Colorado, and I sat in the back because I went to many churches. And this time I just the last church I was in, I was angry. I was sitting in the pew angry.. And and so one day he said, it's time for you to leave this church. And I was just like, Oh, but, you know, he said, I need you to have a relationship with me, not religion. And so he took me to another church and I sat in the back of the church. I'm sitting in the back of the church because, you know, I didn't want to get back involved in the church.

And this woman comes up to me and she says, you know, we're looking for members of the prayer team. Would you like to be on the prayer team? And I'm like prayer team? And I said, I'll pray about it.

LA: Good answer.

BM: I know. Good answer. Right. So a couple of weeks later, she came to me and she said, Have you made a decision? And I said, I have to confess, I haven't prayed about it. I said this is new to me, praying for other people. And she said, but I think you already do it. And I just said, oh, okay. So one morning I was driving up the road. It was about 4:30 in the morning. I had to be at Denver at six and my phone just kept ringing. I had a proposal writer. Someone in her family was placed on life support. And I had a sister calling me crying about something. Then finally, on the third call, I finally said to God, if this means the phone not ringing the rest of the day, I will do what you've called me to do. And if you've call me to pray, then that's what I'm gonna do. But please can I get to my meeting? And the phone stopped ringing [laughter] so I went to this woman and I just said, that's my calling. And I'll just pray. And I'll join the prayer team.

LA: Sounds like you developed a really robust, personal relationship with God through your prayer. How did you bring that relationship to God, through prayer, into your workplace?

BM: So I had... To me, I had no choice because I was dealing with so much, so many adversaries and I think people don't pay attention to. And now it's spiritual warfare. I've learned it's just spiritual warfare. I would walk into the building and it was just chaos every day, every day I came in and I'm just like, it's not supposed to be this way. Lord, you just said, you was gonna do this and this and this. And we were going to grow and it was gonna be a blessing to community and people. And he said yeah, but you forgot that you have to pray every day, your morning, you get up and thank me for what you know at home and stuff like that. But when you walk in this place, you still have to pray about the things that's gonna happen today.

Because I already know what's gonna happen. You don't. And so at that point I said to him, so people won't receive it. He said, I didn't tell you to preach to them. I just told you to pray over this place. You might think you plant the seeds. I'm the one that grows them. So he had said to me, I need you to get out of the way and I just need you to be obedient to what I would have you to do, not what you think you're supposed to do. And so at that point I would come in and I would just pray. I would pray. And then I would think, okay, I need to pray where people can see me. He said, no, you can pray with your door closed and ask for every room to be blessed. And every stud to be blessed, he said, but I need you to pray. So my covering... So I can dwell within this place. And after that he said. You need to not be ashamed of your faith. They already know there's something different about you because they'll sit at the table and potty mouths and you'll just look at them and you don't judge 'em you just look at them. And so they know that there's something different about you. And so you need to share who I am to you, whether they have a relationship with me or not, you need to be that light.

LA: Mark, you know, this relationship with prayer at work actually sounds like it takes a lot of the weight off of the necessity to pray for people at work. Cause I know many listeners that we talk to just feel this heaviness of oh, do I have to do it all in one shot, like prayer and evangelizing and closing the deal. Mark, I know you've talked to many Christians in the workplace about how they integrate their faith at work or whether they do it at all. Do you think this is a common fear among Christians? That the fear of I have to pray in front of everybody and I have to get everything right.

MR: Well it's interesting, I sort of have a twofold answer and it comes largely from my pastoral experience. I must admit when I started, started pastoring at church when I was a senior pastor, I didn't really think much about people praying at work. I think I was pretty much thinking there sort of work over here and faith over here. And so I was in that kind of place. And I remember meeting with a guy major executive, literally the guy who's running Lexus in the United States. And I just casually asked him does your faith make any difference to your work expecting him basically to say, well, I try to be a good person. He said, oh yeah, I pray for my work every day. I said, you do, what do you pray?

And he had this whole litany. Well, at first I start praying for my staff and then our suppliers and our vendors and our, and he went on and on and on. I said, you pray for all those people every day? Oh yeah. This is a secular major auto company. And I must admit that I was shocked. And then I admit, I was shocked at my own shocked-ness. Like of course a brother should [laughter] be praying about all this stuff in his life, but it's just, it never dawned on me. So partly I learned from not only him, but others, actually, a lot of other people do pray at work in ways that I never expected. But then there's a whole bunch of other people who pretty much feel guilty and confused, right. They say I know I should pray at work. I dunno what to do. That seems weird or I don't have a pattern or and so I think partly what we're talking about here in Barbara, your modeling is just gonna be so important for people who say, I really want to do this. I just don't know. I kind of don’t know what to do, don't know how to get started.

LA: Barbara, why don't you answer that? How do you get started praying for your work.

BM: You know God says first we are to seek the kingdom of heaven. And so I seek Him for wisdom and understanding. We always ask about wisdom and understanding, but He's given us power. He's our counselor. We should have reverence to Him. It's so much that I had to identify and say, God, you want me to do this? I need you to help me do this and show me how to do this. And sometime it means you going in early in the morning and walking through the building and praying over each file that may be sitting on someone's desk, that they're overwhelmed and just God help them not be overwhelmed with what they have to do right now. Can you open their eyes so it could be easier.

And he would just say to me, I just need you to be a servant. You might just, they come in late frustrated, you bring them a bottle of water or a coffee, and just his presence is already there. And you're just standing there having a... I'm standing there having a conversation with them, and I'm touching things along the way and asking God to help them with that. But he's taught me to just come in early, even maybe on the weekends, He'll wake me up and say, "I need you to go and pray." And I'm saying, "God it's Saturday morning." And He say, no, I need you to go because I've learned too that... Like, he already knows what we're gonna deal with in the next week. We shouldn't put that on the back burner. Just, I just learned to get up and go pray.

He's just taught me to trust in Him. And I've just seen so much happen within the walls. And I've seen so many people's lives change because of it.

LA: So this type of prayer, what you mentioned, Mark, and what Barbara just described, I might describe it as like incognito prayer. I'm wondering Barbara, how do you get transition from incognito prayer to a time where actually asking an employee or a coworker, if you could pray for them, like bringing that prayer out into the open. How did you do that?

BM: So I used to ask honestly, at first and then people would get offended. And so God has said to me, it's not the time. And I said, "Okay." So he said, my timing is perfect. So I wind up going to an event. And there was an organization there that they, have chaplains that come to your company and they don't come to, to preach God's word. They just really come to help minister because I had become so overwhelmed 'cause I wanted to pray for every employee. And so I brought this organization in and God's timing was perfect because they came in, not with the mindset of we're gonna pray with you, we're gonna preach to you. They came in and built relationships with the employees, and during those relationships, the employees started sharing and the employees started asking for prayer. And when those individuals weren't around and they needed prayer or something like tragic happened that they lost a parent while they were at work and they would be upset and I would walk up and they'd just look and I'd just say, "Can I pray with you? Can I just pray that God would give you peace during this, your season that He's gonna walk beside you and...

And with that, since then I found out like, some of them have given their life to the Lord. And I'm just like, "Oh my gosh, oh my gosh." But I had to take a different approach because I didn't want people to get offended. And just a couple of weeks ago, I was talking to one of my employees, honestly it just blew my mind. I just had to sit and we were on Teams. And I said to him, "You look tired." Now, I was fasting at that time and I said, "You look tired." And he said, "I don't want you to think that I'm weird but I've been fasting." And I just started crying and I said, "What are you fasting for?" And he said, "Purpose, I need to figure out what my purpose is. What I'm I supposed to be doing in this world? What, God?" And I said, "God, did you just say, God," I mean, I'm just like, "Oh, my God." I just started crying. And I just said to him, "God's gonna bless you beyond your imagination for your sacrifice." And he just looked at me. And he just said, "I've never done it before, but... " And it's because this organization is involved in his life. And he has older men that know and have experienced God's love that is sharing all of that with him. And he just says, "I wanted to know what that felt like. I wanted to have a piece of that.”

LA: I love the story of bringing someone else in to kind of build this bridge, because then it's not all on you, as a leader of the organization, which Mark, I can imagine that would be a big burden, you've been a senior pastor, I'm sure that's a huge burden, feeling like you're the one responsible for initiating prayer with every individual in your organization.

MR: True. And so it really helps to have others with you. I'm struck Barbara by a couple things. I think you've given us... From your example, two really practical things to do and one is go to the place where it happens and pray. I know so many people who do what you do. And one could say, "Wait a minute, God's everywhere, can you just sit home and pray, do you have to go the office?" And of course, you don't have to, but I think what you've experienced and so many others have, is there is something about being in that place, where the people are sitting, where they're doing their work, that energizes our prayers, and helps us to pray. And that's one thing, if someone’s saying, I don't know where to get started. Get in to your office a little early, you don't wanna be doing this when everybody's around.

Second thing, you said, it's about relationships with people, out of which then prayer can happen. So it's not just walking up to the strangers at work and saying, "How can I pray for you?" It's getting to know them, and their needs and their concerns. And then, prayer can feel like a normal way of caring for a person. And I work most of my life in Christian organizations where it wouldn't be that odd to offer to pray for people. But I think, of other situations, the gym I used to work out in where most of the guys weren't Christian. And then I get to know them and knowing, how you doing, and in time, guys would share stuff. I remember, one guy speaking, "My mom's pretty sick and really worried about her." And he and I had really never talked about faith before but I said I pray for folk could I... Are you okay if next week I pray for you and your mom and he was totally into that. I think if he hadn't have the relationship, it wouldn't have worked. So sometimes it really helps to be in the place, Barbara, you modelled that, always it helps to get to know the people, so you can pray for them in the context relationship. I think you've given us some great steps forward.

LA: What I'm also hearing, Barbara, is that you didn't jump into this relationship where you just said you were on Teams with your coworker and you immediately started praying for him. You didn't jump into this prayer opportunity before having a relationship with him and you were probably praying for him before that opportunity over Teams came up. So you probably had a relationship with him in prayer, even before he knew it.

BM: You know, that's so true. I have five teams across the country and we would have a call in line on Monday mornings. And everyone had the opportunity to call in, even if they didn't call in, God still said, "You will pray over those teams and you will call each one of their names out and just be a blessing to them." And when I started calling their names out, some would call me with problems and ask, "Can you help me?" And some would ask for a prayer. And that just reinforces what God says that He will grow those gardens. We're just supposed to be the light and so to see it all unfold was such a blessing. It's such a blessing, it's still a blessing to me, even with the individuals that I have now. That, I just... "Okay, God, what do you want me to say to them today?" Right? And so I just see God's hand on it. I see Him at work. I see Him at work everyday. Everyday I see Him at work.

MR: You know, Barbara and Leah, don't you wish we had like a video of Jesus at work, in the carpentry work, I don't mean later on, but just to watch for the day and hear the video. 'Cause I can imagine, when you think about it, yeah, he's gonna be talking to his father as he works. He's like, "Oh Father, what do I do with this warped board?" [chuckle] Or, "What do you do with this customer who's been so unreasonable?" And I... And then I can imagine him sharing his joy, "I love that chair I just made." You don't get... We hardly get that. And... But you gotta imagine that that's what Jesus was doing for a whole lot of years, having conversation with his Heavenly Father about the stuff he was doing, right?

LA: I also imagine that a prayerful relationship through work, like you're imagining Jesus had, had a building effect to the ministry that he did later that was more public. I mean, Barbara, I imagine for you, there's a building up process through prayer that's led to more success in your work.

BM: It really has. And I just look at what he's doing and allowing me... The places he's allowing me to go right now, and the tables he allow me to get invited to, to sit at and observe. And I'm part of several organizations, but to sit and have a conversation in a meeting and people are struggling, and I just say, "You know, I have to stop for a minute right now and I just need to pray over this. I need to pray over our group and what decisions we're gonna make and our thought patterns and pray for those that are struggling at this table right now, 'cause I just feel somebody is struggling right now, and that, can I just pray?" And they'll just look at me... When we had to... When COVID was going on and I was sitting on board meetings, and I've seen so much anxiety and worriedness and depression and discouragement going on that I just said, "You know, I just have to pray before we can move further on in this here meeting."

And people were open to it. So with that I've just learned that my business is a ministry and the committees and stuff that He put me on, it's a ministry. And at first I couldn't get my head around, this prayer and interceding and... But He said, "It's a ministry. You have to embrace it as a ministry, it's not what you think it is. You know, I've called people into the kingdom in different sectors, from government to business to teaching. And so, it's a ministry." And I just said, "Okay."

And He has definitely grown me to be okay with who He called me to be. Praying for others is a blessing to me to... And one thing I try not to do is tell somebody, "I'mma pray for you." And I've learned not to say that. I just say to them... I've learned to say, "I'mma pray for you, but can we stop right now? And let me pray for you now." Because I know if I get busy during the day, I'll forget their name. I'll forget where. I know I'm supposed to pray for them, but I'll forget all the things that brought us together for God to put it in my heart, to pray for them.

And it's just... I had an employee who almost lost his son this year in a car accident. And this was a family that... One of my longest employees, has been with me 13 years, and they didn't know what to do. And God said, "You're gonna have to walk them through this." And I said, "Well, I have HR for this." And He said, "No, they trust you. You're gonna walk them through this. You're gonna pray with them. You're gonna... " And so, they were so worried about their son in the hospital, they were sitting at the hospital and they hadn't eaten for like four days. And my spirit said, "You need to send a meal to not just them, but the staff at the hospital who has been taking care of the son." And I sent a whole complete meal and they called me up crying and said, "We forgot to eat." And, "Thank you." And so we prayed together. They cried. We prayed together. We all cried together. And I just said, "God has a purpose for his life." And what we would see in the flesh that this child would probably never recover and have all of these disabilities, up and walking in, just... It was a God thing. And so, woo, glory be to God. [chuckle]

MR: If somebody came in... If this was a radio show and they'd just tuned in now, they'd probably be thinking, "Oh, Barbara's their pastor." In a real sense you are their pastor. I mean, let's be clear. I mean, you're not officially the pastor of a church, but I'm just so struck by the fact that you're talking about caring about people, praying for people as the boss of a successful construction company and you do serious business, which I just think is so... Such an encouragement.

You know, Barbara, I do have a question and you... First of all, you can correct me if my assumption is wrong, but you're in construction. I tend to think of construction as kind of like a lot of men mostly, and at least from my part of the world, the bosses tend to be white. You're a black woman in that field. I'm really interested. Has praying helped you to deal with some of the cultural and personal challenges that I'd expect have come your way?

BM: It has. I used to cry a lot. Sometimes I still cry. But God sustains me every day, every challenge, and He just gives me the victory and He reminds me that the battle is not mine, that it is His and that He puts the non-educated and unqualified in places that we think we don't belong or we don't fit. And He just says, "I have a purpose for you." And it makes me grateful. And so, I've been told some things that I think people... Harsh things that people say to people and I would go in my office and cry, and then He said, "Enough sulking, dry your face. Let's go, let's go because I've called you." And so, it's funny that you would ask that because He... I just opened another company and it's for fiber and infrastructure. And so people are looking at the money that's gonna be made. I'm looking at the lives that's gonna be touched. When I look at rural America, that don't have access to healthcare, they can have telehealth.

Somebody can call them and they can... Or the children in rural America or urban America that don't have access to education and advanced classes, they'll have access. And so last week, He took me to the same environment, [chuckle] and I walked in the room and I said, "Lord... " And He said, "But you're prepared this time. You're not gonna do all that crying this time, 'cause you've already done it. You already know where I'm gonna plant your feet and I need you to be open to this." And I just said to Him, "Thank you so much for loving me. Thank you so much for protecting me." But, I have done a lot of crying, but you know what? Prayer just seems to heal the wounds for me. And I remember that we are a royal priesthood. We are adopted into His family. I'm a princess, I'm part of royalty. And I have to remember that when I get in those places where people say that you're a nobody or you don't belong here because God has called me here. So I have struggled. But prayer has really helped me get through a lot of those challenges where... You know, God says to bless them, those that spitefully use you, those that say the wrong things against you, you're still supposed to bless them. And He take me back to scripture, you know?

LA: Is there a particular scripture Barbara that you lean on in these cases?

BM: That He is my shepherd, that He will set a table before me in the presence of my enemies, that He will anoint my hair with oil, my cup will run it over. And so I go back to that 23rd Psalm and I put myself where David was and how God just protected him and set a table before the presence of his enemies. And I just remember that. And I just say, "Thank you for being my shepherd. Thank you for never leaving me. Thank you for never forsaking me. And thank you for just loving me for Barbara."

MR: Wow. Thank you for sharing that. It's very touching and it makes a lot of sense. And I just think there... You know, there are a lot of folk in our world today kind of like you who maybe didn't come from privilege and opportunity, but God has called them and they're being faithful, but sometimes it's really hard. And so your example of faithfulness and prayer in that and letting God affirm who you are, so you can keep doing the thing to which He's called you. That's just a great encouragement, I'm sure.

BM: Thank you.

LA: I feel very encouraged. I feel very encouraged with this idea of bringing God to the table. Barbara, you quoted the 23rd Psalm, "He sets a table for me in the presence of my enemies." And I imagine you going into that boardroom table where you're facing, maybe you don't want to say enemies, but maybe some pushback there. I love the idea that through prayer in the workplace we can really invite God into those boardrooms or around those tables where really, I might not feel like personally that I have the wherewithal to deal with it, but through prayer I can get the support of God, who's like a shepherd.

Barbara, where do you feel like God is leading you next in your journey of prayer at work?

BM: To [long pause] guide the broken and those that have been hurt by churches, hurt by pastors, hurt by religion. And so, a couple of months ago, He said to me, "You've cleaned up and it's time for you to move, I'm gonna bring the broken," and I said, "Oh, what is that gonna look like?" And He said, "I just need you to be open to the people that I'm bringing." And the first person He brought was an agnostic person that... He knows God, he knows the Word...

LA: And this is one of your new employees?

BM: One of my new employees, and so broken from church and religion, and he says to me, "I see you have a lot of religion things around here, you got verses from the Bible," and I said to him, "News flash, I don't do religion," and he looked at me. I said, "I do a relationship with God." I said, "So if you think four walls determines who I am, no." I said, "I'm the church, God has called Christians to be the church. It is not four walls that we come together on Sunday or whatever day you go to church," and so he just looked at me. He said, "So you are the Church?" And I said, "Yeah. And you're His church too," and I went on about my business.

Then he came in my office a couple of days later, he was saying something, and I said, "I'm sorry that you experience in church hurt, and that you were homeless, and he just looked at me like, "How would you know those things?" Because I had said to God, "If you're gonna have me do this, you gotta give me a little insight on who I'm dealing with, so that I can not offend them, and that I can speak in love. I don't wanna judge them, I wanna speak in love, and I want to encourage them." And so now with that, he's starting to share a little bit more, and a little bit more, and a little bit more. And I just said, "God said, you just keep being a light to Him, you just keep shining, you keep blessing Him and you just keep moving."

And so then he brought in two people with records that people won't hire. And I said, "So, how am I supposed to do this, Lord? They have no skillset, they have... " He says, "It's called on-the-job training, and you're gonna teach them a skill." And He said, "They're gonna be loyal," and I just said, "Okay." And you know, they haven't missed a day of work, they come in every day smiling. And yesterday... I brought a truck six weeks ago in Oklahoma, and we've been waiting for the truck to get delivered, but they couldn't deliver the truck, so Tuesday, God said to me, "You have a vendor, you have trucks always shipped to your other locations. Call the vendor and see if he could pick the truck up."

That was Tuesday, the truck was delivered yesterday, and we were standing out there just like... I said, "This is nobody but God," 'cause they were just like... It got delivered in a day, but God let me see their happiness. They were smiling and they just said, "Barb, this is such a nice truck," and I just said, "Do you like the truck?" They said, "Oh my God, it holds everything. Who picked the truck out?" And I said, "I did." And they just said, "Oh my God, oh my God." And so, they haven't missed a day of work. They see God all day, 'cause I just talk about God all day and His blessings, and I just say, "This is a blessing. This is a blessing. This is a blessing." And they just look at me and God just said, "You just keep being that light to them, you keep being that light, and never judge them. Give them always constructive criticism, encourage them because they're so broken, encourage them that they can learn this craft and that they can grow with this company. Just do that, and then I'll handle the rest." And He's just...

He's just sending them. And last night I said to Him, "Okay, you keep sending these people. I need you to bring the contracts with it, and I need you... " [chuckle], you know, I'm having this conversation with Him, and He said, "Don't you worry about it, don't you. That's not what I... Don't you worry about that. I need you to just keep pouring into them and encouraging them and blessing them."

LA: What I hear so much from you, Barbara, is we often think of prayer as a one way. Like, "I'm doing this, I'm praying, I'm getting my word in with God." But what I hear from you is really this two way communication that prayer is for you, both talking and listening.

BM: I think... So when I look at my relationship with God, I look at Him like, I don't wanna be all dressed up. I want Him... He already knows who I am, but you know, I don't... I tell some friends of mine, "God doesn't look at your posture with a pressed shirt and a tie, and your correct vocabulary." I say, "He looks at our hearts," and I said, "So, I look at my relationship with God as a friend," like sometime I'm just like, "Really? You're gonna have me do that? I can't believe you're gonna have me do that." And then He'll explain to me why He's having me do that. And so I'm having a constant conversation because I think when we wanna talk all the time, but if we don't have our ears open to listening to what He has to say and why things are going the way they are, we miss it. And when we miss it, we have to go back around the corner again to get it. I don't like reruns and I don't like repeats and scratch records. I just said, "Okay, I didn't get it the first time." If I... So I'm... I've learned over the years to stop and listen to what He has to say...

And don't be in a hurry, 'cause sometime I think when we... If it's a one sided relationship and we're just talking and telling Him, we're... He's not getting no glory. If we're just saying, "God, God... " I just think we become complacent and become complainers. And so I've just learned over the years, okay, God's not talking, there's a reason why. I can't get in a hurry because I mess it up. So I've just learned to say, "God, you know what I need. I know you will supply according to your riches and glory, I know this, and can you kind of like hurry up here 'cause I'm stuck here for a minute," and He'll just... He'll say to me in a nice soft voice, "My timing is perfect." And so, just like we have relationships with people and interaction, that's the kind of relationship God appreciates for everyone to have with Him, not just come and ask and ask and ask, but He wants us to li sten 'cause He speaks to all of us. I think sometime we just get so busy with the world that we can't hear what He's saying. And I've just learned over the years to really listen to what He has to say.

LA: I think that's a great place to sum up prayer at work. You know, we get so busy, but we gotta slow down and listen. Barbara, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today. This has been a real joy. Thank you.

BM: Thank you.

MR: Yes. Indeed.

BM: Thank you for inviting me. This is like my favorite subject. [laughter]

MR: We can tell, you do great. We love to have you talk about it.

BM: Oh, my favorite subject.

 

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Find Your Voice, Take Back Your Power - Deb Liu

Deb Liu is a former VP at Facebook and the current President and CEO of Ancestry. As a woman who has worked her way to the top of the corporate ladder in Silicon Valley, she knows firsthand the challenges that keep the deck stacked against women in the workplace and the ways to overcome them. Deb Liu founded Women In Product, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing more women leaders into technology. She is the author of Take Back Your Power: 10 New Rules for Women at Work. She's here to talk to not only women but to anyone who wants to find their voice and achieve great things in a system that wasn't created for you.

 

Scripture References

  • Proverbs 31:10-31
  • Judges 4

 

Additional Resources

 

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Transcript

Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

We live in a world where women make up only 20% of companies' board seats where for every 100 men hired into management only 86 women are promoted. Perhaps women cannot make the world of work fair but according to today's guest, we can take back our power. Deb Liu is a former VP at Facebook and the current President and CEO of Ancestry. As a woman who has worked her way to the top of the corporate ladder in Silicon Valley, she knows firsthand the challenges that keep the deck stacked against women in the workplace and the ways to overcome them. Deb Liu founded Women In Product, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing more women leaders into technology. She is the author of Take Back Your Power: 10 New Rules for Women at Work. She's here to talk to not only women but to anyone who wants to find their voice and achieve great things in a system that wasn't created for you. Deb Liu, welcome to the Making It Work podcast.

Deb Liu: Thanks for inviting me.

LA: So I wanna go to your book, Take Back Your Power. The first step you describe in your book is, Knowing your playing field. Tell us what is the playing field for women in your industry in technology and what does it give you to understand the playing field that you're in?

DL: Well, I think you shared some of the statistics that I share in my book. The first chapter, I write in there a little tongue in cheek that it's meant to make you angry, and it's meant to upset you. And part of that is just peeling back the covers on some of the facts. Some of the facts that you shared but also other facts right? For example, if there's four people in a hiring pool and there's one woman, the one woman would have zero probability of getting that job. Now no individual woman would ever realize that. Because she's in the candidate pool. And yet if there's one man in a candidate pool of four, he has a 33% chance of getting hired. But if there's two women and two men, it's 50/50.

And so there's just small little things that no individual woman would notice, and yet are just really pervasive in our industry. I talk a little bit about the VC funding given to venture capital. Only 3% go to women founding teams, and something like 18% to mixed teams. And so 82% go to all male founding teams. Why is that? And there's just all these really subtle things whether it's in tech industry, and all industries where the deck is stacked against you in these small ways that are very imperceptible. And part of writing that chapter was really to peel that back, share with you what those things are, so that you can understand them. And so you don't feel alone. I think the other part is really helping people look at the statistics and hopefully change them in their actions every single day.

LA: So what does that do for you? Knowing the statistics beyond making you angry? 'Cause I don't know... If for me, once I get angry maybe I don't have a step two. Like where do I go from being angry?

DL: Well, it's to make you angry and to understand that the system is not fair and not built for us. But then the second step is the next nine rules beyond learning the playing field is, really how do you address it? How do you every single day make some progress against it? One statistic is that now men and women negotiate almost equally for raises, but men get it 20% of the time, and women get it 15% of the time. But I tell women, if you don't ask, you get it 0% of the time. So yes, it's unfair between 15 and 20, but there's a huge gap between zero and 15. And so how do we think about this so that there are actions we can take to bend towards equity as long as we are willing to put ourselves out there? Is it absolutely fair? Can we close that gap? I hope we can some day, but in the mean time, what are those steps that we can take?

LA: Mark, I wanna bring you into the conversation. Do any of these statistics sound surprising to you?

MR: Well, a little bit. Just because I have worked in contexts in which I think women have more responsibility and respect and power. Not that it's perfect. Right now I'm working at Fuller Seminary and Fuller has for many, many years sought to lift up women and respect them and have women leaders. And my boss is a woman, and her boss is a woman. So my experience may be a little unusual. But I also have talked with many women in a variety of industries including tech. And from that, from what I've heard from them. No, it's not surprising. It's stark when you read it. It's just... It's very unsettling. And it's so obviously unjust that it's problematic. So I'm not really surprised but every time I read things like this and when I read Lean In I was like, "Oh man." This is really broken in ways that it's easy not to really realize. And that's part of the story. I really appreciate that that's where you begin, Deb. But I appreciate that that wasn’t the whole book. Then you're like, "Wait a minute." You actually have some power. You women in particular and you can do something with that.

LA: And I think it's slightly different industry to industry. The tech industry versus not-for-profits versus higher education where we've had different experiences. But all these industries have unspoken rules of power that maybe go under the radar until you really bring them to the fore. So Deb, I wanna ask you what kind of messages you heard in your career related to power? And what were the consequences of those messages?

DL: I think that a lot of the messages are... People have this discomfort with women and power. It's just... I shared a little bit of story like, They did a study where they showed two candidates' bios. And one was for a male candidate and one was a female candidate. And for the male candidate more are likely to vote for him. For the woman candidate some of the quotes were... It evokes more outrage. Same bio different genders, different names. And so there's just a subtlety where for example, for men to be a leader you have to be competent. But for a woman, you have to be competent and warm. There are warm men, there are not warm men. There are warm women and not warm women. So to have this extra hurdle to be seen as a leader because of what we expect. And by the way, this is other women and not just men who expect this. These are the kinds of challenges and I for many years, was not very warm.

So I'll share that, which is: For many years I grew up in a small town in the South. I was one of the few Asians in the state. Actually it was less than 1% Asian. And people told us to go home like, "Go back to where you came from." Constantly. And I just remember thinking how alienated I felt from the community that I was in and how difficult that was and I just shut down. If I closed myself up, if I just took up less space maybe nobody will notice me. And for a long time I really had a hard time connecting with other people because I was extremely shy and introverted on top of all of this. And not being a warm woman, it was very hard to be a leader and hard to be perceived as a leader. I got tons of feedback about this. People won't trust you. They can't connect with you. And it took me a long time and not just feedback... And by the way, just because the feedback seems unfair doesn't mean it's not true. It doesn't mean it's invalid, 'cause all those people who shared that feedback with me really wanted to connect with me. But connection is so important for a woman leader in a way that one... And connection is not as important for a male leader.

So these messages were told to me and I share this not to say that…I wish that women didn't have this extra hurdle to be warm. But it was something that I worked really hard at. It was a skill I ended up having to cultivate in order to get to where I am today. But that's completely unfair that there's this extra hurdle and yet I had to decide what to do about it. And so these messages that we send is: You have this extra hurdle, you've gotta go figure it out. You have to accommodate that hurdle or you're gonna be left out of the opportunities. And as I said, it doesn't have to... Just because something is unfair doesn't mean that it's invalid. That I didn't have to do that thing. So I had to figure out what I chose to do. And so this has happened multiple times in my career and... Chuck Swindoll has a quote. It's like "life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it." And that's the quote that I look in in all these circumstances. Just because something happens doesn't mean you don't get to choose to respond. And you get to choose to respond how you want. Is it with grace? Is it with dignity? Is it with fight? What is it that you're gonna do coming off of that? And so we were talking about the 10% but a lot of this book is about the 90%.

LA: So in my introduction, I talked about finding your voice for people who are in systems that weren't created for them. How do you find your voice and achieve great things? What I'm hearing from you is that finding your voice isn't necessarily 100% of your particular introverted [chuckle] voice. But how do you find your voice that works for the situation?

DL: Yes.

LA: So let me ask you the question. How did you find your voice? And do you think finding your voice is really uniquely personal? Or is it really situation-specific?

DL: I think one of the things we don't talk about is there's a huge bias especially in the workplace. And that bias is towards people who are willing to speak up. It is a very extroverted and kind of people... It's not just extroversion. It's people ability... Have the ability to process and speak on any topic intelligently on the spot. Just think about the people you perceive as a leader. It is a bias we absolutely do not talk about and I think we should talk about that. Because that leaves people out who are quiet. Who are contemplative. I remember somebody on my team said to me, "But I'm a processor and by the time I figure out what I wanna say, that moment has passed and the conversation has moved on." And she was one of the most thoughtful leaders and just kind and smart. But she would let conversations get away from her and people would say, "Well, she's not that great." And I'm like, "No, she's amazing. The problem is you just need to give her time."

And I think because of this bias, so often we have this natural bias towards people who are extroverted who speak on a dime as they say. And instead I think we should... I wish that we could just have more models of leadership. Of different kinds of leadership. But because of this bias in the workplace. Us having a voice, us being willing to speak up, us being willing to ask questions. That is an incredibly powerful tool that half the population cannot access as easily. And so it's something that I learned as a skill but it took a long time for me to get here.

LA: Mark, I'm thinking that this bias towards those who are really good at speaking off the cuff. Or are really good at being in front of a crowd may or may not exist among our Biblical heroes. I think some leaders in the Bible are certainly good in engaging a crowd. I think of Paul and of Jesus himself. But I also think of Moses as maybe a thoughtful leader who didn't have all the words at the tip of his tongue. What comes to your mind Mark, when you think about the biblical precedents?

MR: Yeah. I mean that's what actually Moses said to God when God told him to go to Egypt. He said, "I can't speak." And so God actually gave him his brother to do that which is so interesting. But you mentioned Paul. And one of the criticisms of Paul in Second Corinthians is that his letters are so strong but his physical presence isn't as strong. Isn't that interesting? That... Absolutely. Now, you have it in the Bible other people who have an abundance of strength. I mean Peter. And in fact, Peter would be just... Like you're describing Deb. In that he would just say it right? And a lot of times he'd say kind of dumb things. But it was... So I think one of the things...

LA: No filter. There's no filter here.

MR: Yeah, one of the things we get from scripture though is that God can use a wide variety of people with different strengths and gifts. There's also an awful lot in Proverbs about not speaking too quickly. And Deb I hear you and what you're talking about is a tendency to encourage people really to speak, as you say, really unfiltered. And that's not always going to be wise. And so, if a system really prioritizes that, it's running the risk of losing wisdom. Not to mention, not hearing other voices like voices of women or people who are slower processors.

LA: Deb, do you have a personal success story about learning how to speak up in some of these rooms that you're in?

DL: Well, yeah, I just remember early on I just never spoke. 'Cause I just really struggled with it when I first got into the workforce. I had been super private growing up as I mentioned, and I had the singular goal to graduate, get a scholarship, go to college, and then I studied engineering in college. And I remember we used to do our problem sets and our projects almost in silence. And then what works for you, stops working for you. I went into consulting and I remember my manager saying, "You're kind of bad at this... The client service part of client service." [chuckle] I just thought, huh? And they said, "You don't wanna spend time with the client and talk them up and... " And I said, "Yeah, but my analyses, my presentations are great." And they said, "Yes, but we are in client service." And when I got to business school it was very interesting 'cause you know, a third to half of your grade is actually class participation. Being able to debate out loud. And so you're literally judged on the skill that I did not have and I had to really practice that. But as I got back to the workforce, I still struggled with it for many years and it took me a long time to get comfortable with it.

DL: But the success story is that, that journey brought me to where I am today. That I learned... Sometimes I hear people say, "Well, I'm an introvert." And then there's a period at the end of the sentence. Or "I'm really quiet." Or, "I'm a processor period." And I said that for many years. And instead now I say, "I'm an introvert but I learned the skill to overcome some of the challenges so that I could be where I am today." And so I think sometimes we have too many periods in our statements. And instead actually putting a comma and saying, "However, I have learned X so I have grown in this way." Because then it opens up the door as opposed to ending the sentence. And for me, training is a skill I talk about in The Learning Mindset the book. Having a learning mindset. Someone who is always learning is gonna exceed somebody who's the expert today.

And to really kind of... God wants us to grow and change and evolve over time. And we believe that. And just seeing the opportunity not just saying, "Well, I need my... " As Moses said, "My brother to speak for me." But he had other gifts but he could have also blossomed as a spoken leader if he had chosen to do that as well.

LA: So how has your faith, Deb, helped you along in this journey? Was there a time that you turned to God like Moses and said, "I'm out. I'm not doing this." [chuckle] What was your faith journey like learning how to find your voice in the workplace?

DL: Well at one point I kind of... I had my anti-Lean-In moments which was I had my son and I considered staying home with him and I was working part-time at PayPal. And I was really kind of... The moment when you're between kids. You know you wanna have more kids. You're bored, I had a really tough pregnancy. He had a lot of... He had colic and all these issues and he had reflux and it just... I really struggled and I quit Tech. I basically went to the VP and I said, "You know, I wanna resign." And he's like, "Hold on to that." And he's like, "Hold the week and let's have a conversation." And so I said, "Okay." In the meantime though, my Bible study, a couple of people from my Bible study prayed about this decision. And they prayed a very specific ask of God, which was at the time, I thought completely crazy. And that exact thing happened. And I stayed in Tech and I have the career I have today.

And I mentioned the story recently, actually just a few months ago, to the person who prayed with her husband, and she had completely forgotten it, she goes, "Oh yeah, I guess that did happen." And I said, "This completely changed the trajectory of my career." And so, sometimes God answers prayers through other people, sometimes He answers their prayers in different ways. I have the career I have today because of my Bible study, because that was the moment when I needed to lean in and God made that possible. A couple of years later, I meet Sheryl, and she actually gives me the Lean In talk way before the book comes out, and it really accelerated my career in a bunch of ways. And so, I think that, that God puts the right people in your life at the right time to say the right things to kinda guide you towards where his will is for you as well.

LA: What was the prayer or the piece of wisdom or the conversation that you got in the... That moment that changed your trajectory?

DL: So at the time, I was thinking about... I was quitting, so that I can... I was working in a small business with my sister, and I said like, "The flexibility of owning a small business would be great." My sister still works in that small business today. And they said... The prayer was oddly specific, they said, "If she's not meant to leave tech and go and work on this business with her sister, have someone come out of the woodwork to say that, "This is not right," and that that job, that opportunity, will no longer materialize." Her husband comes, three days later... And I didn't tell her about this. Three days later, her husband says, "I would like to quit my job and work with Caroline on the business." And I just thought, "What?" I had not mentioned this to them at all. And I said, "Okay." And it's... A few days after that, the VP I talked to, Dana, called me, and he said, "There's an opportunity to run product at eBay, the entire buyer experience. Do you want it?"

LA: Wow.

DL: And I said, "Yes." And so sometimes God works in mysterious ways. And sometimes I think we just... Things like that, I just can't believe is a coincidence.

MR: Can I just say that I really appreciate also the way in which you are bringing your work to your small group? Faith work is kind of our thing. And just the fact that you did that, that you brought it there, that you talked with them, that they prayed with you, and that, I'm guessing that wasn't an unusual thing, that you brought all of life into your Christian experience. And then that could have an impact on your work life and your professional life. So I just wanna give a thumbs-up to that, as well as to God for giving you that pretty amazing answer.

DL: Yeah. God answers prayers in special ways. But so much of my life's journey, we... I talk about the people, the allies in your life. And one of them's your circle. And I've been in Bible studies for the last 20-something years. And that has been... Those are the people you live life with, that support you. And in the acknowledgements, I acknowledge the women of my Bible study, who made it possible for me to write this book and supported me all along the way.

MR: Wonderful.

LA: Deb, I wanna go back to your book, Take Back Your Power: 10 New Rules for Women at Work. Do you... When you're speaking to other women in the workplace, do you think it feels like a revelation to them, that we actually do have some agency in taking back power in the workplace?

DL: Yeah. I think a lot of times we have so much more power than we think we do. Every meeting, you get to choose how you walk in and how you show up. And when I say that, there's... My friend, Carol Isozaki, talks about ridiculous... Unintentional, ridiculous strategies that people employ. And I share a little bit about that in the chapter about Free Pass, where before you go into a meeting, you don't think, "In this meeting, I'm gonna add no value," or, "I'm gonna sit in the back and do other things." But how many times do you walk out of a meeting having done just that? And so we talk about that and we say, "No, what if you showed up every time you showed up? What if you didn't give yourself a free pass to lean back and you showed up and you actually made a difference in every moment that you spent time? Or you just didn't go to the meeting at all?" I think sometimes we kind of just sit back and we call back benching it, but at the same time, you have agency to leave your mark in that meeting, or not go. And I think it's just small things like that, where if we just...

You have to choose whether or not you ask your manager, not necessarily saying, "Hey, Leah, will you promote me?" But instead say, "Hey, what is the distance between me and the next level and how can we partner so I can get there?" A lot of people just don't even ask. And the people who ask will say, "Well, can you promote me?" But instead ask in a way that turns that person into your ally, that is power, because now they're aligned with you, you have ambitions, they wanna work with you to achieve those ambitions, and you're enlisting them as you're ally to get there. And I think sometimes we just kind of say what, I'm afraid they'll say, No, but how can you say no to, "Hey, this is my aspiration. Can you work with me to get there?" The answer is naturally yes, make it easy for someone to say yes to you.

MR: That's great. Hey, Leah, I may be stepping on your toes here, and you're gonna ask this anyway, but I have to say, Deb, yeah, I was tracking with you in your book, and I'm all with you, and then you have this chapter on forgiveness, and that really was kind of stunning to me, it's a great chapter and actually tell a story of someone that I know and used in my D-Min class, Rowena’s story... Can you talk about forgiveness? 'Cause I was not expecting that in your book. But...

DL: That's good to know...

MR: You made such a strong case for it. So I'd love for you to talk about it.

DL: Well, I think people just don't think they... When you get to the chapter on forgiveness, it's kind of the journey, you're kind of going through the different... And then, you get to forgiveness, and some people will ask me, did I feel like that chapter was out of place. And I said actually, that's the chapter I wrote first. Interesting enough. But part of that is, I think that a lack of forgiveness of ourselves and others is often a huge stumbling block for us in our lives, especially our work lives. And I tell the story of, I used to go to my career coach, and I still have the same career coach for the last, I think 10 years now. Over 10 years, I said to her, this happened at work. I can't believe this, I can't believe he said that, this is how I responded. I felt like I should have responded better, and she, at the end, after doing this for a while, she goes, "When are you gonna put down the backpack?" And I'm like, "What are you talking about? She said, "Every time you have a work grievance, every time something happens to you, you take a stone and you put in your backpack, you put the backpack on and you keep hiking. She goes, "You know what? You're carrying the weight, not the other person, when are you gonna put down the backpack?"

Think about that word picture, you're carrying grievance, you're carrying anger, you're carrying resentment, and suddenly it felt so freeing to say, "You know what, wow, I need to put this down." And it just really transformed how I worked because things happen at work. Things that are negative, things that you feel bad about, things that you struggle with, and if you carry that weight instead of letting it go, that's what lack of forgiveness is, and the Bible teaches about forgiveness, about even if the other person doesn't deserve it, forgiveness is both for you, not just for the other person. And I think sometimes we mistake that, but then the last part I talk about is forgiveness of yourself as well, 'cause I talk about Rowena Chiu, she was assaulted by Harvey Weinstein, and then there was a wall of silence against her. She told dozens of people and they just did not listen to her, and part of her held this, she's like, if I had just... If I could have stopped him sooner, I mean, she was 20-something, and this was 20 years ago, and she's like, "If I just told the right person, if I had just... I could have stopped the next 100 people from being assaulted," and yet that lack of forgiveness for herself was actually hurting her, and she had to find freedom in that too, and she tells her story. And this is the kind of thing that really holds us back in ways that we can't even imagine both at work and at home.

LA: I think...

MR: Well, that's a great... Thank you for summarizing that. It was a very striking chapter, and I think you do a great job laying out the case for forgiveness and then inviting people to consider moving into that in their life if they need to. Leah, you were going and I stepped on you.

LA: I think both sides of forgiveness are so imperative to getting to that next place in our work, and I know for me, I can sometimes get very angry at, especially men in the workplace, who are... I feel like who are belittling me, I can get my boxing gloves on and get very angry, and, but I can also get very angry at myself for being complicit in that behavior or for not speaking up in the moment, and both of those areas of unforgiveness can make me feel very stuck, but if I extend forgiveness to the other person and forgiveness to myself, then I can move past that. But for me, it really takes an act of faith. An act of bringing God into my own experience of my anger, feeling that, okay, justice would be for everyone to get their just desserts, but I'm gonna leave that to you, God, and I'm gonna right now, move forward with assuming the other person has the best intention and forgiving myself for that situation. I wonder, Deb, how much you feel like an act of faith is necessary in the process of righting the wrongs and finding your voice at work? And is it possible for you to really spread the message of Taking Back Your Power to other women in the workplace without... Is it possible to talk about it without faith? Or do we really need faith in this conversation?

DL: I think people who who aren't necessarily religious need this message too. But I think that having faith gives you hope, hope that, in redemption, for example, and I think that that's really important to me. But there's a lot of women who aren't religious, or come from a different religious background, and I think that that message continues to be really important to them, and that's something which... I wrote this book, I wrote this book as a woman of faith, but I don't think you absolutely have to be a woman of faith to find value in Taking Back Your Power, and I think that those are different things. I do talk about it from the lens, though, of how faith has helped me get to where I am and come to... Come to reconciliation with some of the challenges I face, but it isn't an absolute necessity.

LA: Tell us, how has faith helped you come... Be the person you are today? You told the story of your prayer team getting you past a difficult decision, but what other ways has your faith supported you in your own journey towards taking back your own power?

DL: Well, I think part of it, and 'cause this is probably... I start out the chapter about finding balance at home with a little bit of... I talk a little bit about meeting my husband, and then I talk about, in another chapter about when I was thinking about going to business school, and we were in premarital counseling, and the pastor... I got into Stanford, I was super excited, I shared it with the pastor and we were in... During one of the counseling sessions, and he says... He says to my husband, and my husband is like, "Yeah, and I'm moving to California with her." And he said, " Well why... You would have the leave a career. Why would you go with her? And why does she need a graduate degree to stay at home? Some day." And I just remember thinking, "What? Am I outside the will of God? Is He telling me, a man of... I really respected... The pastor of our church is telling me that my dream of going to graduate school was outside of the will of God? Like this is... "

And I remember as we were going home and I had a conversation with my then boyfriend, he said, "There's a reason you're named Deborah. She was a leader. She was a woman, and she was a leader." And he had told me when we first met, he's like, "I had hoped to name my daughter Deborah some day, but then I met you." And so it turned out okay. But he said, "In Proverbs 31, there's an incredible woman, who is an entrepreneur, she raises her children, she plants, she sells, and she, and runs a small business, and she is successful and she's praised." And he said, "Her husband probably sits at the gate spitting in each other's shoes, making contracts." And so, he didn't... And by the way, my husband is an attorney, and so he chose that, that would be our life. And so, it is...

I met my husband at church, at Raleigh Chinese Christian Church, and we were being counseled at Atlanta Chinese Christian church, and he said, "Let's go talk to the other pastor." And we talked to Pastor Lu, who is the other pastor, the senior pastor at Atlanta Chinese Church, Chinese Christian Church. And he said, "Look how successful my own wife is. She's a woman of faith, but she has... She has accomplished so much." And he actually blessed our marriage. And so, but for being a Christian and being a woman of faith, I would never have met my husband, much less had this experience. And the week after our pastor blessed our marriage, we moved to California, and we started our life here, and I started Stanford and we've been here ever since.

MR: Well, big thumbs up for your husband and his wisdom, and also big thumbs up for the two examples you gave, one of Deborah in Judges, what is it? Four or five, Leah? You always know these things.

LA: Oh, give me a second.

MR: And Deborah is a prophet, and she's the judge, which was a way of referring to the leader, she's in charge of the country, so she's an incredibly strong woman, who actually helps to lead the people of God into a battle that they win and she is a strong leader as there could be. And then, but then also mentioning this woman in Proverbs 31, which is... You read that text, 'cause I grew up in a tradition where everybody wanted a Proverbs 31 wife, but I don't think anybody actually read what that was about. And what it is, is it's, this is an extraordinarily competent woman, who is great at the home life stuff, if you wanna say, but great also at, as you say, the small business part, and it's just such a... Both of those are expansive models of what... Of the way God makes certain women, and the way they are to be. Of course, there are some women who are to be "stay-at-home moms", and that's their calling, and that's what they love, and that's what they're great at.

And then there're some women who are, for whatever reason, they don't have children and they're able to be sort of full-time in the workplace, and then there're many like you and so many others who are finding their own unique way of balancing this life in light of their diverse callings. The number one calling to love and serve the Lord, but then the callings of life, in terms of work, and family, and husband, and mother, and friend, and church goer, and boss, and all those things, anyway, I love that, I love your example.

LA: I think of... Deborah is described in the Bible in Judges 4. I looked it up, Mark.

MR: Thank you, thank you.

LA: It's Judges Chapter 4, 'cause I have access to Google, right over here. But, Deborah is described in the Bible in Judges Chapter 4 as a leader. And she has some military leadership skills, she has some people leadership skills, she has some speaking and encouraging skills, but I also imagine she had a life beyond that. At some point she went home and did whatever you gotta do at home, made herself dinner, I don't know if she had a family, but I think when we tell the story of, wither any hero from the Bible or hero in corporate life or even of our own selves, we often miss the backstory, or all the different types of work that we do. So I could tell a story about the work that I do, for my job, but in reality, I'm having this great conversation with you on this podcast, and then I'm gonna do some technical work, shipping the podcast to the editor, and then I'm gonna take... When the day is done, I'm gonna have a second different version of work, and I'm gonna go to the grocery store, and buy the stuff that I need for all the kids snacks for tomorrow 'cause we have kids coming over and I'm gonna get prepared for some home construction work that we're doing over the weekend.

And so there are all of these, all these other jobs at the same time that are not less important, but that they're hard to capture, in the full story of our work. And I think that's true for women as well for as for men, and I think we all miss out when we don't access and value the completeness of our work stories.

DL: Yeah. Well, I think sometimes when we look at work, we look at it in isolation, but work and home are like Yin and Yang. If one gets out of balance, it engulfs the other. And so you really have to keep that at balance. And I think part of what is really important is to figure out how do you balance this things, and what is the way that you bless both work and home?

MR: Can I just say by the way that you're talking about the balance between work and home, which I really appreciate, 'cause sometimes people talk about work-life balance as if work isn't your life. It's like work and then there's life. And you're not saying that, you're work and home, which I think is the right way to... 'Cause it's all your life. And it's all part of your calling and the context for your discipleship. And anyway, so I love the way you're framing it.

DL: What I tell people, is you probably spend more hours at work than waking hours at home, with your family. And so, you want... That's an important part of your life. And so, live it as if you're... That is part of your mission and that is what you're trying to accomplish in life. Like your influence is so great at home, but it's also really great amongst the people you spend eight, nine hours with every single day too.

LA: So that is the place that you want to have influence. And that's why you have to read this book, Take Back Your Power: 10 New Rules for Women at Work.

MR: Can I...

LA: Go ahead, Mark.

MR: Well, some who listen to this podcast are probably older and I would strongly recommend that they give this book to your daughters. Actually it'd be great for your sons too. Really, I mean that honestly, but absolutely share that with younger women, because many of them wouldn't have... There's wisdom here that would be great for younger women to have. So yes, buy it for yourself, but also buy it for the younger folk.

LA: Deb, do you have any last words that you wanna share for people who are either reading your book or who you would like to reach with your message?

DL: I think the message that I just want to reach is, you have so much more power than you think you do, every decision, every moment, you're influencing. And by the way, the word power is not a dirty word. It literally means to have impact and influence around the people and events around you. And so if you look at it as a positive, I wanna have impact in my life. I wanna have... I want that to ripple out, and you want that to be positive. Every interaction you have, you have power to make that positive or negative. You have power to influence and ripple through so many lives around you. So take that moment and take back that power and say, "I'm gonna make this the best I can be." This is a... And be intentional. And that's the message I wanna share, which is, and we can't change the system tomorrow, maybe even, years for now, but every day we are taking back our power, we're making it a little more fair. We're giving more opportunity. We're giving voice and we're having a positive impact on the world. And that's what power is.

LA: Deb Liu, thank you so much for joining us on The Making It Work Podcast today. It's been such a pleasure. Thank you.

MR: Yes. Thank you.

DL: Thank you.

 

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Myths and Half-Truths About Calling - Bryan Dik

Do you work a job or do you live a calling? If your answer to the question is, "Huh, what?" Then this conversation is for you. Today we're going to talk about the common myths and half truths about calling. Our guest today is Dr. Bryan Dik. Bryan Dik is a vocational psychologist and professor of Psychology at Colorado State University, where he serves as Director of Training for the university's PhD program in counseling psychology. He is also co-founder and chief science officer of jobZology, and co-inventor of the award-winning PathwayU career assessment platform. Bryan's scholarly work focuses on meaning and purpose in the workplace, calling and vocation in career development, and the intersection of faith and work. He is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and American Scientific Affiliation, and is recipient of the John Holland Award for Outstanding Achievement in Career or Personality Research. His published books include "Redeeming Work" and "Making Your Job a Calling."

 

Scripture References

  • Exodus 3
  • Act 9:1-19

 

Additional Resources

 

Thanks for Listening!

If you like what you've heard, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts! We'd love to hear from you, and it helps other people find us. 

 

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Transcript

Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

LA: Do you work a job or do you live a calling? If your answer to the question is, "Huh, what?" Then this conversation is for you. Today we're going to talk about the common myths and half truths about searching for, working and living a calling. Our guest today is Dr. Bryan Dik. Bryan Dik is a vocational psychologist and professor of Psychology at Colorado State University, where he serves as Director of Training for the university's PhD program in counseling psychology. He is also co-founder and chief science officer of jobZology, and co-inventor of the award-winning PathwayU career assessment platform. Bryan's scholarly work focuses on meaning and purpose in the workplace, calling and vocation in career development, and the intersection of faith and work. He is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and American Scientific Affiliation, and is recipient of the John Holland Award for Outstanding Achievement in Career or Personality Research. His published books include "Redeeming Work" and "Making Your Job a Calling." Bryan Dik, welcome to the Making It Work podcast.

Bryan Dik: Thanks so much for having me, it's an honor to be on your podcast.

LA: Well, I'm hoping we're gonna learn a lot about vocation and calling today, but let's start with the basics. As someone who studied vocational psychology and spirituality, how would you define a sense of calling? Basically, what is a calling?

BD: Well, it's not as straightforward a question as you might think. So at a risk of being a little bit...

LA: I don't think it is straightforward at all, actually, I think it's very complicated. Give us a place to start though.

BD: Yeah, okay. So, part of the complication is, the way I approach it, I kind of think about it on different levels. I'll give you a technical definition because, as a research psychologist, I spent my whole career studying this, and if you have to study it... If you study it, you have to define it clearly and then concoct a way to measure it and assess it in people. And when you're able to do that, then you can do research and invite others to do that. So the technical definition, I'm paraphrasing a bit here, but basically we talk about a calling as an approach to a particular life role. As a vocational psychologist, I always study it as it applies to work, but conceptually it's broader than that.

So, an approach to a particular life role characterized by three things. The first is a transcendent summons, that is the idea that a person engages this life role, their work in a way, that's a response to something beyond the self, doesn't come from within, it's a response to something beyond the self. The second factor is purposeful work, an alignment of purpose that you experience in your work hours to a broader sense of purpose in life. So transcendent summons, purposeful work, and the third is a prosocial orientation. And this is the idea that a person approaches work this way motivated by other-oriented not self-oriented goals, so a sense of contribution as opposed to personal happiness. The paradox being that the more focused we are on meeting the needs of other people, the happier we tend to be also. But anyway, so that's the more technical definition, those three things.

LA: I like having a technical definition. So give us... As a researcher, give us some hard numbers, Bryan.

BD: Well, that also is a little less straightforward than you might think, because the question, how many people have a calling, really depends on how you ask that question. If you just ask it point blank, "Do you think of your work as a calling?" Then about half of people say, "Yes", which is somewhat shocking, I would say. That's way higher.

LA: That just sounds pretty good to me.

BD: It sounds great, but it's a lot higher than what I expected. So, I expected it would be far less. Now, when you break it down, and think of it in a more gradated way, there's this small percentage of people, who kind of experience it fully, and then a much larger percentage of people, who can access elements of it.

LA: And which part of that definition is more difficult to come by?

BD: Well, the transcendent summons element of it, is kind of the most controversial among psychologists, maybe for reasons that are obvious. It sounds very spiritual. And I should have started by saying that the technical definition here, this allows us to study this on a psychological level. So, you can study something and explain something on a psychological level, that doesn't explain it away on other levels, like on a spiritual level, right? But the tools that we have as psychologists all focus on what's happening on a psychological level. So yeah, I think more people resonate with the idea of, my work provides me with purpose and meaning, and it gives me a way to contribute to the world, than who identify with that transcendent summons idea, that this is something that comes from beyond me.

MR: Yeah. Well, and especially because, the language of calling has been substantially co-opted away from the notion of a caller, right?

BD: That's right.

MR: Calling is kind of like you find your internal whatever. And so, of course, what you're doing also really works with Christian faith, but it requires some sense of transcendence to make it work.

BD: That's right, yeah. Yeah, as a Christian, I identify the caller as God, obviously. But from a purely psychological perspective, that is common, but it's not necessarily a requirement to meet the criteria. Yeah.

LA: And in the Bible, we have some very cut and dry literal examples of people hearing a transcendent summons, literally, like hearing a voice that comes from God, when you think of the calling of Moses or the calling of Samuel. But there are also a lot of people in the Bible, who are called to a particular work, who did not hear from God, a particular summons. I wonder if, Bryan, you could tell us a little bit about your experience? Either in your research or personally. How... Can you feel a transcendent summons without hearing a particular voice?

BD: Yes, you can. And so, the personal side of this... Because research is "me-search"...

[chuckle]

BD: There's some ironies in my own path, but I'll say a lot of this originated with my own personal struggles, to figure out what God was calling me to do, vocationally. And so, I was one of these college sophomores, on my knees pleading with God to reveal His will for my career in a very clear, unmistakable way. As I think back, I don't know exactly what I was expecting. Moses and the burning bush, that's a great prototype, right? It's an amazing calling experience, I think partly it's notable, because it's not common, it's rare. Even in the pages of scripture, an audible voice providing direct instruction is not the typical way, at least as people think about what should I do next, with my life? Right? And so, I was praying for something like that. I don't think I actually expected an audible voice, but I did feel that I would have some kind of moment of awakening, or some kind of spiritual sense... I'd wake up one day and just have a clear idea, and that didn't ever really happen the way that I hoped it would.

And so the more you dig into, theologians describing what is a way to discern a calling if God doesn't usually use an audible voice. And the answer is callings are mediated through other things. And so the question is, then, what are those other things? And how can I use wisdom? Praying for guidance, but not praying in such a way where you then become passive which is what I defaulted into. Praying for this clear sense of direction, and then I just got really anxious and felt like I wasn't praying right or hard enough. Or it's the classic, "You just need more faith" kind of thing.

LA: I wonder, Mark, do you think this is a common misconception about calling that “I've just got to pray and wait for a bush to catch on fire?”

MR: Well, I think it's certainly true for some. And again, as you say, if you say, "Well, look what happened to Moses, look what happened to Paul, okay, I'm gonna wait for that." And that's not a foolish thing. That's an attempt to imitate those in scripture, we wanna imitate, but what it does is it takes a very unusual, God's unusual way of working with a few people and then it creates a norm that isn't true for all people, and then people really get stuck and frozen. I do think that often happens especially with younger Christians. But I think, as people become more mature in their faith, they realize that there are other ways that God speaks, in addition to the actual voice in the bush, which would be way cool. And I'm still way open to that. And I've certainly prayed for that in various times in my life. But mostly, Bryan, as you say, they're the mediators of different ways that I come to understand my calling.

BD: That's right. Yeah.

LA: You know what's interesting? When I think about Paul and I think about Moses, those are two men who were on their way to do different things. And they were really fundamentally interrupted by God who had to get their attention in a very stark way to change their path, versus you never hear about the calling of Barnabas. What was that like? It's like maybe he didn't need a big interrupter. He was already on the way. He looked around and saw the signs and talked to some of the other early Christians. And then he said, "Well, this seems like God, I'm gonna go in this direction." And he... It was, I don't know. Do you know anything about the calling of Barnabas, Mark?

MR: There was a time when God through prophetic voices spoke to those folk but there's no reason to believe that he had a road to Damascus experience. And Apollos if you think, Paul's other colleague who was more intellectual. I bet he thought a lot about it. And worked it out in a different way, though, and maybe we'll get to this. But Bryan, there are a number of things that people, as they're discerning and clarifying their calling, there are a number of things that people often do and wisely do. Even if God speaks to you, you still gotta... There's still a lot of work to be done with that calling.

BD: That's right.

MR: What does it all mean?

LA: All right. Let's get back to the practical. Bryan, what are those steps that people need to do when they're trying to discern their calling? You mentioned gifts before?

BD: Yeah, so I do wanna just circle back and say my problem as a 19-year-old was not with the praying, it was the praying and then being really passive and waiting and just only praying. And don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying God only helps those who help themselves either. But rather than praying and waiting I think a praying and being active approach is really optimal. And so yeah, gifts is a key way that I think our callings are mediated. So how are... How am I unique as an individual? How has God made me in terms of... I use that word gifts, by the way very broadly. So I don't only mean giftedness or talents, or skills. But speaking as a psychologist, it's like what do we know actually predicts good outcomes for folks. It's finding opportunities that align with our interests, the things that we're curious about, that we just can't stop thinking about, that we really enjoy. That has implications for where I'm going to find the most life-giving paths forward.

Things like values as well what do I need, in an occupation in a work environment in order to derive a sense of satisfaction from it? Some people need a lot of independence, and feel hemmed in and squashed if someone... If they're in an environment where someone's always looking over their shoulder. Other people need a lot of structure and feel like they're just swimming in ether when they don't have a set of guidelines to follow as they do their work. So these kinds of nuances, these are things that we can measure and help people understand and then use that information to predict some pathways that would really be good fits for folks that they would find life-giving and sustaining. So that's, one suggestion, is starting with gifts. And I guess I just... Let me finish this thought with this one. There's more to the story than this. But the other thing, I think that happens is that people approach this task in a vacuum often.

They feel almost embarrassed by it, they see other people... Peers who are really doing well and flourishing, and then they feel like, "Well, what's wrong with me?" And so they don't really involve other people to the extent that they could. And this is another thing that... There are examples in Scripture though, the role of leaning on mentors, and this is also something that we see in psychological science, people with better outcomes are ones that don't go it alone, who involve people not just for support, but also for guidance and to serve as role models. And of course, the church is modeled such that we're a community, and so leaning into that. So looking at gifts and then bringing in support from folks, I think doing those things on top of a prayerful attitude probably will bring you a lot of the way there to finding clarity. Yeah.

LA: So this is not something a question you can answer on your own with a Google search or even with a really good self-assessment, this is a process that you go through with other people who know you well, and hopefully people who know the job market well as well.

BD: That's right, and I will say there are a lot of resources and tools that are available to help. And so you mentioned self-assessment, and I would say there is no assessment that tells a person what they should do with their lives. And if any assessment claims to have that capacity, then run in the opposite direction. But having said that, some... Definitely not all, but some assessments do provide reliable and valid information that can help a person make informed choices, doesn't make their choice for them, but it's another source of information to consider. I think using wisdom is really important, and wisdom in decision-making, usually more information is better if it's the right kind of information. And so, informed choices are usually wise choices, and that ends up being really important as people go about discerning a calling. Yeah.

MR: I find this stuff so helpful and so about halfway into this conversation, so now here's the commercial. If you're liking what you're hearing from Bryan, but you're saying, "Man, this is going fast." His most... I think it's your most recent book, right? Redeeming Work is that it, has got this stuff in it. So I just would give a big thumbs up to your book and encourage folks if they're saying, "Oh, this sounds really interesting." Man, buy the book, because you lay things out in such a helpful way.

BD: Thank you, Mark.

MR: That's alright.

LA: And better than a 30-minute podcast, we're not gonna give you your life's calling in a 30-minute podcast, you need maybe a little bit more thinking.

MR: Oh no I thought we were promised, I had that as a promise.

BD: I guess you can wait to see what listeners say. Maybe someone will prove us wrong.

LA: Oh gosh, Bryan, I wanted to ask you, was there a moment in your life where you had other people speak back to you, some insight about your own calling or that helped you see the idea of calling in a different way?

BD: Well, that's a good question, and I would say yes many times, but part of that is, I think I recognize I'm not great at doing these things by myself, and so it's just sort of part of my practice to involve people in the decision-making process. And so this is another thing like worth doing, if you're listener, and you're struggling with these things, right? When you begin to form ideas about what might be possible, it's helpful to kind of project yourself into the future. Kinda try them out. And talk it through with someone. I talk about putting together a personal board of directors, like companies have boards of directors. Well, imagine putting together your own Board of Directors, people who are in your corner, who are wise, who are mentor types, who can give you candid appraisals of things, and who don't have an agenda, other than being helpful to you. So you find people like this and then you say, "Hey, here's some things I'm wrestling with, and here's a possible path forward for me. Let me talk it through and you can tell me what you think." So if you get in the habit of doing this then...

