When Staying with Your Job is an Act of Obedience - David Hataj (Podcast Episode 27)
What do you do when God calls you to stay in a job that's making your life difficult? Our guest, Dave Hataj, obeyed God's call to work in a messy, broken environment. His obedience to God changed Edgerton Gear, a Wisconsin-based custom gear manufacturer, and his community for the better. It also broadened his own experience of his faith and his work. Dave is the author of Good Work: How Blue Collar Business Can Change Lives, Communities, and the World.
One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting; and he said to the one who was in the wrong, “Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?” He answered, “Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh. He settled in the land of Midian, and sat down by a well. The priest of Midian had seven daughters. They came to draw water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. But some shepherds came and drove them away. Moses got up and came to their defense and watered their flock. When they returned to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come back so soon today?” They said, “An Egyptian helped us against the shepherds; he even drew water for us and watered the flock.” He said to his daughters, “Where is he? Why did you leave the man? Invite him to break bread.” Moses agreed to stay with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage. She bore a son, and he named him Gershom; for he said, “I have been an alien residing in a foreign land.” After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them. Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” (NRSV)
Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses and for his people Israel, how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt. After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father-in-law Jethro took her back, along with her two sons. The name of the one was Gershom (for he said, “I have been an alienin a foreign land”), and the name of the other, Eliezer (for he said, “The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh”). Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came into the wilderness where Moses was encamped at the mountain of God, bringing Moses’ sons and wife to him. He sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you, with your wife and her two sons.” Moses went out to meet his father-in-law; he bowed down and kissed him; each asked after the other’s welfare, and they went into the tent. Then Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had beset them on the way, and how the Lord had delivered them. Jethro rejoiced for all the good that the Lord had done to Israel, in delivering them from the Egyptians. Jethro said, “Blessed be the Lord, who has delivered you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods, because he delivered the people from the Egyptians, when they dealt arrogantly with them.” And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God; and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law in the presence of God. The next day Moses sat as judge for the people, while the people stood around him from morning until evening. When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, while all the people stand around you from morning until evening?” Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make known to them the statutes and instructions of God.” Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You should represent the people before God, and you should bring their cases before God; teach them the statutes and instructions and make known to them the way they are to go and the things they are to do. You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain; set such men over them as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. Let them sit as judges for the people at all times; let them bring every important case to you, but decide every minor case themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people will go to their home in peace.” So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said. Moses chose able men from all Israel and appointed them as heads over the people, as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. And they judged the people at all times; hard cases they brought to Moses, but any minor case they decided themselves. Then Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went off to his own country. (NRSV)
The Lord spoke to Moses: See, I have called by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: and I have filled him with divine spirit, with ability, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, in every kind of craft. (NRSV)
Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” (NRSV)
But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (NRSV)
Let your word by 'Yes, Yes' or 'No, No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one. (NRSV)
Additional Resources Referenced
Craftsman with Character Course: www.craftsmanwithcharacter.org
The Day the Revolution Began, by N.T. Wright
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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 do you do when God calls you to stay in a job that's making your life difficult? Our guest, Dave Hataj, obeyed God's call to work in a messy, broken environment. His obedience to God changed Edgerton Gear, a Wisconsin-based custom gear manufacturer, and his community for the better. It also broadened his own experience of his faith and his work. Dave wrote a book, it's called Good Work: How Blue Collar Business Can Change Lives, Communities, and the World. Dave, welcome to the Making It Work Podcast.
Dave Hataj: Thanks for having me, it's a real honor.
LA: It's so great to have you here. So why don't you start with a little bit of your story? Would you tell us how taking over your family business was an act of obedience to God?
DH: Well, I need to start by saying I did it reluctantly. [chuckle] I grew up in...
LA: Like many acts of obedience to God.
DH: That's right. [chuckle]
LA: You're not alone. Certainly, from the Bible to today, many people have taken up the call reluctantly.
