Lisa Slayton: JPro Just Work From Toil to Joy!

We say it all the time, many of us. “I am just a florist” “I am just a………” student, Just a plumber, Just a stay at home parent, the possibilities are endless. And when we say this, we are really not intending to diminish the value of that particular work, or are we?

I am going to unpack for you the 7 transformational shifts we must make both personally and systemically for work in the world to move from Toil to Joy.

As Jim mentioned in his introduction, and you heard from others in their talks, there is a triple entendre inherent in JUST WORK that may very well provide insight into how we view our work and, in many ways, how we view justice.

Just as a reminder, the three meanings of Just work are

  1. I am Just a….. the diminishment of our work. that many workers see their work as unimportant. They do not view themselves as important members of society who are embracing their call to contribute to the larger economy and to do good work as worship unto God.
  2. But work was indeed broken by the fall and the second entendre of Justwork Implies that not all work is at it should be. work is laced with toil, difficult bosses and co-workers, environmental

As well as unjust systems and structures that can make work very difficult.

  1. The third ‘entendre’, as you have heard from our speakers so far this afternoon, truly Just Work can emphasize the importance of work and the value that comes from seeking to embracing God’s command for all mankind to, “Be fruitful, to be filled with both compassionate AND capacity.

Work, as defined so well by Tim Keller, is both creative and assertive.  It is rearranging the raw material of God’s creation in such a way that it helps the world in general, and people in particular, thrive and flourish.

 Work has inherent dignity because it is something that God does and because we do it in God’s place, as his representatives.  

We would do well to remember here that a biblical view of work must start in the garden-Genesis 1&2 as Tom reminded us

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”


“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”

Work is NOT a function of the fall, but instead was and remains apart of God’s design for his world!! And I would suggest a significant part of his plan for redemption and justice, not just then, but in the now and not yet of the Kingdom.

As we at PLF have invested time and thought into a theology of JUSTWORK a new initiative we are undertaking. we know that in order for this to truly become embedded in the hearts and minds of every Christian, there are some transformational shifts from Fallen Work towards Restorative Work we must make to move away from the secular view of work and towards a biblical understanding of work.

I’d like to use the metaphor of physical health as a way to walk into these needed shifts. In each of our bodies, we have many systems that must function interdependently in order for us to be healthy, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually. They include things like your nervous system, your skeletal system, your circulatory system and many others. When we visit with our doctor, whether as a preventative or to address an issue, they often ask questions that lead them to look at the health of these underlying systems.

The idea of attending to our physical systems has taken on a whole new meaning for me personally in the last year. In late 2017, I became aware of some health signs that told me that I needed to make some significant shifts if I was to enter my next decade on the planet healthy and whole. Last March, just a year ago, I began working with a health and wellness coach to help me make these shifts. You might say, oh you went on a diet. Yes I did, but it has been much more than that. I made significant changes to my food- But I also began to see that the shifts I was making were impacting not just my physical body, but also my spiritual, emotional and mental well-being. All of my interdependent systems were being slowly transformed.

I have lost weight, quite a bit actually-now the equivalent of the newest member of our family- Grace the Fox Red Lab – but the transformation is more holistic than just diet, and I have ways of monitoring where I am in my journey- not just on the scale, but by assessing weekly things like sleep, water, exercise, mental alertness. Am I connected to God in an authentic way?. This regular monitoring has made a huge difference. Regular assessment and audits of my health IS part of the journey to wholeness.

Let’s look at how this works in an organization. There are embedded flawed human systems that make work and workplaces unjust, where power is being abused and poorly stewarded.

The most recent statistics from census data, and other research, shows that in the US for people who work fulltime and year-round, the pay differential between men and women in the US is on average just over $10k per year, or about a 20% difference. Sixty-minutes last year did a case study on this with the CEO of Salesforce Marc Benioff. Benioff was challenged in 2015 by his personnel chief to undertake an organization wide audit to determine pay equity between men and women. Benioff, who is known as an activist CEO and has worked hard to build a great culture at Salesforce, was disbelieving that they could have such a problem. But the audit told a different story, there was indeed a pervasive gap across all areas of the 30,000 employees. It cost Salesforce over 3 million dollars to correct the problem that first year, but they did not stop there. They had already had good policies in place, but this required more than just policies. They sought to root out underlying behaviors that were contributing to the gap. When they repeated the audit a year later the problem persisted, although progress had been made. They now audit throughout the year and work at the systemic issues that have surfaced. One is the “mommy penalty” an unconscious bias they uncovered that women returning from maternity leave will be tired and less able to do their jobs at full capacity, or another that demonstrated that on average it was taking 36 months to consider a woman for promotion whereas a man in a similar role is typically considered in 12-18 months.