And I will say definitely more than one person, because you get people who you know in different environments, and then you'll get their feedback and you'll find points of convergence. And those, I think are really valuable. Right? And so, yeah, this is kind of a lifestyle thing for me, I do this often, and even now. This is an ongoing process, it's discerning and living a calling. We do some self-assessment. We think about our own gifts and abilities and the way that those translate, but you have to test that by seeing what other people observe as well.

LA: So are you saying that calling isn't a one and done type of thing? Because that feels like a bummer. I just wanna have the decision behind me, and feel like I've already discerned it and now I'm good. I don't have to figure anything out for the rest of my life, and you're giving me some hard news here.

[chuckle]

BD: So, in my research lab, we designed a couple of scales to measure the search for a calling and the presence of calling. So to what extent are people looking for a calling and to what extent do people experience it? And we assumed that scores on these two scales would be negatively correlated, meaning to say that the people who are looking for a calling are the people who don't sense that they have one currently. And once a person get some clarity and feels like they've discerned a calling, then they're not really looking for it so much. But much to our initial dismay, we found that those scores were not negatively correlated. They were positively correlated at a very high level. And then we realized that really, part of, by definition, having a sense of calling means you're constantly engaged in this process of evaluating, "How can I do this better? How can I do this more? What are some other opportunities that would allow me to be more effective or to expand my sphere of influence or whatever?"

So yeah, I think a sense of calling is it's not a thing to be discovered after which you ride off into the sunset and live a blissful life. I wish that were the case. Instead, it's an ongoing process. It's a lifestyle.

MR: Yeah, you know who else wished that were the case? [chuckle] Was Moses. Because, you think about the call of Moses, we use that as sort of the paradigm of the supernatural call, pretty much all God said is you gotta lead the people out of Egypt. [laughter] Then there was a little more to be done, right?

[laughter]

BD: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

MR: And so he had a life of discernment. And even some of the things you've just said where he's out there and he's got... He's overwhelmed with the workload and his father-in-law comes and says, "Hey, you gotta get some help here." So there's mentoring. You could go through all of that. So even if you had the most amazing call experience ever, which Moses would be arguably that, he was working out what that call meant until he died.

BD: That's right. That's right. That's a great example.

MR: Yeah, I love that. But I also think the way you talk about this is really important, because we can... In certain Christian circles anyway, they talk about calling as sort of, "I am called to the pastoral ministry. And then that's just it. That's my... " And any even divergence from that is often seen as failure or disobedience rather than seeing calling in a much more constructive and a fluid way.

BD: That's right. And that's partly why, my first book with Ryan Duffy, we called it Make Your Job a Calling rather than discover the job that is your calling. Just to sort of emphasize that there's a proactivity to living this stuff out, especially in the current world of work. Even pre-pandemic, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics data showed that the average American adult had held 12 jobs by the time they're 50 years old, and I don't think that's because they got it wrong 11 times and then finally found... Instead, callings evolve and they also transcend job titles. So I'm blessed to have opportunities to give workshops around this, and one of the things I love to do is ask people in the room, "How many of you feel like your work is a calling?" And hands will go up. I do this a lot at colleges. So then I'll... Just like faculty. And so then I'll ask them, "What is your calling? If I were to ask you to describe it, how would you do that?" Almost none of them say it's to be a biology professor or whatever. Instead, it's to help young people think critically or to contribute to generating new knowledge, and it's these kinds of broader things. And I think that that is actually very freeing for people when they recognize that, because it means there are many ways, many pathways in terms of job titles that you could pursue and still be faithful to that broader sense of calling.

LA: I think this is another myth of calling. We talked at the beginning of the podcast about we're gonna call out some of the myths around calling today. And I think the myth is that calling is really a job description. Once you find the right job description for you, you're done.

MR: Yeah. So can we talk... I think folks would be really interested in some of your half truths.

BD: Yeah.

MR: Which is not my criticism of you. You call them... I'm asking you to talk about the things you call half truths.

[laughter]

BD: Sure. Well, one that kinda stems directly from what we were just talking about is this concern that many Christians have when they're thinking about a sense of calling and discerning, one that they might if they're not careful, they'll miss it. And so the whole thing about needing to get it right, there's one calling out there for me. And then if I don't get it right, then I'm gonna be doomed to a life of living outside of the center of God's will.

And so there is something to be said. Obviously, we want to discern what God's will is for our lives and we want to be able to live out, express our gifts in the world in a way that brings him glory and makes the world better. But the idea of there being one job title that is the right one for me. It reminds me of the concept of the soulmate that people have in romantic relationships. There's one person out there in the universe for me, probably another person at my university or, another person who rides the subway with me or whatever. And if I miss that person, then I'm gonna be doomed to a life of loneliness. Well, I don't know that that's how relationships work, and it's not how jobs work either. And so part of it is recognizing that there are multiple ways to get it right for most people in terms of job titles, that what we do right now is likely to change and maybe setting our sights on the bigger picture.

A sense of calling that transcends any particular job title really is helpful and freeing, and allows people to realize that, "Hey, I feel a sense of calling to provide healing to the world, but I failed organic chemistry and there's no way I'm gonna get into med school. I guess I might as well, quit and drop out." Well, no, I mean, if you have this heart for providing healing, there are many other ways to do that, besides having the letters MD at the end of your name. And it's just a matter of figuring out what are the other options and what are the other pathways that are accessible to me? How can I live out my calling in one of those?

LA: I've certainly said thank you to the person managing the 24 hour CVS. When I had to [laughter] come in at 2:00 in the morning for Benadryl because someone's having an allergic reaction and they're like, "Are you having a good night?" And I'm like, "It's 2:00 in the morning and I'm getting Benadryl." But I was like, "Thank you that you are here for me providing healing."

BD: That's right.

LA: Okay. I love it. Help us bust another myth.

BD: Well, I think a starting point for some Christians and maybe these are... I don't know, younger, not as mature in their faith, but there often is kind of a starting point belief that if I'm really serious about my faith, I should consider ministry or missions before anything else. And it's a half truth because we do need good ministers and missionaries, but it's not a whole truth because for one thing, it sort of implies, or embedded in that half-truth is the idea that the only really serious Christians are ministers and missionaries, and of course, if you look at your experience, you know that there are serious God-fearing believers living out their faith in all spheres.

But the other part of it, it kinda circles back to something we were talking about earlier, it kind of ignores the roles of gifts. If you're someone who has gifts that make you well equipped to serve in a ministry or missionary role, then absolutely that something you should definitely consider, but if you have a different set of gifts, then it's very plausible that God might be calling you in a different direction. And so giving up that idea that, "If I'm really serious about my faith, then I should be considering these." Instead, look in a much broader way, the way scripture does, that Christ is Lord of every square inch of creation, not just of formal ministry roles, then that helps.

LA: And certainly not just of either formal ministry or traveling missionary roles.

BD: Yeah, and of course, we affirm that there is lots of value in... It's like a response to the great commission and taking the gospel to all ends, every corner of the earth. But yet we're also called to serve where we are, and it doesn't make you kind of a higher level Christian if you're willing to serve overseas.

LA: So Bryan, as the last question, for people who do have that question mark about calling, where do I even go from now? If you imagine you in your college student days when you couldn't nail down a major and were just underneath, praying for a burning bush. What would you give someone as a first step in addition to reading your book, which we think everyone should do because you can't get all of it in this short conversation, but what would you give someone as a first step?

BD: Well, I think I would affirm prayer as a first step and just kind of having a stance of listening, you know? Kind of orienting to God in a way where you're open for the promptings of the Spirit. But instead of... I would also provide a little bit of correction to someone who feels that if they're praying over this matter and then not getting the answer that they desperately desire, then they just need to pray harder or be more patient. And instead I would say, you know, maintain that posture of openness and prayer, but then have some wisdom and engage in some action to do some things to pay attention to the ways that God mediates those callings to us, right?

So part of that is, don't go it alone, seek support from people who have your back and who can provide some good guidance and mentoring to you, but then also attend to your gifts. How did God make you? How are you unique? Different from other people. And what are the implications of that for where within the kingdom you're well equipped to serve? Not just in terms of your talents, although that's an important part of it, but also in terms of what animates you, what brings you joy, what you really just are curious about, wanna learn more, feel really excited and motivated when you engage in that thing? And whether that's business or social work or art or whatever it is, you know? I think our work sort of honoring the way God made us ends up being a really helpful way to figure out the path that maybe where we would be wise to pursue on this earth.

LA: Bryan Dik, thank you so much for sharing your calling with us...

BD: Yes. Thank you.

LA: Today on the podcast.

BD: Thanks for having me, I enjoyed it, it was fun.

 

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What to Do Next - Jeff Henderson

Do you want to move forward in your work, but feel like your past is weighing you down? Or maybe you know where you want to go, but you're uncertain about your best next step? Jeff Henderson, author of What To Do Next: Taking Your Next Step When life is Uncertain talks to us about how to take your next step.

 

Scripture References

  • Genesis 12:1
  • Genesis 15-18:15

 

Additional Resources

  • What to Do Next by Jeff Henderson
  • Jeff’s Website: https://jeffhenderson.com/

 

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Transcript

Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

Do you wanna move forward in your career, but feel like your past is weighing you down? Or maybe you know where you wanna go, but you're uncertain about what's your best next step?

Our guest today is the author of the book, What To Do Next: Taking Your Best Step When Life is Uncertain. An entrepreneur, speaker, business leader and former pastor, Jeff Henderson, started his career in marketing for the Atlanta Braves and Chick-fil-A, where he led regional and beverage marketing strategies. Jeff Henderson was recently named one of 20 speakers you shouldn't miss by Forbes Magazine. Today he's here to talk to us about how to let go of your past so you can take your next step. Jeff Henderson, welcome to the Making It Work podcast.

Jeff Henderson: Leah, so good to see you. Thanks for having me, I'm honored to be here.

Leah Archibald: Jeff, I wondered if you could start by giving us a little background about yourself, and specifically what are some of the job transitions that you've made? And were there any that you did well, that you were proud of? Or maybe were there any that you regret?

Jeff Henderson: Well, yeah, I grew up a preacher's kid, so Leah, I promised myself I would never, ever, ever work at a church.

[laughter]

So I worked at a church for 18 years, so if no one gets anything out of what I say today, Leah, just right down, "Never say you're never going to do something." Okay?

Leah Archibald: "Never say never."

Jeff Henderson: But my dad was my hero, he was amazing, and he passed away nine years ago, but he told me early on in my 20s, "Hey, if you can... " I don't know what it is about preacher's kids, everybody expects you to go into the family business, right? So my dad said, "Hey, go do something else if you... You gotta feel called with this."

So I was a big sports fan and I didn't know that you could do sports marketing, I didn't even know that was a thing, and so I, long story short, got a job in sports marketing with the Atlanta Braves and loved it, and then that led to a variety of other marketing jobs here in the Atlanta area where I live, and then ultimately, which led to Chick-fil-A.

And I managed their sports marketing and beverage marketing and reach marking efforts, and no one ever leaves Chick-fil-A, other than crazy people like me. But long story short, my wife Wendy and I felt called to leave Chick-fil-A and help join North Point Ministries here in Atlanta area to help them launch their first multi-site church, is a multi-site video church, one of the first multi-site video churches in the country, and that was 18 years ago. And since then we've launched...

Leah Archibald: I was gonna say, what year was that? Because...

Jeff Henderson: 2003.

Leah Archibald: Multi-site video churches are a big deal now, but you were ahead of the curve on that.

Jeff Henderson: Yeah, 2003, it was... I mean, imagine me trying to tell my parents and my in-laws, "Hey, I'm leaving a multi-billion dollar company to go work in a church where the preacher is on video." So that didn't really make... Talk about transition, career transitions, that didn't make much sense.

And one of the questions I get, Leah, from people about career transitions is, how do you eliminate risk? And my perspective is, well, I got good news and bad news. The bad news is, you do not eliminate risk, it's impossible. That's not the world we live in. But you can manage it, you can shrink it, and that's what we can talk about a little later, about how do you do that?

So then we made that transition and did it for 18 years, but now we're empty nesters and I had some wise mentors around me saying, "Hey, you're getting the opportunity to influence a lot more businesses and churches around the country, and you're having to say, no a lot, so we think it's probably time for you to make another career transition."

I've made four big career transitions over the last 20 years, so this one is coming up on two years. And so I go serve businesses, I got to work with businesses, but I also help serve churches and pastors as well. So I'm living what I'm talking about in terms of what to do next, 'cause that's what I'm doing right now.

Leah Archibald: Now, it sounds like you have a good track record with transitions, but I know it's hard to go from the corporate world to the business world, and back again. And Mark, I know this is something that you've done as well. Mark, what do you get from just even the overview of Jeff's story, and what's so hard with those transitions?

Mark Roberts: Well, partly I'm thinking, you know, there was a time when Jeff's story would have been really unusual, and now it's increasingly common, right? That so many... And of course, in the season of The Great Resignation or whatever we call it now, but even beyond that and outside of that, that people are making major transitions in a way that would not have been the case, certainly in my dad's generation and even moreso, my grandfather. My grandfather worked for 45 years for the same company.

And so partly I'm thinking, "Yeah." And part of what that gives you, Jeff, is an opportunity out of your own experience to really address the real issues of transition, so you're not just a guy that studied it and thought about it and had some good biblical wisdom, though that would all be true. But you've been living this thing, which gives you an extra measure of empathy and wisdom and insight. And so when you're talking about stuff, and this is true in your book too, which I had the opportunity to read, you can draw from your life.

I mean, again, I think some of the challenges are the unexpected of it. It's not like we've been... Not like we took a class in college on job transitions, right? This is new stuff. And so the stuff that you're developing, Jeff, just so speaks to where people are. It's gonna be really helpful to them.

Jeff Henderson: Well, thank you, Mark. And to your point, sometimes we happen to next, and sometimes next happens to us. The company gets downsized, there's a new boss that comes in and goes in a different direction, the church makes a different decision or whatever, we've all been there.

And there are people that stay within the same company, one of my best friends has worked at Chick-fil-A for 30 years, but he's had a series of next steps because he keeps growing. So this isn't a plea for people to leave their job, it is a plea for people to open up their hands, because if you don't open up your hands, God can't put anything new in there.

And sometimes we hold on too tight to what we think is security and safety, and I'm all for comfort and security, but sometimes you have to let go. And for those that are in that season, that's why I wrote the book. But I appreciate you sharing that, Mark. Leah, I'd love to know your course for transitions, what was that process like for you?

Leah Archibald: I love this conversation 'cause among us, we got so many [chuckle] transitions, but I graduated from an MBA program with a degree in Marketing, and I spent my first 10 years in software marketing. And then I was called to have children, and so as many women do, I took a few years off, when I was raising my children and I thought, "I'm never gonna go back. I'm never going back to a cubicle, I'm never going back to an office, I'm just gonna be driving the kids here and there, and focus on making cookies." And what... [chuckle] There's a lot more to motherhood than making cookies.

But that's what I was gonna focus on. And after a couple of years, as my children got older, I felt this restlessness inside of me that was telling me, motherhood is a good gig, but it's not everything that I want to do with my brain and my skills and my talents. And just at that moment, I had this opportunity to work for a ministry, a parachurch ministry.

A Christian ministry, which combined my marketing skills with my love of the Bible, which was something that was just on my own time in my faith journey. So if you had told me when I started out at business school, "In 15 years, you're gonna be talking to people on a podcast about their experience at work and how it relates to Scripture," I would have said, "That's not a job that exists. So I can't imagine seeing myself as a podcast host, talking to people about their experience at work." So I just agree with you, Jeff, that job transitions are often spurred on by these surprises, and I wonder how you tell others to prepare themselves for these surprises, to prepare themselves to, as you said, open your hands to what God might have for them.

Jeff Henderson: Well, it's interesting too, as I talk to people, both of your stories are very... There's similar patterns in the sense that 15 or 10 and years ago, or however many longer years, it's not like... And so I know exactly what's gonna happen, right? "I'm gonna go get an MBA, and then here's what's gonna happen." That's not the story of anyone, and so when I tell people, "Hey, you don't have to figure out the rest of your life. You didn't figure it out 15 years ago. You just have to figure out what to do next."

And when I tell people that, you could just see the pressure just drain from their faces. You go, "I don't think I can figure out the rest of my life, but I think I can figure out my best next step." And I'm not saying necessarily you leave where you are, you go somewhere else.

I'm saying, your best next step might be to listen to this podcast. Your best next step may be to ask someone for coffee and go, "Hey, who do you know that I need to know, and can you ask them to meet with me on my behalf?" You pointed out, Leah, a really important word that I'd like to underline and highlight for our listeners, and that is the word "restlessness". That's...

There's a sense... I think, and Mark, you mentioned The Great Resignation. I think that is the pinpoint. There's a restlessness. And I don't think that's a bad thing. I think for me... I can't speak for everyone, but I would say for a good portion of people that restlessness is, and they may not have identified it this way, but I think what they're tapping into is, "I think there's more God-given potential in me that's not being tapped."

I think there's more in me than my current role or opportunities. And you've mentioned this, I mean you love being a mom, "But I think there might be something else." There's a restlessness. I actually think that restlessness can be something that's given to us by the Lord to push us forward, that restlessness keeps us moving forward.

For example, from my perspective, I could have, in the transitions that I made, I could have stayed where I was, because it was wonderful, things were going great, I loved the people, but there was this... There was this restlessness that said, "Oh, I think I've got to try this." When I was at Chick-fil-A and I saw this idea, it was called Buckhead Church, Buckhead's this area in Atlanta.

I thought, "If we do this, and if the Lord blesses it, I wanna be a part of that." And at some point, my current situation was kind of ruined in a sense, 'cause I was so intrigued by what was next. And so I think that restlessness that you talked about, Leah, is really important.

So if people are feeling that restlessness, sometimes I think we push it away and fight against it, and I would say, "No, no, no, no, it may be there for a reason." It actually might be the Lord tapping you on the shoulder going, "Hey, what do you think you could do with the potential that I blessed you with?"

Leah Archibald: I see that even in Scripture, I'm thinking of there is some restlessness in Jesus's disciples before they even encountered Jesus. I'm thinking... And they were fishermen, they were not necessarily looking for a job transition, but they were looking for a Messiah, in that they were checking out John the Baptist to see if he was the guy.

They were looking to see if Jesus was the guy before they even met Him. So Mark, I wonder if you see that story as an example of some kind of spiritual restlessness that actually prepared the disciples to meet Jesus?

Mark Roberts: Well, that's a good reading in, because you certainly wonder what it was about them that made them so willing to leave everything, and as you say they were looking. They were looking for the Messiah. So perhaps they hadn't connected that to a job change, as you say, but there was a yearning, a desire in them.

I think of the Apostle Paul, whom we know would sort of went around planting churches all over the ancient world. And he talks about that as being his ambition, he actually uses the word we translate in English as "ambition". Which is one of the things sometimes we're told as Christians, "Well you should be ambitious, you know, you wanna serve God," but there was a godly ambition.

And it would be I think quite apt to say in Paul, there was a restlessness about him, not restless in terms of not trusting God or any of that kind of restlessness, but restlessness for the mission that God had given him, restlessness to steward the gifts in the calling.

Leah Archibald: He certainly had a lot of get up and go. You know, he didn't stay in one place for too long. As soon as he got a church established, he was off to the next one.

Mark Roberts: Yeah... And now... But as Jeff said, doesn't mean we all have to do exactly that, because as you've said Jeff, even within one situation, you can change. About a year and a half ago, I had a major change in my job within the De Pree Center in Fuller, I was the boss and I hired a great person, and now I made her the boss and I work for her.

And that's been a big change. She's awesome, it's been great. But I would say there was a restlessness in me to be able to focus more on the things I really ought to do. And I think there was a restlessness in her because she has so much leadership in her. So even though she wasn't pushing for anything, it just was the right thing, though I still work in the same organization.

Jeff Henderson: And I think too, if you look at Abraham, Abraham was... When Abraham was leaving, he didn't know where he was going, but he was headed somewhere. And when I talk to people who are trying to figure this out, I say, "Hey, let's get going." And they're like, "I don't know what to do." I'm like, "I mean, we can do some things. We can keep moving."

One of my mentors, John Maxwell, said... He made this statement a couple of years ago, that I will never forget. He said, "I never had a clear vision, I just kept moving forward." And when he said that, I was speaking at a conference with John and what he said that, I thought, "Wait, what? I understand a mere mortal like me doesn't have a clear vision, but John Maxwell, the leadership guru, you didn't have a clear vision?" And he said, "I just had to take action."

And so with that restlessness that people have, they need to take action. Action could be calling somebody up on the phone, trying to get your financial house in order, if you will. One of the things that breaks my heart is when people discover what's next, but they're in such financial bondage, they can't pursue it. One of the best things that people can do is to get their finances in order so that they're ready for whatever God may bring their way.

So I think there are some things that people can do to figure this out, and Abraham I think is an example, he just kinda ventured out, even though he wasn't quite sure where this was going.

Leah Archibald: What I love about the Abraham story is that there was a lot of past that he had to let go of when he followed God's call to go to the next place. He was leaving... In those days, when you left your family, you're probably never gonna see 'em again. You know, the journey was... Especially when you leave with your whole family and animals and da da da. He was probably not gonna go back. There's no way to fly back home, right?

So he had a lot of past to let go of, and I wanna bring in something from your great book, the book is What To Do Next: Taking Your Best Step When Life Is Uncertain. And there's something that you mention in your book, which is that, "We can't receive what's next until we let go of the past." I wondered if you could give us a little more context of what you mean by that and how you see that happening both in Scripture and in people's lives?

Jeff Henderson: Well, that's a great question, Leah. I think one of the things you have to let go of is your identity. Not our identity in who we are in Christ. But when people meet you, "Hey Leah, nice to meet you." "What do you do?" is the next question, right? Well, for 18 years I was the, "Hey, I'm the pastor of Buckhead Church. Oh I'm the pastor of Gwinnett Church. I'm the Pastor of the second Gwinnett Church's location."

And then instantly overnight that went away and I had to let go. So when I would meet people, they would go, "Oh, what do you do?" And then I would go with this meandering description of, "Well, I've got an... " 'Cause I wasn't... I didn't leave from one company to get to the next, I was leaving from one company to an idea, a hope, a dream to serve businesses and churches. And I'm all for hopes, I'm a dreamer, but what I've discovered is that the bank does not deposit hopes and dreams. I've asked them and they said no.

[laughter]

Leah Archibald: What? What a bummer.

Jeff Henderson: So I think one of the things you have to let go of is that the answer to that question of... It may not be as crisp as... And clear. And so if you wanna call it "identity" or whatever, there's that. I think you have to let go of security, and what I mean by that is just the security of knowing where you're gonna go on Monday mornings.

And sometimes you have to let go of the community. For us, we just didn't leave our job, we left our church, we left our community to be able to serve other churches. So you begin to leave your routines, your rhythms, your community, you leave... There's a lot of the loss. And that's one of the chapters in the book is grief.

I tell people, "Hey, I know you didn't get this book to talk about grief, but a portion of next is letting go of what you had in the past." And one of the best pieces of advice I've gotten on leaving is, "Jeff, when you leave, leave. Don't linger, don't stick around. You gotta leave and give room for the leaders to fill the gap and move on."

And so there's a lot that you have to let go of in order to receive new things. So identity, purpose, rhythms, community, people, all that is changing in the season, that's why I have courage for people... Or respect for people that do this.

Mark Roberts: Man...

Leah Archibald: I'm thinking... Oh, go ahead.

Mark Roberts: That is so true. [chuckle] I just... So I mentioned to you, I was the executive director of the thing, now I'm not, and for the first few months people asked me, "So what do you do?" And I'm like, "Oh man, I'm the former executive director." That was my identity. 'Cause my new role is senior strategist. What the heck is that?

I had to to... I had to unravel that. You're absolutely right. And that, that can be a really hard thing to do if we're tied up. So that... Grieving the loss, if it's a loss for you, but then also being able to let it go, that's... Man, I just, I'm really relating to that at the moment.

Jeff Henderson: Do you know what else there is, Mark? Is, one of my best friends told me this, 'cause he'd been through a similar transition. And he wasn't being critical of anybody, he was just going, "Hey, let me tell you a matter of fact what's gonna happen." He said, "You're gonna be surprised at how quickly you're forgotten."

Part of me was like, "No, no, no, I'm the founding pastor of this church." And so... And it's not that they've forgotten necessarily, but they have to move on. We stepped off the train and that train kept going and they gotta keep going. And while that can be painful, it's also very healthy as well.

I've experienced this a lot in terms of leaving. I've founded... I helped found three churches and moved on, and this isn't just true for church, well, it's true for businesses, but I'm so grateful I didn't sacrifice my family and my marriage on the altar of work. Because at some point, somebody else is gonna be the lead pastor of this stuff, or somebody else is gonna be the executive director of this or that, or somebody else is gonna be the chief marketing officer, but no one can be the first husband to Wendy and the father of Jesse and Cole.

So I gotta have my priorities right, and so when I leave and make a transition, it's helpful for me to go, "This is a season, be sure that you're not wrapped up in this completely 'cause there's more important things than just a job."

Leah Archibald: I feel like one of the burdens that we have to let go when we transition from jobs is not just identity, but also the sense of responsibility. I really identify with the story that you just shared, because one of the greatest lessons I feel like I learned spiritually is when I was leaving my job and business to go be a mom full-time, and I had all this fear, not necessarily for me, 'cause I was ready, but I had fear for my company that I was working for.

And I was the director of this department. I had done... I knew everything about every account, everything about the software system, nobody knew it like I did, and I was really had this high level of fear, and I prepared this whole binder, "This is all the training, this is everything you need to know."

And I expected that the week after I left, I was gonna get all these phone calls, "How did you do this, how do you do this?" and I was ready for it. I left on a Friday, and it was just radio silence, for the... Nobody ever called me again, they're like, "Leah is out, we're gonna figure this out on our... " I don't even know what they thought, they just... They didn't even call me.

And I had this beautiful realization that it's not me that makes the world turn, the world doesn't need Leah's effort to make the sun rise in the morning, like it's gonna keep going no matter what role I was in, and that really lifted a burden on me, which is my own sense of responsibility and perfectionism.

Jeff Henderson: But I will say, Leah... I agree completely with you, but I do think it was the... It's the ultimate sign of leadership test that if you left and everything fell apart and everybody is calling you non-stop, you didn't set them up for the future.

Leah Archibald: Oh, you're making me feel better. [chuckle] Thank you for the compliment.

Jeff Henderson: It's true. I mean, if the leader leaves and the whole thing falls apart and people go, "We don't know what to do now," you have not apprenticed the next generation of leaders. And I do think this is why some leaders hang on too long. First of all, they know how painful it's gonna be, so they don't wanna go there, right? And they haven't set up the next generation of leaders.

At the end of the day, this is the ultimate test of leadership that you set it up, you did a great job, you handed it off and they kept going. If everything falls apart, then there was a mishandling of the baton. And we see leadership batons being dropped all over the place. But not with you, Leah. You did an awesome job. And so that radio silence is actually, even though it can be painful, it is actually a good sign.

Leah Archibald: Well, I think after that, then I had to go through my own grief processes, "Oh, I'm no longer a director of Marketing at this place, I'm just some kid's mom."

Jeff Henderson: Well, and now you're... But I think... But in that moment, now your hands are open, you're like, "God, what's gonna come next?" and here we are on this podcast. So God begins to begin to fill things and to place things in your hand, but it is the grieving process. I actually hired a transition consultant to help me during this process, and it's kind of a fancy title for therapist, but he does help people with their transitions.

I told him one day I got a call for a speaking engagement that I was very excited about, and then I took two steps from my desk to go tell my wife, and I'm just overcome with grief of all that we have left and lost, and I said... So one moment, I'm incredibly excited, the next moment I'm crying, and I said, "Am I losing my mind? What is going on here?"

And he said, "No, the emotionally healthy person can hold joy and sorrow at the same time." And that's what next does for people. You gotta get to a point that you're willing to let go of something that you love in order to receive something, and there's a mixture of holding joy and sorrow at the same time. This season is not for the faint of heart, but it's for the brave, it's for the people that will leverage that restlessness in a proactive and positive way.

Mark Roberts: That's so great. You know, Jeff, I don't know if anybody said this to you or you thought this, but I'm spending an... Surprisingly, to me, in this season of my life, I'm spending an awful lot of my time now professionally helping people with what we call the "third third of life", which includes in many cases, some version of retirement, although that is not nearly what it once was.

And I'm thinking to myself as I've read your book and now as I'm listening to you, your book is mainly for folk who are in career and they're still in their working lives, and that's great, but you got another book. [chuckle] You could just go ahead and change the illustrations and... Yeah.

'Cause seriously, what you're talking about here is also incredibly relevant for people who are going through that latter transition in life, either from full-time work to not working at all, or part-time work, but all of the same wisdom is relevant here. So just... I just wanna plant that seed for you that, this in the season, you're doing exactly what you ought to be doing now, but in time, you've got an awful lot to offer to folk who are in the next stage too.

Jeff Henderson: Thank you, Mark. And somebody was asking me the other night, "Is this for people that are in mid-life crisis?" And I said, "Well, yes." Then someone else said, "Is this for somebody that's graduating from college?" "Yes." It's for anyone that's in a season of next, it's... And that's...

At some point, whether you stayed at the same job for 30 years, at some point, we are all... At the end of the day, we are one step closer to whatever that next is for us that's coming, and the more prepared you are for it in terms of building your network, understanding your gifting and moving forward, the better position you're gonna be when next arrives, and next will arrive at some point.

Leah Archibald: I'm thinking again of the Abraham story in the Bible, 'cause he's actually talked a lot with God one-on-one, this makes me think of the Abraham story in the Bible.

As you mentioned, Jeff, the mixing of joy and grief in life transitions. 'Cause I think Abraham is someone who expressed that to God really well. He expressed his joy at the promise that God for him, but he also expressed his sorrow at the grief that he felt for not having a child, not having an heir for so long. Waiting, wandering in the wilderness, waiting for God to fulfill his promise.

And both of these, he expressed very clearly and verbally to God himself. So I'm imagining he experienced both at the same time, this dual purpose, this dual experience that you talk about, that your transition coach was telling you about, it was actually pretty Scriptural.

Jeff Henderson: Absolutely. And Abraham had a very open and honest and frank... He said some things to God that I'm like, "I don't know. You're pushing it here a little bit." So he was... But I think I God, God, God respected that. The other thing I think we can learn from both Abraham and Sarah is their reaction to being in the waiting room, and with all due respect, they waited a long time before they had a child.

And they kinda... They exemplified the three ways that you can act in a waiting room, only one of which is healthy, right? There's waiting recklessly. So Sarah finally says, "Alright, I'm done. We gotta... I gotta... I'm gonna take this into my hands, here's what we're gonna do, alright?" Well, we're still living with the ramifications of that decision.

Or you can wait passively, meaning that, "I'm a victim, and I'm just gonna pout and not do anything." Or you can wait actively, and there are some things that you can do in a season of waiting that can help position you for a season of next and can help you. So I think their lives are perfect examples, and I think ultimately, it's an example of God's patience, God's forgiveness and God's redemption. And God's gonna still write the story that He's gonna write. We can participate in it, or we can rebel against it, but He's gonna do it.

Leah Archibald: Now, Jeff, I wonder if you could also transition recklessly or passively or actively? Are those adjectives that can also refer to transitions in our lives?

Jeff Henderson: Absolutely. Great question, Leah. And I see this happen a lot. This is why I really encourage people when they're leaving, to finish well, because how you finish your current season dictates in a large part, how you begin your next season. And finishing well, I don't think we write a lot about that or we don't hear a lot about that, and we see leaders who just didn't finish well.

And sometimes, especially when you're leaving a job, it's like, "What are they gonna do? I've put in my two-week notice. What are they gonna do, fire me? They can't do anything." But that doesn't honor the people that you're working with, doesn't honor the organization, and it doesn't honor you and what you're trying to leave behind. And so don't leave recklessly and don't leave passively, just not taking it seriously. You can leave actively.

An example of that is when I left Gwinnett Church, I put in a six-week notice, but I'd been talking about this for many months in advance, and this wasn't a surprise to the people that I worked with or worked for. And then I sat down with our leadership team and said, "Okay, I got six weeks left. Here are the projects that I'm gonna complete. Are these the projects you want me to complete? 'Cause I work for you."

And that was, "I'm gonna meet with as many volunteers as we can, I wanna meet with every staff person. I'm gonna write every staff person a handwritten "thank you" note. Here's all the things I'm gonna do. Is this what you want me to do?" And they all said yes.

And so I just worked as hard as I could to the very last moment because I wanted to finish well, and I think... Now, how you leave an organization is one thing, how the organization leaves you is another thing. That's their control, you have within your control. 'Cause some of our listeners could be saying, "Well, the organization didn't leave me well," or, "This is what the organization did." I totally get that, and we need to work through all those emotions. But as it relates to you, leave well.

One of my first business mentors encouraged me to leave things better than when you found them, and there should be... There's a wake in all of our lives and all of our leadership, and I wanna look back and see a positive wake that I've left and positive impact and I've left.

And that will propel you forward. So don't... Don't as much as it relates to you, as Paul said... He didn't say, "Don't burn bridges," that's as my words. But don't burn bridges, because ultimately when you burn bridges, you're the one that gets burned the most. Now, that's not to say there shouldn't be necessary endings, as Henry Cloud talks about, all that.

I believe in all that as well. But as it relates to finishing, to your point, you're talking about finishing well, Leah, you can finish recklessly or you can finish passively, or you can finish intentionally and actively.

Leah Archibald: So this conversation has really run the gamut through the course of a career and all the different transitions you might have, from starting a career to ending it. I wonder if you have some last advice, closing advice, Jeff, for people who are facing that edge of the cliff drop off for their next transition? What is the next one step in front of us when we're facing a big scary transition?

Jeff Henderson: When people come to me, Leah, and they say, if next has happened to them. They're out of a job and they're like, "What's the first thing I need to do? Is it to update my resume?" And I say, "That's important, but no, that's not the first thing." "Is it to go on LinkedIn and post something?" And that's important, but no.

The first thing you should do is get out your phone, go to your contact list and kinda identify the top 10 people in your contact list that you can talk to, either in your field or out of the network in your field that you can go meet with. Because we all know who you know is often more important than what you know. And sitting down with people and saying, "Can you tell me your story? I'm in a transition. And what would you do if you were me? And then who do you know that I need to know? And would you be willing to contact them on my behalf?"

I feel like we're two or three or four people away from the next opportunity. We just don't pick up the phone and leverage the network that we have. And a lot of people will go, "Well, I don't know that many people." If it's three people, you certainly know three people, I mean, or two people, who can you call? And if you are intentional about this, you will be shocked at how quickly you can build your network in just a matter of days.

And again, you're just two, three or four people away from that next opportunity. Apparently we're all just six degrees away from Kevin Bacon from Footloose. So if we're just six degrees away from him, you're probably three people away from your next opportunity. And again, that gives you something to do.

That's the other thing. That action. Courage is not the antidote to fear, action is. And when you take action, when you pick up the phone and you call somebody and say, "Would you meet with me?" even if they say no, you're gonna get some courage 'cause the action led first. So I would... That's the first thing I would do, is I would contact as many people as you possibly can.

The other thing, we have a free assessment called the Career Risk Assessment, it's just at jeffhenderson.com, completely free, but it'll give you a red light, yellow light, or green light, and with each light, it tells you the work that you need to do to move to the next step. And red light doesn't mean you failed, and green light doesn't mean you need to go.

But it puts the risk in category, and it puts the risk on a piece of paper and go, "Oh, I can handle that." Because if you don't do that, the risk just becomes this invisible weight that seems like you can't overwhelm it. And this is an opportunity in the season for God to grow your faith like never before, because in the seasons like this, God now has our full attention like never before.

I may have mentioned this earlier, but this is the first time in my career that I haven't got paid every two weeks. I'm not working for a company, I'm working for me now. And so God has my full... He always... God should always have our full attention, but it's in seasons like this, we're like, "Okay, I'm desperately in need of God." And so this is a season for God to grow your faith in a way that maybe He can't when everything is just kind of lined up and in rhythm.

Leah Archibald: Well, this conversation has been not only enlightening, but very practical for all of us. For me, and I think for all of us who are kind of either facing a transition now and the future, you give us some practical tools. I would suggest folks go to your website, get the book, What To Do Next: Taking Your Best Step When Life is Uncertain. And Jeff Henderson, thank you so much for joining with us on the podcast today.

Jeff Henderson: Leah, Mark, I'm honored. Thank you. Thanks for what you all do. Thanks for having me, I'm very honored.

 

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Knowing What to Share (and Not Share) on Social Media - Christian & Anastasia Anderson

What wisdom and guidance can faith provide for deciding how you use social media and what you share? We talk to Christian and Anastasia Anderson about how God has guided them on their journey as influencers.

 

Scripture References

  • 2 Corinthians 1:8-9

 

Additional Resources

 

Thanks for Listening!

If you like what you've heard, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts! We'd love to hear from you, and it helps other people find us. 

 

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Transcript

Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

Today, over 4.6 billion people around the world use social media. If you've looked for a job recently, you probably had to spiff up your online profile. And over the last decade, we've seen an increasing number of online influencers who many look to for everything from entertainment to how-to advice. How you present yourself and what you post online impacts you, and others. What wisdom and guidance can faith provide for deciding how you use your platform and what you share? Today, we're talking to Christian and Anastasia Anderson about how God has guided them on their journey as influencers. Christian and Anastasia are active creators on YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram, they currently have a family channel that has over 40,000 subscribers and over 30,000 followers each on Instagram and TikTok. And although their approach on social media is lighthearted, their influence runs deep. Christian and Anastasia, welcome to the Making It Work Podcast.

Anastasia Anderson: Thank you.

Christian Anderson: Thank you. And you know what, it's the bio thing is always interesting because the numbers fortunately continue to rise so now I think that...

LA: So that was even outdated. Tell me what the numbers are now.

CA: Yeah, and now it's a 50,000. 50,000 for the YouTube, I think is a 40,000 now for...

AA: 44,000.

CA: 44,000. And we only know this because there was a sponsorship thing that came up and Anastasia is like, "We better ask for more money 'cause we've got more." I'm like, "Oh yeah. Good, good call."

MR: Well, and for those of us who are not subscriber kind of people. Your actual views on YouTube are like way through the roof. Way more than, really big. So you're speaking to a lot of folks.

AA: Yeah, the viewers a lot. The viewers more of, so like a month ago, two months ago, it was like 4 million views.

MR: Right.

AA: Views is more. Yeah. It's more than just the subscribers as you mentioned.

LA: Does that baffle you sometimes just how many people you have influence over or how many people are looking into your life?

AA: In the beginning, I think it was more of a cultural thing where you shouldn't share too much of your life. But once I got over that. And was like, listen, I like to talk anyway. So whether I posted on that, I might share with someone else I might as well just post it for the whole world. Why not? Yeah, not really.

LA: So tell me about that because that's what we're talking about today, what do you share from your life. What was counter-cultural to you Anastasia about sharing personal tidbits of information, or just sharing your life over social media.

AA: I think I would say more of your relationship and your romantic side and your affectionate side. So you're not supposed to share that deep about your life to other people. So your marriage situation, or whether you having fun in your marriage or not having fun, you shouldn't be sharing with friends, with anybody else. And then when we got pregnant, like I show my belly and my stomach and it's like, "Oh my God, she is crazy. She should not be sharing her stomach. She should not be sharing any of that." So people automatically said we're gonna lose Kwame because, the evil out there and then we had Kwame and we've looked the whole like giving birth. Yeah, so it was more like, do not share anything about your life. Just let people see what they see you, you walk in with Christian, that's all they need to know. You're married to him. And they thought that the more you share, the more people have opinions and which is true.

People have more opinion on what you put out there. But I think what helped us is that we joined the social media life older, meaning like we knew who we were. Right? I know myself, Christian knows himself. So being on the social media not at the age of 18 but at the age of 30 something. I've learned so much and grew so much that what I know what to put out there and what will really hurt me not to put out like I know. Do not say this online, because if someone says something back, it might hurt your feelings. So I know what could hurt my feelings and what cannot hurt my feelings. So if it's out there, that means, yes, I want you to know and bring it on. I got this.

LA: Christian, was it a similar learning curve for you?

CA: Yeah. Well, I think I was at first really surprised that Anastasia was just jumped head first into it because in the relationship one would say that I'm the more extroverted and Anastasia is the more introverted reserved one. And then once upon a time, I was an actor in Los Angeles so I was used to sharing and being vulnerable in front of folks. So it wasn't that big of a jump for me, but there is a lot of commentary that comes with, so you have to be aware of your own sensitivities. And like Anastasia said, it's like, I think that's the big, once you start to get open up more and more, just be aware that just expect the worst. And so that was little fortunately, I think again, to Anastasia's point the maturity just being older and just knowing how it is out there, especially with the wild west of social media, that you're going to get everything. And once you put yourself out there, you're gonna get the negative and the positive. So just be prepared for that. And so I don't think we've seen anything that was shocking. I think comments about our son, the inner parent gets really defensive real quick but then you're like, then you start to feel bad for the person, like what hurt is going on in your life that you would want to say something negative about a one-year-old child.

Like you must be really in some pain so you feel bad for them, but yeah, so I think the biggest learning curve was like, "Holy cow, my wife has completely become like the momentum of this channel," where I really thought it'd be me trying to pull her out of bed doing this. And that's how it was at first and it was more of like a day in a life of a priest channel. And then we realized no one wants to watch that. No one really cares about that, people cared about, here's this couple that happened to be from different countries and there's a culture clash. And how does their life work together and they happen to be people of faith, that's what really allowed it to really blossom. And that was Anastasia's doing that with her saying, "You need to take it there. People don't care about a priest."

LA: So in a way, it's the relationship between the two of you has been a vehicle for sharing your faith over this channel versus what you may have thought in the beginning, Christian, which was... Might be more the other way around...

CA: Yeah, for a person who would pitch himself during seminary is the one who was so missional and out there and trying to meet the seeker, I'm the one who was trying to shove Jesus down their throat, and then she was like, Dude, stop, just be you... Just talk about our family. And you just happen to be a person of faith, and that has been much more, I think, healthy and successful in attracting really great conversations in the chat section and direct messaging, and also just... Yeah, an indirect way of discussions about faith.

LA: Mark, I wanna bring you into the conversation and maybe you can give us a little more... Like a historical perspective, 'cause today, Christians like Christian and Anastasia who are reaching out to many people over social media, aren't that different from the apostles in the New Testament, who also reached many, many people, they weren't having a one-to-one conversion ratio. They were really a one-to-many, I'm thinking of Paul who wrote the majority of the books in the New Testament and had a significant influence over many Christian converts in the Roman world. Do you think the scale of influence today, Mark, is something completely new that influencers can have online, or do you think it's part of the trajectory of faith transmission throughout history?

MR: No, that's a, that's a, Yeah, great question. The scale is new, that you can reach hundreds of thousands, even millions, sitting in your bedroom on your computer.

LA: Paul would have been a little jealous of that.

MR: I mean it...

LA: No, shipwrecks and Paul.

MR: The scale is unbelievably different. And also, you know, when Paul wrote a letter, he might have written a letter and then it takes... Let's just say a month for the thing to get there, and then it gets read in the church, and then if they're gonna respond in a month back, so it's a really different scale and pace. Having said that however, sometimes we forget that what Paul was doing in particular with letters was novel, they wrote letters in the ancient world, but up to the Apostle Paul time, nobody that anybody is aware of had ever used letters as a kind of a community formation, or we could even say a pastoral work that just wasn't done, and so what he was doing is taking the technology of his time and in a very creative way transforming it to do the work of the gospel. We’re so used to the letters and all that, we don't realize how innovative that was, and also how technological that was, 'cause that was using the technology of the day. So what you guys are doing, Christian and Anastasia, is in many ways, just today's version of what the Apostle Paul and the early Christians were doing innovatively using technology, but not just using it in the way it comes, what you guys are doing has a really different feel from most of what's out there.

MR: And so the distinctiveness, it's the Christian distinctiveness, so using the technology to reach out and to reach wide, but doing that as authentic Christians.

My word for you is authentic, when there's just one video and not to embarrass you Anastasia, but you cry a lot and Christian, you let her go. And part of me is thinking at first, Oh, you should have intervened, and I'm thinking, No, this is like really tender and precious, and I would not use that language very often for stuff on social media, so it's a gift to share that with us.

LA: How do you think of that, Christian and Anastasia, how do you decide where to place boundaries or where to set the boundaries on what you release?

CA: The first time that we... Well, let's put it this way, that we always knew we were a family-based channel, so we want the content to be... We weren't going to be... Okay, we've definitely made choices throughout the time that we weren't gonna follow certain other formulas that would allow the channel to grow exponentially, so we weren't gonna use skin, sex, other gotcha type topics to pull you in, that just... And not a judgment against those choices that just wasn't us. And so there would be times when Anastasia will be like, "Yeah, no, not gonna go there" or something will come up like, "Yeah, no pass." Even sponsorship there, we just recently turned down a wine company that want to... And it was just a wine club, and it's nothing bad about that, but it just... The line gets a little fuzzy with what we're trying to broadcast as a family channel, we're like, is it really appropriate for us to be saying, "And here is this glass of wine that we love, you should sign up."

AA: And they were paying a lot of money.

CA: But it just doesn't, it doesn't match what we're trying to reflect, so yes, there is a value there that does reflect, we've assumed just being a Christian household, but also knowing that who our audience is, are family and we wanna keep that family base, so we know that we do sacrifice potential audience for that.

CA: So there's that. And then when we went through our... We got to a place where we had a family loss, a tragedy, and so that was probably the big when we lost our daughter, at five months gestation. That was really the big offering of saying, "Okay." We definitely took time away and walked away from the channel for quite some time until we were in a much better place. And then there came a turn, through just a sermon and prayer, that definitely Anastasia felt, that you know what? We're just holding this inside, and we're not sharing it, and it just feels like we're not doing justice to our daughter's name, and we're hiding her. And so it came to an appropriate place with appropriate boundaries to open up and, not for our sake. There's a little bit of, "Sure, it is cathartic," but also seeing the response when we did it locally, just in our church community, how many people came out of the wood work who experienced the same loss, who didn't have the ability to share their loss, and then became the cultural undertones.

Anastasia's Ghanaian. And so there's, how does a West African family deal with a loss like this, historically? And so that just opened up the flood gates of people reaching out and sharing their stories. And so the vulnerability allowed us to... The boundaries stayed in a healthy place, but changed a bit for our own vulnerability to really open up about... I don't think we had done that before to that extent.

AA: No.

CA: Because it did seem like that was a place where... I felt where God was inviting us, to do it if we felt confident about it. And you definitely... To be quite honest, I wanted to follow your lead on it, and you felt confident about it because it was the number one reason why? Because you knew of other lives that were being touched by it, or as part of your journey, also, of healing?

AA: I think... Yes, so it was part of my journey and also bringing an awareness in the African community because it was not something that we talk about at all. And up till today, I still have family members who do not wanna talk to me just because I shared that information. So I wanted to bring that awareness that we, Africans, but... You know some people have that myth that we don't experience the same things, but we all do, it's just how we respond to it. So I've been taught not to share that information, I've been taught not to talk about death when a child dies. And so I made that decision to go ahead and do it because I knew our base. We have so many African followers, and so doing that allowed so many other Africans sending us messages and talking about how thankful they were, and now even though they lost a child, maybe 10 years ago, they are able to talk to their friends, to let them know, "Oh my gosh, I saw this girl on YouTube. She's Ghanaian, she did this, now, I wanna let you know why I've been feeling this way."

So it was great to know, even though my family is still like, "Oh, she's crazy," but I wanted to do that. I wanted to do that, not just for me, but also for every person who grew up in Africa, that look just like me, and went through similar situations, but were not able to share. And also that opened up for my own mother to share. I didn't even know my mother went through the same thing I went through three times.

LA: Really? Wow.

AA: So sharing allowed my mom to also tell me how she felt when she went through it. Without sharing, I would have never known that my mother went through it. So sometimes we share things without knowing the outcome, but I always say, when your gut feeling says, 'Just do it,' just do it, just do it, and something great will come out of it.

LA: Is there a way that you engaged... How did you know that it was the right time to share? Was there scripture that you were reading, was it something in your prayers, was it just an internal sense that was telling you, "Now is the right time"?

AA: And I remember the exact time that it happened. So we were at church, and then we have a women's group. So one time I went to the women's group because I heard there was another woman who was sharing a story, and I wanted to know more about the woman. So I went there, she was sharing her story, and that really touched me. Through the prayer that... We were praying over the women for her to share her story, and the prayer just touched me, "Share your story. Other people want to hear it," it's just this feeling that came over me. And so right after that speech, I went to the leader of the women's group and said, "I'm ready to share my story." So that's how it started. And then we talked about it. And then the following month, I shared my story, and then... And I was like, "I'm ready for YouTube. Let's do this." So it started from there.

MR: Chapter two on my earlier comment, one of the things that was true of communications in the ancient world, over time in the New Testament, was that, for the most part, people did not share their inner lives, especially their pain. You just don't find that in letters. You don't. And then you come to the apostle Paul, and especially 2nd Corinthians, the beginning of 2nd Corinthians. And I'm gonna beat you to the punch, Leah, 'cause I even got it, and I'm gonna read a little bit of it. Leah always reads the scripture to us.

LA: Oh, good. Let's hear it.

MR: I'm gonna do it this time. So Paul says this, to the Corinthian Christians, "We don't want you to be unaware brothers and sisters of the affliction we experience in Asia, for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death, so that we would not rely on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead." Now again, when we read this from our cultural perspective, we might even say, "Wow, that's out there," but for in Paul's own day, that was absolutely an extraordinary sharing of this incredible pain. Now, he brings it around to talk about how God met him and all that.

But the point was that he was taking extraordinary risks doing something that was really quite countercultural by sharing his inner life with people and what you were doing. But especially what you're doing when you go through really hard things is really very similar to that. And it's not... The difference is that Paul knew pretty much who is gonna see the letter. You put that out there, and comments on social media are often, sometimes just hilarious and sometimes really mean. And when you put your heart out there and somebody is mean, that's really hard. But what you'd said earlier, it's so important. You were talking about, you know who you are, you've got some maturity otherwise that could be devastating 'cause there's a risk there. But the flip side of the risk is there are people, and you've mentioned them who have been able to open up about things. Your mom, something she was never able to talk about. And that's just... That's really a wonderful gift that you're giving to people. But you sense a call to it. I don't hear you saying, "Everybody out there should do this." There are certain people who are called to it who are emotionally able to do it, and for those who have that calling.

LA: Well, Paul had his haters too. He was a...

MR: Oh yeah. In Second Corinthian. This is what the other ironic. So yes, Leah, this letter is the one where he talks about the people who just pretty much had nothing good to say about Paul. So he is opening up in a context where he knows he's gonna get slammed in particular because his opponents were like the victorious Christian living people. And they were like the super apostles, and it was all great and wonderful, and they're just practically in heaven. And Paul is saying, "I despaired of life itself." So he knew that he was not just sharing this with his intimate best buds, but with people that were gonna really rail on him. But there was that calling to that kind of openness. And again, I go back to the word authenticity, that works for you guys. You're sharing your life with us in a way that invites us in, and that's kind of amazing.

LA: So talk to us Christian and Anastasia about the haters. Do they make you wanna stop or [laughter] do they make you wanna continue to be authentic?

CA: I think the only that's ever gotten us to stop, it's just the weekly commitment and before when I had no idea what I was doing with editing and editing would take forever, and we've realized we've gotten much more efficient and effective in our shooting. But the haters have not because if you go into social media looking for validation it’s gonna be a real rough road. And unfortunately, it's a real quick... It's a great way to get validation if you go for it. It could be a real quick hit, the dopamine is a rush. And so that's why I do feel for... I know we keep on talking down to the younger generations, like they're the poor little kids.

And they're like, "We're fine, thank you guys. You don't have to keep on worrying about us." But I just know that how I was... Where I was at in my 20s, seeking validation, seeking acceptance, and you put something up online and you get all these yes, yes, yes, and then one time you just get nothing or nos, it's gonna hurt. So I think for us, if we ever put a dud out there, and recently we put up a video where we thought would do really well, and it was real slow, and I think we've just gotten a place where like, "Well, alright. We just dropped an egg on that one, we'll see what we could do. Change some things up, change the picture, change the image, change the title, or maybe we just made a dud." But for the haters, we've gotten...

I don't think it's ever stopped us. It's given us some good laughs, they'll attack religious stuff, they'll attack faith stuff, they'll attack our looks [chuckle] they'll attack our weight, they'll attack... It'll come and you just know that there's a lot of pain behind it and probably, I don't know, just work in the church, just knowing, just the work of empathy knowing that hurt people, hurt people. And so there's just some... They've got some pain going on and Anastasia is really good about always responding with grace. And then sometimes she'll put a little bit of grit behind it. But it's still wrapped up in some grace. Do you wanna speak to that, honey?

AA: Well, you're very kind. [laughter] But yes, I try to respond in a very nice way. Other times, no, but I don't do... One thing I don't do is I'm not going to be cursing or also coming down to your level, if I might say. I usually would just respond and say, "Yeah, we already know. Thank you." Like someone was like, "Oh my gosh, she's so fat, she needs to lose some weight." I was like, "Yeah, I think I put on a little weight, but I'm liking it." Things like that. So you don't think you got to me. Nothing you're gonna tell me that I don't already know. So if I gain weight and you see it on YouTube, of course, I'm not gonna look the same as I looked three years ago. But that's okay, you could tell me about it, and that's on you. And I will just respond and be nice about it, or sometimes I don't. Now, I've also realized that as we started growing, other people would love to join YouTube family, but they are also afraid by looking at our comments section because they realize that if they put something out there, this is something that they're going to get.

So when I get that message from people, I usually would delete it, just so other people don't see it. And when people reach out to me, how should they start YouTube, I always say, "Do you know who you are? Have you come to a point where you understand who you are? So when people come for you, you don't get hurt." Because they will come for you. And then I had someone who said they had a really hard anxiety. I was like, "YouTube is not for you, because they're going to rise it up, you do not want that. Now, find who you are, understand who you are, and then you can join the group. But if not, they're just gonna come for you." So sometimes I make fun of it, where I would put something on Instagram and say, the comments that we got. And then other people... And I will tell people, "How would you respond to something like this?" And then people would give ideas how you can respond to it so other people can see how they could also respond. But yeah, I don't let it... It does not get to me at all. There's nothing... I feel like we've... How should I say it? We've been through enough growing up, that nothing you can tell me now can hurt me, you know what I mean? Like, No, we're good, we're good. We know who we are.

CA: And I think also too, with YouTube, which is our main audience is that it's not like Facebook where I think my emotions might get rolled into something faster because I know everyone pretty much personally on the Facebook community I'm a part of. And so if someone takes a shot at me, that's like getting a public square in front of all these people else that I know, it's like they walked into a public forum or just say, "Hey, that guy, Christian right there, he's a complete idiot and a total fraud," and I feel like I almost gotta defend myself. Now, someone on YouTube says that we're talking a lot of different people who I don't even know who you are. And so it's easier for me to be like, "Yeah, that's right. I don't know who I am, I'm a total idiot. And I'll just make fun of myself." So that does help with YouTube, because it's so vast, it's so huge, they'll say something you're not a real person of faith, and I'll be like, "Yeah, that's right, I went to Party City and bought this priest outfit and just kinda make a joke out of it."

So that's just fun, but if it was someone like a friend from high school on Facebook and I posted a picture of saying, "Celebrating my 5th anniversary in to priesthood" and someone say, "You're not a real priest," I would probably wanna call them directly and be like, "Yo, what's up?" 'Cause if not, I'd be maybe spinning in my head like, "Why would my friend Andy say that about me and in front of everyone and that's hurtful?" And I would want to contact that person and so that I would wanna work through that, and not just ignore it.

LA: Yeah. Now, you both have jobs that are outside of YouTube. Christian, you're saying you're a priest, do you ever have a worry about YouTube personality crossing into workspace or do you have a worry about your future eligibility in the job market because of this YouTube channel? What are the boundaries between YouTube and work?

CA: Yeah, I do have that concern much less now because we've defined ourselves more as a family channel. Yet, however, it can be a threat to any future employer of a church. So before I even started, the first thing I did was walk into my boss's office and just say, "Listen, this is what we're up to. This is what we're doing. What do you think?" And so it's a constant check, and now every time we make a video, I do think of the congregation, I do think of the people who are watching, and I do think of could anything here get misconstrued and so absolutely, we're authentic, but we're also smart with the boundaries, because as you know, any kind of leadership position you're in, you're having an influence upon others, and you have to be very smart. And even in the comments, so when you have haters, the way you respond to them, you wanna do it in a way that really models grace to others, even though you might wanna slap someone across the face, however you do that in a comment section, you have all these other folks watching you and you're now, I'm representing something beyond Christian Anderson.

I'm representing this church, I'm representing a faith, and if I have a bad day, it doesn't just hurt me, it can influence many others, and that's for any position really in leadership, but also particularly in church leadership. You're representing something way bigger than yourself and so bad days publicly are not good days for the church. So yeah, there is an awareness for it, I think we're in a groove now where I think we know better our boundaries, and I don't think we've had too many hiccups, and my wife is much more aware of it too, so she'll hold say, "No, you're gonna edit that. No, you're gonna cut, no." I'm like, "No, it's hilarious." She's like, "No, it's not," I'm like, "Yeah, that's funny. They'll think it's funny." She's like, "No, they won't." And so if I was by myself, maybe I'dhave been fired by now, but this my better half has kept me employed. And she has been aware that too for her work as in the health care, so she has to be aware of how things could come across, we might think it's communicated in one way, but you have to think of the three different ways it could be interpreted.

And she's aware of what people are watching in the office, we can visually see them when we're making, when we're shooting something like, "How's that woman in the third cubicle who we know watches this, how are they gonna interpret this and maybe go tell the boss or HR? Yeah, not worth it, cut."

AA: Well, also Christian likes to make jokes. So he's very sarcastic, and not everybody can get the joke, so I'm always on the other side, I get where you're coming from. But it might be interpreted this way. And you don't want people to see it that way. And so people will always say, we know what we're putting out there, we make sure that it's okay, I don't talk about my job at all and Christian because it's more of a public thing as a priest, but I do not share my job, I don't talk about my job, even if there's something really bad going on at the work space, I do not share because I feel like everybody, no matter where you work there's an issue going on, and if I don't know about yours, why should I share mine? So I try not to put my work on the forefront, and when people do ask me, "Where do you work?" I usually just say I'm public health or everybody know I went to nursing school, everybody knows that part about me, and that's okay, but I do not share work, I'm not comfortable with that space. I probably would never be comfortable with that space because I like to do work, deal with work as it is, and if I'm shooting is just fun thing for me to do, so I don't need to open up too much door about a job space and my bosses always watches, they watch our YouTube.

My co-workers all watching, no matter what job I've had, they always follow me there, so I try to kinda give that respect to them because it's just work. And this is something different. So he helped me, he helps me.

LA: There have been some stories in the news recently about people getting fired from posting on TikTok about their job or about problems that they've had in their job. And I feel really conflicted. So on one hand, I want people to have a platform where they can share their grievances, especially when there's racism or sexism or classism in the work place. I think social media platforms are a place where we can share about that, but at the same time, we don't wanna put ourselves in conflict with our employer, and I wonder if these are new issues that workers today deal with, that perhaps workers 10 or 20 years did not have to deal with.

Mark, give us your perspective. I know you post a lot of scenery on your Instagram. You post a lot of nature pictures.

CA: That'll get you in trouble.

MR: Well, I think the basic issue isn't new in the sense that even if you lived in a small village two centuries ago, there would be... You would have to think about what you would share about your work with others, at least if you're wise. Generally, you don't wanna get your boss upset with you because you went down to the local barber shop and told all the people the bad things about your boss. The difference now, of course, is that it's projected to the world, and so it's amplified so many times over. But what you all are talking about here is just, again, it's a lot about wisdom, and it's about personal... Your sense of personal calling to this. So it's so interesting to me, Anastasia, and I respect the decision you make, completely. But you've decided to be exceptionally vulnerable about your personal life and not about your professional life, and I think that's wise and great, and for the reasons you've said, and I don't even know 'cause I don't know the details of your work life.

What that models... So you're not just saying, "Oh man." We are an open book. Everything in our life is... We're gonna be out there, and if I'm upset with my neighbor, boy, I'm going on and I'm gonna tell my neighbor how terrible they are. You have made some very important choices in terms of what you're doing and why you're doing it in service to others. I can actually imagine other sort of a parallel world in which people decide, "Well, I'm gonna talk a lot about my work." But there are different kinds of implications there. So again, I just, I admire the thoughtfulness with which you're doing this, 'cause you're not just running headlong into social media saying, "Now we're just gonna show it all and whatever." You thought it through, and where you feel that really God wants you to be more open and where it's really fine to be not so open.

LA: Wisdom. Wisdom is the key word.

CA: There has to be good boundaries, I think with social media, especially when you're trying to get somewhere in the career world. And the issue is the mistakes we see is that people first go to social media and start... When they have an issue that's not resolved, like when when we opened up about the loss of Aria, I would say we were resolved, but we weren't so much... There was a scar that was beginning to form. We didn't go in with that, or if they say, "Never preach from a wound, preach from a scar." So that we can start to open up and we started to make sense of some peace. We can see the long road of peace, but if we would have opened up right away, it would have been an emotional mess, and it would have been really just self-involved because we were just at a place where we just needed to have therapy and talk with ourselves, just make sense of life and where's God in all of it? And so when we have...

When I've had employees, who do the same thing, who have gone on TikTok to deal with their emotions, dealing with workplace or somewhere else, it's a new language and acceptance now that doesn't work, and I don't think it's a collision of culture of generations, it's just that social media has become so common place for us to share and open up about things, but then when you get older and you're in the workplace, it's not acceptable because there are certain things we need to figure out in-house. So if you have an issue with me, come into my office, let's figure this out. I can't have you feeling like your therapist is TikTok because now that hurts us, and so, it is a new...

CA: It's a new landscape that, at least I'll speak for myself. We're just tourists and the natives are the Gen Z, I wouldn't even say millennials. They're old too. So now it's the other ones who there's an acceptance of... This is where I go to be vulnerable and open up. And then us old folks who are hiring people in the workplace. You're like, "No, no that's not where you go. That might feel safer to you, but really we need to have the more difficult conversation face to face and work this out first." And so there is... It's not rare. It comes up a lot and it's like an understanding of two different cultures of what's acceptable and what's not on social media. And they're gonna conflict. But in order for these multiple generations to be able to work together, I think we have to come up with healthy boundaries saying this is allowed, and this is not allowed. And let's work this out in house, whether that's as a family or as a community, as a workplace, as a church before we go public.

AA: [chuckle] But I also... If I can add something, but I also understand when people actually come out on social media, especially when you feel like you've done everything in house and it's not working. But I always say if I feel some type of racism towards me or anything that I feel like I'm dealing with, I want to deal with it where I am, meaning like, I need to go to the higher authority if I may do so. If it means getting out and just talking to members of the community, I would do that. But I just feel like sometimes being on social media and just bashing out, that means you actually ending era in your life. Meaning like other people that would love to hire you might not because they think you are being too much.

But it... I just feel like if I have to talk about my job and everything that goes on, I have to have a whole different social media. This is a family channel, is just about us, about the fun things we do. If I'm going through something at work, then I need to open a whole new chapter. But how much can I really give in terms of work? Is it gonna be just one video? So this has nothing to do with our job. It's more of a family thing. So I don't, I just don't like to share too much. And I speak up a lot. So if I'm at work and something happens, I do speak up. Maybe social media gives people platform where they're not able to speak up at work, but I'm able to let people know what is going on, what is happening. And even if people don't take me seriously, I know I need to go to the higher authority. I'm grown enough to do that.

