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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.

The Significance of Play and Exploration: A Panel Conversation

The Play and Exploration Panel spoke at Jubilee Professional 2017. See what thoughtful and challenging speakers will be at Jubilee Professional 2018 HERE

What does the word “play” mean to you? Does play suggest only frivolity and nonsense, or could it have some greater purpose in our lives? Led by minister Dave Bindewald, the participants of the first ever Play and Exploration Cohort share how stepping into wonder and curiosity has transformed their perspectives on vocation, creativity, and flourishing.

Jubilee Professional is an annual, half-day conference to learn how to apply biblical truth to your everyday, professional life. It is brought to you by the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation and CCOand is part of the Jubilee Conference.

Photo and video credit: Andrew Rush

Cultural Engagement and the Next Generation: Dr. Greg Thornbury

Dr. Greg Thornbury spoke at Jubilee Professional 2017. See what thoughtful and challenging speakers will be at Jubilee Professional 2018 HERE

We need a new generation equipped to relentlessly pursue cultural engagement and stand toe-to-toe with the world, says Dr. Greg Thornbury, sixth President of the King’s College. Has the church been training up and shepherding the coming generation with this urgency, and do our young people have the tools to set forth the Word of Life in our cities? Explore these questions in Dr. Thornbury’s captivating talk.

Jubilee Professional is an annual, half-day conference to learn how to apply biblical truth to your everyday, professional life. It is brought to you by the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation and CCOand is part of the Jubilee Conference.

Photo and video credit: Andrew Rush

“Thy Will Be Done” in Community Transformation: Dr. John Wallace

Dr. John Wallace spoke at Jubilee Professional 2017. See what thoughtful and challenging speakers will be at Jubilee Professional 2018 HERE

What does it look like to redeem our neighborhoods for the kingdom of God? Dr. John Wallace works as both a professor at the University of Pittsburgh and a pastor in Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood. Dr. Wallace shares how his church practically lives out “thy kingdom come, thy will be done” for his hometown community, in the spheres of education, enterprise, art, and commerce.

Jubilee Professional is an annual, half-day conference to learn how to apply biblical truth to your everyday, professional life. It is brought to you by the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation and CCOand is part of the Jubilee Conference.

Photo and video credit: Andrew Rush

The Shared Story of Civil Rights: Dr. Todd Allen

Dr. Todd Allen spoke at Jubilee Professional 2017. See what thoughtful and challenging speakers will be at Jubilee Professional 2018 HERE.

As a college student, Dr. Todd Allen was shocked by the unfamiliarity of his peers with the history of the Civil Rights Movement, which had been so meaningful to his education. Now, college professor Dr. Allen has devoted his life’s work to communicating those stories and promoting the understanding that these stories belong to us all.

Jubilee Professional is an annual, half-day conference to learn how to apply biblical truth to your everyday, professional life. It is brought to you by the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation and CCOand is part of the Jubilee Conference.

Photo and video credit: Andrew Rush

Making Art for Others: Justin McRoberts

Justin McRoberts performed at Jubilee Professional 2017. See what thoughtful and challenging speakers will be at Jubilee Professional 2018 HERE

Through his music and words, pastor and singer-songwriter Justin McRoberts uses the seeds of his creative passion to encourage and to challenge the community in which he has been planted. In this musical session, he reflects on themes of community, faithfulness, and vocation.

Jubilee Professional is an annual, half-day conference to learn how to apply biblical truth to your everyday, professional life. It is brought to you by the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation and CCOand is part of the Jubilee Conference.

Photo and video credit: Andrew Rush

Equipping Women for Whole-Life Mission: Katelyn Beaty

Katelyn Beaty spoke at Jubilee Professional 2017. See what thoughtful and challenging speakers will be at Jubilee Professional 2018 HERE

What would it look like if the women in our midst understood themselves as full image-bearers of God and sought to live on mission for the kingdom? Katelyn Beaty, author and editor at large of Christianity Today, delineates both the barriers which women face in this pursuit and the powerful potential for women to rule and reign over culture.

Jubilee Professional is an annual, half-day conference to learn how to apply biblical truth to your everyday, professional life. It is brought to you by the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation and CCOand is part of the Jubilee Conference.

Photo and video credit: Andrew Rush