Category: Vocation

worker1One of our favorite coffee shops when we lived in Washington, D.C. in the 1980s was The Daily Grind. The name’s humorous wordplay about everyday work and the delicious fresh-roasted coffee made us smile.

But too many of God’s people are not smiling as their alarms sound and they head to their daily tasks. Recent surveys reveal their deep dissatisfaction in their jobs, with few finding joy and significance in their efforts. Last year, Barna Group reported 75 percent of American adults long for meaning, while less than 20 percent say they’re extremely satisfied with their current work.

Young adults in their 20s and 30s are unhappy about the disconnect between their educations and expectations and the scarcity of some jobs. Many are working two or three part-time jobs and waiting for their “destiny” and their “dream” opportunities.

It makes one wonder: Can work be purposeful when it is often boring, repetitious, and sometimes unjust, with nasty bosses and challenging work conditions? Is it truly possible to derive joy and meaning from a job? (more…)

Members of  the “Acton Club” of West Catholic High School

Members of the “Acton Club” of West Catholic High School

Culture has either an overly optimistic view of youth culture, or an overly dour and depressing one. However, neither view is entirely true, nor are such disparate opinions very helpful.  The unavoidable truth is this: younger generations will have to bear increasingly more difficult levels of financial, and societal responsibility in the coming years. To put it mildly their future will not be an easy walk in the park.

However, in my experiences at Acton, I am witnessing a renaissance, a flowering of maturity in which young men and women are not waiting for someone to offer them a free hand-out, but rather are seeking a better version and a more compelling vision for their future. Certainly the root of this renaissance has been occurring over the past ten years with college students at Acton University, but the flowering I am talking about is happening amongst high school students.

In the spring of 2014, a group of students from West Catholic High School in Grand Rapids made an appointment to tour our offices and to learn more about Acton’s work. After the tour, I expected the students to simply say, “thank you” and then depart, but the leader of this intrepid band said, “Mr. Cook, we have a core group that are serious about our Christian faith, and we want to be successful, ethical and virtuous business leaders. We want to learn how we can live our faith as Christian business leaders in our world today.” Then he said something really amazing.

“Do you think it’s possible for us to start an ‘Acton Club’ in our high school?’

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“Being Godly doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be wealthy. God makes no such guarantees in the Bible, so goodbye, prosperity gospel…[But] God clearly is not opposed to wealth in a kind of blanket way. He’s not even opposed, necessarily, to tremendous wealth, gobstopping amounts of money.” –Owen Strachan

In a lecture for The Commonweal Project at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Owen Strachan tackles the tough subject of whether it’s morally wrong for Christians to make lots of money. His answer: “No. But it could be.”

Although the unprecedented prosperity of the last century has been accompanied by unprecedented amounts of guilt and self-loathing, Strachan argues that “the focus of a true Biblical theology of wealth would be on how money is a gift from God.” Surely we need to be wary of the unique temptations that come with wealth, but when dedicated to, consecrated by, and stewarded in attentive obedience to God and the Holy Spirit, “it can be nothing less than an engine, a mighty engine, for spiritual good,” Strachan argues. (more…)

RootedGod has clearly given us dominion over creation, yet a variety of divisions and distortions persist. Radical environmentalists dream of a world without us, even as hyper-consumerists wield God’s call as justification for undue exploitation and self-seeking.

Getting the relationship right not only impacts our stewardship, but gets to the core of what we believe about God, why he created us, and who he has called us to be. It’s no wonder, then, that Abraham Kuyper begins one of his sermons on the role of the church by examining humanity’s broader role in creation.

In his sermon, “Rooted and Grounded,” Kuyper proclaims that the church must be both rooted”in the “organism” of the Gospel, even while being grounded in various institutional forms. Yet insofar as we are “rooted” in “organic” life, we must ask: Which garden do we intend to cultivate? How do we plan to do it? Why? (more…)

20111108diggingaditchOver the past two decades there has been an increased interest and promotion of the Biblical meaning of work and the Christian view of vocation. Many groups have contributed to this revival, including the Acton Institute (last year we launched Oikonomia, a blog at Patheos’ Faith and Work Channel, dedicated to providing resources specific to the intersection of faith, work, and economics).

While the faith and work conversation has been exceedingly fruitful, it has also been rather limited to what can be described as “knowledge workers.” As Comment’s Brian Dijkema says,

[W]e fall into the trap of taking Andy Crouch’s Culture Making and equating it with a baptized version of Richard Florida’s “creative class.” We get excited about those who open local coffee shops or become journalists or start a non-profit or (fill in the blank). But what do our “faith and work” books have to say to people who work on the line at a Ford assembly plant, or to medical assistants who take care of the elderly? Will landscapers and receptionists see themselves in the “work” we’re talking about? Would anyone who has to wear coveralls to work feel comfortable at our “faith and work” conferences?