Our desire is for all workers, in other words all humans, to experience relief from toil and move towards a sense of accomplishment, holiness, joy, and gratitude in work. The story of the pay gap between men and women at Salesforce is just one small example of how deeply entrenched injustices can, with intentionality and humility, be moved from toil to joy. And it started because those in power yielded that power in search of the truth, for the good of all. This is what the bible calls Righteousness, the Tsaddiqim, a primary way of talking about biblical justice.

Let’s step into these 7 transformational shifts that we must make if we are to see movement towards more wholistic and Just Work. And while I am doing this, I want you to give yourself a score of between 1-5 on how you find yourself doing on each of these transformations. Likert Scale

  1. The first shift is from leisure to Sabbath.
    We start with this one because Work without Rest is disordered. Period. In the Hebrew culture, the week began with Sabbath so that the rest of the week of work was properly grounded in a deep connection with God.In our workaholic, over connected 24/7 world, many of us have lost the ability to truly sabbath. We experience leisure at the expense of others or worship at the idol of hurry or busy and we exhaust ourselves because we cannot cease. Sabbath, true rest, is the result of good work and we can cease and allow others to cease in the midst of our communities. Last year’s JPro focused entirely on this topic and the talks are available on our website. I encourage you to watch them particularly the foundational talk given by Andy Crouch. Here is a question, particularly if you are a ‘boss,’ –are you sending messages to your team that you expect them to be ‘on duty’ 24/7? Do you send snap chats or emails late at night or over the weekend? This subtly sends a message that you expect them to be responsive whenever you want them to be and it disallows sabbath. In an article written last year in the Washington Post, an INSEAD business School professor said this about entrepreneurial icon Elon Musk, “He is really the poster boy of a contemporary culture that celebrates impulsive authenticity and obsessive overwork, He’s the symbol of a workplace culture in which we long for a very personal, even romantic (and I would suggest idolatrous) relationship with work” This is the message our culture sends- work as an idol. So let’s start right here and give yourself a score on Sabbath- yes I know how to cease- a 5 or Sabbath does not come easily to me—a one or a two.
  2. The second shift is from Wandering to Calling
    Work as wandering is work that does not feel true to who we were meant to be as workers. However, work as a means to live out our Calling is rooted in God’s Command for us to be fruitful and to multiply as his divine image-bearers. Now, please don’t hear something I am not saying- I am NOT saying to drop everything and pursue your passion or twist yourself in knots to ‘figuring out your calling.” Calling is not your job or even your career and you CANNOT figure it out. Calling is a more about uncovering and ‘excavating’ as Dan Allender says, who God created you to uniquely be and how you bring yourself to every role you play- as a worker, as a parent, a spouse, a boss and more. Allender goes on to say that calling is most often revealed when our dreams die and we embrace loss and suffering as a pathway to true purpose and joy. This work on the stewardship of calling is at the heart of our mission at PLF. Are you a wanderer or do you have some clarity about your calling? Note your health score on this one.
  3. From Toil to Goodness:
    we know for certain the effects of the fall have brought toil to our work; it includes disorder that is often difficult to overcome, we build things, or create things only to have them fall apart. People and things just don’t do what we want them. (especially if you are a 1 on the Enneagram- any 1’s out there?)
    But work is, can and will be restorative. Good work is rearranging the particulars in a specific part of the world to produce flourishing. Almost 10 years ago I took a Theology of Work intensive as part of my master’s program at Bakke Graduate University, BTW, BGU, one of our sponsors offers a fully integrated faith work and economics business masters, Find MBA program director Lynn Bell who is here today to learn more) During that intensive week, our professor, Dr. Paul Stevens shared a story I have never forgotten. Paul is a theologian and perhaps among the foremost thought leaders and teachers on a biblical Theology of Work. So his story surprised me. He was talking about the new heavens and earth and what might ‘make it through to the other side”. At his home in Vancouver BC Paul had built, with some help, a very large sturdy all cedar deck. He pondered with us that day, that when Jesus comes back and the earth is fully restored and perfected, his deep hope is that his cedar deck will be there for him to enjoy to in its fullest. Good work well done.

