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March 18, 2019

New Wineskins for Faith at Work

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Two good friends and I started a magazine in the late 1990s. Over the years, I’ve been a part of plenty of things that didn’t go well, but this one was a smashing success.

The magazine was called Life@Work and the idea was to explore the Bible and work.

What did it mean to be a follower of Jesus and a worker? We felt like there had been lots of discussion around the Bible and life, lots of discussion around the Bible and family, and lots of discussion around the Bible and church, but comparatively little around the Bible and work. The Bible has a lot to say about work. Why was hardly anyone talking about it?

We started with about 80 subscribers (including our mothers), but over the magazine’s short lifespan, we grew to more than 100,000. Subscribers came from every sector—big companies, small companies, for-profits, nonprofits, universities, governments, churches.

A few years after we launched, the three of us took an international trip to research a few topics for the magazine. On the trip, we hit three different continents, and somewhere along the way, we realized we had something. London, Singapore, Vancouver, Delhi—everywhere we went, we met subscribers who were reading the magazine.

It was clear that we were scratching a cultural itch. People were hungering for their faith to impact their 8 to 5. It was humbling and exciting to give voice to this conversation.

Two decades later, I feel a bit like the old guy in this conversation, but it’s a topic I love. I’m excited to see a new generation pressing in and moving this topic forward, and I’ve been fortunate enough to connect with some of these new voices.

What Did We Learn?

First, we discovered that people want stories. It’s been said, “A man with a testimony is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.” We didn’t just want to make an argument. We committed early on to share stories. We wanted to share real stories of real people following Jesus in their workplaces—entrepreneurs, congressman, executives, managers. These stories resonated with readers because they were real.

Second, we realized that people want honest experts to point the way. When forced to choose, the practitioner was usually better than the big name. Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr said, “An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field.” We need people who have made a few mistakes.

Finally, we learned that people need language and models around new topics. Today, lots of people are talking about the gospel and the workplace or the concept of a redemptive business. But two decades ago, it wasn’t commonplace. Sure, share your faith with co-workers, we said, but also think about multiple bottom lines and sustainable generosity. Ask how your faith impacts the way you think about legacy, partnerships, corporate culture, and pay structure.

What Now?

It’s hard to believe this was 20-25 years ago.

There sure seems to be a fresh surge of interest around the topic. There’s new language and structures around it. Jesus used the term “new wineskins”—meaning the wine isn’t new, but the container is. I see new wineskins of Life@Work popping up all over the world.

Just over six years ago, Tim Keller gave a big boost to the conversation when he published a book called Every Good Endeavor with the subtitle “Connecting Your Work to God’s Work.” His former church and his church-planting organization, City to City, is one of the leaders in this space.

It’s still the practitioners I love. Friends like Henry Kaestner, a founding principal at Sovereign’s Capital, and David Roth of WorkMatters have built ministries to capture insights and stories of people embracing the kingdom in their work. There’s also Luke Dooley of Ocean in Cincinnati—they are a leading voice in messages and models.

I particularly love a group called Praxis. If you’ve got a few minutes, read CEO Dave Blanchard’s 2019 community letter. “The future of culture,” he says, “depends on the worldview of the next generation of entrepreneurs.” Praxis dials up the redemptive intentionality—seeing business and entrepreneurs as culture shaping and thus a blue sky for gospel influence.

Conclusion

We began Life@Work with the conviction that it was possible to blend biblical wisdom and marketplace excellence. I still believe that is true.

One of my favorite things we did during the Life@Work days was to create conversations with friends all over the world—individual leaders, organizations, not-for-profits, universities, and people in every imaginable industry. To this day I still meet people who were part of that movement.

Who are the leaders and organizations you are watching in this space? Shoot me an email and let me know.

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