I recently read two books simultaneously and I’m not sure it was a good thing. Well, it probably was because it made my brain hurt, and usually when my brain hurts it’s because I had to actually think. Thinking is good. I enjoy thinking. So this brain pain was, in the end, a very good thing.
The books? Seth Godin’s, Poke the Box, and Eugene Peterson’s, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity. Two very different sources. Godin, a successful entrepreneur and speaker, and Peterson, the pastor’s pastor.
Godin is telling me to stir the pot, trouble the waters, ask questions, push the vision – poke the box. Eugene is saying listen for God, be slow to speak, stay faithful to your calling to preach, pray, and be with people – take a long view.
Pastoral ministry is interesting in that there is room for both of these mindsets. There are times where vision must be casted; times where the prophetic voice calling people to future hope is needed. Yet there are times where the pastor simply sits with people struggling and listens; times where the pastor reminds the people that God is present even though they don’t see Him. And there are times where no matter how much the “box” gets poked, there are few immediate results that can be quantified.
The convergence: Striving for Excellence. Yes. Striving for excellence.
“Ascetical is an athlete’s word. It means training for excellence. It is the practice of the disciplines that fit us for performing our very best in an event.”
The pastor strives for excellence in being with people, in the quiet of prayer and while meditating on Scripture. The pastor strives for excellence in proclaiming that there is hope and helping people to get a glimpse of this hope – to expect things hoped for. This takes discipline and intentionality – razor like focus – to be attentive to both to God and people.
“Excellence isn’t about working extra hard to do what you’re told. It’s about taking the initiative to do work you decide is worth doing.”
Pastors must remind themselves that the work of reading Scripture, prayer, and directing people are “worth doing.” It is too easy to get caught up in the numbers game; to focus on attendance, giving, and program. Pastors (pastors like me, at least) need to be reminded that the work that doesn’t give quick results or quantifiable data is “worth doing.”
No one will tell me to read Scripture more. No one will monitor my hours at prayer. No one will keep a time card for my time spent directing people. I must take the initiative to do these things with excellence, for they are worth doing.
You see, there is a convergence here. We must not fear “poking the box” in our churches, and at the same time we must not fear slowing down, spending time in prayer, meditating on God’s Word, and being with God’s people. Too often churches gravitate toward either extreme. Some fear the unknown, so they refuse to poke the box. Others want to see change now – they want bigger churches, more energizing worship “experiences,” so they refuse to slow down a bit and consider the spiritual disciplines.
What about you? Where are you stuck? Do you find yourself gravitating toward a fear of poking the box? Or do you see a need to slow down and focus on prayer, Scripture, and spiritual direction? As we work the angles of pastoral ministry, we must not be afraid to poke the box. Even if, in your context, poking the box means slowing down and spending more time in prayer and Scripture.