Do you view your work entirely as toil, hard and pointless- or is your work good- producing flourishing for you and for others?

  1. From Disconnection to Contribution:
    Disconnected work results when we find that our work is meaningless and mundane or demanding so much of us that we are overwhelmed by it and not in right relationship with others. But work viewed as contribution can imbue even the most tedious job with meaning. Jeff Van Duzer, in his very good book Why Business Matters to God offers what he calls the Genesis model for business. He contends that business, understood biblically, is purposed:
  • to produce goods and services that enable the community to flourish, and
  • to provide opportunities for meaningful work that will allow employees to express their God-given creativity.You heard from Jason Wolfe earlier about his deep commitment to bring redemption to a broken industry sector. His people know- wherever they work on his team- that the work they are doing is contributing to something good for the world- a product that has the ability to change an industry. Being able to contribute, in small and large ways, is part of being human, being image bearers. So where do you fall on the scale for this one- are you disconnected, or viewing your work as contribution.
  1. From Secularism to Worship:
    In our western culture, our habitual hurry is a signal that work has become an idol- we worship at the altar of busyness, productivity. But work, understood as worship, is something very different. The Hebrew work Avodah translates loosely in English to Work, Worship and Service. The Christian culture tri-furcates this into three distinct activities- we work Monday thru Friday, we serve in our community or at church and we worship on Sundays before the message. Because we have compartmentalized these things we are disintegrating. Work is intended to be worshipful, so what are you worshipping? Your busy calendar? Your productivity? Or are you worshipping the God who made you and offering your work back to him as worship? Give yourself a score
  1. From Malformation to Formation:
    We must understand that our work forms us every day- but the question must be asked- how is it forming us? When we fragment our work, worship and service into three distinct boxes, we create the conditions to look at the work box as a place where we do what is necessary, or what is normative in our workplace to get our paycheck. When we adopt this stance, we allow our work to inform our behavior and actions in ways counter to the gospel and it becomes easier to say- it is ‘just how work works here’. It can become a justification for cutting corners, or making compromises. It is here that individual actions can become systemic and institutional injustices. This often happens slowly and overtime. But when we integrate work, worship and service, we are formed into wholeness and our hearts are deeply transformed and conformed into the Christlikeness and work becomes a primary place of discipleship and formation. So how is your work forming you? Into a more hard-hearted, less empathetic ‘just get it done’ leader or worker? Or into a person of love and grace, closer and more fully into an Image bearing ambassador?
  2. From Cynicism to Evangelism:
    Cynical work develops when the other 6 elements are not being lived out incarnationally in us and through us, when we show up joyless, and disconnected and we opt to live merely within the realm of fallen work. In this condition we can feel that there is no meaning for our work. Anybody seen this book, recently published? Not sure I want to say the name out loud. Without doing a long review of the book, I will say, it focuses almost entirely on this kind of cynicism and he has had a huge response. Like any work of this nature, there is some truth to be mined from his assumptions. There truly are some BullShit Jobs out there. But he is fundamentally missing a robust theology of work that is rooted in an understanding that as Christians, we must bring our identity, our “In Christness” to our work. In evangelistic work, however, it is possible for a worker who is embodying the first six elements of their work to have a contagious effect on others who have not yet seen the Kingdom of God lived out. In our daily work, we are the signposts for the coming of the Kingdom.

Evangelist Billy Graham famously said almost 20 years ago “I believe one of the next great moves of God is going to be through the believers in the workplace” And I am not sure Graham meant only because there were more workplace bible studies, or 4 spiritual laws Conversations-although these are truly good things to do. But in a post Christian world, often the first witness of the gospel will be WHO we are as Christians living out love and grace in a coherent way and then HOW we do our work, with excellence.

Are we producing excellent goods and services that bring flourishing to the world? Or as Dorothy Sayers says so simply and well “The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.”

We have a significant opportunity to invite people to be part of building FOR God’s Kingdom when we show up as a beloved son or daughter of the most High God and do your work excellently with love and grace, where ever you are placed.

And so, Sayers may be onto something, the making of good tables may be the best evangelism of all. So are you a cynic or an evangelist through your daily work? Take a minute- look back over your notes- how did you score? Were there any that were low 1’s or 2’s or 3’s? Any very high? What created resonance or dissonance?

