Jordan Raynor is a fascinating man. He is a husband, father of three little girls, a serial entrepreneur, popular public speaker, executive chairman of a venture backed tech startup. He was twice selected Google Fellow and served in the White House under President George W. Bush. High energy and intensely focused, Jordan is a full-time writer committed to growing a community of Christians pursuing a deeper integration of their faith with their work. I first became aware of Jordan a few years when he wrote the best-seller, Called to Create, a book that uses a “show-not-tell” style of storytelling to present the Biblical importance of calling and creativity.
I confess that he caught my attention originally because he included C.S. Lewis in Called to Create and that single reference resonated with me. It always does. What kept my interest in Jordan Raynor is his unswerving commitment and focus on Scripture in his writing and his speaking. Jordan impresses me with something deeper than his energy or how much he accomplishes (though those are remarkable). He impresses me with his passion to serve the Lord with his whole being, his fierce commitment to help others do the same, his kindness and his generosity. Jordan just released his newest book, the thought-provoking, Master of One, addressing the issue of mastery as a practice of living a whole life and offered as an act of worship.
Called to Create & Master of One
LES: As a serial entrepreneur, Jordan, you know full well what it is to be a “jack-of-all-trades.” You have to wear many hats when you are launching new endeavors – and wear them sometimes for years as you are getting a business established. Something happened however along the way of your successful career path in launching and running tech companies. Something triggered you to write a book titled Called to Create and then to write another one – your new work – Master of One, something I am guessing that has to do with calling. What is the driving factor behind these two books? How do these two narratives tie together?
JR: Called to Create was born out of me seeking answers to my own questions about what difference the gospel should make in the life of the Christian creative and entrepreneur. When that book was released, it just took off and never stopped selling. At the same time, I was experiencing fantastic traction in the tech-startup I was running as CEO (Threshold 360). So, I had these two things the Lord was clearly blessing, but I also had this strong conviction that I couldn’t manage both with excellence for very long. I had to pick a lane. So, I spent about 9 months recruiting a replacement for myself as CEO of Threshold 360, and today, I spend my time laser-focused on creating content products (books, podcasts, etc.) that help Christians do their most exceptional work for the glory of God and the good of others. That’s what my new book, Master of One is all about—finding, focusing on, and mastering the work God created you to do.
One true calling
LES: Author and speaker Jeff Goins has written about calling in his book, The Art of Work. Jeff asserts that we are often not called to just one thing, but to several. Jeff is trying to undo a romanticized notion that there is only one thing that we a made to do and will be fulfilled in doing. However, your essential premise of Master of One presses the issue that we do have just one true calling, and that it is essential that we recognise and commit to that calling if we are fulfill our purpose. How do you balance your view on this with Jeff’s? What do you identify as your one true calling? How then do you personally harness the principles your share in Master of One?
JR: Actually, I think Jeff and I agree on this point. The truth is, there are likely many things you and I could do masterfully well in our vocations in order to bring God great glory and serve others well. But we can’t do them all at the same time. That’s the key insight of this book.
In order to do our most exceptional work, we have to explore widely and then have the courage to commit to one thing to master in this season of life.
Now, most people’s “one thing” will not be a specific job or role. Most people’s one thing will be broad. C.S. Lewis is a great example. On the surface, it might look like Lewis was a master of many things. After all, he was a renowned writer and radio broadcaster and university teacher. But in an interview for Master of One, Lewis’s heir explained to me that Lewis viewed all of this work as expressions of one thing he was intentionally seeking to master: the art of teaching.
That insight was really helpful to me, and I think readers of Master of One will agree. While your “one thing” might be specific, it very well might be broad like Lewis’s. That makes it even more important to explicitly define, focus on, and purposefully master, which is exactly what the book helps you do.
For the record, my one thing is also broad. I view my one thing as entrepreneurship.