LA: There was... So as I wrap up our conversation, I'm thinking the wisdom that I'm hearing from you is not so much about boundaries. Like, "This is where I've set the line. This is where I've drawn the fence." But cultivating the relationships in your life where you have the wisdom to have both relationships online and with many people and authentic relationships in person. That one doesn't replace the other and similar boundaries that you have with people in your life. Like, oh, you maybe you share some dirt with your friends, that you wouldn't share at work, for example. Those boundaries also translate into a relationship with many people online.

CA: Yes. And that the online community is not the source of your validation because they'll turn on a dime. They'll love you today. They'll hate you tomorrow. And so as for us, as people of faith, the one source of validation you gotta find is from God. And then everything else is just secondary. So then... But if that's not there and the online community... If you're a blogger, vlogger, social media creator, and you're realizing that is your number one source of validation, I would say it's dangerous. And that's real tricky. And I would say, make sure that your validation is in-house. I would say, as a person of faith through God first, through your family, through your tight friends who will ride and die with you. And then everything else, just take it or leave it. And you just do it because it's fun, it's engaging, it's exciting, you share stories. But you're not... They don't tell you who you are and validate who you are.

MR: That's great advice. But let me also add though, we need in the Christian community, pioneer missionaries, if you will. [chuckle] people who are gonna go into this new land and figure out how to share the gospel there. And in many ways what you're doing reminds me of what people do when they go to a different place to serve Christ. And you gotta know the place and you gotta figure out who you're gonna be in that place. But I appreciate the fact that you're... I really see you as you're kind of like out there and you're... And in time people will learn from you because we the broader body of Christ, we need to be in social media in a Christian way. For the sake of the gospel.

So, I think not only are you doing a good work, but those of us who wanna see the gospel out everywhere, are gonna learn from you and discover things that are gonna be really helpful. And that's really important.

LA: And I'm glad that you guys are doing it, 'cause you guys are fun. You are fun to watch, it's fun to feel like we're in a... We get to join your virtual family. And that's what I wanna see. And it shows that your validation is coming from God so that you can give that outwards to people.

Anastasia, Christian, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today. It's really, it's been a pleasure to talk to you.

AA: Thank you.

CA: Thanks for having us on it's been a lot of fun.

 

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Get Paid More! (How to Ask for a Raise) - Sarah Evers

If the thought of asking for a raise makes you nervous, you're not alone. According to a Glassdoor survey, less than half of women, and 60% of men, plan to ask for a raise in the next 12 months. The biggest reported reason is fear. You don't know what to say, or you're afraid of appearing greedy. Or the whole conversation just feels uncomfortable, and so you don't advocate for yourself, and you're not paid what you're worth. Today's guest is here to help. Sarah Evers is a consultant with over 25 years of experience helping leaders reach their goals. Her clients can be found in fashion, global finance and legacy brand firms. We’re talking to Sarah today about how to negotiate a raise, the specific challenges facing women when negotiating pay and how the Bible can help us think about it all.

 

Scripture References

  • Genesis 18:16-33

 

Additional Resources

 

Thanks for Listening!

If you like what you've heard, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts! We'd love to hear from you, and it helps other people find us. 

 

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Transcript

Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

If the thought of asking for a raise makes you nervous, you're not alone. According to a Glassdoor survey, less than half of women, and 60% of men, plan to ask for a raise in the next 12 months. The biggest reported reason is fear. You don't know what to say, or you're afraid of appearing greedy. Or the whole conversation just feels uncomfortable, and so you don't advocate for yourself, and you're not paid what you're worth. Today's guest is here to help. Sarah Evers is a consultant with over 25 years of experience helping leaders reach their goals. Her clients can be found in fashion, global finance and legacy brand firms. We’re talking to Sarah today about how to negotiate a raise, the specific challenges facing women when negotiating pay and how the Bible can help us think about it all. Sarah Evers, welcome to the Making It Work podcast.

Sarah Evers: Thank you, I'm glad to be here.

LA: We are happy to talk to you today. So let's start by grounding this maybe in your personal story. What makes you passionate about the issue of helping people get raises?

SE: Well, I think there are two things that stand out when I think about why I like to help people with this area. First is that I have worked with enough women and men to know that negotiating matters, right? We are talking about providing for today and tomorrow, and creating a generous life and legacy for the people who are in our lives and depend upon us. And all of that depends on your ability to have a frank conversation about a topic that many of us were taught was taboo. Money. So whether you have a family or you're single, you're a single parent, or you have dependent parents, aging parents or other family members depending on you, this matters. And secondly, I had a client talk about a friend who she had encouraged to apply for a job at her company. Her friend who was a woman, was told one very specific salary and that there was no room for negotiation.

She ended up declining the role. The company then very quickly hired a man with less experience and less education for that same role. He was much junior and ended up telling my client how much he was making and that amount was much more than what the company had told this other woman they were paying for this role. So hearing about the inequity and how that contributes to some of the other problems that we talked about, having a generous legacy, being able to provide for your family, being able to create generational wealth. I think that just made it really clear that we are dealing with lots of dynamics here, when you talk about gender, race, ethnicity, it matters.

LA: Even just hearing this brief introduction, Sarah, I feel all these emotions. I'm aware of how tricky and how sticky this issue is because it's so personal to each of us, whether we feel like we have a lot of power or we feel like we have a little power, even just hearing you say the words negotiation, I start to get a little uncomfortable in the pit of my stomach. [chuckle] And I knew we were having this conversation today. I have prepared for it, and just even hearing you bring up a real life scenario, I get kind of uncomfortable and nervous. I don't know if it's because I don't wanna walk into a negotiation, I don't wanna think about other people having the... I just wanna push it off and not deal with it for as long as possible. And Mark, tell me if... I don't know if this is a gender thing and it has to do with part of my aversion as a woman, or do you feel the same kind of pit of your stomach feeling when you think about going into a negotiation?

MR: Yes. And so...

LA: Phew! That makes me feel better. [chuckle]

MR: Well, and if, you know, from the reading I've done, and Sarah would be much better able to respond to this, it does seem that more women than men have that discomfort, but I am clearly one of those men that have that discomfort. And what's so interesting is, I mean, Leah, you know my boss, Michaela, she's on the opposite. She gets energized by that. And I love... I love to watch her, I would love to have her be my advocate now, she is the best. And so there a lot of factors. But I know for me, I was raised not to make anyone uncomfortable, including myself, but also any person I'm talking to. And so if I'm gonna have a conversation with somebody that's gonna make that person uncomfortable, then everything in my upbringing says, "Don't go there."

SE: Well, you're not alone.

LA: Yeah, tell us how common this is, Sarah.

SE: It's very common, right? Part of the way that Americans are raised is that we avoid certain topics of conversation, so people in other parts of the world are much more comfortable having direct conversations, but Americans, we tend to think that we're direct, but we're not about certain subjects, money being one of them. Leah, you're just talking about how uncomfortable you felt even with this topic of negotiation. And again, I'd say you're not alone, you're in really good company. A lot of people are uncomfortable because it's almost like you have to fight for what is due to you, or you have to prove your value, you have to prove your worth, you have to prove that you're worth the investment, and I think that there's some tension there. Tension and fear.

LA: Do you think, for those of us who were raised with a faith, does that make it easier or harder to advocate for yourself in a negotiation?

SE: Well, I think in some cases, it makes it much more difficult. I think of one client who thought, "I'll just work hard and my company will see my hard work and they'll reward me for what I do." And I don't think that always happens. I also think that we can put these layers of interpretation about what our faith looks like in the every day upon ourselves, and so then we don't advocate for ourselves. We don't speak up. We wait for others to notice what we've done, or it feels like hubris to demand or it feels like we're demanding what we're worth. And then it gets really hard, 'cause again, it feels like pride to say, "Look what I've done, look what I've earned, and I deserve this," and I think in some faith tradition, it's really hard to say what we deserve for the wages of sin is death, and what we've deserved for what we've done is separation, right? It's really hard to say, "I did good, I deserve good."

LA: Yeah, I think there's some sort of expectation that if I'm putting in my hard work every day, that will be rewarded in a way that's financial, [laughter] which I don't know if that thinking comes explicitly from the Bible or if it comes more from a pylon of our faith, tradition. Mark, have you thought about this before?

MR: Well, I have. And again, I think there are a variety of reasons, and some of it is just the way families raise us or the particular culture in which we find ourselves, and certainly issues of gender and race, figure in and partly... So Jesus was a small businessman for most of his adult life. He was a carpenter, we think of that, but that meant he was negotiating. People would come and they'd want a table and they're only gonna pay him four shekels, and he knows it's worth five shekels. Wouldn't you love just like a little addition to the gospel, just like Jesus negotiating a deal? Now, some traditions would say, "Well, he just would always go the second mile, which means he would take any bad... " No, he had to support his family. He had to keep this business afloat. But we don't get that. The only really that I can remember... The only real negotiation we get in scripture with Jesus is with the devil, but that's not quite the right context. [chuckle] So I just think we miss this and then a whole lot of other things come into play about what it is to be a nice Christian person, and we don't... We're not well prepared for this.

SE: I think some of that is importing this American version of Christianity on top of biblical Christianity. Right, Mark? You just used that word, nice, which Americans want to be nice.

MR: Well, and that's why... And Sarah, when I was learning about you prior to this conversation, I thought, "Oh man, we need people like you who are people of faith, but really get what it is to flourish in the world for good," 'cause you're not advocating greed or self-aggrandizement or whatever, you're advocating for fair compensation and for people being treated in the way that they ought to be treated. And, yes, don't we wish the systems would just do that? But recognizing they don't, then we need to play our part, and I love it that you're coaching people to do that thing.

SE: Yeah, we live in a broken world with broken systems, and we are broken people trying to navigate those systems, which means sometimes we're gonna get it wrong, but goodness, Lord willing, sometimes we're gonna get it right. And so learning how to speak up for yourself with courage and confidence makes all the difference in knowing when and how, it makes a huge difference.

MR: Well, we could pursue those questions a little bit, and you want to, Leah? You set us up, Sarah.

[laughter]

LA: I'm ready. So give us a little bit of coaching.

MR: Does your boss know you're having this conversation right now?

[laughter]

LA: I'm gonna have to pursue the negotiation with him before this podcast is edited and out the door so I can be in the advantage. So after... So let's say we've gotten to the point that we've agreed, "Okay, negotiation is good, I want to... As a worker, I deserve my wages, I wanna negotiate for myself and be paid what I'm worth in the marketplace." What is the next step for me?

SE: Alright, this is the work part of asking for a raise, and this is the part that happens before you even make that appointment with your boss or your supervisor. There is work that happens. There are four things you need to know before you ask for a raise. You need to know your contribution, you need to know your competitive advantage, you need to know your company's situation, and you need to know your worth.

LA: Okay, so three C's and a W. [chuckle]

SE: Right, I know I couldn't make it four C's, but three C's and a W; contribution, competitive advantage, company situation, and worth. When you start with your contribution, know your contribution, you need to review your company's key performance indicators or the OKRs or whatever it is your company uses to keep score, whatever language or system you guys use, you wanna look at how have you contributed at work this quarter and this year, and keep tabs of that or your request for a raise is gonna come out of the blue and shock your supervisor. So I had a client I was working with, and he was the boss. He was astounded when one of his direct reports came to him asking for a raise, because while that employee had been hitting their numbers and sales, they were consistently late to meetings, and sometimes they never even showed up to meetings.

So, my client had had several conversations with this employee about these issues, and so he thought the next step for his direct report was a performance improvement plan, not rewarding them with a raise, so this request for raise was completely out of alignment with the contribution that employee had made. You've really gotta make sure that your contribution is above the level of expectation that your company has set.

LA: And that's in all areas, so even if you're hitting your KPIs, you also have to be showing up for meeting on time and making sure that you are following what it is that your supervisor cares about.

SE: Yes, you've gotta be a good employee, [chuckle] that you're showing up, participating, leaning in, and that you're not phoning it in, even if you're remote.

LA: Okay.

[laughter]

MR: You know what, we're gonna have to change that metaphor, aren't we?

LA: We're zooming it in.

MR: Phone in my work.

SE: Right, like camera on, leaning in, attentive.

LA: That's gonna be our... Fifth C is for camera?

SE: Right.

LA: Don't phone it in, be on camera. Alright, so let's say I am aware that I've done my work. I've kept track of all the compliments that my clients have given me over the year, I've put them in my spreadsheet. This is something that someone told me to do when I was in a female leadership class in business school. They said every time you get a good recommendation from a client and get a really good email, drop it into a spreadsheet, so you have a running document of all these accolades that are coming from different areas in your work, so you can bring that out, 'cause you only get a performance review once a year and you're often only remembering what happened in the last two weeks, so anyway. I digressed.

SE: Absolutely.

LA: So let's say you have been contributing and you're hitting your numbers, I'm sure that's not the only thing that you have to think about when you're going into a negotiation 'cause you kinda have to see it from your supervisor's point of view.

SE: Right, so not only do you need to know your contribution with your quotes, hard C, quotes from your clients, from your fan base, you also need to know your competitive advantage, so you need to know what differentiates you from your colleagues and others who might be interested in your job, so if you haven't written your value proposition, this is the time to do it, you have to figure out how do you do your job differently than other people? What's the total package that you bring to your role? Now, I had a client who continually reminded her supervisor how she brought value and at times even more value to the organization than her peers, and she did this in a direct way, but not with hubris, there was a balance there, and her boss knew what she had to offer and he wanted to keep her.

And in the marketplace, we're looking at people are making transitions quickly. It is less expensive for an organization to reward high performer than to lose them, because then they have to recruit and train someone else, and the sad reality is that only 19% of new hires are considered high performers 18 months after they start with a new company, so it is in an organization's best interest to retain high performers. So you need to know your competitive advantage, what sets you apart, if your contribution is at that high level, how do you work differently and add value than your peers or other people who want your job.

LA: Can you just give me a concrete example of how you would state that? Let's say before going into a negotiation, but just on a regular week, I just don't wanna remind the people I work with of my value proposition, what it is, specifically that I contribute. How would you like, "Hey, remember guys, I'm really nice to you plus I do my work." How do you do that?

SE: Yeah, I think part of it is understanding how are you wired, how is it that you are naturally gifted to get work done. What are your strengths that you bring to the role? Are you a creative thinker? Are you an empathetic listener? Are you a team-oriented competitor? What is it that you do differently that adds value to the organization? I would say, you can use strengths assessments or the Enneagram or the Myers-Briggs, like any one of these assessments will give you some insight into how God wired you to be different and to represent Him and image Him in the marketplace, so you can pull words and phrases and sort of knit that together into your value proposition.

LA: Alright. So we've got two C's. Go ahead, Mark.

MR: I think it's fascinating, this is great. And would you ever encourage anyone to talk to a colleague at work about these things? 'Cause I just think that sometimes I can get a compliment from somebody with whom I work, and I'll think, "Huh?" I didn't really attend to that in myself. And I'm just wondering, and there's certain risks in that, but would you ever encourage somebody to talk to a couple of trusted colleagues to say, "How am I doing? What's good? Where do I need to improve?" Or is that... What do you think of that? Yeah, what...

SE: Yes, absolutely. [laughter]

MR: Okay. Good.

SE: Absolutely. That is a very good source of information, and there's a 360 process that we run called the Clarity 360. And what we encourage you to do is invite your current colleagues to give you feedback. And one of the questions that we ask is, "How does this person make a difference? What is it that gives them energy in their job and what they do?" Because you wanna hear how people interpret your work. How are they blessed or cursed by the way that you do your work? How does your attitude and your ability to complete tasks in a timely manner influence their ability to get work done? Because really in a work situation, it's actually sort of like an ecosystem and everyone ends up depending upon each other unless you're completely siloed. But even in those silos, there's interdependence, and so we wanna get that feedback, it's healthy to get that feedback, and if your organization doesn't already have some sort of 360 performance report system set up, we're happy to come in and help you get that kind of... Collect that feedback.

MR: That's helpful.

LA: You know what's so funny in our work culture is that collaboration is so important to getting the work done, working as a team is so important, but then each of us goes into the salary negotiation alone. And we also don't have a culture where we necessarily know what our co-workers are making for their salary, or maybe even if our co-worker might get a promotion, get a raise, and we're not even aware of it. There's a lot of secrecy around it. So we have this collaboration in our work, but then when we go into that one-on-one negotiation with our boss and the door's closed, there's the lack of the rest of team support or even maybe you feel like you're asking for a raise and you're taking it out of your team's coffers or something like that, especially with... If you're at a small company. So, Sarah, do you feel like that's particularly challenging maybe for your clients who are very collaborative, they have less of a ability to stand up for themselves in a one-on-one negotiation?

SE: That can be hard, especially when you do collaborate so tightly, that's where it becomes very important that you are clear with your boss about your specific role. What is your job description? What are your measurable outcomes? What are you being measured against when it comes for your annual review, and salary bonuses or raises? Because when you have that kind of clarity, which takes uncomfortable work [chuckle] to get to, but when you have that kind of clarity, you're then able to set yourself up for those negotiations later. And that's part of knowing your worth, right? If we jump over that third C and get to that W number four, it's knowing your worth, what is your value that you bring?

And you have to do your research. You need to know what people are being paid for similar work, and you can figure that out in your company by maybe having uncomfortable conversations with other colleagues. In some companies, salaries are very clear, they're upfront, they're stated. In other organizations, it's not. So you can also check job postings at other companies for similar roles. You wanna check other industries with a similar role in your geographic location, 'cause often times salaries are based on geography where you live, you can look online and...

LA: Look at Glassdoor, that's... We mentioned a Glassdoor survey in our introduction, but they have national averages posted for salaries.

SE: So you wanna know what's the salary range. And Leah, you said something that was really key here, and that's when there's so much secrecy and you're trying to get raise after raise after raise, it is really important when you land a new job, that you negotiate as much as you can for that first starting salary. 'Cause that salary is gonna determine if you've got a 7% raise or a 13% raise, it's gonna depend on that on that first initial salary. So even when you get a new job, we encourage all of our clients to negotiate a signing bonus or a raise.

MR: I'm curious, so you work with a lot of different people, and it does seem to me, and even in my own experience, there are bosses or supervisors or owners, managers who actually want to compensate their people better, who think about raises, and then there are many who don't think about it, and then I'm sure there are some that are very resistant. I'm just curious what... Do you have any thoughts about that? What is it that... Why do some bosses actually want to do this and others never think of it? And others are like, "No stinking way."

[laughter]

SE: 'Cause some people are greedy jerks and others are generous benefactors.

MR: Okay. Well...

[chuckle]

SE: Part of it, yes, that could be true. It also can be a part of your family of origin perspective on work. My dad worked for the same company his whole life, he was in the military. [chuckle] And then when he retired from the military, he had a whole another career, retired from that and had another career. But what I learned growing up from work is that you join one organization and you stay with them for life. And that military upbringing taught me, "Yes ma'am, yes sir. And I'm thankful for what I have." [chuckle] There's no negotiating in the military.

MR: Yeah.

SE: So negotiating with something, even negotiating conflict, I had a lot of that that I had to start learning in college, and there were things that I had to... I almost felt like I was in the remedial course where other people had certain skills because of their upbringing. So some of these perspectives, they're also driven by the market, what's happening in the market with that company or that industry, what are the drivers happening there? So, there's... It's a complex question that comes off simple.

MR: That's really interesting. And I'm sure you're right about the family of origin stuff. I connect to that too. I'm just thinking that we have... I'm sure many who are listening to this podcast are people in management positions who actually are gonna be on the other side of this conversation. And I just... And part of me wants to know how I could be better as a manager and supervisor in these things.

LA: Yeah.

MR: Many managers really do care for their people. And they're...

SE: Yes. Yes.

MR: Is there some learning on the management side do you think it could be helpful?

SE: Absolutely. I am an advocate for lifelong learning. I think when you stop learning, you start stagnating. So I would definitely say there's learning to happen here. And there's also pressure from management to keep costs low, so that profits are high for the stakeholders. So that becomes a bit of attention also. But we're seeing more transparency and more generosity in organizations across the board where organizations that did well during COVID are giving generous bonuses to their current employees and raises. So that sort of sharing mentality, like, "You as an employee worked hard. We have been profitable. And now we're gonna share that with you." We're hearing more and more stories about that. So I think there is a trend to honoring the people who work for you. And I do think it is an issue of honor. Honor, respect.

MR: That's a great way to put it. Just a quick story. And this is true. It blew me away. Talked with the woman a couple of weeks ago, whom I know through work. And she'd worked in the same company for like 20, 25 years, built her office from very small to very large and profitable. And she had been compensated well. But she made her company a ton of money. So anyway, so she hears that the CEO wants to meet with her, have a meeting. And she's very nervous. Because she's also a little older. And she's thinking, "Maybe they're gonna move me out." So anyway, she has this meeting with the CEO. And the CEO starts out with, "Thank you. You've done such great work." And she's really nervous. "And we've done really well this year. So we're giving some bonuses. And we wanna give you a bonus." And she's like, "Oh, phew." Now this is true. "So we're giving you a million dollars."

LA: What?

SE: Bonus?

MR: But this so illustrate... I mean, this is a mega illustration. Yeah. And she was on Zoom. She said she totally went off screen. Because she was falling and didn't... But now, that's not always gonna happen. But what you've said is, maybe not to that extent, but that kind of thinking may be growing in some organizations and leaders.

SE: Yeah. Boy I sure would love to be in that position of having to fall over and faint because of a million dollar bonus.

[laughter]

MR: Don't you think? And just a follow-up. After the call... She's very much a faithful Christian. And she says, "Okay, God, you gave me this money. I don't really need this money. So now this money is all yours." So she's gonna spend the next chunk of her life giving away generously, which is just...

SE: Yes.

MR: It's just an amazing story. But I was just impressed that you said, Sarah, that some of this is actually growing, which is encouraging.

SE: Yeah, I have one client who talked about how her company did so well that raises across the board were higher than ever before. And that bonuses were higher also. And I had another client talk about her firm had also been profitable. And so they were giving mid-year bonuses when they normally didn't do that. Because they had a surplus. Good gracious.

MR: Well, that's for blessing them.

LA: As I'm reflecting on this topic, I'm thinking a lot of the fear about negotiation has more to do with the culture than it does about the underpinnings of our faith. Because if we think of loving relationships in the Bible, there is some aspect of negotiation there, especially between people and God. And Mark earlier, you lamented that we don't have the example of Jesus as a carpenter negotiating with someone over the price of a table. But we do... Where we have examples of negotiation in the Bible, they're often examples of people negotiating with God. I think of Abraham negotiating with God. If we think of example of negotiation in the Bible, there's Abraham literally negotiates with God over the fate of Sodom. And he's using numbers. Like if I can... They're going back and forth and back and forth and back and forth over the number of people.

But that's not the only time Abraham negotiates with God. He's also holding God to this promise over and over again that God is gonna give him descendants. And he's saying, "God, the only... " This is before Isaac is born. "The only person in my household that I can pass on my fortunes to is not my own personal descendant." So he's holding God to these promises. And there's no part where... And it's like, "And God was kind of pissed off and loved Abraham less." There's no bit of that in the Bible. So I think even from this very early relationship model of God and Abraham, we have a model of negotiation being okay within that intimate relationship. And I, which is also a paradynamic, like Abraham needs God, you know, God obviously has more power than Abraham and he is the giver in this situation. And not that our bosses are the models for God necessarily in our workplaces, but there is a biblical model of being able to maintain integrity in a committed relationship and where negotiation is not a sign of disloyalty.

MR: Great example. I love that, Leah.

SE: Yes. And then that last phrase you said, I think bears repeating that negotiating is not a sign of disloyalty. I think that's, again, one of those fears, the reasons some people don't negotiate is their fear that they're gonna come off greedy, but disloyal that they're only in it for the money. But that's...

LA: And I think the sad thing about that is what more often happens is someone will refuse... Not refuse to negotiate, but someone will keep themselves for negotiating to a salary level if they believe they're worth, but then they'll just leave their job, for another job at some point. And then their existing relationships with their co-workers and their boss will say, "Hey, what gives, if we only knew that you wanted to be paid more, we could have made something work and kept you on instead of having you go to another company." I don't know if that's, I don't have statistics to back me up, but it seems like that could be the inevitable conclusion from relationship that you could set up in your work, where you don't negotiate for yourself and you keep feeling more and more disgruntled as time goes on.

SE: Oh yeah. You gotta watch that bitterness that sets in when you don't feel like you're being honored or compensated fairly appropriately for the contribution that you're making.

MR: Yeah. Sarah, I'm curious, I mean, let assume this is such important work. How did you get into this piece of it? I know you do a variety of things, but how did you get into this particular focus?

SE: Well, I started working with, I've often worked with people in career transition over the last several years. But it's become a lot more focused since the pandemic with helping people land jobs. So a lot of people were laid off during the pandemic, people weren't sure what was gonna happen. So there, I found myself working with a lot of people who needed new jobs, needed new jobs quickly. And so I started working with, I call the career navigators who were trying to make the step from one industry to another, in the same kind of role. So that's where I think a lot of this really got intense for me with taking things to the next level. So I saw the needs that women and men had for having courageous conversations about uncomfortable topics, like money and salary.

And I saw the difference, the disparity between women and men and their willingness to lean into those conversations. Where it seemed like it was easier or more common for men to bring up these topics or to negotiate even a signing salary than women. It just seemed to me like we needed to help women, help all people, but especially help women find the courage to have those hard conversations. Again, that starting salary matters. And if a woman doesn't negotiate her starting salary, but a man at the same company at the same role does, he starts higher. And then every year, every two years, every three years, when they hand out the percentage raises he, in five, 10 years is gonna be making exponentially more money than she is.

LA: How do you coach women differently? If you're talking to me, what [chuckle] I'm a woman, what advice would you give me that would be particularly effective to helping me negotiate for a salary that I'm worth?

SE: Practice. Practice makes progress. Before women go into negotiating, I want them to write out their script. And I want them to practice it in front of a mirror. I want them to look at themselves in the eyes. I want them to watch their body posture. Are they slouched? Are they, "Oh, please, please, sir may I have some more?" [chuckle] Is it apologetic? I want them to look at their language. Is it the language of apology or is it the language of accomplishment? I want them to be clear about what they're saying. Succinct, short, brief, upfront, honest. Sometimes we women can get ourselves into a loop of repetition or excuses of why we're, "Oh, if it's not a good time... " But I don't see that tendency happening in as many of my men clients. So a lot of it comes down to practice and confidence. And if you're not confident, it's the old adage "fake it till you make it". Nobody in the room has to know how nervous you are.

MR: Isn't it interesting that many of us and I would include myself in this, might not practice for such an important moment as that, whereas if we were gonna give a speech somewhere or do a... We would practice. For that moment we wouldn't. So what you're saying just seems to hit the center of the target.

LA: And maybe we don't wanna practice... I won't say we, I'll say me, maybe I don't wanna practice for a negotiation because I feel this discomfort, but then I continue to feel the discomfort because I haven't practiced.

SE: Alright, so that's why I think it's so key that you know your contribution, you know your competitive advantage, you know your company's situation. "Is this a good time to ask for a raise? Is there a hiring freeze? Is there a hiring surge? Are other people getting raises?" When you know what's happening in your company's fiscal situation, it allows you to ask with a little bit more courage and confidence. So I think you need to know that and you need to know your worth and when you have done the work to prepare an update on your contribution and your competitive advantage, how you stand out from other people, when you know what's happening financially with your firm and you know what the salary is in your industry and you know what the appropriate range is, then you can ask for a raise, a percentage or a bonus with confidence knowing that it's reasonable. It's not just okay, but it's reasonable and it's an acceptable thing to ask and it's a regular business habit. It's one of those cyclical habits that needs to be in your calendar to remember to start getting ready to negotiate your raise.

LA: How often should it be in your calendar? [laughter] Just so I start to get ready to negotiate for a raise.

SE: Well, not quarterly.

LA: Okay.

SE: Not a quarterly request, but a lot of people will keep a spreadsheet open... Leah, you mentioned this earlier from your course that you took, they encourage you to put client feedback in a spreadsheet. Yes, a lot of people will keep track of their metrics in a spreadsheet, and that's partly where you're starting to build your case is look at that spreadsheet and think about what other things need to go in there. Big wins for the organization, ways that you've represented the team, wins internally, wins externally, that spreadsheet becomes the basis of your argument of your position and gives you some of that leverage. Helps you win the negotiation, if you're competitive, you might say win the negotiation or have a win-win conversation, if you're more collaborative.

LA: Let's say someone takes all of your feedback, really takes this to heart, what is your overall hope for these type of conversations? Do you see, envision, for your clients, a hope that's beyond just living through this conversation and getting a raise? But do you really hope for a situation where everyone is flourishing as a result of having more open conversations about compensation?

SE: What I long to see is women and men, I wanna see women and men step through that doorway or into the Zoom room with confidence, with shoulders back and awareness of what God has poured into them and they're pouring out into their organization. I want them to walk in there, not with apology, but with confidence, and I want them to ask with courage. I want them to then be able to live a generous lifestyle, a lifestyle of stewardship, stewarding what has been entrusted to them, and thereby blessing the communities around them. And communities they might never be able to touch because they'd never go there. I think generosity can beget generosity, and when we feel like people have dealt with us uprightly with honor and even with generosity, it enables us to release resources into the kingdom and resources into the communities around us.

LA: That's beautiful, I'll take it.

MR: It is. Yeah. No, that is beautiful.

LA: Sarah Evers, it has been such a pleasure talking with you today. Thank you so much.

MR: Yes, thank you.

SE: Thank you. Thank you for having me, been a pleasure.

 

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Following God’s Lead Through a Career Change - Eli Jones

Whether you can't stand your job or just want to try something new, contemplating a career change can be intimidating. Dr. Eli Jones is a professor of Marketing, former Dean of Mays Business School, and Peggy May's eminent scholar in business at Texas A&M University. In his recent book, Run Toward your Goliaths, Dr. Jones shares about how faith helped him overcome his personal and professional giants to follow God's guidance in his work and career path. This included a career change as he switched from being a successful businessman to becoming a professor.

 

Scripture References

  • 1 Samuel 17

 

Additional Resources Referenced

 

Thanks for Listening!

If you like what you've heard, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts! We'd love to hear from you, and it helps other people find us. 

 

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Transcript

Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

Whether you can't stand your job or just want to try something new, contemplating a career change can be intimidating. Dr. Eli Jones is a professor of Marketing, former Dean of Mays Business School, and Peggy May's eminent scholar in business at Texas A&M University. In his recent book, Run Toward your Goliaths, Dr. Jones shares about how faith helped him overcome his personal and professional giants to follow God's guidance in his work and career path. This included a career change as he switched from being a successful businessman to becoming a professor. Dr. Eli Jones, thank you so much for joining us in The Making It Work Podcast.

Eli Jones: Oh Leah, thank you. Thank you for inviting me. This is special, I really appreciate it. I love sharing the testimony, I absolutely do.

LA: Well, I'm excited about sharing your book with our listeners, and before getting too much into it, let's just start with the title. The title of your book is called Run Towards Your Goliath: Fighting with faith to overcome the giants that stop your personal and professional success. Can you just start with, what do you mean by Goliath? And what do you mean by Goliaths in the modern day?

EJ: Such an excellent question. Thank you for that. So I went back and I started thinking about David and Goliath, obviously, and I thought about, what was it like to be a teenager taking on a Goliath, a giant, especially when you saw King Saul cowering down and the Army cowering down. But you saw that David had just the confidence, that boldness to run toward this thing that everyone was afraid of, and so I really thought about it from that perspective. And of course, as you know, you read the scripture, it says that he ran toward the battlefield, and I thought that was really, really special to think about it that way. When I think about the different Goliaths that we face in a lifetime, my wife and I will soon celebrate 39years of marriage. But we struggled out...

LA: Congratulations on that, by the way, not many people can say that.

EJ: Thank you. We have faced some Goliaths in our time, period, there's no question about it. We were in poverty for a long time, and I decided to put myself through school with children, and it was tough, graduate school twice. But that's one Giant, poverty is one. There are others, there is disappointment, there is fear. Fear is a big one. In today's world, anxiety is a big giant for so many people. If you look at mental health these days and wellness, you'll find that anxiety is so prevalent in our society today, and especially coming off of COVID. When you think about COVID, I started my podcast, Victory Groove, I started thinking, what is a modern day Goliath for us? And I think maybe COVID was one, you think about it: Big, scary, look at what it did worldwide. We were hunkered down in our homes, we were afraid to get out of our homes, afraid to go to work, afraid to go anywhere for that matter. I talked to so many people with elderly parents, and my heart broke for them as they were passing by assisted living facilities and just waving at their elderly parents, couldn't even see their families.

And that to me, is kind of a Goliath, kind of a modern day Goliath. It was just fearful. And I think today, because of the anxiety, obviously, COVID actually enhanced this issue of anxiety. I think today we have to really think through how can we build up the courage, how do we have the faith to continue on? And so that is to me kind of the modern day Goliath, and I think many of us are still trying to overcome that. So what I'm doing and what God is leading me to do is to encourage folks, think about all of the different giants that we faced over a lifetime, and how God has brought us through those things, and God can take us through this one too. So it's meant to inspire and to encourage.

LA: I love that. I wanna dive into the story of David and Goliath a little bit more and I wanna bring you into the conversation, Mark. When we think about the story of David and Goliath, this is one of the biggest hits of the Old Testament, it makes it into every children's book. We see illustrated cartoon versions of it, but give us some context around the story, Mark. Is there anything that we as adult workers should see in the David and Goliath story that maybe we haven't thought about or that's maybe surprising?

MR: Well, I love the connections that you're making, Eli. I love the connections you're making and I think that it really helps people get into that story. But Leah, you mentioned work, this is also a work story. This is a story about some folks that had work to be done, it was military work, and they were feeling overwhelmed by the challenge of it for pretty good reason, if you're one of the soldiers of Israel. There's this big giant guy with... That's a pretty scary thing. And in a way, David wasn't in the army, but it was the work he had done that prepared him for this particular challenge which, if you will, was a shift of work, it was a different line of work. And I think some of that context, we could easily miss, because we're just so struck by the extraordinary faith of David, when everybody else pretty much was chickening out, and it's pretty easy to do that. So I don't know that that really answered your question much, Leah, but I think... When we read these Bible stories, they can feel far away. And in one sense, they are far away. In another sense, this is about people in a workplace situation who are facing a gigantic challenge and need some serious help, they bring in a consultant.

EJ: That's right, [chuckle] that's right. So may I build off of that for one second? This is...

MR: Please, please.

LA: Absolutely. Please do.

EJ: I really love the way that God is taking this conversation. So as you were talking, I was given this, and that is, think about transferable skills that we talk about in the workplace. Think about that. In my place of business, at a university, I'm constantly working with people who are developing, they're learning, they're developing, they're launching their careers, I'm surrounded by this. And many times, I'll talk to a student, graduate student, undergraduate student, doesn't matter, and they're trying to figure out "How do I make a change? How do I take what I've learned in school and apply it to this new environment?" Think about David for a second, because remember, he said, "I have taken on lions and bears as I'm herding the sheep."

LA: He was a shepherd. He wasn't even a soldier by profession.

EJ: He was a shepherd. Yeah, but transferable skills. So he said, "Wait a minute, I've done this over here, taking care of the sheep, I can do this here, and I'm gonna... Watch. I'm gonna use my sling and my five smooth stones because that's what I've been doing over here as a shepherd. Alright? I've taken that on." And so I look at it from a work perspective how he was able to take that and say, "Wait a minute, I have the confidence to take this on. This is new, this is new. I'm not herding sheep, but I have the confidence based on what I've done in the past." So it was the God factor for sure, but it was also in my mind at least, the confidence of taking what was learned and applying it in a new environment.

LA: And I wanna let our listeners know you can follow along in your Bible, this is 1 Samuel Chapter 17. The story of David and Goliath takes up this whole chapter. And just what we've been speaking of is maybe something that you don't remember from the kids Bible version of the story, but it's not just that David was a kid coming into this situation, he wasn't even supposed to be there at all. He wasn't... It was his brothers that were soldiers, and his dad was like, "Can you go check on your brothers for me at the front lines?" And then when he got there, they're like, "Who's watching the sheep? You don't belong here at all." And just as you said, Eli, David is the one who says, "Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. No one's standing up to this giant? No one's coming against this Goliath guy? I know that I've slain lions and bears while I was taking care of my father's sheep. I can definitely take on this Goliath guy." And as you said, he runs towards the front line, and not with a sword, which is the technology that other people would have expected.

LA: David takes a slingshot, which is technology that he had from his previous role as a shepherd, and that's how he prevails in the situation. So you're right, there's so much about not only transferable skills, how can you survive in a new context, but actually how can the skills from one context be the specific things that are needed in a different context.

EJ: Right. That's right. Yep.

MR: Well...

LA: Go ahead.

MR: I may be jumping ahead of you, Leah, but Eli, I know from having read your bio and your book and stuff, you made a pretty major career shift a bit back and I expect you lived through some of the things you're talking about and writing about. Can you talk to us a little bit about that?

EJ: Sure, yeah. So first of all, thank you for reading my book. It was a labor of love, I can tell you, and it's been amazing to get feedback from those who've read it, just incredible. I prayed over the book and I said, "Lord, I want you to give a very special message to each person who reads the book." All right. And I've gotten some folks who have reached back out to say, "Hey, this is what I got from it." And sometimes, it's a little different. But in terms of a career change, I was working in corporate, I was in sales and sales management for three Fortune 500 companies, and I was going about my way, teaching sales people how to sell, mainly. I had some teams that I had to turn around, so low performing teams that I had to turn around. And so I had to go in and really engage with the sales people, go out to see the customers, spot opportunities, and I was doing that kind of work and was relatively successful doing it. But it occurred to me one day that... As I kind of followed the Lord and really paying attention to the gifts that he's given me.

And it was one thing that really stood out, and it was something that helped me use a transferable skill, as it turns out. I discovered that what I really loved the most out of doing that work, was the teaching. I just enjoyed the teaching. And so in that world, I was out working with operations and we were delivering to grocery stores, and it was a big deal, a really big deal. And so I had to really, as a sales manager, and then ultimately a second line sales manager, I had to be involved in a lot of different things, the operational side of the house, if you will, filling warehouses and making sure that stores were stocked and those things. And I remember walking with my wife one day, and I said, "You know what? I'm being tugged in a different direction." It's something I had not anticipated. What I felt was I got more energy when I was in a teaching mode than when I was trying to solve why that truck didn't get to that warehouse. [chuckle] And so I wanted to go with that energy. And I remember distinctly saying to my wife on this particular walk, we were living in South Carolina at the time. I said, "I'm being tugged to go back to school. I'm being tugged to leave that paycheck, that corporate paycheck, that executive pay, and go back to graduate school for another four years." We had four children at the time.

LA: I'm sure she loved this conversation. [laughter]

EJ: That's another podcast. [laughter] In fact, I know you've read the book, you could see in there, several times, my wife went, "I don't know about that." But she always said yes to God, and she still does, and that's what I love about her. So at first, this didn't make a lot of sense at all to go back and be a graduate student. I won't tell you how much I was making before and how much I was making at a graduate student level, but it was dramatic. In fact, we had three mortgages at that time, that's something that I shared with a group of doctoral students just a couple of days ago. So it was really a giant for us. How are we going to maintain our lifestyle, obviously the lifestyle had to change. How are we gonna sustain ourselves through a four-year graduate program? How are we gonna pay our bills? Those kinds of things. And it was an act of faith, there's no question about it. We had to step out on faith and God provided. And in the book, you can see multiple ways. And I grew up, I'm a first gen college graduate, by the way, first gen.

And so that in itself is taking on a challenge. I joined a major university, I had no one in my family to talk to about, "Hey, I've got a calculus exam, can you look at... [chuckle] Can you help me with this?" No, I didn't have that. And in fact, my family hardly understood what I was doing in the PhD program, but they went along with it, and they went along with it, and they tell me today, they went along with it because they saw that I was operating in my calling, and my wife wanted to support that. And she says repeatedly, "You know what? I might say yes to God... I may say no to you, but I'll say yes to God." And so she was willing to make several career changes with me. I'm actually in my third career now and I've been in this one for 25 years, so I think I'm gonna stay here. I think I've made it. [laughter]

MR: Well, as you said earlier, your marriage made it too. You're coming up on 39 years. [chuckle]

EJ: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Yeah.

MR: Well, it's your talk. I just need to say... This podcast isn't about me, but actually my wife and I had a really similar experience. Now, it's 15 years ago, that actually involved moving to Texas. The H. E Butt Foundation.

EJ: Oh sure, HEB, sure.

MR: Or the Laity Lodge, related to the grocery company. The foundation wanted me to come work for them in Texas, and we were well-situated in California, and I was pastor of a great church there, and it was one of those time... It really felt like this is a Goliath. And so I'm having a lot of empathy, but also appreciative of a spouse who says, "We're gonna really listen for the Lord." And we ended up having a great season in Texas. I know about a million Aggies. [laughter]

EJ: We're everywhere. I can tell you that.

MR: Oh my goodness, you are. [chuckle] So anyway...

LA: So I'll ask this question to both of you, Eli and Mark. It's one thing to make that decision, "Okay, I'm gonna follow God's prompting and go into this big change." But it's another thing to live in that day after day after day. What sustained you in your faith as you... After you made the decision, "Okay, I'm moving to Texas." or "Okay, I'm going to grad school again." What sustained you in the long haul part of facing that Goliath?

EJ: Yeah, that's a really great question. Mark, you're welcome to start and I would chime in afterwards.

MR: Well, you've already said it Eli, but I cannot tell you how many times I had to think to myself, "Okay, God has been faithful in the past, so I can trust him now even though I'm scared." One of the things we went through when we moved, I had two young, relatively young teenagers, and we took them away from their friends, and that was a pretty traumatic thing for them. And it was scary to think we have really turned our kids lives upside down, and so... But again and again, I and my wife would go back to, "God has been faithful" and remembering that and remembering those. And you had already mentioned that, but I just say that's been one of the huge pieces that keeps you going. Even in a time of uncertainty or as you said earlier, anxiety. Yeah.

EJ: Yeah. That's right.

LA: And this is exactly what David does in the story, right before facing his Goliath, this is in 1 Samuel 17, and it's in Verse 37. He's explaining to King Saul why he has the audacity to go against this giant. David says, the Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.

EJ: Amen.

LA: So he's saying, God did it in the past, I'm trusting Him to do it again. He did the same thing you did Mark, he remembered what God did before, and he's using it for faith for the future.

EJ: That's right. And in my book, I talk about that, I kinda think about... I've mentioned this crawl, walk, run kind of mindset.

LA: That was gonna be my next question. You jumped at it. So this is the next question. Crawl, walk, run. What is it? What does that mean?

EJ: It's exactly what we're talking about. So you're getting started as a young Christian and you're saying, "Okay, I wanna believe." And by the way, I don't mind telling people as part of my testimony, I am a skeptic. I want you to know that. I tell a lot of people that. And I remember talking to God very early on when I was in my crawling stage, and I said, "Lord, I'm one of your children. So you already know I'm a skeptic, I'm sorry. I am what I am. I want to believe you. I really wanna believe in you, but you gotta show me." [chuckle] I did, you gotta show me.

And what was interesting is, once I kind of tuned in, we talk about discernment a lot in our faith, and once I kind of tuned in and I was willing to say, Okay, I'm gonna be a little vulnerable here, I'm gonna let my guards down a little bit and I'm going to pay attention to God working because I just challenged him, alright. I told him, I'm one of your children, I'm a skeptic, you're gonna have to show me. And if He is who He is, he's gonna do that. And so I had to pay attention to the little things. In my crawling stage, I was paying attention to the little things and I would look at say, there was no way I did that. I had to come to that realization. There's no way I did that. That was so beyond me. That had to be Him. And it started out with the little things.

LA: Can you give us an example?

EJ: Oh yeah, I can. I remember when I finished my MBA and I joined Quaker Oats. And I remember there were others in my MBA program who went on to Wall Street and they were doing high finance stuff and doing those kinds of things. And instead, I joined a consumer package goods company, and I was really interested in sales, so I wanted to develop there, and the first assignment I got was I had to go to these grocery stores in the middle of the night, 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning. And if you go to these stores at that time of the morning, you'll start seeing some of this. So there are vendors out in those grocery stores resetting shelves in the middle of the night, moving products from one aisle to the next aisle. And in my case, I was working for Quaker Oats so we had cornmeal, flour, we had ready to eat cereal, all these... And we even had dog food at the time, we bought Ken-L Ration. But anyway, so I was in one early morning, I was on my knees and I was slinging cornmeal and flour, and I was upset.

I was really upset and I was so disappointed, I was ready to quit. And I went to my boss and I said, "You know what, I didn't go to graduate school for this. I just didn't, I didn't pay that sacrifice," it was all about me. "I didn't do all of that work in the graduate school to come here and be on my knees, slinging flour and cornmeal and dog food. That's it. I'm done, I'm done." And God used that boss, who's still a dear friend, to tell me, "Hey, you know what, you gotta think bigger, because you're not going to be doing this kind of work your entire career. This is just a start. Don't quit."

Later on, many years later, I have a friend who is a CEO of a major organization, and I invited him to speak to our students because they're in their crawling phase just like I was. And one of the things that sticks out... My friend's name is Jeff. Alright, I'll keep it there. And so... But anyways, so Jeff came and spoke to our students, and here's what he said, "Don't quit five minutes before your miracle." And so often when we're in our crawling stage in particular, we don't have enough evidence that God is real, and so we're kind of taking these baby steps, we're kind of crawling a little bit, and so I decided that I was gonna hold on to that and hold on to what my boss said, and hold on to this fact that we shouldn't quit five minutes before our miracle, we should know there's a miracle right around the corner, we just don't see it now.

Alright, and when you're crawling that's a big deal. That's a really big deal. And so I took a faith step, and when I took that faith step, I could feel God working, so I was ready to take a bigger step. It's exactly what we were just talking about. And then I moved from crawling to walking a little bit. Wait a minute, I can take another step of faith here because I believe he's gonna meet me at my need, I'll keep taking these baby steps, and now I'm gonna watch his miracles work. Wait a minute. And there's no way I could have done that, that must be him. And as I started really absorbing what he was doing in my life, I started running. And it's like, Okay, I got it, I got my groove, I'm ready to go. I can run toward these Goliaths now, I don't have to be afraid. Alright, I just need to believe. I need to be hopeful, and I need to be faithful. And now, and by the way, we had a major giant hit at our household in 2019. I lost my oldest daughter.

LA: Oh gosh.

EJ: And she's got three kids. We have three grandchildren from her.

LA: Oh I'm so sorry to hear that.

EJ: Oh man, but you know what? I've talked to so many people about this. Now, death is death, death is hard for a lot of people, but if you look into it, there are two types that are at the top of the list in terms of being the hardest. Death of a spouse and death of a child. Now, you wanna hear about running, here we go. I went from crawling, walking and now we're running because I'm able to say, My daughter is in a better place. I believe it with all my heart and her children, our grandchildren. They're gonna be okay too. And my wife and I are here for them, but we took on these other Goliaths before while we were crawling, while we were walking, and now we're running toward them, and we believe she's in a better spot, and we believe her three children are gonna be very successful, they're gonna be just right. I can say that with all the confidence now, because I'm running toward these Goliaths.

MR: Man, that's... Well, thank you for sharing that. It got to have been hard. I think part of what I love what you're saying, you got the running down, but for those who say, There's just no way I can run, you're also given permission to crawl. Yes, just start crawling, start... And I love your saying to the Lord, I'm skeptical. Sometimes we're afraid to say that to the Lord. Or whatever our thing is. I'm fearful. But I think you're given a lot of encouragement to focus, they're getting going, and then what you describe in your own life and since you get to know God's faithfulness more and more that momentum builds up.

EJ: Yes.

MR: To help you even with something that is about as huge as anything could be. Which could be the death of a child.

EJ: Absolutely. And so you think about the David story, we were just talking about?

MR: Yeah.

EJ: Because he had taken on the lions and the bears, he was able to take this one on. Alright, so that was a fast-forwarded. He could crawl, walk, run. [chuckle] Alright, and in our case, over a period of time, we've seen these various challenges and God showed us just how real he is, to the point in which we can take on this Goliath, and do it in a confident way. Knowing that she's in a better place. I have told so many people, and I mean this, Oh my god, I mean this, I don't know how people who don't believe make it through death of a spouse, death of a child. I have no idea how they're able to cope with that without the faith that we have.

MR: Yeah.

LA: Compared to this level of Goliath, the average every day thinking about a career change seems very slight, but for those who are in it, it doesn't, every transition and every giant that you're facing seems of equal insurmountably. So as a last question, what advice would you give someone who's facing a giant in their career or their life and they're scared?

EJ: Yeah, that's a great question. I think about the youth that I'm surrounded by, like many of us, I have my share of mentees. So I'm talking to them all the time, they're at various stages, some are crawling, some are walking, some are running. And I'm really proud of them. I always say, give faith a try. Let's start there. Give faith a try. I'm gonna answer the question, I've gotta give you this story because it is a story about... I have a ministry that we founded three years ago, and it was a perfect timing. And it was months before my daughter passed, and the idea was I'm gonna bring together some men and we're gonna meet virtually. This is before we even knew about Zoom. We're gonna meet virtually and we're gonna shore up each other. Iron sharpens iron, so we're gonna work. We're gonna listen to their challenges in that. And our group ranges from 18 to 82, so we've got a wide range of people in this ministry, Five-fold Leaders Ministry's the name of it. And so when we talk about this, we went on... It was a wonderful series. We started with this idea of walking on water, and we talked about the story of Peter. The Lord is calling them out, and he's walking on water, but he couldn't peep down, he shouldn't, he needed to keep his eyes focused on Jesus.

Because that's scary when you walk... I don't know, I've never walked on water. [chuckle] But I can imagine that would be pretty scary, you look down and you can sink. And we started this conversation. So when we talked to the youth about giving faith a try, it's like You know what, Peter did it, he was able to walk on water and then we backed up. Wait a minute, watch this. We backed up and said, What about getting out of the boat? Getting out of your comfort zone a little bit. Could you imagine Peter looking over that edge of that boat, and he's getting ready to step out onto the water? We use that as an example of getting out of your comfort zone. Alright, and many times when you're crawling, when you're walking, you gotta be able to get out of your comfort zone and take that step of faith, give faith a try. Now, I am a skeptic and I'm telling everyone today that I am, but I know He's real. Give faith a try.

LA: Give it a try. Take a crawl. Start just try and crawl a little bit. Crawl along before you walk, before you run. Well, Dr. Eli Jones, it's been a real pleasure. Thank you so much for sharing with us today.

EJ: Thank you.

MR: Yes, indeed. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, but also your story and yourself, that's really meant a lot to us, and I know it'll mean a lot to our listeners.

EJ: Praise God. Thank you.

LA: Thank you.

EJ: Thank you for the opportunity.

 

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When God Calls You to the Unexpected - Jessica Tanoesoedibjo

Have you ever felt God calling you to something unexpected and outside your comfort zone? Or perhaps you found yourself in a position at work, where you've wondered if you were the right person for the job. Guest Jessica Tanoesoedibjo has been called into many unexpected roles at work. Although she dreamt of going to seminary and working in church ministry, God called her to business school instead. She now works for the MNC group in financial services, philanthropy and education sectors where she continues to follow God through unexpected challenges, like leading her team through the pandemic. She's here to talk about her experience of responding to God when He calls us out of our comfort zone.

 

Scripture References

  • Genesis 1

 

Additional Resources Referenced

 

Thanks for Listening!

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Transcript

Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

LA: Have you ever felt God calling you to something unexpected and outside your comfort zone? Or perhaps you found yourself in a position at work, where you've wondered if you were the right person for the job. Today's guest, Jessica Tanoesoedibjo, has been called into many unexpected roles at work. Although she dreamt of going to seminary and working in church ministry, God called her to business school instead. She now works for the MNC group in financial services, philanthropy and education sectors where she continues to follow God through unexpected challenges, like leading her team through the pandemic. She's here to talk about her experience of responding to God when He calls us out of our comfort zone. Jessica Tanoesoedibjo, welcome to the Making it Work Podcast.

Jessica Tanoesoedibjo: Hi, Leah, good to be here with you.

LA: It's so good to have you. I wonder if you could just talk about a time in your life where you felt like God was calling you to something that was outside of your comfort zone.

JT: Yeah, sure. I think I grew up in a family where we were always directed towards the business world, and there was a time in my life, particularly when I was in undergrad, that I started thinking about where it was that God was calling me to. I think I started having an existential crisis thinking about what is the meaning of life and so forth. I grew up in a Christian home, and particularly in that season, I started serving at church and actually finding joy in serving, especially in youth ministry. And the desire to go to seminary started surfacing, it started with just a desire to know more about God's Word and to be equipped for the work. And I think I kept it in my heart for around three years because as the middle child at home, I tend to be more of the timid kind, and I didn't dare to bring it before my parents who were always kind of teaching us and leading us towards like the business world.

Long story short, by God's grace, I was finally able to go to seminary with my parents' blessings, and just about when I was about to graduate from seminary and coming back home thinking that, "Okay, this is it, I'm gonna serve full-time in the church." I think that year, particularly 2017, leading up to 2018, I started wrestling with the thought of where God was leading me, particularly with everything that He's entrusted to my family's care, and now that it's literally ahead of me. And in seminary funnily, I started talking with some professors about the theology of work, and I think it really challenged me to think about how... I think all of these years. I thought about ministry as simply being confined within the four walls of the church. When serving God is so much more than that. As Christians, we affirm that God is the creator of the universe, and He owns everything. But why is it that we put him in a box and we tend to just simply think that, "Okay, God rules within the church," that's it.

LA: The church in a box.

JT: The church in a box, that's right. But if really we believe that He is sovereign over all things, right, wherever He leads us, we are called to missions, we are called as missionaries, wherever we are. And I think that year, particularly, I had to deal with my own heart and my own rebelliousness through the years of not wanting to take on something that God's entrusted to my family's care and... Yeah, I started thinking about the possibility of coming into the workplace as a means of serving the Lord.

LA: I'm so curious, what made you experience this shift in calling, 'cause as you said, for a while you really felt called into ministry, and then was it learning about the theology of work, at the seminary that really brought along this shift, what was it in particular that you learned that made you start to see your calling differently?

JT: Yeah, I think one of the things that I really love about being at seminary was, I think it was a few years of sabbatical, just being, diving into the Word, and I think one of the things that I loved and wrestled a lot with was my own heart in that season, the heart is deceitful above all else, and one of the things that I really brought before the Lord was how my goodness, all of us as human beings we're so rebellious against the Lord. And for my own self, I think funnily, ironically, I found myself rebelling in a way that maybe in the Christian world, it would seem like it wasn't rebellion.

LA: I don't think a lot of rebels go to seminary.

[laughter]

I think... I don't know who you were rebelling against by going to seminary, but I see rebels in other areas.

JT: Yeah. So I think for me, rebelling was a lot more to do with rejecting in a sense, like my birthright, something that the Lord has entrusted within my own family. I know that, of course, God leads us all to different callings, for sure. And be it in the laying down of whatever birthright we may have or taking it on. But for me, I think for the most part, growing up, I thought that following Jesus meant I had to reject my birthright, I had to reject everything. I grew up in quite a conservative Christian school, which taught that basically, if you want to follow Jesus, you have to leave everything right, the rich young ruler asked Jesus. And that was what was in my mind, that if I were to follow the Lord, I had to reject all these material blessings that the lord had given me.

LA: Including the family business or the...

JT: Including the family business. Yeah, but then I think one of the things that in seminary particularly, not just through diving to the word nor learning more about the theology of work, but also meeting people, meeting a mentor, particularly there at seminary, who had been to business school and also had been to seminary before, who ended up really challenging me to think more about God's mission field as being the workplace.

LA: Was there a particular Bible verse in particular, or was there a particular piece of scripture that kind of guided you as you were making this change in your sense of calling?

JT: I think there was a book that I read particularly in one of the classes that we had called Vocation and Calling by Gordon Smith, I think. And at the front page, it says, it has this little quote that says "God's calling in your life is where your deepest passions meet the world's deepest needs." And I think that really made me think a lot about how the Lord has shaped me with all my leanings, tendencies, the gifts he's bestowed, including the gift of family, the entrustments and everything. And I think that made me think about, "Okay, if this is what God's placed in my hands, how can I steward it better? And how can I steward it well?" And to particularly follow the call of Jesus when he says that The greatest commandment is to love God and to love others, and I think part of meeting the needs around us is that, in loving others well. And I think one of the... For sure, one of the passages that also helped me wrestle with that is the book of Genesis, particularly in the creation account, how... I think we all talk about this. I think every year, everyone, if we resolve to start reading scripture, we'll start with Genesis again, and we read this all the...

LA: Well, of course. It's right in the front.

JT: [laughter] Exactly.

LA: Turn right to it.

JT: And it's like, we read this all the time, but I think it just dawned on me that God is a God who worked, and he didn't diminish just every kind of work, he's the painter of the sky, he's the gardener, and these are all work, work that God does, and it's not necessarily confined into church ministry work, but it's work that is good nonetheless, and work that is glorifying to him.

LA: I wanna bring Mark into the conversation. Mark, what are you hearing? There's so much in what Jessica shared in her story of discerning her calling, what are you hearing in terms of what calling means for us and its interaction with work and family and all the different responsibilities in our lives.

MR: Yeah, many... So I just need to say one of them is that Jessica, for people like Leah and me, who've been working at faith and work for a while, the fact that you went to seminary and got a good theology of work, just gives joy to our hearts. And I think I know where you went and they have some great folks there, but that's just very... 'Cause that's relatively new, as I expect, you know, there would be a time in which a theology of work would not really be taught much in a seminary context, so anyway, that's just amen to that, that's so exciting. And it is in the bible.

LA: All the little light bulbs and balloons are going off in our heads.

MR: Well, partly and partly too... Jessica what you said. Yeah, it's like in Genesis one, it's from the first chapter to the last one, and that gets overlooked. So partly I'm just thinking... Oh, that's so great, I love your story. Number one. Number two, I'm just impressed at your own articulate-ness about faith and work and your own journey, and it's obvious that the growing up experience you had in your conservative school and in your family, and then in college and in seminary has really helped to shape you. And I'm just struck that God uses all that stuff, sometimes that stuff doesn't seem relevant or it seems like our life has taken a detour, or how does it all work together? But God has a way of taking the different experiences and learnings of our lives and working it together, and so here you are in a work environment that you weren't expecting, but so much of what you studied and learned and experienced, God is using for God's purposes now in your life, and I'm just struck by that.

As one of the things, the other... And so I'd love to hear a little more about... So you were thinking you were gonna go in one direction, now you really are sensing more and more a calling into the family business, which ironically was sort of the thing you were raised for... Right, so you're really sort of sensing that calling, what were some of the things you wrestled with in that in that season of really trying to decide whether that really was your calling and whether God really had this for you or not, or... What was going on with you there?

JT: Sure, I think if I were to backtrack a bit and think about the time when I was growing up and how my parents kind of prepared me and my siblings and geared us towards family business... Actually, growing up, I accepted that, I accepted that 100%. And I was actually a very ambitious child, I was always aiming for straight As, there was a time when my parents were... So I was the only one who liked math at home, I would go on family vacations and work on math. Oh my goodness. I was that competitive. And what's funny was when I went to college... So first semester I had straight As, and then second semester was literally the year that I fell in love with Jesus, and that year I flunked my first class in college, I started failing my classes, 'cause all I did...

LA: What was the link? [chuckle] Tell us what was... This is like reverse evangelism here, what was the link between falling in love with Jesus and failing your classes?

JT: Yes, and I have shared this to some youth groups and I would tell them, Please don't follow my footsteps and flunk your classes, don't do that. Stay in school. So what happened was in that season, somehow the Lord just drew me to his word, in a sense that I was so engrossed in Scripture, and that was when I really long to go to seminary, I really wanted to go to Bible School to learn more about this amazing book that I can't get my hands off, so I would be in lectures reading my Bible, I would be queuing in the cafeteria reading my Bible, and that was literally the year where it seemed if someone were to look at my life from an external perspective, they would see that what is going on, like this girl's literally throwing her life away. But for me, I think looking back like that year was such a sweet year where the Lord was moulding me to know him, to love him and to know that he is enough.

And I think that year was when I thought to myself that I wanted to leave everything behind, all the ambition that I had growing up, and for me, I really love Him. Turn your eyes upon Jesus look full in his wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim. My gosh, I think that year, that song was the anthem in my life where literally like all the things of earth grew strangely dim. And I just found that nothing could replace the love of God, and so...

LA: Hearing that story, it's such an extreme turnaround between being in that place and being today, working in finance, right? So we've seen that, we've seen the flunking out of your classes for reading the Bible. How did the pendulum swing in the other direction then?

JT: I had in that year, one of the things that I wrestled with was, Lord, can I just drop out? Can I just drop out and go to Bible school right away? At that time, I spoke with my pastor, I spoke with some people I trusted as well, at church, and I think the same advice was given to me again and again, it was just be faithful, and so I think in that season, one of the things that I begrudgingly went through was faithful, learning faithfulness, learning faithfulness, even when I really didn't feel like staying in college, but I knew that this was a privilege that my parents had given me, and so I had to finish what I started, and... So I did, and I finished a Masters because that was also part of what they had wanted me to finish up, but what's funny was, I think when finally I had the courage to actually ask my parents if I were allowed to go to seminary with their blessing of course. At first, my dad's response was, "Just read your Bible." [chuckle] And I was like, "I have been doing that. [chuckle] I have been doing that." And so...

LA: What was he hoping that you would find?

JT: In scripture?

LA: Yeah, when he said, "Just read your Bible." Did he mean read your Bible instead of going to a seminary or did he...

JT: Yeah, Yeah, he was like, "Why would you wanna go to seminary. You can just read your Bible at home and work." [chuckle] And I was like, "Oh, this is different dad." And what's funny was when he asked me where I wanted to go and things like that, 'cause I had three years kind of thinking through like where I wanted to go and what I wanted to take. When I told my parents it was in LA and things like that. What's funny was my dad paused for a bit and he was like, "What? That's so weird." We just finalized the deal, we just bought an apartment two weeks ago, signed the agreement, and it's in LA, and I knew at that time, our family, none of us had planned to go to the US to study. All of us, my eldest sister, my second sister, we've all gone to Australia for our undergraduate studies and our Master's as well. And we haven't even like vacationed to the US often so it was really odd that my dad had bought an apartment, but apparently it was because the housing market was down and it was a good buy and things like that, it was for investment purposes, but literally, he just paused and he's like, we just signed an agreement two weeks ago, it's in LA. Okay, maybe you can go to seminary. [chuckle]

LA: In LA.

JT: In LA.

LA: Because you have a place to stay. Why not?

JT: Yeah. So I ended up going to LA for a seminary. Graduated within two and a half years. And yeah, thinking that, "Okay, God is opening up the way for me to go into full-time ministry." But then again and again, I think in seminary, one of the things that I think God kept on tugging at my heart was how... There's a lot of theologians in the church but when it comes to the workplace, there aren't that many. There are lots of missionaries in the church, but when it comes to the workplace, unfortunately, there isn't that many. And I think that was something that softened my heart towards thinking about seeing the workplace as a mission field, and I think having softened my heart through those two and a half years, and also talking through with mentors and people who have actually gone into the workplace to serve and to see it as a way to glorify God, I think that really affirmed my decision to eventually say yes to coming into the workplace.

LA: So you came back to your parents after your time in seminary and you said, "Thanks so much for this apartment in LA. I've decided that now I'm ready to go into the family business." And did they rejoice or did they roll their eyes and say, "Oh, Jessica."?

