What I *Didn’t* Do On Summer Vacation

I just got back from a month-long vacation.  (I know, I know: nice work if you can get it.)  I also took off blogging, dear reader, so allow me to fill you in on what I did on vacation.  Or, to be more specific, here’s what I didn’t do on summer vacation.

 

I Didn’t Feel Guilty

“You’re gone for a whole month?  [eye roll]  Must be nice….. ”  I’d get this response when I’d tell folks we were taking a month-long vacation.  I realize how blessed I am to be able to take that kind of time off (most people in my church are lucky to get a week), and I realize that lots of people don’t understand why a pastor needs vacation at all (“I mean, what do you really do anyway?”).  But, I’m unapologetic in taking vacation time, because I know that I’m running a marathon in ministry, not a sprint, and if I don’t care for my soul and my family, I could lose my ministry, my family, and even my soul.

Being a pastor is not like other jobs–my job is to pour myself out for my congregation and my community.  I’ve written elsewhere about the pressure that comes from preaching week after week, year after year.  In addition to that, I need to be able to be present to people in all aspects of their lives–joys and sorrows and sicknesses–and, paradoxically, for me to be present with people, I need some regular time away from my community.

Being a pastor is also a burden on the pastor’s family.  We can’t take weekend trips.  We can’t travel on Christmas and Easter.  We don’t go out on Saturday evenings.  My family knows that there are phone calls I get that mean I need to make a late-night visit to the hospital or have a long conversation about a failing marriage.  My family sacrifices a lot for my ministry, and I owe it to them to have some time away from the relentless needs of our community.

The very first day of our summer vacation–the very first day–I read a news story about how South Carolina megachurch pastor Perry Noble had been fired from the church he founded for personal issues that included a dependence on alcohol and a failing marriage.  I don’t know Perry personally, but I’ve heard him preach several times and was extremely impressed with his ministry from afar.  Perry appears to be a talented and faithful leader, and yet the pressures and demands of ministry got the better of him.

I’m going to do everything possible to make sure that doesn’t happen to me.

 

We spent time with my wife's family in Kill Devil Hills on the Outer Banks of North Carolina....

[We spent time with my wife’s family on the Outer Banks of North Carolina….]

I Didn’t Look at Email for 30 Days

I don’t need to tell you that to be truly off from work, one needs to be off email.  Completely.  This summer I had all my work email forwarded to my assistant for the entire time I was gone.  I needed to do this for 2 reasons:

  • for the health of my soul and my family, I needed to be completely off email and not tempted to check it from time to time;
  • I didn’t want to return to thousands of unread emails.

I know this arrangement was inconvenient for some people who needed a timely response from me, but I also know that I’m not able to be present on vacation if I’m still virtually in the office.

 

I Didn’t Check Facebook

I’m not a fan of social media, but I use it.  I’ve found, however, that for me social media is not life-giving.  So, I decided to completely stay off Facebook for 30 days.  I can honestly say I didn’t miss it at all.

 

[And with my family on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.]

[And with my family on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.]

I Didn’t Skip Church

I tell my congregation that I believe that they should be in church every Sunday unless they are sick or out of town, but honestly, I should really tell them that they should be in church every Sunday even when they are out of town.  Whether I am at home or on vacation, I need to be in worship every Sunday.

  • church reminds me that life is not about me;
  • church reminds me that God is in control;
  • church reminds that Jesus rose from the grave;
  • church reminds me that all I have comes from God;
  • church reminds me that I have a reason to be grateful in every circumstance.

So the four Sundays we were gone from Munger, we were at church.  We attended:

  • Church of the Outer Banks (an Anglican church start that meets in a YMCA in Kill Devil Hills, NC);
  • Redeemer Presbyterian Church (their downtown location on W. 14th Street in New York City);
  • Brewster Baptist Church, twice (an American Baptist congregation on Cape Cod, Massachusetts).

There are lots of dead churches in America, but I do my best to avoid these.  Instead, I like attending churches (big or small, traditional or contemporary) that are full of LIFE and the Holy Spirit.  The churches we attended on vacation this summer were all very different from each other, but each was alive and reminded me that God is active in the world, and that the Lord has faithful witnesses everywhere.

 

[Redeemer's downtown location is the Salvation Army building on W. 14th St.]

[Redeemer’s downtown location is the Salvation Army building on W. 14th St.]

And I Didn’t Not Want to Come Home

I know that’s a double negative, so let me explain.  The first couple weeks we were away, I did my best not to even think of home.  I love Dallas and I love our church, but the worry that comes from being a pastor never stops, and it took several weeks of being away before I could feel relaxed.  However, with about a week left in our vacation, I began to feel eager to return.  I think that eagerness was a gift from God, and although I was sad for our time away to come to an end, I wasn’t sad at all to be returning home.

And now, I can’t wait to see my church on Sunday.

 

 

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In Praise of “Deep Work”

As focused attention becomes rarer and rarer in our distracted culture, the people who cultivate focused attention will find themselves becoming more and more valuable.  In other words, you can’t afford NOT to be doing deep work.  This is the thesis of the book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport, a book that I cannot recommend highly enough.  Here’s why.