And even when we bring skilled labour—or the completely different category of menial labour—into the faith and work conversation, we sometimes focus on the parts of those jobs that fit with creativity and fulfillment. It’s nice to say “it’s so good that you care for our elderly,” but it’s much harder to talk about having to change colostomy bags, or how you smell when you’re done cleaning out a chicken barn. Yet this work takes the waking hours of many people—perhaps even the majority—in North America and certainly the world. Leaving this work out of the conversation not only leaves too many on the outside, but unwittingly communicates a certain hopelessness, as if joy and satisfaction—indeed the LORD’s satisfaction—cannot be found in this type of work.

Several years ago, philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff made a similar point:
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_70189222_464_unemployedUnemployment is a spiritual problem. When a person loses their job, they’ve lost a means to provide for their family, an important aspect of their human flourishing, and the primary way they serve their neighbors. With the loss in vocation comes a loss in meaning. Not surprisingly, unemployment can have long-term negative effects on communities, families, and a person’s subjective well-being and self-esteem.

The most disturbing effect of unemployment is the despair that can lead people to take their own lives. One out of every five suicides in the world can be associated with unemployment, according to a new study published in The Lancet Psychiatry. As Business Insider reports,
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“If we’re not heaven bent on doing more, we’re hell bent on trying to escape all the stuff we have to do.”

In Evan Koons’ concluding vlog on the Economy of Wonder, he tackles the difference between sloth and what Josef Pieper has called “virtuous idleness.”

It turns out sloth isn’t just about being lazy or doing nothing or sleeping in till 2. That’s called college. Sloth, at its core, to paraphrase field scholar Josef Pieper, is when we give up on the very responsibility that comes with our dignity: that we do not want to be what God wants us to be, and that means that we do not want to be what we really, in the ultimate sense, are. Hishis very good, gratuitous, useless creations born out of nothing more than his love and abundance.

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Through Christian’s Library Press, the Acton Institute has published four tradition-specific primers on faith, work, and economics, including Baptist, WesleyanPentecostal, and Reformed perspectives. Each offers a distinct contribution to the subject, and when taken together provides a rich and coherent framework for Christian stewardship. The books are part of Acton’s growing Oikonomia Series.

primer-group1

This week, Acton and CLP will be giving away two complete sets of the series (that’s 4 books total for each winner!), including Chad Brand’s Flourishing FaithDavid Wright’s How God Makes the World a Better Place, Charlie Self’s Flourishing Churches and Communities, and John Bolt’s Economic Shalom.

The contest will end Friday night (February 13) at 11:59 p.m. To enter, use the interface below. To get started, all you need to enter is your email address! After that, there are five ways to enter, and each will increase your odds (with extra points for tweeting).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: Due to certain constraints, print copies are only available to contestants who live North America. Winners who reside elsewhere will receive a digital copy.

1.21411In the latest addition to Mike Rowe’s growing catalog of pointed Facebook responses, the former Dirty Jobs host tackles a question on the minimum wage, answering a man named “Darrell Paul,” who asks:

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 and hour. A lot of people think it should be raised to $10.10. Seattle now pays $15 an hour, and the The Freedom Socialist Party is demanding a $20 living wage for every working person. What do you think about the minimum wage? How much do you think a Big Mac will cost if McDonald’s had to pay all their employees $20 an hour?

Rowe begins by recounting a job he had working at a movie theater for $2.90 per hour (the minimum wage in 1979). He served his customers, learned a host of new skills, and received several promotions in due course. Eventually, he decided to move on, pursuing areas closer to his vocational aspirations.

He worked. He learned. He launched.

Turning back to the present (and future), Rowe is concerned about the ways various labor policies have prodded many business owners to innovate ever-closer to full-blown automation, leading to ever-fewer opportunities for unskilled workers. “My job as an usher [at the theater] was the first rung on a long ladder of work that lead me to where I am today,” Rowe writes. “But what if that rung wasn’t there?” (more…)

primer-baptistI recently pointed to a helpful talk by Greg Forster to highlight how understanding economics is essential for developing a holistic theology of work, vocation, and stewardship. Economics connects the personal to the public, and prods our attentions and imaginations to the broader social order. In doing so, it alerts us to a unique and powerful mode of Christian mission.

In his latest book, Flourishing Faith: A Baptist Primer On Work, Economics, And Civic Stewardship, Chad Brand expands on this point, listing five reasons why pastors and seminaries (and thus, lay people) would do well to dig deeper into the realm of economics. (The following titles are paraphrased summaries, with the corresponding text pulled directly from Brand.)

1. The Bible Deals with Economic Issues

First, the Bible deals with economic issues…It addresses matters of stewardship of our world (Gen. 1–3; Gen. 9:1–7), of God’s ownership of creation (Matt. 6:25–30; Col. 1:16–20), and of economic shalom (Lev. 25:1–55; Acts 2:42–47; 2 Thess. 3:6–10), and other important issues given more detailed discussion in [this book].

2. Economics Helps Us Understand the Public Square

Second, an understanding of economics and especially of political economy can help us understand what is going on in the world around us. The general election…is impossible to follow without some understanding of the implications of Obamacare and its impact on Medicare, the federal deficit, and the long-term effects of continued deficit spending. The posturing on the part of Republicans and Democrats sometimes seems like little more than rhetoric, but the one who understands what is really at stake can help lead people to a better understanding of their responsibility in the public square.

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