JT: No, they rejoiced. I think they saw it coming in a sense that... No, maybe they didn't really see it coming, but they expected it, they expected me to come back to work with them in family business. But I think as we spoke about it as well, I shared with them my own wrestlings and things like that. I think that's something that I am grateful for, that they also understood, 'cause coming back home and being given roles, especially in the financial service sector, one of the things that I'm quite grateful for that my parents also saw and understood was my love to serve particularly the less fortunate. And so when I came home, they were like, "Okay, we have a philanthropy department, you should run it, since that's where your heart is at as well." So I think those are some things that I'm quite grateful for that my parents also accommodated to where I felt called to.

LA: Are there any now, you had a kind of circuitous journey of calling, and I don't think... It doesn't sound to me that at any point you're calling changed, but it sounds like there were some different experiences God had to lead you through to get to the place that you are today, feeling comfortable that you're called to your work. Is there any part of your journey that you regret or you wish, "Oh, I wish God could have sped that up a little bit."

JT: No, actually, I think I'm quite grateful that as much as maybe looking back, I'm like, "Oh, I shouldn't have flunked." Like, "Oh, I should have worked harder." [chuckle]

LA: But that was the best part of the story. I liked that part of the story, that's really compelling.

JT: I think if anything like, I love that God forced to me to empty myself in that season and literally see that I have nothing to bring to him, I wasn't excelling in school, it wasn't like... 'Cause before it seemed like my sense of achievement was what made me feel like worthy. But then in that season, it's like, "Jessica, you have nothing to bring before me, but I have enlisted you in my service, and it's because you are my daughter." And I think that's something that I needed to go through, that he had to break through my pride, my sense of achievement. My... The vice of ambition.

And I think that was very necessary that I had to go through that so that when the time came and the Lord would lead me to the workplace, I know that I'm not doing this for my own sake, I know that I'm not... 'cause as human beings is so easy for us. I love how John Calvin says that our hearts are a perpetual factory of idols, and it is. And so I think we're calling again and again, even until today, every time I recall that season in my life. I'm reminded that [chuckle] literally, I have nothing to bring for the Lord, and that... Yeah, everyday when God calls us to serve Him, it's an honor, it's a privilege, it's an entrustment, and it's something we need to steward well.

LA: Mark, go ahead.

MR: I'm so struck Jessica by so many parts of your story and one of them is the wisdom and grace of your parents. Because as you know, because you're in it, but I've had many friends over the years who are connected to family businesses. And those can be wonderful but also there are sometimes many almost chains attaching people, their expectations. And it was both wise and gracious and I think somewhat courageous of your parents to give you the space. Because had they not done that, you might very well be doing... You still working in the company today but you would be a very different person, and for a very different reason. You wouldn't have chosen it, you wouldn't have sensed it as much God's calling as obligation. Or as a place to continue to earn your worth by excelling and doing great.

And just so all of the... So for one thing, so the wisdom of your parents and their grace, but then I'm just struck again by the grace of God in your story. Because again you could have gone into business with this notion that you're going to prove your worth and value by how great you are at it, and your success and your excellence. And that can really get caught up, of course in our relationship with God. But through that process of kind of setting you free from a lot of that, so you could finally set that aside. And then leading you through this process of growth, so that you could choose in response to God's grace and the grace of your parents. Really to be in the family business now, not because you had to or not because it was the place you are gonna prove how great you were, but out of service to God and to people.

And I'm just so I'm struck by sort of how your parents in many ways and God in many ways in your life were quite similar. And you know there is a lot in scripture that's like that. I think it's not the same story, but I think of the parable, The Prodigal Son. And now not that you went off and lived as the son did. [laughter] For your case it was going to college and seminary. But there was a sense in which your parents set you free and you in that experience of freedom and growth, then were able to return in a very different way out of freedom. And so, I love it how that's true for you with respect to your parents, but also with respect to the Lord. That your service to God is now not kind of proving yourself so much as a response to grace and to God's call in your life.

LA: Oh, Mark, I love that you mentioned the parable of the Prodigal Son, which is a story in Luke Chapter 15, because...

MR: Thank you Leah.

LA: It's a different story of calling for many of the calling stories that we hear in the Bible. So I think for a lot of us whose story of calling, personal calling is kind of circuitous, we went here, we went there, we weren't sure. Maybe we feel like, "Oh I wasn't like Moses." like God talked to you from the bush. I didn't have this direct sense of calling. But the story of the Prodigal Son, the son who leaves his family in order to realize what good work he had with his family and then comes back. That's a different kind of story about calling. I don't know Mark. Would you say that that's about calling as well?

MR: Well, calling is certainly part of it, but yes. But it's certainly about grace, and the other part of it is ironically, the elder son in that parable, who was the guy who continued to work faithfully in the family business, was filled with bitterness and resentment, right? And so it's kind of interesting 'cause I think when most of us read that parable we don't think in terms of calling our family business. We think of family relationships but that whole thing is framed as a kind of a family business story. And where one is set free really messes up, but then is able to return to the grace of the father. The other who is the faithful good son is resentful and distant relationally. So anyway, Jessica I'm talking a lot. Has that parable ever, ever struck you in that way Jessica?

JT: Yeah, I think... I love that you mentioned that because I think for the most part, actually, I always saw myself... I often saw myself as the... Almost like the older brother. Who in a sense that should or if I hadn't... If the Lord hadn't given me that space, if my parents hadn't given me that space to also wrestle with my own sense of calling, I think my response would definitely be more begrudging like the older son. Because in my nature, I tend to be more of the timid daughter who tends to be more obedient, and so I wouldn't really, I guess, reject my parents giving of perhaps a role or responsibility. I wouldn't reject it outright, but because I was given that space to wrestle with it, and not be immediately forced into the work, I'm thankful that it gave me opportunity to not grow in resentment.

I think... Because I think it would be very easy to do that. I think one of the things that I love that scripture teaches us is glad obedience, right? When God calls us not to simply offer sacrifices but obedience from the heart, which is supposed to be glad obedience, but oftentimes, especially as children growing up in family businesses and things like that, it's so easy to be drawn into or obliged to obey, to follow, to do as what is expected, but without gladness, without a sense of purpose, without a sense of direction or a sense of calling for our own selves, and so I think I'm very fortunate, I am very thankful that I was given that space for sure.

LA: Jessica, is there a piece of advice that you would give our listeners, someone who is maybe earlier than you are in their journey, or just thinking about how do I wrestle with, is my calling to the workplace? Is it with family, is it... If they're just asking these questions, what would be your one piece of advice that you would give someone in that position?

JT: Oh man. Yeah, that's the hard... That's a tough question, 'cause I do believe that God calls us all intimately and personally, and if anything... So I work with youths, a lot of youths usually, and that's a question that's a very live question for a lot of them, and always one of the things that I have to highlight is whenever we talk about calling and vocation first and foremost remember that we are first called to Christ himself, to Christ, to Christ likeness. To follow and seek him. And I think secondly, I think there's a quote by Elizabeth Elliot that I really, really like, and I think... This was one of the quotes that helped me as well wrestle with my own sense of calling. It is that, "The Lord calls every christian regardless of where they are at in their lives, to the same amount of obedience, to take up your cross and follow."

So I think for me, to be honest, even with me sharing all this and saying that, oh, I think I do believe that this is where the Lord is calling me to. It's not to say that every day I wake up and feel so ready for work, you know. It's not as though every day I wake up and feel like, Okay, this is where the Lord's called me to like, Okay, I'm ready to go to my mission field. That's not what I'm saying. There are a lot of days where I would wake up groggy and like, I don't even wanna go to work, but I think when we follow Christ, and we know that our call is to self-denial, to pick up our crosses and to follow Jesus, even in those times when we don't feel like it, right? We can show up, we can be faithful. And I think this is also where those years of me, almost loathing college, but still trying to finish, because that was what I believed was the faithful thing to do.

I think the Lord's molding of us through the years, in teaching us faithfulness will never be in vain. Because I think one of the things that I love is when Jesus also talks about, at the end, when we are supposed to see him face-to-face, what is it that we want him to say it is? "Well done, my good and faithful servant." And so it's never been, "Well done, my productive servant, well done my super successful, 30 Under 30, servant." It's never been about that, it's always been about good and faithful work. And so I think that's something that wherever we are called to or whatever it is we're wrestling with, I think the question that we need to be asking is, "Lord, what is the most faithful thing for me to do right now? Particularly, what is the most faithful thing? How am I most faithful to you and how am I most faithful to the work that you have entrusted to my care, the people you've entrusted to my care? Because different seasons also call for different sets of considerations. So what's most faithful, I think.

LA: I love it. What's the most faithful thing that I can do today? How can I follow you even if it's just out of bed into my regular job?

JT: Yes.

LA: I love it. Jessica Tanoesoedibjo, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today. It's really been a pleasure to learn from your experience.

MR: Thank you.

JT: Thank you. Thank you, Mark.

 

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How to Respond to Disrespect at Work - Janeen Uzzell

How do you respond when you’re being overlooked, misunderstood, or even mistreated at work? Your situation might leave you feeling angry, drained, or overwhelmed. Your performance suffers. You may wonder, “Where is God while I’m going through this?” What should you do? How can you discover the story God is writing for your life, amidst adversity at work? Guest Janeen Uzzell is the CEO of the National Society of Black Engineers and former COO at Wikimedia, after 18 years of working in technology at GE. A global strategist and STEM leader, Janeen is experienced at building and managing inclusive teams, and she’s going to help us work through this question of how to respond to being mistreated at work.

 

Scripture References

  • Colossians 3:12
  • 1 Samuel 25

 

Additional Resources Referenced

  • Find Janeen Uzzell on Twitter @janeenuzzell
  • Suscipe by Ignatius Loyola: Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O Lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and Thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.

 

Thanks for Listening!

If you like what you've heard, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts! We'd love to hear from you, and it helps other people find us. 

 

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Transcript

Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

How do you respond when you're being overlooked, misunderstood or even mistreated at work? Your situation might leave you feeling angry, drained or overwhelmed. Your performance suffers. You may wonder, "Where is God while I'm going through this?" What should you do? How can you discover the story God is writing for your life amidst adversity at work? Our guest, Janeen Uzzell, is the CEO of the National Society of Black Engineers and former COO at Wikimedia. After 18 years of working in technology at GE, a global strategist and STEM leader, Janeen is experienced at building and managing inclusive teams, and she's going to help us work through this question of how to respond if you feel like you're being mistreated at work. Janeen Uzzell, welcome to The Making it Work podcast.

Janeen Uzzell: Thank you so much for having me. This is quite a discussion we're planning to have today.

LA: So I just wanna jump right into it and ask your own experience. Were there times in your career where you felt like you were being treated negatively at work, and that impacted your performance?

JU: Definitely. In the workplace, it's a difficult experience because for someone like myself who's incredibly extroverted, very, very committed to people and to work, and maybe I just wear my feelings on my shoulder because I take a lot of things so personally because I give so much to my career, and because of that, whenever I feel like I'm letting someone down, whenever I feel like there's a misperception or that I'm just being left out and misunderstood, I take it very personally. It affects so much because I don't... I think that what may not be understood when a person is being overlooked is that when you experience that many times, it speaks directly to your sense of worth and how you feel about yourself, and so someone else has the ability to shift in just a moment, in a second, how you may have spent the entire day feeling about yourself or about how you're doing. It creates a sense of dis-valuing. Isolation, and separation is very judgmental, and so it's something that we should all remember weigh so heavily on ourselves, this is how it makes me feel, even if someone that's listening says, "Oh, I don't feel that way at all, and I'm overlooked, I don't care." Well, you are one of maybe not a lot of people. I think that maybe everyone does care, but they're affected very differently, and for me, it has quite a weight. It carries quite a weight.

LA: And I think it can... It happens to all of us at different times. Sometimes it happens at big moments. I remember one time I was presenting at a conference, and one of the other presenters asked me if I can get him a cup of coffee, right? That's a very pretty straightforward example of feeling like there was a mismatch, or feeling like my professional experience was overlooked. But even recently, just this week, I was in a meeting, I thought I really had a lot to contribute, I thought I really did a great job, and then it was kind of like, someone else said, "We didn't learn anything in this meeting." And I'm like kinda thinking like, "Hey, what am I doing over here?" I wonder how common that experience is, and when do you understand it to be veering into serious mistreatment that you should do something about?

JU: I'm so glad we're putting examples on the table. Can I just share one that happened to me last week?

LA: Please.

JU: Oh my gosh this is... It was at a convening... A banquet, I won't say which one, and we're just excited to be able to get back into big rooms and spaces. So I was at a gala, at a fundraiser, and sitting at a pretty high-level table, and a gentleman comes over to me, and to recognize me in my role as the new CEO of NSBE and to greet everyone, but very intentional, and I know some people might say, "Well, how do you know it was intentional?" Because I've been around this enough to know. [chuckle] Very intentionally, as I'm seated, and this gentlemen had come over to the table, so they were standing around me. He puts his arm on my shoulder and it is in a way to keep me seated, instead of standing up, so that they are standing over me. It wasn't one of those tap on the shoulder. It was a... It was pressure, so that I actually, my reaction was, I moved from under there, and I said, "Let me stand up and greet you properly. It's been two years since we've seen each other."

And that was how I addressed it. But what it took for me in that moment was to immediately snap out of the emotion of, "This dude is trying to keep me in my seat." And I was angry. And so, you have to pivot quickly in the midst of the emotion of what it does to you. And then there are times when I know for sure that people do not mean some of this inequality on purpose, but most of the time they do. I think that there are plenty of times where it's actually just an ignorance, a lack of knowing, and then there are times when I know without a doubt, if I'm the only woman in the room, or the only woman at a table, or the only minority, it's some of it's intentional, and sometimes, I call it out. And in this case, this was an all boys, kind of a Black male gathering, and I did, and I was like, "And by the way... " And I just said it to him, I said, "Were you kind of resting on my shoulder to keep me seated? You know we don't do." And I said, "We don't do that anymore. Shame on you." But I didn't call him out in public. I just kinda said it to the side of him. "No, no, that's not what I meant." And then I just kinda left it, because I knew I could say that to him and it made me feel better. I didn't do it in retribution. I did it as a point of clarification.

LA: There's so much to pull out in that experience. I mean, if I was... [laughter] Mark, can you break down Janeen? What could we learn from that, step by step, from Janeen's experience of just like, how do you do that? How do you turn off the anger for a moment? How do you react with a loving extension of greeting? How do you save the confrontation for later, when it might be more appropriate? Mark, what do you see in all that?

MR: Well, I'll answer that, but first, I just gotta say, 'cause I would be more like the guy. Now, I don't think I've done that thing, but I'm sure I've done things, right? And part of me is thinking, "Oh man, I don't wanna be that guy," but also...

LA: Don't be that guy.

MR: There have been times in my life when people have said to me, "When you said that, that hurt my feelings," or, "When you said that, I felt I was... " And those are really hard things for me to hear, but they're really important. So I'll just say that. Now, I'll go back to this. I mean, Janeen, it's so clear that you have a really good sense of what's going on inside of you, so that you can decide what you're gonna do with that. So one of the things, Leah, your question, "How do you respond to it?" I mean, one of the things that's just so essential is to know, "Okay, I'm getting angry," or... Because I'll tell you, when I have... There have been a couple of times, and not many in the last few years, but a couple of times when I've been in a meeting, and felt like I was being mistreated somehow, and man, when my emotions start going, that's really hard, and if I'm not aware of it, then I'm really in trouble. So part of what I'm learning from you, Janeen, it's just you're aware, you're aware what's going on in the relationship, you're aware what's going on in you, so then you can decide, "Well, how am I gonna deal with this?" And I just think that kind of self-awareness just seems like it's hugely important.

LA: It sparks in my mind, this memory I have of a story from the Bible, and it's actually one of my favorite female heroes in the Old Testament. Her name is Abigail, and she defused this situation that had to do with people's snap emotions. So she was a poor woman. She was married to a guy, whose name was was it... Is it Nabal or Nabal?

JU: I've always said Nabal. I don't know.

LA: Nabal, okay. [laughter]

JU: I could be wrong. I'm not a Bible scholar. I just love God.

LA: We'll go with Nabal.

MR: Yeah.

LA: I like that. So she's married to this guy named Nabal, who's kind of a hot-head, and David and his... This is the time David had been anointed as king, but he wasn't, or hadn't already taken over the kingship. He was kind of wandering throughout the countryside with his group of mighty men, and he came through Nabal's territory, and it was the sheep sharing time, and he came over and he said, "Can you give me some sheep for my folks to eat?" And Nabal's like, "Who's this guy? I'm not giving you anything." Which was not only rude...

But it was breaking the laws of hospitality towards strangers in the Bible, like the Nabal should have been extending his hospitality to David and his men, and he didn't, he insulted them, and out of his hot-headedness, and then David got all angry. He was being mistreated. He gets out his sword and suits up to go kill everybody. And in the meantime, the servants are like "Abigail, Abigail defuse the situation, please." And she does. She comes in, she makes an apology, she extends gifts to David and she just... And she uses her reason. She's like, "God save you from shedding blood today." She uses her reason and her... To stop David from doing something that he'll regret but also I see her in that moment using her calmness to diffuse the situation, which is something that I hear from you in that situation too. I don't know. Janeen, you tell me if this rings any bells for you.

JU: I wish. I'm gonna go back and read that. I cannot say that I'm calm in those situations. I can say that I am... Because I have become more aware of the experiences, I almost set myself up for what could go wrong and try to prepare. But there's another side to that, because the other side of it is, I'm less likely to grant you grace if you did make a mistake, so I'm not perfect in this, 'cause I know you're supposed to go into everything saying, "Let's assume good," but I kinda go into just like, "I know one of these guys gonna mess with me today and I need to be ready for it," and that's not the way we need to live either, right?

And so, I'm still working on constantly healing from the disappointments of my past and then working on being authentically open to understand the environment, and then trying to ask God for the spirit of discernment to know when I should be a bit more robust with my boldness as opposed to... I don't think they meant that they're not sure what they just did and it could lead to a conversation. So I think I'm managing all of that because many a time I'm not calm. Now, in the conversation, I'll be calm but then catch me in the bathroom a few minutes later, calm not so much. But I take those situations just as seriously because even though maybe I didn't present one way in front of people, which is good, I still feel like, "God I wanna honor you in all of this," so even when I'm in the bathroom and I'm mad. And I just sometimes I'm when these things happen, I'm like, "Lord, what is it about me that you feel always... It's always okay for these things to happen to me?" And I'm wondering now in this conversation, if it's because He's like, "Because I want you to be able to speak about them." Some people don't wanna tell the truth of what's happening to them, whereas I'm like, "That was embarrassing. Wanna hear what happened?" And I seem to be more comfortable telling these stories and maybe that's why He's allowing me to experience them because on any given day, I'm kind of like, "That wasn't really necessary God, but if you say so."

LA: What an interesting change of perspective, 'cause I would just go straight to mad. But you're turning it to a different purpose. Why am I experiencing this? What can I teach? What can I teach other people through this experience? I even feel like... Mark, you tell me if you think, if this is a heretical view, but maybe that's why some of these stories were written in the Bible in the first place, so we could... 'cause I'm sure it wasn't just Abigail who was dealing with a hot-headed husband in her day. But I wonder if it's because Abigail was the one who stood up and said something to change the situation. If that's the reason that we have this story written down, so it can affect us for so much later. What do you think Mark?

MR: You know, one of the things I love about the Bible is it shows people in all of our diversity and craziness and goodness and badness, and so it's all there. And so, certainly, the story the... Abigail's action in that is a great encouragement and... But there's just there's so much in scripture that challenges us when we're in difficult situations. What does it mean on the one hand, to be wise, to be committed to God's justice, to be committed to seeing that all people are respected as people created in God's image, including me, and at the same time, and I think there's... I've been working recently on this passage in Colossians, that says that we're to be compassionate and kind and humble and meek and patient. So how do you do those things?

JU: That's a lot.

MR: Yeah, it is.

LA: That's a tall order.

MR: So I think we live in this tension. It's a biblical tension between, on the one hand, being people who are really committed to addressing evil and seeking justice and seeing things change in our world, in our workplace, in our relationship. And yet also to discover how we can do that in a Christ-like way. And that is a challenge, but part of what you just said Janeen, you can react in a certain place with a demonstration of patience, of humility, even when inside, there's a part of you that's burning, and then you do have to go out into the bathroom and just let it out and tell the Lord.

And of course, sometimes there are times for a stronger immediate reaction in a case of actual sexual abuse in the workplace, or there are times when you just... But again, I'm impressed with the self-awareness that is needed, and then also with the wisdom, and then also with your sense that you are uniquely gifted to be able to talk about things that need to be talked about. Gifted in terms of your experiences, they don't feel much like gifts. They're not. They’re often negative things. But the giftedness comes in God allowing you to... And even calling you to talk about those things that so much need to be talked about and understood. And when you do that, then you're given a gift to others. You're certainly given a gift to those who are victims of mistreatment, but for those who really want to not do that, it's also a gift to hear the stories.

LA: Now, Janeen, I have a sense that you have a lot... You've had experience throughout your career of knowing when do I speak up? When do I point out what's going on? When do I offer more patience either because I don't want... Because the person is not gonna hear it in the right way, or because you're under some threat in the workplace? Speaking up sometimes is maybe not be good for your career. What kind of... How do you walk that line now? How has that changed throughout your career? What kind of advice would you give someone who is trying to learn that tight rope act of "When do I say something and when do I be silent?"

JU: Well, certainly, I have progressed and transitioned over time, right? You get older, you go through more experiences. My walk in Christ has grown, even though I've been a Christian since I was a young girl, but applying my faith to my workplace has become very different. And so I think I'm continually practicing it and trying to be better at it.

Speaking up for myself, I really... I'm trying so hard to live my life without regrets, but I regret not speaking up for myself sooner in my life and in my career. It is one of the things that I judge myself on too hard. I need to give myself a break with it, but I still judge myself heavy on it. I was bullied and teased a lot as a young girl and I kept that to myself. I never told my parents, never shared it, never talked about it, and so it made me put a lot more pressure on myself than my parents could never understand. They were like "What is she doing? She's so hard on herself." But it was because I was always trying to fit in.

JU: I think I'm just as nerdy and quirky as I was then, maybe I do it in cooler glasses, but I don't care anymore, I don't necessarily... I'm not in the cool girl CEO group and all of that. I'm really not. I'm working and I meet great people and I have great experiences and I bring my very best, and God opens up the most amazing doors and opportunities for me without me being in those communities, and I believe it's because I'm okay saying, "I'm not the cool chick, but opportunities and God's grace still create these spaces." I wish that I had spoken up for myself more, and I work hard to do it now in ways that still show grace, but speak my authentic truth, because I realized that it's not just for me. I realize now and understand more than ever that every time I'm in a room or on a stage, or on a call, or on a Zoom, someone is seeing me, and maybe they may have never experienced a Black woman in leadership, they may have never... And they could be of any color, any race, whatever.

My chief of staff, every time we get off out of the meeting, she's like, she’s a Black girl, she's like, "I have never been in a meeting with four Black PhD women that have natural hair and look like... " She's amazed by that even in her career. And so every time I do that, I say to myself, "Some people are experiencing me for the first and for the only. Some people may never experience me again, and what do I wanna leave with them?" And so I try to put aside some of the emotion of it. The other piece is that, to be honest with you, I've just been so angry for years and I just don't wanna be angry anymore. I remember saying to God in 2020 like, "I'm so tired of being angry. I'm so tired of just... It's exhausting." Now, disappointment is just as exhausting, so I gotta work on that 'cause I'm disappointed a lot too, but I'm tired of it and I just... I'm like, "Lord, you have me here. I wanna have... I wanna walk into these environments after all of these years in the workplace with nothing to fear, nothing to hide, nothing to lose."

And I would challenge others that hear this, to think the same, and to come from a place of kindness and goodness. I've been praying most recently the fruit of the Spirit. It was a big part of something, a church that I'm still very connected to that I went to in Africa, one night of fasting and praying, they were praying the fruit of the Spirit, and I've just been praying that, just goodness, instead of all the prickliness of who I wanna be or how to show kindness to people that aren't even kind to me, or I don't know it, but I just don't like the way they treated someone else, so I don't need to be kind to them. And I've just been trying to practice the basics, which is that tall order that Mark talked about. I'm like, "Kindness, goodness, that's just so much, all on Tuesday, we have to do that? We have to get all that right on Wednesday?" But I'm trying and I just have to believe that when I put forth the right intentions that God's making up the difference.

And so, I think back to the original question, it's like, "Did we try to do that well today?" And then when I don't, I repent for an offense and ask for forgiveness. And again, I don't think I'm unique in this. I'm sure there are other people that feel this way, but I just take it, I'm so doggone sensitive and I take it very personally when I'm treated wrongly and then when I treat people wrongly.

LA: I really... As you were explaining that, I really felt that in my spirit. When you say like, "Oh, I feel like I'm not at the cool kids' table." That's how I feel when I get overlooked for my contributions, or I feel like someone's talking down to me. It's that same feeling of "Oh, I wanna be there, I wanna be sitting at the cool kids' table and I'm not at the cool kids' table." And what I hear from you, Janeen, is this wonderful... And then you came up with this wonderful acceptance like, "And, I'm the way God made me. I'm just... I'm a nerd in cooler glasses." Which I love, which our listeners don't get to see you on the video and see your glasses. But they are very cool.

JU: Thank you.

LA: They could connect with you on LinkedIn, or Twitter, or YouTube, they'll see your glasses, they're very cool. And... But I get... I also suffer. But I think we all do, suffer from that sense of "Oh, I wanna be there, I'm not sitting with the cool kids." And I think Scripture tells us that each of us are fearfully and wonderfully made. That God made each of us, specifically the way that we are without having to have external sources of validation all the time. It doesn't mean don't stand up if you're being mistreated, but I'm thinking of how to get out of the oppressive emotional experience of it. I don't know. Mark, I'm sure you never feel that way. You never feel like you're not at the cool kids' table.

MR: Oh, it's so funny, 'cause really, Janeen, I was very much like you growing up. I wasn't a Black girl, obviously. [laughter] But I was a nerdy kid in a world that was not appreciative of people like me. And so I did experience bullying and lived with a lot of fear, and I never told anybody, 'cause I... Partly, I was ashamed, and partly, I was afraid if I tell my parents, they're gonna go to school.

JU: Yep.

MR: And the school's gonna confront those kids, and then I'm gonna be in worse shape. So I just... Anyway, I was just... I was right... But again, Janeen, so I'd said before, I'm just struck by your self-awareness, and I think that's so important in this. But then in what you've said more recently "Your sense that you're the steward of what you've been given." That would be the biblical... You're to use well, for God's purposes, what you've been given.

Your opportunities, your skills, your... And now your opportunity to, on the one hand, model as a Black woman, senior leadership for folk, and that's gonna be really important. It's certainly gonna be important for younger Black women. It's actually important for all of us, because we need to rethink a lot of things. That's a real gift you're giving in your sense that God has given this to you and these opportunities to serve others. That also... Doesn't it kinda help redeem some of the pain? It doesn't deny it. It doesn't say, "Oh yeah, that was all great," or, "That didn't happen." But there is a sense in which God is using this for good, and in that I can be grateful. Is that... Does that work for you?

JU: Well.

MR: Or what do you think?

JU: Okay. Yes and... After the fact though, okay? I'm not...

MR: Oh, yeah.

JU: Gonna be even sit here and act like, in that moment, I'm like, "Yes... "

MR: Oh, yeah.

JU: God used me and I'm feeling so isolated right now, but to God be the glory. No, I didn't have to...

MR: No, I'm...

[laughter]

JU: Something... A few weeks ago, there were a group of women that were at a big event. And I just remember watching that like, "Why am... Why was I not there? I do that, I'm not... I'm in that. I'm of that level." And I was so in my feelings about it. I felt so rejected. It wasn't even like I had got not, I don't... I had no reason to feel rejected. But just looking at it, I was like, "I should be there. I'm always just scraping the bottom. I never... " And God was just like, "Really? Would you just stop acting like such a martyr, first of all." And he said something to me, he said, "What do you not have? Name what you don't have. And what is that... What about that do you want that you don't already have?" And it was so convicting. So in those moments, Mark, then I'm like, "Okay, okay, okay, I get it. I still could... " Yeah sure, you wanna be in that room? Why? Just tell me why.

And this is God dealing with me 'cause he's pushing me on something, "Tell me why you want that." Because of pride. That is why. And then he said, "Okay, I'm just gonna let that sit 'cause you already know what you're dealing with, with pride, so." Okay, and now I can go deal with that. But when he calls me to it and he says, "You name one thing that you don't have right now that you need or that you want, 'cause if you name it, I'll give it to you." And I got nothing. I got nothing for you. And so I'm dealing with wanting to be in a place where God already has me. Just deciding that I want someone else's platform or stage, and that's just not what He has for me. And I always get it later, but in that moment, yeah I was just like, "This is not right." Yeah.

LA: So this is my last question, and it's a question of advice for all of us and for our listeners. How do we get to that place, Janeen? How do we get your relationship with God? Tell me in 30 seconds. No. But how do we get to that place where we can be feeling excluded or feeling mistreated at work and then feel God's presence with us, telling us we have everything that we need in this morning... In this moment. Give us a how or if you had one piece of advice to get to a how.

JU: So I've been working on the surrendered life, like living a life of surrender. And I say working on it because it takes all day, you have to surrender every day, all day, like the Bible talks about renewing your mind and constantly. My piece of advice is to be intentional about it. The same way we are intentional about our hygiene, or our savings, or our spending, whatever your lifestyle decision is. I want so much for... My career is very much what God has called me to in terms of purpose. And so, if this is ministry for me, if this is purpose, and if I'm going to go through some of these things because God needs me, or is calling me to use them for conversations like this or... Then I don't want them to be for naught. I'm like, "I'm tired of feeling rejected for naught. Let me figure out how to get the reasoning behind it," because it's not for naught and it's not rejection, it's to get me to a place where I'm just understanding that God's acceptance is all I need. And I suppose that when I get there, these other things won't matter as much to me.

So my advice is to be intentional about surrendering and just leaning into or letting go, so that you can rest in the things that God has for you. But I will be honest in saying that what I've had to go through to get to this place is something that I don't know what everyone's experience will be, but I've gone through a lot of rejection in my career, a lot of disappointment, there was gut-punching tears. And maybe I'm a slow learner, and that's why God had to... I had to go through that. I'm not gonna say God did that, but maybe that's why I had to have those experiences so that I could finally get there. I'm trying my best to not have a multitude of those experiences anymore, but that's not in my hands, because God gives us the life we live each and every day. I'm just doing my best to be intentional about choosing life, choosing surrender and choosing hope in the midst of what we all know is a really cruel and unjust world, and the workplace, and the school places, and they're all a part of that unjust world but it's what we're in every single day. So if we're in it every day, that we get to put two feet on the ground, then I'm like, "God, I just wanna be intentional about how I'm using the gift of what you've given me today."

And if you're listening to this, and you're like, "God, that just sounds so poetic." It's not. It has taken me, like it took me hours this morning to get here, and before we're recording this in quiet time, in gym time, and some breakfast and a little coffee and talking to my friends and talking to God and prayer in the car on the way here, just to get through like, "I'm just three hours in." So it's like I have by no means am saying that I've got the pretty bow on this. I'm just committed to wanting to honor Him. I keep these prayer cards by my desk and I... Sometimes when I remember, I pull one out and I read it. And then some days I don't touch it at all because I forget, because I'm human. But it's all a part of the process.

MR: Janeen, I've said this already, but I'm just struck again. One of the real gifts you give us is the gift of your openness to just what's real in your life, because you say things that one might not expect to hear from a person who is as successful as you are, and is influential as you are, and so it's a gift for you to open up and talk about those things.

I was struck by a couple of things, one was, Leah, your question was, how do we do this? So I mentioned that part of Scripture that calls us to really challenging things, right? Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. What I didn't mention was how the verse starts, 'cause that verse starts as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved. So the starting point is this rock-solid sense of who we truly are as people who matter to God and are loved by God, and that really defines us. Which I think can strengthen us then when other things seek to define us down or change the definition, or you're only this, or you're only that, or things in the workplace that can be really taking away our humanity.

And so the more... I think the more we... So exactly what you said, Janeen, in terms of, yeah, you need to spend that time with the Lord and be reminded of who you are in Christ.

That's one thing that was striking to me. The other you mentioned, surrender, which is just... Man, thank you for bringing that up. That's a struggle for me every day, and it's literally a struggle every day, and that I use a prayer of Ignatius that's called the Suscipe, from the Latin word for "take", and it talks about really... It's really a prayer that calls us to give everything over to God. It recognizes that God has given us everything, and it's already God's, and there is this surrender in this, and I pray that prayer every morning, but every time I pray it, I'm struggling to mean the words I say. But I think what you have encouraged, not only me, but all of us, is to enter into that struggle with self-awareness, but also really with an awareness of who you are as someone whom God has chosen and set apart and deeply loves. And so then entering into that process of growth for yourself, but then also stewarding that for the sake of others and for a more just and grace-filled world, and we've got a long ways to go, as you said.

LA: And I would just close with saying, "Surrendering to God does not mean surrendering to other people's bad behavior." Surrendering to God does not mean surrendering to mistreatment, it does not mean surrendering to injustice. Surrendering to God might mean standing up to those things or pointing them out in love, or finding the right time to point them out. I've heard the military definition of... I'm not in the military, so what do I know? But I've heard the military definition of surrender is, "Lay down your arms and wait for instructions." And that's what I wanna do with God. I wanna lay down my weapons and I wanna wait for God's instructions. Janeen Uzzell, thank you so much for joining us. This has been a real blessing for us to have you on the podcast today.

JU: Thank you so much.

MR: Indeed.

JU: Thank you for having me. This has been a pleasure.

 

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Marketing Yourself Like Jesus - Darren Shearer

Hearing the term “marketing” can bring up a mixture of feelings. On the positive end of the spectrum, maybe you think of a funny and creative ad you’ve seen recently. On the other hand, maybe you think of spam and scams, or a bad experience receiving a product or service that was not-as-advertised. Maybe when you think of marketing, you’re wondering how you can promote yourself better to get your next job. But you probably don’t think of Jesus. Our guest today, Darren Shearer, explores the gospels to discover how Jesus became the most influential person in history. He’ll tell us how applying Jesus’ methods and principles to marketing have helped him in his work. Darren is the founder and CEO of High Bridge Media, and his latest book is Marketing Like Jesus: 25 Strategies to Change the World.

Scripture References

  • Matthew 15:22-29
  • Colossians 3:23-34
  • Luke 7:18-22
  • Matthew 11:2-5
  • Mark 5:2-20
  • John 2:4
  • John 7:6-8
  • Psalm 31:14-15

 

Additional Resources Referenced

Marketing Like Jesus: 25 Strategies to Change the World, by Darren Shearer

 

Thanks for Listening!

If you like what you've heard, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts! We'd love to hear from you, and it helps other people find us. 

 

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Transcript

Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

Hearing the term “marketing” can bring up a mixture of feelings. On the positive end of the spectrum, maybe you think of a funny and creative ad you’ve seen recently. On the other hand, maybe you think of spam and scams, or a bad experience receiving a product or service that was not-as-advertised. Maybe when you think of marketing, you’re wondering how you can promote yourself better to get your next job. But you probably don’t think of Jesus. Our guest today, Darren Shearer, explores the gospels to discover how Jesus became the most influential person in history. He’ll tell us how applying Jesus’ methods and principles to marketing have helped him in his work. Darren is the founder and CEO of High Bridge Media, and his latest book is Marketing Like Jesus: 25 Strategies to Change the World.

Darren Shearer, welcome to the Making It Work podcast.

Darren Shearer: Good to be with you, Leah. Thanks for having me.

LA: So this was a really fun read, I have to say, and there are a lot of books today that you could buy that offer to teach you how to lead like Jesus, or how to teach like Jesus, or how to pray like Jesus. You wrote a book on how to market like Jesus, tell me what drove you. What in your experience of either marketing or working with marketers made you feel like this was a lesson that people needed to learn?

DS: Yeah, I just had a notary in my house last week, as a matter of fact, and we were talking before he left, just about ways that he can market his business. And so he was interested... Found out that I had a media company, he was interested in what I was doing. And before he left, I gave him a copy of this book. Before I did, I asked him, "Who do you think is the greatest marketer of all time? Who's the most incredible, effective, strategic influencer?"

And that's really how I define marketing, strategic influence. And he said some marketing guru, and that's typically the answer you'll get, whether it's Richard Branson or just any pop stars that do a particularly good job with influencing people. And then, of course, my favorite part was when I presented the book to him, and that has right there on the cover, "Marketing like Jesus." And...

LA: So what was the look on his face? Did it change a little bit?

DS: It was kind of interesting because he had said some off-color things during our conversation, and I had not really kinda indicated to him that, "Hey, I'm a Christian. I love Jesus, I wanna do things like Jesus did," until that moment. And then it really just kind of opened up, he's like, "Well, yeah, I like Jesus. I'm a Christian, I spend time in the Bible in the mornings," and things like that. So it was actually kind of an evangelistic opportunity as well, but the reason I wrote this book is not necessarily to... Well, certainly I want people to draw near to Jesus and get to know him more, but I don't think you have to go look after the latest pop star or marketing guru.

Jesus is... One out of three people in the world claimed to be a follower of Jesus, 2000 years after he walked this Earth. And so I just went through the gospels for about a year. In fact, I was living in New York City, I wrote the first draft of this book on subways, going to and from work, on my phone. And just really looking at the Gospels of, What did Jesus... How did he influence people in a very strategic way? You see some of this in... I don't know if you all watched The Chosen series, but you get the sense that Jesus was very strategic in what he was doing, as you watch that show.

And the way that he would send his disciples to the towns where he was about to go. These are things that Jesus was doing and some people... Makes people feel kinda uncomfortable. Like the idea that Jesus did sermon prep, for example, he didn't just at the Sermon on the Mount, stumble across a random bunch of people sitting on a hill and just went off the cuff and shared a message. This was at least what they were communicating in The Chosen, and I believe this as well, is it was a very planned event. And so it's just another opportunity for us as workplace people, to get to know Jesus and see another facet of Jesus. That's really what I wanted to explore in this book.

LA: Were there any particular marketing strategies that you uncovered in your study of the gospels that surprised you, that made you say, "Wow, Jesus did this thing that I do in my marketing today?"

DS: Well, yes. For example, having a target group. I work with authors, we've actually now published over 135 books by God's grace, and so I worked with a lot of authors, and I'll ask them, "Who is this book for?" And they'll say, "Oh, this book is for everybody." Well, that's ideal, and Jesus certainly had a big vision as well, go into all the world, preach the gospel. So it wasn't just in his kind of backyard, and so what we can learn from that as marketers is that we need to have a clear target group as well. When a woman came to get healing for her demon-possessed daughter, Jesus said, "I have come for the lost sheep of the house of Israel." And so he wasn't saying that, "I don't care about you, I don't care about your daughter, I don't care about other people," He was just saying that in this finite time that I'll be on this Earth doing ministry, I'm going after a very specific group of people and it was a specific ethnic group, and then even within that ethnic group, it was the people that were on the fringes. And I think this is why you see the lost sheep that are part of his core team, these were not the power brokers of his society, but really kind of the outcast.

And so that's one thing that I think surprised me, was that Jesus was very exclusive in who he came to reach in terms of how he was going to spend his time, is probably a better way to think about it. He loved everybody, for God so loved the whole world that he gave his son. But in terms of how he was going to spend his time, you just can't reach everybody, but you can reach somebody and then leave it to the Lord to do the work of spreading the flames of whatever that message is that you're bringing to the world.

LA: What interests me, Darren, is that you're a marketer and you're seeing Jesus as a marketer, and so there's this beautiful parallel of, "Well, I wanna be like Jesus, and I can kind of counter-play my career on his career, in the same way that people who are masons or blue collar professionals can see Jesus as a carpenter, as a stone worker, working in their trade." I wonder, Mark, you have talked to a lot of people in your career as a pastor, about Jesus. Do you see Jesus wearing a lot of different hats depending on who it is that you're talking to?

MR: Well, yes, and that's part of what I find, Darren, so interesting about what you're doing. Darren, I think you're understandably and wisely aware that some people would be... It would be hard for them to think about Jesus as a marketer. Even... I love it. Even Jesus as a guy preparing a talk. "Nah, he's the son of God, come on, he can just wing it." But the thing that you got me thinking about, is, okay, we know that for about 18 years of his life, Jesus was a carpenter or a craftsman, as the Greek would translate it, and we also know by virtue of the fact that his father was, that he pretty much went into his father's business. Now, most people think that Joseph, at some point, died. So Jesus would be a carpenter, you say, "Well, he's a carpenter, he's not a marketer." No, he's a small business owner.

DS: Yeah.

MR: He's gotta sell his stuff and... If you think about it that way, and I'm not like off on some really weird tangent of biblical scholarship. What I'm saying here is really almost certainly true, that Jesus is a small business owner. He's also got a big family he's supporting, he's got all his brothers and sisters, so he's gotta make some money. It's almost certain that Jesus, a small business owner, must have done some literal marketing. I mean marketing to sell stuff, not just influence. And yet, that's a part of Jesus, unfortunately, we don't know it, we don't know that from the gospel, we can't see what he did. But I think the fact of his background before he got really into his messianic work, even more supports your point.

That then when he got into doing the work of preaching, and healing, and drawing the disciples, and training them and all the stuff he was doing, it was... He was continuing on using some of the skills that he'd developed over 18 years of his life. Now, I just find that fascinating and very challenging, because I think it is hard for a lot of us to think of Jesus in such practical, everyday terms. But I think you're really pushing us to think about that and take that seriously, and then learn from him for the work we do. So I love that connection you're making, Darren.

DS: Yeah, and I love the perspective of Jesus as a craftsman, and I think we would see this showing up throughout all of the influence that he did, not just as a carpenter, but just think of the painstaking attention to detail that carpentry would require and how Jesus would have applied that to really, every message that he delivered, was very, very methodical, very, very carefully craft... We like to think, as you mentioned, we would like to think of Jesus as just kind of winging it and just speaking off the cuff, because he just has that insight, that ability.

But I don't know, he's a human, he's right there with us, and if he's not going to tell us to do our work with all of our heart as working for the Lord, if he's not doing his work with all his heart and all of the attention to detail that that requires.

MR: That's right on. And a good... A successful carpenter does not wing it, there is a plan. Often, literally a plan, if not just a plan. You've got to do things in the right order, and you gotta know what you do, you gotta buy the materials that you need, etcetera, etcetera. And it's impossible to imagine that Jesus would have been any good at his "day job" if he was just the winging it guy.

And so again, you're focusing, and I think rightly so, on the work he was doing once he sort of outed himself as the Messiah and was preaching, teaching... But it's just interesting to think that that's not necessarily just this brand new completely discontinuous thing he was doing. And I think your point is a really good one, that... And it just stretches us to think of Jesus that way, but it's so important because I think they're gonna... I'm sure there are lots of marketers who are faithful followers of Jesus, and don't see their work as really any significant way, connected to Jesus, right?

Because, "Well, I'm just a marketer, I'm trying to sell stuff, I'm trying to advance the brand or help... " etcetera, etcetera. Whereas, what you're doing is building bridges, I think, between the experience of people who are doing this kind of work, that's important work, and then Jesus and his work. And then you're also challenging the rest of us, 'cause I'm not a marketer per se, but I am, in your definition, someone who is wanting to be an influencer or to be strategic.

And so then you're challenging me to think about how I can be like Jesus in the work I'm doing.

DS: Awesome. Well, that's encouraging.

LA: So let's go to this bigger vision of folks who are not just marketers. Because like I said in the introduction, we're all being pushed to market ourselves in one way or another today. And maybe everyone always was marketing themselves, but we just didn't have that language to describe it. But today, we really have the savvy-ness in the work world, that I should be my own brand, and I need to be working on my touchpoints and my elevator pitch if I wanna move forward in my career. But there's something... There's also this hangover from religiosity that's telling me I really shouldn't be so self-focused or... So Darren, tell me how do individuals like me really move forward to own what might be like a God-given version of self marketing?

DS: Yeah. Well, I don't necessarily think of it as self marketing, as in marketing oneself, although personal branding is an aspect of it. And you see this with Jesus in the way that he would describe himself as the door, as the good shepherd, all of the different kind of word pictures that he would use to use these everyday concepts to help people understand what he was about, which ultimately was about the kingdom.

And doing his father's will and all of these things. And so I don't think somebody can really know what you're about until they know who you are, which is where the branding comes into play. So that's probably an important part, it is to recognize that this is not about you, this is about something much bigger, and I think I'm speaking to Christians here on this show. And ultimately what our mission is, is to know him and to make him known, and we do that, that really is marketing, making him known, that's marketing. And that all comes through in the way that we do our job. Hey, that's marketing, that's gonna either lead people toward or away from Jesus.

And so we're all... Whether we're selling something or trying to get somebody to vote for us, or trying to get somebody to come to our church, or whatever you're... Or trying to get your kids to get in line. It's really all marketing. It's a strategic influence, and I think that's what we see Jesus doing throughout the Gospels.

MR: You know, Darren, I think you rightly, in your book, identify one of the reasons we can be hesitant about marketing. So I wanna ask you about this. Can you talk about the difference between marketers and manipulators?

DS: Yeah, well, I think people automatically... Somebody or some entity comes to mind when they think about a manipulator that ripped them off, that promised one thing and actually delivered either nothing or something that was very, very unexpected in a negative sense. And I've had these experiences of where you learn forgiveness in the marketplace, where you get... I've gotten ripped off of or very, very early. In fact, I shared this example in the book of when I was just starting out as an entrepreneur trying to get a start-up going.

And I paid and didn't really properly vet this guy either, so there's a lot of lessons learned there, but ended up losing $5000 and had nothing to show for it. But hey, this guy was probably pretty confident in his sales abilities, having gotten $5000 out of me and not really had to do anything for it. And so I would consider that a manipulator, and that's... And one example is strategy five from the book. I don't know if you're ready to get into more of the specific...

LA: No go for it.

DS: Yeah, it's strategy five, and you could call it a strategy, call it a principle, whatever you want. But I think if you're doing marketing like Jesus, you're gonna offer results for every claim, and we all know those who have not done this, such as the example I just shared a little bit ago. But this shows up with Jesus where John the Baptist is really in his low moment in prison, and sends word to Jesus, "Are you the expected one or shall we look for someone else?" So this is the forerunner, this is Jesus' chief promoter.

And he's just almost convinced that this was all just a waste of his time to say nothing of his life that's on the line here. But Jesus says, go and report to John what you hear and see. The blind receive sight, and the lame walk, and the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. So Jesus is basically saying, look, the proof is in the pudding, here's everything I said I was going to do.

And Luke 4, where Jesus really effectively gives his mission statement of what he's going to accomplish, he says, this is all happening, and so go and don't just give him a pep talk or say, No, no, no, actually, I'm not... This is not all a waste, I am who I say. But he gives them the proof, shows him them the results. And so if you're looking for a promotion at work, you wanna go and share the results of what is... Now, when you hired me, this is what you hired me for, but now let me show you the specific tangible results of what I have accomplished here, that probably wouldn't have happened had I not been in this role. Go ahead, go ahead.

LA: Well, this happens in Matthew 11, and it's almost like Jesus is handing his disciples like the annual report of his ministry, like this is what we've done so far. The blind are receiving their sight and the lame walk, and the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear. And it's hard to argue with actual results in that way, and I think this is a very easy... Market with your actual results is a very easy stepping stone for people in their careers who might be nervous about self-promotion, our first step could be just logging some results.

I had a woman who was a mentor to me, and she said one of the best things that you can do is just have a spreadsheet saved on your computer somewhere called personal accolades or personal accomplishments, and whenever a client sends you a very complimentary email or you pull out something in at the last minute, something good happens, just note it in the spreadsheet, so you have a running record, 'cause everyone forgets come review time, they only remember what happens happened in the past few weeks. But if you set up for yourself this running record, it can be a good way for you to not only advocate for your work when everyone else forgets, but also a way to have some satisfaction in the real results that you've driven in your job.

DS: Yeah, yeah. And I think this also assumes that you already have clearly defined what your message is, what your value proposition is.

LA: What the results result should be, 'cause if you don't know what the results result should be, you can't keep a record of them.

DS: Yeah, 'cause if you go to your boss and you're like, Yeah, I led this blood drive, or I went out and did this that and the other thing, but it's not actually moving the needle in terms of your core, what you were really hired to do. And I think that comes with getting really abundant clarity about what your role is, what are you assigned to do. And then as you said, use spreadsheets, Google Docs, whatever you need to use to keep track of what you're actually accomplishing, and you'd just be shocked at how many organizations, how many individuals are not doing this, they're like, "Oh well, if they think that I'm doing a good job, then they're watching that and I'll just... "

When I was in the military, performance reports are a huge deal, and your boss basically comes to you and says, Draft up your report. And they're either gonna agree or they're gonna tweak some things, they're gonna add some of their own language and things like that, but they're gonna need you to write that yourself.

And you know when Jesus delivered the demon-possessed man at Gadar, he told him, "Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how he had mercy on you." He didn't say, "Go home to your people and tell them that I'm the son of God," or "Go tell them this that," He tells him, just tell them what you have experienced and that's gonna be enough, because that's what Jesus was into, was results. And so if you're looking to get people to go talk nice about you and tell of what you have to offer, make it very tangible. And that's what Jesus did. But there are probably the most complex, as you can imagine, issue that came up in the book is, what about when, I don't know if ya'll wanna get into this or not. What about when Jesus said...

LA: We wanna get into it.

DS: For example, "I know I just healed you, but don't go and tell anybody about it." [laughter] So there were issues like that. I think that those were mostly earlier in his ministry when he would say, for example, to his own mother like, "My time has not yet come. I know you want me to work a miracle here with this wine situation, but my time has not yet come," and so there were some issues related to that.

MR: Yeah, but you think even practically. So you're a marketer, but suppose next week in church, you're supposed to like, I don't know, give the announcement for some event at church, and if in the middle of that announcement you start talking about your latest book, you shouldn't have done that.

So there's a time to talk about stuff and then there's a time not to. You have probably, and I'm sure listeners know people who are always marketing themselves, and so it isn't that they're talking about their work or their product that's a problem, it really is the indiscretion of just always doing it, right? When you're just hanging out, they're talking. So they're always selling. And that's inappropriate. So I think one of the things we learn from Jesus is pay attention to your audience and the timing, and even the message, there are certain ways to talk in a certain context and ways to talk in another context, and Jesus, I think, was aware that if the message gets out in the wrong way at the wrong time, it's actually not gonna be as helpful to people.

DS: Yes, yeah, I totally agree. And there's the maxim in sales, Always Be Closing, ABC Always Be Closing. I think that's not good. That's manipulation. That's not marketing like Jesus. That's not strategic influence the way that Jesus did. Maybe you might get some more sales that way, but you're probably gonna have fewer friends for one thing, and the people that, if your whole focus is on closing and not really on the person and helping to really identify what their needs are and the extent to which whatever you're offering can actually help to meet those needs, I don't think you really have studied your target group very well or maybe even not even defined what your target group. It's like this book is for everybody, and so you're gonna go try to sell a distinctly Christian living book to a group of non-Christians. It's probably you're not really understanding there are ways to write books for non-Christians as a Christian, but don't expect your non-Christian co-workers to wanna just go buy your devotional, because hey, it might not be time for that just yet.

LA: And that's... I was wondering, as you're saying this, if this seems harder today in a marketing culture where instant and newsworthy and news cycle has really been reduced in the scope of time, right? So here's Jesus at a wedding, you know, this is in John Chapter 2, and perfectly capable of doing a miracle, turning water into wine, and indeed that would be very helpful to the wedding guests and to the host, it'd be helpful to the host and to their reputation, and he's saying, "It's not my time to shine. I'm not the one who's supposed to be on the spotlight today." And I wonder if that message feels difficult, it feels more difficult to us today when we see... Especially the social media marketing, and look at everyone on Instagram prepping their latest thing for its launch. And I wonder if the waiting until we've really identified our target audience and that we have a compelling message for them, I wonder if that feels harder today?

DS: I think we all face that temptation of, well, I need to be more... You gotta be more active on social media, you gotta be telling people all these things that are going on in your life. And... I mean, just to see the patience of Jesus, I think it really... The difference is, when it's not about you, when it's about something bigger, I think you'll be more strategic. Because there were so many... Like, his brothers said to him, "Leave here and go into Judea, so that your disciples also may see your works, which you're doing. No one works in secret who seeks to be known openly," this is what they're saying to Jesus. "If you do these things, do them in front of the world," that's like the slogan for our narcissistic social media, we gotta show them everything culture. If you're gonna do it, do it in front of the world.

But Jesus responded to them and said, "My time is not yet here." But then later when the time was right, he said, "Let us go to Judea again." And so, I think part of that was, Jesus is concerned that his time might be up quicker had he gone there at that time. And I think that's where Thomas says, "Let's go and we'll die with you." But Jesus, regardless of why he waited on things and he was just... He was so strategic and careful about what he was doing.

LA: And that's another story from the Book of John, that's John Chapter 7, and I'm thinking of the way the whole Book of John, John's Gospel is written probably last in the timeline of the Gospels, and there's more focus on time. [chuckle] Jesus reflecting on time, both the time of his ministry and eternal time. So, it's interesting that we've just pulled out a whole bunch of scriptures from the Gospel of John. And Mark, I wonder if you have any thoughts of the time... The reflecting on the eternal time nature that Jesus talks about in the Gospel of John, and whether that's something that we could maybe lay a hold of today as we think about crafting our own image? Maybe that could help us get away from this kind of anxiety about crafting our own image.

MR: Man, that's a very interesting question. I think one thing, and both of you already talked about this, the influence of social media in general, but especially, social media has made people extraordinarily impatient and hurried, right? 'Cause you gotta get ahead, especially on social media, if you're gonna get attention, you gotta get ahead of everybody else. And so, what do you lose there? You lose reflectiveness, you lose... I mean, Darren you're talking about thinking strategically. You'll even lose strategic thought, you're just reacting. And we've seen so much in news cycles that get things wrong 'cause everybody's reacting so quickly and we can get caught up in that. So one thing, and this isn't entirely answering your question, Leah, but one thing that ought to happen for those of us who are Christians, we do need to have this expansive sense of time, that it's a long time and that it's God's time, that God has times in which things are right and appropriate, and times in which things are not.

And then we recognize... I think it's Psalm 31, Leah, you probably know. But I think it's around Verse 14 or 15, but where the psalmist... It says, "But I trusted you, O Lord. I say, you are my God, my times are in your hand." And just this notion that God holds the time of our lives. You know, if we really take that seriously, that's gonna... It's gonna move us out of this place of anxiety and rushing and that we've gotta control it all, and we've gotta do it all. It's gonna give us a very different sense of time. It's gonna help us deal with the craziness of the way time functions in our world today. So that's not everything, but that's just one thought.

LA: It's Psalm 31:15, my times are in your hand.

MR: Oh I guessed right. Way to go.

LA: Good memory. [laughter] Mark. But the Verse before is, I trust in you O God. That there's this trust that comes from knowing that the time is not something that I have to control, which I think does take a little bit of the pressure off, of I need to craft my image, I need to market myself, I need to make myself more ready for the next version of the job market. Perhaps one reason that Jesus could implement all these wise marketing tactics is because he knew that what... The message that he was selling was not just his persona, but was God behind it, you know?

DS: Yeah.

LA: And God had infinite time scale, and I think we can get a piece of that by repeating the Psalm ourselves, I trust in you O God, my times are in your hand. That we can hold on to God's time scale and feel a little less... Alright, I don't know, Darren, does that resonate with you at all?

DS: Yeah, yeah, it does. It makes me think about this term that scholars have given to the way Jesus would say, I know I just healed you, but don't go tell anybody. They call it the Messianic secret. And so, I think for each of us as individuals, there are some things that we should be able to just keep secret for a time and just wait for the peace of God to start to bring that forth as opposed to the idea that the disciples had, if you do these things, do them in front of the world. That's not God's way. That's certainly not Jesus' way. I mean, there are certain things that he certainly did demonstrate in front of... I mean, for example, rising from the dead. So, there are... But I think for a lot of us, there is just so much pressure to have to be constantly putting stuff out on social media. I don't really buy into that, and... I mean, I write on marketing, I think a lot about marketing, I encourage my authors to market well, market consistently, but that doesn't mean that you need... It doesn't even necessarily mean that you need to be putting stuff out on social media. Like the question is, where is your target group?

There are certain metrics that I track for my business, and one of those is not how many social media followers do we have, or how many likes do we have? But I can tell you it's... For our publishing company, it's how many authors are publishing multiple books with us? Which is about 45%. And then, how many books have we published that were referred to us by our authors, by an author that we have already worked with that was so satisfied... They were at least satisfied enough to go and refer their friend, their colleague, to publish with us, and that number is about 49%. Might even be a little bit over that now. But those are the two metrics that I wanna pay attention to, because I think that's another aspect of Jesus' marketing, is it was more on quality than quantity, because he could have gone and... He did preach in front of a lot of people, but we really see him spending the bulk of his time is pouring into those disciples, that core team.

And that's what I once said about me, is that I focused on a few regardless of how many ended up buying into what we're doing as a result of that, but focusing on the quality, the value that you are delivering, and whether you're a pastor, or whether you're a stay-at-home mom influencing your kids, whether you're selling things in the marketplace, or any combination of those, that we should really be focusing on the quality and the follow-up of the message that God has given to us.

LA: I like that, and I think that's a good place to end 'cause we've really come around full circle. [chuckle] From this point of, Gosh, how do I market myself? How do I keep on the treadmill of branding and message to actually do your work well. And the consistency of your message will follow from that, I actually feel like I got a lot of peace from this conversation in the end. So, thank you, Darren. Thank you for bringing the peace of a real marketer to bear on our toughest marketing questions, and the book for other people to go check out is, Marketing Like Jesus: 25 Strategies to Change the World. Darren, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today, it's been a pleasure.

DS: It was a lot of fun Leah and Mark, thank you all for having me, it was a lot of fun.

 

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When You’ve Done the Work But Aren’t Seeing Success - Mary Beth Minnis

Personal frustration is part of the job description in most modern workplaces. Many people today find themselves toiling in jobs where the rewards of success often seem elusive. If this is you, this may leave you asking: How long do I have to wait to see success in my work? Our guest today is a film producer who recently found herself asking the question: How long? Mary Beth Minnis is a documentary filmmaker whose producing credits include award-winning films such as Return to Mogadishu, Unforgivable and Tower. Through these films, Mary Beth Minnis has inspired audiences with true stories of resilience, hope, and redemption. But the project most poised for commercial success, a documentary film called Jump Shot, continues to be plagued by setbacks and incomplete distribution, all of which have left her asking the question: How long? Interestingly enough, the film tells the story of the basketball great Kenny Sailors, the inventor of the jump shot, who also spent much of his career without recognition for his contributions. In today's conversation we'll talk to Mary Beth Minnis about what it's like to wait, and wait, and wait for success at work, and to ask the question: How long?

 

Scripture References

  • 2 Corinthians 1:8-9
  • Romans 8:28
  • Psalm 90:17
  • Habakkuk 3:16-19

 

Additional Resources Referenced

Jump Shot Movie

 

Thanks for Listening!

If you like what you've heard, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts! We'd love to hear from you, and it helps other people find us. 

 

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Transcript

Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

Personal frustration is part of the job description in most modern workplaces. Many people today find themselves toiling in jobs where the rewards of success often seem elusive. If this is you, this may leave you asking: How long do I have to wait to see success in my work? Our guest today is a film producer who recently found herself asking the question: How long? Mary Beth Minnis is a documentary filmmaker whose producing credits include award-winning films such as Return to Mogadishu, Unforgivable and Tower. Through these films, Mary Beth Minnis has inspired audiences with true stories of resilience, hope, and redemption. But the project most poised for commercial success, a documentary film called Jump Shot, continues to be plagued by setbacks and incomplete distribution, all of which have left her asking the question: How long? Interestingly enough, the film tells the story of the basketball great Kenny Sailors, the inventor of the jump shot, who also spent much of his career without recognition for his contributions. In today's conversation we'll talk to Mary Beth Minnis about what it's like to wait, and wait, and wait for success at work, and to ask the question: How long?

Mary Beth Minnis, welcome to The Making It Work Podcast.

Mary Beth Minnis: Thank you so much for having me.

LA: Thank you so much for being here. So I wanna start by talking about this film Jump Shot, which by the way, listeners, I highly recommend it. It was both very enjoyable, and very inspiring to watch. So tell us a little bit about Kenny Sailors, the inventor of the jump shot, and about his story that you're telling through the film.

MBM: Absolutely, I love talking about the man Kenny Sailors, he is one of my heroes, somebody that I admire and respect immensely. I remember when I first saw a rough cut of the film Jump Shot, telling some of Kenny Sailors story, I was so moved by this man who really exemplified what it means to be a human, he was somebody who was known, well-known for his contribution to the game of basketball, well he wasn't well-known. But the thing he was most famous for was for his contribution to the game of basketball, and developing the jump shot, the modern day jump shot. But what moved me was the way he chose to live his life. He made sacrifices for his family, for his country, he served as the United States Marine in World War II, and he sacrificed for women, so that they would have opportunities to play basketball. And somebody like him, a forerunner like him, just moved me when I saw the rough cut, and I couldn't wait to join the team, and help tell the story of this wonderful man, Kenny Sailors.

LA: So I should give a little background. I know I started by saying he invented the jump shot, some of our listeners may not be sports fan, so just to be clear, he picked his feet off the ground and shot a basketball while jumping, which before him people didn't do, and this was a huge innovation to the game of basketball. So in the film, there's kind of this... There's a sports element to it, there's maybe this engineering entrepreneurship element to it, the inventor of something, and there's this human interest side, which is Kenny Sailors has a really interesting life story and he's so humble in his way of speaking. So the film really has everything that you might wish for in a film poised for commercial success, it's a very compelling story, it's inspirational, and it was supposed to have this wide release in theaters and then the pandemic hit and kind of... Why don't you tell us what happened because of the pandemic, and where the film is now?

MBM: Sure. Well, I'll also mention one of the things that led me to believe that it would have wide commercial success is that we were able to secure interviews with basketball greats, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry.

Steph Curry is also an executive producer on the film, so we really had some power houses in the game of basketball today. And we were set to have a theatrical release April 2nd, 2020, if I'm remembering correctly. And I had lined up all of these people across the country that I knew, and we had premiered the film at the South by Southwest Film Festival in 2019, and we'd won so many awards and everyone was so excited, and then the pandemic hit. And I think we can all relate to our entire lives being upended when that happened, and we saw opportunities, "Oh, well, maybe we're not gonna be able to do this, but maybe it could be this." And some people saw great success with their work that they had never seen before, and other people lost their jobs, and had difficult things happen. So for us, we had to pivot and do an online release, and that went well, but the film didn't see the distribution that I had hoped for, and that we had dreamed about, and that I had prayed for. And it was really disappointing, and as time went on through the pandemic, it's continued not to see the success that I think it deserves. [chuckle]

LA: So you mentioned you had prayed for success, how did your prayers... And I'm sure you weren't like God make this film successful so I can have lots of money, and be super successful. You want this film to be successful so it can reach, and inspire lots of people. How did your prayers change as time went on with this film not seeing the release or adoption that you hoped it would?

MBM: I would say my prayers changed to me being open to whatever the Lord wanted to do. Okay, this isn't happening how we thought it was gonna happen, this is really disappointing, I'm gonna talk to God about that. Okay, you must have something else in mind, so help us get on board with your agenda, whatever it is. And then I started to have ideas, and dreams of something that, "Oh, okay, well, maybe not this, but this." But at each turn, it sort of felt like, "Okay, and then I thought maybe it was this, but then it wasn't that." [laughter] It's just this continual sort of laying down of how I envision God answering my prayers, and what reality is.

