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Flourishing Cannot Exist Without Suffering. Here’s Why

Last month, we introduced a new blog series focused on clarifying the meaning of the words we use. Over the next few months, this series will aim to redefine some of the most frequently-used language at the heart of the faith and work conversation.

Flourishing can occur in many different contexts. In our next few posts, we will focus specifically on three:

  1. Flourishing as a leader
  2. Flourishing as a system
  3. Flourishing as an organization

Today, we are jumping into the deep end with a big word: Flourishing.

Inherent within the idea of leadership is an outward-focused mentality. Leaders cannot be effective if they only focus on themselves. At the same time, a leader must act out a strong internal sense of identity and purpose. Leaders cannot be effective if they do not know who they are and why they do what they do. The tension between an outward and inward orientation makes the concept of flourishing as a leader difficult to define. Does a flourishing leader benefit at the cost of his followers, or does he suffer by drowning under organizational pressure?

In his book Strong and Weak, Andy Crouch delves headfirst into this idea of flourishing as a leader. Crouch bases his work off of a simple concept: Flourishing comes from being both strong and weak. This idea is somewhat counter-cultural; great leaders are commonly associated with ruthless strength, authority, and power. However, Crouch asserts that leaders only flourish whenever their strength is balanced with appropriate weakness.

Crouch defines flourishing according to a 2 x 2 diagram in which authority is crossed against vulnerability.

Adapted from Strong and Weak by Andy Crouch © 2016.

He offers specific definitions for these two loaded terms. True authority is defined as “the capacity for meaningful action.” True vulnerability is defined as “exposure to meaningful risk.”

This 2 x 2 grid creates four quadrants in which humans have a tendency to live, depending on their capacity for authority and vulnerability:

First, where authority is high and vulnerability is low, exploiting abounds. According to Crouch, exploiting is found anywhere people seek to maximize power while eliminating risk.

Second, at the low end of both scales, no authority and no vulnerability create withdrawing. We all start our lives in this quadrant, but as innocent newborns this space is called safety. Crouch writes that in today’s America, withdrawing can be easily found through the technological barricades that allow people to isolate themselves from society.

Third, opposite from exploiting, with high vulnerability and low authority, falls the quadrant of suffering. No matter how privileged or powerful a person may be, everyone will experience suffering at some point in life.

The fourth and final quadrant is the quadrant of flourishing. Flourishing occurs at the intersection of true authority and true vulnerability. Crouch writes, “In a world where many people simply withdraw into safety, where others are imprisoned in the most extreme vulnerability, where others pursue their own unaccountable authority, anyone who seeks true flourishing is already, in many senses, a leader.”

The heart of Crouch’s model, however, appears one step further, as he introduces the concept of “Hidden Vulnerability.” By definition, leaders have authority. But in order to lead well and to flourish as leaders, they must also bear hidden vulnerability, the weakness and the risk that no one else sees. This, Crouch says, is the drama of leadership. The willingness to not only bear the inevitable suffering that leadership requires but even more, to actively choose to embrace that suffering, knowing that it is the pathway to flourishing for the community is THE common characteristic we see in the most effective leaders. The biblical imagery of the vine and the vinedresser in John 15 is perhaps the most poignant. In order to produce ripe luscious grapes, there must be the hard work of pruning and shaping. Every leader worth following has actively embraced the hardship and the pruning, the pain and the suffering, necessary to become a leader who creates flourishing for her teams, organization and community. Embrace suffering and flourishing will follow. This is the true paradox of leadership.

This article was curated by Bethany Wilson, Grove City College.

Change The Language, Change The Culture

Language is powerful.

Most people hold this idea in sound agreement, but the extent to which it permeates our ideas and our thinking is largely unrecognized. In fact, often the most powerful language in our vocabulary is that which we do not even realize we are using. The manner in which we choose and employ words has the ability to drastically change the way our arguments are understood and the traction our language receives.

This issue does not disappear in the corner of faith & work discussions; instead it becomes even more relevant. The use of clear, consistent, and well-defined language is essential for discussion and understanding in this realm of conversation.

Several questions present themselves as we consider questions of language and meaning.

  • What exactly to we mean by often-used language in the faith and work movement?
  •  How does our use of language influence public perception?
  •  What language ought we to be using in important discussions?

Over the next several months, we will be presenting a series of blog posts addressing many of these questions. We believe that in order to enter into productive dialogue and faithful conversation, we must first redefine the words which are at the crux of our work. In these essays, we will offer “redefinitions” of several buzz words in the faith and work community: flourishing, transformation, vocation, and more.

