Vocational Discernment — It’s about WE, not ME

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

I enjoyed time at a conference on the intersection of faith and work earlier this month (see: Karam Forum).

One of the themes that arose multiple times was the importance of community in flourishing economies and in the lives of flourishing individuals. The concept of human flourishing is about growth and development. The best flourishing, however, does not happen in isolation—it happens within the context of a community where we are able to use our gifts, skills, and abilities in service of others.

It is tempting to think of our careers, jobs, and vocations through an individualistic lens, though. Consider such questions:

  • What do I want to do with my life?
  • What type of work do I most enjoy?
  • What are my passions, interests, and desires?
  • How can my passions, interests, and desired be most fulfilled in the context of my work?

These are not bad questions, they are simply incomplete. Vocation is not primarily about “I”, “my”, and “me.” Vocation—the most fulfilling and meaningful forms of vocational stewardship—is more about “we” than “me.”

Certainly, we need to reflect on vocation from a personal perspective, but the most fulfilling forms of vocational stewardship that lead to human flourishing involve deep reflection on how our work will serve others, not just ourselves. Tom Nelson referred to this as the “we-ness” of our work.

When vocation is primarily about me—what will be most enjoyable to me or what will most quickly build my wealth—work becomes merely functional and utilitarian.

We work is about we—how I can use my gifts and skills to contribute to the benefit of others—work becomes fulfilling and infused with great meaning.

In their book Practicing the King’s Economy, Rhodes, Holt and Fikkert remind us that “Every road to the economy of the kingdom runs through the creation of community.” Our work and vocation do not find their meaning and fulfillment in isolation. Vocation becomes rewarding when we consider how we utilize who we are and what we are able to do in service of others. In diverse expressions of work, we find the most fulfillment in our vocation when we see how our work connects to and meaningfully serves others.

How will your unique gifts, skills, and abilities in this life best contribute to the flourishing of both your own life and to the lives of others? The best vocational choices in life come when we thinking about “we” rather than just thinking about “me” in the context of our work.

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What are your thoughts on vocational discernment? Take a moment to share your perspectives below.

Reflective Leadership

Photo Credit: Reflection, By Susanne Nilsson, Flickr

It’s January 1st as I write this reflection.

I took about three hours yesterday to reflect again on what I want to prioritize in the year to come. I don’t think there is anything inherently important about the transition from December 31 to January 1, but this moment in our calendars provides space to pause and hit reset on the things that matter in our lives.

I note elsewhere that I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions (see “Rethinking Resolutions). I am, however, a fan of using this season as a time to reflect and prioritize (or perhaps re-prioritize is a better term…returning to what has already been prioritized in our lives previously).

As I look back on the past two years, one of the items that has slipped more than I would like is the prioritization of reflection. There are practical reasons for this, so I’m not overly focused on “beating myself” up for the past. This is more about the future than the past.

The past two years have been full of wonderful opportunities—increased administrative leadership needs at my institution and the privilege of working on a book project that is scheduled for release in the summer of 2019. While I’m grateful for these opportunities, they did take away from a pattern of intentional reflection in my life and leadership. One evidence of this is the break from actively posting on this platform.

As I look to the year ahead, there are many new opportunities to which I’m looking forward. One of these is reprioritizing reflective leadership.

Perhaps a new emphasis on reflective leadership will be of help for you as well.

Here’s a sample from my upcoming book written with Mark Strauss. It captures some of the heart behind what I’ve raised above regarding the need for reflection in life and leadership:

Schedule Time to Rest and Reflect

While effective leadership includes honest self-evaluation, nurturing a rhythm of self-awareness and evaluation is difficult without a simple feature: time to reflect.

Do you intentionally create time in your schedule to think and reflect? In our day of continual connection to the world around us through technology, it is increasingly difficult for leaders to find time and space for deep reflection. Consider the ready access people have to you through smartphones, text messaging, a regular flow of emails, and meetings that are scheduled for us on shared calendars. While technology creates efficiencies in our work, this same technology also fills our lives in such a way that intentional reflection can be difficult.

On top of technology in the work environment, consider how technology in our personal lives also can work against time alone for reflection. For example, while there are many ways social media has the capacity to enrich our lives, social media also adds to already full schedules in ways that work against a reflective approach to life.

These realities mean that leaders need to be intentional in finding time and space in their lives to think and reflect. On this point, John Baldoni notes that organizations need leaders who first know themselves—leaders who “have an inner compass that points them in the right direction.” According to Baldoni, clarifying these dimensions of the inner life “begins with sound thinking—with taking time to think before we do.”