DH: Well, and I often say, this was the last place on the planet that I would return to. I actually told God, "I will go anywhere in the world, but please don't send me back to Edgerton Gear." And there are many reasons for that, but I grew up in the shop, started working here when I was five years old. My parents started the business in 1962. And we're like a lot of families, we have some family history; some of it's good, some of it's not so good. My grandpa, I actually have a grandpa who died in Chicago as a homeless person. That was my dad's dad. So you can imagine there's some baggage attached with that. So for my dad, beer is a Wisconsin bohemian thing, and there was a lot of it around here. He even had a quarter barrel of beer in the lunchroom fridge for the employees.
So I grew up through that, and then God got a hold of me at age 19. And I was working in the shop, I was an apprentice machinist at the time, and I finished out my apprenticeship, and I became a journeyman by the time I was age 21. And when God got a hold of me, I took that career path that I think a lot of people think they should take when you become zealous for the Lord, and that's either being a pastor, a missionary, a youth worker, or any of those things. So I ended up actually running away from home, in a way, and ended up in California. I went to school out there, and then worked in a large megachurch as a college pastor, had a pretty severe burnout experience. Ended up going to Regent College because people said, "You're meant to be a pastor so you need to go up there and get some theological training." And in the midst of a class up there, I took one of those classes that they look at your gifts, your talents, what color is your parachute. [chuckle] And the results of the class came back and it said, "You're uniquely qualified to run a small, family-run manufacturing business." [chuckle]
LA: You're kidding me!
DH: I am not kidding! I wanted to scream. And I went home and I told my wife that, and she started to cry 'cause she was pregnant with our first son, and she said, "Let's go home." But she's from California, so she thought home was... Wisconsin was “Little House on the Prairie” home. No idea that we were stepping back into the storm. But Regent allowed me to do a Master's project on how do you... What effect would it be on the family and the family business if you brought biblical values into this very messy environment that I call our family business? So coming back was a total act of obedience. [chuckle] And I think, I look back on it, 'cause that was 29 years ago, I look back and I say, "You know, that was the one hole in my faith that I said, 'Lord, I've seen You work in Inner City LA. I've seen You work in Mexico, because my wife, and I were doing short-term mission trips. "I believe You can work anywhere in the world, but I don't know if You can really work in our family business and my family." And so I think it was a real hole in my faith that I needed to know if God could be relevant, even in this environment, in a blue-collar, grubby grimy machine shop.
LA: And I have to say right off the bat, I said it a little glibly at the beginning, you're not the only one who answered God's call reluctantly. But when we hear stories of God's calling in the Bible, there often is this reluctance, even from this... You think of Moses' story, this major story of God's calling in Exodus. It happens in Exodus chapters 2 to 3, where God literally called him from the burning bush and says, "You know, I'm gonna send you back to Egypt to talk to Pharaoh." Like you said, you're back to the place of your birth, the place that Moses wasn't and didn't wanna be in that moment. And Moses raises some objections. I don't know, Mark. Were you thinking of this story, too, as you heard Dave speaking?
MR: Well, that and others. Actually, I was sort of thinking, "Dave, at least, God didn't send a big fish to swallow you up." [chuckle] It's so much like Jonah. It's so interesting that God does this, sometimes, and changes our hearts. But the heart change comes, often, not first. It's just what you've described, which I think is wonderful. It was an act of obedience. You were seeking to serve the Lord not in the way you wanted, but stepping into that, trusting Him, and yeah, but it's... It is interesting how often that happens.
DH: I've got a mentor, one of my mentors back here in Wisconsin when I first got back here, and he... Wonderful Christian man. He took over the bakery, local bakery from his father, and it's the only job he's ever had, and he worked there 'til he retired. And he has a lot of these phrases, and I call 'em Jerryisms 'cause his name is Jerry. And one of them had stuck with me over the years, is that God returns us, often returns us to the scene of the crime. [chuckle] And I think you just, you cited some examples, those places where we don't wanna return to, maybe we're deeply wounded, we don't feel like we fit in there, we wanna run away from them. But I think God calls us back to those places, not only because we have special relevance there, but we need that change of heart. We need the healing that only that painful place can bring.
