Editors’ note: The weekly TGCvocations column asks practitioners about their jobs and how they integrate their faith and work. Interviews are conducted and condensed by Bethany L. Jenkins, director of TGC’s Every Square Inch.
Matt Franciscois the campus director of Campus Outreach (CO) at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, where he works to build Christ-like leaders through evangelism and discipleship. He grew up in Marietta, Georgia, and graduated from Samford, where he met his wife, Erin. They have a daughter, Sarah, and a child on the way in December.
How did you come to do this work?
When I was a student at Samford, I saw several of my friends who were uninterested in spiritual things come to faith in Christ through the work of CO. At the same time, I was trying to grow and share my own faith in my fraternity, but I was disheartened by the lack of fruit I saw. I started to get involved with CO in part to grow in evangelism, and eventually I came on staff because I saw how much I personally needed to grow as a godly man and as a leader. Also, I was excited by their mission to equip laborers for the lost world—for ministry and the marketplace.
Why did you decide to work with college students?
College is a pivotal time. In many ways, students’ time in college sets the trajectory for the rest of their lives. During college, students are making important decisions, discovering who they are, and asking big questions about purpose, meaning, reality, and significance. It is also a time when community is usually engaging and accessible. A relationship that might take two years to develop in a marketplace or neighborhood might only take two weeks on a college campus.
What are your fears for college students today?
My fear is that, in general, students don’t know how to be still before the Lord, wrestle with Scripture, and struggle with God in prayer because they’re addicted to amusement and cannot disengage from technology. I’m also troubled that, when most students talk about figuring out God’s will, they really mean wanting some sort of sign—total inner peace, writing in the sky—instead of becoming a person who knows, pursues, and reflects God. I fear they’ll drift through life and be unable to say that they “ran the race” to win, simply because they didn’t take the time to consider what it would mean to do so.
How do you speak into and heal this brokenness?
These students—like the rest of us—want to be a part of something greater than themselves. They want to know the why of their lives so that they can endure almost any how. So at Campus Outreach, we talk about God’s grand, beautiful, and glorious plan of redemption. In relationship, we wrestle through how our individual lives—academics, relationships, extracurriculars, careers—are a part of that grander narrative. In my work, I’ve been more focused on helping students understand eschatology than I anticipated because it’s a big part of the why. I want these students to catch God’s heart of reconciliation until they’re overwhelmed.
You are successful at your job if . . . what?
CO’s mission statement is, “Glorifying God by Building Laborers on the Campus for the Lost World.” As I work toward this goal, I pray that my students would be bold, broken-hearted servants wherever they go and whatever they do—bold in confessing their sin and sharing the gospel, and broken for the world. I’m successful if they graduate knowing that their joy is found in seeking God’s glory and in loving others as Christ has loved them. Whether they’re working as accountants, pastors, or nurses, I long for them to embody passages like Jeremiah 29, Philippians 2, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel—passages that show deep humility and bold cultural engagement.
Whatever else you’re doing today, you’re waiting—waiting for your future with God in glory. But how are you waiting? Paul says Christians “wait eagerly” for the new creation (Romans 8:23). We “groan inwardly” because we’re not there yet. That means being excited but groaning, positive yet dissatisfied, optimistic while restless.
But hold on. Dissatisfied? Restless? Doesn’t the Bible tell us to be content? After all, Paul said: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11).
How does restlessness fit with contentment? Do they fit at all? They must—because one of the great Bible passages on restlessness comes just before Paul’s testimony that he has learned contentment in all circumstances. Paul himself saw no contradiction between feeling restless for the future and content in the present . . . at the same time. Here’s how he spoke of his future resurrection life:
I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me . . . one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)
What is going on here? How do these things fit together?
What Restlessness Is (and Isn’t)
Restlessness is a passion for our future in the new creation. Restlessness is aligning our identities, thoughts, actions, and goals with that future. Restlessness is the attitude of not settling for now.
Forgetting what lies behind, Paul is “straining toward” what lies ahead. That phrase is drawn from the Greek athletic games. If you’ve ever watched a 100-meter sprint, you know the all-out effort and intense forward-focus Paul describes. When a great sprinter comes racing down the track, leaning to dip for the line, he’s not thinking about how well he came out of the blocks, or what a great first ten meters he ran. Every fiber is focused forward. This is the way Paul lived.
The end of his race is the return of Jesus, final salvation, the resurrection of his body. That’s what Paul strained forward to reach. He sometimes thought of his past (see 1 Corinthians 15:9), but he refused to rest on past accomplishments or wallow in past defeats. His future in the new creation defined and oriented his life. That’s what he meant by saying he does “one thing.” Of course he doesn’t stop working, eating, reading, praying, preaching, laughing, and so on. “One thing” means the North Star orienting his present is his future. Paul undertook daily tasks with a view to accomplishing his aim of reaching the finish line.
In other words, Paul didn’t settle for now. Paul lived in the present, but he didn’t live for the present. He worked hard in the present, but he lived for the future.
This was the secret of Paul’s contentment. Biblical restlessness does not undermine contentment: it undergirds contentment. Because Paul didn’t settle for the present, because his eggs weren’t in that basket, the present could not control him or determine his inner attitude or well-being. His circumstances neither destroyed nor propped up his contentment.
Living for Today or Tomorrow?
This way of life isn’t just for Paul: “All of us . . . who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you” (Philippians 3:15). So what do we live for? Past, present, or future? What might God make clear to you—even as you read these words?
Most of us find it all too easy to live focused on the past. Perhaps we linger on past defeats (mistakes made, wrongs suffered, opportunities missed) and become bitter. Or perhaps we lean on past victories (degrees earned, relationships enjoyed, accomplishments achieved) and become boring.