Do you find yourselves mired in unrest, wandering, toil, disconnection, secularism, malformation and cynicism? Our hope is that today we helping you move towards a robust theology AND praxis of Sabbath rest, work as a means of expressing calling, Work as goodness, work as contribution, work as worship, work as formational, and work as evangelistic- an effective witness of the coming of the Kingdom and its King, Jesus Christ, the renewer of ALL THINGS

In this passage alone, Paul uses that little word ALL 7 times and is referring, well, to ALL things- people yes, but also the material world and its interdependent systems.

Paul’s beautiful cedar deck. The carpenters table. A Chief police officer who addresses systemic injustice. A Gifting App that encourages generosity. We must embrace these transformational shifts, and engage in a whole life discipleship that fosters human coherence—the head, the will AND THE HEART, the dignity of creative image bearing that moves us towards rich communion with others and the redemption of our world, individual and corporate, personal and systemic. So I leave you with this question, borrowed from our friend Steve Garber- How are you implicated by what you now know? What might God be calling you to respond to as a result of what you are learning today?

Join me as we reimagine work as God designed it to be, a primary means of justice and righteousness in our fallen world.

What we call Just Work

Exploring Common Practices for Faith and Work in Local Churches

How will the Church in the 21st century “equip the saints for works of service” (Eph. 4:12) for the vast challenges we face in the world today? At Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation we have been endeavoring to equip leaders to move from Theology to Praxis in this important work for over 40 years. While it can seem overwhelming at first blush, it often starts with some small and simple new practices that can shift entire systems. After all, God’s people are touching every area of our cities through their daily work, and it’s the Church’s privilege and responsibility to send them to be agents of healing through their vocations, for the flourishing of all.

I recently had the privilege of learning from Matt Rusten, Executive Director of the Made to Flourish Pastors Network. On a call for other leaders and practitioners in the faith-and-work movement, Rusten and Jeff Haanen, executive director of Denver Institute for Faith & Work, discussed the possibility of leaders and churches agreeing upon a set of minimum standards for the integration of faith and work in local congregations. They discussed that “faith and work” isn’t an “add on” ministry, but instead a vision for the sending of God’s people that should be integral to every church’s philosophy of ministry.

Rusten presented a compelling list of four practices that I believe could be a common starting point for churches that embrace historic teachings about vocation. As presented by Rusten, the four practices intersect with four distinct areas of congregational life: corporate worship, pastoral practice, discipleship/spiritual formation, and mission/outreach.

Here’s a brief summary of each of the four practices:

Four Common Standards for Integrating Faith and Work in Local Congregations

  1. Corporate Worship: Pastoral Prayers for Workers (1x per month)
  • Pray specifically for congregants’ working lives.
    • General liturgical prayers
    • Vocation-specific prayers
    • Commissioning prayers
  1. Pastoral Practice: Workplace Visitation (1x per month)
  • Visit parishioner’s workplaces.
    • Onsite – non-participatory
    • Onsite – participatory
    • Offsite
      • Meetings
      • Sermon prep
  1. Discipleship/Spiritual Formation: Vocational Interviews in Small Groups (regularly)
  • Interview congregants about their daily work. (Use the following sample questions.)
    • Give us a picture of a day in the life of your work.
    • What unique opportunities do you have to love your neighbor through your work?
    • Where do you experience the brokenness of the world in your work?
    • How can we pray for you?
  1. Mission/Outreach: Asset Mapping Exercise (annual)
  • Conduct a congregational survey about the varying assets a congregation has that can be deployed for community benefit.
    • Physical/space assets
    • Financial assets
    • Networks
    • Human capital
    • Community
  • If you’d like a peek into the conversation that I get to have with leaders like Jeff and Matt, here is a link to the presentation. Matt Rusten’s comments run from about 4:18 to 19:00.
  • For the readers out there, this is the accompanying transcriptof the City Gate call.
  • here’s a simple asset mapping survey that local churches can use.


Also find a video transcript of the entire presentation 5

We at Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation heartily commend each of these practices in our network, and eagerly look forward to working with local churches to better equip the saints for works of service.

Building for His Kingdom,


JPro2019 question: Can we get better lighting so we can see the speaker? A spotlight perhaps? (13 likes)

Jubilee Professional 2019 was the largest gathering of people to attend Jubilee Professional and most likely the darkest (lighting wise) to date. While it was not our intention to elicit the response we got from Dave Moore, Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Urban Christian School, he did put what could have been a negative aspect of the conference into a new light (literally and figuratively). Read his thoughts on the darkness in the room. Please know, for those who attended Jubilee Professional, we saw your question about the lighting and we addressed it as quickly as possible and to the best of our ability.

