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.

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?


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.


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.


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.


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.

Amazon: Easy to Critique, Easier to One-Click

This article was originally published on The Gospel Coalition website.

Last week I received an e-mail from one of my clients, a CEO who hired us to launch a culture change initiative for his executive team. Linking to The New York Times scathing exposé on Amazon’s corporate culture, he simply wrote, “This is the opposite of what we want to create.”

The public response to the story was immediate and visceral. One publication said Amazon had “a sweatshop-like culture.” Another noted its work-life balance score: 2.6 out of 5. In a memo to his employees, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos went into damage control mode, saying he didn’t recognize the company portrayed in the article.

Although the exposé is being criticized as based on “generalization and anecdote” and a more complete picture is emerging, an important question for all of us arises: If a company is meeting our needs as customers, why should we concern ourselves with how they run their business?

Greatest Place I Hate to Work

Amazon has exactly the culture it intended to create. Unlike many companies, where creativity and innovation is characterized by ping pong tables, buffet lunches, and spa treatments, Amazon seems stark. It doesn’t boast the typical perks and benefits of other tech firms because itvalues frugality.

It also values confidence and competence. As one journalist notes, “Bezos abhors what he calls ‘social cohesion,’ the natural impulse to seek consensus . . . and he has codified this approach in one of Amazon’s 14 leadership principles [Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit].”

Bezos isn’t a hypocrite. He’s never been coy about the kind of culture he wants to create. His leadership principles include an intense focus on “constant friction” and “adversarial competition” in which employees simultaneously feel frustrated and proud. One former executive writes, “A lot of people who work there feel this tension: it’s the greatest place I hate to work.”

Purpose of Business

Bezos understands the market. Since the 1970s we’ve seen increased focus in businesses on maximizing shareholder value. By that standard, Amazon is successful. Last month, it surpassed Walmart in market capitalization, making it the most valuable retailer in the country. In August 2005, one share of Amazon was worth $43; this year, it’s worth almost $500. If profit is purpose, then Amazon’s doing quite well.

What if, though, human flourishing is the main purpose of business? In Why Business Matters to God: And What Still Needs to Be Fixed, professor Jeff Van Duzer describes a “Genesis” model for business, where business is a means to steward all that God has entrusted to the care of his image bearers:

[A]s stewards of God’s creation, business leaders should manage their businesses (1) to provide the community with goods and services that will enable it to flourish, and (2) to provide opportunities for meaningful work that will allow employees to express their God-given creativity.

Some competitors of Amazon have taken a different route to success. Hearts & Minds, an independent bookstore in Dallastown, Pennsylvania, is owned and operated by Byron and Beth Borger. Their craft goes well beyond stocking and shipping. They want to accomplish Van Duzer’s two purposes of business. The value they create isn’t primarily in their transactions but in their relationships, as they serve their customers by writing delightful reviews, curating book lists to help customers grow in their love for God and understanding of vocation, and hosting gatherings for readers and writers.

Real Culprit

We may publicly condemn large companies like Amazon and praise small businesses like Hearts & Minds. But when it comes to buying our books and placing our orders, we usually go with the company that offers the fastest and cheapest option—without regard for how it treats it employees.

Who, then, is to blame for “bruising” workplaces, where people are treated like cogs in a machine rather than humans created in God’s image? It may very well be us, the consumers.

Knowledge Creates Responsibility

As an Amazon Prime customer, I contribute to the corporate culture Bezos has created and encouraged. I’m “implicated,” as my friend Steve Garber might say, by what I know. The only question, then, is “What must I do?”

First, I might consider working for Amazon as one of its more than 115,000 employees. After all, since God became man, leaving the riches of glory to enter the messy world of human beings, I can work as salt and light in places of darkness. I can be an agent of hope in a difficult work environment.

Second, I might thoughtfully consider changing my shopping habits, choosing to frequent businesses that value and invest in human flourishing. My small changes may not make a difference to the overall economy, but they might play a part in bringing together my “inner” and “outer” person (Matt. 23:27).