LA: Mark, I wanna bring you into the conversation because I think there's precedent in the Bible for us praying about our work, even when our work doesn't go well, and maybe especially when our work doesn't go well. And I'm thinking in particular of all these instances in the Psalms where the Psalmist is having a bad day at work, and mentions this, specifically, I'm thinking, one example is Psalm 90, which starts out lamenting, how long Lord? And then it ends with the words, let the favor of the Lord be upon us and prosper the work of our hands. So this is one instance in the Psalm, specifically, related to work, but how do you think, Mark, the Bible sets up a framework for us being able to pray for our work when it's not going well?

MR: Well, you've identified one of the most important pieces, which is that scripture models for us an open expression of our disappointment with God. It's not just how long, it's sometimes always like, where are you? Why are you not here? There's really this freedom that the Psalmists have, really to tell God how they're feeling and their disappointment in him. And for a lot of us, that is not something we were brought up to do, maybe even in human relationships, but especially in our prayers, we were taught to believe God, and trust God, and rejoice. And those were all important things too. I'm not saying that we shouldn't do those things, but many of us did not learn what the Psalmist knew so well, and that was how actually to lament and to express openly their disappointment.

And that's a starting point. Because if you don't really express to God what's going on inside of you, it's harder for God to touch those parts of you. God can do all kinds of things, so God is not limited by us. But it's often when we open our hearts to God, open our disappointments, our frustrations, our how longs, that God is able to get inside of us and begin to do some work that otherwise God might not have been able to do. And so the Psalms are extraordinarily permission-giving, if you will, and that's really important for all people, but especially for those of us who were raised in families, or churches, or cultures that tended not to be very good with lament.

LA: Is that how you... Mark, do you feel like you were raised in that culture?

MR: Oh, absolutely. The culture, but also especially in my family, just had a really, really hard time with things like sadness and disappointment. The extreme example of that was, my dad died fairly young, and my mom's mother, my grandmother, my mom's mother loved my dad and loved my mom and was a wonderful human being. And when my dad died so young, she never ever talked about him, never asked my mom how she was doing, why? 'Cause she had no place in her life for that kind of sadness, even though she had it. And so if I were in my past shoes as a younger person in my family system and said, "I'm just so disappointed." I would be encouraged, I would be told that God would work it out, that God always has a purpose, God always has a plan, and those are true, I really believe them, but there wouldn't have been a place in my family for me to say, but this is really disappointing. I feel really sad. I'm just so... That just wasn't okay. And the fact that we can do that with God and that they're in the Psalms that are then not just personal prayers, but shared with others says we can do that in Christian community. We can share what's really going on in our lives with others. And that opens us up to new things that God would do and ultimately, to hope and joy and all that, but you don't jump ahead there.

LA: Mary Beth, do you feel like either in your religious upbringing, or in your community you're in now, did you feel like you had a space to give breath to lament either to God or to other people?

MBM: Yeah. So I was raised in America and in both Catholic and Protestant traditions. And I've worked with a Christian non-profit for a long time. So I would say generally, there hasn't been a space for lament. Certainly, I was exposed to the Psalms, and certainly I learned somewhere along the way that it was okay to do those things. But if I showed what would be negative emotions, sometimes people wouldn't hold space for that, and instead, they would try to cheer me up quickly rather than just sitting with me in the grief and allowing me to not be alone in it. And so because that was my experience, I really try to do that now with people. Believe me, I'm not perfect at it. I'm sure I can quote Romans 8:28 at times, that God's working all things together for our good, too early before someone needs to hear that. But I really try to sit with people in their lament, in their grief, and allow them to feel that and to walk through it. You asked about how my prayers changed or what my prayers were like when I faced the disappointment. I asked questions of God, whether it was journaling or on a walk or just silently in my heart, I would ask these questions like, "Lord, why does this film not get the viewership I think it deserves? Why do these films that I think are objectively not as high of quality, not as well-made or even their content is sort of soul-numbing rather than soul affirming, why are these films... Why are these things spreading like wild fire?" [chuckle]

And I don't know what that says about humanity or what, but it just would grieve me. 'Cause I think when anyone sees this film, I've rarely heard any majorly negative feedback. Now, that could be because they don't wanna say that to me. That's true. But for the most part, people feel like it's something that they really enjoy and feel uplifted by. And so it just grieves me that why can't I get this to everyone? It's the same sort of feeling I have when I want everyone in the world to know Christ like I know him. When you have tasted living water, you want to offer that living water to everyone you encounter. And at the same time, you have to trust it is God's spirit at work. So I guess I need to apply that when it comes to my film work.

LA: Well, I'm curious, when you're in that place of prayer with God and you are being open with God and bringing your laments, "Why isn't this film getting the air time it deserves when all the soul-numbing stuff is?" What do you feel... Do you feel like you hear anything back from God? Is God in your brain, quoting back, Romans 8:28, "We know all things work together for good for those who love God." Or is it a Psalm-like experience where you're praying something into the ether and that feels some way transformative? What does the experience of bringing that to God feel like for you, Mary Beth?

MBM: Different times I hear from God in different ways. It's usually not immediately. Usually, I'll cry out to God literally, verbally, when I'm alone or in my head or in a journal. Usually, I don't hear anything back right away. But he tends to answer my cries at some future point, when I'm listening to a sermon, when I'm in Scripture, when I'm with godly people. Somehow he'll kinda connect the dots in my brain and it'll make more sense like, "Oh, okay. Perhaps this is what you're doing." Oftentimes, I see in the Scriptures, especially in the Psalms or... And Job asking the question, "Why? Why? Why? We want the answer, why?" And it's not super common that God will explain why. Sometimes he does. But usually, he answers with who, himself, his character, like with Job. And I think it's because we can't comprehend why. Because at every moment, God is doing so many things to bring about his plan of redemption that as finite human beings, we couldn't comprehend it. And so even though I crave the why, and sometimes God answers it, and I have to ask it 'cause it's in my heart, it's in my mind, I don't usually get a clear answer. And I just have to trust that perhaps some day in eternity, perhaps I will be able to comprehend that. And I will see and understand. Or maybe I never will. Because I'll never be God. I will always be his creation.

LA: Mark, tell me if you've had this experience over the course of your career.

MR: Yeah. Sure. I do wanna say though, 'cause we mentioned Romans 8:28, which is certainly is one of those verses you can quote at somebody or yourself, God is working all things together for good. So get it together. Stop being so upset. Now, the same guy who wrote that, Paul, actually wrote this passage in the first part of 2nd Corinthians that is mind-blowing, really, if you think of that. 'Cause he says there, so he's writing to these folks in Corinth and he says... I'm gonna read it for you so that I get it right: We don't want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia, for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt as if we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

Now, my inclination is to wanna focus there, on God who raises the dead, and then it says that God rescued him in it. But what an amazing thing. First of all, that he, the guy who knows that God works all things together for good also was felt utterly, unbearably crushed that he despaired of life itself. Now, that's pretty big.

LA: He was having a bad day at work.

MR: Yeah. We don't know actually, as you said, we don't know exactly what the affliction was, but almost every scholar thinks it is work-related for him, something having to do with his apostolic work and there's different theories on that, but yeah, for him it was a work-related thing, he was utterly unbearably crushed despaired of life itself. So first of all, that he felt that is important, and he's sharing it with these people, which is just... Now, there is good news, and so we hold those things together, but I just find that to be so important to hold those things in tension, because it's easy... And I actually think I do know some Christians who lean so much in the direction of lament, it feels like they sort of stay there, and that's not what we're talking about here either. But I just wanna say, we've got that tension that we live into, and in that tension, there is an opportunity to be honest about where we are, we've got it with others, and then it is God who raises the dead. So it's God who intervenes, but in different ways, sometimes in ways that we ask for and want, and that's wonderful, and often in ways that we don't expect, which ultimately is wonderful, it may not be in the moment.

LA: I feel very inspired hearing that connection between Paul's encouragement and also his really bad workplace situation that he shared. I wonder Mary Beth if this is a story that you take inspiration from, or if there are other places that you take inspiration from in your current situation of workplace waiting?

MBM: Well, I think you maybe mentioned Psalm 90, I don't know if we've talked about that yet. But it says: Let the favor of the Lord be upon us and prosper the work of our hands. And it's interesting that you had mentioned that passage because that was the passage I chose for when I made Return to Mogadishu, and I would pray it over, and over, and over, and over again, every decision, at every turn, I would pray that. And the Bible addresses, obviously, that our workplace waiting must matter to God and it must matter to people. So it's kind of something that all people have dealt with. If it's in the Hebrew Scriptures from way back when, it gives me great comfort to know it's not just me that has to deal with workplace waiting, and that I'm not the center of the universe, I'm not the only one that faces this, and that I can take comfort from that, and yeah. So I wanted to hit those notes. What was your question again on this one?

LA: No, you absolutely answered my question. That is so beautiful. I love the reflection that since time in memorial, since people have been following this God that we follow today, they have also been asking for favor in their work, they have also been praying prosper the work of our hands, and they have also been returning to this God in lament when things don't go right. And as Mark said, they have also been, in some way, after some time, resurrecting their feelings of hope that God is capable of bringing good things out of situations that feel like they're failing or bringing good things for them and for their work out of difficult situations.

MBM: And I would just say there are New Testament people that I look to, like Paul, who was rich and poor, was in prison, was a Roman citizen, had everything as far as his Jewish background and faced rejection and all of those things on the gamut, or I look at Joseph in the Old Testament, or Esther, or these different people who went through really challenging times and yet in their stories within the time frame that they lived, you do start to see some of the redemption, and some of what God was doing, and that gives me great hope. I know that some of the dreams and desires I have will not be fulfilled this side of heaven, but I have hope that some of them will be fulfilled. And perhaps as I get older, I will understand with greater wisdom some of what God is doing to bring about His plan of redemption.

MR: Yeah. Another great biblical example of sort of living into this place of struggle and tension and faith is the prophet Habakkuk or Habakkuk, I know people say it either way, but in the very end of that book, so I'll read one passage and then another, so there's a passage where the prophet says: I hear and I tremble within, my lips quiver at the sound. Rottenness enters into my bones, and my steps tremble beneath me. I wait quietly for the day of calamity to come upon the people who attack us. Now, so that's they're waiting, they're being threatened by others, but the point, you get this again, this sense of just, this guy is in a tremendous funk because of the attack, and he's waiting. God is not rescuing them.

Okay, the immediate next verse is a whole lot about work, it says: Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines, though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls. These are agricultural people, so basically, though my work has been absolutely fruitless, there are nothing there, though, yet, I will rejoice in the Lord, I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of the deer, and he makes me tread upon the heights. And part of what I think we're saying, and Mary Beth, what you're saying is, there some of us and some of our culture and our traditions we're gonna jump to that end. In fact, if we're gonna read this in church, we probably only read the, I'll rejoice in the Lord and exult. But look at the context of this just devastation waiting upon God, God isn't doing something, my bones are rotten out, my work has been absolutely fruitless, still I will rejoice in the Lord. So we live in that place of tension. Again, and you've said it, Scripture gives, it invites us into this place because it's in that place of honesty with God and crying out to God that our hearts get open and God can do things in us that God has not been able to do before.

And the blossoming of the fig tree in the end isn't something we can produce at any rate. Whether God blesses or not, it's not something we can control, but we can engage with God with authenticity, and we can cry out for God to bless us and bless our work, and Mary Beth you're not just asking God to bless your work so you yourself can be successful, and it's obvious that from the work you do and who you are, it's what the work does. Your vision is for the impact of the work in people's lives and in our world, and that is... And then you wanna say so God, what's up? [chuckle] And specially I appreciate your comment about looking at other things that are successful, when do you think, why is that? And that's a real place to be. It's really a gift that you're able to share that with us, because I think that will encourage people whatever they were to not be afraid of owning the reality that they're living in.

MBM: This might take us on a tangent…A few years ago, I discovered a quote that has been really helpful to me, it's that, "Life is the drama of God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the immortal King, and the unfolding plan to manifest the splendor of His wisdom, goodness, and power, and the creation, redemption and consummation of all things." Scott Swain is who said that, and it really helped me remember that I'm not the central character in the story of life, nor are the political figures of any generation, kingdoms rise and fall. The Triune God is the main character, the world is the setting, the climax is the cross, and the denouement is the new Heavens and the new Earth. And thinking along these lines has enabled me to fit my story and every other person's story in its proper place.

And a lot of times, like you said, there is a sincere desire that this would be for the good of people and the glory of God, but certainly mixed in there are my own selfish ambitions for glory, for praise, for admiration, for respect, what we all crave as humans. And I have to keep going back to, again, you're not the central character in the meta-narrative of all time and eternity. And that sort of... It takes some pressure off, but it also just sets things in their proper context so that I don't get caught up in what really doesn't matter.

LA: I love that, Mary Beth. Thank you for sharing. You really have a very deep perspective on how to think theologically wholly about facing challenges at work, facing waiting at work. I wonder if we can close our conversation with maybe some practical tips, 'cause we've given our listeners, we've thrown at them the whole book of Scripture from the Old Testament through the Psalms, we got a prophet in there, we got some New Testament, so let's close with some practical tips beyond going to Habakkuk and doing some deep reading over the weekend. And Mark, I'm gonna put you on the spot and start with you. What are practical tips that our listener could do if I'm coming to you, Mark, and I'm saying, "I just have been struggling, I put everything I can into this work project and I'm not seeing anything come out of it. How do I right myself with God right now? How do I get a handle on this? The emotions of the situation?"

MR: Well, partly your question would answer your question, part of the answer to your question is you actually asked somebody else about that, you shared it with somebody. For those of us who are inclined to sort of hold it in, we don't do that as often. And I will confess that I am that way, and sometimes my wife will say, "Is everything okay at work?" 'Cause I'm just being really cranky, but I haven't told her. So one thing is, share it with at least one another person, and it depends what is your context? But share what's going on because there's something wonderful in just having somebody who can understand, but it also often it's in the sharing of it, you can come to certain kinds of clarity or understanding that you wouldn't have had if it's just inside your head, and that's the one.

And the other thing, we already said it, but it's just... And then do that with God, or do it with God first. I don't care the order. But have the faith to tell God what is real, and if you say, if that feels so hard for you, then pull out some of the Psalms we've mentioned or pull out that last part of a Habakkuk or the first part. There's biblical precedent for this. Jesus in the garden for goodness sake, asked that the cup would be removed from him. And we talk about the permission to just lay it out before God, so those two things, talk to... In whatever order seems best and not just maybe one time, some of this you're gonna have to... You wanna process for a while, but have at least one person with whom you can share, and then make sure you're also letting the Lord know what's going on. That those would be my two pieces.

LA: That's great. Mary Beth, what do you have for practical tips?

MBM: Well, I echo what Mark shared. And I would say sometimes it's hard to access our emotions, sometimes it's hard to really get there, and so sometimes music helps me. If I listen to music, different types of music, it can open up my soul or my heart in a way. And then sometimes watching certain movies, or shows, or hearing stories, reading stories, listening to stories, hearing stories, it will just touch something. It's crazy, sometimes I'll be watching a movie, and just one scene will just make me cry and then I'll go, wait, where are these tears coming from? I'm the only one crying here, and that's a clue to let me know there's something there that I need to pay attention to. And then it's sort of like what he said like, okay, I'm gonna talk to God about this, I'm gonna think about this, and maybe I'm gonna find a safe friend that I can say, "Hey, this happened, can you help me process this?" And I also have a therapist that I can turn to for things like that as well, but the body of Christ is usually might go to place to process those things.

Yeah, that's what I would do. And then, sometimes I just need encouragement. So for an example with Jump Shot, when I start to get down and I think, "Oh, how long O Lord?" I remember how long Kenny Sailors worked and wasn't recognized, or I think about Jake Hamilton and the other people who helped make the film and how long they worked on it before it came out, and that gives me encouragement to think, okay, so maybe God's timing isn't what I thought or I think about the people who have said to me, "I watched the film and it moved me in this way," and I hear those things and I think, Okay, I know that this is something that can do good and that will allow me to press on and continue to move forward. Even though I feel discouraged right now, I can keep moving forward knowing that there is value, I just may not always hear or see what's happening, much like you mentioned agriculture in the biblical times and what they worked on, and you don't always see the fruit, sometimes it's years later, decades later, millennia later, and just remembering that and remembering the stories of people who have been moved by something I've done kind of spurs me on.

LA: Mary Beth, I'm gonna underline that tip for our listeners, and for anyone who is feeling down that they're not feeling as seeing success in their work and they're waiting a long time. You have to watch this movie, Jump Shot: The Kenny Sailors Story, because I promise you, I'm not just plugging it because I like Mary Beth, it is very inspirational to see this man who was extraordinarily gifted in his career, and also who waited, and waited, and waited and never got the recognition for his success, at the same time being so humble and well-rounded in his feeling of his identity in God, his identity and who he was as a human being and a person of faith. So watch the film Jump Shot because it'll put a smile on your face, I promise you, and it'll also lead you to a deeper experience of some of the themes that we've been talking about today in this conversation. Mary Beth Minnis, this has been such a pleasure. Thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today.

MBM: Thanks so much for having me.

 

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Biblical Wisdom for Approaching Wealth, Money & Your Work - Roy Goble

How important are wealth and money to your job, and how important should they be? What insight can the Bible offer about how we approach wealth and money? Our guest today, Roy Goble, has wrestled with these issues throughout his career. He is the CEO of a real estate investment firm in Silicon Valley, and he is the author of the new book, Junkyard Wisdom Rebuilt: Resisting the Whisper of Wealth in a World of Broken Parts.

 

Scripture References

  • Luke 2:22-24
  • Matthew 21:12-13
  • Galatians 2:10
  • 1 Timothy 6:17-19

 

Additional Resources Referenced

Junkyard Wisdom Rebuilt: Resisting the Whisper of Wealth in a World of Broken Parts, by Roy Goble

 

Thanks for Listening!

If you like what you've heard, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts! We'd love to hear from you, and it helps other people find us. 

 

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Transcript

​​Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

The world of workplace compensation is changing rapidly. Today, we're living through what some people are calling the Great Resignation. Workers are leaving jobs and salaries that used to entice them. It seems like a good time to ask the question, how important is money to your job, and how important should it be?

Our guest today, Roy Goble, has wrestled with the issue of money throughout his career. He is the CEO of a real estate investment firm in Silicon Valley, and he is the author of the new book, Junkyard Wisdom Rebuilt: Resisting the Whisper of Wealth in a World of Broken Parts. Roy Goble, welcome to the Making It Work podcast.

Roy Goble: Hey, thanks for having me. This is a lot of fun, and that was a very generous introduction. Thank you.

LA: Well, thank you. I want you to unwrap this kind of taboo subject for us because there's this tension around money. On one hand, it can be this incredibly positive force, because of what you can do with it, but on the other hand, money can be negative, because there's a temptation there to maybe base all your decisions around money.

So I just wanna start from your own personal experience, Roy, how have you experienced the tension between the positive and the negative effects of money in your work?

RG: Yeah, that's a very true statement, that there is this tension between having a lot of money and also wanting to be a faithful follower of Christ. I think that's a unique temptation, and it's what I write and speak about quite a bit. It's also something that I've had to struggle with and fight through all of my adult life. I was fortunate enough to be financially successful at a very young age in my 20s, and I'm in my 60s now, and there was this moment where my wife and I were both kinda struggling with what this wealth was doing in terms of our spiritual lives, but also our social lives.

It was creating walls between us and others, because they were uncomfortable with the new car we bought, or the nice house we had or something like that. And these were friends that we had known for years. My wife and I actually met when we were 14, so we had a lot of similar friends and they were uncomfortable with that.

So this created an awareness for us that we were living in the midst of this tension, where we wanted to be good friends, good parents, good spouses. We wanted to be good employers at my company. But we also had this constant sort of temptation, I call it the "whisper of wealth", that was pulling us in a different direction.

Where we landed on this, Leah, was in a kind of a unique spot where we said, "You know what, it feels like the church gives us two choices." We're either to sell it all and go and live with the poor, the way sort of a Mother Teresa model, or St. Francis or a more modern day Shane Claiborne. Or we're supposed to just view the wealth of something that's a massive blessing and just not feel guilty about it, not struggle with it, not feel the tension about it, just enjoy it.

And to us, neither was right. So we have been intentional, and when I say "intentional", I mean we made a lot of mistakes, but we've tried to be intentional about living in the midst of that tension and just accepting it and saying, "That's the very tension that brings us to God." So I could sell everything and go and live with the poor, or I could just not think about it and assume that the wealth that we have is something that is entirely God's plan and we're just supposed to enjoy it.

But in doing either one, for me at least, I don't feel like I would need God more, because it would be a one-and-done decision. I would much rather actually struggle with our wealth on a regular, consistent basis, sometimes it's literally hourly, but it's certainly daily, where you're making these financial decisions.

And if you develop the habit of just saying, "I'm going to bring this to God and wrestle with God," then I actually think God shows up in the midst of that. So I find God shows up in the tension, which is what we love and enjoy, and it has guided us for the last, whatever it's been, 35 years or so.

LA: Now, I don't think you have to be exorbitantly wealthy to experience this tension of whether or not you make decisions about your work or about your social set based on money. I think many people struggle with this tension of how important is decision-making, is money to your decision-making. Mark, I wanna bring you into this conversation. Do you feel this similar tension in your life?

MR: I do, and I'm sure it's different from Roy's, but it's as real in where I live and so many others, and some of that is just the things that my wife, Linda and I... We're coming up on the end of the year and we need to decide, "Well, how much do we give away and how much do we save?" And there are those questions.

But I have Christian friends, for example, I have a Christian friend very much like me in many ways, he has decided he is never going to get like a Starbucks coffee anymore, he's just gonna brew his own coffee at home cheaply and then put all the money he was putting into coffee into helping others. Now, you could be a college kid, a high school kid, and wrestle on that level, and I just think it's fascinating.

I'm challenged by that to think through, "Well, why do I still wanna get a really good coffee sometime?" And so again, I think all of us, just about all of us can wrestle with this. Obviously, there are some in the world who are extremely poor and don't really have this particular challenge. I think that the reason this is so important is that there's a real temptation for Christians, and I've got it.

They say," Well, I'm not really rich. I'm just average. And so the people gotta worry about it are the people who are really rich," and that's a very convenient way of getting off the hook, and I just don't... I know we shouldn't do that, I find it tempting sometimes to do that.

LA: Well, let me ask you Roy, this question. We're in a moment where there's a lot more focus on why do we do what we do at work? If people are leaving jobs in droves, either because the risk factors are different than they were before or the money is not enough. I wonder if the decision making around money and work is changing. Do you see that as a person who thinks a lot about money in society?

RG: Yes, definitely. I would also say that what you were just talking about where you don't have to be super rich or a millionaire to struggle with these issues, that's reflected in the very thing you just asked me. It's a privilege to think, "Hey, I may not have to go to work tomorrow. I'm at an age where my retirement has kicked in, or my pension has kicked in," or whatever your financial planning has allowed you to say, "I'm just gonna step back now." That's part of this massive labor shortage that we're having right now.

That's a privilege, isn't it? It's something that the poor don't get a choice about.

So yeah, I think there is a very big shift going on. I am nowhere near smart enough to know what that means, or where we're gonna land on this. I mean, I'm a real estate developer, I'm not a sociologist. But I will say the shift is absolutely happening and we're seeing folks kind of stepping back and going, "Wow, I didn't really find meaning in work. Maybe I can find meaning in something else."

LA: So you are a real estate developer, as you said, you're also a faithful Christian. When you read the bible, are there particular verses that jump out at you on this topic when you think about, what is a godly way to think about money?

RG: Yeah, it's funny you should ask that. As Mark knows, I wrote a series of devotions for Advent and really love doing it, and when it was over, I kind of missed it, so I just continued on with the story for my own personal study, and I came across the passage about Mary and Joseph, Jesus is eight days old, I think, and it was time to bring them to the temple.

They made a sacrifice in the temple, and they sacrificed a pigeon, or a dove, depending on your translation. And that's an old Mosaic allowance from the Mosaic Laws for the poor, that if you can't afford the full-blown sacrifice, which was expensive, then you could sacrifice something much more affordable, which would be a pigeon.

And it made me smile because it reminded me of how these little details show up throughout Scripture that just continually show how much God loves the very poor. And then fast forward to that, I'm writing some devotions now around the Easter story and Lent, and you've got Jesus showing up at the temple in Jerusalem and throwing all the money changers out.

Well, if you read the detail of that, one of the groups He specifically went after, and the folks that wrote the story thought it was important enough to include, was He specifically went after the pigeon traders. And again, it made me smile because He's going after the people that are manipulating the system presumably, and were exploiting the poor.

It made me smile to think, okay, there's this story with pigeons in the first eight days or so of Jesus' life, and there's the story of pigeons in the last eight days of His human life at least. I just find that remarkable that these little details constantly pop up. And there's this other story about where Paul's writing to the Galatians and he said, "The very mandate that I was given, the only mandate I was given by the so-called pillars of the church was to not forget the poor."

And so arguably the greatest missionary effort in history, had one condition and that was, "Don't forget the poor." So as he went off, left Jerusalem and he went to Antioch and he went to Corinth, and he ended up in Rome and so on, he was given the charge, "Don't forget the poor." And what's unique about that from our perspective is Paul wasn't going to the poor, he was actually going to the rich and the influential.

I can just see some very wise person saying, "If Paul goes off and interacts with all these rich and powerful people, it would be easy for him to also give in to that whisper of wealth, to give in to that whisper of fame, to give in to that whisper of just authority and being part of the power structure. So let's remind him, don't forget the poor." So when I read Scripture, I just come across that over and over and over again.

LA: What does that really speak to you in terms of what actions do you take for yourself out of that, when you read the story of Jesus relating to pigeons in the first eight days and he last eight days of His life? How does... Or Paul's stressing the importance of not forgetting the poor. What is that? What do you take away from that? For the way that you deal with money.

RG: Yeah, let's go back to the question earlier about tension, and one of the tensions we dealt with was, I grew up working in my dad's junkyard, I grew up working with people who were poor. This was a starter job for a lot of 'em, many were folks that were uneducated, maybe they were just out of prison or whatever. And then fast forward from that a couple of decades, and now I'm working with the very wealthy and I'm working with city leaders and that kind of thing.

So there's this tension that we live in, or I live in at least, and I read this stuff in Scripture and it just makes me smile 'cause it reminds me of all those people I knew in the junkyard. It reminds me of the folks who struggle to pay their bills, and it reminded me that I can't forget them. I need to constantly be sensitive to their plight and working to improve their plight to the best of my ability.

So we live out our lives, or again, I should say we try to live out our lives, to lift up others as much as possible. We are very engaged in a variety of different non-profit organizations that serve the poor. I started, along with some friends, an organization called PathLight that works with at-risk kids in Central America. So we're trying to keep that connection in the midst of living and working in a very wealthy area.

LA: I thought you were gonna say you started an organization called Pigeons For The Poor.

RG: I should. That would be cool.

LA: Because that would be just be great alliteration in the title.

RG: Yeah, you absolutely... We need to trade mark that. That's a good one, I like that. [chuckle]

Maybe it's a chapter in my next book.

LA: "Pigeons for the poor". Well, Mark, let me ask you this question. I wonder if you could give us more context about the sacrificial system, and what does it mean that God put in place different tiers of sacrifice, and what might "pigeons for the poor" be translated into in our modern parlance today?

MR: That's a good question. And as you know, Leah and Roy, the sacrificial system was pretty complex, but one of the things that is certainly true about it is that, as Roy said, God set it up so you didn't have to be a person of much wealth at all, you could be poor and still participate.

Another part of it that I love, there are certain times when people who are people of means bring their sacrifices to the temple, part of it gets sacrificed and it's for the priest, and then the rest of it gets to be eaten as a feast for the whole community, including the poor. So there's this inclusivity of the poor, and you just, you find that all the way through Scripture. But I think when we...

One of the places that it really stands out for us is when Jesus is watching people giving gifts to the temple, and those who are wealthy giving larger gifts, and then this woman gives just a couple of pennies, and He says that she gave more than all of them, because she gave all they had. You know, that's an incredible encouragement, I think it's gonna be, to folk who have relatively little financially, but you can still give to God.

Now, that's also true, I've gotta say for gifts other than money, right? Maybe you think, "I can't write, I can't speak. I don't have some of the gifts that are more prominent." No matter what you have, you can offer it and you can offer yourself to God fully, and God isn't saying, "Well, Roy isn't so good 'cause his book didn't sell as much as Rick Warren's I really love Rick Warren."

God is saying, "Roy... " The question, what does Jesus think about your book? I think one thing Jesus would say is, "You know, you're using these gifts I've given you and I'm glad for that, Roy." But again, it isn't about the number of sales or it isn't about the size of the gift, it's really about the offering of yourself, and then the offering of whatever it is God has given you, generously and sacrificially.

LA: Well, this gets us back to the question we were asking at the top, which is, how much does money affect what it is you do for a living? And I'm wondering, Mark, you're saying here, "Well, we can donate our gifts and skills and wisdom." Do you think... Roy, let me ask you this question first, do you think money should be a decision-making factor in what you do to answer God's calling to work?

RG: I think it's one of them, yes. And the reason I say that is, it's a tool like anything else, it's an opportunity to do some amazing things. I mentor several people, and one of the questions I often get is, "I'm just not finding any satisfaction at work, and sometimes I think I ought to quit and just go hand out sandwiches to the homeless."

Now, I'm using that as just a metaphor. I don't think anybody's literally told me that, but they think I need to go to Africa to really make a difference or whatever, and I just laugh at them, frankly, I just go, "Can you get over yourself for a minute."

LA: I bet they love that, Roy. I bet they really love that when you laugh in their face. [chuckle]

RG: They have to sign a pledge when they become a mentee, so I definitely, I kick their butts quite a bit. And I don't use "butts" when I tell them I'm going to do that. So there's this tendency, I think, to be very sort of, "Oh wow, I'm not getting any meaning out of my work," and I'll laugh and go, "Are you kidding me? You've got stock options, you've got a car allowance, you're able to give away X% of your income. You can make a huge difference because of wealth, the money that you're being paid to work." So yes, it is one function.

That said, it's certainly not the only function. You can be paid a lot of money to do some very bad stuff, and I think you have to balance it with several other different inputs to decide, "Is this the right thing for me to do or not?"

LA: Was this where the whisper of wealth temptation comes in, do you think?

RG: Yes, definitely. People get on a track of bigger and better, and wealth just, it's corrupting, and it can get into your system and you begin to measure everything through that lens. It keeps you from God. It gives you this false hope. One of the things I've talked about many times is that we are to place our hope in God, and all too often we place our hope in our wealth.

Now, I know that's a kind of a "duh" kind of a statement, but I challenge people, give away your hope. Give away the hope that you have in your wealth, in your income, in your possessions, and instead give that to the folks that need it the most. Because in doing so, you're giving them hope. So it's a challenge, I think, to find the right balance, of course, but as I said earlier, that's when God shows up is when we're struggling to find that right balance.

LA: Yeah. I have, I have to admit, I've definitely felt that sense of, "Oh, if I could just make 20% more." It's always just 20% more. You know? Than I'm making right now. But if I could just make... Then I'd really, really... Then I wouldn't have to worry. Then I wouldn't have to worry. And then I make a little bit more and it's like, "Oh, if I could just, could just make 20% more, then I would really be comfortable."

And I think there's a part of that putting your hope in wealth that always presses it into the future, some future sense of comfort, versus being present in the moment that God's given us today. Jesus said to His disciples, "The poor will always be with you." I feel that that pointed to a moment, a present moment like, "Here you are. What are the needs of the people around you today?" As opposed to pressing the needs into the future, "Oh, if only. If only we got to this level then we'd be okay." Mark, tell me I'm not alone.

MR: Well, what's so interesting Leah, is that one of my absolute favorite passages in Scripture having to do with wealth, actually talks a lot about the future, but in a different way.

LA: Bring it on, let's hear it.

MR: Well it's in 1 Timothy 6, and there's an earlier passage in 1 Timothy 6 that talks about, "The love of money is the root of all evil," and that's important, and maybe we'll talk about that or not, but a little further on. So 1 Timothy 6:17, and it goes on through, let me actually read it, through 19, "As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches." So you were talking about... You were talking about hope. It's in this. So, "Don't set your hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God." Roy, that's exactly what you were saying.

"Who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment." Which is just fascinating. "They," that is the rich, "are to do good, to be rich in good works. Generous, ready to share." Now, here it comes, Leah, "Thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life."

There is so much we could... I'm a preacher, I won't do this to you, to our audience, but I mean this vision of... Part of it, it is living in the present, but it's also in light of the future, the hope we have in God, in the future that God has for us, that empowers us and urges us to live in a very different way with whatever the resources God has entrusted to us.

And if that we happen to be wealthy, this text does not say, "Sell it all and be poor," it says, "Rather, use what God has given you to do good and be generous and be ready to share." But it also mentions that God richly provides for us for our enjoyment. That suggests it isn't entirely wrong, every now and then, to go to a really good coffee place and pay five bucks for coffee once in a while, if that's your form of enjoyment. But don't get stuck in that that, be rich in good works. Be generous, etcetera. I think that's an amazing text when it comes to thinking about money.

RG: I think Paul stole that from my book, because that's pretty much what my book says. [chuckle]

MR: You know, "That Paul." Or it might be the other way around.

RG: It could be. It's possible. [chuckle]

LA: I think he was definitely... He was definitely paraphrasing you, Roy.

RG: Yeah.

LA: So then Roy, I'll ask you to explain, because the last verse that Mark read in 1 Timothy 6:19 says, "In order to take hold of the life that is truly life, that's why we're gonna be generous and do good deeds and give money away." What does it mean, I just wanna sit on this phrase for a little bit, "take hold of the life that is truly life? Roy, give us an image of what is for you, the life that's truly life, maybe in juxtaposition to this whisper of wealth that is not life-giving?

RG: Great question. So where my mind goes as I think about your question is a bit of advice a mentor of mine gave me, and what he said was that what our role is as just followers of Christ, but as human beings in general, comes down to having authentic relationship, and it's authentic relationship with each other, with friends and family and neighbors, and authentic relationship with God.

And so the life that I think of when I think about a genuine life, a life that matters, the life that God wants to give us, is this genuine, authentic, transparent relationship with each other.

LA: And you think, you know, you're saying at the beginning, in your experience, wealth got in the way of that a little bit, or got in the way between you and your friends.

RG: It absolutely did. It still does. It creates power dynamics that I'm often not even aware of, and it takes a real conscious effort to break through that. And that's part of this... That's part of the corruption of wealth, is that it can corrupt our relationships with others.

MR: Yeah, isn't that the truth? I worked for a while very closely with a man who is extremely wealthy, had billions, literally, and all of his... Well, not all, he had many healthy relationships, but because he was wealthy, people treated him in very odd ways. And one of the things that was clearly going on, especially with non-profit people like me, is they were wanting him to give them money.

And so it was... And so for him, it was so hard to know if people were being authentic, and I watched, I watched people just pretend. It was really weird. It was first time I thought in my life, "You know, there is a serious downside to having money." Now, there's upside and there's all that, but it was really, it corrupted relationships. And again, I'm not suggesting he was corrupted in the relationship. In the way that people related to him.

And you see that all the time, and that's just one example, but it's a pretty powerful... For me, it was a pretty powerful lesson of what you're talking about, Roy, or part of what you're talking about.

RG: Yeah, thank you for pointing that out. And it's true as well, you don't have to be wealthy to have that struggle. I meant to say this earlier, that the last time I looked it up, if you wanna be in the 1% globally, all you need to do is earn about $35,000 a year, and you're in the 1% globally. So when we talk about wealth here, we don't have to be talking about people that are making six-figure income or higher. It's pretty much all of us and those of us that are gonna be listening to this podcast.

LA: How do you lean into God in those moments where you're like, "I'm not sure if money is affecting this decision or not."?

RG: Well, you have to have a community around you that holds you accountable, and this is something that was really hard for me to do at the start, it's a little easier now. But I have a prayer partner that I've prayed with for 25 years. I have an amazing wife that has no problem at all looking me in the eye and saying, "This is not the right thing to do." And so there's this sense of a accountability. My kids are older. They're in their 30s now. They actually hold me accountable. Even folks at work will hold me accountable.

I can remember a financial decision I was about to make it work, and my chief operating officer looked at me and said, "Is this about a good financial decision, or this about ego?" And it cut to the core. But I want people around me that will do that, and I want to just make myself vulnerable to them, and I don't like it, but that's part of it.

The harder part is to do this on the simpler day-to-day decisions, the little things like the $5 coffee or whatever. So those are things that I think you have to ask people. You have to talk to them and say, "How do you make these decisions?" We don't talk enough about that. And then get other ideas and listen to other people what they're doing.

MR: So true. Yeah, it's one of those things that we get very squeamish about, and very much in Christian community. I remember that just from a sort of opposite example, now many years ago, I was in this small group with three other guys and one of the guys thought it was really important for us to actually talk about our personal finances in the group, and really honestly, like show what we make and what we do with it. And the others were like, "Whoa, I'm all in favor of accountability and vulnerability, but... "

Anyway, we decided to do it. And the interesting thing was, I was by far the lowest guy in the... The guy who suggested it actually was making a ton of money, and he was needing some accountability and support, and it was an amazing thing. But honestly, in terms of groups, that's the only place that I've ever done anything like that. I do have friends and really close people, and my wife, but I think as Christians, we're squeamish about money.

And it gets back to what you were saying, Roy, it makes things weird and hard, we're not at peace about it. And that's gotta be a growth edge for us individually, but then as you say, also as Christians together in community.

RG: Yeah.

LA: So Roy, what do you hope people will take away when they read your book?

RG: I would love to see people break down walls between us and others. I think wealth builds walls, we tend to associate with people that are like ourselves, so we tend to shop in the same places that are the quality we want and fit our budget.

So we tend to be around people that are kind of in the same economic category that we're in. We tend to buy the same cars, we tend to live in the same neighborhoods, we tend to use the same insurance companies, whatever. All of that translates into the sort of building of walls between us and people that are different from us, and I found that was the "aha" moment for me, about this whole journey of work and wealth and living in that tension.

LA: How do you think decisions around work and money can break down those walls, and what is the first step? What's a piece of advice that you would give to people?

RG: I used to actually intentionally drive home a different way than the most direct way. This is silly, but I would drive through the bad neighborhoods on my way home, just to stop at a different coffee shop or to run into the 7-Eleven to buy a newspaper or whatever, in a different kind of a neighborhood. It sounds silly, but it actually allowed different small daily relationships to be formed.

And then also a lot of volunteer work, volunteer with folks where you're going to meet people that are different from you. Engage with people socially, accept the invitations you get to parties or events, even if there are people that are unlike you. And invite them back, there's a good biblical reference for you there about, "Hey, if you get invited to a party, you're gonna invite them back."

So it can be the simplest things. Find the person at work that is the most different from you and try to build a real relationship. Now, it might not work, and you might fall flat on your face and you might look absolutely stupid. Well, hello, that's life, and that's okay. And if you can operate with a sense of forgiveness and operate with a sense of true love for other, then it can be a wonderful experience.

LA: Mark, do you have any additional tactics, advice from your life on breaking down walls around money, or even just talking about money more?

MR: Well, that's a good question. Roy's talked about community more than once, and I think part of it is being in relationship of sufficient trust and mutual love, that you can actually talk about the hard things in life. And you know the funny thing is it isn't just money. It's all of the things in life that we have a hard time talking about. It can be parenting, it can be sexual intimacy, all these things that are really tough for us. So partly if we're gonna talk about them in community, we need a kind of community that allows it. That's one thing.

But Roy, what you were saying about breaking down walls, I mean, in a different context, that's exactly what Bryan Stevenson is saying about building racial justice and reconciliation. One of his, and he's amazing, and one of his big points is proximity. You gotta be near the people. You can't just stand back at a distance and look at them from far away. You need to be near them.

As you said, it's so true that so much of our current life in the wider society, in business and in the church, divides us up in different ways, and so it's a challenge for us to think about how could I really get to know people who, for example, really have very little financially? In a way that's respectful and relational and mutual.

Not just, "Well, I'm gonna drop in at a soup kitchen and give some money," but, "How can I do that?" And that's a very different way of thinking, but I just wanna say that you're bringing this wisdom in this case, but Bryan Stevenson is saying, "Hey, this is also huge for other kinds of relationship building and reconciliation and justice, like racial justice." And of course, we do have Jesus who did that, right?

RG: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

MR: You know it's amazing. Jesus hung out with all different kinds of people, and you see Him hanging out with the rich and the poor and the Pharisees, and it just, it's so interesting. So generally, it's a pretty good idea to try and follow Jesus and imitate Him. So we can do that here too.

RG: It's generally a pretty good idea. I agree. Mark, we have a mutual friend in Michaela O'Donnell and Michaela and I are putting the finishing touches on a study guide right now that's gonna be released with my book. We call it a "tool box", so it fits the junkyard theme. We built it around what I call the "junkyard rules for life". Which is first, attack ego, because if you operate in any way, shape, or form with an ego, you're gonna fail.

And then second, shut up and listen. Which is key. And you can't really do it if you have an ego. But the third, to your point, is operate in community. So it just flows together where it's viciously attack your ego, shut up and listen, operate in community. And if you do that, I think the walls start to break down.

MR: Yeah, that's great. I should just add, so Leah had asked earlier, so what could people get out of your book? I mean, I just need to say Roy, one of the things I like about you is you're a very interesting and fun writer. So I read a lot of Christian stuff, and a lot of it's really, really good, but it's rarely funny or off the wall or stuff.

One of the things I love about reading you, so I want our readers to know, if you just want something that's gonna be fun, I mean it's gonna be challenging, but it's also gonna be fun and different and stories. It's like, "Wow, I've never heard a story like that." I mean, your book will do that too.

Now, I know you've got the main point, but I want folks to know that this is really an unusual opportunity, and partly 'cause of your life and your junkyard background, and partly just 'cause of who you are. So they can have a lot of fun, as well as being educated and challenged and inspired and all that sort of thing.

LA: It's true and we made you talk about the hard stuff today, Roy. We made you talk about money and get very serious, but you know, I did enjoy spending time with your writing throughout reading the book, because growing up in a junkyard is a different experience. You have a lot of interesting work-related stories, and I wonder if it's because your work brought you in contact with so many different types of characters. That's part of where this idea of breaking down walls in community maybe comes from.

RG: Yeah, I'm quite sure it is. Absolutely. Thank you for the kind words. I appreciate it. Mark, I'm glad you enjoyed the book. Leah, I'm glad you've enjoyed it as well. So it's awesome.

LA: Well, Roy Goble, it's been such a pleasure speaking with you today. Thank you for joining us on the podcast.

RG: It's been a lot of fun. Thank you so much for having me here.

 

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Time Management Lessons from the Bible - Jordan Raynor

You’ve just said it to your spouse or to your coworker or you yelled into the air above you: There are not enough hours in the day! Your to-do list feels like it’s never ending, and new requests keep coming into your inbox. Meanwhile, your phone is vibrating with alerts, and you have to drive somewhere to pick up something, and you feel like: it’s already halfway through the day and Where has all the time gone? Today, we’re going to talk about getting a handle on your time management, with Jesus. Jordan Raynor is someone who knows a lot about being busy. He is a serial entrepreneur, now the Executive Chairman of Threshold 360, a tech startup which he formerly ran as CEO. Jordan is also an author of a series of books including: Redeeming Your Time, 7 Biblical Principles for Being Purposeful, Present & Wildly Productive.

 

Scripture References

  • Ephesians 5:15-17
  • Matthew 5:16
  • 1 Corinthians 15:58
  • Deuteronomy 6:7
  • Matthew 3:17
  • Genesis 2:2
  • Matthew 4:1-11
  • 1 Chronicles 29:12
  • 1 Corinthians 15:58
  • Romans 5:1
  • Ephesians 2:8-10

 

Additional Resources Referenced

Redeeming Your Time, by Jordan Raynor

 

Thanks for Listening!

If you like what you've heard, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts! We'd love to hear from you, and it helps other people find us. 

 

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Transcript

​​Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

You've just said it to your spouse or to your co-worker, or maybe you yelled it into the air above you, there are not enough hours in the day. Your to-do list feels like it's never ending, and new requests keep coming into your inbox. Meanwhile, your phone is vibrating with alerts and maybe you have to drive somewhere to pick something up and you feel like it's already halfway through the day, where has all the time gone? If this is how you feel, you are not alone. Today, we're gonna talk about how to get a handle back on your time, with God. Our guest Jordan Raynor is someone who knows a lot about being busy. He's a serial entrepreneur, now the Executive Chairman of Threshold 360, a tech startup, which he formally ran as CEO. And Jordan is also author of a number of books, including, Redeeming Your Time: 7 Biblical Principles for Being Purposeful, Present, and Wildly Productive. Jordan Raynor, welcome to the Making It Work podcast.

Jordan Raynor: Leah and Mark, it's a joy to be with you guys. Thanks for having me.

LA: So, Jordan, I'm glad you're with us today because this is actually one of the biggest questions that we get from listeners, how can I do more with less time? So, let's start off by asking that, is that question even possible? Can we do more with less time?

JR: I think it is possible, right? Because the Apostle Paul commanded us to do it. [chuckle] After a long exposition on the Gospel of grace in Ephesians, he gets to Ephesians 5:15-17. And as he always does, he's anticipating his reader's question of, "Okay, Paul, I get it, I'm saved to do good works in this world." How do I respond to the Gospel? How do I do this? And he says, "It is possible." He says, "See then that you walk carefully, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil." In other words, we're running out of time to do the work God's called us to do in this world. And so, it is possible. I have seen myself be able to, by God's grace, redeem some of my time and have a fairly productive career these first 10 or 12 years of my career. And more importantly, I've seen the Lord use this book, this content change people's lives. To make them more purposeful, present, and productive in the image of what I think we see in Christ, and how He stewarded his time in the gospel biographies.

LA: So this is where the title of your book comes from.

JR: Yeah.

LA: Redeeming Your Time. It comes from this verse in Ephesians 5. So, what does it mean to you to redeem your time? What does that mean regards to your work?

JR: Yeah, it's a great question. So the word here, if you look it up in any concordance, it really means to buy up or to ransom. Paul is saying that time management isn't this secular thing. Tim Keller commenting on this verse, says it's a Biblical command. We are called to roll-up our sleeves and buy back as much time as we can. Now, here's where this diverges from conventional business thinking on this topic. We're not called to time management so that we can make ourselves rich and famous. The reason why we care about redeeming our time... [chuckle]

LA: Really, I'm so bummed.

JR: Shocker, right? We care so that we can do more good works that bring God glory. See Matthew 5:16, so we can create for his eternal Kingdom. See 1 Corinthians 15:58, so we can make disciples and impress the Lords on the hearts of our children. See Deuteronomy 6, and just enjoy God in His good blessings. We redeem our time not for our own glory, not for success. Success isn't the idea. We do it for God's glory and service to others.

LA: So can you give an example from your life of what does that look like in practical terms to redeem your time?

JR: Yeah. I mean, the book really spells that out in about 60,000 words, right? [chuckle] It looks multifaceted. It looks like, perhaps ironically, resting more, so that I can be more productive. It means, taking time to descent from the kingdom of noise, so that I can think clearly and hear the Lord's voice as I'm trying to prioritize my to-do list. Those are just a couple of the examples of the principles that I outlined in the book, that really make way to the super practical content there.

LA: Mark, I wanna bring you into this conversation, because when I was reading Jordan's book, I was thinking, redeeming my time is a different way of thinking about it. Is there something about the language of the Ephesians that we should really get back to in our conversations about time these days?

MR: That's an interesting question, the verse says, “redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” So there's a sense in which... It's like, life is going on out there and it's not good, but if I make a good choice about my life and my actions in a way, I'm like, buying a piece of that time out of the slavery to evil into goodness. And that's kinda cool.

JR: Mark, It's really good. What I think of when I think of this term 'redeeming' and Paul saying that the days are evil, we have a real enemy who is trying to thwart the effectiveness of God's people. And one of the ways he does that is by distractions, is by making our world noisy, by making our world chaotic and robbing some of these minutes from us. So when I think about redeeming, it's like, fighting back against these things so that we can reclaim, buy up, ransom, redeem some of that time and use it for the purposes by which God has called us to in this life.

MR: Yeah. That's a great way to put it. By the way, we should just mention, if there are listeners who are looking in their Bible and they're saying, "Yeah, I can't find that Verse." [laughter] The 'Redeeming the time' language, that's a very literal translation. And that's the King James Version.

JR: Correct.

MR: Most modern versions say something like, "Making the most of the time."

JR: There you go.

MR: Or, "Using every opportunity," and that's the idea, but just in case you're puzzled, like, "Where is he getting this?" [laughter] That's a very literal...

JR: What Ephesians 5:16 is Jordan reading? [laughter]

MR: Yeah. Yeah. It is the King James translation, but it's a very literal. And the thing I love about that older translation is the richness of it. So yes, it's about making the most of the time, but that's a kind of a prosaic way to put it. Redeeming the time, really gets at... And it's the thing you just said, Jordan, it gets at this idea that we can actually claim something that's not good and make it good, really, by the way we claim it and redeem it. So, it's just a richer way to think about it.

LA: This leads into a piece of practical advice that I want you to get at Jordan. You give a lot of practical advice in this book, I have to say. So for example, one of the pieces of advice you give is about needing to break the addiction to the news cycle and to your smartphone.

JR: Yes.

LA: And turning off the smartphone alerts. Turning off the number of times that you check news in order to be productive. So, tell me how this worked in your life?

JR: Yeah, no, this is a great question, and I think this is a good opportunity to introduce kinda how I wrote the book. So, there are these seven principles. I think when you look at the Gospels for the biographies that they are, you can see at least seven principles that you see in the life of Christ of how he manages time. And what I've done is I've expounded upon those seven principles and then connected them to 32, as you say, wicked, to use Boston language, wicked practical practices to help us live those out in the 21st century. For example, when you look at the Gospel biographies, Jesus, the amount of times Jesus, as I say, dissented for the kingdom of noise is staggering. He was always found at solitary places, in lonely places, right? And that just stands in stark contrast to us today. We're constantly consuming news. We're constantly on our smartphones, responding to messages, intaking information.

And I just don't think that we can think clearly, be creative, and listen to God's voice and thus prioritize the work that he's given us to do, if we're constantly intaking new information. News is great. Information is great, but at some point you gotta turn it off and just sit still and think. So that we can not just be efficient, but that we could be effective in how we're using our time. So there have been lot of things... Lots of things in my life that have led me to those practices, but primarily, it's been in just looking at Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, through this lens of saying, "Okay. Jesus had 33 years on this earth. He had 24 hours a day, the same 24 hours that you and I have today. How did he steward his time?" Those led to the principles and the principles then in turn led to all of those practices.

LA: Yeah, but he didn't have an iPhone. You know, I mean...

JR: That's exactly right. [laughter]

LA: I mean, Mark, tell me, is it really comparable the times that Jesus was living in and the distractions that we have now? Do you back up Jordan, on this point?

MR: Well, I would, I would just say it's a whole lot worse now, and the temptations to be distracted are so much greater. I mean, I've experienced that even, and I'm not as old as... I mean, I wasn't around when Jesus was there, but I've been around for a while. And it was... Actually, it was about maybe six or seven years ago, where it occurred to me that my ability to pay attention to my work for longer periods of time had pretty much disappeared. And that was really kind of a chilling discovery and realization. And I realized it had everything to do with the interruptions that would appear on my computer. Every time I got a new email, the little number comes up, every text message, I had all these notifications, and I realized that I had really changed the wiring of my brain and it was very chilling to me. And I had to make some pretty tough choices, which by the way, Jordan, I really appreciate your stuff on this, 'cause it's like, you're a cheerleader for these choices, and I'm pretty good at them now, but there's always the temptation to go back to being just continually interruptible. And what we do see...

LA: So what did you have to do, Mark? Did you have to set clear disciplines on how often you would check your email?

MR: Yes, and it's almost embarrassing what I had to do, literally, there are various apps you can put on your computer to help you to do this. For example, there's an... And some of it is just a timer app. And one of the things I said is, I'm only gonna check my email... At first, it was every two hours. And that was a hard thing to do, I had to rewire my brain. But I had this little reminder thing, so at two hours, the little wolf would howl, and then that's like, "Okay, now I can check my email." And I mean really, I feel kind of embarrassed, but I needed to get back. It was like, I used to be able to play the piano well, but I was so out of practice I had to go back to scales and really re-learn things. And so, I've taken almost all notifications off my technology. Jordan, one thing you talk about is, you can prioritize certain people and the technology can let them get through, which is important and good. But I'll be honest, I have to fight the urge to distract myself all the time, and that for me is... Yeah, they're distractions and they're externals, and Jordan you talk about external.

JR: Yeah.

MR: But you know what, it's the part of me that wants the excitement of the external that I've really gotta manage.

JR: Yeah. The very literal dopamine hit that occurs when you check your phone and find a new text message or a new social media. I wanna say one more thing, going back to the example of Jesus, I wanna clarify something that I say in the book. Of course, Jesus' distractions in the 21st century don't compare to ours, but we gotta be really careful of chronological snobbery here. Jesus was clearly distracted. There was one time a guy literally dropped through the roof over Jesus' head as he was preaching.

Like, if you've never had somebody drop...

LA: That helps take your mind off your train of thought. [chuckle]

JR: Yeah, it's like, if you never had somebody drop through the roof while you were typing away at a proposal, you're not more distracted than Jesus was. Sure, the distractions are different, but again, we gotta beware of this chronological snobbery. Now, to Mark's point...

MR: You know...

JR: Go ahead, Mark. Sorry, go ahead.

MR: No, I was just gonna say that, that's good, because there are many places in the Gospels where Jesus is doing something, and all the sick people from the area are coming to him. Now, I gotta say, that'd be even harder than to ignore a text, right?

JR: Yeah.

MR: 'Cause now you have people in need far beyond your capacity to deal with them.

JR: Yes.

MR: That would be a tough...

JR: Literally in your face, not in your pocket. Yeah.

MR: That would be tough.

JR: But going back to what Mark said, Mark, you said you felt embarrassed, man, you shouldn't, because all of us struggle with this. And right now, one of the greatest threats to our ability to do the work God's called us to do are external distractions, I.e., non-stop emails, non-stop texts, etcetera. Let me give an analogy to try to paint the picture of where we're at culturally. Imagine if the mailman instead of coming to your house once a day started coming 150 times a day. [chuckle]

But here's where this gets crazy, he doesn't stay at the curb, he comes to your front door, rings the doorbell, and you drop whatever you're doing, open the door, grab the mail, maybe you open it, maybe you don't, but you at least steal a glance at who it's from. We would check you into an insane asylum. But that is exactly what we're doing with text messages and email today. So real practically, I'm gonna walk you through one of the 32 practices in the book. Here's how you can solve this problem.

LA: Alright, let's do it.

JR: Here's how you can solve this problem. Three steps. Mark already alluded to some of it. Step one, you choose when you're gonna check your messages every day, not the crazy mail man. And what matters way more than the number of times you check your messages, is that you choose when you're gonna check. So, for Mark, it's checking email every two hours, great. If that works for you, awesome. If you need to check it every hour, that's fine, but you're in control that's step one. Step two, you wanna build a list of VIPs who can have access to you, any time, not just at the times you're checking messages. So for me, my VIPs are my wife, my kid's school, my assistant, a few members of my team, that's about it. And then once you have your list of VIPs, add them to the favorites list on your iPhone or your people list on an Android device. Turn on Do not disturb, and then calls from those people and those people alone will come through, when you're trying to do your deep work throughout the day. Last step, step 3.

You've chosen when you're gonna check your messages, you've built your VIPs, now you've gotta set clear expectations with those VIPs. You send a very simple message, "Hey, I'm trying to be more focused at home and at work. So from now on, I'm only checking email and text at X, Y, and Z times, but you're VIP, so if you need me urgently, don't text, don't email, call my cell phone and I'll pick up every single time." If you do those three steps, I can almost guarantee you, you're never gonna miss anything that's truly urgent and you're gonna be doing your work way faster and with a heck of a lot less anxiety.

MR: I love that.

LA: I think sometimes when I read a time management book, I feel more stressed as I'm reading it because there's this heavy dose of shame that comes along with it, like, "Oh, the author knows what they're doing and I don't know," and you don't dish that out on the reader, I think because you start with the framework of grace that our time is a gift from God, and God wants to partner with us in our work, and you know what, if we don't get everything on our to-do list done, that's okay. We're still gonna be beloved by God, and there's always gonna be things left undone, that's not for us to control. Our job is to do the best that we can with the time that we've been given. So I think... I appreciate your positive energy both in this tidbit that you shared with us and in your book, because I don't feel like a terrible person reading your book, like when Mark said, "Oh, it's confession time," I have to confess that I set and used a app to help me check my email only two hours, I think we all have those.

We all have this sense of failure because there's so much to do, and because the external and internal distractions are so big. So I think we all... We can all get down on ourselves if we don't have that sense of grace that you bring to this project.

JR: Yeah, and listen, there are 60,000 time management books on Amazon right now.

LA: Are there really? [chuckle]

JR: Which is just a silly number and I've read, let's call it the top 50 perennial sellers in this category, a lot of those books you were referring to, Leah, and this is why I wrote Redeeming Your Time, because I was tired of reading…as helpful as those books are, we gotta recognize common grace and the Lord's ability to communicate truth through believers and non-believers, but as helpful as those books were, they were all based on works-based productivity. The implicit message was, "Hey, if you're feeling swamped or you're feeling overwhelmed, follow the author’s system perfectly, do exercises X, Y, and Z, and then you're gonna find peace."

Yeah, listen, the Apostle Paul tells me I already have peace. Romans 5:1 through Christ, I have ultimate peace with God, so I don't do time management exercises on this wild goose chase to get peace that I can't attain in my own strength anyways. I do it as a worshipful response to the peace that has already been graciously given to me. And because that's the foundation, I can have grace with myself when I don't finish my to-do list, when I do check email more than once every other hour, when I don't get my coveted eight hours of sleep because I know that I don't need to be productive, I wanna be productive, the Gospel compels me to be productive, this is Ephesians 2:8-10, but I don't need to because regardless of what I do, I'm a beloved child of God.

LA: Now, I wonder, do you think the pressures are different across different industry or maybe perhaps with different class of workers, are people in different professions facing different time management challenges?

JR: Oh, no question, different time management challenges and by the way, that message I just shared, it's great that God doesn't need me to finish my to-do list, but there's varying degrees of pressure for your boss, from your boss for you to finish your to-do list based on where you're at in your career, in your socio-economic class.

You bring up an important point that I haven't talked about in the book but I wanna bring up here. As leaders, just talking specifically the leaders of our organizations right now, it can be easy to approach any book like this and say, "What can I get out of this? How can I redeem my time?" I think the redemptive, the sacrificial thing is to think about, "How can I use these principles to help my team redeem their time," recognizing that if they work less, not only are they gonna flourish, but it's also gonna make the organization more productive, recognizing that not only do I want a Sabbath, but, man, even if I'm not convicted of the Sabbath, I should probably Sabbath so that my team can enjoy the gift of Sabbath. I just think we approach these books and these topics selfishly sometimes. I'm talking to myself here. And so I'm just trying to get in that habit of thinking, "Okay, I've got a lot of the stuff I can value, but how can I serve those underneath me on an org chart with these principles and these practices?"

MR: Man, absolutely. And you mentioned Sabbath. That's actually clear in the Sabbath that you're supposed to... You're not supposed to do any work. And then also, your male and female slaves aren't to, and your livestock, and the alien resident, the immigrant. So basically, you're to make sure that everybody gets rest, right?

JR: Yes. Sabbath is communal, but we're so hyper-individualistic these days that we can fail to see that.

MR: Well, so let me... A very specific example. What can we do as a leader? So my boss Michaela, and she is a wonderful leader. Every now and then we'll get an email from her on the weekend. But it'll often have this little note at the top, "You don't have to look at this till Monday."

JR: I love that. I love that.

MR: And she has said to us, "Sometimes I... " 'Cause she's a mom, young kids. "Sometimes I'm gonna have to work on the weekend. I do not expect you to work on weekends, unless, of course, there's some crisis, in which case, I make that clear." So there's just... So she's giving us freedom and permission. And that's just, I think, one example. But that's a really good example.

JR: That's a terrific example. I'll give you another one. So we talked about this a few minutes ago, this idea of only checking email, Slack messages, whatever, a few times a day. You as an employee can do that right now. You can go to your boss and say, "Hey, in an effort to better serve you and the work, from now on, with your permission, I'm only gonna check my email four times a day." But as the leader... So there was a really interesting study done that found that something like 60% of employees expect, assume that their boss expects them to respond to messages immediately, even though the boss has never explicitly said that to be true. It's just this implicit, unspoken social contract.

So if you're the leader, one of the ways you can radically bless your team right now in five minutes before we end this podcast, send an email to them and say, "Hey, guys, I've heard some of you guys assume that I expect you to respond to messages immediately. This email is letting you off the hook. From now on, you have 24 business hours to respond to my emails. And if I need you more urgently, I'll call your cell." That'll change people's lives. You wanna talk about how to retain people and the myths of the great resignation? That might be the simplest, most effective strategy you can deploy right now to change people's lives and radically increase the productivity of your organization.

LA: Jordan, I absolutely agree with you but I also feel that there's this push back from... Not from the Bible, but from our culture, from some of these non-biblical proverbs that we have in our culture about time. For example, we have this saying that we repeat over and over again, Time is money. And so how can we separate or tease out the idea that, "Oh, time is money, always gotta be working full tilt, as hard as possible," how would you reframe that for us?

JR: Yeah, I would just point to Scripture itself. Talking specifically about this hustle culture, time is money, always be working, the God of the Bible worked six days and rested one. Jesus Himself observed the Sabbath. And actually there's interesting data that's starting to come out that's showing that Sabbath, sleep, taking breaks throughout your day, on the surface, these things look terribly unproductive, but in reality they are one of the most productive things you can possibly do. So rest is good for our goals and the work that we've set out before us, but as Christ followers we also know that rest is good for our souls, because it reminds us that when we're not productive, we're still beloved children of God. And God's purposes will not be thwarted if I sleep for eight hours every night.

MR: You know, I love that. And that's right on. Leah, the other thing I'd say, you asked about, "What do we do with these 'time is money' messages and all that?" You know Jordan, one of the things you really encourage us to do and guide us through, is a process of really thinking through our lives in terms of what matters most, our mission and our callings, and kind of only as you work through that stuff can you finally get clear on what your priorities ought to be. And so you're really giving us an alternative approach to not just sort of accepting whatever the popular wisdom is, but really in a biblically grounded way, framing our lives and understanding who we are and what we're to do in light of who God is and what God has done in Christ, and then what our part is, and so... I just wanna point that out, that that's one of the main ways we can stand up, I think, against some of the messages that would take us in different and in negative directions.

JR: Well yeah, I think one of the overriding messages of our time is, "You do you," right?

MR: Yeah, right.

JR: You get to define the mission of your life, you get to define your purpose. There are so many books out there today and courses, what have you, helping you craft a personal mission statement. Listener, let me let you off the hook right now, you could take all these books off your reading list. The mission of your life is to glorify God, period, full stop. That's it, that's the mission of your life. Now, you have great freedom, God in His goodness and His grace has given you great freedom into how exactly you're gonna live that out. But that's your purpose. And so Mark, you're talking about chapter four of Redeeming Your Time, where I'm helping readers prioritize their to-do list, 'cause a lot of people just look at the to-do list they have on their phone right now and say, "How do I prioritize this thing?" I think we gotta go a few levels up before we could really answer that question, and so the metaphor I use is one of this five-story building.