For Christians, time for reflection does not need to be an isolated activity. Through the practices of Sabbath and prayer, we are reminded that we are not alone in our work as leaders. Taking time for rest and prayer is a declaration of our trust in and dependency on God. Timothy Keller and Kathrine Leary Alsdorf remind us that the practice of Sabbath is an act of trust, a reminder that God is at work even in the midst of our rest, and that ultimately, God is there—we are not alone in our work.  As we recognize that we are not alone in our work, we also may receive the invitation to seek out wisdom from God: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5). In our times of rest and reflection, we are able to not only lean into our own thoughts and convictions but we are also able to lean into God’s wisdom.

So, are you making time to think and reflect in your life? Are you taking time for Sabbath rest and prayer? For those who have full calendars and high demands in their roles, this often means there is a need for scheduling time on their calendars for this important work. Remember, being busy does not always translate into being productive. As Keller and Leary-Alsdorf remind us, “a deeply rested people are far more productive.” Sometimes pulling back from the intense pace of work is just the answer we need to the most demanding questions and challenges we face. Take time to rest, think, reflect, pray, and nurture a regular pattern of self-evaluation. Consider when this specifically will take place. When will it take place in the week ahead? When will it take place next month?

May you engage the year ahead with deep reflection on the things that matter most to you!

Take a moment to share your reflections and priorities below.

The World’s Toughest Job

On Mother’s Day, I’m reminded that the work that matters most in life is often unpaid.

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Photo Credit: MOTHER, by the lost gallery, Flickr

At its core, work is what we do to contribute or add value to others. Hopefully this happens in the context of paid work for you, but any parent understands that mothers and fathers often engage in such unpaid work on a daily basis.

I love this video by American Greetings that captures to the beauty and importance of this work. Enjoy!

Why Ordinary is Extraordinary

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Photo Credit: The greatness of art…, by Nick Kenrick, Flickr

A couple weeks ago a friend and former colleague of mine shared a message entitled, “In Praise of Ordinary Work.” For those with 30 minutes to spare, listening to the message would be well-worth your time as you think about your context of ordinary work.

Along the lines of what Chris Armstrong shares in this message, I’ve been pondering afresh the extraordinary value of the ordinary parts of life. In our celebrity-oriented culture, the ordinary is often overshadowed by what we view as extraordinary.

Enjoying the Extraordinary

Don’t misunderstand me. I love to see greatness shine through in others. For instance, if you’re a basketball fan, it’s been a fun year watching Stephen Curry break 3-point records. It is a delight to watch “extraordinary” talent in the likes of someone like Curry.

My point is not to belittle extraordinary work on the public stage, but rather to lift up the extraordinary work that happens in ordinary and private ways on a daily basis.

Enjoying the Ordinary as Extraordinary

For most of us, our life and work happens on smaller stages. But that does not make our lives any less extraordinary when they are lived out steadily and faithfully. As individuals, families, and a society, we flourish together we collectively live our “ordinary” lives in an extraordinary manner.

When I look around, those I value most in my life are those that are steadily and faithfully attending to their lives and work on a daily basis.

Great things come when children faithfully apply themselves to the work before them in study and practice. Great things come when spouses and friends provide loving support for those closest to them. Great things happen with coworkers support their team in the accomplishment of collective work goals. Great things happen when we live out the ordinary in an extraordinary way.

In the Bible, we read the following call:

“…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
– 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

That is quite an affirmation of the ordinary.

Whether the stage of your life is small or large in its scope, we are all called to attend to the ordinary work that is in front of us. We are called to live our “ordinary” lives in light of what they actually are—extraordinary.

What is the ordinary work you are called to do in an extraordinary way today? What is the ordinary work being done by others around you in an extraordinary way today? Take some time to notice and appreciate the extraordinary that is all around you.

Harnessing the Hope of Humility: Timeless Wisdom for Today

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Photo Credit: basin, by Flood G., Flickr

In seasons of political posturing, humility rarely is modeled by current and aspiring politicians. But into such seasons, the hope of humility stands in stark contrast and calls for us to harness this hope for the good of our communities

In this post, let’s journey back to the time of Jesus Christ in order to explore the timeless wisdom of servant-hearted humility.

A Mother’s Request

Nearly 2000 years ago, a mother motivated by love for her boys made a request. She asked Jesus to allow her sons to sit in the places of honor at His right and left in His kingdom. As might be expected, the other ten disciples did not look favorably on this parental power play.