Finally, I might consider building or running—or encouraging my friends to build or run—a company in ways that celebrate a culture that values people as image bearers. This is one thing I hope to do with my clients. In our last meeting with the CEO who hired us to launch a corporate culture change, he remarked:

We’re too proud of our financial success. Our investors love our return on investment (ROI), but our employees and our customers don’t feel valued. I’m not motivated by money; I never have been. I’m here for the people. I’m inviting you to join me to make this a place where people love to work and customers love to buy, where human lives and relationships are valued above all else.

I’ve asked the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation (PLF) to work with us to create a culture where safety is our priority, excellence is our standard, and character is valued above expedience. But I can’t do this alone. Will you join me?

Healthy cultures are deeply intentional and develop over time when we implement values and invest in good people, processes, and environments. They needn’t be lavish, but they must value people for who they are, not simply what they do.

LG 4: Always Bring an Envelope

Leadership Gleaning #4: Always Bring an Envelope

When your organization is a non-profit and has gone through a challenging season, each fundraising call you make is a critical opportunity to listen deeply to your donors, find out what matters most to them and then, and only then, share with them what your organization is focused on if they show interest.

I recently met with a long time donor to our organization. In recent years her donations had come more sporadically and while still very generous, had tapered off a bit.  Nonetheless, she graciously agreed to meet with me. Over lunch she shared with me her passions, asked me lots of questions about what we are involved in currently as well as where we are headed strategically. She has the reputation of being very smart and well informed, strong in her beliefs and convictions and committed to giving generously to those organizations whose purposes align with her family foundation.

I came armed with folders of information, had a Power Point ready to go on my iPad if it seemed appropriate to share (it wasn’t) and believed I was thoroughly prepared to give her a fulsome update. She indicated interest in helping. I laid out the specific need I was asking for her to considering supporting and handed over my voluminous folders of information.

The moment had come to make “the ask” and I was ready. I asked her, a bit awkwardly “Is there anything else you might need from me to consider making this gift before the end of our fiscal year?” She paused for a minute and responded, “Just an envelope.” And don’t you know—it was the one thing I had not thought to bring! She shared that when she sat down to make her gifts she found it helpful to have self-addressed envelopes ready to go as she wrote out her checks.  Well suffice to say, I hightailed it back to my office, wrote her a lengthy thank you note and included in it a business size self-addressed, stamped envelope!

Faith & Work 2.0 – An Experiment, Part II

Business has a role to play in advancing God’s kingdom agenda, and it does so in two key ways. One, it helps provide meaningful and creative work for people to do, which is part of how people express their God-given identity. Two, it produces goods and services that enable communities to flourish. Economic capital is grown by business — and almost business alone — so all other institutions, in one fashion or another, draw on the economic capital that business creates. -Jeffrey Van Duzer, Author Why Business Matters to God

On September 20 and 21, Serving Leaders hosted about 40 thought leaders and practitioners at all stages of their journey of faith and work integration in a two-day experiment in Pittsburgh. The conviction that led to the convening of this gathering came out of our work with leaders and organizations over the past number of years. This conviction, cultivated in part from my own experience as a practitioner and believer, is that there are very few places where thoughtful Christian people  can come and talk openly about the workplace challenges they face that are real, hard, and often seemingly endless and unresolvable. We cannot make sense of our challenges outside of real community – the kind where you can laugh and cry and show your warts and see that you are not alone and find companions for the journey. There is also another deeply held conviction that caused us to pursue this experiment. If we truly believe in the cultural mandate, and wish to participate in God’s work in the world to renew and restore creation, then we must care deeply about all levels of transformation, including the personal and the organizational.

I think we often miss the true scope of this comprehensive mandate. There are many good ministries that want marketplace leaders to leverage their influence and resources into meeting the needs those ministries address. Such leveraging by marketplace leaders is good and necessary. But realizing God’s love for the entire creation in its rich array of aspects and cultural domains, including the marketplace, is vital. We must build organizations – including businesses – that are healthy and flourishing and leverage influence and resources to bring real, systemic change to our broken our broken world, for justice and flourishing in God’s creation.  (If you don’t know about Cardus and their great publication Comment Magazine, you should. Grab a copy of their just-released issue called We Love Institutions, where they make this argument more extensively.)