So imagine a five-story hotel, people come into the front door on the ground level and say, "How do I prioritize my to-do list?" You've gotta get up into the elevator, go up to the top floor, that fifth floor, and work your way down. So the fifth floor is your mission, why you exist. You exist to glorify God. A level down from there, the fourth floor are callings. What are the unique expressions that you're gonna choose to lean into to glorify God? So for me, my three primary callings are to my wife, to my kids, and in my work as an entrepreneur. A level beneath that are long-term goals, which I would argue, this is where you really start to get to prioritize that to-do list, by setting bigger long-term goals. The second level are quarterly goals. And then the final level, the ground floor is that day-to-day projects and next actions list. But you can't just start with the to-do list you've got, you gotta work your way up the elevator to really get clear on what you believe God's called you to chase after in this season of life.

MR: Awesome.

LA: And I think for many people, when you're stuck in the onslaught of, "Oh, I gotta get so much done, I gotta get so much done," you don't think that you can take the time to ride that elevator up to the fifth floor and look down, and I think what your book does, and certainly what God does through God's grace is give us the permission to say, "Look, take a step back. [chuckle] It's gonna be worth it in the end." You have to break the cycle of always addressing what is urgent and never addressing what's important.

JR: Yeah, and this goes back to dissenting from the kingdom of noise. It's why this is Chapter Three, before Chapter Four, where you prioritize your to-do list. You can't prioritize your to-do list if your world is constantly noisy, right? Look at Jesus' example, He comes up out of the waters at His baptism, and the Father speaks over Him and says, "This is My son in whom I am well pleased." If there was ever a moment where you would expect Jesus to stand up and start preaching, this is it, right? There was an audible voice for the head that said, "This is it, this is... "

LA: He's got an endorsement. Let's go right now.

JR: He's got an endorsement, let's go.

LA: Take advantage of it.

JR: But instead, the Spirit leads Jesus to the wilderness for 40 days of quiet solitude, and it's only after those 40 days of quiet, that He comes back and kicks off His ministry in earnest. Now, I don't wanna say Jesus needed those, He's God, He didn't need those, but He took those 40 days of quiet before He really started that work in earnest. Man, we've gotta do the same thing. If we wanna get clear on what matters in our work, in our lives, we probably can't afford to take 40 days, but can you take a four-hour retreat to just be quiet and turn your phone off and stop consuming information to think and to pray and listen to the Spirit, I think we can all do that. My friend, Mark Patterson, says we spend more time planning a one-week vacation than we do the rest of our life, that's convicting, and I think largely true for most of us. We've gotta figure out how to be more proactive about setting these priorities.

LA: Jordan, I am so floored that you brought up this story of Jesus in the wilderness, because we've been talking a lot about the external distractions that come up that keep us from redeeming our time, but I think to me, this story also points to the internal distractions that we might face so, Jesus absolutely did after His baptism, go into the wilderness and take 40 days, but it wasn't like a lovely meditation retreat. He's literally tempted by the Devil in the wilderness. He has a very tough time facing these temptations in the wilderness, and for me, when I sit in quiet time to a time marked to 30 minutes, it can often be a tough time, it's not like, "Oh, this is so rejuvenative, I feel fantastic." It's often, I'm really staggered by the amount of distractions internally in my own brain, the fears that come up, the worries that come up, all these internal things are things I would like to run away from as well.

JR: Yeah, no, it's really good. So there's a section in the book called the five enemies of depth at working at home. By depth, I mean the ability to be fully focused on one important person or thing at a time. So in that example, Leah, being focused on God's work and so external distractions are only one of those five, the other four are largely internal distractions. The distraction to do fake instead of real productivity because fake things are easier, the distraction of quick highs and the dopamine rush of checking my Instagram likes, the distraction of the savior complex, which if I'm honest, might be the most tempting for me.

We complain about getting a lot of emails or getting a lot of texts or whatever, but I think in a way, we love them because they make us feel important and they make us feel needed, and then the last internal distraction, I think is this make shift omnipresence, this idea that we have sold ourselves, that we can multi-task, we can mentally be in more than one place at a time. It's an attempt to grasp at being God, of being at multiple places at once 'cause He's the only one that's truly omnipresent, so yes, external distractions, we gotta wrestle them to the ground, but Leah, you're so wise to point out that there are so many more internal distractions that we gotta be cognizant of and do battle with.

LA: And this is, I love that you put it in these terms, because this is the same thing that Jesus was wrestling with in the desert. So you've convinced me, Jordan, now that Jesus did not have less to deal with than I have to deal with, okay. [laughter]

'Cause He was actually confronted by the Devil. So I'm on your page, now that we can use Jesus as an example, but Satan was tempting Him with the same thing, like Satan was saying, "You be God, You turn these stones to bread." And Jesus answered, "You know, that's not for Me to do." I mean, what He literally answered was, "Man should not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." But Jesus started to say in three times, "It's not Me who's gonna do it, it's not man who can do it, it's God who can do these things." And I think that the temptation just as you named is just the same, I wanna take over God's work because that seems more manageable. And I would have more control over it if I took over God's work, and that's just not gonna lead any of us into a place of peace.

JR: It's a failure to recognize what we see all throughout Scripture, and I'm thinking of First Chronicles 29:12 in particular. David's talking to his son Solomon, and he says, "Hey, son. Wealth and honor come from God alone, for He rules over everything." In other words, you're not gonna produce results for this nation as you're king. God alone produces results through our work. Now, we hustle... He often does that through our hustle, through our hard work, but He is responsible for the results, and that's the truth that enables us to rest in a radically different way than the rest of the world. The rest of the world, non-believers are told hustle, hustle, hustle. Everything's up to you. The Christian faith says everything's up to God. So we gotta be faithful, and that requires doing the work, but faithfulness also requires trusting in God and resting. John Piper says, "God's job is fruitfulness. My job is faithfulness." That's the idea.

LA: I love that, and I feel like that's a good last word [laughter] to end on.

Jordan one last question for you. When people meet you or you think of what your legacy is, do you wanna be seen as a productive person or do you wanna be seen as a present person? Do you wanna be seen as a purposeful person? What is your highest ambition for yourself in your work here?

JR: Man, I wanna be seen as all those things. I wanna be seen as all those things at work and at home. You know, when I think about my mission though and the legacy I wanna leave my kids, the Capital C Church, I wanna help Christians respond in many different ways to the radical yet biblical truth that the work they do matters for eternity. And redeeming your time is just one expression of that. If you believe that as Paul says in 1st Corinthians 15:58, that the work you do today is not in vain, you should care about redeeming your time and doing more work with excellence and love and in accordance with the Lord's commands, it's gonna work forever. That's gonna last forever. So that's what I wanna be "Known", I don't know that I wanna be known, honestly, but if I am known for one thing, yeah, it's helping Christians respond to that radical truth that their work matters forever, and that includes redeeming the time because the days are evil.

LA: Well Jordan thank you for spending some of your time with us today. It's really been a pleasure.

MR: Yes, indeed. Thank you.

JR: It's been my treat. Thank you, Mark and Leah.

 

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The Gift of Knowing Your Audience - Patricia Raybon

Who does your work serve? Getting to know your audience helps you serve them better and helps you grow in God's love. Guest Patricia Raybon is a professional journalist who has spoken to a wide variety of audiences. Throughout her career, she's published in magazines such as USA Today and Newsweek and delivered critically-acclaimed works of non-fiction. But Patricia has recently learned to communicate in a new way with her first work of fiction, a murder mystery set in 1920s America. Her new book, All That Is Secret, was selected by Parade Magazine as a Mysteries We Love selection for Fall 2021, and by Masterpiece on PBS among Best Mystery Books of 2021 As Recommended by Best-selling Authors. With All That Is Secret, Patricia opens a new phase in her career that hinges on truly getting to know and understand her audience.

 

Scripture References

Matthew 15:24

Matthew 21:28-32

 

Additional Resources Referenced

All That is Secret, by Patricia Raybon

 

Thanks for Listening!

If you like what you've heard, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts! We'd love to hear from you, and it helps other people find us. 

 

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Transcript

​​Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

You've probably heard that communication skills are essential to success in the workplace. You might have even worked on your communication skills before, whether it's practicing your delivery before a big presentation or beefing up your PowerPoint graphics. But there is one preliminary step to effective communication that is often overlooked in prep sessions, knowing your audience. Knowing your audience, understanding who they are and what makes them tick, is so important that it can make the difference between a message that stirs people to action and a message that reaches nobody. So how can you find your audience? And once you find your audience, how can you tailor your communication strategy to strike a chord with them?

Our guest, Patricia Raybon, is a professional journalist who has spoken to a wide variety of audiences. Throughout her career, she's published in magazines such as USA Today and Newsweek and delivered critically-acclaimed works of non-fiction. But Patricia has recently learned to communicate in a new way with her first work of fiction, a murder mystery set in 1920s America. Her new book, All That Is Secret, was selected by Parade Magazine as a Mysteries We Love selection for Fall 2021, and by Masterpiece on PBS among Best Mystery Books of 2021 As Recommended by Best-selling Authors. With All That Is Secret, Patricia opens a new phase in her career that hinges on truly getting to know and understand her audience. Patricia Raybon, welcome to the Making It Work Podcast.

Patricia Raybon: Thank you so much. I'm delighted to be here with you today.

LA: So we are just so delighted to pick your brain. And the first question that comes to mind is, what made you wanna switch from writing non-fiction to writing fiction?

PR: Short answer, I love story, and I wanted to learn how to write a story, a fictional story. That's the short answer, but I'll share this backstory, that I grew up on a pew, on a church pew. And so from a very young age, I was in a Sunday school room hearing the stories of the Bible, the battle stories of the Old Testament with its heroes and sheroes, the miracles and the parables of Jesus, and the acts of the apostles. And so two things happened, I learned that there are stories. I learned that they matter, because they were coming out of the Bible. I learned that Jesus teaches through story. And I learned to love them.

LA: Do you...

PR: Well...

LA: No, go ahead.

PR: I was just gonna say this other thing, there's one context. In the context of this podcast, I grew up with a family of people who work. And both my mother and my father graduated from historically black universities when there was nowhere else for them to go. My dad was an accountant by training, worked for his entire career with the US Air Force finance and accounting center here in Colorado. My mother was an elementary school phys ed teacher. These were working people. When I was a child and my feet hit the floor in the morning, the first thing we had to do was to "Make your bed." I still do that. And so I grew up learning how to work, and I grew up loving story.

So when I had a third grade teacher asked me one day, "Patricia, would you like to be a writer when you grow up?" I said, "Yes." And she said, "You are a writer." And so, in the context of work, what she was saying is, "You are a writer, and there is work connected to that." And so when it came to here recently deciding to write a novel, that said to me, "Do the work to learn how to do it." And because I grew up in a family of people who work, it became my latest work project something that I love, which is story, learning how to write it. And so that's a long answer, but that's what's behind the decision to try it, to try to write a story.

 

LA: So Patricia, you've said that part of your research in this book was figuring out exactly who your audience is, who are you trying to communicate with. What did you need to learn about your audience? And how did you go about figuring that out, who your audience is for this book?

PR: Well, I knew that every book needs... Every author and every book needs a specific audience to sell. So at some point, writing becomes... After it's the creative work, it becomes the marketing work, the business work. And so at Tyndale House, which Tyndale produced and published my murder mystery, there was a lot of discussion about the potential for this mystery novel to have crossover appeal. But I just had an awareness that I needed to pay attention to my core audience. Who was the core audience for this book? Sure, it'd be great for it to have crossover appeal, but who's the core audience? And so that question took on special meaning when I decided to invest a little bit in targeted advertising for Facebook.

And so that kind of investment required me to specifically identify a particular audience of people. And I thought about it, and I finally made myself, gave myself permission to say, "The audience for this book are women over 45 who love Jesus and a good mystery." And when I said that, I wasn't saying a word about crossover, I was talking about people like myself. And once I fell in love with the idea that this is an audience I know and I like and I want to honor by acknowledging them, then I was able to create the advertising that found them. And so I created ads for women over 45. The ad for All That Is Secret, the blurb says, "Sherlock Holmes always needed a praying sister."

And it says that because my lead character is a young African-American theologian, and in the In African-American culture, the word "sister" is an identifier. I think you're probably familiar with that. And so there was, in those few words, some information that said this character who happens to be a fan of Sherlock Holmes, she's a theologian who also loves Sherlock Holmes stories, and she's also struggling with her prayer life and her God life. And so, by acknowledging that I was writing a story with a faith character who also loved Sherlock Holmes, it just cut through, eliminated a lot of people who would not be interested in a mystery novel if the character has a faith dilemma.

LA: And at the same time, entices a lot of people who that would be, who that would enrich their leisure time experience of reading a mystery novel.

PR: That too, so maybe... And so some of those people may have come along for the ride who ended up being in the crossover category. But the core audience was the one I was looking, I was trying to speak to first. I just ran an ad on Twitter just because it's fun for me, it's just... I like trying it. And so I created an ad for that audience, my core audience, and it's a video showing a vintage chandelier, crystal chandelier, 'cause part of the story is my lead character whose background is poor ending up solving the murder by taking herself into an elite setting. And so the crystal chandeliers, it has a feminine aspect to it. And so when I was looking at the analytics for that ad, most of the people who responded to it are female. And then I used my faith language. And so, it really helped me... It was an eye opener... It was an epiphany for me that while an author wants everybody to read his or her book, a book is not for everybody. A ministry is probably not for everybody. A work agenda is not for everybody. So who is it for? And how can I best speak to those people first?

LA: I love this...

PR: Well, I was just gonna say, I'm not sure if I hadn't tried writing a novel if I'd ever spend any time really thinking about it that way.

LA: Yeah. Now, Mark, I wanna hang out on this point a little bit because Patricia just made the leap. She said a book is not for everyone. You know, even a ministry is not for everybody. And I wonder if the one communicator who probably touched more people than anyone else in the history of the human life, which is Jesus, had a kind of a core audience at the beginning.

PR: That's right.

LA: And Mark, I wanna know what you... Do you think he... Now, he wasn't testing ads on Twitter one against another, doing his AB testing. I mean, he had all the resources of God that he needed. He could do those in the spirit level or whatever. No, I'm getting ahead of myself. But Patricia or Mark, do you think that he identified his core audience for his own specific reasons?

MR: Well, we know he did.

PR: Yes.

MR: One of the more, for some of us, troubling passages in the gospel, remember a woman comes to him that needs healing, and he says, "Well, I've come for the lost of Israel." We're like, "Wait a minute, Jesus. You're not gonna serve this woman?" And then he ends up serving her, but there was clarity there that was... And again, for us, it's kind of stunning. Now ultimately, of course, Jesus is for everyone, but for a season, and in that season of his physical life on earth, He was pretty focused there. And there are probably many other ways you could determine his focus, especially if you paid attention to, well, how did he communicate? And then you try to say, "Well, who are the people that are gonna relate to those parables, many about work and agriculture? And so it's pretty clear that Jesus was not really too much trying to reach the Roman centurions, though there was some interest in him from the Roman army. He was open to the other. So there was the crossover possibility, to use Patricia, your language, but he was pretty clear about what he was to do in that season of life. I mean, he didn't, for example, get on a ship and go to Rome. He could have done that and said, "You know, hey, I'm actually king of the world here. I'm the Lord."

And he didn't do that. And so I think that can give us some permission, or even more than permission. But I laughed at Patricia, 'cause when I did my first book [chuckle], and the publisher wants to know who are you writing for. And it's like, "Well, I wanna write for everybody." Yeah, you know, you can't do that. Who's this really for? And initially, it was very challenging to say, "Well, I guess I'm not really gonna write for people who are looking for something that I'm really not doing", and there's clarity in that. So I really appreciate your story. And you're right about the Facebook ads, I've done some of those. You can just put it out there to whole Facebook, but that's pretty silly. You can actually do so many specifications. So I love it that you have thought that you're able to define your audience as you are and be open to the possibility that there are others. So for example, I don't quite fit into your audience since I'm not a woman; however, as a boy, I read almost every Nancy Drew book 'cause I ran out of the Hardy Boys books. And since then, I also like mysteries, I actually... I love a good female protagonist, so I can be your crossover. But you're right, you probably didn't write that primarily for me.

PR: Right.

LA: I think you'll really like All That Is Secret, Mark, 'cause it really moves. It's a page-turner.

PR: Thank you. In terms of it moving and having excitement, thank my husband for that. He said, "Just keep it exciting." And we both love movies, and we love thriller movies and mystery movies, and so I understood what he was saying. So when you get to those... There's a lot of those places in this book. So when you get to those places, say, "Ah, Dan Raybon."

MR: Alright, alright, [chuckle] that's great.

LA: But there are a lot of theological elements that are woven through this book as well. As you've mentioned, Patricia, your main character is a theologian but who's also struggling with her belief and her prayer life. And so even though the book is very fast-paced, there's this theology that comes out naturally through the work of the characters; in this case, the work of solving a mystery. So you have a very real faith-work interaction in this book. And as I was reading, I was thinking, I wonder, Patricia, if this is something that you've seen to be true in your own life. So for me, I feel like my faith really comes alive when it gets tested in a work situation. I can have an idea of what I believe, but when I'm really tested or I got a tough decision or something's challenging me, the rubber meets the road, that's when I know when I really believe. And that's kind of what's going on for these characters too caught up in this mystery. I wonder if that comes out of any work challenges you've had in your own life.

PR: Well, it comes out of that, but also it comes out of my life as a woman of color having to navigate racism every day. And I know that's hard for people who don't experience it to believe that that's the reality for people of color, but it is. Leaving one's home means confronting bigotry every day for the most part. And so in the case of this novel, it's set in the 1920s in Colorado when the state was ruled by the Ku Klux Klan. Colorado, I don't know if you know this, had the second highest Klan membership per capita of any state in the nation in the 1920s. Every county in Colorado had a Klan klavern. And the leaders from the governor on down were dues-paying members of the Klan; police chiefs. Sheriffs, jury commissioners. And so, having grown up, in my case I age myself but it's true, before the Civil Rights Act and before the Fair Housing Act and the Voting Rights Act, I wanted to explore a young woman's attempt to solve a crime while also having to navigate a world that that devalued her.

And so in that way, the story does mirror my own personal experience. But because it's in another decade, in the 1920s, I could not make it a contemporary exploration of race and faith, but provide enough historical distance to allow the story to be fun to read even though she had this big challenge. And so people have thanked me for that, and I was gonna share with you, I got a note from the CEO of Tyndale about a week and a half ago. He sent it through my publisher there, saying how much he... He said, "Patricia I thoroughly enjoyed reading All That Is Secret. I read it almost in one sitting. You pulled me through the story with the fascinating characters and so on, and with the tension experienced by the Black characters and community living alongside a white majority culture. And I appreciated Anna Leigh", that's my lead character, "I appreciate her struggle and her understanding of where God fit into these complications of her life."

And I appreciated his feedback so much because he grasped exactly what I was attempting to do, which is to share this young woman's struggle and challenges because of her race while also trying to solve a crime. Because that's the thing about... For a person of color, in terms of work, after dealing with that kind of atmosphere in a lot of workplaces you still have to go home and figure out what's for dinner and how are my husband and I are gonna solve this argument that we're having, or theologically, how am I going to work as unto the Lord when I have a supervisor who won't give me the time of day? And so those are interesting questions for me personally and theologically, and I wanted to put them into a story because I became aware that people who would not read a non-fiction reflection on that that I had written, would read an entire novel.

LA: Yeah. So what is your hope that readers would take away? I love this comment from the CEO of Tyndale, of how he really got the sense of what God meant for you, or for your lead character, in the midst of these struggles. Is there a specific message that you hope readers would get about God's presence in the midst of that struggle?

PR: That is the message. The takeaway is that God that keeps us anyway. And so while my character never says that in those many words, that's the message of the story. And that's what I hope readers come away with, understanding that no matter our struggle, mine particularly is because of my age and background very often intersects with race and faith, but people have all kinds of different challenges. But no matter what, our God is a keeping God. And so my character, who's come from a pretty challenging background, by the end of the book will have come to understand that. And so that is the takeaway that I hope readers get to.

LA: In some ways, I'm just so grateful that you addressed these questions in the genre of a mystery, because it is kind of a mystery.

PR: Yes.

LA: Or at least it's a mystery, it's a mystery to me that, as you say, God is a keeping God. Why God would want to continue to search for us and find us amidst all the troubles in the world, that is a mystery, and that is an action story. So in many ways, it seems like a very appropriate genre to address these questions. Mark, what do you think?

MR: Well, partly Patricia, I just think you're giving a great gift to your readers, especially your readers who aren't Black, who wouldn't understand many things. One of the great powers of fiction-writing is the ability to invite people into the experience of others and to grow in understanding, and it just... That's really important. And so for you to write out of your experience... And you could very well write an autobiography or other things, and maybe you will do that. But to be able to put it into fiction, it's just a way to draw people in. Good fiction has that power to expand our minds and our hearts, and somehow in ways that non-fiction is maybe less able to do, except of course a powerful biography or something like that. But I just think... And even in my own life, I think of reading, say, Beloved by Toni Morrison. That was a... That's not my world, but I could enter into that world, and that was this a huge gift. So the fact that you're doing this, and then it's also something that is obviously meant to be fun and intriguing, and it's just... There's a complexity in what you're doing that is really quite amazing and wonderful and... But again, it's the gift your giving, that's really great.

PR: When I think about it, my only regret is that I didn't turn to fiction writing a lot sooner, because I've always loved novels. There's a film doctor named Robert Maki whose written a book called Story, which is about... It's really for screenwriters, but it's about cinematic writing. But he says what you just said in that he says it this way, that, "We don't go to story to escape life but to find life." And as I re-read his book before working on mine, I gained an appreciation for the opportunity to use a story to help people go, as you say, to places and situations that they ordinarily would not and would not have to. But if they go there, there will be a lesson waiting. And of course, our model for that is Jesus teaching through the parables.

MR: Yes.

PR: "There was a certain man who had two sons," and as soon as we hear that we just... Our radars go straight crazy up because we recognize it as a story. This is a story, and stories teach things.

MR: Yeah, that's great.

PR: And so I just love that about it. And I've loved that... I was telling my granddaughter... I have my 13... I have five grandchildren, one of them is 13, and she just finished reading Dune. [chuckle] And so I was saying to her, "Isn't it interesting how the writer in the process of writing learns lessons as well?" And so I love what my... Some of the things that my lead character taught me that I wouldn't have thought about otherwise.

MR: Oh, that's wonderful. By the way, you mentioned wishing you had started earlier, but it seems that this is not the end of your fiction writing, you're rather promising that this is a series, right?

PR: Right. And boy, I didn't see that coming. [chuckle] Because I finished, with God's help, the manuscript for the book. My agent sold it to Tyndale. And then... Well, Tyndale came back and said, "We want this, and we're making a three-book offer, because readers love series, mystery readers love series." And so, in fact, I finished, again with God's help, book two. We're editing book two now. And that was the first thing people would say, "Oh, I really like... I really love this book. When's the next one?" [laughter]

MR: Yeah, that's true though with mystery writing, the ones I've read. So, well, I'm glad that you're well into the next one, so that's awesome.

PR: Yes. So I'm very grateful for that. It's humbling work. I am daily humbled by the invitation to sit down with the Lord and think about the world that he is inviting me to create and share with people. And I'm so grateful that they're interested and are reading it and are asking for more.

LA: I think we'll close on that note, because just what a wonderful way to describe the blessings of doing work with God. And if we have people in our audience thinking about their work and who they communicate with, what a beautiful example of working with God to communicate to the audience who really is standing there waiting to hear what you have to say. So, Patricia Raybon, thank you so much for joining us today on the podcast. It's really been a pleasure.

MR: Yes indeed.

PR: Thank you for having me.

 

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What to do About Fraud in the Workplace - Charles Malgwi

What if something serious is going wrong at your workplace? It's more common than you might think. In more places than you expect, people are lining their pockets with company resources, or misrepresenting key performance indicators to make themselves look better, or even flat out taking bribes. If you suspect fraud in your workplace, what should you do about it? Our guest today, Charles Malgwi, faced this nightmare scenario at his supposed dream job. He navigated through a banking system riddled with fraud to become an expert in forensic accounting. Today, he is a professor of accounting, and he recently won the Gregory H Damian Award for excellence in teaching.

 

Scripture References

  • Leviticus 6:2-5
  • Mark 10:19
  • Exodus 20:1-17
  • Luke 19:1-10

 

Thanks for Listening!

If you like what you've heard, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts! We'd love to hear from you, and it helps other people find us. 

 

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Transcript

​​Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

What if something serious is going wrong at your workplace? It's more common than you might think. In more places than you expect, people are lining their pockets with company resources, or misrepresenting key performance indicators to make themselves look better, or even flat out taking bribes. If you suspect fraud in your workplace, what should you do about it? Our guest today, Charles Malgwi, faced this nightmare scenario at his supposed dream job. He navigated through a banking system riddled with fraud to become an expert in forensic accounting. Today, he is a professor of accounting, and he recently won the Gregory H Damian Award for excellence in teaching. Charles Malgwi, thank you for joining us on the Making it Work podcast.

Charles Malgwi: Thank you so much, Leah, for having me, I really appreciate that.

 

LA: So you get calls all the time asking you to investigate suspected incidents of fraud, how actually common is fraud in business today?

CM: You will be surprised to know that there is an organization called The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. They are the largest anti-fraud, anti-corruption in the world. And every year, they produce what we call Report to the Nations, and there in the Report to the Nations, they reckon that occupational fraud is the most common type of fraud that we see today.

LA: What is occupational fraud?

CM: Exactly. Occupational fraud is a fraud that is committed by employees of an organization, and there are two types of fraud of this nature. There is what you call the fraud that is directly giving benefit to the perpetrator of the fraud, and the second one is the fraud that is committed on behalf of the organization. And we're going to talk about these two types of fraud, but generally speaking, occupational fraud is a fraud that is committed by employees, and usually it is about asset misappropriation.

LA: And so that's what I said in my intro, like taking papers home with you or stealing staplers, but I probably imagine in your line of work, it's a little bit bigger than stealing staplers.

CM: Absolutely, and that is the second part of this fraud that we are talking about which is fraud on the behalf of the organization. Now, this is committed by people who are at the top of affairs, usually management, they have the access, or I can say they have the opportunity of overwriting controls, and that is how they commit the fraud. They can falsify records. And it may not come to them directly as stealing cash as we know it, but it will misrepresent the financial reports of the organization in a way that will help them. And what makes them do that? They may have the pressure on the part of the organization to make sure they reach certain targets. And every year, we have what you call financial analyst. This financial analyst will have a ballpark number to say, "You should as a company be able to come up with this sales per dollar in a year, and companies make sure that they reach their target, otherwise it will affect their financial statements drastically, especially, they are stock exchange. So this is key area that we are going to be looking at.

LA: So this is, executives might fudge their numbers so they can just move their key performance indicators just enough that they can manipulate the company stock price.

CM: Exactly. I'm probably sure you heard about Enron, and WorldCom, those huge conglomerate in the United States that went out of business purely because of fraud, and this is the type of fraud that we are referring to here. It doesn't happen quite often. Probably about 10% of financial segment fraud, when you consider all other frauds, this 10% alone accounts for 90% of impact on employees, on investors, and on management as well. So this is huge, you see a large number of people losing their investment, their life savings because of this type of fraud, because what happens is the stock exchange crashes, and you lose everything at a go.

LA: So you're telling me that 10% of the cases of fraud are things that I'm gonna actually see, they're gonna come to the front page of the Financial Times, but there's still like 90% of the cases of fraud that we don't see?

CM: The 90% actually is the one that you call asset misappropriation, and that is the one that things like cash or inventory is what employees normally do, and they'll commit that on a daily basis. And it costs the company significantly, and it is something that has really touched me as a person. But in my line of work, I was working in the banking industry. Even though that is where most fraud are committed because that's where the money is, isn't it? In the banks. So you tend to see, not directly cash being taken out of the banking system, but the way the accounting is recorded is being falsified, and there are a lot of kickbacks, which I will tell you about the specific work that I used to do in the bank.

I was working in the loans and advances section of the company, and regularly customers will come in and they will apply to get loans in terms of cash, or they want to buy a property or land, and they are seeking the bank to underwrite those cost. They come to us, we help them fill out the application forms and our supervisors would tell us, we have to get 10% to 15% kickback. And that is cost that is far over and above what the customer is required to be responsible for in getting that particular loan. So that's what happens in most cases.

LA:mLet me back up, Charles, because that never happened to me in my career, I never had a boss above me telling me to get 20% kickback.

CM: I know.

LA: So how did you come to work in this bank and where was the... When was the first moment that you realized that there was widespread fraud going on in the banking industry? 'Cause you said this was a dream job for you from when you were a little kid.

CM: It was my perfect job, I had always wanted to work in a bank, and thank God I was able to get there. But on reaching there, because what we normally see is that those who were working in the bank were rich during my time, and they were actually rich. They would go in, and within a few months to a year, they are building properties, they have flashy cars, they have everything you can ever want to have. So I wanted to be in that kind of a position. And upon getting there, I realized that it was really much more than the salary that you depend on. The salary alone was not enough. But as a Christian, that wasn't what I was prepared to face. And here I was, having to choose between "you are either with us or you are out." And that was a very hard decision for me to do, because number one, this is the job of my dream, and number two, I have to choose either my faith or the highway. And I chose the latter.

LA: You chose the highway. No, it's just...

CM: Yup, I just left. I just left, yes. I just left, absolutely.

LA: Now I wanna bring Mark into this conversation because, Mark, you have so many years of experience pastoring people, talking to people through experiences in their work, making tough choices, do I stay in a job? Do I leave a job? Have you ever heard these really stark stories of people facing ethical dilemmas in their work and wondering whether to stay or go?

MR: Oh my, yes, in fact, Charles, as you were talking, I just started remembering many conversations I had as a pastor that were not exactly like yours, but it was not uncommon at all for people in a business context to be expected or literally told by their boss, "You need to misrepresent something to this client."

CM: Yes.

MR: And more than once, I had people come to me almost exactly like with something like Charles saying, "My boss has said, I need to say this to the client, and if I don't say that, I will be fired. And so I need to support my family, and what am I gonna do?" And those were such hard decisions. I mean, in one sense, not 'cause these were people of real integrity, but the cost, at least the immediate cost, it was a very great one, and it was scary, and so we would talk and pray, and to my knowledge, the ones that had shared that with me, chose as Charles did, to do the right thing. I had another person in politics, in state government in California, and someone much higher up in the government came to him, and it was basically the same thing. "You need to lie at this meeting, and if you don't lie at this meeting, I promise you, your political career is over. It will be the end for you." And he had to decide what he was going to do.

So these kinds of challenges... Those very stark ones are present, I think, in a lot of people's lives, I think for a lot of people, it's not the big time fraud, it's the littler stuff, like, "Do I fudge this expense account a little bit?" I've been a pastor a lot of my life, and pastors, there's often a fine line between, "Is this meeting a pastoral meeting, or am I out with my friend for dinner?" You're making a lot of judgement calls, and I think it's really easy to just slip into a pattern of not really being really honest about things. And the problem with that is that tends to grow in your soul.

CM: Absolutely.

MR: And then it's something bigger that you're not honest about, and then something bigger, and... But I think the temptations are there. And Charles, you mentioned it, for many it's in small ways, but they're big soul ways, and of course there are bigger things too.

CM: Absolutely. Absolutely. And in fact, talking about temptation, there is what we call the fraud triangle, which means there are three incidences whereby any person who is committing fraud is either seeing one or all three of these items, and one of them is called pressure. The pressure that you face as an employee in the organization can cause you to commit this kind of fraud. And pressure can come in different forms. It can be pressure as a result of vice, which means there may be an addiction that that person is going through, or maybe gambling habits, or simply greed, just having flashy cars, or you want the top of whatever you want to have, to show off for that. And once you are used to that flamboyant lifestyle, sometimes you may not be able to keep it up with your regular pay. And that will push you to engage in these kind of fraudulent activities.

And the second one, it's called opportunity. And usually what happens is, when you are at a managerial level, you have the opportunity to override controls, you have the opportunity to ask your subordinates "do this, do that." Or you can go in yourself and then change the records for your own advantage, but at the disadvantage of the organization.

And the third one, which we call rationalization, is that you're trying to make the fraud you've committed to look legitimate. For example, you may feel that, "Well, I should have been promoted, I've been in this organization for X number of years. Look at my colleagues, they have been promoted, and I have not." So you might as well say, "Well, I think, it's good for me that I'm taking this amount from the organization just to compensate myself." So you're trying to make what is wrong look like it is legitimate. So either one or two or all three of these five concepts is being experienced by a perpetrator.

MR: Yeah.

CM: Yes.

MR: I'm having post-traumatic stress, because...

LA: Oh no.

MR: I may have shared this before, but when I was a pastor, we were bringing on an associate pastor, and this was in Southern California. The cost of living is expensive, so the church was going to give him a no-interest loan, toward a down payment. So we were all very clear about that, he was clear about that, we're clear with the real estate people, we're clear with the financial people, everybody's good. And it's the day that... His house is gonna close, and I as pastor have to sign a document relative to this loan. And I'm reading this document, and it says flat out, "This money is a gift with no expectation of repayment." And so I call the financial guy and say, "Oh, there's a mistake." And he says, "Oh no, that's not a mistake, that happens all the time."

CM: Exactly.

MR: "Everybody does that. We all know what you're doing, but it'll just be... We need to represent at this point, so you need to sign this thing. Don't worry about it, no one will ever care. No one will ever catch it." I said, "I can't do that." He said, "Well, if you don't sign this, your pastor's going to lose his down payment and this house." And the pressure I felt, like, "What am I gonna do? This is... " And thanks be to God, I told the guy, "Look, I can't respond to you right now." And so I prayed, and then a thought came to me, and this was really... This was God's gift, to call a friend in the church, who was both a financial guy and an attorney, and a godly man. And I said to him, "Look, this is where I'm at, and I can't sign this thing, but what are we gonna do?" And he was so great. He said, "Look, absolutely don't sign it. That's right." He said, "Let me handle it. I think I can solve this." And so thanks be to God, he got it, I don't know what he did, he came over, he...

LA: Do you think there was some fraud that was trying to be perpetrated on you, do you think, Mark?

MR: Well, not on me. The fraud for the sake of the organization in this case, would've been that we would be fraudulently representing to some financial institution that this was just a gift, and not a loan. And honestly...

CM: I see.

LA: And then you maybe wouldn't have had to pay the taxes on the interest and...

MR: Well, I think in the end it was just an easier way to make this thing happen, 'cause what would happen is this person who knew what he was doing got in there and he fixed it, so that we... Then we... The document I signed with what the church said was the truth, and the guy still got the house. But the thing I felt in that moment that... You mentioned pressure. I was like, "Okay, everybody does this, if I don't do this, this is gonna be really painful to the institution and to this pastor, and... " Oh my gosh, that temptation was so great. And I really do believe it was God's grace to put into my mind this idea that I need to call somebody who can help me, because in that moment, I was really... I was both tempted, but I was also out of my league. So anyway, that... But the thing I'm reminded of now as we're talking, is just this guy representing to me, and I don't know if it was true or not, but that everybody does this all the time. But I'm thinking, "Wait a minute, that's not a right thing, it's just not right." So anyway.

LA: So Charles, you were in this kind of culture of "everybody does this all the time" in the bank that you worked in, everyone was taking these kickbacks, how did you... Was it easy to make the decision to leave the bank, were there people that you called, like Mark did, to bounce this decision off of them, were there particular Bible verses that you were studying at that time that helped you make the decision?

CM: Absolutely, in fact, I found it really, really difficult to tell my family that I was going to be leaving the bank, they couldn't believe what they were hearing, but as somebody that is convicted, you have to look at certain values, look at the value you have in people, look at the value you have in yourself, and then look at the value that the organization has for the society in which you live, so I value all this three, because as an employee of the bank, we were actually... We could get a loan of any amount, and we didn't have to pay any interest, just like Mark was telling us, we didn't have to pay any interest. And I was just immediately touched there because in the book of Leviticus chapter 6, I think in verses two to five it says, "Whoever obtains something wrongly, including fraud, should return it with interest before asking God's forgiveness." So I was selling my service. And here I am, I can get all this amount of money that I can borrow from the bank, and I don't have to pay interest.

And look at what the Bible is telling me, that whatever you obtain wrongly, you should return it with interest. And look at the kickbacks we are having to make every day, this is something that really, I had little or no time thinking about that, I can't take this anymore, I will have to quit. So I went to my accountant and said, "I'm tendering my resignation." And the question usually is, why, why are you leaving? And I was honest enough, I said, "Because I'm resigning, I don't feel comfortable doing the work I'm doing, because my faith doesn't allow me to do that." He said, "But everybody is doing it. You're not doing anything wrong. The customers are happy about it, we are happy about your work. Nobody is complaining about you. Why should you resign?" I did. I did, yes.

LA: I have to say, Charles, it's not many people who in their jobs will say, "Well, let me go back to the book of Leviticus and look at a higher law than what's expected of me in my job." But I don't know a different way that the corporate culture of fraud is going to change. I mean...

CM: Honestly.

LA: You tell me.

CM: Honestly, there is absolutely no way that we can have a society that is free of fraud or corruption, but it's a challenge that we all have to live with, because technology really is something very interesting. In the past, in order for you to be able to steal money from the bank, you'd have to break the bank. Today, you don't have to leave your room, you can stay in the comfort of your bedroom and robbing a bank in, let's say, here we are in the United States, you can rob a bank in China, you can rob in Brazil, in South America, you can be anywhere.

LA: Well I can't, but I assume there are people who can.

CM: Absolutely, so it's a way of making things easier for people to commit fraud if they wanted to, and at the same time, even though we can say, there are also higher chances of being caught because they leave your paper trail whenever you are committing these crimes online. And yes, of course there are, but sometimes the damage has already been done because it's detecting what happened and how can that be prevented.

LA: Now, Mark, you talked about this as a soul sickness from the... Not even the huge robbing a bank in Brazil from my bedroom, but the smaller fraudulent acts, we talked about as a soul, just a soul-sucking disease. Could you talk more about that or what that looks like in people's lives?

MR: Sure, I'll give you another example from pretty early in my professional life, when I was working as a pastor. And I had an accountant who had been recommended to me, and I gave him all my expenses for the year and all the... And declared all kinds of... 'Cause when you're a pastor, you do weddings that you don't get any kind of documentation for. And so I had a fair amount of... There's an official word for it, but income that was not... There was no record of the income except my saying, "Let's just say I made $3,000" and you know you're supposed to tell the IRS that, and I presented that to my accountant. And he said, "Oh, you shouldn't put this in there." "Why? I earned it." "Oh, they'll never know. And if they ever find out, you'll just have to pay a penalty. But they'll never find out." And I said, "Yeah, but I... " So we were having this argument. And once again, there's a little bit of me that's tempted right? It's like, "Wow, you mean I won't have to pay tax on that money," and this is where, Charles you said about rationalization, it's like, "The government takes too much anyway, I'm mad at the government anyway."

CM: Exactly.

MR: But in my case, I also had my wife in the room, so whatever temptation I had, she was there. I think this is often when we need community, and they know we're really gonna do that. And then frankly, we went and found another accountant, we found a person who in this case happened to be a Christian. I know there are honest people who are not Christian, but he was a Christian. And his philosophy, by the way, his was, "You need to pay the federal government every penny you owe, and not one penny more than that."

CM: Exactly.

MR: But it was... But I think what would have happened if I said, "Yeah, let's just do this." It begins to erode your soul.

CM: Absolutely.

MR: And there is a piece of you inside that is changed. And that in and of itself is not a good thing. The problem is, it's like, well, like erosion, you get a little erosion, and then the next thing, the next big rain, you get more erosion, and pretty soon, you got a big, giant creek that wasn't there before. And I think what happens with people... And again you'll see that this is not just financial fraud, but politicians are fairly well known for saying things that are often not true.

CM: Exactly.

MR: Generally, it starts with little things, and then it becomes bigger, and then it becomes bigger. And I'm just so aware of that possibility for my own soul, which is why, both my stories, I had help. I was not alone. I had in one case this elder and attorney in my church, in another case, my wife. And I found that my own weakness and temptation is real, but I'm sorry I'm gonna give you a verse 'cause Leah, you love asking for verses, you can talk about iron sharpening iron. We could talk about from Ecclesiastes, two are better than one. And that the strength of relationship in a Christian community in those places for me has been really important.

CM: Absolutely. I think, Mark, you just hit the nail at the head because, surprisingly, I'm looking at the book of Mark actually chapter 10, verse 19, which we all know, that talks about, "Thou shall not steal." And in fact, the church is probably one of the most... Most organization that I can say is at a disadvantage because we trust people so much. So it doesn't even come to us as to question somebody's integrity. The finances of the church is always, "This is a brother or a sister that is handling this finances, we trust everybody." And because we have faith, we have faith in each other. So this is one area that the church can sometimes be taken aback. They can be easily be defrauded constantly without us knowing that. And it is something that we have to sometimes be careful because we say in audit that we... Even though we trust, have to verify. So this is an area of integrity that we say, "Yeah, we trust you, yes, you're a brother, yes, you are a sister but do we have to verify," just as you said.

LA: I imagine even in the workplace, it's challenging. It's not just churches where we trust people. And like people... My co-workers, I probably spend more time with them than people at my church or than any other friend group, so I really grow to love and trust my co-workers. And I may be very... I'm not talking about my current job now, but I might be resistant to admitting to myself that there might be some systemic fraud going on in my company, or if I know about fraud, I might be resistant to bringing it to light because of how much I like my co-workers, and I like my job. So Charles, what advice would you give for people, if there are some of our listeners who suspect that there might be some fraud going on in their company, what could be like a first step that they could take?

CM: This is interesting because there are organizations who really are trying very hard to make sure that there's a way in which any employee that suspects any form of fraud can report that in a logical form. What do I mean by that? They tend to have what we call whistleblowing system. So for organization that has a whistleblowing system in place makes it a lot easier for an employee to come forward to say, "Hey, I noticed something is not right." And that employee will be... The identity of that employee will be protected. And then the organization can now go into investigating to find out what is really happening.

But if there's no way of protection, that employees can report cases of fraud, then that becomes really a problem, because he may report it to your supervisor, and the supervisor probably is the one that is causing you to commit this fraud, or it is the supervisor that is doing the fraud. Where else do you go? Maybe you go to the boss of your supervisor. That may also be... There may be a roadblock there.

So if you have this kind of a problem, your only bet is to maybe engage the services of an outsider. So maybe you can inform your attorney, your lawyer about what is going on in your organization, and then the lawyer can advise you as to how to do it. You can either report it to maybe a consumer reporting agency in your state, and that they may want to take it up. But yes...

LA: And if I don't have a lawyer...

CM: If you don't have your lawyer, then good luck to you, if you...

LA: I'll get one.

CM: Exactly, get one, because you never know, it may come back to haunt you. And what companies normally do is, if they suspect an employee committing fraud and they know that it is Mr. Y that is committing this fraud, they may not want to take it to court because they may not want that publicity. So all they can do is just to lay off that employee to go, and the employee leaves with a clear record, gets another job, and repeats the same thing in the next job. So it is really a very difficult area. But yes, companies that are really doing well in preventing fraud in their organization is to set up a good whistleblowing system. That is the best way to go.

LA: Now, let me ask you this question, Charles. You found... You always wanted to be in the banking industry, you found it riddled with fraud, you came to the United States, you're telling me it's just as bad here in the United States. Do you feel... Like, do you get disheartened by the work that you do or do you have hope for us human beings?

CM: Probably, I think there is little or no organization that you can say is free of fraud, because fraud is broad. It is simply... It can be deception. And if you look at just the 10 Commandments alone, about four out of 10 of the commandments is related to fraud. We know the first one...

LA: Say more.

CM: Of course, look at, "Thou shall not steal." Stealing is a form of fraud. And we have, "You should not bear false witness against your neighbor." False witnessing is fraud. You should not covet your neighbor's wife. That is fraud. You should not covet your neighbor's goods. That is the assets of the organization that we are working with. So almost literally anywhere you go, there is that chance or opportunity that you can, if you don't be careful, fall into as a temptation. So even though my profession as an educator, I can say it is probably one of the best as I can see, because there is little or no fraud that you can commit there. But you may say, "Oh, there's nothing you can do, there's no cash there or assets of the organization that I can take away." But there are just so many things that you can do, maybe not doing your job properly or not being available at work whereby you should be, just not being available to your employees, to your students, or helping them the way you should. So these are all indirect way of committing fraud, and this is one of the things that God is against, that we should not, as committed Christians, in doing that.

LA: You have me thinking about the 10 Commandments, and I'm twisting them in my head, to say, to think like, "How can each of these be about fraud now?" And honoring my father and mother, I can't tell you how many white lies that I...

CM: Absolutely.

LA: That I told to my parents to get out of things but now that I have children, I see that happen as well. So I'm just seeing how, from the family to the workplace, there are many opportunities for all of us to not represent the truth 100% accurately.

CM: Absolutely.

LA: Which is why I'm so interested in this verse from Leviticus that you gave at the beginning, which is Leviticus chapter 6 verses 2 to 6, which say, "When you found out... " I'm gonna paraphrase here, but when you realize that you've done something wrong and you feel guilty about it, then you go offer your guilt offering, which is 20%, which is not, which is... Which is not... "

CM: Exactly.

LA: Which is not a little thing. I think of...

CM: Yeah, exactly.

LA: I think of my kids lying about their screen time, "No, I wasn't playing Minecraft. I wasn't upstairs in the office. No, I wasn't... " Like, "Well, we're gonna cut 20% off." No, no, no.

CM: Yes, exactly.

LA: That's not for me to do, that's for them when they realize their guilt to do.

CM: Exactly.

LA: I'm going down a tangent, but the guilt offering recommended in Leviticus is, I think, there because there is some guilt that can eat away at our soul if we don't make restitution for all the frauds, small, medium, and large that we commit.

CM: Right. Absolutely.

MR: So Leah, we have in the New Testament this wonderful story of Zacchaeus, who has this encounter with Jesus, and his heart and his life is transformed. But you remember what he said, this is... it's Luke 19. And Zacchaeus, first he says, "I'll give half my possessions to the poor," but then he said, "And if I've defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much, that's not the 20%, that's four times as much." And this isn't establishing as a rule for all time and people, this must be, but it does show, doesn't it, that when a person encounters the grace of Jesus, 'cause Jesus didn't tell him to do this, but when he encountered Jesus's love and grace, his heart was transformed, and that led to a radically different kind of business practice, just on the spot, 'cause he wanted to, it was in his heart to do something.

CM: That's right, that's right.

LA: Charles, in your line of work, have you seen any of this miraculous, people coming to realize their guilt and gratefully giving up some kind of offering?

CM: Not in the organization I was, but obviously, there are so many instances. There was... I can tell you a very short, funny story. My wife was operating a clothing store here in Cambridge, and you will not believe the amount of shoplifting that was going on in the store. And one lady came with a basket full of clothes. At first, we were thinking maybe she had come to sell those clothes to us. So she called my wife aside and said, "I am so sorry, I've been coming to this store many times, but this is the remaining clothes that I have with me, and I just want to return it. I just felt that it is not right that I keep coming to steal from you." We were really, really touched, and we told her she could have those ones to herself, we've forgiven her, and she is welcome to come to the store at any point and tell us what kind of clothes she needed. Because we were really blown away with her conviction to come to the store with a basket full of clothes that she took from us. I thought that is a very good example.

LA: Do you know what... That's amazing. Do you know what caused the change in her?

CM: Honestly, she just felt she wasn't doing the right thing and she should return it. And we did sit down with her and had a word of prayer, and because we didn't actually ask whether she was going to a particular church, but we knew that this wouldn't have just happened like that. It must have been a touch from God. And she came on her own, nobody asked her to come. Nobody asked her to come, and we wouldn't have known that she had taken that much. She said that wasn't enough. That was just what was left out of the many she had taken from the store. That was really amazing.

MR: That is, that's a... What a wonderful story.

CM: Exactly.

MR: I'm glad you asked that, Leah. That was great.

CM: That's right.

LA: Well, that actually gives me a lot of hope because, you know what? Other times in this conversation, Charles, I'm thinking, oh, how are we ever... Everyone, you're telling me everyone is lying all the time, and in every business everyone's committing fraud, how are we gonna get out of this and get more honesty in the workplace? And after hearing that story and also reflecting on the story of Zacchaeus, I feel like actually with God's power, it is actually possible for individuals to turn around, and if individuals turn around, then businesses can be turned around too.

MR: Yeah.

CM: Absolutely and... Yeah, go ahead, Mark.

MR: It can happen. I know, in a very different scale, a man who would negotiate multimillion, even billion-dollar contracts, and at one point in his life he really was convicted that a lot of his strategy in negotiating wasn't honest. They would misrepresent things and all that. And so he determined that from then on he was going to be honest in the way he did this. And he actually went to the person he was negotiating with and said, "Okay, what we have put in this really isn't what it ought to be, and here is what is really true." And the other person was so shocked, he didn't at first trust him because it was so... But he from that point on... And he has continued on in that business, and I don't know all the details, but I do know that from the level of shoplifting from a store to the level of multimillion or billion-dollar contracts, people do repent and turn and... God's in that business, right?

CM: Exactly Mark.

LA: Well, Charles, thank you for just opening our eyes today to the world of fraud in business and also to the hope that we all have more truth, and thank you for being a pioneer in this work, we appreciate you speaking with us today.

CM: Thank you so much.

MR: Amen. Yes, indeed.

CM: I'm so grateful for you for having me on this discussion, thank you.

 

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What is a Faith Driven Entrepreneur? - Henry Kaestner

Many things may drive you to start your own business. A great idea may prompt you to go into business for yourself, or a unique financial opportunity. Or maybe it’s just the insatiable desire to create something new in the marketplace. But what if it was faith that drove you? What would it mean to be an entrepreneur who is driven by faith? Guest Henry Kaestner is the author of Faith Drive Entrepreneur: What It Takes to Step Into Your Purpose and Pursue Your God-Given Call to Create. Henry is a serial entrepreneur with many successes under his belt, including Bandwidth, the telecommunications company he co founded, which counts Google, Microsoft, and Zoom among its clients. He is a managing principal in Sovereign’s Capital, a venture capital management company that invests over $100 million in faith-driven entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia and the US from its offices in Silicon Valley; Washington, DC; and Jakarta, Indonesia. Henry Kaestner is here today to talk about the blessings and challenges of pursuing entrepreneurship with faith.

 

Scripture References

  • Genesis 2:2
  • John 5:17
  • Proverbs 16:2
  • Proverbs 21:2
  • 2 Chronicles
  • Revelation 2:4

 

Additional Resources Referenced

Faith Driven Entrepreneur: What It Takes to Step Into Your Purpose and Pursue Your God-Given Call to Create, by Henry Kaestner, J.D. Greear, Chip Ingram 

Faith Driven Entrepreneur: https://www.faithdrivenentrepreneur.org

 

Thanks for Listening!

If you like what you've heard, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts! We'd love to hear from you, and it helps other people find us. 

 

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Transcript

​​Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

LA: Many things may drive you to start your own business. A great idea may prompt you to go into business is for yourself. Or a unique financial opportunity. Or maybe it's just the insatiable desire to create something new in the marketplace. But what if it was faith that drove you? What would it mean to be an entrepreneur who is driven by faith? Our guest today, Henry Kaestner, is the author of the new book, Faith-Driven Entrepreneur. Henry is himself a serial entrepreneur with many successes under his belt, including Bandwidth, the telecommunications company he co-founded, which counts Google, Microsoft and Zoom among its clients. He's also a managing principal in Sovereign's Capital, a venture capital management company that invests over $100 million in faith-driven entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia and the US, from his offices in Silicon Valley, Washington DC and Jakarta, Indonesia. Henry Kaestner is here today to talk about the blessings and challenges of pursuing entrepreneurship with faith. Henry, welcome to the Making It Work podcast.

Henry Kaestner: Leah, thank you very much. Great to be with you.

LA: So I wanna start out with this idea of what does it mean to be a faith-driven entrepreneur? Probably a lot of us have an idea of what it means to be an entrepreneur, and some of us have an idea of what it means to be driven by faith, but put those two together and are we really talking about here?

HK: Great question. To some degree, one of the reasons why we got excited about calling it "faith-driven engineer" was in the title, and that is, this applies to every person that is an entrepreneur. What is it that drives them? I think that we can suggest, hopefully that everything we do, every person on the planet is driven by their faith in something, their belief in something. And so, what is it that drives us? What faith system drives us? So for Christ followers, we believe that there's an opportunity to be driven by our Christian faith, and that comes from really, and you'll get some of this in our discussion, I think, about the marks of a faith-driven entrepreneur. But there are two that are really important, that I think are seminal that really help with the title of "faith-driven entrepreneur". Number one, it's our call to create. When we are driven by our belief that God created the world and worked six out of seven days and that His work continues to this day, and you'll see that in the Gospel of John, when you believe that, it is a holy thing to be invited into the work that God is doing and bringing about His kingdom on earth as is in heaven. So that belief, that faith in a God who created the world, who's an active God, His work continues to this day, can drive us. The second thing, the second component, and the first two of the 11 marks of a faith-driven entrepreneur, are our identity in Christ, that can drive us. And that part about being driven is really, really important. So what drives us? So many Christ followers that are entrepreneurs are driven, and they'd never say it this way, but they're driven by the sense that they need to earn their own salvation, and to whom much is given, much is expected, and if you don't deliver, you're gonna be beaten with many blows. And while that passage is in Scripture, it is not... Taken by itself, it can cloud out the doctrine of grace and the fact that there's a God who so loves us, that He sent His Son to die for us. Even though we're as messed up as we all are, He sent His Son to die for us, to reconcile us to Him, and that we have an eternity with God. He loves us, Christ is in us. And the miracle of that is something that allows us to then be driven, out of gratitude and joy, and thanksgiving and worship, bringing all that we are, all of our giftings, our talents and our experience, to the altar as our meaningful form of worship. And that drives us. So what are we driven by? We're driven by a Christian faith. What does that mean? It means that we are invited into the incredible work that God is doing in the world and bringing about His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, and we are driven out of gratitude for the gift of life given us. And that is a powerful force.

LA: Now Henry, you mentioned this verse about God still working, which is in the Gospel of John, it's John chapter 5, verse 17, where Jesus says, "My Father is always at His work and I'm also working." Now, this sounds like an entrepreneur to me. In the, I guess our cultural idea of the entrepreneur, we have this idea of someone who's always working. Working, working, working. And so is this, I have to wonder, you picking out this particular verse, what does that mean to you? Have you felt particularly driven in your career, in the sense of always working?

HK: Oh I have, I have. I think that God put in me and puts into all of us, we're created in His image. So Calvin would say, and I'm a PCA elder, I'm very much an ecumenical, any Bible-believing church, and we serve Christ followers of all different denominations to be clear, and yet I tend to be driven by the sense of, the chief end of man is to know God and enjoy Him forever. And in order to know God, we have to look at what His attributes are in Scripture. And here we're presented in the Gospel of John with this image of a God who is working. It's so different than the images of so many other gods from other faith traditions, where it was out of amusement that the gods had the humans populate the Earth. No, there's a God who very much cares about humanity, cares about what's going on in the Earth, cares about justice and injustice, cares about the poor, and He's continuing to work. So if we're gonna be holy because God is holy, we need to understand what does that all mean? And so, I think that we just really tap into the image bearer that we all are when we understand, again, this attribute of a working God, and I think that we're invited into that. And I think that that's something that's important, because otherwise what might happen is a faith-driven entrepreneur might be tempted to think that they're a second-class citizen to the pastor or the missionary, but no, 39 of the 40 miracles that happen in Acts happened in the marketplace. And I think that there's a great precedent for us to really tap into that and to co-create with God and understand that there's a holiness to what we might aspire to in the marketplace.

LA: Okay, Henry, so I'm starting to get, okay, God is a worker and He enjoyed what He created, and He said it's very good. And then we are created in God's image, so you, as an entrepreneur, also have the ability to create something new and enjoy and say that it's good. Now, you must find entrepreneurs in your circle of contacts who are maybe not driven by faith or maybe not driven by their idea that they're made in the image of God. What's the opposite of a faith-driven entrepreneur? Is it a self-driven entrepreneur? What does it look like to fall into that trap?

HK: Oh, that's a great question, I've never been asked that before. And maybe it is a self-driven entrepreneur, driven by a naked ambition that is consumed by the worries of the world and the deceitfulness of riches. That may very well be the case. I think that we all need to wrestle with that and just ask, ask yourselves, what motivates us? And that's really complicated, right? Proverbs tells us twice, 16:2 and 21:2, that all of a man's ways seem pure to him, but his motives are weighed by the Lord. Oh my goodness, that's really... That's tough to hear. 'Cause I even know enough to know that if I really ask myself about my motives, are they always pure? Are they always holy? They're not. There's no way about it. I'm a sinful man, falling way short of the glory of God. And so I think we need to be asking ourselves a lot about what does drive us, and I think that a corollary to that is another one of these marks that we suggest in the book, which is endeavoring to understand the difference between being willful and faithful. What are we trying to do under our own power, because it seems like it's the right thing to do? And when are we being faithful?

So let me see if I can give you a quick example and tell you a little bit more about what I mean there. Semi-famously, maybe not famously at all, but semi-famously, David and I talk about the time early on in Bandwidth. And Bandwidth is a company that has since gone public, and God's blessed it as we make phone numbers and the software that provisions them for people like Microsoft and Google and Zoom and Uber, and people like that. But early on, David and I had spent through all the money we had had available to start a company, so we came out to the West Coast and Sand Hill Road where I live now, and tried to raise money from venture capitalists. And we semi-famously, again, semi-famously went 0 for 40, we just were completely unsuccessful. Part of that we would chalk up to the fact that we would talk about our faith, typically not in the first visit, but absolutely in the second or third, and we felt that we were really potentially misunderstood as we talked about that and people didn't know what to make of us, and so they didn't invest. And yet the bigger story on that chapter in our life wasn't this prejudice that we experienced, although we may have experienced some, it was the fact that that was a season in our lives in which we were being willful. We would pray before we'd walk into a meeting with Redpoint or Sequoia, or USVP or others, that would come out of the meeting with a $20 million term sheet. So we'd pray, we're Christians, we prayed. But we never prayed and fasted about whether we should be raising money at all to begin with. And through God's infinite mercy allowed us to not raise money, which was the absolute right thing, we didn't know it at the time, but that was the season in which we were being willful. And there are other seasons throughout the 20 years of Bandwidth, in which you can look at any type of what was going on in the company and see where we were being willful. David and I were actually reflecting on this, we went on a camping trip with our boys a couple of years ago. It was in the drive between Yosemite and Tahoe where we were reflecting on these different seasons at Bandwidth where we really felt that God was blessing us, and times when we're trying to do things in our own power. And David said, "You know, guys, it feels like the Bible. Saul was supposed to wait on Samuel, but he just went off and did what he thought seemed best at the time, yet Gideon was really faithful." And when you look at the difference between willful and faithful, you can do... You can be willful and faithful in activity, and you can also be willful and faithful in passivity. Sometimes we're supposed to take action and supposed to go off on mission and we don't. You think about David, when kings were supposed to go off in a war, he stayed behind and obviously that didn't go well for him. So I think that we need to understand what our motives are, and then what's the tenor, the temperature of our heart and our posture, and why are we doing what we're doing? Those questions that we can ask just generally as Christ followers, I think are helpful, but yes, especially as entrepreneurs.

LA: I love these biblical examples that you point out, of characters that we have in the Old Testament, who gave us some good examples of what it looks like to be willful. Mark, do you have a favorite, among of either... Who do you wanna talk about? Should we talk about David? Should we talk about Saul? Who do you like among the examples that Henry mentioned?

MR: Well, you know, I had already skipped over into the New Testament. [chuckle] But partly it would be Peter, is just like the paradigm of willful, always doing things, and often making a fool of himself, as we often do when we're willful. The thing that's so encouraging to me about that is that God continues to use and shape and mold willful people. And that's where I guess that really connects back, Henry, to what you were saying right up front about identity. 'Cause I think if somebody picks up your book, you know, they might even say, "I'm the creative... Yeah, this is kind of... I was thinking maybe along these lines," but then you hit hard on the way it's who we are in Christ, that is so important. So that you're oriented in grace and God's grace in Christ. And you know, if I read in your book and not knowing you, I think, "Wait a minute, I think this was gonna be on entrepreneurship. What's the deal? Now you're just talking about who we are in Christ." Which of course, your point is. That's so important, and part of the reason that's so important is it says, "Yeah, God will use people who have messed up, God uses wilful people, but in the process, teaches us to be more reliant and more submitted." I think of, Henry, you may know Terry Looper, who's an entrepreneur down in the Houston area...

HK: Sure.

MR: And written a wonderful book called Sacred Pace, which is pretty much the whole book is about how you can learn to release everything to the Lord so that you can be open to what He wants to say to you. And so it's again, it's filling in that how do you make that transition from willfulness to faithfulness, which is a really different approach to entrepreneurship.

HK: It is indeed. It is indeed. Actually I wanna give you another example from the Old Testament, since we're talking about that. And part of it is this insecurity that I've had ever since coming to Christ at 28, so I'm an adult convert. But as I came to faith, it was God speaking to me through His Word in the New Testament. And David, my best friend and business partner for so long, but because that was so formative in me coming to faith, I hadn't in my early days at all, spent much time in the Old Testament. And some of my favorite leadership examples, of course, are in the Old Testament, and sometimes I'm discovering them new. I'll tell you what I discovered from the Old Testament that's really rocked my world as a faith-driven entrepreneur. Over the course of the last, I guess it was probably 24 months ago that I discovered this for the first time, though I have read the Bible through many times. But it was until two years ago that I fell in love with the good kings of Judah in 2 Chronicles. And so if you're reading through the Bible, 1 Chronicles is a lot of the genealogies, and it's hard to get a lot from those, although I've been in a Bible study with folks who have gotten a lot from it, it just blows me away their understanding different themes, but we won't get into that now. But 2 Chronicles, you got the bad kings of Judah, and you got the good kings of Judah. So you'll expect on a podcast like this, that it's pretty obvious to not do the things that the bad kings of Judah did. And yet, it's the lessons of the things to not do, that the good kings of Judah did, that I think is what really just underpins the challenges and the pitfalls that we might experience as a faith-driven entrepreneur.

LA: So give us an example that really stands out for you?

HK: Okay. So I think that there's seven of them, I might be wrong. Or maybe there are six, maybe there are eight. But every single one of them made a mistake in not seeking God out. For one of them, and I should know which one it was, it was a trade deal. For several of them, it was whether to go off into battle or not. Now, the Bible says that these were men after David's heart, who in turn, David's heart was after God's heart. So we know they're godly men that are in these leadership positions, and we can suppose that and presume that they made the decisions that they thought were in the best interest. They used their common sense. And yet they didn't seek God. Joshua, of course, another example is Joshua looked at the food stores of the Gibeonites, but didn't seek God out as to whether to do a treaty with them or not. And I find so many times during the day, I'll make decisions and I don't seek out God. Now, I'll make the decisions based on what I think is right, and I'm a man, hopefully, that's after God's heart, and I'd like to think that my common sense is developed and becoming better, and yet there's such great examples with the godliest of men who are in leadership and were the good kings, every single one of them made a mistake by not seeking God out.