 (If having no spotlights on the stage was intentional…) My aversion to Christian conferences, and to the Christian Industrial Complex at large, is mostly because of the way they impact the local pastor’s ability to do his job.  In the Protestant movement, orthodoxy and orthopraxy are defined not by any Pope or College of Cardinals, but by the loudest voices who speak under the brightest lights to the largest audiences.  “My pastor’s a nice enough fella, but (fill in the blank TV preacher) has such a large following, so he must be doing something right.”  I speak from experience – in the minds of many, I should have forsaken seminary and attended the Willow Creek Summit, or read more John Hagee.

So the no-spotlight call was hugely symbolic.  It felt, from the seats, that you were asking us to actually turn our eyes off and listen, which, for me, is when God grabs my mind and takes it in His direction.  It de-emphasizes the speaker while emphasizing what is being said.  Hugely risky, creative call.  I closed my eyes, watched the painter, or stared at the ceiling while I listened.  I heard the words that were spoken and unspoken.  I never would have done that with the spotlights on.

(OR, If having no spotlights on the stage was unintentional…) Man, I’m impressed with y’all just getting up there and going.  1:00pm on. the. dot., Jim strolls up there and just goes.  We’re all waiting for the spotlight.  Is there a short?  A bulb out?  Does the light guy know Jim is talking?  Is he a member of Local Spotlight 302 and on break until 1:15?  Here’s the beautiful thing: no matter what the reason, Jim just keeps going.

Maybe there’s a strict light budget, and they’re not wasting it on the local guy.  Here comes Tom Nelson.  Jim might not have noticed, ’cause he’s used to Pittsburgh being cloudy all the time, but surely this guy, who flew in from a sunnier clime, knows that the spotlight isn’t on.  Surely now… but no!  And he just keeps going.  OK, maybe Dr. Wallace will save this.  Jim and Tom are too nice, but Dr. Wallace seems like the kind of take-charge guy who can speak Truth.  But nothing.  Wow.

So, if this was unintentional, everyone did such a flawless job of rolling with it, that it made sense.  For more thoughts on the impact of this happy accident, see above

Everything is OK, or Not.

October 28, 2018. Sunday afternoon in the ‘Burgh. Gray skies with the occasional peak of blue. 48 degrees and a bit of wind. Battling my usual fall change of season sinus infection. “Stillers” are up at the half against the Browns 14-6.

Just a normal fall day in our corner of the country in Southwestern Pennsylvania? It is NOT a normal fall day. It is a horrific day. The gray skies above seem like a pall that has been draped over our city symbolizing our sobriety and our wound because our city, the city of neighborhoods, experienced a mass shooting yesterday inside a synagogue. As worshippers were gathering to celebrate the Shabbat 11 precious souls were taken from their families, taken from their community, taken from our city. A man spewing anti-Semitic vitriol and armed with 4 weapons entered this holy place and began shooting, killing these 11 and injuring 6 others including 3 law enforcement officials.

Mayor Peduto called this “the darkest day in Pittsburgh’s history.” He is right. Tree of Life synagogue, located in Squirrel Hill, is in the heart of the tightly-knit Jewish community here in our city. A community that cares for its own and serves others freely. Generations have lived here and are pillars of good for our region. Today they are shattered and grieving. And we are too, with them.

We can ask why this kind of gratuitous violence happens. We can ask what brings a man to such a state of mind, that his only solution is to take the lives of others in such a vicious manner. But I am not sure we will ever get good answers, other than to know that it is overwhelming fear and enormous pain—physical, emotional, mental, spiritual—that brings out the very worst evil in a human being.

There will be much speculation and politicization of how this happened. In this polarized and hostile election cycle, there will be blame and shame cast widely from all sides, and this will be used for political expediency. This is not at all helpful, but it will happen just the same. I wish it wouldn’t but I know it will.

So, what are we to do? We grieve, we lament, we mourn and we come together. Even as the community reeled, young people organized a vigil. Held outside the Jewish Community center at the intersection of Forbes and Murray Avenue hundreds, maybe thousands, gathered last evening, Saturday. And tonight another, larger interfaith vigil is planned at Soldiers and Sailors in Oakland.