Or we live for the present. If things are going well at work or home, we feel good about ourselves and happy with the world. If things are going poorly—the sink clogs again, the child throws a tantrum in public again, we fail to meet the sales quota again—we feel bad about ourselves and angry with the world. Either way, we’re settling for now, letting it define us, for good or for bad.
This problem prompts us to ask ourselves some challenging questions.
Here’s the first: “Have I settled for now at my job?” Are all my eggs (self-worth, happiness, feelings of success) in the “now” basket? When we forget the future, we may begin to compete in an unhealthy way with co-workers, forgetting that our worth isn’t at stake in how well we succeed on the job. If work goes poorly, or if work goes away altogether due to a job loss, forgetters of the future will complain and eventually despair. Christian restlessness as we move through our workday changes the way we work. We’re content even when work is frustrating, our boss unfair, and our co-workers annoying.
Here is the second challenging question: “Have I settled for now in parenting?” Do we despair that God hasn’t given us the perfect kids we’d imagined parenting? Do we despair that God hasn’t given us any children at all? If I’m honest, I have to admit that my parenting of my three young children is too often focused exclusively on the present, as I respond in the moment to my children’s behavior (whether good or bad). If you plotted my happiness/contentment levels and my children’s behavior on the same graph, they’d often correspond closely! It’s difficult to keep the bigger picture of their eternal future (not just their present behavior) in view. But as a vision of biblical restlessness has gripped me, I’ve begun to pray differently for my children. In addition to praying for their daily needs and struggles, I now ask God to prepare them to live forever in the new creation. Everything else I do as a parent is to be oriented around that goal.
You will know what other challenging questions you must ask yourself. We are all different, with different characters and enjoying or enduring different circumstances. So the temptation to locate our contentment in an aspect of our life right now will look different for all of us; but it will be there. There may well be a question you need to ask yourself, where you complete this sentence: “Have I settled for now in . . . ?” The way you and I finish that sentence shows us the part of our life where we need to let our future begin to affect our present; where our place in the new creation should transform our view of our life right now.
Have you ever wondered what led the wise men to undertake their long, dangerous journey to Bethlehem? What led them to believe that the particular star they followed would lead them to a great king?
What most people know about the Magi comes from popular traditions and Christmas carols, few of which are supported by the biblical text. Matthew does not suggest the Magi were kings, he does not say they were three in number, nor is it likely they were from the Orient.
Who then were these Magi, and where did they originate? Craig Chester, past president of the Monterey Institute for Research in Astronomy gives the following description of the Magi:
The group of Magi in question came “from the East.” They might have been Zoroastrians, Medes, Persians, Arabs, or even Jews. They probably served as court advisors, making forecasts and predictions for their royal patrons based on their study of the stars, about which they were quite knowledgeable. Magi often wandered from court to court, and it was not unusual for them to cover great distances in order to attend the birth or crowning of a king, paying their respects and offering gifts. It is not surprising, therefore, that Matthew would mention them as validation of Jesus’ kingship, or that Herod would regard their arrival as a very serious matter.
The Magi were important, powerful people of their day. The mention of their visit to Jerusalem was Matthew’s way of securing the testimony of top scientific authorities to authenticate the royal birth of Jesus.
There are many references in ancient literature to Magi visiting kings and emperors. For example, Tiridates, king of Armenia, led a procession of Magi to pay homage to Nero in Rome in AD 66. Josephus records that Magi also visited Herod in about 10 B.C. A visit by the Magi to pay homage to a newborn king would not have appeared unusual to the original readers of Matthew’s gospel.
It would not, however, have gone unnoticed. In fact, Matthew 2:3 says that not only was Herod disturbed but also “all Jerusalem with him.” The Magi were such important individuals; they probably traveled with a large entourage that included soldiers, even a small army for protection. So it should not be surprising that Herod and the citizens of Jerusalem were troubled when they arrived.
What Led the Magi to Jerusalem?
The Magi must have seen an unmistakably clear astronomical/astrological message to urge them on such a long, dangerous journey. In Matthew 2:2, the Magi indicated that they saw something in the night sky that was so significant it convinced them to make the trip of more than a thousand miles to Jerusalem to look for this new king.
How could seeing “signs in the sky” inform the Magi that a king of the Jews had been born?
The answer may take us back more than 500 years to the work of one of God’s faithful servants during the Babylonian exile. We read that King Nebuchadnezzar assigned Daniel to the high office of “chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers, and diviners” (Daniel 5:11). In other words, Daniel was appointed chief of the Magi.
The Magi of the first century would have most certainly studied the writing of Daniel and possibly other Jewish writings with which Daniel would have been associated, such as the book of Isaiah. This connection between Daniel and Magi may help to explain why the Magi in question 600 years later expected a Jewish king to arrive in Judea near the end of the first century.
In fact, there is evidence that Daniel’s prophecy of the coming of a powerful Jewish king was well known to many in the ancient world in the first century. Both the Jewish historian Josephus and the Roman historian Tacitus wrote about a widely held belief based on ancient writings among the Jews of a great world ruler that would be from Judea. It is likely therefore that the Magi followed the star based on their study of Daniel’s writings.
Because Daniel was faithful in his work, God used him to bring the news of the birth of Christ to both his fellow Israelites and even the some of the most powerful, knowledgeable, and influential Gentiles of the day.
For the Good of the City
In Jeremiah 29, we find part of Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Babylon: “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).
These exiles, including Daniel, had seen the destruction of their homeland, the death of their family members, and the demolishing of their holiest place of worship. It must have been hard to work for the good of a city that had destroyed his homeland, yet Daniel obeyed God’s call and became “chief of the Magi” and an adviser to the king.