LA: What I'm hearing from this Henry, is that faith-driven to you in your entrepreneurial life doesn't just mean, "Oh, general, I'm driven by my faith, my morals in general are driven by my faith," but you're really thinking, "In every single action, in every single decision, can I be driven by my faith? Can I go back to God and God's Word?" Am I stretching too much here?

HK: Well, in theory, you're 100% right. I'd like to think I'm that. [chuckle] In practice, I'm anything but it, and I fall short every day. One of the reasons why I like doing podcasts like this is because it becomes a reminder to myself of how important these principles are. How important it is to pray, to seek God out. I can think of decisions I made yesterday where I didn't pause and make the 30-second prayer that Nehemiah must have made when Artaxerxes asked him what to do about the demolition of Jerusalem, and it says he might have prayed.

LA: Give us an example, Henry. Tell me what happened yesterday that we can learn from, from your experience?

HK: I had to think about international partnerships with faith-driven entrepreneur. So those are some of the things going right now, we're excited about a global movement of faith-driven entrepreneurs coming together and united around the marks, and trying to make sure that we partner very, very well locally, and that we also know which communities and cities you go into where we do something under the faith-driven entrepreneur brand, and where we go through and we work in partnership with some of the great organizations that are out there.

Praxis does such a great job in equipping faith-driven entrepreneurs. Ocean does such a great job. And there's the community in Egypt, and there's Triga in South Africa. And so as we talk about how to work together, I'm not praying before every one of those meetings.

I think about personnel decisions we're making yesterday, we're expanding our team to tell more stories. I went ahead and had a call with a new person, and I think it's gonna go right. We made a decision about whether to bring them on board or not. But I don't remember praying before we decided to bring this person on board. Yesterday, maybe there are dozens of different decisions that were made about how to allocate capital, grand capital or investment capital. And I did not, I'm sure that I did not pray before every one of them. And then that extends to my personal life too, so how are we thinking about our family vacation time? How are we thinking about who takes Grant to a lacrosse tournament this weekend? I don't think that we should be paralyzed by not being able to make a decision unless we hang out in our prayer room for hours on end, but I think that we need to seek God out for all the decisions that we make, and I need to, let me just say it, I need to do more of it than I'm doing it now.

LA: I have to say, Henry, thank you so much for giving that honest example. Because it's so easy to fall guilty of just not checking in. I'm certainly guilty of it as well. I'm thinking of a staff meeting that I was in earlier this week where I opened my mouth and took control over the discussion, as I like to do. And afterwards I thought, "You know, I really wanted to hear someone else's opinion on this." I really went into that meeting thinking, "I wanna hear so and so's opinion," and I did not let so and so, give so and so the breathing room to share that opinion, you know. Because... And it could have gone better if I had taken a couple of moments and gotten quiet with God beforehand and said, "God, You sit on my tongue, You can tell me... Help me know when it's time for me to open my mouth and when it's time for me to be quiet." Even though I went in that meeting with the best of intentions, it's so being faith-driven in my actual work makes me need to remember that God is at work today. Like we said in John chapter 5, verse 17. God is still at work today. God can still work in me, not just He unleashed this whole system and then went in the back room to have a siesta.

HK: Indeed. Yup.

LA: Mark, let me bring you into this conversation. I cannot imagine that you have ever had an experience where you regretted not checking in with God in your work? [chuckle] You must be on a different spiritual plane than the two of us.

MR: Absolutely. [chuckle] No, I was sitting here Henry, as you were talking, thinking, "Oh my gosh, all the times I wished I'd checked in with the Lord." And I'm obviously mostly thinking of times I've said or done really stupid things, but you know, there are the other times too, where I didn't do something stupid, but I think... So earlier in my life, I think I was just inclined to think, "Well, I pray in the morning and I offer my day to God, and that's all good." And I think that is good. I think the growing edge for me, and Henry, you're really stirring this up again, you're getting me thinking about this, that how can we develop the practices and the habit just in our life, where it becomes just almost second nature to turn to the Lord again and again and again. Jesus, in this passage where talks about God working, also talks about doing what the Father is doing. Well, how do we know if we don't pause and ask and are open? And it's just such a different way of thinking about what could become just normal, standard operating procedure. I'm gonna turn to the Lord again and again. As you say, it doesn't have to take hours, it could be very brief. A moment of surrender, a moment of openness, and let God guide and speak. And that's really down to earth too, I like that. That's something that any of us could say, "Okay, I need to work on this," and I know I do.

LA: Henry, get really practical with us. How do we do this in the course of our work day?

HK: Okay. Well, let's start right now. Heavenly Father, we ask that all the listeners to this would be able to seek You out and You'd give a stirring in their heart where they'd want more of You and want more of Your guidance, and they'd hear from You and Your Word and through their prayer time. So we pray for that in Jesus' name. Number one. Number two, I think that there is a great opportunity to get together with other men and women that are also faith-driven entrepreneurs, that fall prey... That might otherwise fall prey to the same challenges of trying to do something under their own strength. And also are familiar with some of the challenges that are practical for a, for an entrepreneur. Do I hire a non-believing senior member of my team or not? How do I think about firing? How do I think about intellectual property? How do I think about customer acquisition costs? How do I think about delighting my customers? All those different types of things are best to really accomplished in community. Because I think that God created us to be in community. The entrepreneurship journey can be a very, very lonely experience, and so I think it's really important that we seek out fellowship and community, and say, "Let's help each other to be vigilant to the different types of marks that we believe are universal and true." And so we know that... And it's just, and it's the group discussion, somebody says, "You know, I don't think I seek God's will out enough." Maybe somebody else says, "I don't think I am able to make decisions. I'm indecisive." Maybe somebody else says, "I don't think I've got a really good filter for how I talk in the workplace." Somebody else might say, "I don't know that I'm doing a great job of loving on my family and my kids during this season." And so as we lay bare our sins or the challenges that we have, and what we think and fear might be some of our blind spots, but we're not even really sure, and then come into community with others that can hold us accountable and help us to find out even the blind spots, 'cause there are blind spots that we don't even know. Just like, "Dude, you've never really talked about the fact that you stumble with pride, but maybe you do, right?" Being able to speak the truth in love in a community. 'Cause God created us to be in fellowship and community together. So I think that's a practical thing we can all do as entrepreneurs, understand the entrepreneurship journey by itself can be lonely. Number two, taking positive steps towards getting community where it's less lonely, and we're much less likely to make some of those repeated challenges of not seeking God out or any of the other spiritual disciplines, or the right way to love on our family and have the right priorities, and the list goes on.

MR: That's so wise. I appreciate you saying that, 'cause I was literally thinking back to the, probably the stupidest thing I ever said in my tenure at Fuller and in a meeting, and one of the things I did with that then was... I have a spiritual director, so I talked to him at length about that, and I learned a lot. And some of it was not easy to hear, but he's there, he loves me and wants what's best for me, and so it became a growth experience. And I think your encouragement to us to have places of community where you can go deeper with people and deal with the deeper, that just seems so right on, and I'm so glad you've mentioned that.

LA: So I wonder, Henry, if you would have different advice for someone that's mature in their entrepreneurship journey and someone who's just starting out, do you think the challenges in terms of faith are different in different career stages?

HK: Yeah. Gosh, wow. You ask really good questions. I've never been asked this one before. I think that in some ways, each side has its advantages and disadvantages. A mature Christ follower can be lulled into a sense of complacency, that they feel that they've got their faith, they're into the spiritual disciplines, they understand and have a sense about some of the themes that are in Scripture, and they're not as active in their faith in a sense of marvel and awe that a new Christ follower might have. So being an adult convert myself, there is a sense of awe and gratitude and just energy around the fact that, "Oh my goodness, there's a God who loves me, and I'm gonna spend eternity with Him. And I now have a sense of purpose in life that I didn't have before." And maybe it's like, and this is probably a bad analogy, but maybe it's like falling in love. It's just the eros, it's just this incredible energy and enthusiasm that comes from that. That's an incredible force. A relationship, a marriage looks a lot different when you've been married for 24, 25 years as I have been, versus when you're first dating. So you have to sometimes be intentional in your marriage of making sure that you still have that passion, and you have to work on it. Same thing, I think, for mature Christ follower. Am I in awe of the fact that the Almighty God of the universe has sent His Son to die for me? To reconcile me to Him. I can't earn it, it's a gift, I get it. And that has eternal ramifications. And I confronted with that every day? And does that drive my business meetings and the joy that I have, that becomes winsome? That's, when you're early in your faith, you've got that. And so there's also some wisdom. I can remember some of the mistakes I made as a young Christ follower, things became very black and white, I became pretty prescriptive and presumptuous, I became pretty judgmental. There are all sorts of different things that really made my Christian witness not as effective as it is, I think in some ways now later on. So I think that really the challenges for a new faith-driven entrepreneur and an old faith-driven entrepreneur really come from just our motives and just our experience in faith that are shared by every Christ follower regardless of vocation. It's, how well acquainted am I with a gift that's been given me, and I think that new Christ followers have advantages there over old Christ followers. And yet...

MR: You know... Sorry, Henry.

HK: Yeah, please.

MR: I was just gonna say, if I were Leah, I would now say that there's a Bible verse for that. It's from Revelation 2, and it's this letter that, from Christ actually to the church in Ephesus. And He really affirms the church in its maturity and its endurance, and He's very affirming, but he says, "But I have this against you, that you've lost your first love, or that you've abandoned the love you had at first." And I just think that's exactly what you're describing here, that can come with more maturity. Then some of what the wonder of the faith and the love of Christ, you know, you hate to say it, almost becomes passe or just ordinary. And so I think what you're talking about there, that's a great encouragement for those of us who've been Christians for a long time, as I have been. And the question, what are we doing to nurture that first love, that love for Christ? And I think that's a great word. And Leah, I referenced the Scripture text.

LA: You did. Revelation 2:4, you did a very good job, Mark. [chuckle]

HK: He did. He did. He blessed me with it.

LA: I'm proud of you there. But this idea, I'm gonna grab a hold of it, Mark, this idea that Jesus is speaking to this church who had, I guess a lot of passion at their founding and then kind of got a little bit complacent. Do you also feel like that applies to your entrepreneurship journey, that you maybe lean on God less when you have a lot of successes under your belt, than when you're first in that, in all those lines of failures you talked about earlier?

HK: Oh, absolutely. That's something you have to be internally vigilant on. When you have to rely on God, and the Scripture reference here, I think Leah you're bringing us to is, "Give me neither poverty nor riches." And as we have been given riches, it is pretty easy to be less reliant on God. If you're not reliant on God to be able to provide your daily sustenance, there's a powerful faith there, and it's pretty easy to fall into the just, needing to rely on God in a different level. And that's a real danger.

LA: And I imagine that, it's funny you say that, 'cause I imagine that's a extra danger for entrepreneurs, where the ethos of entrepreneurship is so much "rely on yourself"?

HK: Yes, yes, yeah, and that's the countercultural narrative here, is that we need to be fully relying on God, and we just need to be so much more conscious of that as we end up having success. And it's really important for that to be the case, because the, number one, we're tempted to not have to rely on God as much when we have success. But the danger there is that now, if we're not fully relying on a God, we increase the chances of us doing something where God wouldn't lead us. And now the stakes are so much higher because we have so much of a greater platform. You think about all the folks that have fallen from positions as they've achieved success and they are less reliant on God, and then when they fall, it's, oh, it's awful, right? Because it's public now, and so many more lives are impacted. And that's why it's so important that I think that we pour into our leaders, because the degree that they become more successful and maybe they're less reliant on God, and then when they're less reliant on God... And our heroes, you think about so many different people over the course of the last 10 years who might be thought of as earthly heroes, which is dangerous in and of itself, but people who are exemplars of the Christian faith in the marketplace and out. And the fact that they've fallen. Oh it's an awful tragedy.

LA: So I wanna get to a last piece of advice, if you could wrap this up for our listener. What do you wanna do if you wanna become a faith-driven entrepreneur? Obviously, they're gonna pick up the book, Faith Driven Entrepreneur and learn about some really specific traits that you can cultivate in your life if you wanna be a faith-driven entrepreneur. But Henry, just from you shooting off the cuff, what do you think is most important for people to do today to make a step to be more faith-driven in their career?

HK: So this is gonna sound pithy or cliche or trite, but it's spending more time with God. It's just asking God, "God, should I be an entrepreneur or should I not be an entrepreneur?" Spending time in God's Word and seeing how He's speaking to you. 'Cause I believe... Mark Green's a friend of mine, and he signs off on every email and says, "This book is alive." Well, it is. And as we get more acquainted with God's Word, as He speaks to us, we're gonna be able to... You're gonna be able to just find more joy, and we're gonna find more joy and purpose in life because we're gonna be that much more in line with God's plan for us. And then it's getting in a community with people. And that's hard. The organization and managing schedules, and sometimes being in a group with people that sometimes are draining to you. Being in relationship is messy, but it's so biblical and we just need to do it. And so that's the advice I'd give. It surely wouldn't be to buy the book. I love the book, and I got a chance to co-author it with Chip Ingram and with JD Greear. And then Lecrae wrote the forward, which makes me culturally relevant for my three teenage boys, so that's great. And maybe it's how it put some flesh on some of these bones, and yet is so far second to just the very basics that we all know as Christ followers we need to do. But if there's a message you pick up from our time that we spent together today, it's just that God is active and He's working, His work continues right now. We've been invited to participate with Him in the building out of His kingdom, under His power for His glory. And when we can tap into that truth and just ask God, He'll give us all we need. As simple as that and as hard as that.

LA: I love that. Mark, what stood out for you? What's your takeaway from this conversation? I feel like I have a lot to chew on in my own life in terms of checking in with God a little bit more about my day-to-day decisions. You tell me what struck you, Mark?

MR: Well, two things. The first one isn't quite answering your question, but it's relevant given what we've just said. You already know this because I mentioned it before we started recording, but I'm visiting with a friend up in Washington State, and he sent me into his office to do this podcast, and sitting on the top of his book pile literally, is Faith Driven Entrepreneur. And he had no idea who I was doing the podcast with. I said, "Wow, you've got that book." He said, "Oh yeah. It's a great book. I just finished it." So I appreciate you saying, Henry, that reading your book isn't the main thing, but I have a completely unbiased report from a reader who has just told me it's a great book. So I just...

LA: Who is himself an entrepreneur.

MR: Yeah. So I do wanna just say that. You know, what struck me Henry, what you said, it's like, it boils down to spend time with God. So that is so much like, isn't it, what Jesus says in John 15, that if we abide in Him, we will bear much fruit. And even verse 8, "The Father is glorified by this, that we bear much fruit." But the bearing of fruit is our abiding in Christ individually, but of course, a grapevine doesn't have just one branch, it's branches. And that's the body of Christ part you mentioned. But what you just talked about, I think that's really what Jesus says, if you wanna be fruitful in life, and this isn't just in "spiritual things", if you wanna be fruitful in life, and that fruitfulness is honoring to God, what do we do first? We abide in Christ along with the other branches, and that's where our fruitfulness is gonna come. So this has been, I think, for me, just a great reminder of that reality, that fruitfulness in life comes from the deeper relationship with Christ, and then in being with Christ's people. And man, I always can use that reminder.

LA: Thank you so much, Mark. And Henry, thank you so much for joining us. It's been a great conversation. Thank you.

HK: Leah, I've really enjoyed it. Thank you for the honor and privilege. Mark, great to be with you again.

MR: You too. Thank you, Henry.

 

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Barred from the Workforce: The Hidden Side of Life After Incarceration - Reuben Jonathan Miller

You want to think of the workplace as a level playing field, where anyone with grit, determination, and an honest desire to work can succeed. But this is not always the reality, especially if you’re one of the 80 million Americans with some sort of a criminal record. For these people, and for the 1 in 2 Americans who love them, the world of work can come to resemble an impossible labyrinth, filled with dead ends, locked doors, and shortcuts back to prison. Once your life has been touched by incarceration, even when you’re free again, you’re never truly free. These are the research findings of our guest, Dr. Reuben Jonathan Miller, who is a sociologist at the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. Miller’s 15-year study of people leaving the prison system found that those who want most to participate in the working economy are often hampered by policies that restrict their movements, keep them from finding housing and employment, and penalize any family and friends who might help them. Dr. Miller’s new book is, Halfway Home: Race, Punishment and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration.

 

Scripture References

  • Matthew 25:31-46
  • Jeremiah 27:1-15
  • Leviticus

 

Additional Resources Referenced

Halfway Home: Race, Punishment and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration, by Reuben Jonathan Miller

 

Thanks for Listening!

If you like what you've heard, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts! We'd love to hear from you, and it helps other people find us. 

 

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Transcript

​​Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

You want to think of the workplace as the level playing field where anyone with grit, determination and an honest desire to work can succeed, but this is not always the reality, especially if you're one of the 80 million Americans with some sort of a criminal record. For these people, and for the one in two Americans who love them, the world of work can come to resemble an impossible labyrinth filled with dead ends, locked doors and shortcuts back to prison. Once your life has been touched by incarceration, even when you're free again, you're never truly free. These are the research findings of our guest, Dr. Reuben Jonathan Miller, who is a sociologist at the University of Chicago, Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice.

Miller's 15-year study of people leaving the prison system found that those who most want to participate in the working economy are often hampered by policies that restrict their movements, keep them from finding housing and employment, and penalize any family and friends who might help them. Dr. Miller's new book is Halfway Home: Race, Punishment and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration. Dr. Reuben Jonathan Miller, welcome to the Making it Work podcast.

Reuben Jonathan Miller: Thanks so much for having me. I'm really excited to be here with you today.

LA: I'm really excited for this conversation. I wonder if you could start by just giving us a scale of the number of people who are facing what you call the afterlife of mass incarceration.

RJM: I think you did a fantastic job leading us in. You talk about the 80 million Americans who have some sort of a criminal record, and that's really, that's really powerful. So we know that there are about two million people who are in an American jail or prison, 2.3 or 2.4 any given year, but there's something like five million people on probation or parole, and so we know that that's twice the number of people. And probation and parole almost necessarily means that you have what, what we might call a felony record, and this is, this is what we will call a serious conviction, and so typically this means that you go to prison, not jail, for a year or more, and you'd spend time on probation or parole under, under state supervision, so you have a probation or parole officer, somebody watching you, somebody talking to you about your life and how you go about spending time in the world, spending time with your family, but also someone to check in with, someone to, to tell you which programs to go to, this sort of thing.

But even that number, the five million number, which by the way is twice the size of the US jail or prison population, but gets probably half the attention, are the number of people who pass through a jail each year, and so, we have to switch the unit of analysis, we've been talking more or less in what social scientists will call a Point-in-Time count, meaning on any given day, how many people are in a given institution. But if you switch the unit of analysis to think about the number of people processed through an institution, this is the best way to think about how jail touches American families. There's something like 12 million people who pass through an American jail in this country each year, 12 million people, this means folks who are being arrested and held anywhere from a couple of hours to many years, in jail.

Most of which go home without any charges ever being filed, about... Well over half of whom are, are in pre-trial status, meaning that we don't know yet if they've done anything.

Okay, anyway, so, so that's, that's the jail, but even that number, that 12 million figure is eclipsed by the 19 million Americans we know who are alive today who live with a felony record. This is whether or not they're on probation or parole, this is whether or not they've completed their sentences, these are the number of people alive today who have it. And then of course, that larger number, that 80 million, and so that can be folks who have been touched by the criminal justice system in any way, where that could be any kind of criminal charge that people have, whether or not that, that charge is dropped. And so that's, that's more or less the landscape.

We focused, I should say, on the 2.2-2.3 million people who are in American prison, which is egregious. We, we incarcerate more people than any other country in the history of the western world, for sure, and we're by far the world's leader in what we might call the race to incarcerate, but that number is 10 times smaller than the number of people with a felony record much smaller than the number of people with a criminal record at all.

LA: And so when we're getting beyond this Point-in-Time analysis, as you mentioned, when we're looking at the people who have any kind of record, criminal record tainting their background check, these are people who are, in theory, we would say they're rehabilitated, they're free, but they still face employment and economic challenges trying to build their lives back after prison.

RJM: Okay I know people who've been free or at least almost free for decades, 20 and 30 years, and can't travel internationally because they broke a drug law when they were 18, when we were much harder on drug laws than we are now. A good example of this is a woman in the book, who I call Yvette, who... Who was charged with basically possession with the intent to distribute drugs, and what happened was after being basically trafficked as a child, she meets a young undercover officer at a bar, so this is already a vulnerable woman. And she meets an undercover officer, a man she calls handsome, and she had just been trafficked, she's just been taken across the border to Mexico to work in strip clubs, this kind of thing, in Mexico as a child, as a 16-year-old. She's home now, and she's addicted. And another handsome man, so the first handsome man trafficked her, a second handsome man who happened to be an undercover officer convinced her to deliver a package of drugs and then arrested her for delivering the package of drugs.

Anyway, well, that was in the '80s, when we were in the grips of, of the beginnings of the war on drugs, where it was much... The rhetoric was, was much higher, we didn't, we didn't think that addiction shouldn't be criminalized, we're in a different place now. But it doesn't matter that we're in a different place now because our social policy is almost never retroactive, [laughter] and so, and so the thing that she got arrested for 30 years ago that she wouldn't have been arrested for today prevents her from traveling internationally today, prevents her from getting the kinds of jobs she wants to get today. She's a mother in the church, she's raised a family, she's a retired social worker, she runs four, literally four social justice, social reform organizations, she helps the poor, she, she visits the widows. She sits with the fatherless, she cares for the orphans, this is her role, she's a bonafide Christian woman who has turned her life around in an incredible and powerful way, and everybody who knows her knows that, and it doesn't matter. She can't get a passport.

LA: I, I hear the tremendous weight that these stories must put on you as someone who has, over the course of your career, interviewed probably thousands of people coming through the prison system and coming out of the prison system. And, and before you worked as a research sociologist, you worked as a prison chaplain.

RJM: That's right.

LA: And you said you were inspired to get into this work by Jesus's words in the Book of Matthew, where he encourages people. He says, "The King will say to those on my right", this is from Matthew 25 verses 34 and 36. "You who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance. I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I was in prison and you came to visit me."

RJM: That's right.

LA: So I wonder how this verse that inspired you as you were at the beginning of your journey becoming a prison chaplain, I wonder if you see it a different way at this point in your career, after having integrated your work with the lives of so many who were in prison and in need?

RJM: I so appreciate that question, and I love that scripture, and it touches me every time I hear it, and the context that you put it in just so beautifully renders what I think is the, the heart of it. So I think that God is judging nations in this moment. I think that he's asking us, do we care for each other and do we care for the unlovable, that's what I think he's asking. And, and, and that is kind of what I thought when I was much younger. When I was in my early 20s, and I was trying to get my head around what it meant to be Christian and to walk a life, to turn from an old life and to walk in a new one, and to, and to embrace it and to love my brothers and sisters. And the version that we read in our church put being sick and in prison together. It was, "Are you... When I was sick and in prison, did you visit me?" And it was... That was just striking to me. And I know that the versions, these are interpretations, and they have to do with how we think about language in a given moment in time, this kinda thing, but that's the version that touched me. And so, as I think about that today, as I think about that Scripture today, it is more and more clear to me that God is talking to us as a people. And it is more and more clear to me that that message is so necessary, because it's so easy to blame individuals for the things that they do and to render judgment without pretending like you're rendering judgment, to sit in God's seat and to, and to, and to, and to not extend a hand to the widow, the orphan, the fatherless. To not extend, to not love, to not do justice, to love mercy, but, but to choose vengeance, it's so easy to choose vengeance. And I think he's saying, and I think he said "Were you merciful? Were you kind? Did you care for the ones who were the most vulnerable? Because what you do to them, you do to me. I love them. They are me, I am them. How you treat them is how you treat me." And it is the judgment for the nation. It is a message for me, but it's a message for us, not just individually, but how we go about our affairs, it's how we think about our politics, it's how we think about how we do community life, it's how we live together. Do we love each other? This is powerful. And it's spoken to me over the years, it continues to speak to me today, maybe if in a different way, but certainly it's still speaking.

LA: I hear in your answer the difference between individual responsibility to acknowledge this problem and corporate responsibility to acknowledge this problem. Because as you say in the book individuals are somewhat hampered from helping individual people with felony records coming out of incarceration. Because if you... For example, if I rent a home, it's actually very difficult for me to take in someone coming out of the prison system, I could, I could be kicked out of my lease. Individuals are hampered from how much direct work that they can do. And at the same time as a society, there is a lot of weight going against people who are coming out of the prison system because of this several decades-long war on crime and war on drugs and the history of the accumulation of laws that restrict movements and restrict economic ability for people coming out of prison.

So I wonder when this verse is really... I've always thought of this verse in Matthew as talking to individuals, like God is saying, "You, Mark... " My co-host, Mark, is on vacation today, but usually he's here. But I imagine him saying like, "You, Mark, you're blessed, come and take your inheritance, 'cause I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. Leah, not so much, [chuckle] go to the back on the line. Take another chance." But I wonder if this could be applied corporately to all of us as a nation, where there are certainly people who are sick and in prison among us who, as a group, we're not acknowledging.

RJM: Yeah, so you know... I don't know, it might be, it might be the tradition that I come out of. But, but in our tradition, God judges nations, God speaks to nations, God sends prophets to speak to nations., when I read this, and as I read this, when I think about what he's doing, this is, this is the moment of the gathering, bring it all together, I think he's telling us about how to live together. I don't think he's just talking to me, and I don't think he's just talking to me because, one, because you're reading it, [chuckle] but also, two, because I can do all the work I want as an individual, and it's very important work, and I can love my neighbor as deeply as I want to, and the problem doesn't go away. I also think that God is telling us to choose love, and I think that he's telling us that corporately. Because I think what we've done is we've chosen judgment, and we've chosen to sit in judgment. We've chosen to individualize crime.

We've chosen to individualize problems, what we might call social problems. We've taken social problems and we drop them at the feet of the individual. And we've said to them, "We're not gonna choose love, we're not gonna choose mercy." And I don't think love always means mercy, but, "We're not gonna choose love in this moment, we're not gonna choose belonging in this moment, we're not gonna choose togetherness and figuring out how to get through this together in this moment. We're gonna choose judgment, we're gonna choose punishment, we're gonna choose you reap what you sow, we're gonna choose you eat the fruits of that which you planted." Or something like that, like let's find all the things that have to do with judgement and that's what's gonna happen with you.

You get what you call for, is what my guys often would say. They'd say, "I got what my hand called for." This is, this is the way people embodied, took on the judgment, even when they were innocent. It's such, it's such an interesting situation here, but to make this point, I think, a little more clear, what we've done is we've chosen to ignore the fact that we live together, that, that people need love and mercy, and, and we have to figure out how to live together even when people have done incredibly egregious things, instead we've chosen the easier route, which is to respond with retribution and with vengeance at the individual level, and that's how we got mass incarceration. And I think mass incarceration is morally wrong. I think we've bound up too many people, and I think if we wanna find our way out, we have to think about how we might live together, we have to think about belonging in a much deeper and a much more powerful way.

LA: One of the very powerful stories in your book that you talk about is... At the same time as you're systematically analyzing the challenges facing men and women coming out of incarceration, we're also, as a reader, following the story of you trying to help your brother, Jeremiah, who over the course of this book, he's... First he's in prison, and then he's trying to find housing so that he can get released from prison, and then he's facing the challenges of trying to find employment with a criminal record, and then he's back in prison. So, while you were writing this book, how did you think about whether you might wanna blend your personal experiences with incarceration and your professional work in this field?

RJM: It occurred to me that... So, I was born poor and black after 1972, and this is the year that mass incarceration begins in earnest, and the racial disparities in incarceration in this country are egregious. We know that black people are five times more likely to be incarcerated, twice as likely to be arrested, they do more time when they are incarcerated for the same crimes, even controlling for things like criminal history, meaning even when you consider what they've done and what their past was, when those things match, black people get 20% longer sentences at the federal level and 10% longer sentences at the state level. And so because of that, so many people that I knew growing up were going in and out of jails and prisons, so many people were being arrested and those arrests started very early, as early as 11 years old, 12 years old, 13 years old. And so, the truth is, living under these conditions, I couldn't have avoided the prison if I wanted to, but what we're taught to do as social scientists is to distance ourselves from our experiences, distance ourselves from our emotions even, which is why the writing is often pretty sterile.

And I decided that there would be much deeper insight that I'd be able to gain in the writing even, as I analyzed it, I thought about the data, if I included myself, and it would be much more honest because again, I couldn't have avoided the prison. So, as we mentioned, I'm doing this work, I'm a chaplain, I'm a volunteer chaplain, while I'm doing my chaplaincy, I meet my father who's been locked up for 20 years. I didn't know he was locked up for 20 years, I didn't know him. And, I then learn that two of my brothers... So while I'm doing research, I learn two of my brothers, in fact, follow him to the prison. One is arrested and incarcerated while I'm writing the book, and so I felt like I had to include it. I had to include it to be honest, and I think including that part of my story allowed me to see things that perhaps I might have missed had I not.

LA: I also think it helps the reader see things, and as I was reading this, I was thinking of the function of some of the prophetic books in the Bible, or even the function of the prophets is to help Israel see things that they're not able to see. The prophets will use either very exaggeratory language or physical stunts even, to help the people of Israel see what they're not able to see. So, as I was reading the story of your brother Jeremiah, who really serves in the book to make real these statistics that you're talking about, I was also thinking about the prophet Jeremiah who exposes the spiritual truths of Israel's sin by bearing them on his own body.

This might... Bear with me for a sec, 'cause this may seem like a esoteric example, but this is where, where my brain goes. There's this story in Jeremiah Chapter 27, when God tells the prophet Jeremiah to take yoke straps, cross bars, like this heavy, this heavy farm implement and wear it around his neck, to show Israel, how they're putting themselves under this yoke, under this heavy weight. And I think that the story of your brother Jeremiah, who significantly also shares the same name, significantly or by coincidence, shows us how we as a society are putting this yoke on prisoners and ex-offenders. There's this sense that it's very difficult for them ever to get free from that. Tell me if that sounds completely off base.

RJM: No, no, it doesn't sound off base. I think it's powerful. And it's nothing I thought about when I was writing the book, and I should have. It's such a powerful note and it resonates in incredible ways with this story. So, so Jeremiah is a pseudonym. I use pseudonyms throughout to protect people, 'cause I'm trying to protect their privacy, and I selected Jeremiah for his... In part because of his prophetic role, in part because my brother would not consider himself that in any stretch. He's a, he's a, he's a super funny, super gregarious. I always imagined Jeremiah as a buzz kill. [laughter] I always imagined Jeremiah as a bit of a kill joy like, "Israel, what are you doing?" Like, "Man, we're just trying to have a party, man." But, okay, having said that. So, in some ways, I see Jeremiah as the outset, in other ways, this story just really... Like this point that you raised really resonates with it, because the place where we wear social policy, I argue, is in the body. It's in our flesh. It's on us.

We carry it with us. It's in us. It's in us. And so it's, it's in... Rejection, is in us, it lives within us, a social policy of “no”, affects us psychologically, physiologically, spiritually, emotionally, certainly. I think oftentimes, when we talk about spiritual stuff, we tend to focus on the psychological aspect of it, but you're bringing in embodiment, which is also physiological, what does it mean to wear the yoke? What happens to your shoulders? What happens to your back? What happens to your range of motion? Okay, so, I'm rolling with you esoterically, but let's throw some public health data behind this. People leaving American jails or prisons or 11 more likely to die for any reason within the first two weeks of their release than members of the general population are. My dear colleague at Vanderbilt found using epidemiological tables, predicting life expectancy finds that for every year someone spends in an American jail or prison, they lose two years off of their lifetime.

We know that prisons literally kill us, they literally kill you. These are things that we don't think about when we're rendering a sentence, we don't think that for every year you spend in that place, you lose years off your life, we don't think that. We also, by the way, don't think about what it means to remove someone physically from their families, this is the second thing, another kind of yoke.

The yoke that gets passed on to the children and the cousins, and the brothers and the sisters, and the uncles and the aunts who are all there trying to figure out how to best support you. The role in the community that you used to play, that you can no longer play because you're in a cage.

Okay, beyond that, beyond that, the role you can never play again, because when you get out, you're met with 19,000 labor market restrictions. This is a podcast about faith and work, 19,000 laws, policies and administrative sanctions say, there are hundreds of categories of work for which you may not apply if you have a record. This is, this is what we make. So this idea of the yoke, the physicality of it, the embodiment of it, what it means to wear it, what it means to carry it, what it means for us to watch it being carried. For, a son, daughter, cousin, aunt, mother, sister, to see the person they love carrying that yoke, for them to try to carry that burden with them, these scars... It's such a deep and powerful and awful, awful thing.

LA: You mentioned a phrase that I would love for you to explain a little bit more, you said, 'a social policy of no'. Can you explain a little more what you mean by that?

RJM: Well, there are 19,000 employment restrictions, but those aren't the only ones. There are 45,000 laws, policies and administrative sanctions that dictate where people with criminal records may not live, work or spend time with their family. So, 19,000 laws, policies and administrative sanctions prevent people with criminal records from accessing employment. There are over a 1000 in most states. In my home state of Illinois, there were 500 when you included access to occupational licenses and property rights, that number went from 500 laws to 960. And so, so every time you go to fill out a job application, beyond checking a box, if you get past the initial screening, the employer has to tell you, "I'm so sorry, you may not have this job, not because you don't qualify for it. Not because you haven't changed your life and redeemed yourself and become this wonderful person. You can't have it because of a mistake that you made 20 years ago." You hear no. There are thousands of, of housing restrictions, over a 1000 across the country, making it almost impossible for people with criminal records to rent an apartment. So, you hear “no” there, every time you try to get a place to stay.

And, beginning in 1988, because of the passing a set of laws having to do with the war on drugs, we've made it so that people who you visit can be evicted from their home if they let you stay, and you have a criminal record. This is a part of, there's a, there's a Drug Abuse and Control Act or something like that, I list it in the book, and I can send the exact name of it. But it starts in 1988, it's exacerbated in the 1990s with an address about public housing agencies that we got from the Clinton administration for what he talked about is the one strike rule meaning you've got one strike and you're out. We need to evict people with criminal records who've ever committed a crime, and we need to evict families that allow them to, to stay in public housing. Well, what we saw after that address, of course, this law passed in 1988, but it takes a fan to fan the flames. After that address, we saw the number of applicants, rejections for applications double within six months after that address based on criminal records and public housing specifically. And we saw the number of evictions that were related to criminal, to criminal records, criminal records based evictions, we saw that increase in just six months after that, after that address.

And so, everywhere you look, the workplace, housing, what about civic engagement? There are several states where you can't vote. Beyond voting, most people with criminal records can't hold public office, but even more powerfully in about 30 states, most people with criminal records can't sit on a jury pool, meaning every time you get judged, you are never judged by a jury of your peers, and that doesn't happen in our country. No one who's had that experience, no one who understands what it's like to be in a cage, to leave a cage, or to turn one's life around is the person on the other end of that decision. It's always someone who's not like you decisively. And so everywhere you go, you hear, no, no, no, no. And if your family helps, they're punished too. Again, a grandmother can be evicted for letting her grandchild sleep on the couch. And so now what might be a natural bond of affection where grandma would say, "Yes, I love you, son, grandson, child. Come sleep on my couch." She now has to tell you no, or she'll be evicted. This is the world that we've created, a social policy of “no”, a, a, a society that rejects people that we're afraid of.

LA: I have to say, this makes the Book of Leviticus just look like a walk in the park. And I used to think... When I was growing up, I was raised Jewish, so I went to a Jewish after school program, we had to read the what we call the Old Testament, the old Jewish laws. And you get to that book and it's rules, rules, rules, laws, laws, laws, you're halfway asleep and you're like, "How could anyone follow all these laws, it's impossible." Well, the total number of laws we say is 613 commands. It's like 613 sounds like a number I can count on my fingers, compared to the number of laws that people who are theoretically rehabilitated have to keep track of. The other thing I'm thinking of in the ancient law of the Hebrew people is that the purity restrictions in Leviticus were not always meant to exclude people, but were meant to give people a way of coming back into the fold of the community.

So, you've done something wrong or you've touched something unclean. They didn't have Dial dish soap back in those days. You have to go to the outside of the camp and do some kind of purification, and then you get to come back. And in this social policy worlds of “no”, where you say there's ”no” at every turn, we're really... We've taken this type of community law and kind of perverted, where there's, there's really no way of coming back or you can come back, but you're always kind of a second class citizen or a non-citizen. You can never fully come back into the community today.

RJM: That's absolutely right. It's interesting. A dear friend who's a surgeon... I spent some time in, in, in Belgrade visiting prisons and spending time with formerly incarcerated people in Belgrade, because I wanted to understand what, what incarceration and post-incarceration is like in places that have different, different social policy regimes as it were. Different positions on how to best care for people who are vulnerable or people who've caused harm specifically. And so I visited Belgrade, I visited Malmo, I visited Glasgow, I visited London, I visited a number of European countries to try to understand it, exclusively European, this was the point of this trip. And anyway, I'm having dinner with my friend, who's a surgeon, and he talked about the way that we amputate people from the social body. He talked about it as an amputation, a cutting off. Now, it just so happened that this is his work, he does really interesting work around rejoining severed limbs, and he grafts the limbs together. My dear friend, Predrag Durvic, he re-grafts severed limbs using animal ligaments, it's his own technique. It's really powerful and also quite prophetic given what we're talking about right now, but he..

.

LA: And a little gross, I have to say, just... [laughter]

RJM: Medicine can get gross, medicine can get gross, absolutely. But yeah, he works with the most vulnerable, so, he's working with people who've had amputations for different reasons. Largely folks in the Roma communities, in and around Eastern Europe. This is another left behind group, people who are more or less treated as if they're stateless. Anyways, long story short, he talked about this as a kind of amputation, and it is what we do, we amputate from the social body, but that's not, that's not the basis of our society, the basis of our society is association, it's not the severing of one from another, it is association. Well, that's our political community. The church is a family, that, that, that's our political community. The church is God's family, we're his children, is what we say. Which one of us is gonna throw away God's child and then, and then say that to the Father? Who's gonna tell the Father, "I'm throwing away your kid." Who's gonna say that out loud? Nobody's gonna say that out loud, but that's what we do, it is in fact what we do.

LA: In our scripture, we even have letters expressing this metaphor of the church being one body.

RJM: Yes.

LA: We have 1 Corinthians, chapter 12, where all members of the body of Christ are like members of its body. And we can't... How can the body function without an arm? How is the head better than an arm? So, even this language that the surgeon brings up is true to our faith experience, but there's a disconnect in our country today with the way that we're treating people, where we're not treating the... As you said, one-third of black men, who have some sort of conviction record, are not being treated as part of the body. Correct me if I'm wrong, is that not the...

RJM: That's, that's absolutely the case. We're treating one-third as if. We're treating a third of US adults as if, and especially, especially... But there's a reason for that. The, the, the reason for that is clear, to me, as a social scientist who studies things like race, crime and punishment. The reason for that is because of the conflation between blackness and criminality, that really helps us, it helps us. If, if we view the criminal as the constant and always stranger, if we view them as someone other than us, and if we have a framework to use, that allows us to separate ourselves one from another, as if race is an actual thing. It's a thing in its social consequence, of course, but we know it doesn't matter, we understand it to be an abstraction.

Anyway, anyway, I'm not gonna get on a high horse, but the point is, despite this, despite this, our distrust, our distrust of the racially disparate group of people, our distrust of those folks, the guilt that we presume that, that, that circles around black folks, and because we think that mass incarceration is about black people, as a country, missing the fact that we have nearly one million white people in an American jail or prison, missing the fact that one in eight white women has a currently incarcerated loved one, missing the fact that, that, that 38% of white men will be arrested before they turn 23. Despite that, we think that mass incarceration is about black folks, and we live in a country that has a history of disdain toward black people. And so, it's easy for us to pay no attention to the things that we do to them because they're them, they're not an us. And so, I think getting this right will help us get a whole lot of other things right, that's what I think.

LA: I see why you started out our conversation by saying you believe God judges nations rather than individuals, 'cause you're very charitably using the word we here. When you could, in theory, put yourself in the better half of that argument. But I do hear the fact that all of us are culpable for this problem that we are not seeing or not allowing ourselves to see.

RJM: So yes [chuckle], we, we, we are in this thing together. The amputation is of individuals from the social body, as my dear friend, Predrag, suggested it, I think the problem is that we fail to see ourselves as a part of a human community, that we're all fully human participants in a human community, and it is our racisms, in this case. It is our disdain for the other, it is our hatred of the poor, and I use the word hatred intentionally, it is our hatred of the poor, not our love of the poor as the scripture commands, our hatred of the poor, our inability to see ourselves in the shoes of the so called other, that prevents us from, from, from moving away from this punitive impulse. And this is something we have to get over. We have to ask ourselves, what kind of world do we want? What kind of world are we building?

Do we want a world in which people belong? Even people we're afraid of, even people who've harmed us, or do we want the world that we've built? Where we've got the world's largest jail system in the country, where we've got among the worst social stratification, meaning, among the worst distribution of, income, Among the most unequal societies in the country, is this the world that we want, where a few people, a handful of people do very well and many millions of people don't, is that, is that what we want? I don't think that's what the Word calls us toward. I don't think this is what our God calls us toward, I don't think this is what we're made for. I think, we're supposed to love each other, and I think we're supposed to find a way for people to belong even when they've caused us harm.

LA: Dr. Reuben Jonathan Miller, thank you so much for sharing your work and sharing your faith with us today, it's really been an honor talking to you.

RJM: Thank you so much, this has been wonderful.

 

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Building Unity with Diverse Teams - Corrie Napier

Relationships with co-workers can make or break your work environment. At work, you're often thrown in with people who think differently from you. Whether that means they come from different cultures, hold different beliefs, or express themselves using different styles of communication. While these differences often improve the end product, they can also cause friction. How do you foster a healthy work culture with a diverse team? Is there anything you can do to bring unity out of the chaos of the modern workplace? Guest Corrie Napier is a mediator, conflict consultant, and international education professional who specializes in helping individuals and organizations navigate conflict and enhance effective communication. She's here to share her experiences of building unity in the workplace, and show us how we all can foster a healthier culture at work.

 

Scripture References

Galatians 5:22-23
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. (NRSV)

John 16:13
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (NRSV)

Matthew 5:9
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (NRSV)

Matthew 6:9-13
“Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. (NRSV)

Romans 14:17
For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (NRSV)

Philippians 4:2-3
I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. (NRSV)

 

Additional Resources Referenced

Pax Napier

The Complete Book of Questions: 1001 Conversation Starters for Any Occasion, by Garry Poole

 

Thanks for Listening!

If you like what you've heard, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts! We'd love to hear from you, and it helps other people find us. 

 

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Transcript

​​Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

LA: Relationships with co-workers can make or break your work environment. At work, you're often thrown in with people who think differently from you. Whether that means they come from different cultures, hold different beliefs, or express themselves using different styles of communication. While these differences often improve the end product, they can also cause friction. How do you foster a healthy work culture amidst a diverse team? Is there anything you can do to bring unity out of the chaos of the modern workplace? Our guest today is a mediator, conflict consultant, and international education professional who specializes in helping individuals and organizations navigate conflict and enhance effective communication. Corrie Napier is here to share her experiences of building unity in the workplace, and show us how we all can foster a healthier culture at work. Corrie Napier, welcome to the Making It Work podcast.

Corrie Napier: Thank you so much, Leah. It's great to be here.

LA: I wanna start just from your own personal experience. I know you've worked in a lot of different environments, both as a foreigner working overseas, and working with diverse groups in your home country, the United States. I wonder if you could share an experience of a particularly challenging team you had to work with. What were some of their specific challenges and what did you have to do to get that group to gel?

CN: Sure. I'm happy to dive into that question. I immediately think of a team that I oversaw in a city that basically had a network of schools. I was Head of Admissions, for a bilingual network of K through 12 schools, and so we were in charge of touring parents and processing applications. And my team had to pass parents from one school to the other because they had to tour multiple campuses often, and so the admissions, which functions as a sales team essentially for this education group, had to really have tight communication amongst them. And on my particular team across this city, so I managed teams in multiple cities, but this particular city was a large one and had four campuses within the city.

There was a multi-cultural group with very diverse backgrounds and experiences, who had found their way to education sales and so... There were some from Asia, there were some from the US, Australia, and I had a gentleman from Niger, Africa as well. And so we had a real [chuckle] challenge, often really communicating messages in similar ways to provide a unified front to parents about the face of the school, and it was a real challenge one time, when I noticed there were grumblings amongst the team of just the communication differences with the other side of the city, with the other campus. And parents who had given feedback to my team saying, that the other team hadn't been as responsive, there had been some challenges with booking the appointments, and they were just... I could just tell there was not synergy or unity in the team.

LA: And you had this triple whammy of communications challenges, 'cause you had a multicultural team. Right?

CN: Yes.

LA: And everyone communicates differently. And you also had a dispersed team, you're not all together in the same office, and then you also had the team working on separate aspects of the same project. You're working on the sort of shared goal, but each person has their own little fiefdom. So that sounds to me like a managerial nightmare.

CN: [laughter] It was, in many ways. And I felt the Lord really uniquely equipping me to handle this, because as Head of Admissions, I would travel and work at a different campus every day, and I got these little insights into what was going on, and I started to kind of formulate this plan of how to address... Exactly as you said, these are just, well, perfect storm of circumstances that often caused conflict amongst my team. Because we really, without functioning in unity together, it would not have worked to provide a smooth process for these parents.

LA: So what did you do? How did you get this team to start to work together better?

CN: Yeah. Well, the thing is, as I went about my work, and even today as I go about my work, I'm constantly in dialogue with the Holy Spirit about, "Okay, what do I do? How do I approach this?" And sometimes I just sit in silence and I just kinda wait for some ideas to come, and I see what comes to mind as I read the Scripture, as I sit, and just listen. And I also know that He has equipped me in my giftings, and had really commissioned me. I'd felt, released me to do this work, and so I also learned how to trust the wisdom that He was already giving me throughout the day. And so one of the ideas that came to mind, as I brought this before Him, was to do something very unconventional at my next monthly team meeting, which was to go roller skating. [laughter] This was...

LA: You wanted to kill them on roller skates.

CN: [laughter] Exactly. It was a strange idea, and I hadn't been roller skating since I was a kid, but I recently heard of a rink in the city. And before we got into any work matters, we all met at the roller rink and as a group activity, we went around and around and there was only one small injury [laughter] in our team that day.

Anyway, after that we went to lunch, again, not even addressing the challenges yet that I wanted to bring up. But we went to lunch, food is a great, I found as a manager, a great way to... Something we all share and can enjoy together. I wanted to build up that sense of camaraderie and good rapport with the team, 'cause I just sensed that was really lacking. They didn't really know each other well enough yet, and I wanted to increase that. So I brought my secret weapon, Leah, to this restaurant...

LA: Roller skates?

CN: Which I wanna share with you and everyone. Not roller skates, though. [laughter]

LA: Not roller skates, okay.

CN: My secret weapon is something I constantly have in my purse, and I've used this in my personal and professional life to bring people together. It's called "The Complete Book of Questions: 1001 Conversation Starters for Any Occasion." So the first 100 questions of the book... The questions start out very light-hearted and then when you get up to 1001, they're extremely deep and intense. And I believe in the value of all of the questions, but I wanted to just get a light-hearted connection going with the team. So I asked the first person I saw next to me at the table, "Pick a number between one and 100." And so they kinda gave me a weird look and I just asked them, "This is an activity that I thought we would do." And so they did, and I read the question and then that person... The idea was for them to answer the question, and then I gave them, which they did, and I gave them the book and then they chose the next person. And so then that person gives them a number and then they read them and it goes on and goes on. So they're choosing the next person to answer and it goes around. We just did one round of that. And I really have seen, in the "Randomness" of these numbers, I have seen the Lord bring up questions for people that bring out certain ideas and connection that just get things rolling in terms of synergy and communication with the team.

It's amazing. It's a simple game/activity that I'll do at the beginning of some meetings or when I have a gathering like that. And I've used that on this particular occasion, and it just shifted the tone. It shifted the atmosphere and got people laughing and sharing some stories and just silly little things like, "Do you roll or squeeze the toothpaste tube, and what's the advantage to your method? Do you know... " [chuckle] Simple human stuff that connects us all.

 

LA: Oh, squeeze. Squeeze absolutely.

CN: [chuckle] Squeeze, okay.

LA: Mark, what would you say? Squeeze? Come on, get on my side here.

MR: Well, it's really funny because we're sort of a both/and family. First we squeeze, but then you gotta roll if you're gonna, wanna get it all out.

LA: Roll at the end.

MR: And I will go... I will go to the very end to get the tiniest little last drop of toothpaste out. [laughter] I'm not kidding. I'm obsessed about that, whereas others in my family will actually throw out that and get a new tube going. So anyway...

LA: Do you feel like we're ready to work together now, the three of us?

MR: Yes. [chuckle]

LA: On this podcast? [chuckle]

CN: I don't know. We might have to...

MR: Roller skates... I don't know.

CN: Get out a little bit to find out what is the best method but I could mediate that conversation. Don't worry. [laughter]

LA: But really, after going through these seemingly random light-hearted questions, did you feel like that flipped a switch or did a trick for your team to help them communicate better about the more tricky work-related issues that they were dealing with?

CN: Absolutely. It really took the edge off, and it took that hyper-focus on seeing the other person as a problem, which we often do at work. We funnel our frustration at a person as opposed to looking at the problem out in front of us and the person next to us, as the person who can brainstorm with us to come up with good solutions to solve that problem, which is the framework I always am trying to set up with my team. And so that's exactly what we did. After the lunch, we went back to our conference room, and what naturally flowed as I talked about, "Alright, we all know this is an issue. We all know that there's some communication challenges, here is the issue. Parents aren't being served the best because there are different kinds of standards and protocols that are used when we are dealing with booking appointments and all of these things. How are we, together, going to solve this? What are some ideas?" And it became this creative brainstorming process together, where they had already come warmed up and feeling connected to each other. And immediately, it just... The problem began to be solved because some really great ideas came out because all of a sudden, there was this desire to work together because they liked each other a little bit more than they had. And they were able to focus on an aspect of their humanity that was not just that work function. It was also just the fact that they were great people. And so I always try to lace in those fun, light-hearted elements when I'm bringing together the team before we get into any heavy lifting in terms of resolving work issues.

LA: Now, you started the story by saying, when you were thinking about what to do with your team, you came up with this idea in dialogue with the Holy Spirit. Can you explain for someone who says, "What on Earth are you talking about, Corrie?" [chuckle] What does that mean to you to do your work in dialogue with the Holy Spirit?

CN: Absolutely. It's just essential, it's part of how I function because I have a million things that I could do with my time, a million ways I could lead my team. And I know that God has gifted me and created me to use my strengths and talents in a specific way, and He's the most creative person ever, and is the source of all creativity and is the source of unity. So for me, in this relationship that I have with Him, which in Christianity, we have this opportunity to connect intimately with the Living God of the universe. I have some daily practices that I do that foster that connection, and I also just open dialogue throughout the day, just small moments of silence, whether I'm walking from one meeting to the next, or if I am in my car, or if I just have a small moment at my desk to just pause and think through and ask, "Okay... " It's just my thought process. And sometimes I'll even say it out loud if I'm by myself, "Alright, so I've gotta do this. I've gotta figure out what to do for this meeting. God, what can I do for this meeting? What would bring some unity here?" And I'll just wait and just listen and see what ideas come to mind. And I've... Over the years have come to discern the ideas that spark joy and life and give me a sense of peace. And sometimes I find myself laughing out loud with some of the ideas that the Lord gives me or that I feel like they come up. And I say, the Lord gives me, I recognize that. The ideas that come to mind, that bring that fruit of the Spirit, that joy, peace, life, I recognize that, and I've now been able to confidently say, "You know, I really sensed that the Lord gave me that idea, or the Lord prompted that, or... " And it's just a function of my relationship with Him.

LA: So to sum up what I hear you saying is that when you get a great idea for your work, you can tell that it's coming from God. You get the sense it is coming from God when it displays one of these fruits of the Spirit...

CN: Yes.

LA: Which is a term from the Bible. It comes from Galatians chapter five, verses 22 and 23, and it gives us a list of the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control, gentleness, not in order. [laughter]

CN: You got it.

LA: That's the gist. So I'm hearing in this roller skating and ice breaker challenge for your team, I'm hearing the gentleness of it, the joy of it, the love that can grow from people. But there's also a trust aspect here that comes from faithfulness in God. You have to have that trust that doing this activity, which isn't one-on-one linked to productivity for today, that can have an effect on the overall fruitfulness of the team.

CN: Absolutely.

LA: Mark, let me bring you into this conversation. Have you had surprising experiences at your work where you felt like, "Oh, maybe that's... I'm getting some of the fruit of the Spirit here and I wasn't even thinking of it that way."

MR: Oh, my goodness, over the years, yes. And it just... It's really interesting, Corrie, to listen to what you're saying, because I think sometimes it does come from out of left field like roller skating. [chuckle] And... Whereas... So I have two inclinations if I'm in a difficult sort of situation or relational situation. Honestly, number one is just ignore it, just... I'm not saying that's good, I'm just being honest. [chuckle] I don't like conflict and... Whereas if you have my wife, she's like, "Oh, we gotta talk about this." But then I've learned talking is a good thing. And so I'm not advocating number one, I think number two is good, but what you are sensitive to was that, "Okay, before we actually get in and talk about this, we need to grow the relationship a bit. We need to see each other differently, experience each other differently." And I really have found that over the years... It's funny 'cause I was thinking, actually, when I was just first starting as a pastor and I took my staff and we went up on a retreat in the mountains and I wanted us to go on a hike. A couple of my people were really, "No... " [laughter]

LA: But you had the vision. You were gonna get them in the wilderness, and...

MR: Well, and the thing was, they just wanted to work. But actually that was part of the problem. It was not about building relationship, it was about, "We gotta get in and do the work." And so we did do the hike, I'm not sure it solved or anything, but I just... I love the way... So if you were thinking, somebody's thinking, listening to this podcast, "Okay, we're gonna hear a person who's a Christian talk about workplace relationships." I bet nobody was thinking you were gonna start with roller skating [chuckle] and fun, light duty questions. So I really love that. I think there's a... I just... I'm gonna buy that book 'cause I think, "Wow, I need that book."

CN: I really recommend it.

MR: So thank you for mentioning it.

CN: You're welcome. I use it on... I use it when I'm with a group of people I don't know well, and where everyone's... You're around a table and you're making conversation with the person next to you slightly awkwardly, and I'm that person who will, at the table say, "Hey, does anybody wanna play a dinner game? I have a dinner game." And everyone that has also, of course, felt a little bit awkward says... "Oh, sure, absolutely." And I'll just pick the first person and say, "Pick a number" and I'll have it with me, and... The kinds of conversation directions that it takes is just fantastic, and I've used it in so many work settings where it's brought together people, where there's power dynamics going on at the table or at a work dinner or a work lunch, something like that. It really evens the playing field with just the common denominator of humanity and brings depth, brings light-heartedness and brings that connection.

MR: I love that. And again, that was The Complete Book of Questions, right? That's what it was called?

CN: Yeah, it's called The Complete Book of Questions: 1001 Conversation Starters For Any Occasion. I believe the author is Garry Poole.

MR: Okay, thank you.

LA: As you were talking, it made me think of this other verse about the Holy Spirit, in John 16:13, where Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Spirit of truth. And He says, "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth." And I think there's... Sometimes when I think of that verse, I think of a little bit of heaviness, but there's also some lightheartedness in the fact that the fruit of the Spirit is joy, and the nature of the Holy Spirit is truth. And truth between people is something that can lead us into greater joy and understanding between us and the people that we work with.

CN: Absolutely, yep. And we needed to focus, and we... On any of our teams now, we need to focus on those areas of... We all want the truth, we wanna be seen for who we are, we want our work to be acknowledged, we want to bring a good product to people, we want... We wanna be trustworthy... And so if we work toward that together, especially as leaders, or even if you're not a leader in the workplace, the Holy Spirit guiding us into that place of truth where all of us can be flourishing in truthfulness and faithfulness and all of these aspects, and going back to those fruits of the Holy Spirit, that is the way that God has designed us to function, is in truth, in the truth of who, of the gifts that we have, and in the truth of bringing forth things that will cause communities and our businesses and everything to flourish.

MR: Now Corrie, I'm just dying to ask you how your thinking and your acting and your work has changed in a world in which so many of us are just Zooming, right? I mean, I've worked... We hired this wonderful woman last fall in my team, and we've worked a ton together, and I've seen her one time. I saw her in May for the first time, so it's a very different reality. And I'm just curious, 'cause I'm sure you've got a lot of thoughts on that, but what are some of your thoughts on how your work and the things you're doing and encouraging, how the Zoom reality and the more and more distance working, remote working, affects things?

CN: Yeah, absolutely. I finished... I was finishing a role, my most recent job, which was at a university, I was finishing that right at the... As COVID was ramping up. And I was working with groups of international students and helping them build bridges to the administration of the university and creating community amongst them and all of those things. And we had to switch immediately from meeting in person to virtual dinners, which are just not as fun. [chuckle]

MR: Yeah, sure.

CN: And I'm sure I would have had to come up with a lot of other creative approaches like that. We did quiz nights and different kinds of activities, and we had to host meetings and things like that, of course, as everyone is doing on Zoom. I only had to do that for a couple of months before I switched to start building my own practice. I actually moved across the country from California to Virginia in August of 2020, and I launched a mediation practice, and that's what I'm doing now. And so I'm actually helping workplace groups. I'm a consultant for different organizations and companies, I do trainings, and so I've kind of taken from a consulting lens, working with people.

And what we've really discovered and what teams are discovering, I feel like, across the US, as I've had the privilege to, because of Zoom, work with teams across the US, is that they're really needing to take more time before a meeting even begins to just connect personally, especially work teams. And sometimes that's just a 10 or 15 minute kind of a window, where they just all hop on before the big regional gathering or whatever it is, and they just connect. How is your day? How is it going? How was your week? Just some personal updates, some life updates, whatever people wanna share. And consistently I've been hearing this from companies that that really has become needed because you don't have those few minutes before the meeting starts that you're sitting there kind of naturally sharing that in a conference room anymore.

LA: Now, Corrie...

Now, I imagine when you get to the mediation stage, you’re past roller skating, there's something that's gone wrong in this relationship, and there may be some different... Are there different tactics that need to be employed?

 

CN: Oh, absolutely.

LA: Or how do you think about mediation differently when you're in the stage where there's already a known problem?

CN: When there's explosive conflict or something where when it reaches the stage where they bring in a mediator, for example, the very first thing that we do is come... Lay out some group agreements and come to an understanding about what those agreements are gonna be for how the conversation is gonna go. So I have a standard set that I use. For example, using "I" statements instead of blaming statements, using a calm tone of voice and not raising our voice, and things like listening to the other person and not interrupting. So some of the basic rules of the game for how a productive conversation is gonna happen. And then I'll ask each party, "Would you like to add to this? What other group agreements would you like to agree on that would help you feel safe in this context? And some people have mentioned, "Well, can we have our phones off so we're not interrupted?" Or, "Can we agree to... " Let's see, recently had someone say, "Can we agree to operate from a framework of forgiveness?" Just... That was a really interesting addition that the other party actually agreed to. "Yeah, I'd like to work towards forgiveness. I'm not there yet, but I'd like to operate from that framework." And I was like, "I wanna add that to... " Certain context, I wanna add that to my standard list.

But anyway, give them the opportunity to shape how the... The framework of that conversation, and then we go into it. And so it becomes a dance of sometimes we start separately and sometimes we come together, but having that neutral third-party facilitator really helps people to see things more clearly, and even if it's just the... I play referee with people. I have to stop people sometimes if they're interrupting and say, "Actually, could you hear out the other person first and then you'll have your time." And sometimes that alone is what creates some understanding, where they weren't hearing each other, weren't seeing each other. But just a third party there to help them hear each other, that's really what people are wanting, to be heard and listened to, and that begins to create connection again, when communication has totally broken down.

LA: Is there anywhere in the Bible, Corrie, where you see a reflection of this type of work or a reflection of the type of space that you wanna create in these conversations?

CN: Well, blessed are the peacemakers. I see my role now as a peacemaker, that's the immediate go-to for me. And another immediate go-to is what I pray every morning from Matthew, which is the Lord's Prayer. The essence of the Lord's Prayer is right there, where I just pray, "Lord, let your kingdom come on this earth. Let your kingdom come in these relationships, in this group that I'm mediating for today, in this team that I'm trying to create some connection to, in this training that I'm doing today. Let your kingdom come." And my understanding of the kingdom of God and all of the verses, Jesus talks more about the kingdom of God than he does about salvation. Advancing the kingdom of God, I feel like is something... As Christians, we often get so focused on salvation, which is so important and wonderful, and I think we sometimes forget that after we've entered through that door of salvation, there is an entire world of understanding to gain as we go through sanctification, as we are discipled, as we move with the guidance from the Lord in our relationship with him into the spheres... Our spheres of influence in the world. And we see his kingdom come through business, his kingdom come through art, his kingdom come through families and all of these different institutions that we're a part of.

And so, I get a lot of inspiration from the Word. When Romans 14, for example, talks about... Romans 14:17, "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." So how is my work today advancing peace and joy? And if there's no peace and joy coming as a result of what I'm doing, am I really advancing the kingdom of God? And so I look for those fruits of the Spirit, I look for those indicators, and I can't do it, but God through me can do it. And so it's really that posture of submitting to him every day and just saying, "I really can't do this, Lord. I can't. I don't know the best way to... I don't know who's coming to this training, for example, tuning in from all over the US that I'm doing on how to give constructive feedback," was the training I did two weeks ago. "I don't know who's gonna be there. You know, and so help me to advance ideas and spark things in people's mind that will impact their workplace for good, where joy and peace will be a result." And so that peace, especially as a mediator, "Blessed are the peacemakers," that really has connected with me as I'm in this particular season of work.

LA: And we should say that Jesus said this in one breath, in this prayer that you pray every day, which is often called the "Our Father" prayer. But Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray in this fashion in Matthew chapter Six, starting in Verse 9. But it's part of this same sermon that he started off with saying, "All these groups that are blessed... " at the beginning of Matthew chapter 5, which includes, "Blessed are the peacemakers," and as well as, "Blessed are the people who are persecuted for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure in heart." So this posture that you strive for, or I would say this goal for your work that you strive for, of being a peacemaker, really is intertwined with this prayer that you ask God for it to be God's kingdom coming through you, knowing that you're not... You're not ultimately powerful yourself to make everything happen, that's why you ask God for the daily provision.

CN: Yeah, absolutely.

LA: Mark, tell me if I'm barking up the wrong tree. That's the link that I'm making between these two verses.

MR: Oh no, that... That's great. I'm just aware that there's so much in Scripture about people not getting along. [laughter] There's actually a lot of... Which is partly encouraging. It's like the Bible's got real people in it, it's about real life, it's not some make-believe world. And so in the big picture, I think absolutely to think in terms of peace, which biblically isn't only getting along or the absence of conflict, it's really about building healthy, godly, fruitful relationships. Conflict resolution is hugely important, but you often... But there's the other side of it, and you referred to this earlier, Corrie, it's about building the relationships, that's why what you said that, you're so into relationships. That...

CN: Yes. Yes.

MR: And you think of that in the workplace, you think of that in any relationship. In a marriage, if you build a strong marriage, then you'll be okay when the conflict comes. And there's just so much in Scripture that helps us and encourages us to build strong relationships, so that when the time comes that we're at each other's throats, there's something to help us out. And again, there's just... I was thinking about this passage in Philippians 4, right at the beginning of Philippians 4, where Paul urges these two women, whose names are Euodia and Syntyche, kind of funny names, that's not really popular baby names these days for girls, but...

