On Being a Pro and Writing Stuff Down

A good friend who used to be on staff with us, recently transitioned into the “workforce.” He shaved, got some nice, professional clothes, and went to work at a job where if he screws up it will cost his company money and clients and (God forbid) worse.

I love my job, and I love being able to wear flip-flops and shorts to work, but if there is one thing that bothers me about ministry it is that a lot of people don’t treat it like “regular work”, for lack of a better term.

I saw this tweeted the other day:

“Be professional. Arrive on time. Actually be early. And be organized.

I offer up a wholehearted AMEN to that tweet. (Turns out the source is one of Brad’s articles, which you can read here, and it is very good).

I don’t know a lot of people who treat ministry with the professional mindset. In fact, there is almost an anti-professionalism that permeates a lot of Christian leadership. There are some good reasons for this. No one wants to be cold, distant, or a dictator.

What’s interesting to me is that many other non-traditional professions seem to revel in professionalism. I see this a lot in the writing/blogging world. You can read any number of posts and articles on the beauty of discipline, structure, and professionalism.

Why haven’t more ministry leaders adopted this mindset?

Some like to argue against my point by throwing the “in the world, not of the world” mantra back. And while I do think there are some ways in which we should think about ministry in different categories than the world (money comes immediately to mind), there are other ways (like being a pro) that should be held at an even higher standard than the regular workforce.

The other day our staff team was working on crafting content for our small groups this fall. We are going to talk about parables, and the parable of the Shrewd Manager came up in the conversation. It is a weird parable, and one that many people (myself included) struggle to understand.

In Luke 16:8 Jesus says:The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.”

I think this has direct application to ministry and work and professionalism.

We, in vocational ministry, should be just as shrewd (read: professional) in our work and craft as those who are in other vocational callings.

In addition to Brad’s list (I especially like 4, 5, 6, and 14, although I will print out the whole list and put it in my planner today), I would suggest 3 simple things to improve your professionalism:

  1. Write Stuff Down: in our technological world there are so many ways to store and keep track of things. I find that people who rely too heavily on the digital world tend to be more scatterbrained, forget more meetings, and lose things more often than those who write things down. This is not scientific data, but there’s something about putting pen to paper that, in my experience, seems to improve memory, demonstrate care, and produce results (like showing up, and showing up on time).
  2. Prepare: write stuff down before you go to a meeting, or a one on one. Prepare for those moments the way you would prepare for a talk in front of 50 people. And write stuff down afterwards so you don’t forget! (There’s a theme here).
  3. Act Like You Care: this means that sometimes you wear a shirt with a collar. Sometimes you call AND leave a voice mail (instead of texting). Sometimes you choose your words carefully (and you don’t use certain words you might use in other contexts). Sometimes you over follow-up. I could go on.

I am one of the more informal people you will ever meet, but I have found (sometimes from painful experience) that I want to err on the side of being a pro. It demonstrates care, it demonstrates a strong ethic of work, and it enhances (rather than diminishes) the legitimacy of what I do as a pastor.

Practice your craft, be a pro, and get a pen so you can write some stuff down!

Eugene Peterson on Pastoring and Other Amazingness

From this great interview:

The one thing I think is at the root of a lot of pastors’ restlessness and dissatisfaction is impatience. They think if they get the right system, the right programs, the right place, the right location, the right demographics, it’ll be a snap. And for some people it is: if you’re a good actor, if you have a big smile, if you are an extrovert. In some ways, a religious crowd is the easiest crowd to gather in the world. Our country’s full of examples of that. But for most, pastoring is a very ordinary way to live. And it is difficult in many ways because your time is not your own, for the most part, and the whole culture is against you. This consumer culture, people grow up determining what they want to do by what they can consume. And the Christian gospel is just quite the opposite of that. And people don’t know that. And pastors don’t know that when they start out. We’ve got a whole culture that is programmed to please people, telling them what they want.  And if you do that, you might end up with a big church, but you won’t be a pastor.

Advice to young people looking for authentic church:

Go to the nearest smallest church and commit yourself to being there for 6 months. If it doesn’t work out, find somewhere else. But don’t look for programs, don’t look for entertainment, and don’t look for a great preacher. A Christian congregation is not a glamorous place, not a romantic place. That’s what I always told people. If people were leaving my congregation to go to another place of work, I’d say, “The smallest church, the closest church, and stay there for 6 months.” Sometimes it doesn’t work. Some pastors are just incompetent. And some are flat out bad. So I don’t think that’s the answer to everything, but it’s a better place to start than going to the one with all the programs, the glitz, all that stuff.

The Genius of the Red Solo Cup

You’ve probably been to a party with red solo cups. You know the drill. Everyone has the same color cup so you write your name on yours,
or you never put your cup down,
or you go through about 10 cups during the party
because you don’t want to pick up the wrong one
(who knows what’s in there!).

The red solo cup.

A symbol for college parties, but also a symbol of conformity. Why don’t we get more creative with cups at these parties? Is it because we just want to blend in, we don’t want people to know what or how much we’ve been drinking, we just want to be part of the crowd?

I find this fascinating.

There are no red solo cups in the Kingdom of Heaven. “LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup” (Psalm 16:5).

No, everyone has their own cup, a cup that reflects who they are and how they’ve been beautifully and wonderfully made.

The Kingdom of Heaven is not one of conformity and monochrome monotony.

It is full of color
and life
and creativity
and expression,
where you are fully you.

This is the world we are invited to step into. Remember this the next time you fill your red solo cup.

Summer Projects

One of the big projects for the summer is to help REUNION write another round of community group curriculum. I do like this process a lot, and I am especially grateful for the partnership that will be involved in this summer’s effort.

The first time we did this I didn’t do much writing (mostly picking and pulling from other sources); the results we called “The Story of Scripture.” Last year I helped write “The Story of Jesus” (a much more original effort). We are using that method again this year for “The Story of the Church”. I am excited to see what comes from this and how it will be used in groups to help people grow and act more like Jesus in their neighborhoods in Boston.

Quick Hitters

Updates in bullet form:

  • Headed to Dallas, TX early Wednesday morning for round two of the Leadership Networks University Leadership Community. This never seems to come at a convenient time in the semester, but I am grateful to get some time away and focus on the big picture for a couple of days.
  • We are deep into preparing our leadership teams for the fall. I’m excited to see new students coming on board and excited to be a part of the Sojourn story next year.
  • We held a baggo (or cornhole) tournament at UMB on Friday (picture). Met some new people and had some good times with old friends!
  • Tons of writing and prep to do today: it’s a short week!