LES: Called to Create carries a fascinating subtitle: a Biblical Invitation to Create, Innovate, and Risk. This book is of special interest to me not only because of the subjects of calling and creativity, but because you have a fascinating connection to C. S. Lewis in it. What did the Lord do in you through the process of writing Called to Create that led you to write Master of One?
JR: He multiplied the results of Called to Create way beyond what I could expect from my own feeble inputs. From how easy it was to write, to how well the book has sold long after its initial release, I have had the great joy of stepping back and thanking the Lord for good soil—soil that He has clearly carved out for me to water, plant, and cultivate for His glory and the good of others. That’s why I decided to write another one (and get even more focused on my career as a content entrepreneur as opposed to a tech entrepreneur). I talk about that journey at much greater length in Master of One.
Best and worst of the writing process
LES: All of us who write learn at some point that writing is a process. It has ups and downs, seasons and stages, costs and rewards. What is your favourite part of the writing process? What is the hardest part?
JR: My favorite part is also, in my opinion, the hardest: Deciding what you want to say. C.S. Lewis used to describe his writing process as having three steps: 1) Know what you want to say. 2) Say it. 3) Say it well. That first step is by far the hardest, and the one I think many people rush through. It’s where I spend probably 70% of my time “writing.” I basically just continue to outline until the outline is turning into full sentences. That’s when I know it’s time to exit the outline, get into a Google Doc, and write in full.
Pushing through, pushing on
LES: In writing Master of One, and in launching Master Notes for Founders and The Call to Mastery Podcast, you doubtless hit resistance and some difficulty. You made a bold choice to shift your role in Threshold 360 in order to focus more of your energy in writing, speaking, and teaching. Transitions involve growth and growth nearly always seems to entail being changed in the process of facing difficulty. In the difficult times, what motivates you to push through and go on? And in times of grave adversity, how do you know when it’s worth going on?
JR: If I was facing non-stop adversity, I would probably pivot my career in another direction, because that would be a sign that I was not planted in “good soil” where my “one thing” is likely to sprout and continue to grow. Yes, there are trials as I lead my team at Jordan Raynor & Company, but on the whole, we genuinely feel as if we are witnessing the miracle of divine multiplication, and that keeps us going. We know this is the work God created us to do because we feel His pleasure frequently, mostly as we hear from the steady stream of readers and customers whose lives are being changed by this message.
LES: If you could name one area in yourself that has been changed and refined through the process of being married, having children, launching businesses, writing these books, and carrying this messaging into the world – from where you started just out of school, what would you say the Lord has changed in you?
JR: The Lord has changed (and continues to change) how I think about the purpose of work. I’m a Millennial who grew up hearing the same career advice from every adult in my life: “Follow your passions. Follow your dreams. Do whatever makes you happy.”
The Lord has shown me that this is terrible advice. Put simply, because it doesn’t work. In Master of One, I cite a slew of academic studies that show that the number one predictor of someone describing their work as a “calling” as opposed to a “career” or “job” is the number of years they have spent in that vocation—not whether or not they were passionate about the field before they entered it.
It turns out that we get to love what we do by getting really good at it.
This truth shouldn’t come as a surprise to Christians who are modeling their lives after the one who “came not to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). The “follow your passions” mindset focuses exclusively on what value a job can offer you. A much more effective and God-honoring strategy is to “follow your gifts,” focusing on the work you can do most exceptionally well as a means of making others happy. This is the most predictable path to finding work that you will stay in love with over a long period of time.
Cultivating the Core
LES: In The Cultivating Project we teach that there are essential elements for living a whole life, especially as Christians engaged in creative endeavors. One of those elements is cultivating core relationships and community. What role does your wife Kara play in the way you create and grow as a believer? How do you cultivate your own core relationships and nurture your marriage and family? How would you say they cultivate and nurture you?
JR: Kara is the first person that reads anything I write—especially books. And I don’t wait until I’m done to get her feedback. She reads every chapter as soon as it comes “off the press” and provides invaluable, Godly feedback. One of my best friends and former business partners (also a believer) also plays this role. The two of them are invaluable.