In a way, we too are in “exile,” for we live in a fallen, sinful world and look forward to when Christ will return and restore it. But rather than sit passively, we actively engage in the world because God calls us to “work in the peace and prosperity of the city” here and now.
With Christmas passed and the business year about to start again it is good to be reminded about the effect of our work. God calls us to be faithful in the here and now, even when we can’t always see the result of what we do. We have no idea how God will use it.
Take the story of Edward Kimball, a Sunday school teacher. Concerned for the spiritual wellbeing of his pupils, he never gave up, even though the task of teaching a group of rowdy boys could be mundane and difficult.
It turns out that through Kimball’s teaching, evangelist D. L. Moody came to Christ. In his lifetime, Moody led thousands to Christ, including Wilbur Chapman. Chapman himself became an evangelist who converted the famous preacher Billy Sunday. During his many evangelistic meetings, Sunday led Mordecai Ham to accept the gospel. And who did Ham reach? His preaching led to the conversion of Billy Graham, who preached to more people than any other individual and led untold thousands to Christ.
Today, few people remember Edward Kimball. Yet because of his faithfulness and tenacity, God used his efforts to set off an incredible chain of events that saved millions.
The story of the star of Bethlehem and the Magi does not start in Matthew 2. It extends hundreds of years back to the Babylonian exile where Daniel faithfully answered God’s call to work and engage in the culture—even in the most difficult of times. If we are faithful in this same call, who knows how God will use what we do today to further his kingdom tomorrow.
Earlier this fall The Gospel Coalition launched a new faith and work initiative, Every Square Inch, directed by entrepreneur and writer Bethany Jenkins. Every Square Inch aims to help local churches leaders and ordinary Christians alike to see every aspect of their lives, especially their work, under the lordship of Christ.
Jenkins received her JD from Columbia Law School and founded The Park Forum, a nonprofit that seeks to plant urban professional Christians in the Bible daily. Originally from Florida, Jenkins has spent the past ten years in New York City, where she attends Redeemer Presbyterian Church. I corresponded with Jenkins about her new role at TGC, what inspired it, and what she and other TGC staff hope to accomplish with this new initiative.
What does your new role at TGC entail?
I’m thankful for Ben Peays and Collin Hansen, who lead TGC and its editorial team with an entrepreneurial spirit that enables all of us to have broad parameters within which to fulfill our roles. In directing Every Square Inch, I hope to feature practitioner stories (like illustrator Amanda Geisinger), to focus on faith and work at industry levels, and to publish thoughtful writers under our new Crossway imprint.
The title of the initiative is intriguing. What inspired “Every Square Inch”?
“Every Square Inch” is a reference to Abraham Kuyper’s famous quote, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
The good news of the Bible is not only individual forgiveness but the renewal of the whole creation. God put humanity in the garden to cultivate the material world for his own glory and for the flourishing of nature and the human community. The Spirit of God not only converts individuals (e.g., John 16:8) but also renews and cultivates the face of the earth (e.g., Gen 1:2; Psalm 104:30). Therefore Christians glorify God not only through the ministry of the Word, but also through their vocations of agriculture, art, business, government, scholarship—all for God’s glory and the furtherance of the public good. Too many Christians have learned to seal off their faith-beliefs from the way they work in their vocation. The gospel is seen as a means of finding individual peace and not as the foundation of a worldview—a comprehensive interpretation of reality affecting all that we do. But we have a vision for a church that equips its people to think out the implications of the gospel on how we do carpentry, plumbing, data-entry, nursing, art, business, government, journalism, entertainment, and scholarship. Such a church will not only support Christians’ engagement with culture, but will also help them work with distinctiveness, excellence, and accountability in their trades and professions. Developing humane yet creative and excellent business environments out of our understanding of the gospel is part of the work of bringing a measure of healing to God’s creation in the power of the Spirit. Bringing Christian joy, hope, and truth to embodiment in the arts is also part of this work. We do all of this because the gospel of God leads us to it, even while we recognize that the ultimate restoration of all things awaits the personal and bodily return of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Why do you believe this is important for TGC and evangelicalism?
On Sunday, the church is “the gathered church.” We worship together, we partake in communion together, and we hear the preaching of the Word together. This community is essential: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8), and, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together” (Hebrews 10:24-25). From Monday to Saturday, however, we are “the scattered church.” We work: “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work” (Exodus 20:9). Work, therefore, is one of our greatest opportunities to love our neighbors—to create culture for the common good, to be honest and excellent in our projects, and to share the reason for the hope that we have.
Who is this initiative geared to/for?
Every Square Inch has two audiences: (1) pastors who want to be better equipped in their theology of work, and (2) practitioners who want to re-imagine their own work in light of the gospel.
Besides this important work at TGC, you also run a nonprofit. Tell us about The Park Forum.
The Park Forum, founded in 2009, is a New York based nonprofit that seeks to plant the urban church in the Word daily by creating daily devotionals and hosting Bible listening events. It gets its name from our tagline: “As the Park Is to the City so the Word Is to Life.” Our daily devotional blog is called “843 Acres,” which is the size of Central Park.
Along with your other work, you are working on a book. What is it about?
I am working on my first book project, Having All That Matters, which is a faith-based contribution to the lean-in/have-it-all discussion.
Does the book have much connection with your new role with TGC?
It does not have a direct connection, but I am asking a lot of the same questions that Every Square Inch will consider, e.g., What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to work? What is the meaning of success?
What do you hope readers will walk away with after reading your book?
I hope they walk away with a robust understanding of self-giving love as the primary virtue and, ideally, that the embodiment of that type of love is Jesus.
Where can we find Every Square Inch?