LA: So what was it like for you returning to the scene of the crime, so to speak?
DH: Well, I think... My dad was in a place where he wanted to retire, and he was getting older and starting to have some health problems. And the shop was very, very dysfunctional. We had, what I would call, warring factions. [chuckle] Even though there's only 17 employees at the time, there were definitely factions. And it was so dysfunctional. I think everybody thought, "Great, Dave's coming back, and he's gonna solve things according to the way I think it should be solved." Well, you have 17 different people saying that, you have 17 different opinions, and I couldn't please any of them. So I often say it was my own personal hell. It was so stressful. It turned into sabotage where people didn't like the changes I was trying to bring. They wanted the old system, the old culture. They wanted the quarter barrel of beer in the lunchroom. They wanted to have their pornography everywhere. They wanted to have just the way things always were, which was very, very unhealthy.
So in the first two years, golly! It was excruciating, hard, excruciatingly hard. We had three employees that staged a mutiny and started their own business underneath us, stole some computer records and did some other things. And I know we come back, we came back with this sense of zeal and vision, and God called us back here, but I don't think He often reveals to us how difficult it's gonna be until we get in the midst of it. So the two years turned into five, and five turned into 10, and I don't think it was until the 10-year mark that we started really feeling like, "Alright, we're really seeing some positive changes."
LA: How did you hold on to your sense of calling during that time? Or did you have doubts of, "Am I really supposed to be here? Is this really what God's calling me to do?"
DH: The doubts were non-stop. After the first few months, I remember my folks left for vacation one day, and they hadn't had a vacation for a long time. And my dad said, "Okay, you're in charge. We'll be back in a month." And things just fell apart. And I think that everybody was testing to see how I'd do and if I'd hold up under it. And I had one employee call another employee out in the parking lot to fight, and it was just chaos. And right in the midst of that, when I'm trying to mitigate all that, my dad happened to call and say, "Hey, how's it going?" [chuckle]
MR: Oh, my!
DH: And I said, "Dad, I don't know what to do." And I told the situation and he said, "You do this: Go out there and tell them, 'Get back to work now because I'm ticked.'" And so I had to rely on his authority a little bit. But that was just a little taste of how bad things would become. And so it was...Spiritually just holding on to faith and saying, "Lord, are you here? What are we going through?" And even today, I read Moses a lot, and I see what he went through as a leader. And Scripture has been really helpful to me because you can see yourself in so many of the Biblical characters, but yeah, there was a lot of doubt. There really was.
LA: There, it reminds me of the story where... You said God appointed Moses to do a job that he wasn't really prepared to do, leading all of God's people through the wilderness. And there's this moment in his story where his father-in-law comes out to see him, and his father-in-law's named Jethro. And I guess he's having the same kind of checking up on him moment that... That your dad had over the phone, and he's like, "Moses, what are you doing trying to get in the middle of everybody's fights?" This happens in Exodus 18:1-27, Moses' father-in-law, Jethro, comes and gives them some instructions on, "This is how you have to do leadership here. You can't be breaking up all the fights yourself. You have to be appointing people to judge over the people." And he gives him some very practical leadership advice. I've always loved that story in Scripture 'cause what it says to me is even when God gives you a calling to a particular career, it doesn't mean you're immediately good at it, and it doesn't mean you immediately know everything. [chuckle]
DH: Oh, I laugh 'cause you're so right. You are so... I was 29, and I looked back at the mistakes that I made since then over that time and... But the thing that God did for me is He provided me incredible mentors, three of them, in fact, that really walked through this whole journey with me, coaching me, encouraging me, saying, "Or maybe you should do this different, or that different." And I made a ton of mistakes, I really did. And I had my own anxiety issues, and I had my own anger issues. We had three sons then over the course of that time, and I was a stressed out new dad, and I'm trying to hold our marriage together. And it was so bad, and I'm very open about this 'cause I think people can relate and need to know the stories of each other. But at the 10-year mark, my wife had had enough, and she said, on a second honeymoon, which I finally gave her a real honeymoon, she told me later that she was gonna tell me on that trip that she couldn't take it anymore and that we needed to break up. And so that was the bottom, 10 years of a downward slide of trying to pull this and change the culture. And at that point, God just, I feel, really reached in and did another level of healing in me and in our marriage, 'cause we both brought junk to our marriage, but it's hard. It is really hard, sometimes, being, I think often or always, being obedient.