In the shadows behind the interfaith vigil, loomed Sixth Presbyterian Church, where Fred Rogers worshipped for many years. He gave us some of the best words to remember in times like this,

“My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”

At the essence of this message is love. The apostle John taught us that “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18) Perfect here does not mean faultless, for we are all with fault. It means wholeness. To love whole heartedly, without fear. We saw evidence of that love yesterday, and more love will come. To the families of the slain, to the mourning community.

As we enter our week, let us show up with love. Love for the loveable, but also for those with whom we differ, those who view the world from another perspective or those who stand on the opposite side of something for which we feel strongly. In doing so, we will drive out fear.

And, as we drive out fear with acts love, let us join with our Jewish brothers and sisters, in their mourning custom of “sitting Shiva”, the week-long mourning for the dead. Let us lament this horrific event. Let us respect this age-old tradition that allows the grieving to adjust to the loss, however devastating. Let us respect the customs and observations that help to make meaning out of death.

Though we have hope that the world will be made right one day when Jesus brings his kingdom into its fulness, Every thing is NOT OK in Pittsburgh today. Today, let’s choose to be with one another, bear one another’s burdens, grieve with one another, care for one another.

Pittsburgh will never be known for God until we are first known for our love for Him and for our neighbors.


Grieving and praying,
Lisa, Jim, Rick, Herb, Katie, Erin and Jay

The PLF team


Jubilee Professional 2018 Resources

Sabbath Articles

The Sabbath Ladder

By: Andy Crouch


This chapter was taken out of Andy Crouch’s book, Playing God.

Taken from Playing God by Andy Crouch. Copyright © 2013 by Andy Crouch. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove IL 60515-1426.

By: Tish Harrison-Warrern


This chapter was taken out of Tish Harrison Warren’s book, Liturgy of the Ordinary.

Taken from Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren. ©2017 by Tish Harrison Warren.  Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove  IL  60515-1426.

Vocation & Calling Articles

Getting Caught by Your Calling

By: Dan Allender


Allender, D. B. (n.d.). Getting Caught By Your Calling. Retrieved from
Mission & Outreach

By: Luke Brad Bobo & Skye Jethani


This chapter was taken out of Luke Brad Bobo & Skye Jethani’s book, Discipleship with Monday in Mind.

Taken from Discipleship with Monday in Mind by Skye Jethani and Luke Bobo. ©2016 by Skye Jethani and Luke Bobo. Used by permission of Made to Flourish.
The Economics of Neighborly Love

By: Tom Nelson


This chapter was taken out of Tom Nelson’s book, The Economics of Neighborly Love.

Taken from The Economics of Neighborly Love by Tom Nelson. Copyright © 2017 by Tom Nelson. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove IL 60515-1426.
It’s Time to Reintegrate Our Lives

By: Bob Robinson


READ Reintegrate Book Chapter

Check out Bob Robinson’s full book, Reintegrate Your Vocation with God’s Mission HERE. It is a fantastic resource for a book group or Bible study.

The Rhythm of Vocation: A Challenge to ‘Work-Life Balance’

By: Joseph Sunde, Acton PowerBlog


It’s Time to Reintegrate Our Lives

My favorite cartoon characters of all time are those from Looney Tunes. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and Marvin the Martian never fail to crack me up. In one episode, Marvin points his “A-1 Disintegrating Pistol” at Daffy Duck, to which Daffy mockingly says, “Little does he realize that I have on my disintegration-proof vest!” Marvin fires the pistol and everything Daffy Duck is disintegrated, save for the vest, which floats in the air for a second before landing on the heap of ashes below. Porky Pig then comes running up with his “ACME Integrating Pistol,” which reconstitutes a confused and frustrated Daffy.

We instinctively know that God has made an incredible, integrated Creation. But we also know, sadly from too many difficult experiences, that things are not the way they’re supposed to be.

The reality of our experience is that life is dis-integrated, literally! We often feel that aspects of our lives, meant to be lived with joy and for the flourishing of all, have become a heap of ash – disintegrated, and all we have to cling to is our disintegration-proof vest (a lot of good that will do us!).

What we need is re-integrated.

As the story of Creation found in Genesis chapter 2 progresses, we read in verse 5 that there were two reasons why shrubs and plants had not yet appeared: (1) God had not yet sent rain, and (2) “there was no one to work the ground.”  God’s creational intention for humanity was that we were to work. This, it should be noted, is before the events recorded in Genesis 3, so work is not a consequence of the Fall.