Check back every month for a new post as we seek to “redefine” the language that is so important to our work and our faith.

This article was curated by Bethany Wilson, Grove City College.

Practical Transformation: Moving from Idea to Reality

Have you ever had a world-changing idea, but you were unable to bring it to life in a practical way?

For many years, our work has centered on the big idea that “everything matters to God.” However, there is often a practical gap in this journey. The challenge comes in crossing the chasm between embracing an idea and putting that idea into practice.

Terry Timm, the Lead Pastor at Christ Community Church in the South Hills, recently conducted a survey to see how comfortable his congregation was with implementing the principle that ‘all things matter’ into their daily lives.

Terry has been working to embed the integration of faith and work into his congregation since its early beginnings in 2003. He was surprised to find, however, that while they had internalized and embraced this theology, his congregation was uncertain what the concept should practically look like in their lives and work and how they could communicate to others.

So what does it take to move from theology to praxis? At PLF, we have identified “The Four Elements of Transformation,” the steps required to move from an idea into a reality. Much as a caterpillar follows a specific course as it transforms into a butterfly, these four steps provide an outline for understanding what actually occurs in the transformational process.

1. Perspective

Before the caterpillar can evolve into a butterfly, the necessary conditions must be established through the formation of the chrysalis. Similarly, gaining perspective sets the stage for the change which needs to occur in our lives.

This first step is a shift that many of us have already made—at least intellectually. We believe on a theoretical level that God cares not just about our faith but about all parts of our lives.

2. Paradigm

Paradigm is the critical point at which we have embraced the idea intellectually, but we begin to recognize a disconnect between our newfound conviction and its practical outworking in our lives and work. So how do we jump the gap? For the caterpillar, old cells must die off and new ones must begin to grow before it can emerge. You don’t get a butterfly by duct-taping wings on a caterpillar–something new must emerge. For us it requires the release of old ways of thinking and acting so that new ways can take shape.

The experience can push us into unfamiliar territory, and we may desire to move through this step quickly. In reality, effective change takes time.

3. Structure

As old practices begin to die off, new structures must form in order for the new ideology to take hold. In the metamorphosis, this is when the wings take shape and the compound eye forms.

Structure is where we start to ask ourselves how we want to fully embrace this new way of thinking and being. We often stop or get stuck once we have shifted our paradigm. It can be tough to make the shift, but structure is essential to ensure a lasting impact.

4. Process

Finally, just as the butterfly emerges from its cocoon, the new way of being becomes a part of daily life. We reinforce our newly-embraced reality with processes that help us function coherently within the system.

Transforming the knowledge that God cares about all things into practice is part of an ever-present cycle. We will forever be moving through the process of perspective, paradigm, structure, and process. The road from idea to application can be long and intimidating, but the truth that ‘everything matters to God’ is an idea ever so worth applying to your life.

How Our Words Impact the Sunday-to-Monday Gap

Have you ever sat in Church Sunday morning and listened to an amazing sermon about grace and forgiveness and then had to fire someone on Monday morning? Have you ever closed a deal or finished a project and wondered if what you do makes a difference in the world?

Dualistic Language

It can often feel like there is a chasm between what we hear on Sunday and how we apply that Monday through Saturday. Many of us know the life transforming power of the Gospel in our personal lives but don’t really consider the implications of that Gospel in what we do with 40-60+ hours of our week.

How can I go to church and experience profound grace and mercy despite my many mistakes and turn around and fire someone because they are incompetent in their role on Monday? It is really hard to reconcile being truly forgiven with accountability and results. We need a bigger context.

How can I go to church and experience profound grace and mercy despite my many mistakes and turn around and fire someone because they are incompetent in their role on Monday?

Sunday Words

Monday Words

Forgiveness
Mercy
Grace
Faithfulness
Encourage
Family
Commitment
Generosity
Common Good
Relationships
Responsibility
Accountability
Truth
Success
Shrewd
Career
Ambition
Negotiation
Shareholder Value
Results

What Does The Gospel Have To Do With It?

The good news is that the Gospel is true and it is big. It is a comprehensive story about a God that made everything perfect; about people who wanted to be autonomous and godlike and screwed everything up; about that same God who loves his creation so much he was willing to take on a body that sweats and stinks just like ours, a God who gave up everything to rescue his good creation; and finally, about a God who invites his people to join him in the work of restoring his world until the day he will fully bring his Kingdom to be on earth as it is in heaven.