LA: So what did obedience look like in the depth of the difficult time in your work? I'm sure it looks different today, but... And I'll ask that next, but what did it look like in that time when things were so hard?
DH: I don't know if it's that different now as it was then because a big part of it was just getting up every morning and going to work and saying, "Okay, Lord, I don't know what's gonna happen tomorrow. I don't know what's gonna happen next week. But just today, help me to be respectful. Help me to not whine and complain, and be nervous and fearful, and go off on people. But help me today have an attitude of gratitude, have a positive mental attitude, to be honest with people, to be gracious, to show integrity, to have excellence, to trust You, to have peace that You're here, and don't allow my own anxieties and issues overrun what You're trying to do." And that's what I'm still working on now. And because we're in a business that a lot of our customers, they have breakdowns. We're in a gear business, so their machines break, they need it, they're down, they need a gear maybe sometimes, that same day. So it's a very unpredictable environment. It can be very stressful.
And you go to work and you... And I think we all experience it. You go to work and say, "Okay, this is what I'm gonna do today." [chuckle] And how many times does that not even come close? So in our environment, having so much stress, and then having the employee sabotage and not trust, and they have issues. The blue-collar world, I think, can be very cynical because we've all been burned working for the man, and the government often doesn't feel like our friend, big business doesn't feel like our friend. So it's hard getting a group of people together to trust each other and work with each other. So for me, every day obedience was saying, "Okay, what does it look like to be a follower of Jesus in this moment and the next moment?"
LA: So tell us what are the particular challenges that you feel happen in a blue-collar context or in managing blue-collar workers that maybe you wouldn't have if you are managing white-collar workers?
DH: That's a great question because I've worked in concrete, I've worked in plumbing, obviously, in the shop, I've worked on farms. And I've actually wrestled that question quite a bit. And I think that a lot of the blue-collar folks, you have generational issues, whether it's addiction issues or abuse issues, and all this baggage that gets carried forward. In a large group of our staff, and I think blue-collar, in general, they don't have the access or the privilege of perhaps going to higher education, or having counseling in their life, or having healthy influences in their life. And it's really a people group, I believe, that's been overlooked, taken advantage of, taken for granted. And this whole COVID thing has really, I think, elevated the role of blue-collar people because all of a sudden, people are asking who's essential. Well, a lot more of us are essential than I think the world realizes.
So I think the particular challenges are the level of cynicism among our staff and others, and even a level of brokenness that I don't think people really understand. I could go through our shop and other shops that I know, and I know people's issues, I know what they've been through. And it is staggering what they've had to overcome, and the lack of mentoring, the lack of people that trust them and believe in them, and recognizing their gifts and their talents, and how they have a place in the world. And they have not been affirmed. So when you haven't been affirmed, even from a child, you go to work and you feel like, "Well, I'm just a number. I'm just a piece of equipment that management's gonna take advantage of me." So building that trust among blue-collar folks is, I think, extremely difficult, but once you do, they will go to the end of the earth for you, and that's what I feel about my staff now.
LA: And I should say, I grew up in a home with education in a white-collar family and certainly, we have all those issues in my family as well, of brokenness and addiction and... But we're just a little bit more adept at hiding it because we have, with a lot of generational privilege to smooth it over. So what happens when you grow up in a family with more generational wealth is you get more do-overs when you fall down, or have a failure, or have a failure at school, or have a failure in business. There's a bigger support network that comes to pick you up that doesn't happen with people without as much privilege. So it's that the lack of privilege in those people's lives makes the effect of brokenness so much more detrimental.