As we build content, articles will be tagged “faith and work.” Eventually, we plan to build a more robust online home for the initiative within TGC’s platform.
Norman Rockwell was horrified when a fellow illustrator suggested that their craft was a way to just make a living—”You do your job, you get your check, and nobody thinks it’s art.” He replied, “Oh no no no. How can you say that? No man with a conscience can just bat out illustrations. He’s got to put all of his talent, all of his feelings into them.”
Illustrators are image-makers. Their craft employs the imagination to create the visual equivalent of a verbal idea. When illustrators pick up their markers and draw “good” pictures, they bear the image of God as Creator. I recently corresponded with Amanda Geisinger, an Emmy Award-winning illustrator and interactive designer, currently on staff at Nickelodeon in New York City. We talked about how illustrations were a part of her journey from atheism to Christianity and about how her faith intersects with her work.
When did you first become interested in illustration and design?
I seem to have come pre-programmed with a super strong appetite for creating, which is odd, given that I was born blind. Fortunately, with time and a slew of surgeries, I gradually gained enough eyesight that my lifelong dream of becoming a visually impaired visual artist wasn’t so absurd. I marched merrily off to college to study design, the major I had declared to my parents in kindergarten.
How were illustrations a part of your coming to faith?
When I graduated from art school, I fell into editing and production design for Nickelodeon Magazine‘s comic books. I knew very little about comics going in, and yet I was given the amazing opportunity to be involved in every step of the comic creation process with some of the best artists and editors in the field. The work I was seeing happen on a daily basis was so extraordinary (and so novel an art form to me) that I couldn’t help but to start experimenting on my own with my newfound knowledge.
It just so happened that at the time I was exploring something else for the first time—Christianity. As an angry atheist who grew up completely outside the church, I was encountering an overwhelming amount of information that was super weird, generally incomprehensible, and extremely frustrating. Without realizing what was happening, I started processing this new world, in part, through my comics.
My distaste for this God-I-wasn’t-sure-existed was pretty evident in those early wanderings. He showed up on the scene as a sullen, angry looking cloud who perpetually glared out of his furrowed brow with a frown (although I did give him the benefit of occasionally having a sense of humor).
They’re not comics in the traditional sense, in that they usually aren’t trying to be funny or clever. I was mostly interested in the process of creating my own highly efficient, clear visual language. The first drawings were just responses to things I encountered in church. I was also doing a ton of reading and note taking at the time. I kept a list of things that weren’t necessarily compelling arguments for the existence of a God, but were things that I felt were not being successfully refuted by my compadres on Team Atheism. I started to accompany those with drawings, too.
Eventually, though, Cloud-God and Nail-Holes-in-His-Hands-Jesus were not necessarily appealing, but there were enough of these notes that I was ready to concede that the logical bet was that it was more likely than not that Jesus had literally risen from the dead. Sitting at home one night with that little notebook, I made the decision to switch cosmic teams.
Not much later Nickelodeon “exited the print industry,” and our entire department was laid off. And as I left the world of print and comics at Nick Magazine for the world of interactive design at Nick Digital, and put away the notebook and picked up the Bible, I put the cap on my markers for a while. I’d occasionally draw, but for the most part I had lost interest in the visual processing.
But because I think visually rather than in words, these little pieces were actually pretty helpful in enhancing my comprehension and retention of what I was encountering. However, it wasn’t me who noticed this. I was seeing a counselor at the time, and she asked me if I might meditate on Psalm 139 in pictures. I agreed to try.
It was here that cartoon Amanda appeared on the scene. For the first time, I was starting to explore what it meant for me to have a relationship with this character I was trying to understand.
I drew every verse, multiple times and ways, trying to understand every possible way each one could be represented visually.
The exercise helped me understand, spend time with, and think out the implications of what I was reading as I wandered through more of the Bible. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I can see now that the more than 420 drawings helped me to document the progression of my conception of God’s character. As you follow cartoon Amanda through her adventures, you can see God’s character softening. You can see cloud-god start to act more like the real God.
Three years in, cloud-god finally cracked his first smile.
Jesus started showing up more, and he got a smile, too.
Gradually, cloud-god’s fierce brow started to soften. And then he became empathetic. He delighted in me. He grieved with me. And I guess it was not really cloud-god that was softening.
So essentially, I found illustrations to be a language that helped me explore the claims of Christianity, and then the character of God, the practice of prayer, and the discipline of meditation. It helped me not only with my comprehension, but also my affections. I don’t know if I will always find it this useful, but for now I’m keeping my markers handy.
Did your work (or how you approach your work) change after you became a Christian? If so, how?
Losing my dream job shortly after I became a Christian was a hard-and-fast lesson about attaching my hopes to my career instead of Christ. But shortly thereafter I landed my present gig, which I’m pretty sure is as close to an ideal work environment as you can get. I respect and enjoy all my colleagues (the combination of talent and character on our team is somehow extraordinary), our department takes seriously the issue of work-life balance (very rare for New York City), and, because we make stuff for kids, the integrity level of the content we produce is generally pretty high. I haven’t encountered many situations where my ideals blatantly clash with what is happening in front of me.
The dangers of being too proud of your skill seem pretty obvious to a lot of people, but one of the less obvious temptations I see in the field of design, which I really fell into hard in art school, is pride in your formally cultivated taste. In order to refine my visual discernment skills and help me understand the rules behind what makes things aesthetically pleasing, I was taught how to recognize, diagnose, and fix bad design. As a highly analytical person, I easily got caught in an incessantly critical visual mindset that I somewhere along the way lost the capacity to shut down. But, unexpectedly, I also completely lost my ability to enjoy things that actually were beautiful. Also, when you’ve got a huge gap between your taste and your skill (which I don’t think is uncommon) and excessive confidence in your taste, you tend to be devastated by all of the work you do because it never lives up. It took realizing that I had turned into something of a pride-monster and a pretty long time of deliberately choosing to focus on beauty rather than blemishes to get me some of my interest in art-seeing and art-making back and beat down some of the snobbery I was unaware I was mired in.