LA: What? Syntyche was at the top of my list. What are you talking about? [laughter]

MR: Yeah, well, okay, that's... That actually means 'with luck'.

LA: I thought it was pronounced Schenectady though. I got it wrong. [laughter]

MR: Well, that's a... That's another thing. So Paul writes, and he urges them to be of the same mind, he says, in the Lord, so partly there's that reminder. It's not just find a way to get along, it's about being in the Lord, which changes the nature of your dynamic. But he also talks about how the fact that Paul and these women have worked together, they've got history, they've got relationship. And so when they get to the place of disagreement, whatever it's they were disagreeing about, there's something strong and good behind that, that allows them to then to deal with what's not working, but again, to do that in the Lord, who calls us to stuff like forgiveness, as you've mentioned earlier. Calls us to be walking the second mile with people, there's just this whole framework of how we actually take the call to peace, and then now here's really how you live it out.

CN: Absolutely, I love the distinction that you make, that peace is not just a lack of conflict, peace is people functioning in unity and right relationship with each other in the way that God created us to function, which is people with different gifts, different strengths coming together. And you better believe that when people with different strengths and gifts come together, this has been my whole experience working with all kinds of different groups, there's going to be conflict, and in my field, we always talk, conflict is inevitable. It doesn't mean there's some issue, it means that the issue is, do you know how to deal with it when it comes up and actually see it as a catalyst for connection? So can you harness the energy that comes from conflict? Because people get riled up because they care about whatever it is. They have values that might be at odds or different concerns that are of significance to them. And so can we create spaces, as leaders, or even as colleagues, coming together and approaching another colleague, to open a dialogue, open platforms and ways to allow those things, those values, those things we care about to come out so that we can really dialogue and come into a deeper place of unity, and not just throw it under the rug.

I remember Mark, your first description of conflict. It's actually a legitimate way to deal with conflict. And it's one of the options, which is avoidance, which can definitely be appropriate at certain times. It's not always the time to approach conflict directly. Often though people only avoid. [chuckle] And that's a human thing, we don't really know, and so we avoid it, and it can build up and create kind of a sense of artificial harmony. But again, that lack of peace or that lack of conflict is not peace, that artificial harmony is not actually peace. It's a powder keg that will blow at the time that it does. And so how can we be doing things as teams to continually address the issues that will come up and get really good at putting them on the table and solving those problems together on the same team.

LA: So Corrie, I wanna ask you, if folks wanna access more of your wisdom, or if folks are in conflict and interested in your type of mediation, how can they get in contact with you?

CN: Oh, absolutely, I have a website, paxnapier. Pax like like peace in Latin, P-A-X. Napier, my last name, N-A-P-I-E-R dot com. And to just fill out the contact form there. I offer free 30-minute consultations to just connect and find out what's going on in your workplace. And I do conflict culture assessments, so if your team... If teams are looking to, for example, get a temperature check for their team and want someone to come in with that neutral perspective. I interview key stakeholders, key members of the team, and then offer an assessment report with some of the observations I may have about what may be causing underlying issues that continue to come up, because often those are symptomatic of deeper things like unclear leadership structures or roles or inconsistent expectations, things like that.

So I'll give an assessment as well as some ways that people can do coaching or trainings or other things that I can offer to help address some of those issues. And some of them, it might be just, you need to actually build a manual where you can clarify some of these things, or they might be just free solutions, it's not all cost-related, that they may not see from their perspective. So lots of different options. And people can just fill out that contact form if they're interested to find some solutions with regard to mediation in their workplace.

LA: And Mark, I wanna ask you the last question. Let's say, you know, I'm a listener who's in deep conflict with a person on my team, or just having a real hard time communicating with someone on my team. What advice or encouragement could you give someone like that as from your pastoral point of view? What spiritual encouragement could you give?

MR: Well, I guess, first, just on a really human level, I'd say, you know, you're not alone. That's virtually anybody in a workplace has experiences like this, and so that... 'Cause sometimes you feel like, "Oh man, I'm uniquely bad off." And that's probably not true. The big thing that I would say, I mean, there's obvious things like... And Corrie was talking earlier, if you haven't talked to the Lord about it, because it feels like, well, this is a workplace thing, this isn't a spiritual thing, that could be a good place to say, "No, this is a spiritual thing," and you're gonna talk to the Lord about it. But this is where I'd say you gotta get some help. I mean, I don't know, I'm the sort of person that if I'm in a conflictual relationship, my emotions are pretty stirred up, I'm not necessarily thinking straight or all that creatively, and it really helps to... Now, to talk to the right person. The wrong person is, I'm gonna gossip all around the rest of the team, or do the things we often do in a workplace. That's not good. So the right person could be... Could be getting a hold of Corrie, I'm literally, honestly, that's one thing.

[chuckle]

Or if you have a wise pastor, or in some cases... My wife is a wise woman, I'll talk to her about those things. And sometimes, I mean, often she's really helpful 'cause she can say things to me that not everybody could say, and I know she loves me. So there are different places, but I also have a spiritual director, and he's a person of great wisdom. So again, the context is gonna vary, but I would say get somebody you can talk to about this who is gonna hold it in confidence. Again, that may or may not be someone from your workplace. If you go to HR, you're gonna up the ante, and sometimes you need to up the ante, but sometimes you don't wanna do that yet. So I would say find a brother or sister in Christ, a person of wisdom with whom you can just lay it out and begin getting a different perspective and getting someone who can pray for you, and somebody who can hold you accountable, if there are some things that you really decide you need to do to help improve the relationship. So my big thing would be, get help. Help from God, help from some wise brother or sister.

LA: Well, I feel both encouraged and a little bit of a fire lit under my bum if I'm in that situation, [chuckle] so thank you for that advice, Mark.

CN: Mm-hmm. That's great advice.

LA: And Corrie, Corrie Napier, thank you so much for joining us.

CN: Fantastic. Really great to be here.

MR: Thank you.

 

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Find Meaningful Work in a Changing World - Michaela O’Donnell

The world of work is changing. For most people, long gone are the days when you could learn a single trade and apply those skills for the rest of your lifetime. The uncertainty of work today may leave you anxious and asking, how can I find meaning in my work? Or more to the point, can I find meaning and make money? Dr. Michaela O'Donnell is the Executive Director of The Max De Pree Center for Leadership. Her book, Make Work Matter: Your Guide to Meaningful Work in a Changing World, a how-to for finding meaningful work in a changing world, combines her experience as an entrepreneur with her academic training in practical theology. She's going to help us connect the dots between meaning, work and money.

 

Scripture References

Genesis 1:28
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (NRSV)

2 Corinthians 5:16-21
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (NRSV)

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears[a] listen!”...“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (NRSV)

Luke 10:25-37
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (NRSV)

 

Additional Resources Referenced

Make Work Matter: Your Guide to Meaningful Work in a Changing World, by Michaela O'Donnell

 

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Transcript

​​Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

LA: The world of work is changing. For most people, long gone are the days when you could learn a single trade and apply those skills for the rest of your lifetime. The uncertainty of work today may leave you anxious and asking, how can I find meaning in my work? Or more to the point, can I find meaning and make money? Today's guest is the author of the latest how-to for finding meaningful work in a changing world. Dr. Michaela O'Donnell is the Executive Director of The Max De Pree Center for Leadership. Her book, Make Work Matter: Your Guide to Meaningful Work in a Changing World, combines her experience as an entrepreneur with her academic training in practical theology. Today, she's going to help us connect the dots between meaning, work and money.

Michaela O'Donnell, welcome to the Making It Work podcast.

Michaela O'Donnell: Well, thanks Leah, for that generous introduction. It's good to be with you and Mark today.

LA: So let me start, Michaela, by asking you just a framing question. How is navigating the world of work today different than it was 10 or 20 years ago?

MO: Yeah, that's a good question, Leah. So two years ago, three years ago, four years ago, I do a lot of speaking as part of my job, and so I'd go to different functions or be with people, and I would stand up in front of them and I would announce, "You all, the world of work has changed." And in those rooms, two, three, four years ago, people would sort of sigh this breath of relief, like, "Oh yeah, it has, hasn't it?"

LA: So people saw that as a good thing?

MO: Well, just naming it, it was like we were naming something that hadn't really been named quite like that, and change is very... I think we hold change in our bodies, in our minds, and so any time someone says, "Yeah, things are changing," it's a bit of a release for that holding that we're doing. But today, if I were to walk into the same room and tell people, "The world of work has changed dramatically in the last decade," I think people might say, "Yeah, it's changed dramatically in the last 18 months, and the sky is blue and our world has turned upside down." And what we've seen in the last couple of years is really an acceleration of many of the changes that were already in motion.

You go back a couple of decades, and this certainly isn't true for everybody and every industry, but it was more common that career paths were predictable. You'd get sort of the qualifications that you needed, you'd meet people, you'd get going in an industry, and if you were doing a good job, and the employer that you're working for was doing well enough, you might be able to sort of rise the ranks, right? Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn says, "It was a bit like an escalator," right?

But today and over the last decade, work is much less like riding up an escalator and much more like riding down a rapid river of whitewater rapids. And the last two years have made it like, "Okay, now we're in a rainstorm as we're going down that river," and people's career paths, and moves they make, and how they think about their work, and the money, and the meaning that you reference is very, very dynamic today. And that dynamic nature requires different mindsets, different base skills than a more static escalator-like economy.

LA: And has this been true, Michaela, for you personally, in your own work? Have you seen this rapid-like nature of change?

MO: Yeah, that's a good question, Leah. So today, you may be familiar with the terminology, the great resignation, or I've seen some people call it the great reassessment, or anywhere between 30% and 70%. The estimates vary quite widely, 30% and 70% of people are considering making a change in light of how things have happened in the last two years. I found myself, even though it wasn't named the great reassessment, I found myself in a similar wave back in 2008, 2009, 2010.

LA: You had your own great reassessment.

MO: Yeah, I had my own, and I think it was part of the great... There was a recession, and any time the economy changes, like what we've seen lately, this stuff happens. And so, I was a grad school student and my husband and I were both getting seminary degrees, and we graduated with those shiny degrees in hand and went out into the world of work and were met pretty quickly with the fact that a theology degree was not a very marketable skill in a recessed economy. People were like, "Yeah, how many words can you type per minute?" And it just... It was a rude awakening and a hard time to graduate school. And I come from a family of entrepreneurs and teachers, big Irish Catholic families in the Midwest, here in the United States. And there are two things that we do in my family most often, for work, we teach people things and we start businesses.

And so, it was my instinct, sort of cultivated instinct in that moment of not knowing what to do in the middle of a recessed economy, to start a business. And my husband is a very good support, so he went along with me, and we started a company that actually is still alive and very well today, it's called Long Winter Media. We do branding and video stuff. And it was through the starting of that company, through the one foot in front of the other, learning many of those dynamic world of work lessons for myself, that many of the ideas in this book were first birthed.

LA: Now, Mark, I wanna bring you into this conversation and get your kind of overview, big picture idea of how does this question of the way that work is changing, interact with our view of... God's view of work in the Bible. Neither the escalator analogy or the rapids analogy is really a biblical analogy. How would you think... What appropriate analogy would you give from the Bible to think about our career and work, Mark?

MR: That's a good question, and you're right, I don't think there's an escalator in the Bible. I don't think...

[laughter]

MR: I think that's good. So, I'll answer that.

LA: Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't remember in my morning devotionals, covering the escalator part.

MR: Leah, I will answer your question, but before I do, I should disclose something that you know, but our listeners should know, that Michaela is my boss. That wasn't always true...

MO: It's true.

MR: I used to be her boss, but she's now my boss, and just saying, so with all due honesty and respect for our listeners, that doesn't really affect the quality of this conversation. It will be a good conversation, and I love having Michaela as my boss.

LA: So I won't ask any particular questions about how do you feel about... How does this interact with your feelings with your boss.

MO: Please do. Please do.

MR: Yeah, but your question, Leah, so from a biblical point of view, how might we think about work? And I think the most obvious answer there is in terms of really, farming, growing things, because of course, many, many people in the biblical world grew their own food. And so, farming was common and well-known. And of course, Jesus uses farming illustrations in His teaching, the parable of the sower and that sort of thing.

LA: Mm-hmm.

MR: And the farming illustration or the farming way of thinking about work, and it's, of course, very closely tied to fruitfulness, because if you're growing something, you want whatever you're growing to be fruitful, to produce whatever it is, to produce grapes or produce wheat or whatever. And so, I think from a biblical point of view, one of the things we'd wanna say about work is that we are created for it, we're created for fruitfulness. First command in scripture, "Be fruitful and multiply," so right at the very beginning. And that sort of sets up the framing. And then, in any different cultural context, historical context, that's gonna be worked out in different ways. So if we're all basically farming, we're gonna think about work and figure out how do we be ourselves, fruitful in life, in this context.

And in today's world, same questions, right? What does it mean to be fruitful in life and work? I was just talking with a group of young adults this last weekend about this, and one of the questions I got was, "Well, how do you figure in unemployment here?" Because in a changing world of work, there is often... Folks are often dealing with seasons of unemployment. So I think farming and fruitfulness gives us a good way to think about work. Not the only one, but a good way. And then whatever we're dealing with, we say, "Well, what's that gonna look like here, and how do we think about this? What does it mean for me to live a fruitful life in this changing world of work where the rules aren't what they once were?"

LA: Mark, you mentioned the Parable of the Sower, which is the beginning of Matthew, Chapter 13. And it's really about some work that some of it works out, some of it doesn't work out.

A man goes out to sow seeds in his field and some of it falls in the path and the birds eat it up, so there's a failure there. Some falls on rocky places, it springs up, but then it withers in the sun, like, there's another business failure. Only the seeds sown on good soil ends up working out. And that's a parable that Jesus uses to talk about communication and communicating the message of God to people, but it also depicts this climate that Michaela is talking about today, where a lot of the ventures that we pursue are maybe not gonna work out for us. Does this farming metaphor resonate for you, Michaela?

MO: Yeah, thank you. And Mark, even before you gave the analogy, I was thinking farming. That's the analogy. And there's something... I've been having conversations with leaders, actually, recently, on the fact that faithfulness precedes fruitfulness. And sometimes, to your point in the story about the sower, we don't actually know what the fruit is gonna be like. We might hope and we might imagine, but we're not sure. I'm reminded... I lived across the street from my grandmother, growing up, and when her legs and hands got a little bit too tired to dig in the soil, she was the director and I was the doer. And she would want me to move rose bushes six inches to the left and plant seeds over in the corner, and I didn't have any vision for what she was doing. In fact, I thought it sounded almost neurotic. In time, as the months passed and eventually as the years passed, I began to see that together, we were cultivating this extremely beautiful and full and fruitful garden, and that I just had this little part. I was just the mover of the rose bushes to the left and to the right, and the planter of the seeds and the digger. And so, the other reason why I love the biblical metaphor of farming, is just, it insinuates collaboration, it insinuates time, it insinuates rhythm. And so, I think that's just very helpful.

LA: Today, we've gotten in our economy, at least in the United States, very far away from an agrarian model of economics. We're very far away from the farming as a model of most of our work. We think it's kind of quaint, and that wraps this quaint-ness around some of our visions of Bible stories, where we maybe see the Bible as old-fashioned or not applying to today. How do you, Michaela, help connect the Bible to the very real issues that people face in the new world of work today?

MO: Well, I think that's a great question. So the new world of work, yeah, we're not as much in an agrarian age. We're not even as much in an industrial age. We're in what many scholars would call the information age. And the pace of the information age stands in stark contrast to the pace of the agrarian age.

And I actually think, in that, we have the invitation. So if we're not living in the same agrarian rhythm, then that kind of pace and boundaries, rest, expectation, fruitfulness, faithfulness to use some of Mark's words, those actually become the disruptors. Those actually become the distinctively Christian ways to engage in such a dynamic world.

LA: Well, my first thought is, "Oh my goodness, who has time for that? I gotta plant the seeds and then I'm not gonna know if they work until next season, like forget it." I was really on it with your rapids metaphor. That was kind of like the go getting that I'm interested in. [chuckle] And I think because I'm so affected by the pace of information, by the pace of technology, by the pace of which the technology in my pocket delivers information to me. And I even hear you, as you're speaking about the agrarian symbolism in the Bible, I hear your voice slowing down.

MO: Right.

LA: I hear you getting more thoughtfulness. And tell me if that's even possible for most of us in the world of work today.

MO: Yeah, well, let me now draw a bit of a parallel between the two analogies. So Thomas Friedman writes great books on sort of the world as we know it, and trends that are starting to play out, and he talks about dynamic stability. Dynamic stability is actually imaged in a kayaker. It's about finding rhythm. If you are going down rapids and you're in a kayak and your oar is too steady, if it's not moving at the pace that matches things, then it actually becomes like a rudder and it turns you to the left or the right, potentially destabilizing you. If you are going too fast, if you are out of sync, then you are... You're kinda outta sync, you're kind of wildly going over things.

And the goal really here is to become in sync with the rapids, not so that you can be paddling harder and faster, but so that you can be riding down the rapids at the pace they're already going. To switch up the metaphor here, because I think it's helpful, my husband is a skier, and several years ago he and I got in a, actually, a pretty bad car accident. We were blind-sided, and we had one of those moments that, for any of you who have been in a car accident, you may have had this exact moment, time just seemed to slow all the way down. And there we were, having full sentences with each other while we were about to be hit, and he said to me, "Michaela, we're about to be hit, lean in and let go."

Well, I am not a skier, I did not lean in and let go. I tensed up. I tensed up for the impact. And to this day, I have residual pain from tensing up in the face of impact. And he has no pain because he leaned in and let go. And I asked him later, we talked about this a lot, "Dan, how did you... How could you, in that moment, that impact, you've got all this stuff coming at you?" The parallel here is in our world of change, there's a lot coming at us every day. I said, "Dan, how did you know to lean and let go?" And he said, "Michaela, I grew up skiing in Salt Lake City, Utah on the mountains," and this is like a black diamond, double black diamond, sort of gives me some anxiety to even think about the level of skiing that he used to do or that he still does. And he said, "On the mountain, you expect to fall, you expect it. It's built in. You expect to fall.

So one of the very first things to do on the very first day of ski school is they teach you how to fall." They teach you how to not brace for impact, but instead fall gracefully and harness the momentum of the mountain. And what usually ends up happening is that number one, you have less injuries, and number two, you more often land back on your feet. And that is a bit of what Thomas Friedman is talking about with dynamic stability. So there's a perspective change there, which is, what is my posture in the midst of so much change? There is. There's a bit of a slowing of the voice. My job is not to hustle, hustle, hustle today, but my job is to observe and notice and know how to engage. So whether we're calling back on the agrarian rhythms of biblical metaphors or we're looking to skiers on a mountain, or staying with this metaphor of a kayaker going down rapids, it's about understanding context, it's about aligning rhythm, honestly with the Spirit, right? So that's how I would work to merge the metaphors there.

LA: Could you give a solid example of the kind of difficulties I might face in my work today and how can I lean into that or how can I better prepare myself for the kind of bumps that I'm gonna hit?

MO: Yeah, I mean this... Leah, this hasn't happened to me since about an hour ago, so that's how common it is. Mark and I were in a meeting together this morning where we are being presented with some new technology that's available to us, and we were having to quickly sort through information, and ask questions, and build relationships with people, all at the same time. And all my brain could do is think, "I don't yet totally understand what we're doing here." And there was a part of my brain that was working very, very hard to try to make sense of that change. And then there was another part of my brain that was able to say, lean in and let go. Like this is another form of change that's coming at you. What might it look like to achieve dynamic stability? What might it look like to ride the wave of this momentum to engage, ask questions, but anticipate that the information that I need to know about this particular technological change in the way I do my work is going to evolve in time, and that I don't have to grasp all the information about how things are changing right this second.

So that story is a bit of a permission to not have to digest everything that's coming at me, because there's a lot that comes at us, and a lot of it is in the way of information and change and sometimes tough news and we wanna be active participants for hope and love and justice in the systems that we're part of, but our human brains can only digest what they can digest. So just this morning, I made the decision to kinda lean in and let go, and see if I could ride that momentum of change. And what that looked like very specifically was not having to have all the information today, but telling myself, "You're going to get it in time."

MR: So Leah, can I be permitted to throw in another biblical metaphor and ask Michaela to comment on it?

LA: Absolutely.

MR: Yeah. And now, in fairness, I read Michaela's book, so I kind of know, but she's got some really interesting things to say about this metaphor, and it's the metaphor of calling. And so again, there was a time... So my grandfather would be the perfect example of someone who shortly after college, went in to work for a certain company, and basically worked for the same company his whole life. During the Depression, he didn't for a season, but he went from a junior level to a very senior level, absolutely. And he would have talked about... He was a civil engineer and was responsible for the building of large buildings. He would have talked about this as his calling. His calling is to be this kind of worker in this kind of business. And Michaela has some different ways of talking about calling that I have learned from, from her. But I would love it, so Michaela, you wanna just sort of respond to that partly, how my grandfather thought and how you see scripture as giving us a really different framing of work in light of calling and callings.

MO: Yeah, thanks, Mark. Well, certainly not gonna go against anything your grandfather believed. I was raised in a household where we respect our elders.

MR: Yeah. [laughter]

MO: But like you, I actually find that a theology of calling gets very personal for people, very fast. And I think that in many ways, that's helpful, even as you said earlier, Mark, all the way back to the beginning, we get this calling to be fruitful in Genesis. And so, it makes sense that our identities are so woven in with this idea. And at the same time, because our identities are so woven in with this idea, our being, our doing are so connected, there's a lot of pain around the idea of calling. And so, in recognition of that pain, several years ago, I started to think a lot more about the theology of calling, what does the Bible say? What it doesn't? How does that make sense in our information age in different ways or in similar ways than in an agrarian age? My own example...

LA: And...

MO: Please.

LA: Oh, no. I wanna interrupt because when you mention that pain, I think of a lot of our listeners who have written in, who are saying, "I can't find... " Like trying to find their calling as if it's like something they lost in their garage or like a treasure hunt or something like that, but we hear a lot of listeners say, "I haven't found the intersection of my skills and meaning and what I can do for money." And that is a real pain point, like the pain that you speak of is very real. So tell us how to navigate that.

MO: Well, quite honestly, what you describe right there is probably my major motivation for writing this book. I've sat with so many people who feel bad about themselves because they haven't found it, and feel confused about God because it hasn't been clear, and I just think that there's a lot more to this that is actually helpful and hopeful. And I actually think it's very important to start a little bit with some of the operative beliefs about calling that we hear in order to set those in contrast to some other biblical truths. When I... I teach at Fuller as part of my role at the De Pree Center, and I teach a class on vocation and calling and practices that help form people to be fit for God's callings, and on the first day of class I walk in and I say, "So what is calling anyway?"

And I get a lot of really fully, whole-hearted answers that are something like, "It's a job we love. It's the one career that I'm meant to do. It's the one special thing that only I can do." And I think the sensation of special-ness is contradictory to a biblical sense of calling and tees us up for a lot of disappointment. I do think that the pinnacle example of this is... And I wanna be careful how I say this, 'cause I mean this in kindness and gentleness, but seeing verses like Jeremiah 29:11 plastered all over graduation cards, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, and plans to give you hope and a future." We take a text that was for a people in pain, in exile, that were being... In many ways, in my view, reprimanded by God, but also told by God like, "Hey, I'm still with you. I'm gonna be with you. I'm not gonna break the covenant. I'm here." We take that passage that submits that larger story that's meant for a people who are really hurting, and we apply it to individual career paths. I think that just sets us up for a lot of disappointment, 'cause I don't think that that's meant for that.

So what's a healthier, more biblical... And you two are are experts in this too, so I'd love for you to add on to this, banter with it, whatever feels right. It's been helpful for me to think... I am an image-driven person, I'm a metaphor-driven person, so it's been helpful for me to think about calling kind of like a set of nesting dolls. And the very, very core nesting doll that we all share, by the way, is this call to faithfully follow and belong to Jesus. This is Matthew 4 stuff, right? Jesus calling of His disciples, "Hey, come follow me," and them, leaving their nets and taking step-by-step on a journey that they didn't know exactly where that was gonna lead, but that belonging and that following is very, very central.

The next nesting doll out would be what I would describe as the call to work toward redemption, restoration, reconciliation. I think this is evidenced in 2 Corinthians 5:16 through 21, where we get the call to be ambassadors in the ministry of reconciliation. We ought to be, as Christians, looking for places to sow goodness. If that's the seed that we're sowing is goodness and that we would expect that God... We would expect the fruit of that to play out in a variety of ways. The next layer out is a call to love and serve our neighbor, in loving service of our neighbor. And that, I think, actually goes all the way back to Genesis as Mark was describing. What kind of fruitfulness do we put in the world? I do think it's toward one another. And then also Luke 10 stuff, Good Samaritan. We're called to be interrupted on the way to where we're already going and attend to people that are in our midst.

And once you have some of those very, very core callings nested and set, then you can talk about the particulars. Particular places, people. Yes, sometimes jobs and roles that we're called to, but not limited to the context of paid work. So it's been helpful for me to just kinda get at those layers rather than set them out as kind of options, if you will.

And I talk to a lot of people that are frustrated with okay, "I haven't... " Just like you said Leah, "I haven't found the intersection of meaningful work or my skills and money, or I don't know my calling or it's just not quite happened yet." A couple things here. I think things take time. I really do. And I think that's where the farming analogy is actually very, very helpful. There is... I had a professor in college and my Greek professor, and I wasn't very good at Greek. I'm sorry, Mark, you probably are much better at Greek than I was, but we had two years of Greek and he would say, "Year one is root work and year two is fruit work."

There are seasons where we are sowing and there are other seasons where fruit is more evident. I think that's number one. Number two, I think that we have decided that work is a vehicle for a lot of self-actualization and happiness and fulfillment, and I'm with y'all that work is good and holy and sacred and comes very early on in our story. First story about God is, God is maker. So we know that work is good and there is so much opportunity for faithfulness there, and at the same time, it is not our sole vehicle to express our faithfulness to God's callings for us, and to conflate those two limits all the other opportunities that are in our lives. And then the last thing I'll say is, my husband's in film and a decade ago actually, just about a decade ago, he had a mentor say to him, "It's gonna take you 10 years to get where you think you should be today," and that felt like a punch in the gut, to be honest.

We were like woah, that's not fun. That's not encouraging. That's a lot of root work. That's a lot of sowing, and a decade later, I can say that he was right. He was very, very right. And now, looking out to the next decade, I have more confidence in that long arc of God's trajectory for all of us and each of us, and I would go back to another Exodus story here. I would go to the manna story, manna from Heaven. That story is very helpful for me in thinking about putting one foot in front of another, because the bottom line there is that God's gonna show up every day, and that you cannot store up more grace than you're ready for. You cannot store up more than is really ready to be taken on, and that's comforting. One day at a time, one foot in front of the other, you start looking back and realizing, eventually, maybe more is stacked up than you realize, and that this stuff takes time, and ultimately that's deeply encouraging.

LA: Now, something that I notice from these metaphors, Michaela, I'm still thinking of the nesting dolls and how they get bigger and bigger, and it's not a very... For lack of a better word, it's not a very sexy metaphor. It's not hip and young and fiery to think of my life as just kind of a nesting doll. [chuckle] I wanna jump right to the status and the shininess and the money, and also kind of have that be something that I'm allowed to do for God, because if I'm a Christian and really successful then I'm doing something for God.

And... Which I think... Let me say this more clearly, that's not something I believe to be good. Like a good way of going about things. I'm saying part of the temptation of our age is this idea that I could take this kind of flashy image of being a real high-powered success story and kinda spin it as being successful for God, because if I'm a Christian and also successful then God wins. And I think what you're advocating is a much more humble view of our own worth in the world. And that is at the same time comforting and also a little bit of a let down. I wonder if people you talk to feel both things at the same time. They feel like a, "Oh. Thank God, I don't have to work so hard." And they also might feel like a, "Oh, but I thought that God was gonna hit me out of the ball park with my career. And if I'm not holding on to that vision what am I holding on to?"

MO: Yeah. Yeah, I think that's wisely... The attention of that is wisely stated, Leah. And let me be clear, we... At the De Pree Center for Leadership, which is where Mark and I work, we do think that God is enabling, empowering and equipping Christians to have influence and leadership in industries far and wide. And we wanna steward that well. And so I do think there's an aspect of how to steward that that comes into question and sort of what you're getting at. And the platform building, the, "I have got to make X, Y, and Z happen by this timeline, and we've got sort of this checklist." That is exhausting in a way that is not sustaining. I think it's overwhelming in a way that's problematic.

And I think... And I'm saying these things now based... I'm literally having people flash through my mind as I'm talking. I think it's lonely, Leah. And so much of the world of work now is focused on how individuals can sort of do this kind of jocking up the... There's not one ladder, so it's like, from ladder to ladder to ladder to ladder, right? I think that's where there's an invitation to be a bit subversive there, and it's like... Okay, so returning all the way back to the metaphors that we were using, what if I'm not a solo person riding down white water rapids, what if I'm on one of those cool canoe trips and there's a whole group of us? Or what if I'm not just in my backyard planting my tomatoes, but what if I'm in a community garden?

And I think that there's some context. Some zooming out that happens with the kind of metaphors that we're talking about today that while I might feel like, "Oh, that's not as sexy or as shiny... " They feel more sustaining. And I'll now speak very personally. When I go after the status and accomplishments, 'cause I can do that, right? I'm an entrepreneur, I'm a leader, I like to have lots of accomplishments. I honestly don't notice, hear, or tune in to God nearly as much. And when I'm more centered on the people who are in my midst, my teammates, the people that... In this season, I really do feel called to serve. My family, my kids, my neighbors, my church community, others I casually engage with through the work week. I notice a lot more of God's activity. I see God at move a lot more. And that is good. That is fulfilling. And so that very fulfilling thing that I am trying to go after through my accomplishments, actually comes in slant when I turn and look at the person left and the person right of me. So yeah, maybe it's not as sexy, but I actually think it's a more effective and faithful way to go after that meaning and those desires that we've got nested within.

LA: I really resonate with that Michaela. And I have to say that when I go after the shinier prize for myself, even if I'm going after it with God, my prayers feel a little bit more narrow. You know when I'm, "God, make this podcast awesome. Make everyone who listens to this podcast think it's awesome." It feels like a very narrow band of prayer that God can either say, "Yay." Or, "Nay." But when my prayer is like, "Open me up to be a listener. May I connect with the people I'm talking to. God help me connect with the people who are hearing this. Help we connect to something bigger than myself and connect others." That feels like more of an expansive prayer that hits all the areas, all the desires that are nested within me, and not just the top level desire of to have my podcast be seen as awesome.

MO: Well, your podcast is awesome. Let me just be a cheerleader for you and Mark there. But just, Amen. Absolutely, Amen.

MR: That's great, what both of y'all said. It's just... I think it's really... That's the reframing we need for our work. And so, I'll add the "Amen" to what you've just said.

LA: Thank you, Mark. [chuckle] I appreciate your "Amen."

MR: Well, you know, really, just to tie the knot... And, Michaela... You sort of say, "This podcast will be awesome if we do the thing Michaela just talked about, right? In terms of attending to people, seeking to serve people, listening well to our guest, paying attention to our listeners." So if we just try to make it awesome, we probably will never get there. But if we focus on serving people and being faithful to what God's called us to do, it may very well become awesome, but as Michaela said earlier, that's not really our job, our job as being to be faithful and we'll leave the awesomeness to God and whatever God wants to do with what we're doing.

LA: Michaela O'Donnell thank so much for joining us today on the Making it Work podcast. Your book is Make Work Matter: Your Guide to Meaningful Work in the Changing World. Thank you so much for joining us on this day of change. Thank you for being steady with us today.

MR: Yes indeed.

MO: Thank you both. I loved talking with you. And love what you're doing here.

 

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Sustaining Hope for the World’s Big Problems - Victor Boutros

Are you facing a problem in your work that feels like it's too big for you to solve? How do you find hope amidst work that feels overwhelming? Guest Victor Boutros is the CEO and co-founder of the Human Trafficking Institute. Before launching HTI, he served as a federal prosecutor in the US Department of Justice's Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, and trained law enforcement from different parts of the world on how to investigate and prosecute human trafficking. Victor is co-author of The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence.

 

Scripture References

Luke 10:25-37
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (NRSV)

John 5:1-9
After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. (NRSV)

Matthew 18:10-14
“Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost. (NRSV)

John 6:5-13
When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. (NRSV)

Matthew 14:22-33
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (NRSV)

Matthew 25:14-30
“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (NRSV)

Ephesians 2:10
For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (NRSV)

James 4:14
Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. (NRSV)

 

Additional Resources Referenced

Human Trafficking Institute: https://www.traffickinginstitute.org

The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence, by Victor Boutros and Gary Haugen

 

Thanks for Listening!

If you like what you've heard, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts! We'd love to hear from you, and it helps other people find us. 

 

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Transcript

​​Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

Are you facing a problem in your work that feels like it's too big for you to solve? How do you find hope amidst work that feels overwhelming? Our guest, Victor Boutros, is the CEO and co-founder of the Human Trafficking Institute. Before launching HTI, he served as a federal prosecutor in the US Department of Justice's Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, and trained law enforcement from different parts of the world on how to investigate and prosecute human trafficking. Victor is co-author of The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence. Victor Boutros, welcome to the Making it Work podcast.

Victor Boutros: Thank you, it's great to be with you.

LA: Thank you so much for joining us. So I wanna start with maybe connecting the work that you do to the work that our listeners do, 'cause probably not all of our listeners are fighting human trafficking on a daily basis, but I'm sure all of our listeners face issues in their work which feel big and often like complex problems or problems that are too big to solve. So how do you think of this huge issue that you face, human trafficking, and maybe break it up into bite-size chunks that you can deal with on a daily basis?

VB: Yeah, that's a great question. And I remember experiencing that tension very, very acutely when I first was exposed to human trafficking. My first exposure to human trafficking came over 20 years ago when I was exposed to an individual case involving a 12-year-old girl from India who was from a very poor family. Her parents had sent her to the big city to earn some money. She gets a job at a restaurant washing dishes, and at the end of the summer is trying to head back home to her family in the village. And to do that, she's gotta catch a train from Victoria Station in Mumbai, back to her family, which is just this incredibly chaotic station, like a million people are going to that station every day, and she can't find her train. And a couple of older ladies approach her and see that she's troubled and they offer to help, and it turns out that they're all going on the same train.

So she's relieved to have these ladies looking out for her, and so they get on the train together, they start chatting, they have some tea, and it turns out the tea is drugged. And so she is knocked out cold, and when she wakes up, she finds herself on the third floor of a brothel in the red light district of Mumbai where she's been sold for the equivalent of 250 bucks. And from that time forward, she's told that she has a quota, that the trafficker paid good money for her and she now has to make money for him. And so she's got to service seven to 12 men a day, seven days a week in this city with this horrific HIV epidemic. And meanwhile here are her parents over here in the rural village at the train station, they have no idea where she is, they don't know how to find her, they don't even know how to start looking for her. And as I learned about that story, it just made my blood boil. I thought, "How do you do that to a 12-year-old?"

And there's a part of your soul when you hear a story like that and you learn that that's happening, where it moves it to action. It's like, "We have to get that girl out now. This is horrifically wrong in a world of moral gray, this is black and white. How do we get that girl out now?" And then as I started learning more about human trafficking in the world today and learning about the size and scope of the problem, I learned that this little girl's story is replicated across the globe on a massive scale, roughly 25 million people today are in some version of that story. And I have to tell you that as I learned about the scope of the problem, I found it profoundly unhelpful. It was totally demoralizing. It felt like such a massive problem, such a huge intractable problem that it felt like, "I don't even wanna hear from anybody who's working on this problem, because whatever you're going to tell me, however well motivated it might be, it feels like it's just gonna be a drop in the ocean. It's not really going to make a difference.

LA: So like one girl's story, you feel like, "Okay, I can identify with that girl."

VB: That's right.

LA: "I could maybe make my life's work, I could get her out." But you say, and that's replicated by 25 million people a year. You're like, "Maybe that's a little bit much for me to handle in my work."

VB: Yeah, it just seems so big. It feels like, I think because we're made in God's image and God is a God of compassion, I think we're actually drawn to pain for the purpose of helping someone out of it. But if we start to believe that there is nothing that we can meaningfully do to address that pain, then it's sort of like getting too close to a fire that you can't put out and you think, "I've gotta back away, I'm gonna get burned." And I think that is how I felt when I learned about the scope of the problem, like, "I can't draw near to this problem. I'm gonna get burned."

And so you have this terrible feeling of this divided soul, where one part of your soul is saying, "We gotta get her out now," and the other part of your soul is saying, "No, no, don't draw near to this. It's just gonna be a drop in the ocean, your hope is going to be dashed if you get too close, so you've gotta back away." And I think it was in that divided soul experience, that painful experience, that you kinda shut off, it's easy to shut off. For me, I experienced this very... Probably for the only time in my life, this very clear sense of calling from God that this is what I was supposed to do with my life. And so that ultimately changed the course of my life and led me ultimately eventually to law school and then on into working in this space. But I do think that a bunch of micros add up to a macro. And so that's why I love the work that we do at the Human Trafficking Institute. We focus on moving a bunch of micro cases that produce a big macro outcome.

LA: And I wanna talk to you about the work that you do at HTI, because you have a really effective model of partnering with other organizations in a way that does push the needle on human trafficking cases, but I would just wanna have a sit for a minute in that divided soul moment that you had, where you're feeling like, "God is calling me to solve a particular issue in my work, but it feels too big." What was your experience? Was it something that you read in scripture or was it something someone said to you that really pushed you in a direction that made you feel like, "I can do this for a job."

VB: You know, I think that for me, understanding that, especially now that I have children, you have the sense of like, "Hey, if this were to happen to one of my children, there is nothing in the world that would stop me from intervening. I would access every resource, every relationship, everything that I have to go and protect them." And I think that I understood that, "Gosh, I don't feel the same way about everyone in the world as I feel about my children, they're my children." And understanding that I think, God, I think doesn't begrudge our overwhelming preference for our own children. In fact, I think He shares it, He just has this much larger family that he's adopted us into. And when I began to understand that he feels the same way about this 12-year-old in India as I feel about my own 13-year-old daughter, it really opened my eyes that this is something He is so passionate about that He's not gonna stand idly by. And if I'm riding in the wake of His passion, then that's the best place in the world I could possibly be, because it's going to take me out of my comfort zone and out of my sphere of certain competence, but only because I'm riding behind Him, and He cares deeply about these victims and is ready to bring about justice on their behalf.

LA: Mark, I wanna bring you into the conversation too. I'm thinking as Victor is talking that there's so many passages in the Bible that call us the children of God, call all people the children of God, and yet it seems like that's a very difficult message for us to apply in our day-to-day life, given just how many people there are in the world and how intractable the myriad problems seem. How do you interpret those scriptures, Mark?

MR: Well, yeah, the idea that we're all children of God, absolutely, we believe and rejoice in, but it is... In the broader sense, that's not a very personal thing. I don't know that I really have heart-felt love for all the children of God. [chuckle] And so it's a real challenge, but Victor, as you were talking, two images from the Gospels came to mind, and the first is the Good Samaritan, and the Good Samaritan is awesome, he helped the guy on the road. What if there was like 1,000 guys on the road? I mean, that would be a real... I wish Jesus had told that parable. So the Good Samaritan could help one, but if all we got is one Good Samaritan, we haven't solved the whole problem, but he can still help one, and that's important.

But the other story I was remembering is in John, where Jesus in Jerusalem goes to this pool, the pool that's either called Bethzatha or Bethsaida, depending on the translation. And there are all these sick people around the pool, and Jesus heals one person. And one of the things that I've heard asked before and I've wondered about is why did he just heal one? He should have just like used his super Jesus powers and just like zapped everybody. Well, we don't get that answer, but we get a picture of somebody doing what he was supposed to do in that time. And for some folk, it's gonna be, help the one person by the side of the road, but it sounds like you got a different sense of calling, that God was calling you not just to help one girl, but to use your life and your training and your resources, and even to develop yourself so that you could do something that would actually be a larger work and that was distinctively yours in a way that you really sense God calling you to, right?

VB: Yeah, I think that is right. I did have that sense of like, "Yes, it is good to help one." And that's true, I think that's the image of the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 who are safe to go after the one who is being preyed upon by hungry wolves. And that is so important. That means that there's no acceptable casualties in the kingdom of God, there's no one that's an acceptable sacrifice. And it's hard to understand that, to be honest with you, as a shepherd. I don't really understand shepherding, it doesn't feel like that makes sense to leave 99 sheep to go after one, but it definitely makes sense as a father, if I had multiple children and one of them is in danger, I'm going after the one that's in danger.

And so I think it's so powerful when you think about, especially the other gods of the day, there was no sense of that kind of fatherly, shepherdly, protective God that existed. And that's the image that God chose for Himself is God as father, God as protector. And so as we enter into that, we are sort of entering into His heart, which is a heart that cares for all people, and so definitely caring for the one I think is incredibly important, but for me, personally, I felt like, "Well, gosh, that's just a drop in the ocean. If you get this 12-year-old go out the front door, while the trafficker is just ushering in more girls in the back door, what have we really done? It doesn't feel like sufficient." So for me, what I really needed was not just hope that God will right things one day in the end, but extremely tangible hope, hope that not only can we help one or two victims here or there, but we can actually have a large percentage of victims experiencing freedom or being spared from this trauma in the first place, and that is the kind of hope that I think God is inviting us into in this particular area.

LA: This is a perfect transition, Victor, 'cause I wanna get into the actual work you do at the Human Trafficking Institute. I know that with other government agencies or foreign countries that you work for, they have practical problems, they wanna solve the problem of human trafficking, but they don't have enough prosecutors, they don't have the trained police officers who know how to go after these cases, so what are the practical solutions that you offer them through HTI?

VB: Yeah, I think one of the things that was initially very discouraging was thinking about the reality that even if we do a really, really good job of caring for survivors, the traffickers just don't care because they've already moved on to the next set of victims. And they're not making any less money when, as one trafficker very coarsely put it, "When you guys clean up our mess." And I thought, "Wow, what an ugly, crass, dark thing to say." But I think it's a very accurate window into how traffickers see this crime. For them, these victims are not individuals, they're just sort of nameless, faceless profit units. And they don't care which profit units are making them money, as long as they're making them money. And so for me the question became, "Is there a way that we can not just deal with the tragic consequences of trafficking after the fact, when it's so, so hard to recover from that trauma, but could we actually move upstream and stop it at its source, which is really the trafficker?" If you can stop the trafficker from making that decision to use force and threats and violence, then not only do you free their current victims but you also spare that future stream of victims from having to spend years enduring that trauma and struggling to recover from it.

And I think the game changer for me, the big light bulb that went off for me, was understanding the traffickers are economically motivated, that is, this is a cost benefit crime, they're only engaging in the crime because the benefits outweigh the cost. And that actually is a great point of hope, because what it means is that if you can just increase the costs a little bit until they outweigh the benefits, then it's no longer worth it to engage in the crime. And so once traffickers understand, "Hold it, wait, there's a specialized enforcement unit that could come in and seize all my profits, and I could lose all my money and my family, my freedom, go to jail, then all of a sudden it's too risky, I'd rather shift industries or pay a few extra dollars to voluntary laborers than risk losing everything," and you start to see these big drops in the prevalence of trafficking. And so for us at HTI, the question began to be, "Well, how do you do that? How do you increase enforcement capacity to help police and prosecutors create that little bit of enforcement risk that produces drops in trafficking?" And what we did is we essentially used a model that we helped pilot when I was a federal prosecutor at the Justice Department, and we're now taking that model to developing countries to help them apply that model and bring freedom to victims and stop traffickers.

I'm so interested in this model 'cause I've read about it, and you're actually sending people into their departments, almost a mentorship job shadowing program. And mentorship is something that Mark and I have talked a lot about on the podcast, because literally coming along someone else in their work has such power not only to teach skills, but to build the relationships that are necessary to have someone else go on and do this work. So can you talk about how you've seen this model be effective in your work in terms of the results of decreasing trafficking in these areas?

VB: Yeah, so what we do is we now partner with governments around the world to help them basically do three things. We help them first build and vet specialized enforcement units. So these are teams of police and prosecutors and victim specialists that focus exclusively on trafficking enforcement, and sometimes we have fast-track courts to help make sure those cases don't get stuck in a backlog. And then the second thing we do is we take these teams and we put them through kind of a mini law enforcement academy, where we walk them through, "Here are the strategies that we've seen be effective at each stage of the process, from identifying cases all the way through trial." And then the third thing we do is we embed former prosecutors, former FBI agents who actually move to that partner country, and by agreement with the government, start officing with these units and start working with them day in and day out on their cases, helping them build their skills, solve case-related challenges that come up, and ultimately help create that transparency and accountability that protects against corruption risk, and then we measure that from start to finish.

And to your point, what we found is that human trafficking enforcement is just very specialized, the way that you do a human trafficking case is pretty different than the way you do other types of enforcement cases. And if you're serious about building specialized skills, it always involves two components, it's first mastering some core knowledge that you need, and then having an extended period of time where you can practice applying those skills with someone who's done it before.

And what we've seen has been very exciting. In Uganda, for instance, this past year, we had set a very ambitious target, this is prior to COVID coming up, of seeing a 70% increase in enforcement. COVID hit, everything became way, way harder, but we tried to hold on to that goal, and ultimately between July and October, what we saw is not a 70% increase, but a 1200% increase in the number of traffickers stopped and almost a 1300% increase in the number of victims protected. And I do feel like this is a little bit like the loaves and fish. You can't exactly congratulate the little boy for feeding 5,000 people, Jesus used his loaves and fish to feed 5,000 people, but ultimately, Jesus fed 5,000 people. And when you're talking about that kind of multiplication, it really is hard to attribute to our work. I think we did a good job of offering our loaves and fish, but this is something that God cares about, and I think that He really multiplied those efforts in ways that we couldn't even have dreamed or imagined.

LA: That certainly is an uplifting success story. [chuckle] And definitely, listening to this, I wanna say, "Well, there you go, just take the first step towards the calling that God has given you, and you're gonna have this over-bounding success." But I imagine there are also moments in your work, in your career, where you haven't seen such success, and I wonder how your faith sustains you when you're facing a big problem that either feels intractable or you haven't seen the needle move on it yet. Do you still have moments at this point in your career that you feel like they challenge your sense of hope?

VB: For sure, I think the two biggest areas where I felt that sense were really in getting the sort of leaders that I need, which are very unique, they're extremely experienced. How do you find highly experienced human trafficking prosecutors or law enforcement agents that are ready to leave their great positions and move often with their family and their kids to the developing world in order to lead these efforts and to do it in a way that's culturally sensitive, that embodies incredible leadership, and also moves toward outcomes in a humble way? That is not an easy ask. And that you felt like, "Gosh, where am I gonna find those folks?"

In that case, when I was thinking about Uganda, it's kind of amazing how ultimately over time God provides. And in our case, we ended up with this incredible prosecutor, one of the most experienced trafficking prosecutors I know out of Houston, who ended up... He and his family started doing some short-term trips to Uganda, they felt the sense of calling to Uganda, I'd had no idea about this at the time, and he was actually so compelled by Uganda that he was thinking about leaving his job as a prosecutor just to go do missions work in Uganda, and ultimately discovered that the attorney general... Heard someone say, the attorney general of Uganda is actually pretty passionate about anti-trafficking stuff, and I think he sent him a cold email, not expecting a response, just saying, "Hey, I heard you're doing great work here. Good to hear that, and keep it up, and kudos, I don't expect a response."

And the attorney general responded and said, "Hey, I see that you're a human trafficking prosecutor. I don't know if you know our partner in this work, the Human Trafficking Institute, but if not, you should check them out." He'd never heard of us, goes to the website, sees the job description, long story short within a few months, he's got the job and is selling his cars and his home and is moving his wife and three girls to Kampala, Uganda to go lead this work. And that's something that... It was not a product of my great strategy, and despite my hand wringing and feeling like, "Gosh, I'm never gonna find this person," God had already begun to provide for that in ways that I could not have imagined. And so I would say that there definitely are times where you feel like, "Gosh, I'm not gonna find the right leaders or I'm not gonna have the financial resources I need to support and grow this mission and this team." As particularly when I left the Justice Department and I thought, "Gosh, all my contacts here are government attorneys and teachers who are just trying to put food on the table and take care of their children, who's gonna fund this?" For the last 10 years when I was at the Justice Department, the IRS was my fundraiser, and they were really good at it and I didn't have to worry about that

LA: Very consistent.

VB: But now all of a sudden I've gotta worry about that and I don't know, I have no idea where this gonna come from. And I realized this experience of stepping out of the boat, which I thought was so cool when Peter did it and I was reading about that as a kid, I realized that's a double-edged sword. Stepping out of the boat is thrilling; it's also very scary. And I think it's been tempting, I think, in my experience as a prosecutor, to believe that I can outwork any problem that comes my way. But it's in these moments that I've experienced this sense of like, "Wow, I really need God to show up or it's not gonna happen." And I'm outside of my sphere of certain competence. I'm stepping out of the boat, the water's not gonna hold me up unless God does something to make that happen. I'm not gonna find this leader, I'm not gonna get these resources unless God moves people in some way that I can't do. And those were the kinds of things that really were massive faith-building experiences that then carried me forward, so that when new challenges come, I have that history of faithfulness that reminds me that this is something that God cares about and He doesn't need me to do it. He's just allowing me to be a part of it.

LA: Now, you mentioned, I have to pause on your story of stepping out of the boat, because this is the second time in this podcast that you've mentioned one of these big miracle stories that comes from, I just looked up the chapter, it's Matthew chapter 14, and Matthew, the author of this gospel, is recounting a bunch of miracles that most of us can't do in our normal lives, like the first you mentioned is that Jesus takes a few loaves and fishes that are given to him and multiplies it so that they feed a whole crowd full of people. And then immediately after he does this, he goes off on his own to pray and his disciples go on a boat to the other side of the lake, and then they see him walking across the water on the lake. And then what happens, Mark? I'll let you finish the story for me.

MR: Well, it's one of my favorite stories in the Bible, 'cause I so relate to Peter in this. So anyway, so the disciples see Jesus and they're kinda freaked out, but Peter is excited. And he gets out of the boat and he starts walking toward Jesus on the water, just kind of forgot, I guess, that he was walking on water, he was so wrapped up in seeing Jesus, and then he looks down and realizes what he's doing and he starts falling in. That's my favorite part of the story, 'cause I'm like, "Oh, I'm so like Peter," 'cause there is a part of me that I just wanna know Jesus, I wanna follow him, I wanna be bold, I wanna get out of the boat. And there's some part of me that looks down and I fall in the water. And then of course Jesus comes over and picks him up, and it works out. So it is an amazing miracle story, and then it's also just an amazing story of sort of human desire and fallibility and weakness, but then it's an amazing story of God's grace in Jesus. And I just find that so encouraging because I think I'm also the kind of person, that, "I'm not gonna get out of the boat till I am absolutely certain I can walk on that water." I'd have to wait till that thing was frozen solid a foot deep before I'm getting out of that boat.

LA: I want the special shoes, the water skis.

MR: And because I wanna control everything and do everything and be self-reliant and be strong. And not that it's always wrong to be strong or those things, but I think this story encourages us to take risks, knowing that if we fall in the water, Jesus is still there and he's gonna help us. And so, on the one hand, we have this picture of just sort of this amazing miracle, on the other hand this utter humanness surrounded by this, and permeated by the grace of God that's gonna help us and be there for us even when we fall in the water.

LA: There's so many stories, it's funny that folks often think of a life of faith as kind of like a safe bet. I have no idea why, 'cause there's so many stories in the Bible about taking risk, that encourage us to take risk, although this story about Jesus walking on water and Peter falling in, that's not super encouraging to me. I don't wanna even risk looking stupid and getting egg on my face. But we think of, Victor, you mentioned before, financial risk, when you left the Justice Department and thought, "Who was gonna fund me now that the IRS isn't funding me anymore?" There are even stories in the Bible about financial risk. I think of the story in Matthew 25, which is often called the Parable of the Talents, which is literally about financial risk. There's a master who has several servants, the master's going on a trip and he gives each of the servants an amount of money and encourages them to take a financial risk, and ends up rewarding the ones who have taken more of a risk. I don't know, Victor, is this a story that's been encouraging to you in these moments in your career?

VB: Absolutely, in fact, my pastor asked me if I would give the Labor Day sermon at our church in DC, and that was the very passage that I chose as the text that I was gonna preach on back in this past Labor Day. And it's been an incredibly powerful passage for me. And really, I think three lessons for me just emerged as I began to think about and reflect on that passage. And the first was really that our choices really matter. And it was shocking for me, I don't know why, I don't know where this came from, but in my head when I was a kid reading that story, I thought of a talent as maybe like $5, 5 or 10 bucks, and I learned that one talent was 20 years' wages for a laborer. So depending on how you calculate it, that means that in the US today, one talent would be a little bit more than a million dollars. We are entrusted with such significant responsibility and real opportunity to bring tangible hope in the Kingdom of God." And it was like imagine if God gave each of us, literally gave us $5 million to steward for Kingdom purposes, and we knew He'd be coming back to see how we used it. That was so sobering, like these choices really matter. And this idea of in Ephesians 2, I think Paul talks about that we are God's handiwork created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. And that means that there's very specific good works that God has prepared for us to do, and there are real kingdom returns that God intends for you and for me to bring about. And if we opt out of doing them, if we bury our talent in the sand, then those returns will not be realized through us. It doesn't mean God won't bring them about, but it may be in a far more costly way. When I think of... I think of each trafficker as a spark that if left unchecked will become a fire consuming forests of God's children. And so stewarding that tangible hope today is like the difference between putting out a spark and putting out a forest fire. And to me, that was an incredibly powerful lesson that came out of the Parable of the Talents.

MR: What struck me as we're talking about this parable and about what you had said earlier, Victor, is that on the one hand, absolutely, what you reported and how the work is going is absolutely a miracle of God, and it absolutely requires extraordinary training, skill, ability, wisdom, human work ability. So you're not just taking well-meaning nice people and putting them in these countries to help sort out this problem. You're taking people who are... And so, they are, in line with the parable, they have been given a lot in terms of their capabilities. And so they are doing that with, you might say, the best of human faithfulness and stewardship, which is a part of how God then works that in a miracle.

And so, whether it's someone is using their giftedness to fight human trafficking or to deal with other kinds of social causes or in more "ordinary" workplaces, the calling is to really use well what God has given us and to do so for God's purposes. And I love, by the way, Ephesians 2, you're singing my song when you go to Ephesians. And I'll just say for a lot of my life, when I read that verse in Ephesians about we're God's handiwork and we're supposed to walk in the good works God has prepared for us, I always sort of thought of those good works as like lead a Bible study, share Christ with your friend, they're very churchy good works. Now, those count. What I've come to realize is that I was thinking way too small. The good works are sort of the broad works, including, "Be a good teacher. Be a good lawyer in wherever God has placed you. Be a good craftsman. Be a good mother." And it's just such an amazing thing to think that God has remade us in Christ so that we can live our whole life walking in the good that God has for us, but we've gotta choose to do that. We've gotta choose to receive that opportunity and then steward well what God has given.

LA: I feel very bouyed by your own, the hope that you have, Victor, in your work. And I also feel that in my own work, I can get stymied by problems that are so much smaller. The day-to-day what gets me down is like I have this big problem with my Google files that I don't know how to fix, and that seems really challenging, and I'm gonna have to think hard, it's gonna give me a headache. It's hard to connect the bigger sense of calling that I might feel with the challenges in my day-to-day work. Do you have a piece of advice for folks at my level of difficulty and frustration in my work about connecting a big sense of calling to the day-to-day challenges?

VB: I actually think it's a discipline. I don't think it comes to us naturally. I think our natural state is to be thinking about the very immediate problems right before us, and I think that's totally human, totally understandable, totally natural. I think it actually requires a level of discipline where we're actually specifically and intentionally setting aside time to step back and elevate above the ground floor and look at the larger picture of like, "Okay, God, what are you doing here in a larger sense? How do I not miss the forest for the trees?"

And sometimes we can see that and sometimes we can't, but I do think that as we engage in our work, trying to take time to intentionally connect this Google file that's causing me so much trouble to the connection of, "Okay, God, and maybe you're gonna allow the teaching that I do through this Google file to actually bless people who are really struggling or having a hard time, or they're feeling very discouraged, perhaps this is gonna give them hope," and to really understand that we won't always see it, but that, like the parable of the talents, life... I think the thing for me that has also been helpful is remembering that life is short. I mean, to think about James's comment in James, I think it's 4:14, and he says, life is a breath. It's like the vapor that we see for a moment on a cold winter day, and then it's gone. Our life on earth is this tiny sliver in the timeline of eternity. And so we have this just brief moment where God is entrusting us to steward things for His glory and for His Kingdom.

And so when I think about that and understand that God's eye is roving not on my tiny cramped drama, but on the much larger timeline of eternity and the purposes that He is enacting through us, and that He could do it without us but He's choosing to work through us, He's operating through His body, which we are His body, and that is actually... Helps breathe meaning into what the sort of menial tasks and problems of the day to understand that God is using this for a larger purpose. But I don't think it will come naturally, I think it has to both individually and maybe as a team, as a group, as a community, as a Bible study, we have to intentionally take time. I remember reading one author who talked about using the Sabbath in that way, that he would take his week and he would look at the week behind him and look at the week ahead and say, "Okay, God, what can I celebrate about what you did this week? And what are the larger movements of this past week and what are the larger movements of the coming week, and the coming month and year?" And breathing meaning into those things, giving thanks for that and giving thanks that even though he doesn't need us, we're getting to be a part of something larger that He's doing in the world. But I don't think it happens by accident, it has to happen with a great deal of intentionality and discipline.

MR: Well, and you pointed to one very specific discipline that certainly could support that, and that is the Sabbath, or actually taking time to rest, but not just to take a nap and play with your kids, which would be a great thing to do on the Sabbath, but to take some time to reflect about the week and what God is doing. I'm struck by how often in the Gospels Jesus takes off for the wilderness to be alone in prayer, and I often think, "You know, if the Son of God needed to do that, I probably ought to do that."

LA: It happened between those two miracle stories that we were just talking about in the book of Matthew, between feeding the 5,000 with the loaves and fishes, and between walking on the water, Jesus was, he was out, he was taking a time out in the mountain.

MR: You know, people are gonna think this is a set up, Leah, they don't realize you just pulled that out. I love that. But you're right, so in the middle of all this stuff going on, and miraculous stuff, Jesus goes off to be alone, and that's surely gotta be one of the places that he got refreshed in the vision of what God was doing in the kingdom, so that then he could put up with all the other things he had to put up with all the time, like Peter falling into the water.

LA: He's got hungry kids on one side of him, he's got wet kids on the other side of him, he's taking care of everybody. Thank God he had that moment on top of the mountain to get refreshed and get the bigger picture himself.

MR: Well, but that I think is great encouragement, Victor, for all of us to really think about what are we doing in our life to help develop that discipline to see our work. And again, our paid work, but also just the work of our lives, the unpaid work, all the work of our lives in terms of the larger thing that God is doing, and really connect our work to God's work. I think that's just a great reminder, thank you.

VB: And I do think one additional high point of that, and this also comes out of parable of the talents, which is really striking, is, although we are stewards and not owners, God still gives us a generous return. This is very weird, right? It's His talents in the parable, it's the master's talents, and yet the master gives the stewards this generous return at the very end, as he's talking to the two stewards who multiplied their returns, he says, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master." So engaging in this scary exercise of stepping out of the boat, of actually recognizing, "Gosh, our choices really matter. There's actually a tremendous amount entrusted to me that the master wants me to invest and put at risk for His Kingdom," that by doing so, we actually get this tremendous return for us, which is His joy. And that is a very, very exciting place to be, and that joy is absent when we bury our talent in the sand. And the great enemy of that joy is fear. And I think so often what I realized I struggle with is that I'm often afraid of the wrong things. The steward was afraid to lose his talent, and the biggest risk, though, is that we can genuinely miss the gains that God intends for us to bring about. We can be so concerned about backing away from the fire that we genuinely miss it, and by playing it safe, we can actually miss out on making real kingdom impact and entering into joy.

LA: I have to say, I personally feel very encouraged in my work after this. I really am struck by the magnitude of the work that you do at the Human Trafficking Institute, and also about the very humble fact that you are one person doing it. You have the whole team behind you, but one person with faith can do a lot with that investment of risk for God.

MR: Well can I just add, Leah, so I'm struck by the magnitude, but also, I just gotta say, I'm struck by the practical, pragmatic, down-to-earth wisdom of what you're doing too, 'cause there are a lot of people that wanna do good, but you looked at this thing, and of course God helped you, but you looked at this thing in terms of the bigger picture, "What's really going on here, how can we really not just deliver people from trafficking, which is of course a huge and a wonderful and important work, but how can we stop this?" And what you came up with it was really, in one sense, sort of highly technical, and... So what I'm grateful for as a Christian, 'cause I'm one that thinks 25 million people being trafficked, I'm one guy, I feel overwhelmed, there's nothing I can do. Well, I can do something. I can both be aware of what you're doing, and if the Lord puts it on my heart, I can actually help to support that, 'cause what you're doing is just really like nuts and bolts smart, and hard work and good work. So I just wanna say I'm impressed by the magnitude, but I'm also just impressed by the sort of the down-to-earth mechanics and wisdom of it, and I just think that's part of the gift that God gave you, part of the calling God gave you.

VB: Well, thank you, Mark, I appreciate you saying that. And I do wanna just add that what I get to do in my job, which is so much fun, it's just to get to shine a spotlight on this amazing team that is the team that's actually going out and doing that gumshoe investigative work and mentorship and support to make this all possible. But there are real life heroes out there that are doing in an incredibly humble and winsome way this nuts and bolts smart work that you're talking about to support and build up leaders in other countries to also help lead and do that kind of smart nuts and bolts work. And so it is just a great joy and it's also quite inspiring to get to be a part of a team like that and watch the team do that on the ground.

MR: Wonderful.

LA: Victor, thank you so much for inspiring us today. Thank you for joining us on the podcast. It's been a pleasure.

VB: The pleasure's been mine, thank you so much for having me. I look forward to, hopefully, future conversations.

LA: Absolutely.

 

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Jesus at the Joystick: Can Video Games be Spiritual? - Xalavier Nelson, Jr.

Does spiritual development have to be dull? Or can growing with God be more like a game? Our guest today, Xalavier Nelson Jr., is a BAFTA-nominated narrative director and game developer. He creates video games that communicate spiritual truths in places where they're perhaps least expected. People playing games such as Hypnospace Outlaw, or Can Androids Pray, or any number of the many games Xalavier has worked on, find themselves connecting with their shared humanity and examining the big questions of life, even as they solve puzzles in a futuristic universe inhabited by robots. Today, we're talking to Xalavier about how games, including his latest release, An Airport for Aliens Currently Run by Dogs, can connect us to God's truth and to each other.

 

Scripture References

Luke 10:25-37
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (NIV)

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred,sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”... “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (NIV)

 

Additional Resources Referenced

An Airport for Aliens Currently Run by Dogs

 

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Transcript

​​Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

Does spiritual development have to be dull? Or can growing with God be more like a game? Our guest today, Xalavier Nelson Jr., is a BAFTA-nominated narrative director and game developer. He creates video games that communicate spiritual truths in places where they're perhaps least expected. People playing games such as Hypnospace Outlaw, or Can Androids Pray, or any number of the many games Xalavier has worked on, find themselves connecting with their shared humanity and examining the big questions of life, even as they solve puzzles in a futuristic universe inhabited by robots. Today, we'r