DH: That's a great perspective 'cause I've been trying to understand that and articulate that, 'cause I think you're right. When your brokenness comes out in a less privileged place, whether it's an immigrant worker or whoever, there's not that safety net. There's not that opportunity to do over, whether it's bankruptcy or getting evicted. You don't have that family support system, often. And so thank you for saying that, 'cause it helps me understand that even a little bit more.
MR: Dave, I love what you were describing, and Leah, that's great input, too. I'm curious, in the work context, Dave, obviously, your folks are there to do the work and produce an excellent product and be a good team. Are you able to in any way address or provide support for some of the things that you've talked about in terms of some of the struggles and challenges that would be there for the people in your workplace?
DH: Absolutely, but it takes a while to get them to trust you, to allow you to help them, right? So a big part... One of my mentors, he described my leadership style as very confessional. And I don't know where I got that, but I apologize a lot, and I share my story a lot. And even with the students that I work with in high school, with the at-risk students, I find that if I can be vulnerable and share my story, it gives people permission to share their story. So when I share my issues with alcohol in the past and the demons still pop up sometimes, it gives some of those guys in my shop to say, "You know what? Yeah, me too." And so once that starts surfacing and they know that I really do love them, I trust them, I care for them, then they start coming up with their issues. And we'll help with counseling, we'll send them to someone, we'll... Financially, whatever we can do. It becomes a very much of a pastoral role in this blue-collar shop.
LA: So you mentioned taking this career quiz, and it came back that you're uniquely qualified to run a small family business. You know, the experiences that you have in your life are part of your make-up, and you say in your book that this is... They're not adjacent to your calling. It's not that your calling is somewhere else or different, but really the experiences that God has put in your path are part of the way God's calling you. Do you think that might be a hard pill to swallow for people who are in a job that feels difficult?
DH: Wow, that's a great question. I think it's difficult for all of us living in a very, very broken world. And I think too often as Christians, we think, "Okay, the spiritual life is out there somewhere," whether it's in church or Wednesday night or whatever. But to look at work, the theology of work and recognize that God is a worker. He didn't have a weekend. In Genesis 1, it was six days, and then He rested only one. We think we should have two. But I've come to view work as a tremendous gift, and you two know this more than anybody, that we are called to work and yes, the fall screwed things up, with the thorns and the thistles. But I've come to believe that the workplace... And Eugene Peterson obviously said it in a phenomenal way, that the workplace... How does that quote go? That the workplace is... He contends is the primary place for spiritual formation. So when we start recognizing that at work, that is... I would contend that's when we're closest to God in a lot of ways, because that's when we're expressing His image, our creativity, our tasks, our gifts, our talents, that's where they get expressed, 40, 50, 60 hours a week.
So you understand that and then you go, "Hold it. If I'm called to work but I'm in a very, very broken environment in the job situation that is so oppressive and so difficult, this couldn't possibly be God's will that I'm here." And I go the other way saying, "The more broken the situation is, the more we're called to be in that situation." And I recently just completed N.T. Wright's book The Day the Revolution Began, and he really helped me understand that... And this is not a popular thing to say, but Jesus calls us to suffer. And in different environments, we often just don't come and be victorious all of a sudden. We have to be humble and take people's sometimes verbal abuse or in very difficult job...I had a concrete boss who just swore like a drunken sailor, and just was a horrible person, constantly. In other jobs I've had... And I keep taking away from them like, "Lord, why did you have me in that situation?" And I don't wanna use cliches, but maybe I'm the only Bible that that guy was ever gonna read. And we have this thing that I call a theology of presence, that if the spirit of God is in us, when we step into a room, that whole room changes, that business changes, the dynamics, relational dynamics change because the Spirit of God is in us and working through us.
So, I'm not one that says, "Hey, if you're in a miserable job, you're supposed to stay there forever," but I would challenge people to have a different perspective that the bigger the mess, maybe the more you're needed.