Can you tell me about the app for which you won an Emmy?
Our app, which won the Emmy for outstanding creative achievement in interactive media: user experience and visual design, was a huge undertaking. It has original short form content, games, blogs, polls, interactive elements, original animation, and all sorts of other content that is refreshed on a daily basis. It took more than two years and a large team of people to build. I was fortunate to get to be involved in the initial phases; I helped do a bunch of the first style guides (which evolved dramatically), and, like everyone else on our team, have worked pretty extensively on a whole ton of different aspects of it since. We are still engaged in the daily content updates now.
What’s it like to win an Emmy?
Winning an Emmy, for me, was pretty weird. Fun-weird, but still weird. It’s one of those things that I never actually imagined intersecting with my experience when I trotted off to be a graphic designer. My favorite part, I think, was that my art director got to go to the ceremony in Los Angeles. I admire her so much, and it was super cool to get to see her go get our statue. It was also pretty fun for all of us to take selfies with it in the office the next day.
I don’t know if this is a rule for every designer, or it’s just me that happens to think this way, but it’s hard to draw too much of your significance from your awards. Because we produce tangible things where our skill, or lack thereof, is pretty obviously displayed, designers tend to judge other designers primarily on the quality of the actual work that they produce. It’s, therefore, much easier to get your identity caught up in what your work actually looks like rather than what awards you’ve won for it.
One of the most memorable of C. S. Lewis’s essays is entitled “The Inner Ring.” It describes our common desire to be accepted within the “inner ring” of whatever group matters to us at the time.
To feel “excluded” or “out of it” is miserable. Yet the desire to be “in” can make you say things you would not otherwise say or not say things you should say. This desire to be on the inside of whatever group you aspire to join can affect your relationships at work, in the community, and in the church.
Morally Neutral but Potentially Dangerous
These desires are not necessarily wrong in and of themselves. Certain inner rings are unavoidable. However, as Lewis says,
The desire which draws us into Inner Rings is another matter. A thing may be morally neutral and yet the desire for that thing may be dangerous. . . . Unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life, from the moment you enter your profession until you are too old to care. . . . If you do nothing about it, if you drift with the stream, you will in fact be an “inner ringer.” I don’t say you’ll be a successful one; that’s as may be. But whether by pining and moping outside rings that you can never enter, or by passing triumphantly further and further in—one way or the other you will be that kind of man.
You will face certain choices, crossroads that send you down one road or another—toward virtue or towards vice. The choice will usually be subtle and small. Perhaps you are meeting with your boss and hear something unethical. Your promotion appears to depend on doing
things this way. Lewis says:
And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by a desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world. It would be so terrible to see that other man’s face—that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face—turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected.
If you give in to that first compromise, you may give in elsewhere. There is an old saying that goes, “Sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.” That first act of moral compromise can lead to further acts so that it becomes a habit that shapes your character and destiny.
Lewis says your compromise may eventually “end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude: it may end in millions, a peerage, and giving prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel.” That first small compromise may lead somewhat innocently down a path to real corruption.
For instance, I got to know a pharmacist who ended up in federal prison. He told me he had once sold a drug without a prescription to someone who asked him for it. Over time, that first sale led to numerous sales and a pattern of drug dealing. He told me that when he first sold a drug illegally, he never imagined that he would end up in prison. That first act led to a habit that profoundly affected his destiny.
Dissatisfaction of Getting What You Desire
But what if you do get “in”? Will you find the satisfaction you seek? Lewis says:
As long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what you want. You are trying to peel an onion; if you succeed there will be nothing left. Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain.
If you get “in,” the initial rush of excitement will not last. Sooner or later you will have to look for a new ring to enter.
So what should you do? Don’t desire the inner ring. Do good and excellent work that will put you in the circle that really matters. As Lewis says:
The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and the other sound craftsmen will know it.
This approach may not lead to fame, fortune, or influence. But it will lead to the respect of those who know the field. Pursuing good work will often lead to friendship—people who see the same truths and value the same things. You will find this circle not exclusive in the same sense as before, but inclusive of those who grasp these common fruits and values.
So it is better not to seek admission to the glorious moments of the age. But not because they’re over our heads or beyond us. Rather, we may not be good enough to withstand the temptations involved with being in power or being close to power.
What circle do you desire to enter? Have these rings compromised your spiritual effectiveness? Do you need to pray for deliverance from this temptation to desire acceptance into more inner circles? Do you need to talk to a friend, pastor, counselor, or mentor about this issue?
Above all, focus on doing your work well and let the results take care of themselves.
At least in America, evangelical churches have largely neglected the subjects of faith, work, and calling. We tend to focus on salvation, evangelism, or basic personal discipleship (Bible reading, prayer, fellowship) but ignore what most people do 40, 60, or 80 hours a week.
When I read the following quote from William Diehl’s book, Christianity and Real Life, it jumped off the page at me:
I am now a sales manager for a major steel company. In the almost 30 years of my professional career, my church has never once suggested that there be any time of accounting of my on-the-job ministry to others. My church has never once offered to improve those skills which could have made me a better lay minister, nor has it ever asked if I needed any kind of support in what I was doing. There has never been an inquiry into the types of ethical decisions I must face, or whether I seek to communicate my faith to my co-workers. I never have been in a congregation where there was any type of public affirmation of a ministry in my career. In short, I must conclude that my church really doesn’t have the least interest in whether or how I minister in my daily work.