A second, and very significant use of the word “work” is found in Genesis 2:15, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”  The word translated “work” in both Genesis 2:5 and 2:15 is the Hebrew word ‘avad.

‘Avad appears many times in the Hebrew Old Testament. A study of the NIV discovers that the word can be translated into English various ways, depending on the context.

  • In The Ten Commandments, the word is used for our work week: “Six days you shall labor (‘avad) and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.” Sabbath rest, so important for those of us who want to do good work for the Lord, comes after six days of work.
  • Earlier in the Exodus tale, God told Moses: “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship (‘avad) me.”  The Israelites’ days of bowing to Pharaoh were over; they would now be freed to worship the LORD.
  • Later, Joshua pronounced these famous words: “But as for me and my household, we will serve (‘avad) the LORD.”  Joshua exhorted God’s people to abandon serving other gods, and serve the LORD alone.

Wait a minute! This one (yes 1!) Hebrew word can be translated as worship AND work AND service? What’s going on here? Does God need to expand his vocabulary?

No, there is quite a profound lesson here: If this one word encompasses all these things, then what God wants for his people is for us to live lives that are totally integrated. All of our life is meant to be ‘avad!

However, because of our rebellion from God’s grand design, our lives have lost this integrity. We are complicit in our own dis-integration. Why do we tend to compartmentalize our lives – to see work as separate from service and separate from worship? How have you done this unintentionally?

I once was in the den of a friend of mine who is a very successful businessman. He had a whole wall of shelves filled with business and leadership books. Over near his desk, he had a shelf with a Bible and about a dozen popular Christian books.

I asked him, “How have you been able to integrate this wall of books with this shelf of books?”

He looked at me, stunned with the thought, and said, “I have no idea.”

He had been disintegrated and didn’t even know it. What about you? Our worldly culture as well as our church culture have both nurtured the idea that things like church, prayer, evangelism, Bible study, and missions are “sacred” or “holy,” while things like education, business, leisure, sports, arts & entertainment, government, and science & technology are “secular” or “profane.”

Let’s not let ourselves succumb to this dis-integration. Let’s re-integrate and proclaim, “It is ALL ‘AVAD!”

If you enjoyed this article, check out Bob Robinson’s group Bible study book, Reintegrate Your Vocation with God’s Mission.

How Good Systems Create Conditions for Flourishing

Recently, 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

Jay Slocum has written an excellent article about the importance of flourishing systems.

It was the mid 1970’s and my dad was driving our green 72’ AMC Gremlin up a steep section of road in Poughkeepsie, NY that we referred to as Reverse Hill.

“Why is it called Reverse Hill?”, I asked watching my dad take a drag of his cigarette and flick the ash out the driver’s side window.

My mechanic-father said, “The name comes from the old timers who drove Ford Model T’s with gravity-fed fuel systems. The gas tanks were mounted under the driver’s seat and fed fuel down to the engine’s carburetor. The system worked until the car went up a steep hill causing the engine to be situated above the gas tank. With gravity, everything wants to go downhill not uphill. So the engine would stall. Drivers started going up this hill in reverse to guarantee that the fuel tank would remain above the engine. That’s how Reverse Hill got its name.”

The story of a flawed fuel system that gave a road its nickname can teach us three important lessons about what it means for a system to flourish:

  1. Systems flourish when all the parts cooperate
  2. Humans build systems with varying degrees of flourishing
  3. You can’t fight gravity, or we must cooperate with God’s system if we want to flourish

Systems flourish when all the parts cooperate

The wonder of systems is that they have the ability to make our individual work more effective, more efficient and more beautiful. Genesis Chapter Two describes God’s desire for man to flourish by working together. He places Adam and Eve in the garden and human society is created that we might, “be fruitful, multiply, fill the whole earth and subdue it.”