MR: Wow, that's so great. Dave, I just wanna underscore something, and it's gonna be clear to our listeners anyway, but you were talking about work as a gift. I think it's very encouraging, certainly for folk who are in a hard place of work, and then it's also a great reminder to white-collar people that it's not just white-collar work that can be a gift. I mean, you're actually making, which is what God did in creation, and that's... So if anything, you're almost closer to the core work in a way, and I just wanna underscore that 'cause I think that's such an important message.
DH: Thank you. Yeah.
LA: What I heard from your answer, Dave, is that sometimes it's subtle. It's subtle where God's spirit is in our work and it takes us paying attention. You mentioned having an attitude of gratitude or changing our attitude, but I think sometimes we can fall into a fallacy of, if God called me to it, and I'm obedient and do it, then it's all gonna be hearts and flowers and roses. And when I get there, the seas are gonna part. Everything is gonna work out just by showing up, and that is so rarely true in any working environment, even if we have work that we love and goes well. Not every day and not every moment is a walk in the park. And speaking to the subtlety of finding God's spirit in our work, you quote this verse from Luke Chapter 17, Verse 20 to 21, where the Pharisees asked Jesus how they would know when the Kingdom of God is coming. And what Jesus says is, "The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed, nor will they say, Look, here it is, there it is. For in fact, the Kingdom of God is among you."
And I feel really clearly from hearing you talk about your work, that I could see you going onto the shop floor and talking to your employees, and the kingdom of God is there among you. But I don't know if at the beginning, you would have seen it, any more than I can deal with the issues in my job and imagine that the kingdom of God is there.
DH: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I think if you came into our shop now and you saw our employees talk to each other, you would see the kingdom of God. And it took me a long time to understand that the kingdom of God comes incrementally. It's in those moment-by moment relational... What I call relational transactions that we have hundreds of times throughout the day. How I look at someone, how I greet somebody, how I respond to a question. And I also talk about in Matthew, Jesus says, Seek God's kingdom and his righteousness. Well, Dallas Willard interpreted that as true inner goodness. So I think the goodness... And this is something I've really been researching and camping out on for the last few years is that God's kingdom was about goodness. And goodness can be expressed and experienced in just infinite ways, little tiny ways. And there's power in that. So for me, when I go into a situation to recognize the power or the kingdom of God, it's those little goodness things. I see how guys smile at each other, how they treat each other with respect. And when those things keep happening, they compound. It's like compounding interest and they build on each other. And slowly but surely, I wake up one day and our culture is completely different. And like, "Oh, Lord, what happened? How did you do that?"
LA: Well, we didn't let you finish your story. So tell us, how has the culture of your company changed?
DH: Well, as I said, at 10 years, I had reached bottom and Lord, what are you doing? Why are we still here? And we started... And I realized I need to start hiring for character. We can teach skills, but I need to find those people that are committed, humble, they wanna be here. And slowly but surely, I think we started gaining momentum and getting the majority of people that started to reflect. There's different studies that show that when leadership in any organization changes, and the more dramatic the culture changes, the more people are gonna be turned over. So you're gonna lose as much as 50, 70... I've been in situations, I'm seeing 90% of the staff leaves for different reasons. Maybe they didn't fit, they left on their own volition or whatever. So our culture started to change where some folks retired, some of my dad's old drinking buddies retired and moved on. But I started to choose and have a say in who are the people that I wanted to be here. And again, slowly... Well, in the first year, my dad finally removed the quarter barrel. I didn't do that on my own. He removed it.
I made it uncomfortable for people to stick around and drink from 1:30 in the afternoon until whenever. So those are some obvious things. But the real powerful things to me was when I started to see how people treated each other and how they started to trust me, how they started to open up about their own vulnerabilities and really starting to work together. But it took a long time. And when people say, "Well, I've only been in the job for a year or five years," I contend that sometimes takes my situation 20 years to earn that street credibility. Where, not only in my shop but in my community and my industry, people say, "Oh, you've been here for a while, you must... You got a little perseverance, so maybe there's something about what you're doing, it really makes sense."
