What Can I Really Do?

Jeff Haanen

This is an excerpt from Jeff’s keynote talk at “All Things New,” DIFW’s annual fundraiser and celebration of vocation.

Several weeks ago, I got a text from my wife: “This school shooting…just hurting today. K-12 Douglas County charter school 3 miles from our house. And our kids head off to another K-12 Douglas County charter school this morning. And I’ll drive by Arapahoe High School later today and Columbine is an always present reality. We just find ourselves in the middle of this.”

After I read the text, I drive to work and listen to NPR. A school shooting expert says that kids are now actually rushing school shooters; they’re making plans to protect themselves because the adults in their life won’t. I start to cry.

Why? Because of fear for my kids' safety? A bit. But it was the feeling of helplessness. What am I supposed to do? Start picketing our government? Praying harder, longer? Quit my job and become an evangelist? Can I really make an impact? I’m just one guy. And if I feel anything after reading the news, it’s helpless. Our culture is too big. What can I really do?

As I think about my own story, I ask myself: Jeff, who are you really becoming – like when nobody is looking? Is my work making an impact? What is my responsibility toward this city and culture I find myself living and working in?

What should Christians do? What does it mean to be a Christian in this culture today?

The American church is searching for a way to be public, yet not political; culturally engaged, yet not divisive; hopeful, yet not triumphalistic. Though when I read the news I’m often filled with anxiety, when I look at you, the Denver Institute community, I’m filled with hope.

I see people like Adrienne Tafilowski. Adrienne was one of the 5280 Fellows last year, and she now is the Culture and Care Team Director at L&R Pallet. (As of a couple weeks ago, Adrienne is now also a mother for the first time.) At L&R Pallet, her job started out similar to an HR specialist. But early on she knew her job would have to surpass simply administering health plans and tracking hours.

Her company employs resettled refugees from countries in Asia, particularly Myanmar, and has over six languages represented in their workforce. She began the 5280 Fellowship – a nine-month program on spiritual formation, professional development, and civic engagement – with questions about how her faith might shape her work. She began to recognize the chance to serve her colleagues and their larger marginalized community as an expression of her Christian faith. “That’s really where I started: demonstrating a genuine concern for our team members as employees of our company but also as human beings living in the same place,” Adrienne explained.

Today, she has merged the lines of business and the social sector and found creative solutions – ranging from housing to transportation to child care – to serve her co-workers. And retaining labor through improving job quality has helped the business. At one point, annual turnover was 300%. Today, it hovers around 10%. Adrienne says, “The command to love your neighbor includes your coworker.”

Or take, for example, Bob Larkin. Bob’s job is very different than Adrienne’s. Bob is a commercial banker. He puts together large loans for large companies who want to expand. The question many might ask is: where is God in that?

If you listen to Bob, you hear something miraculous. Bob believes the purpose of business is not just to make money, but it is to serve. And so he believes his job is to provide businesses the capital to grow, to create jobs, and to bless our communities. He’s dethroning money in an industry that has often worshipped it.

In a volunteer role at a local business association, Bob quietly places speakers for their regular meetings who share his faith and are trying to change the story about the purpose of business. And faithfully, for the past six years, he’s led a small group for other professionals in finance, hosting meetings to pray and discuss God’s purpose for business and finance. Bob truly is yeast in the dough (Matthew 13:33).

This is the story of the Denver Institute for Faith & Work network. It’s a story of men and women choosing the way of vocation. I know the word vocation may sound a lot like an ideal job. Or perhaps a vocational track in high school. But the original intent of that word drew its meaning from the same Latin word as voice. The original meaning for Christians was an entire life lived in response to God’s voice, or his calling. And for Christians, the highest calling was given by Jesus himself: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, all your strength. And the second commandment is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

At this point, you might be asking: But Jeff, I still have no idea what Denver Institute is or does. Well, here’s an answer. Denver Institute for Faith & Work is a network of men and women committed to serving God, neighbor, and society through our daily work. Serving God and neighbor – that is, we are centered on vocation, on the Great Commandment lived out through our work.

We believe that when this happens – a life lived out of response to God’s love – it has transformative impact on our city and society. I believe this because history bears it out.

Here’s how Os Guinness talks about this cultural impact of vocation: “Grand Christian movements will rise and fall. Grand campaigns will be mounted and grand coalitions assembled. But all together such coordinated efforts will never match the influence of untold numbers or followers of Christ living out their callings faithfully across the vastness of modern society.”

Tonight you are at a celebration of vocation. And you are also at a fundraiser, and before the night is out, I’m going to respectfully ask you to become a monthly donor to Denver Institute. I think it’s fair if you know specifically what you are investing in when you give money to our work at Denver Institute. When you give, you:

  • You convene thought leaders to speak truth into industries and workers across our city through public events.
  • You invest in our city’s future leaders through the 5280 Fellowship.
  • You deepen a faithful network of Christians spreading into every corner of our city through our vocational communities.
  • You resource local churches and individuals for works of service through Scatter.org, a digital learning platform for Christians as they are “scattered” throughout our city during the week.
  • You also fund the Faith & Work podcast and inspire everyday Christians to change the story of their work from one of personal success to love of God and neighbor.

Yet the effect of that is that after the event, the conversations continue. People meet together to talk about ways real estate investors can reshape our city and serve the vulnerable. A talk from Business for the Common Good on “the economics of mutuality” gets repeated in board rooms and foundations across Colorado. Leaders are inspired to solve big challenges as a result of Denver Institute gatherings and conversations.

Men and women turn from serving themselves to serving God and his purposes in our world today.

By giving you are also becoming part of a community that believes God’s people no longer need to be left on the margins of our society, and we no longer need to respond to our diminishing cultural voice with anger or despair.

You believe that darkness is not the final word. You believe that hope is the final work for our hearts and our culture, because the tomb is empty. Today, right here, right now, we are called to live in the dawn of a new world. In our families, our community, and our work. And we can be part of healing what gone wrong in our world today through our vocations.

Will you join us? You can become a monthly donor today by visiting denverinstitute.org/give.


Jeff Haanen

Jeff Haanen is a writer and entrepreneur. He founded Denver Institute for Faith & Work, a community of conveners, teachers and learners offering experiences and educational resources on the gospel, work, and community renewal. He is the author of An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life and an upcoming two-book series on spiritual formation, vocation, and the working class for Intervarsity Press. He lives with his wife and four daughters in Denver and attends Wellspring Church in Englewood, Colorado.