I was reminded by our conversations at Faith & Work 2.0 that businesses and the marketplace are primary means by which we can participate in the mission of God. God worked, God created the conditions for the flourishing of his creatures; God calls us to work and create goods and wealth that enable the flourishing of God’s creatures. Business is not merely a means to provide resources to the people doing the “real “ work of the Kingdom of God – it is as much part of that “real” work as any other work.

At Serving Leaders, we believe that the “Primary mechanism for the coming of the Kingdom of God is not the individual but the body of Christ,” as my colleague Rick Wellock would state it. I was also reminded at Faith & Work 2.0 that this means that we can also work to get better cities and better communities by growing healthy, flourishing business organizations and influencing for positive change in the institutions and systems of the market … but that we need to work together toward that purpose, and that our work is a participation in the work of the Spirit of God.

One of the things animating the emerging Faith &Work 2.0 discussion is this understanding – that flourishing cities and communities require all God’s people working out their vocational stewardship inside their organizations and places of influence in all sectors of society, for the common good.

Faith & Work 2.0 – An Experiment

I love to experiment. For many years my experiments were conducted in the kitchen. Cooking is a passion I began when I was very young and have nurtured throughout my life.

Experimenting in the kitchen is a great adventure. With a few basic cooking skills such as knowing your ingredients, understanding how to manage time and temperature and having the right tools, you can create something really great…or not! The good news is, in either case you learn a lot, both about what NOT to repeat and what worked WELL that you want to try again. The other good thing about a cooking experiment is that you can always save the recipe and make adjustments the next time you make it. I have also learned through experience how to correct certain mistakes midstream – a little hot water can bind a hollandaise, a small amount of lemon can brighten the flavor of a flat broth or sauce, a little flour can thicken a gravy or soup. I am also risk tolerant enough to try experiments “live” where I will make a dish I have never made before for dinner guests that very night. Not every dish works perfectly, but there is something about the excitement and energizing intensity of “flying without a net” that I really enjoy (most of the time).

p1030101-e1380293889985Last weekend Serving Leaders held such an experiment – called Faith & Work 2.0. The ingredients were thoughtful people who love God, sound content, healthy conditions for real dialogue, great facilitators (thank you Sean Purcell and Francois Guilleux from CCO-XD) and of course good food and snacks! Cultivated from a conversation I had last fall with Gideon Strauss of the DePree Center for Leadership, we dreamed of an event that would offer the opportunity for people working in a variety of sectors to come together, present case studies of real challenges they face in integrating their work with their faith and receive wise counsel, new perspective and practical ideas and insights they could field-test in their vocational lives.

The case studies were robust, the dialogue rich and helpful and a wonderful by-product of the two days were the relationships that were formed. We added some additional ingredients “on the fly”, including asking the talented Sean Purcell who can integrate and draw real-time key elements of the conversation to document the case studies in pictures.  By the end of the weekend we had 4 long “story scrolls”.

p1030194Friday night we enjoyed a tour of PNC Park with Architect David Greusel who shared his “Kingdom Vision” for a common good civic building. David also got to experience the fruits of his labor from 12 years ago as the ballpark literally crackled with life and energy for our resurgent Pirates throughout the evening!

When the rain poured down on Saturday morning just as our groups were to walk outside to the adjacent building for their dialogues, we called an audible and quickly rearranged the room to accommodate everyone right where they were. We made many small adjustments to the facilitation, design and the timing all throughout the weekend, which may have appeared planned to most of the group but were really the team doing our best to respond  to what we saw occurring and keep the energy and momentum up!  And of course, I have a running list of all the things we might do differently next time to improve the experience and outcomes.

All in all, it was a worthy experiment – much was learned; everyone enjoyed their experience and the verdict is:  keep the recipe, make a few tweaks and try it again for a bigger dinner party! After all, you can’t just do the experiment once if you really want to create something new that offers lasting value. Can’t wait for version 2.1!

We are grateful for the necessary ingredients for our experiment graciously provided by our friends at CCO-XD; Hearts and Minds Bookstore; The Acton Institute and Bistro-to-Go!