When I first read this quote many years ago, I didn’t know any churches that were attempting to address this deficiency. This issue remains even today in many quarters. Gabe Lyons offers this anecdote in an interview with TGC:
Andy Crouch tells a story about a lady in Boston who taught Sunday school at her church for 30 years. She was also responsible for cleaning up the whole Boston Harbor, which was a nightmare for the city. But the first time she was brought up in front of her church was to talk about how she had taught Sunday school for 30 years. They never mentioned that she had been responsible for helping the entire city by leading this huge project.
There isn’t anything wrong with recognizing someone’s faithful service to the church. However, we’re much more likely to recognize those types of service rather than someone’s faithfulness to their vocation outside the church. Fortunately some churches and organizations are beginning to wake up to this need through their public teaching. But there is much that can be done to implicitly address these topics as well. G. K. Chesterton said, “Education is implication.” We often remember not what is explicitly said, but what is implied.
Here are five things pastors can do to communicate implicitly the importance of work and vocation:
1. Watch your language.
One top Christian leader referred to his work of training pastors as equipping people for a “higher calling.” When someone objected, “We don’t believe that,” he apologetically admitted that the pastoral calling is not intrinsically higher than that of a doctor, lawyer, government worker, carpenter, music teacher, and so on. It’s easy to fall back into this kind of hierarchical thinking (pastoral ministry being higher than other work) even if we ought to know better.
2. Pray for people in professions.
Make it a regular part of pastoral prayer to pray not only for those who are sick, but also for doctors, homemakers, business executives, construction workers, and so on, that they might do excellent work that gives glory to God.
3. Interview workers.
For instance, call three lawyers to come forward and interview them about how they see their faith being expressed in their work. Then pray for them and any other lawyers in the congregation. You could do this with different professions—say, once a month, or on another regular cycle.
4. Commission people for ministry in their work.
Periodically call all the practitioners in a particular vocation to come up, have the elders lay hands on them, and commission them just as you would do for someone entering the pastorate or going as a missionary overseas.
5. Stress that you can have a ministry at work.
In Romans 13:4, Paul twice calls government workers “ministers.” They are ministers not just when they evangelize or lead Bible studies at work but also when they practice their calling in government. The same could be said for any other valid profession. Emphasize that on Sunday we are the body of Christ gathered, and on Monday we are the body scattered to work in the world by bearing witness in what we say and do.
These are just suggestions of ways pastors and churches can regularly communicate implicitly that they value the connection between faith and work as well as the validity of various callings. If more churches did this, it would go a long way toward strengthening people in our congregations who work outside the church.
Having worked closely together for the last six years, Crossway and The Gospel Coalition (TGC) are pleased to announce the formalization and significant expansion of their ongoing publishing partnership.
In the new partnership, Crossway will continue to publish TGC resources dedicated to the centrality of the gospel and the Scripture-based reformation of ministry. In addition to publishing conference volumes presently published by Crossway, TGC and Crossway will work closely together to develop a series of books written specifically by women addressing cultural issues, as well as other unique resources focused on faith and work.
“There are only a handful of organizations whose leadership is committed to producing gospel-centered resources at a level that we trust,” says Ben Peays, executive director of TGC. “Crossway has been a close partner of ours since our inception in 2007. We are pleased to deepen our publishing partnership with them going forward.”
“The Gospel Coalition is one of the most important and influential organizations in today’s evangelicalism, serving churches with resources for reformation and renewal,” says Justin Taylor, Crossway’s publisher for books. “It is an enormous privilege for Crossway to strengthen this publishing partnership with TGC, and we look forward to producing many unique books together that will create new conversations and provide direction on the things that matter most.”
TGC editorial director Collin Hansen will oversee this effort alongside three other editors. Kathleen Nielson and Gloria Furman will edit the book series written specifically by women.
Kathleen Nielson serves as director of women’s initiatives for The Gospel Coalition. She holds MA and PhD degrees in literature from Vanderbilt University and a BA from Wheaton College. Author of the Living Word Bible Studies, she speaks often at women’s conferences and loves working with women in studying the Bible.
Bethany Jenkins will direct the faith and work initiative.
Bethany Jenkins is the founder of The Park Forum, a nonprofit that seeks to plant urban Christians in the Bible daily. She is writing her first book, Having All That Matters, which is a faith-based contribution to the Lean In discussion. Previously, Bethany worked at the New York Stock Exchange, the U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Congress. She received her JD from Columbia Law School. Bethany lives in Manhattan and attends Redeemer Presbyterian Church, where she was a Gotham Fellow through the Center for Faith & Work.
More Christians today are learning how to integrate faith with work, and they want to know where to look for more insight. Maybe you’ve watched The Gospel Coalition’s recent conference or heard about the Redeemer Center for Faith and Work. Maybe you’ve talked with fellow believers in your vocational field about how your faith could affect your work. Or maybe you’ve simply realized that you spend most of your life working, so if you don’t live out your faith through your work, you won’t grow much in grace.
What Needs to be Read
Helping people connect faith to work is a central part of my job, and at least once a month someone asks me to recommend books on this topic. The faith and work movement has been around for decades now, and there is a huge supply of books to choose from, aimed at diverse audiences. Here are my top picks for the general reader.
If you’re new to the faith and work conversation, this is a great place to start. Nelson builds on the biblical narrative of creation and the imago Dei to show why work is central to Christian life. He also gets bonus points in my book for pointing to specific ways pastors can make space for this critically important topic in the life of the local church.