God’s Assignment For Us

God’s invitation to join him in His work is what fills the chasm between Sunday words and Monday words. Our task is to take the good creation in all of its many parts: family, law, government, business, art- to name a few, and discovering how to unlock and develop the goodness inherent in them. God uses us to rescue creation from the bending and breaking power of sin.

That means that as Christians when we put a deal together or complete a project, we can tap into the work God is doing to restore the good creation and make life better for everyone. It also means we can be honest about brokenness and sin. Sometimes that means making hard decisions– including firing a person for not being willing or able to do a job effectively, while at the same time, affirming their value as a person.

That means that as Christians when we put a deal together or complete a project, we can tap into the work God is doing to restore the good creation and make life better for everyone.

In God’s story there are no distinctions between Sunday and Monday words. It is easy to narrow our context, and limit our understanding of what God is doing. We desperately need each other to expand our view so that we don’t lose sight of the one context where all words invite understand in light of the big story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Justice for the Common Good

Michael Gerson spoke at Jubilee Professional 2016. If you would like to attend Jubilee Professional 2017 on Friday, February 17th, register HERE. 

In an age of political turmoil, what can Christians do?

There is an underlying issue that many feel the American dream has been stolen. This comes at a time when a major economic transition has upended the blue collar economy and family structures have become weaker.

Family, community, and economic challenges are related in complex ways. All are in need of attention and understanding. Christians must stand for human dignity and common good in all of those ways.

I think this emphasis on entrepreneurship, on the proper role of government, and on strong families and communities is the great contribution of reformed Christianity to our common life.

And while it is easy to feel hopeless in times of turmoil, remember that the people regarded as heroes in our country stood for hope and unity, not divisiveness and hatred.

How Parents Can Influence the Faith of Their Teenagers

About 60% of kids raised in the church leave during the college years. Father of four and author Dan Dupee explores this phenomena in his book “It’s Not Too Late: The Essential Part You Play In Shaping Your Teen’s Faith.” He looks at three opportunities that can help parents continue to be influential to their teen’s faith.

Confront Myths

Teens tend to give off the “I need you but I don’t want to need you” or “I love you but sort of hate you” attitude. In reality, Dan reminds parents that kids are always looking towards their guardians, even during college. Just as Jesus looked to his father, parents matter.

Create Opportunities

Parents make mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes. Dan created a list of way to create opportunities for your children within the messes and mistakes parents make. Even with imperfections that lead to suffering, we experience God’s true and beautiful grace.

Stay With It 

Entrepreneurs constantly experience triumphs and trials, they experiences periods of anger and periods of love for their program, business, or organization. Likewise, a parent’s relationship with their child will go through highs and lows. Even when they make choices that can’t be taken back, they can be forgiven.

Lastly, Dan reminds us that, “Our kids needs us to hang in there with them and invite others into the fray.”

Dan’s book is available at Hearts and Minds Books. Order a copy today!

Bring Beauty To Light In Your Career

Work is commonly thought of as something that begins around 8 AM and ends around 5 PM. However, Jeremy Casella has made it his aspiration as a singer, songwriter, and recording artist to contribute career results that make a difference all the time.

Jeremy Casella sees the beauty of our world as the “larger activity” his work contributes to daily. Being an artist allows Jeremy to study the world and remain present, thinking of ways to bring the beauty of the world to light. He studies the work God has done all around him and strives to have records reflecting the beauty.

As with any career, Jeremy struggles. He struggles to create work being not only beautiful but also truly valuable to the community surrounding him. As a Christian, Jeremy has searched to fully understand why God has him where he serves, but he reminds us of the importance of being creative and creating new things no matter where God places us.

Jeremy reminds us how important it is to stay present in our careers and follows with the example of Jesus, who for thirty years served in ministry and remained constantly present to the world he served.

Leadership as Stewardship

Matthew 25:21,23
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your mater’s happiness!”

This scripture passage is often used by church leaders as part of “stewardship or capital” campaigns, making the (legitimate) case that if one invests in their local congregation, it will return Kingdom dividends.

But what if Jesus had a much more personal and high risk investment he was suggesting? As leaders, what if the primary ‘talent’ God has given us to steward is who we are as His image bearers?

Stewarding one’s self is the most vital work each of has been given as a follower of Jesus. The work we put our hands to and the things we choose to invest our time and energy in, are the primary things we must steward for Kingdom dividends. The Greek word for stewardship, “Oikonomia” translates as economy or house management. Before we can steward anything else, we must manage our own house. This means doing the hard work of knowing yourself, investing in developing yourself in an intentional and focused way.