The Ministry of Excellence
LES: I love what you shared in your recent newsletter about the adoption of your new little daughter, Emery. Hearty congratulations to you all! Along with your gratitude in having Emery as new addition to your family, you mention your friend Jessica, a NICU nurse and who answered many of your questions helping to give you the confidence to press forward with adopting and is one of the individuals you highlight in Master of One. Jessica uses a beautiful expression that runs like a silver thread through Master of One: “the ministry of excellence.” How has the ministry of excellence shape the way your family made space for Emery’s presence in your lives? How do you see the ministry of excellence facilitating others to take brave, generous steps of excellence?
JR: Before we decided to adopt Emery, we had a lot of medical questions we wanted answered. Thankfully, we have a friend named Jessica who has spent nearly two decades mastering her craft as a NICU nurse practitioner. Jessica patiently answered our seemingly endless list of questions, and through her extreme competence, gave us the confidence we needed to adopt this baby girl.
In Master of One, I quote Jessica as saying,
“I am doing ministry when I do my work with excellence. That is how I love my neighbor as myself.”
I am just grateful that I was able to experience Jessica’s “ministry of excellence” in such a personal way. Without her being truly masterful at her craft, I doubt we would have had the confidence to bring Emery into our home.
Simply loving our neighbor is good and God-honoring in and of itself and is the foundational purpose for focused, masterful work, as well as the most fundamental way we make ourselves useful to the world. As Christians, we can’t say we are seeking to love our neighbor as ourselves and then do our work with mediocrity. In some professions (like Jessica’s), mediocre work can result in the loss of life. For most of us the relative skill of our work isn’t going to mean the difference between life and death, but we all have an opportunity to obey Jesus’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves by choosing to do excellent work.
Mediocrity vs. Mastery
LES: Jordan, you make a very bold assertion about mastery and excellence being the core of fulfilling the gospel when you equate excellence with love.
“The case I have been building up to this point is that as Christians we live out the Greatest Commandments through our vocations when we do our work with focus and excellence.”
I have to admit I have had a difficult time reconciling what you have said here with what I see in life. So many struggle with this. Excellence for many of us seems to be beyond reach, a luxury we can’t attain, or one that we don’t have the capacity to achieve. If someone does their best and they are untrained or disabled, but they offer the work with love, does that truly fail to live out the gospel because the quality of the work is not what someone else can produce? I think of my little girls when they first made me macaroni necklaces in preschool and kindergarten. Those were little fingers and little hands just learning to make something but their love was great. Every artist, writer, gardener, musician I have ever known started out in our crafts at the learners stage where the quality of what we produce is mediocre. Most first drafts are mediocre (unless you are C.S. Lewis) in comparison to what we produce later through refining and editing. Why do you take such issue with mediocrity? How do you define mastery?
I don’t believe we are called to attain excellence, but I do think we are called to passionately pursue excellence in everything we do.
1 Corinthians 10:31 commands that in “whatever” we do, we “do it all for the glory of God.” Glorify is a word we throw around so much in Christian circles that it has become tragically difficult to define. In fact, one of the most highlighted passages in the Kindle edition of Called to Create is John Piper’s definition of glorify. Since so many people found that definition helpful, allow me to reintroduce it here. According to Piper, “‘Glorifying’ means feeling and thinking and acting in ways that reflect his greatness, that make much of God, that give evidence of the supreme greatness of all his attributes and the all-satisfying beauty of his manifold perfections” (emphasis added).
You and I are called to reflect God’s greatness and imitate His character to the world. This is the very essence of what it means to glorify God. But what is his character? Scripture describes God in many ways, but it is his character of excellence that is perhaps most visible to us. So, when Scripture commands that in “whatever you do,” you “do it all for the glory of God,” we are being called to the passionate pursuit of excellence in whatever we commit ourselves to.