Beginners who want to delve deeper into the theological background can also check out several other books. R. Paul Stevens’s Work Matters (yes, the same title as Nelson’s book) is a biblical survey showing how the theme of work runs through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Michael Wittmer’s provocatively titled Heaven Is a Place on Earthprovides a broad overview of how the doctrine of creation should inform our daily understanding of the meaning of our lives. And Gene Edward Veith’s classic God at Workdemonstrates that faith/work integration is indispensable if we wish to uphold the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone.
This short but powerful little book shows how the parables of Matthew 25 illustrate a twofold presence of God in our work—by serving the needs of others we serve God outwardly, and by doing our work unto the Lord we shape ourselves inwardly into the kind of people God wants us to be. DeKoster does more than most authors to give voice to those who feel oppressed by their jobs, and brings a theology of the cross that shows the meaningfulness and dignity of even the most broken work.
DeKoster also points to the social nature of our work, arguing that we need not only virtuous workers and managers, but also a culture and an economic system that respect work and its fruits. Work makes human civilization possible, and civilization can only thrive by respecting and protecting the economic sphere. Lay readers seeking further biblical support for this connection between work, economics, and civilization may wish to consult Wayne Grudem’s Business for the Glory of God, Austin Hill and Scott Rae’s The Virtues of Capitalism,Victor Claar and Robin Klay’s Economics in Christian Perspective, and John Schneider’s The Good of Affluence.
Sherman and DeKoster complement one another. While DeKoster’s theology of the cross helps us find dignity and meaning in a world where work is broken, Sherman’s theology of the kingdom reminds us that the church can make work less broken. Christians are specially transformed and empowered by the Holy Spirit; in us, the redemptive power of Christ is reversing the curse. Woe to us if our lives don’t reflect that power! Sherman provides both theological background and also practical advice on how Christians can use their vocational talents to shine light into cultural darkness.
One issue that intersects a great deal with Sherman’s kingdom concerns is how the church serves the needy and the marginalized. This area is undergoing a revolution right now, and the topic of work is rising to the top. John Perkins, founder of the Christian Community Development Association, has said that people need two things: Jesus and a job. Recent books connecting work to how the church serves the poor include Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert’s When Helping Hurts and Robert Lupton’s Toxic Charity; also of interest is a recent reprint of Marvin Olasky’s classic The Tragedy of American Compassion, featuring a foreword by Sherman.
Institutions matter! The meaning of our work is shaped by the sense of identity and motivation we each bring to it, and also by the cultural context created by businesses and other social actors. Van Duzer was until recently the dean of a Christian business school, and has spent years reflecting on the theological basis of business. In this book, he shows how the institutions of business provide unique and critically important opportunities for people to glorify God through their work; he also takes a realistic look at the many ethical and spiritual challenges that come with business leadership.
The topic of Christianity and business is a well-plowed field with hundreds of books. I would highlight two other books besides Van Duzer’s in this crowded field. Kenman Wong and Scott Rae’s Business for the Common Good offers an ethical approach to business that challenges the two dominant paradigms of selfish individualism and socialistic paternalism, arguing that business can focus on serving the needs of customers and turn an honest profit at the same time. For the manager who wants to know what it looks like to lead with that approach, David Gill’s It’s About Excellence provides a wealth of practical advice.
This outstanding book is hard to summarize because it integrates wisdom from many different fields: the Bible and theology, social science, the humanities, management theory, and more. Like most of Keller’s books, this one will stretch the average reader. But how else do we grow?
A key theme I appreciated in this book is the idea of cultivation. Our work doesn’t just move stuff around. It is creative and helps the world grow over time. God creates from nothing; we, creatures made in his image, cultivate the raw material he gives us in creative ways. God provides us a world full of potential, and our job is to transform it until its potential to glorify God is manifested.
“Cultivation” comes from the same root as “culture,” and the work of cultivation gives rise to human culture. In addition to reviewing the biblical basis for a theology of work, Keller and Alsdorf show that as a cultural activity, work is shaped by the stories we tell ourselves about the meaning of life. The biblical story reveals the truth about work, yet we cannot simply toss away our inherited cultural stories as mere rubbish; God has made us as cultural creatures who need stories about our own time and place. So a sound theology of work must critically integrate our cultural stories with the biblical story. Keller and Alsdorf walk us through that process with keen insight and considerable experience.
What Needs to Be Written
The topic of culture brings me to a book the movement has not yet produced, but needs to. Connecting faith and work requires us to integrate the biblical narrative with our cultural narratives about work; however, there is not yet a really good book-length Christian analysis of the predominant narratives of work in Western culture.
As a result, our theology of work depends far too much on the analyses of figures like Adam Smith and Max Weber, whose categories of thought are implicitly naturalistic, gnostic, or in other ways anti-Christian. A solid Christian critique of the narratives of work we have learned from these figures would serve the movement—and our culture at large.
For many years the faith and work movement largely focused on helping Christians maintain their beliefs in the workplace and share the gospel when possible. But now we see an encouraging trend where new organizations and initiatives explore the broader dimensions of vocation and human flourishing. Praxis, for example, is a fascinating organization leading the effort to support Christian entrepreneurs compelled by their faith to advance the common good.
Dave Blanchard is the co-founder and president of Praxis, and I asked him to help us understand this developing trend among Christians in the marketplace. Praxis offers an accelerator fellowship program to advance the work of high-growth, pre-scale nonprofits and businesses led by Christ-followers. Applications for the 2014 Praxis Fellowship close on July 1 and can be completed at www.praxislabs.org. Follow them on Twitter @praxislabs and @dave_blanchard.
Why is entrepreneurship important for the church right now?