LA: Yeah, I want it to be real quick. I wanna...
DH: Me too. [chuckle]
LA: I wanna snap my fingers and we have to remember, we were talking about Moses earlier. He was in the desert leading that group, 40 years.
MR: Yeah. One of the things I'd love for you to talk a little bit about, Dave, is your stuff on being a craftsman of character and the craftsman code. But before that, I love what you were saying about Jesus as a craftsman. Could you, just for the sake of our listeners, talk a little bit about that?
DH: Absolutely. So often we look at Jesus and other characters in the Bible and they're so holy. Well, you don't have just Peter and tax collectors and fishermen and all that, but Jesus himself, when you dig into His life. I think the Greek term, and correct me if I'm wrong, is tekton, which is not just a carpenter, he could actually be a contractor. He could do boats, stone masonry. He could take on an entire building project, build a house. He could do the mason work on a well. So I just think it's incredible that God would say, "Okay, I'm gonna send my Son to really be a craftsman and work with the stuff of Earth to convert it into stuff that's usable." In fact, in the Old Testament, the only character that's said to be "filled with the Spirit of God" is Bezalel, I think in Exodus. And he's a craftsman and he was given skills and wisdom and all sorts of things in stone work and metal work and so on. And then he was given an assistant, and they were gifted to teach others how to do this. So I look at that and I'm going, "Hold it. Why have we denigrated blue collar work when our master is the ultimate craftsman and He's our example and our model?"
MR: I know, I think that's so wise. And it's compounded by the fact that if you kind of figure the way Jesus' life went, he probably spent about 75% of his working life doing the craftsman thing, and about 25% of his working life doing the Messianic ministry thing. So in other words, God in human flesh spent most of his professional life, if you were, most of his working life, doing crafts tasks. And I love your description, too, 'cause you're right. He was a small business man, is what he was. Isn't that amazing?
DH: And I find so much comfort in that. In the book, I take creative license to think about what he went through on a day-to-day basis. He shows up to the job site and the supplies weren't there, and somebody says, "Hey, I told you I was gonna be there." And the example I use in the book is, when Jesus says, "Let your yes be yes and your no be no," I really believe that came out of him as a contractor. Because anybody that's had to get a plumber or electrician or somebody to pour a slab or whatever, they don't show up. They make promises they don't keep. And I think it just ticked him off. [laughter] So he said, "You know what? If you say you're gonna have supplies there, if you say you're gonna complete that job, by golly, just do it. Don't make excuses. Let your yes by yes and your no be no." And as a manufacturer, I really relate to that.
LA: Tell us about your Craftsman with Character movement and the work that you're doing through that.
DH: Yeah, that's a whole other fascinating story, it's changed our shop more than anything. So anybody in manufacturing and in the trades knows that we are in a hiring crisis, and we've been in this for decades, and it's gotten into an absolute crisis stage. I was on a call yesterday with 25 business people that are saying, "We're gonna be out of business if we don't figure out how to hire people." In our county alone, small county, Rock County, they said in the next five years, there'll be 20,000 jobs that will not be filled because of the job shortage. So we’ve sent a message to our entire populate... And it's not just the US, it's global, that if you're in high school, you need to go get a four-year college degree or else you're second class. Or go into a tech school, as Mike Rowe would say, as a consolation prize. So we've sent this really strong message that, "Yeah. Don't go into the trades. Don't go into manufacturing." So most shops that I know of, the average age is 50, 55, 57, and so there's an aging demographic that's putting a lot of businesses at risk. So that's one issue I've had to deal with in the business. What are we gonna do? How are we gonna get young people in the trades?