But Jesus harnessed the occasion as an opportunity to teach a kingdom reality: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:25-26).

We find here a profound reality in Jesus’ teaching—humility in the form of service is at the heart of leadership in the economy of Jesus. One of my colleagues notes that at its heart, this passage is calling leaders to positions of low status and high service.

Actions Speak Louder than Words

The low status & high service motif of Jesus was not mere rhetoric, however. Jesus lived and modeled this principle. Take, for instance, one of the most powerful sermons ever—the sermon preached with a basin and a towel.

In John 13, we find Jesus at a Passover feast with His disciples. With divine audacity, Jesus rises from the meal, wraps a towel around his waist, and stoops low, with heavenly humility, as He begins to wash His disciples’ feet. We see in this amazing account the words of Jesus made alive: “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Jesus lived the kingdom principle of low status & high service.

The Hope of Humility

The timeless teaching of Jesus that modeled and called His followers to leadership marked by low status and high service stands in stark contrast the inverted high status and low service motif modeled by so many leaders in our day. What such leaders fail to realize, however, is that in the case of humble service it is not only good wisdom but also good business.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great asks, “What catapults a company from merely good to truly great?” His answer is refreshing—leaders who combine fierce resolve and humility are key.

It’s often viewed as counter-intuitive. Usually humility is associated with pushovers rather than leaders of great companies. But amazing as this is, biblical humility is just what the cultural and corporate doctors have ordered.

Harnessing the Hope of Humility

So how is the hope of humility to be harnessed?  Let me offer three “prescriptions.”

Prescription 1: Be an Apprentice in the School of Humility

The first prescription is to be an apprentice in the School of Humility. Humility is by its very nature something that is learned through participation. 2 Chronicles 7:14 calls us to this apprentice-like participation: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” Harnessing the hope of humility begins as a participating apprentice.

Prescription 2: Follow the Man from Galilee

In the School of Humility, our apprenticeship is under the Master Practitioner—Jesus, the servant from Galilee. When Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, He called them to a life-trajectory of humble service saying, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). Following the Master Servant furthers a harnessing of the hope of humility.

Prescription 3: Go to the Grace

The final prescription is simply this: Go to the grace. In 1 Peter 5:5, Peter writes, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  Do you wish to harness the hope of humility?  Go to God’s graceful place of humility. You’ll be glad you did.


 

It’s difficult to imagine how one person’s actions of humility and service could change the course of history, but this is exactly what happened through the life of Jesus as He began to turn the world right side up. Applying these prescriptions will help us begin the process of aligning the course of our lives with His. Applying these prescriptions will help us to harness the hope of humility.

Purpose in Leadership on Patheos

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I’m excited to point you toward another channel through which I’ll be sharing thoughts. The Purpose in Leadership blog was invited to join the Patheos Faith and Work Channel, and this will allow me to share the type of reflections offered on this blog with a wider audience. I’ll continue to post regularly through both Purpose in Leadership blogs.

—  Purposeinleadership.com Blog
—  Patheos Purpose in Leadership Blog

As a faith-based blog channel focused on the integration of faith and work, I will be regularly sharing posts on leadership, work, and vocation.

Here is a highlight of the last five posts shared through the Purpose in Leadership blog on Patheos. Enjoy!

Can You Bring Jesus to Work?

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Photo: Faith & Work, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, by J. Irving

In the increasingly post-Christian and pluralistic contexts of North America and Europe, the question “Can you bring Jesus to work?” has the potential of raising diverse and intense emotional responses.

Corporate Chaplaincy on the Rise

One expression of bringing Jesus (or faith in general) to work is the emerging trend of corporate chaplaincy. To the joy of some and perplexity of others, corporate chaplaincy is on the rise. Illustrating this trend, one of the largest providers of corporate chaplains, Marketplace Ministries, saw more new companies added to their roster in 2015 than any year since their founding in the 1980s.

Marketplace Ministries notes that, “almost everyone said developing a business model of corporate chaplains caring for workers, as well as their families, in the secular workplace was impossible.” Trends in the industry suggest otherwise. For example, Tyson Foods employs around 115 chaplains in their company; this translates into roughly one chaplain for every 1,000 employees in the company.

Finding Jesus at Work

Emma Green draws attention to these trends in her recent article in the Atlantic entitled “Finding Jesus at Work: Why are more and more companies offering access to chaplains as an employee benefit?

My thoughts in this post are influenced both by Green’s article as well as two occasions I had to hear from David Miller over the past year. David Miller, cited frequently in Green’s article, is the author of God at Work and director of the Princeton University Faith & Work Initiative.

