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What Nashville and Denver Have in Common

As I picked up my mild drip coffee, I asked the Whole Foods barista where I could find the milk and sugar. “Behind you,” he replied. “Right under the guitar.” Turning around, I looked up to see a colorful guitar mounted on the wall. Yep, I thought. I must be in Nashville.

Despite the number of decorative guitars strewn throughout the city, and the popular TV show that bears its name, “Music City” isn’t a company town, and country isn’t its only tune. Every day, almost 900,000 Nashvillians go to work at health care companies, universities, government offices, banks, and elsewhere, making it the 14th best-performing city in the U.S.

To drive from Nashville to the 12th city on the list, Denver, you only need two roads, I-24 and I-70—and 16 hours. The “Mile High City” sits between the Rockies and the High Plains, an ideal spot for tourism to flourish. With even more economic opportunities than Nashville, Denver has almost 1.5 million people working in high-tech, manufacturing, banking, mining, and more.

In the midst of these vibrant cities, where over 2 million people are deploying their vocational talents, a new trend in the faith and work (FAW) movement is emerging—and, unlike most faith and work initiatives of the past, the local church is at its center.

City-Wide, Church-Driven

After 30 years attending a church that “never once” asked him about his work, former sales manager Bill Diehl concluded his church didn’t have “the least interest” in whether or how he ministered in his daily work. That was 1976. By 2006, according to Dr. David Miller, not much had changed. Instead of waiting on local churches to care about their work, though, practitioners launched their own FAW groups apart from the local church.

Miller acknowledged the dangers and limitations of the faith and work movement being isolated from the church, but he imagined only two ways for churches to get involved—either “develop an in-house FAW group” or “participate in an existing group.” Churches in Denver in Nashville, though, are trailblazing a third way.

Jeff Haanen, a graduate of Denver Seminary and former pastor of a Spanish-speaking church in Colorado, heads the Denver Institute for Faith and Work (DIFW). Launched in January 2014, DIFW isn’t an in-house FAW initiative (like Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s Center for Faith & Work), but it’s not strictly a parachurch organization either.

“We’re driven by small local churches in Denver who otherwise wouldn’t be able to dedicate resources to faith and work,” Haanen explains. To date, 15 local churches are in the network, and 9 pastors sit on the church advisory council. “We don’t say to churches, ‘Send your people to us,’ but, ‘How can we support you in your work?’” Haanen says. That perspective drives how many, and what type of, events and conversations they host.

In Nashville, Missy Wallace directs the Nashville Institute for Faith & Work (NIFW). Unlike Haanen, Wallace comes from a practitioner’s background, having received her BA from Vanderbilt and MBA from Northwestern and having worked 17 years in the corporate sector—from Chicago to Southeast Asia to New York.

Launched in May 2015, NFIW is currently housed at Christ Presbyterian Church, where Scott Sauls, author of Jesus Outside the Lines [review], serves as senior pastor. Yet they’re working to develop a city-wide partnership with other gospel-driven churches in the area. For example, their Gotham Fellowship, which starts this fall, is “intentionally ecumenical” in order to serve “the diverse and complex culture of Nashville.”

Something to Celebrate

What drives most people to engage in the FAW conversation is a longing to live a holistic, integrated life in which they can live out their faith at work. Such integration has significant ethical and moral implications at a personal level, but can also impact economies and communities on a city level, as we seek the common good of our neighbors.

Imagine if all Christians in Nashville and Denver went to work every day with a robust understanding of how they might honor God and love their neighbor through their work. If they got passed over for a promotion, would they respond differently because they’d know they’re adopted children of God, who has given them all things for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3)? Would their relationships with co-workers change because they’d embrace the freedom of self-forgetfulness? Would their deals be fairer because they know God delights in justice?

When this conversation is disconnected from the local church, two things happen. First, Christians (like Bill Diehl) get the message that the church doesn’t care whether or how practitioners minister in their daily work; all it cares about is how they contribute to the church’s in-house ministries. Second, practitioners don’t get equipped with the deep implications of the gospel on their work—and, in a culture where pizza restaurant owners are forced to shut down their businesses because they’re trying to integrate their faith and work, practitioners desperately need the tools and counsel to process these questions.

What’s happening, then, in Nashville and Denver is something to celebrate. For the most part, the past 40 years in the FAW movement have been marked by a distance from the local church. By God’s grace, though, the next 40 years—and beyond—will be marked by thoughtful and vibrant collaboration between practitioners and pastors.

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