It is true that the individual work that we do rearranges the world of particulars and gives shape to life; musicians rearrange sounds that form songs, moms and dads help to rearrange the hearts and minds of their children that form citizens, water treatment plant workers rearrange the elements of creation to nourish humans and cleanse the world. But, when our work combines in a vast web of cooperative effort, we get systems. From mechanical systems like the fuel system that drives a car to systems of exchange that drive economies to systems that allow people to produce goods and services that we call corporations. What makes a fuel system or a business system or a church system a sort of miraculous wonder is that systems can bring about flourishing when a whole bunch of parts work together toward a common end. A fuel system is a little miracle under the hood of a car that can propel you down a highway at 80 miles per hour, warm your home, or allow you to cook a gourmet dinner. When a business scales from “mom and pop” to corporation it can go from giving meaningful work to a few people to employing a whole town. When a church empowers each of its members to use their gifts as Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, Teacher, the world witnesses the Body of Christ here on earth.

“What makes a fuel system or a business system or a church system a sort of miraculous wonder is that systems can bring about flourishing when a whole bunch of parts work together toward a common end.”

Humans build systems with varying degrees of flourishing

When we arrange of bunch of related parts to work together to form a system, flourishing can occur. The creation of gasoline, fuel tanks, carburetors, and Model T’s is a sort of miracle that has allowed humans to navigate the world with ease. However, the story of Reverse Hill teaches us that not every system works well. Your car’s fuel system can either get you to the church on time or leave you on the side of the road waiting for AAA to come to your rescue. Our systems can appear flawless and our systems can be flawed. Human, mechanical, or biological cooperation can create great societies, great machines and great species but these forms of cooperation can also create things like the Nazi party, Apartheid, The Tower of Babel, and the 1972 Ford Pinto. In order for flourishing to occur, we must use our God-given creative capacity to get “a whole bunch of parts to work together toward a common end” but that end does not always benefit the created world.

You can’t fight gravity, or we must cooperate with God’s system if we want to flourish

When my dad told me the story of Reverse Hill, he said, “With gravity, everything wants to go downhill not uphill.”

There is an important lesson about systems in that statement: namely, if we want our systems to bring flourishing we must create them so that they cooperate with the larger system that God has placed us in within the cosmos. A mechanical system that does not consider the effect of a hill on a gravity feed fuel system is going to really put a stop to traffic. Can you imagine Reverse Hill at rush hour or in the dark and all of those cars having to stop and go up backwards (a quant story but not a picture of a flourishing system)?

Civilizations that think that they can engineer a perfect society by annihilating the family system that God designed or the church system that God Instituted (See Communist Russia in the 20th Century), will do great harm to a world designed by God for flourishing. Whether we call it Natural Law or Sphere Sovereignty or simply say, “with gravity, everything wants to go downhill not uphill,” when we acknowledge a moral order and a created order, we will have our best chance to create systems that flourish.

Systems can be a sort of miraculous wonder with all of their moving parts working in cooperation with one another. And, when we create systems that cooperate with the larger design within which we have been placed, the world can flourish.

Stories of Transformation – Mike Weber

On Suffering in Leadership

We recently published a blog post about how flourishing cannot exist without suffering. I asked Mike Weber of ProMinent Fluid Controls, Inc. to reflect on the concept of suffering in leadership that Andy Crouch lays out in his book, “Strong and Weak.”

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.

If you know Mike you know that he is a unique blend of compassion and no nonsense. His immediate response was this; “It is not a philosophy, it is a reality that God grows us through suffering. “ In fact, just before my conversation with Mike he discussed this very issue with a senior member of his staff who manages an incredibly difficult client. “There are people in every industry that are insecure and aggressive. They are petulant and mean and they use their power and position to belittle those under them.” Honoring those customers and standing between them and others in the organization is a difficult to do and takes its toll on a leader. I asked him how he thinks about these situations. He said, “first, be prepared. You will encounter difficult people and situations. Don’t go it alone. People are embarrassed to talk about their struggles. You have to bring those pains and struggles into the light- offer them up to God, share them with coworkers and family. This may be uncomfortable but it is vital. Ephesians 6:13 says, “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” A leader in God’s economy does not go into battle but to takes up the armor of God, bring their full self to the tasks at hand to the best end of those around them, and, in the end, to remain standing.

  • Be prepared. You have to know that difficult times will come if you are doing the right things.
  • Don’t go it alone. Have your trusted advisors close let them in on what’s going on. Seek God ask, “What do you want me to see in this?”
  • Celebrate a good outcome. Know that God suffers with us seek to find a spirit of gratitude and trust that faithfulness will bear fruit over time.

Mike said it well, “I don’t seek out difficulty but when it comes my way I don’t avoid it. I actually embrace it. I know that when time are hard I am more humble, more open, more willing to ask for help and more willing to share.”

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.