At Work & Theology 101

Honoring the ‘Amazing Story’ of the Life & Legacy of IFWE’s Founder, Hugh Whelchel

Innovative leader, life-long learner, and faithful servant of Christ, Hugh Calvin Whelchel III entered into glory on Good Friday.
LinkedIn Email Print

Hugh Whelchel, the founder and long-time executive director of the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, often described heaven as a bus stop where believers wait “for God to finish the work he is doing in this present age”, and for the final resurrection, where “our souls will be united with our resurrection bodies and we will live in a physical new earth forever.”

On March 29, 2024—Good Friday—Hugh Calvin Whelchel III died and entered glory after a four-year battle with ALS. “You might think that this revelation has been a great challenge to my faith,” he wrote shortly after his diagnosis. “If anything, it has reinforced it.” No doubt that among the many comforts of heaven waiting for him, was the chance to take it all in and say, “I was right!”

We take comfort that Hugh is now experiencing the shalom he preached in life. He is also no doubt regaling fellow travelers at the bus stop with story after story, as he did so often with those who were blessed to know him, of his unique and adventurous life while encouraging them that their work on earth offers a glimpse of the Restoration promised in scripture. 

Hugh’s great adventure began in Winter Haven, Florida, where he was born to Hugh Calvin Whelchel, Jr. and Martha Lathers Whelchel in 1952. It was here he developed his lifelong passions for planes (he flew crop dusters as a young man); cars (particularly the Porsche 911); and his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. John Kyle, executive director of The Fellows Initiative, director of The Capital Fellows program, and former IFWE chief operating officer, recounted in an email to TFI alumni and supporters some of the escapades Hugh embarked on during his formative Florida years: 

Hugh was a bigger than life person. I have never met anyone like him. Among his many life adventures, he raced cars, flew crop dusters, and served as a scout for a college football bowl. From car accidents to mysterious strangers to losing his instruments while flying a plane along the coast of Florida, Hugh’s life was literally one amazing story after another.

Hugh was a lifelong learner. He graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in sociology and went on to earn a master of arts in religion from Reformed Theological Seminary in McLean, Virginia, where, after a successful 30-year business career in the IT industry, he served as executive director and guest professor. He also took coursework, completing all the requirements but his dissertation, toward a D.Min. from Gordon Conwell Seminary. Of Hugh’s time at RTS, Dr. Scott Redd, RTS’s current president, said in an email to seminary staff, students, and supporters that “Hugh left an indelible mark on RTS Washington while serving as Executive Director for seven years, putting it on a sure footing… He was an innovative leader.”

Hugh was never one to leave his learning in the classroom. He was a mainstay of the communities where he lived, serving as an elder of Orangewood Presbyterian Church in Maitland, Florida, and of McLean Presbyterian Church (MPC) in McLean, Virginia. He wove a fabric of faithfulness mentoring future generations as a Sunday school teacher and one-time executive director and board member of The Fellows Initiative, where he helped establish countless Fellows programs designed to help young adults understand their vocations and apply their faith to every area of their lives. He also helped MPC’s fellows program, The Capital Fellows, get off the ground, recruiting its first director and serving on its leadership team.

In 2011, Hugh combined his backgrounds in business administration, executive leadership, education, and church service to cofound IFWE. He earnestly desired for all Christians to discover God’s calling for their lives and find fulfillment in their work. “What started as an interest in faith and work became a career for Hugh, a career marked by new ideas, entrepreneurship, and partnership with others,” John Kyle said. “Under his leadership, IFWE became a teaching ministry that still reaches tens of thousands of people each week.”

His desire to help Christians understand the relationship between their faith and their work drove Hugh to become an accomplished author. His most well-known book, “How Then Should We Work,” laid the foundation for IFWE and the theology of work it seeks to inculcate in Christians worldwide. He also wrote the booklets “Reweaving Shalom: Your Work and the Restoration of All Things”, “All Things New: Rediscovering the Four-Chapter Gospel”, and “Monday Morning Success: How Biblical Stewardship Transforms Your Work” to help believers understand how and why their work matters to God and the purpose it serves in his redemptive plan. Additionally, he wrote and contributed to many IFWE books, curriculum, and studies. His more than 500 IFWE articles make him the most prolific author on our blog. 

Though he was a successful businessman, director, mentor, author, and teacher, his favorite vocation was undoubtedly as a husband, father, and grandfather. He is survived by his wife, Leslie (née White) and their three children, Hugh C. Whelchel IV, Leigh Parker, and Lauren Fouts (Chris). He loved entertaining his grandchildren, Ean and Hunter Fouts, at Golden Eagle, his and Leslie’s farm in Leesburg, Virginia. 

He is also survived by two sisters, Susan Whelchel Binch of College Station, Texas, and Helen Whelchel of Hopkinsville, Kentucky. 

A memorial service for Hugh will be held at McLean Presbyterian Church on Saturday, April 13 at 2 p.m. You can find more details about the service here

Hugh’s life is a testament to the gospel of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration he so fervently believed. “Believers will not be judged righteous because of their acts, but because they are clothed in the righteousness of Christ,” he once wrote. It was this faith in Jesus’ sacrifice that motivated him to work so energetically for the cause of Christ in this world. He is surely clothed in Christ’s righteousness as he awaits the coming of the next.

On behalf of IFWE’s current (and former) staff and contributors, we can’t wait to hear all about your adventures in heaven, Hugh, when we join you at the bus stop.

Have our latest content delivered right to your inbox!

Further readings on At Work & Theology 101

  • At Work
  • Theology 101

Over the past several months, I have seen occasional glimpses of recent college graduates who are posting on social media…

  • At Work
  • Theology 101

“God has created us in his image so that we may carry out a task, fulfill a mission, pursue a…

Have our latest content delivered right to your inbox!