I went to our small, our high school locally here a number of years ago. They asked me to come in and help resurrect their tech-ed department, and I went, "Oh my gosh, this is the same equipment that used to be... I used to run 20 years ago or 30 years ago, subbed over in a corner." And then I looked around at the kids and I went, "Those are me." That's who I was. I was one of those shop kids... I call them the lost shop kids that we didn't do well in school. Shop classes are usually at the end of a long hall or some other part of the school, and we learned with our hands. And we have a hard time sitting in a traditional classroom, reciting and learning and reading. So I started putting the two and two together, going, "Hold it. There's a whole group of young people who are really lost. I mean, they have no sense of purpose. They're not going to college. They don't know that the trades and manufacturing has an incredible career path for them with the dignity and respect and a sense of purpose." So my doctorate was saying, How can we come up with a course that puts the two together? We expose kids to the world of manufacturing and also gives them a world view that says, "You know what? You're important and you matter."
So my local high school, they said, "Absolutely. Yeah, let's try it and give it a go." So we developed the course where four days a week, the kids job shadow, and they get mentored by people that were like them when they were younger. And then one day a week, we get them in the classroom and we explore the worldview, what character qualities, what virtues do you need to be successful in life? And those two factors, mentors, giving them and teach them a sense of purpose in a relationship of a community, and then giving them that worldview of truth that says... And I have what I call the Craftsman Code. The first one is, I am not the center of the universe. [chuckle] It's just really fun to teach to a sixteen-year-old...
LA: I wish my kids could learn that, I have to say.
DH: And then the second one is, I don't know everything nor nearly as much as I think I do. [chuckle] So we make the kids actually stand up and recite that, but then as you go down through the code, number four is, the world needs me, and there's dignity and respect in knowing my trade. And we really build into these students that, "Yeah, the world does need you. You are unique. You're gifted, you were put here for a purpose." And that whole program that we teach here in our shop has literally changed our culture and our shop in a very, very powerful way.
LA: I mean reading about this program in your book and thinking what it must be like for a young person to go through this program, not only to be learning a useful skill, but to be learning that they are valued and that their work can contribute value to the world around them is such an indication of the unique calling that God put in you, Dave, that couldn't have been fulfilled through anyone else and only happened through your obedience to that call, even though reluctantly.
DH: And I agree, and I wouldn't have known that if I would have bailed, the numerous times I tried to bail. [chuckle] There's so many times I said, "Lord, I'm done. Please show me something else." And every time I would try to leave, the Lord would say, "No, no." And He closed the door and, "You need to stay." And now looking back, I see the wisdom of it all because I am having more fun and having more of a sense of purpose, and just seeing Him work on a daily basis than I ever thought imaginable. In Ephesians, "Unto Him who can do immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine," and He has definitely done that in our business.
LA: Wow. Dave, it's been such a great pleasure speaking with you.
DH: Well, thanks for letting me ramble and share our story because I just want other folks to know that blue-collar work really can change lives and communities in the world. It's not just a subtitle of a book. And I think when we look at small business people, my passion is to say, "Do you recognize the power of the influence that you have in your corner of the world? You are the lifeblood and the foundation of your community." And once you understand and tap into that of who God's called you to be, your life takes on a whole new realm of purpose and significance.
MR: That's so great. And I appreciate your saying it's not just a subtitle. However, I want our listeners to know that your book is available and it does... It's called Good Work, but its subtitle is How Blue Collar Business Can Change Lives, Community and the World. And so even if you're not a blue-collar worker, this is a really important book. And I'm just... I'm so glad you wrote it. And so, yeah, so I just wanna make sure folks know that they can get that book and it would be an important book to read.
DH: And I appreciate that. And if I could add one more thing, we actually have a website for our Craftsman with Character course, and it's called craftsmanwithcharacter.org. I give away the curriculum. I'm helping other school districts, other businesses implement the program, and I know I'm opening myself up to say this, but if there's anything that I can do to help in your city, in your business, feel free to reach out to me. 'Cause I seriously say, "This is my life passion, and whatever we can do to help, to God be the glory of it."
LA: Wow. Dave, thank you so much.
DH: Thanks for having me. It's been a real privilege. Thank you so much.