Here is some of what I’m learning about why corporate chaplaincy is on the rise and the benefits corporate chaplaincy offers.

Why is Corporate Chaplaincy & Faith at Work on the Rise?

I see two reasons behind the rise of corporate chaplaincy and faith at work emphases in the realm of business.

1 – Considering the Whole Person

The first reason is the move toward holistic thinking. Both within society in general, and the corporate world in particular, new emphasis is placed on viewing employees as whole persons. Consider the following examples in some corporate environments:

  • Attention to ergonomically sensitive work conditions
  • Increased consideration of work-life balance
  • Focus on physical and mental wellbeing
  • Provision of nap rooms, yoga classes, and onsite workout facilities

While not all work environments give attention to such considerations, an increasing number of companies are doing so. This represents a shift toward seeing employees less through a mechanistic lens and more through a whole-person lens.

Mike Tarvin of Tyson Foods’ chaplaincy program notes that “[John Tyson] wanted people to be able to bring their whole selves to work.” For Tyson Foods this means that they want to provide team members “an opportunity to bring that whole self, including that spiritual side, and not [feel] like that they have to check that at the door.”

2 – Finding Community for Whole-Person Challenges

David Miller notes that “Human beings still have problems in life—we get cancer, we get divorced, we have workplace accidents.” People seek out diverse avenues of support for such problems. To name a few of these avenues, this support sometimes comes from friends and family, sometimes comes from medical professionals, and sometimes comes from religious communities.

While many find external support independent of their work environment, the challenge arises when many workers find themselves separated from such needed support systems. When this happens, employees, and employers, feel the negative impact on employee health, wellbeing, and productivity.

In light of such realities, David Miller points to the following: “Due to people not having sufficient social support networks, whether at church, in the family, or community, it has become necessary for the work of organization to become the new community.” Or, put it another way, Emma Green notes, “Workplace chaplaincies are another attempt to make workers more productive by catering to their ‘whole’ selves.”

Alongside other employee-assistance programs (EAPs), the provision of workplace chaplaincies provides another accessible pathway to help employees as they engage the difficulty realities of both the workplace and life. Emma Green notes that because work, and life, can be painful, “These chaplains may be able to provide much-needed comfort to people who need it and can’t find it elsewhere.”

What Benefits do Corporate Chaplaincy & Faith at Work Offer?

In the section above I argue that corporate chaplaincy is on the rise due to rising consideration of the whole person paired with the decline in workers finding whole-person support outside the work environment. These realities, whether helpful or not, provide a key incentive for businesses and employers working to be part of the solution.

1 – Benefits to Companies

On this point David Miller notes, “Everyone now gets it that if your employees are healthy—physically, psychologically, and now we can maybe argue spiritually—they’re better employees.” Miller notes that this adds real value to companies due to variables such as lower turnover rates, increased focus on the job, and reduced stress-related illnesses. Further, Doug Fagerstrom (CEO of Marketplace Ministries) points to his clients reports of increased worker productivity due to corporate chaplaincy programs.

2 – Benefits to Employees

Employee health—physically, psychologically, spiritually—not only benefits the bottom line for companies, but it also provides deeply meaningful benefit to employees as well. On this point, Mike Tarvin (of Tyson Foods) notes that chaplains try to “find out where they’re coming from, so that we can help determine on their own what they see as their meaning in life or purpose in life.

The theme of purpose is something that is vitally important to me both personally and professionally.

Personally, I want to engage my work in a manner that connects with a deeper sense of spiritual purpose in life. I want to know that what I do on the job has meaning—that it matters to me, to others, and to God. Whether someone is a factory worker, school teacher, or serving in another role altogether, most people want to know that what they do matters—that it is meaningful and infused with purpose.

Professionally, studying the role that purpose plays in the lives of leaders is an active path of research I continue to explore. It is also a line of research that is providing significant affirmation on why purpose is important to leaders (see some of my reflections here). I would certainly argue, though, that this importance is not limited to leaders. All workers, leaders and followers alike, benefit from connecting their work with what is meaningful.

As Tarvin notes, corporate chaplains have played an important role for many workers desiring to think through their meaning and purpose in life. Corporate chaplains and faith at work help workers to bring their whole selves to their workplace. Corporate chaplains and faith at work also provide a platform on which workers may tap into a deeper sense of their meaning and purpose in life.


What’s your experience with corporate chaplains and/or intentional efforts to bring your whole-self to the work environment? Take a moment to share your thoughts below.