Born in South Africa, Brett Johnson lived in Silicon Valley for over 30 years. He co-founded The Institute for Innovation, Integration & Impact in 1996, which has worked with over 400 companies around the world to discover a purpose that is bigger than the bottom line.
With a passion for Repurposing Business, Brett and his wife regularly facilitate life-work integration training courses in the United States, South Africa, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. He is the author of 14 books.
“Jesus grew in wisdom, in stature, in favour with God, and in favour with man.” Luke 2:52
Back in our dating days Lyn and I made a weekly trek to Mowbray, near Cape Town, to attend a Youth for Christ leadership training. A favourite topic was ‘The Balanced Christian Life’ which advocated a good allocation of resources to the four quadrants of one’s intellectual, physical, spiritual and social life. We were striving for balance, using whatever planning tools we could muster to allocate efforts to time-competing life quadrants. As the pressures of life increased, so did the strain between these four areas. Work and family needed more time. My body needed more exercise (and still does), and my constituents needed more care. Maintaining balance, as it had been posited, became more difficult. Only the extremely disciplined made it.
Is balance bogus?
Anyone who has failed at juggling the balance balls has probably questioned whether balance is achievable. And should it be?
Let’s unpack this question by looking at the greatest prophet, according to Jesus – “no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). This is a remarkable commendation from Jesus regarding his cousin, John. I cannot imagine the riskiness of John announcing the kingdom in a climate where many had claimed to be the Messiah and been proved false. It is hard to comprehend the pressure on one who said with assurance that he was preparing the way for the long-awaited Messiah.
Certainly, John was a remarkable prophet. But was he balanced? He ate locusts and honey, had a wild hairdo, and wore a camel’s hair coat. He probably yelled a bit while he, in non-politically correct terms, shouted at the religious leaders and called them a brood of vipers. Can you imagine sauntering down to the Jordan and urging John to live a ‘balanced life’? He would run you out of town, and for good reason. For my part, I don’t believe in balance (as it has been advocated) – there is a greater truth in town.
Integration is the antidote to balance-fatigue
Power for living comes from removing the false barriers between work and worship, business and ministry, career and calling, everyday-life and God. People want authenticity in their leaders, and authenticity stems from integrated living. With integration, we put on our Hebrew hat and shed the ying-yangish split thinking we garnered from the Greeks or, truth be told, from our own desire to be in control.
The theory of integrated living is straightforward – the practice eludes many. In order to do business with God as we were commanded, we must think as God thinks. Rabbi Daniel Lapkin explains the lovely Hebrew word vav, which means ‘and’. A good Hebrew scroll, according to Lapkin, has 248 columns in the books of the Law – the first word of every column is vav… and. It is a conjunctive which means ‘joining’ and ‘bringing together’. Balance is bogus because it separates – it separates secular from sacred, work from worship, leisure from true rest, and business from mission. “But, Brett, I do business as ministry or mission,” I hear some say. Even this can be faulty thinking since the Hebrew word for business and ministry is one and the same. ‘Business as business’ does not make sense and since we have a commission, all life is on mission.
Side-tracked by semantics
Every sphere of life has its own lingo. Politicians have ‘the honourable such-and-such’ (whether they honour them or not), and academics ‘esteemed colleague so-and-so’ (whether they think them the village idiot). The church has developed its own ‘we are insiders, and you are outsiders’ terminology. I am still shocked at how many people don’t know that work is worship, business is ministry, and they are all called to work! I want to gag every time someone says, “I am in fulltime ministry,” or “then I received a call and left my job”. When should-be servant leaders cling to titles of pastor, prophet or apostle, the ‘us vs them’ charade continues, all the while side-lining the vast majority of those called into battle for the King.
Psalm 110 starts with these powerful words which capture a conversation in heaven between Father and Son:
“The Lord says to my lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’ The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying, ‘Rule in the midst of your enemies!’ Your troops will be willing on your day of battle. Arrayed in holy splendour, your young men will come to you like dew from the morning’s womb.”
How sad that we neuter our available forces by declaring only certain people fit for war and select days of the week holy. As long as we perpetuate language that is dichotomised and thinking that is dualistic we will run after balance… and fall on our faces.
“My challenge to you is simple: take up the road towards Convergence. Abandon the shortcuts of orderliness and balance, and pursue obedience. Life is a life of faith: make sure your faith is in God. Deliberately move away from that which provides the escape of faith in a company, a church, a career-path, a stock market or your own smarts. They will not be enough.” Brett Johnson, Convergence
When the apparently disparate areas of career, calling, creativity and community overlap then we find convergence. When our vocation and our occupation are one and the same the tension between our purpose and work is eased. When couples partner fruitfully the either/or thinking that separates woman and man, work and home is defused. When our work community becomes a spiritual household we don’t have to leave half of ourselves at home. When Millennials seeking workplaces don’t have to trade money for meaning we come closer to convergence.
Abraham Kuyper famously said: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” A fish swimming in a vast ocean does not move from work water to home water to church water – it is a fish, and all of its water is water.
People used to tell me, “I don’t know my what my calling is – if I knew it, I would do it.” (This itself is back to front, since in the Kingdom we know as we go.) I tell them it is easy to know your calling – you are called to work! You are also called to disciple nations, and the best way to disciple nations is to do your work in a way that shows evidence of who God is (his attributes, character, nature, heart, generosity, creativity, productivity, etc.) as you work like God. Dr Johan Carstens says discipleship is teaching people to work the way God designed them to work. What better place to make disciples than in the workplace? I have pastored a church and had people in meetings three or fours hours a week – at work I have them for 40 hours a week. Surely I should be ten times more effective at making disciples in and through my work.
Wired for the light
In the not-so-old days the phone lines that came into houses were called ‘twisted pair’ speaking of two copper wires that carried signals for communications. Then came fiber optics, and we discovered we were made for the light. There was more to come – wireless. Today children are born digital natives, and it is as natural to them as breathing. Humankind is rediscovering that we are wired for the Light, made for the Spirit. The days of man-made compartmentalisation should be over. Our God is one – we too can be one with and in Him. We don’t need balance for this – we need integration and convergence.