In a 2011 Kauffmann study, a stunning 54 percent of millennials said they want to start or join a startup. And as Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and Square, noted recently on the cover of Fortune, “The most efficient means to spread an idea today is corporate structure.” From Scott Harrison at charity: water to Jeff Skoll at Participant Media to Dov Charney at American Apparel, these founders are leaning on their core beliefs to shape our world, for better and for worse. Given this increasing influence and platform, we believe the future of culture depends largely on the worldview of entrepreneurs. This is nothing less than a massive opportunity for the church—not to “take over” but instead to demonstrate our faith in action—our orthopraxis. At Praxis, we often talk about gospel-minded entrepreneurship as an important apologetic for the 21st century.
What is a gospel-minded organization anyway? Praxis talks about wanting business leaders to embody the gospel in their work. What does this mean? How does it practically play out?
This is an important question. While the gospel is the good news of God’s saving grace in the life of an individual, how does that message actually relate to an organization? When we receive God’s Spirit, we are made new; we become a new creation with new life. As a result, we cannot help but live differently. Fundamentally, we experience a shift in our motivations, goals, and methods for achieving these things. Just as a gospel-minded person wakes up each day working out of that new mindset—they have been made new to reflect the glory of God—the same can be true for a gospel-minded organization. This entity—any organization is really the sum of its people—must think about what it wants to accomplish in light of God’s regenerative work on earth and organize its operations in order to reflect those priorities. The gospel itself is a message, but its implications for business are rich with virtue.
Along with Josh Kwan and our mentor, friend, and board member Steve Graves, I authored a book entitled From Concept to Scale: Building a Gospel-Minded Organization that attempts offer some practical ideas and exercises for application as you construct your venture. From supply chain practices, to the worldview you market, to your concept itself, we think our faith is not only relevant but even essential to every component of the organization’s activities. I’m also a big fan of Peter Kreeft’s profound work Back to Virtue. In it, he outlines the four ancient virtues (wisdom, courage, justice, and moderation), the three theological virtues (faith, hope, and love), and a beautiful contrast of the eight beatitudes and the seven deadly sins. Read through an entrepreneurial lens, his content provides a fascinating way for every entrepreneur to think about creating a God-honoring organization that benefits our world.
What is Praxis, and how did it come to be?
In 2010, I was working at innovation firm IDEO, and God brought me together with Josh Kwan, a venture philanthropist. We shared interest in supporting high-impact entrepreneurs in their work and noticed a considerable gap around accelerating the faith-motivated entrepreneur’s path to creating a scalable organization. From that insight, we created Praxis in an effort to help Christ-following entrepreneurs advance their work into the world. We currently run two annual fellowship programs, one for nonprofits and one for businesses. The program is focused on preparing both the venture and also the leader for the demands of rapid growth, and is based on four core offerings: providing world-class mentorship, a shared-faith peer community, access to capital sources, and significant hands-on support from our core Praxis team. More on the program details and application process is available here. Application, which closes July 1, is highly competitive, but once you are in, there’s a truly incredible of community of people ready to pour into you and your work.
When you say “world-class” mentors, what does that look like?
We are incredibly blessed to have more than 25 volunteer mentors spend focused, one-on-one discussion time in person with our fellows at our events. In our business program, we have mentors such as Chi Hua Chien, partner at Kleiner Perkins; Greg Spencer, founder of Paradigm Project; and Nancy Duarte, founder of Duarte Design, the top presentation design firm in the world. For our non-profit program, we are grateful to have mentors ranging from Peter Greer, CEO of HOPE International; to Fred Smith, president of The Gathering; to David Weekley, founder of David Weekley Homes and the David Weekley Family Foundation. We are fortunate to have a group of remarkable people deep in both competency and also faith and put them around the next generation of Christian leaders.
Can you give us an example of the type of ventures Praxis fellows lead?
Jason Locy of FiveStone, a Praxis core mentor focused on story and design, says our fellows “look a lot like the body of Christ exposing the kingdom of God on earth.” They are inspiring to work with and diverse. Sajan George of Matchbook Learningis turning around our nation’s worst-performing public schools. Chris and Will Haughey of Tegu make high-end toys (read: job creation) in Honduras. Jimmy Lin of Rare Genomicsis helping children with rare diseases use gene sequencing to discover what’s wrong. Hannah Song and Justin Wheeler lead Liberty in North Korea, a group focused on reshaping the public perception of an oppressed country.
What do you look for in entrepreneurs you support?
First and foremost, we look for high-potential entrepreneurs who have a real interest in pursuing what it means to integrate their faith and their work. We’re looking for leaders who feel called to their work, and typically have some sort of big idea they are expressing through their venture. They want to go to scale, to have big impact, and are on a high-growth trajectory that suggests they have a shot at it. When we started, some people asked us if there were really enough high-quality Christians out there involved in work at this level. Two years in, it has been amazing to uncover so many Christ-followers with incredible talent who are pouring their lives out to build these gospel-minded organizations.
If you could give advice to the Christ-following entrepreneur, what would it be?
There’s much that could be said, but three things stand out. First, use the gospel as a generative construct, not simply a retro-fitting values device or ethics manual. We have an incredible opportunity to create radically different organizations that upend societal norms, transform and renew culture, and popularize important ideas from generosity and charity to using business as a vehicle to free the oppressed. Second, don’t lose track of yourself in the entrepreneurial process. Our fellows’ only prescribed homework is Gordon MacDonald’s Ordering Your Private World. The taxing roller coaster of entrepreneurship can be stabilized with a structured life, healthy perspective, and disciplined practices like taking a Sabbath. Last, remember that God’s version of success is not the world’s. We are called to pray, work hard, be faithful and leave the results—much of which you cannot see nor will ever know—up to God.