Article

Boots on the Ground: The Denver Institute for Faith & Work

Jan 10, 2014

Billions of people spend much of their waking hours in a work environment. Work is important and ordained by God. As a result, faith and work initiatives are sprouting up across the country. In 2012, Jeff Haanen began developing a concept for an initiative that included community involvement, discipleship, forums and informal gatherings. By 2013, the Denver Institute for Faith & Work was established as a non-profit with Haanen at the helm and a board and volunteers made up of physicians, pastors, non-for-profit workers, business owners and more.

The Denver Institute for Faith & Work (DIFW) is unique in its "boots to the ground" approach and embracing its mission to “cultivate personal and cultural renewal by applying the gospel to work.” They do this through partnering with churches, businesses and other organizations throughout Denver to host events, forums and vocational groups.

Haanen studied International Economics and Spanish at Valparaiso University. He was a missionary in Ecuador for a year after college, and during seminary he worked with the Hispanic Initiative at Denver Seminary. After seminary he served as the co-pastor of Iglesia Bautista Nueva Esperanza, a Spanish-speaking church in Colorado and as the Director of Admissions at Front Range Christian School.

He now serves as the Executive Director of Denver Institute for Faith & Work. I corresponded with Haanen and one of his volunteers, Andrew Wolgemuth, to learn more about DIFW.

Why did you decide to start the Denver Institute for Faith & Work?

Haanen: I became a believer during my senior year of high school. I read a book How Now Shall We Live by Chuck Colson and realized the gospel is not only for personal salvation, it affects all of life. When I went to college I saw the great divide between the theology studies and everything else. This was concerning. God cares about all of life. Jesus is Lord over all things.

That’s how it began. I wrote an in-depth blog post on it here. But I can give you three short reasons here. (1) Denver doesn't have any faith and work initiatives attempting to equip Christians for ministry in a wide array of vocational fields. Though several business initiatives exist, there are many fields, like technology, media/communications or engineering/architecture in which there are almost no efforts to meaningfully bring the gospel to work. (2) Many pastors in Denver wanted to do more to equip people to serve God in their work, but lacked the bandwidth and size to do so effectively. So we gathered a group of ten pastors to serve as our "home churches" and created a joint initiative that could serve many churches and pull off events and groups too big for any one of us. (3) There was a huge need! In both the local church and the city, we see dozens of people struggling with work issues and relating their faith to where they spend most of their days. So we decided to build an institution that could meet this need.

DIFW is assembling organized small groups throughout your city. What is the main objective of these groups? How many are there?

Haanen: For now we have five vocation groups: health care, media/communications, business, law and engineering/architecture. All of the groups begin in January except or the law that has been going for a while. Vocation groups meet regularly to explore in community the gospel's influence on our work, gain a renewed vision for our work, and to spur one another on to creative engagement within one’s company/organization or industry.  DIFW's desire is to train, support, and nourish the body of Christ for its high priestly ministry in the world (1 Pet. 2:9) and to equip the saints for acts of service within their profession (Eph. 4:4) and in their communities.

Will the groups work through certain material (books, articles, etc.)?

Haanen: Our materials are tailored to each group and event. Though we have a few general theology of work books we like to give away, we try as much as possible not to do a "10 week curriculum" format simply because this is a lifelong journey and the variables within our work days change too much. Some of these suggested books and videos can be found on our "Resources" page.

How are you actively pursuing a broad range of workers (i.e. “white” and “blue” collar)?

Haanen:  We do have a desire to reach out the whole Body of Christ. My church (Colorado Community Church) is very diverse, and has people from a wide variety of jobs, both of what we'd probably consider "blue collar" and "white collar." We plan public forums that are industry specific and "church events" which are not; I think our church events will attract a wide variety of backgrounds.

What are your goals for DIFW? Where do you hope to see your organization in five years?

Haanen:  We have many goals. They revolve around "converting" our events, public forums, and vocation groups into new work that blesses the city.

In five years we hope to have been at the root of the creation of many new initiatives and gospel-centered organizations in Denver. We also prayerfully hope to be able to loan our model to other cities interested in creating similar, regional organizations that bring together both pastors and laity around the theme of infiltrating our work with the gospel.


Andrew Wolgemuth, an agent with Wolgemuth & Associates, is a volunteer with the Denver Institute for Faith & Work. He and his co-lead Jill Hamilton, a Senior Associate at SE2, lead the media and communications vocational group. Wolgemuth gives a glimpse into faith and work and how DIFW’s vocational groups might function.  

How did you hear about the DIFW? 

Wolgemuth: I learned about the Denver Institute for Faith and Work last fall shortly after I met Jeff Haanen. At that point, Jeff was in the midst of refining his vision for DIFW, not quite ready to officially launch but showing great promise in his vision and rough plan.

Why did you decide to get involved?

Wolgemuth: Jeff's vision for the DIFW caught my attention. He's a Denver Seminary grad with a pastoral, missionary heart, and he's come to realize that the local church could use a bit of help in ministering to congregants in the workplace. So many of us spend so many hours each week working, and so many of us view these hours as something lesser...something completely different than our "church life" or "spiritual life." Jeff's encouragement blessed me - I wanted more and I wanted to be a part of encouraging others.

What do you hope to accomplish through your vocational group? 

Wolgemuth: My co-leader and I will facilitate bi-monthly gatherings of Communications & Media professionals to talk about various faith and work topics related to our fields. We're also aiming to organize a Communications & Media Public Forum about once a year. There is a discipleship and evangelistic aspect. We hope we will all dig deeper and take our faith more seriously. We want to encourage others and remind each other that our work matters.

Is there an ideal size for your vocational group?

Wolgemuth: Because we want our group to be very discussion oriented and for our group members to have a decent familiarity with each other, we think the ideal group size will be about 8 to 10 folks. When/if we get to 14 or 15, we'll look to split of a second group.

In a previous conversation, you mentioned that a Tim Keller book inspired you. What was that book and how?

Wolgemuth: The book by Tim Keller is Every Good Endeavor. The book has a great subtitle: "Connecting Your Work to God's Work" - what Christian doesn't want to do that‽ In this book, Keller provides Christian Work & Faith 101 and 201 thinking- I found it to be a thoughtful, encouraging corrective to a lot of my previous thinking (or lack thereof!) on how I approached my work.

How has your faith shaped your work ethic? 

Wolgemuth: Interesting question! I think the faith and work discussion has shaped my work in many ways, but I wouldn't have thought about my work ethic first and foremost. I've always had a decent work ethic, but perhaps my motivation of late has been less "work hard...God is watching" (in sort of an ominous way) and more of "work hard...your work can serve the kingdom."

Find out more about the Denver Institute through their website at www.denverinstitute.org.

Trillia Newbell

Trillia Newbell serves as the Director of Community Outreach for the ERLC. She is the author of numerous books, including Sacred Endurance: Finding Grace and Strength for a Lasting Faith (2019). Her writings on issues of faith, family, and diversity have been published... Read More