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.

Practical Transformation: Moving from Idea to Reality

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

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

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

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

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

1. Perspective

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

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

2. Paradigm

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

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

3. Structure

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

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

4. Process

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

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

How Our Words Impact the Sunday-to-Monday Gap

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

Dualistic Language

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

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

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

Sunday Words

Monday Words

Common Good
Shareholder Value

What Does The Gospel Have To Do With It?

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

God’s Assignment For Us

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

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

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

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

Justice for the Common Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bring Beauty To Light In Your Career

Jeremy Casella performed and spoke at Jubilee Professional 2016. See what thoughtful and challenging speakers will be at Jubilee Professional 2018 HERE

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

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

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

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

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.

Nobody is a Hero: Finding Balance When Everything You Do is Valuable

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

We often believe we should aim to be the superhero our world needs. Yet in this video, Jena Nardella speaks about the importance of loving and caring for the world every single day, rather than saving it.

Both in her career and personal life she found that striving to be a superhero could swallow her whole if she allowed it to. Her temptation as a social entrepreneur was to save the world but discovered her calling was to love and care for her part in it. As her life changed when she got married and had a baby, she learned again that she couldn’t keep up with the pace of her work and fully engage as a wife and a mother.

Jena reminds us not to lose sight of who we are and more importantly, whose we are just because of the depth of work we have taken on. Rather, enjoy the day of Sabbath, create a strong marriage, enjoy parenthood, live a life full of adventure and learning, and always remember, pole pole.

Check out Jena’s website: http://www.JenaLeeNardella.com/.

Is it Better to Work for Government, Non-Profit, or For-Profit?

Jim Stout and Katie Tarara were interviewed by Kathy Emmons at Jubilee Professional 2016. See what thoughtful and challenging speakers will be at Jubilee Professional 2018 HERE

How do you measure the meaning of your daily work? Does your work encourage human flourishing? Does it make a difference?

There are three types of agencies in the world that make it their mission to improve people’s lives: government, nonprofit, and for-profit. Does one of these agencies have a higher calling? Jim Stout and Katie Tarara discuss their transition from one agency to another. Their jobs changed, but their faith remained the focal point of their journey.

Jubilee Professional educates Christians on how to integrate faith and work. God’s path for each of us is unique and diverse. There is no “right” job when it comes to living out God’s calling; you can do it anywhere.

If your calling leads you to transition agencies, don’t focus on the differences. Focus on your high calling to serve God wherever you are.

How to Overcome the Three Challenges Christian Professionals Face

Dr. David Lewis spoke at Jubilee Professional 2016. See what thoughtful and challenging speakers will be at Jubilee Professional 2018 HERE

Have you ever found yourself debating with others whether you must choose between evolution and creationism? This is one of many challenges Dr. David Lewis has faced as a biomedical scientist.

Sometimes, we are made to think that we must choose between belief in creation and acceptance of the theory of evolution, or simply, amongst religion and science. In the video below, Dr. David Lewis takes our audience through the story of his scientific career as a Christian who strives to apply God to all areas of his life.

Dr. Lewis addresses the three overarching challenges of being a Christian professional by looking at them through the lens of the Gospel and using examples from his own personal career path.

Challenge of Self

Ambition is great, as long as it is not selfish ambition. Allow God to teach you how to value of the success of others in the workplace.

Challenge of Anxiety

In the bible, we discover God’s responsibility for orchestrating the events on Earth. Dr. Lewis explains to us the importance of keeping faith in God rather than reality.

Challenge of Vision

Allow your knowledge of the glory of the Lord to speak through your work and actions in the work place.



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.