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.

The Role of the Local Church in Urban Economic Renewal

Chris Brooks spoke at Jubilee Professional 2016. See what thoughtful and challenging speakers will be at Jubilee Professional 2018 HERE

Pastor Christopher W. Brooks.

Pastor Chris Brooks is integrating entrepreneurship into his church in Detroit. But what does entrepreneurship have to do with the church?

Why should we concern ourselves with the question of urban economic warfare?

The Moral Mandate:

“But seek the welfare of the city, where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Jeremiah 29:7

The Monetary Motivation:

The Shifting Demographic realities facing our nation, require that any institution who wishes to remain viable and relevant take seriously the need for communities, which have a high percentage of ethnic minorities, to be reached and resourced.

An Entrepreneurial Mindset: Not Just for the Entrepreneur

When you hear the term “entrepreneur,” thoughts of starting a business, or designing a new technology may come to mind.

While it’s true that those are the actions of entrepreneurs, the idea of having an entrepreneurial mindset applies to everyone—including you, your coworkers, and even your pastor.

Having an entrepreneurial mindset doesn’t require you to run a startup company, it simply involves having innovative thoughts, and acting upon those thoughts. A person with an entrepreneurial mindset looks at their surroundings, and asks, what is it going to take to make this better, or how can I come up with ways to add value here? Then they pursue the necessary avenues to meet that need.

This mindset can be brought into any context, but it’s more than just about creating value—it’s also about valuing people.

As we make decisions throughout the day to create value, our world-view is a filter for those decisions; there is an ethic that guides a definition of the value we are looking to create. A biblical worldview calls us to value people as we work to create flourishing in the places we work, serve, and play.

Valuing people translates into recognizing the strengths and giftedness in oneself and others, which not only facilitates a solution to a problem, let’s say, but also contributes to human flourishing as a whole.

What does an entrepreneurial mindset look like in the arts? Working in the middle of a large corporation? As a retail manager? Leading a church?

Join 400 others who care about these questions and explore more about what it means to have an entrepreneurial mindset at Jubilee Professional on Friday, February 19th in Pittsburgh.

Jubilee Professional is an annual gathering of marketplace, church, and nonprofit leaders who want to explore the profound connectedness of faith, work, art, and enterprise.

Learn More

Faith & Work Labs: The Question of Vocation

Last weekend on November 20-21, the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation hosted a gathering called Faith & Work Labs. This new initiative brought together over 40 theologians, pastors, and practitioners to participate in real dialogue around practical integration of Faith, Work, and Economics.

Sponsored in part by the Made to Flourish Network and the Kern Family Foundation, this event proved to be a powerful environment for the merging of those involved in different spheres of influence in our city.

Guest speaker Pastor Aaron Richardson from Detroit brought a richness to the day’s conversations as he shared about his experience in collaborating with churches and entrepreneurs in his city over the past 13 years.

Two local entrepreneurs had the opportunity to be featured as “case studies” for the day, as they each shared the complexities of a real-time business challenge they are facing. A panel of pastors, scholars, and  marketplace leaders responded to the cases, each bringing a valuable perspective that provided wisdom and encouragement to the entrepreneur facing the issue.

For the attendees, there was a great time of shared learning and conversation at each table as some presented their own challenges to their peers for discussion.

The day concluded with remarks from Steve Garber. He later reflected:

Pittsburgh has a long and unusual history of collaborative commitment to the city as a city, and today’s convening organization, the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation, has led the way. They are taking the question of vocation seriously, understanding that a revitalized social ecology is dependent on a recovery of that rich vision of human life and labor that allows us to see beyond ourselves into the common good.

May their tribe be blessed, and their city prosper.


Check out our Facebook page for some great photos from Faith & Work Labs!

Check out the Washington Institute for more information on Steve Garber and what he is up to.

Photo Credit: Steve Garber

What Our Generation Needs

Someone recently asked what our generation needs from pastors and churches. This is my answer:

Understand that we have a lot to grapple with in these times. We’ve grown up with Republican friends and gay friends. We are less moved by rules and meeting standards than we are by grace. We are motivated by passion for social justice and the beauty of God’s love for us; not fear of Hell. We don’t simply hate/fear people who aren’t like us – we’re curious about how we can peacefully coexist with those who believe differently, but if we’re honest, some of this ISIS stuff and the persecution of African Christians scares us a lot and makes us angry. And we want something done, but we hate war. And we worry prayer isn’t enough and sometimes we forget to, anyway.

We are less moved by rules and meeting standards than we are by grace.

We want to see the Church respond quickly and effectively when things like Ferguson happen. We need leadership and guidance in responding well to these outrageous tragedies and subsequent unrest. And we want to help. We want to…be a presence? But we’re also just trying to tolerate the traffic through the Squirrel Hill Tunnel, remember to bake cupcakes for our kid’s bake sale, and squeeze in a little cardio so we don’t die when we’re 50.

We’re stressed and busy and tired. There is never quite enough time or money, and we know we shouldn’t worry or fret, but we just have such a hard time relaxing and trusting God. And raising our kids in this world is terrifying. We are pretty sure they will be half-robots by the time they are our age. Half robots who can swim because by then all of the polar ice caps will have melted.

But underneath that, we know God loves us in this crazy unfathomable way. We are pretty sure He’s got this, and it’s going to be ok. Awesome, even. Remind us of how Awesome it’s going to be. Because cancer, violence, and the Squirrel Hill Tunnel make us forget.

Photo credit: Dollar Photo Club

JessiMarsh-150x150Jessi Marsh (LC 7) is a nonprofit executive, blogger, and cancer survivor. Check out her blog,