This is not navel-gazing, but rather learning who God created you to be and what your unique gifts, talents and strengths are to steward, wherever He has placed you. It guides what you say yes to, and more importantly, what you say no to. When we do not know and develop the very talents God has placed with in each of us, we are hard pressed to help others do the same.

The leadership implications of this are profound. Stewarding of self is fundamental to the work of any effective leader and not attending to this is well-intended disobedience. The consequences are harsh:

“For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness…” Matt 25:29-30

Are you stewarding who God created you to be? Are you over-extended but know there are things you spend time on that are “outside your wheelhouse”? If so, then you are ready for the steward leadership journey that matters.


This was originally posted in Man Up Pittsburgh: 2016 Devotional. For more information on Man Up, visit www.ManUpPittsburgh.org.

An Orthogonal Experience, Or How Transformation Happens Outside Of Our Comfort Zones

Photo Credit: Acton Institute

A few years ago a good friend and very wise business leader, Doug Wilson, shared with me that he required his core leaders to schedule at least one “orthogonal” experiencing annually as part of their own development. After asking him to define “orthogonal” (of or involving right angles; at right angles), he explained that real transformational learning occurs when we are outside of our comfort zone and stretched in new ways. This stimulates creative thinking and often unveils a new perspective.

Real transformational learning occurs when we are outside of our comfort zone.

A recent trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan to attend a four-day conference called Acton University, was just such an experience for me. This annual event is a program of the Acton Institute, a think tank focused on the study of religion and liberty, that brings together the best and brightest around the integration of Faith, Work, and Economics. Their vision for a free and virtuous society is embodied in the week as more than 1200 people from 50 countries, and a multitude of Christian faith streams gather to learn, be challenged, and build relationships.

Attendees at Acton University choose from 121 courses to create their own 11-course schedule that integrates economics, business, theology, and intellectual history. The course faculty includes world-renowned theologians, scholars, and practitioners, while each session has plenty of time for Q&A to engage around issues relevant to your context, country, and culture.

This year, my fourth in attending, I had the privilege of leading a group of pastors from Pittsburgh who are participating in a new project PLF launched last month called the Vocational Infusion Learning Community.

It was a great joy to share the experience with these eight men and women as we had perspectives forever changed and engaged in conversations at levels that just don’t happen in our day-to-day work back in Pittsburgh. Together we explored topics like the dignity and value of the human person, and the intersection of liberty and morality. Perhaps most of all, we formed relationships with one another and friends from around the globe who share our deepest values in working for the Lord Jesus Christ.

While there is renewed energy in returning home with new knowledge and a deeper understanding of the impact of our work, I look forward to the long-term fruit of this week in the lives of these pastors and their respective congregations.

Thank you Acton, for providing such a remarkable and transformative experience. You have blessed PLF, these pastors, and ultimately our city through your good a faithful work over these last 25 years. We are grateful.

What Is In A Name: Why Our New Initiative is Called “VILC”

Last week Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation launched a new initiative called the Vocation Infusion Learning Community or VILC. Catchy name, right? Maybe not, but it was very intentional.

The VILC concept was launched in 2011 by Dr. Amy Sherman and Dr. Steven Garber, in partnership with the Acton Institute. The intent was to create a year-long learning experience to re-think vocation, faith, work and economics and why it should matter to the local church. That initial journey was shared by 12 pastors, each accompanied by a marketplace leader from their respective church, igniting a wave of change in these congregations.

The 2016 Pittsburgh VILC opened with a two-day retreat and an exciting group of 24 leaders from 11 churches in our region. These men and women have made the commitment over the next twelve months to open their minds, hearts, and spirits to see what God might do in their communities of faith through this work, for the common good of our cities.

So what do the words mean?

Vocation

The unique call that God places in each of us to bring Him glory and serve the common good. As Steve Garber says, “Vocation is integral, not incidental to the Missio Dei.” If this is true (and we believe it is), then the role of the church must be to disciple and help steward the vocations of their people.

Infusion

This initiative will not be simply more good information, but will provide each pastor and congregation with a practical, in-depth planning tool to transform the culture of their congregations and richly infuse it with vocational stewardship and a coherent theology of faith, work and economics.

Learning

If we ever stop learning, then we have likely stepped out of God’s will. When we recognize that learning will often push us out of our comfort zone to take risks and try new things, then we are on the path to creating flourishing for the common good.

Community

While we can absorb information and learn new things independently, we hold to a deep conviction that real transformation only occurs in the context of a community of like-minded people committed to one another.

VILC may not be the sexiest name for an initiative but it means what it stands for, and we’re excited to share the stories of transformation that have just begun. Stay tuned for updates along this journey… a journey that matters.