Now, here’s where the rubber meets the road. We must remember that in victory or defeat, success or failure, we can glorify God by passionately pursuing (not necessarily attaining) excellence and seeking to be the very best version of who God created us to be (not necessarily the best in the world). Nowhere in Scripture does God command success or certain levels of performance. Because of the work of Jesus on our behalf, we don’t need to use our work in some misguided attempt to save ourselves or prove to the world that we are valuable. We are valuable and worthy because Christ loves us, not because of any level of success we may attain in our careers. It is that very security in Christ alone that frees us to pursue mastery in our work for his glory rather than our own. And that is what leads us to “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23), giving us the deep, lasting, sustainable ambition to work with the highest standards of excellence.
Because the gospel frees us from the requirement to win, we gain a deep desire to master our work and proclaim the excellencies of God in the process.
Recommended Resources for Mastery
LES: What books or web resources do you most recommend to compliment Master of One and Called to Create? What tools do you recommend for us to continue pursuing mastery in our craft and relationships?
JR: At a very practical level, I always recommend Getting Things Done by David Allen and the software built based on the GTD methodology, OmniFocus.
Planting Seeds & Awaiting Fruit
LES: With all the effort and sacrifice you have poured into writing Master of One and creating its resource services, you have already made it clear you are in this for a longer commitment, and not just tossing off a best-seller and moving on. There is a longer-term calling on this for you. What is your hope for the outcome of Master of One? Ten to fifteen years from now, what do you hope to see as fruit that has come about because you wrote this and spent time teaching others how to focus on mastery?
JR: My prayer for this book and every piece of content my team and I are creating is that it would inspire every Christian to do their most exceptional work for the glory of God and the good of others. The Church has done a poor job of helping every believer understand the eternal significance of their work, whether they’re an entrepreneur, a plumber, a stay-at-home-dad, or an artist. We want every Christian to understand what the Bible has to say about the goodness and meaning of work, and our prayer is that once they understand that, they will be incredibly motivated to master the work they were created to do for the glory of God and the good of others.
To learn more about Master of One and the work that Jordan Raynor is passionate about, follow him on
Practice what you have learned & received and heard & seen in me – model your way of living on it, and the God of peace (of untroubled, undisturbed well-being) will be with you.
~ Philippians 4.9
~ What qualities in Jordan to you recognize in this conversation have been developed to help him fulfill his calling? Do you see some of those qualities in you also, even if they may not yet be fully developed? Can you name those strengths then record them in writing and offer those to the Lord along with the qualities in yourself that you see as weaknesses or places of vulnerability?
~ How might you name the one thing to which you are called to excel and offer in a life of worship? What do you hear the Lord calling you to as the thing for which you are made to glorify Him in and to experience your deep fulfillment?
~ Where do you struggle in the pursuit of excellence and mastery? What are the hindrances to your mastering that one true thing you are made for? Can you talk with the Lord directly about surrendering to the work He is willing do in and through you for the purpose of establishing mastery in Him?
~ If you have a difficult time believing that you can become a master of something, can you ask the Lord to give you faith to believe and to receive that in your lifetime?
The featured image of Jordan Raynor is courtesy of Brandi Richardson and is used with permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project. The image of Jordan and Kara and family is courtesy of Kristin Joy Taylor and used with permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
Lancia E. Smith is an author, photographer, teacher, and business owner. A grateful lover of the Triune God, Lancia is passionate about the disciple making. Reflecting that calling, she is the Founder and Executive Director of Cultivating Good | True | Beautiful, and of The Cultivating Project, a discipling initiative for Christians engaged in the arts, with a special emphasis on writers. She is President and CEO of a thriving environmental consulting and construction firm based in northern Colorado which she runs with her husband Peter. They are parents to seven children, and are grandparents to a beloved flock of grandchildren. Lancia loves strong coffee with cinnamon, writing, website design, David Austin roses, Marvel movies, road trips with Peter, and nearly every book she ever read by C.S. Lewis, J.R. R. Tolkien, and George MacDonald.