Alumni Interview | Patrick Briaud

Q. We talk a lot about “calling” at the Academy. You used to play professional tennis, worked in finance and now you are in philanthropic advising at one of the world’s largest philanthropic service organizations. What has it meant to you, over time, to pursue God’s call?

My original goal was to find a way to directly help people with a basic need in life and use that as a platform for the gospel. Originally, it was healthcare, then I turned to sports as a universal point of personal connection, and then to finance given the intimate nature of the subject and seeing my mom, as a financial advisor, become a friend and confidante to her clients.

Philanthropic advising then captured my attention given the similar nature of the work, while focusing the advice around effective social impact. I could help donors flourish while indirectly impacting charities and their beneficiaries. I was considering an MBA or a degree in Christian counseling when I came across the Trinity Forum Academy. This was a fantastic mix: I could deepen my understanding and experience of Christ, while stepping back for a time of vocational discernment.

Q. How exactly did you see philanthropic advising as a platform for the gospel?

Before the Academy, I saw my career mainly as a platform to do good work and look for opportunities to have “life-purpose” types of conversations. When I got to the Academy, I was challenged by the fellows’ wide variety of interests and projects– one an award winning fantasy novelist, another focused on the power of nature to reveal spiritual truth – and I thought, “These are nice but only tangential to Christ’s core message.” Eventually I realized that the arts, history, outdoors, literature, etc. are not only important, but that they also uniquely reveal God’s attributes. As career paths, these subjects are not just worthwhile; they are critical.

Over time, starting most-significantly with the Academy, my view of the Gospel gradually transformed. The Gospel message is important, but doing good work, in and of itself, is also a way of joining the Lord in his redemption of creation. We are called to both. This placed new value and importance on work not clearly seen as “Christian” work – perhaps helping fund a secular effort to analyze and share best practices related to the ocean conservation.

Q. So, then, how do you approach the question of calling as a result of the Academy?

I have learned that one key element of calling has to do with stewarding one’s unique gifts, opportunities, and resources. I have grown up explaining and demonstrating my faith in the context of diverse worldviews. As a result, I have had many opportunities to discuss and explain the basis of my faith with persons who do not necessarily share it. These experiences have led me to feel that I have a calling to engage with those who are less familiar with or less accepting of the Christian faith.

Following one’s call is just as much about stewarding our limitations. It is naïve to think that our opportunities are endless; unfortunately, “you can do anything you put your mind to” is simply not true. At first blush, this can seem depressing, yet as these limitations are paired with the purpose-infusing Gospel, this concept is tremendously freeing – bringing joy and purpose any work, even a custodian with only a mop and a smile. We fit into a larger story at a particular time, and we should be stewards of all that the Lord has (and has not) put in front of us.

Q. On that note of stewardship—your thesis at the Academy was on money, so what does “stewarding” one’s finances look like?

I started with the question: Given how much you earn, how much should you spend, save and give? The goal was to survey scripture, then condense each category to a few pithy takeaways. TFA faculty challenged me to think, “What is really behind this decision? What is the real question here?” I started to think about motivations, repentance, God’s will, etc. While I did end up with some concrete tips in the appendix, the central question – inspired by St. Augustine’s quote, “love God and do what you wilt” – became, “What does it mean to truly love God?” I discovered that issues of the heart define and direct our decisions – especially money, so we do well to address the heart before, during, and after the decisions themselves.

Q. From the outside, it can look like the Academy is an “inefficient” way of spending your time. One might ask, ‘What concrete thing does it accomplish?’ You are a very efficiency-oriented person, so what would you say to that?

Haha. I laugh because I am all about “efficiency,” yet this is one key concept where TFA challenged me. As Jesus commends Mary, in John 12, for lavishing him with expensive perfume, I stood with Judas in saying, “That’s not efficient – we could sell that and give it to the poor!” (paraphrase mine). When I was a fellow, what I discovered, with the help of the staff and community, is that – in one sense – Mary’s act is, in fact, the most “efficient” thing she could have done. More on that some other time.

I look back on the Academy as one of the most formative times of my life. It was a holistic developmental process. I learned how to ask the right questions before just coming up with solutions. I moved from a focus on concrete, efficient metrics to appreciate ambiguity, nuance, and mystery. I felt more fully “known” by the community around me that at any other time. I did some hard thinking and studying about the “why” of my career trajectory, allowing confidence and security to pursue my path at business school. And on a more practical note, I learned how to cut an onion and fold a fitted sheet … efficiently.

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