 

Deep Work: A Definition

Cal Newport, computer science professor at Georgetown University, defines deep work in this way:

Deep Work: professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

In contrast with deep work is shallow work:

Shallow Work: noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

Most knowledge workers spend most of their time engaged in shallow work–email, anyone?–so that, though they may be busy, they are not productive.

The people who are writing the best-selling books, making the blockbuster movies, creating the irresistible advertising campaigns, winning the major tournaments, and leading the market-beating companies, these are the people who are doing deep work (whether they realize it or not).  Deep work makes a difference.

The Deep Work Hypothesis

The prevalence of shallow work in our culture leads to Newport’s deep work hypothesis.

The Deep Work Hypothesis: The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy [and becoming valuable because it is becoming rare–AF]. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.

Newport also argues that deep work actually makes people happier.  As someone who has certainly spent a day being busy without being productive, I know that he’s right: I’m happier when I’m able to focus.

So, if you want to thrive in our knowledge work economy and if you want to be happier while doing it, you need to learn how to do deep work.

The Deep Work Rules

Newport has come up with what he calls The Rules of Deep Work.

  1. Work Deeply
  2. Embrace Boredom
  3. Quit Social Media
  4. Drain the Shallows

1. Work Deeply

Deep work is something we can learn how to do.  Focused attention is not something you can just turn on or off–it’s something that must be trained and cultivated, like a muscle.  Just as someone who spends his time sitting on the couch eating Doritos and watching television cannot overnight become a marathon champ, neither can someone who spends his time like that be immediately good at deep work.  Deep work requires practice and planning.

2. Embrace Boredom

Internet tools (social media, on-demand video, infotainment sites, etc.) have taught our minds to need constant stimulation, but deep work requires focused attention, and our need for shallow stimulation will undermine our ability to do deep work.  Therefore, we need to embrace boredom.  It’s good to resist the urge to pull out your smart phone when waiting in line at the post office: our minds need boredom.

3. Quit Social Media

You knew this was coming, right?  Newport makes the argument that people who are actually producing deep work (best-selling authors like Michael Lewis, e.g.) produce deep work because they do not allow themselves to be distracted by social media.  I know lots of people believe that social media is like alcohol–to be used and enjoyed in moderation.  I wonder, though, if social media is more like heroin: addictive and distracting for everyone.  (UPDATE: In conversation, I could say something provocative like that and you’d understand from my jocular tone what I was trying to convey, but I realize that, if you just read those words, they come across differently.  My church actively uses social media (and I use it, too) and I have many friends who work in social media marketing; if I really believed that social media was the same thing as heroin, I’d stop using it immediately.  I think social media marketing is necessary in our culture.  My point is just that I think all of us are much more easily distracted than we want to admit.)

4. Drain the Shallows

By “drain the shallows,” Newport means that we should aggressively eliminate the non-essential from our working lives.  For example, he gives practical tips on how to cut down on email, a major source of shallow work for most people.

Why I Need This Book

About 45 times a year, year after year, my professional responsibilities require me to create a brand-new, relevant, engaging, and faithful presentation and then deliver it in front of an average live audience of about 1,000 people, each one of whom is judging me savagely (even if they seem to be nice people!) on that presentation.  In addition to that, I also create multiple smaller presentations and essays through the year that also need to be original, relevant, helpful, and faithful.  In our distracted world, it seems as if everything but the truly important is screaming LOOK AT ME!  PAY ATTENTION TO ME!, and so I’ve come to the following conclusion:

if I don’t learn to do deep work, I’m not going to make it.

Deep Work is one of the most insightful, practical, and challenging books I’ve read about work and creativity…maybe ever.  I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

★★★★ excellent

 

 

 

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I’m Hiring – Come Work With Me!

Want to work with me?  I’m hiring an executive assistant.  See details below.

Job Description

I’m looking for an executive assistant who will protect my time and give me the space to do the work that God created me to do.

Location:  Munger Place Church, Dallas, TX

Essential duties include the following, plus other duties as required or assigned:

  1. Calendar Management (pastor and church): Maintain pastor’s and church calendar, responding to all meeting requests, gathering relevant background materials.  Confirm all appointments.
  2. Email/Voicemail Management (pastor and main church account): Open and screen incoming e-mail and listen to voicemail, respond on pastor’s behalf when possible, and forward to others when appropriate.
  3. Errands: Run errands in own vehicle as needed/requested. This will include routinely picking up mail and copies from Highland Park UMC multiple times weekly.
  4. Pastoral Office Management:  Provide administrative services such as preparing correspondence and reports for pastor, processing bills for payment, receiving and directing visitors, and procuring supplies for office.
  5. Organization:  Organize, maintain and revamp as necessary church filing systems; maintain both hard and soft copies of marriage, baptism and other important records.
  6. Meetings: Assist pastor in preparing for meetings and events by providing agendas, support and background information.  Attend designated meetings (with or in place of pastor), taking notes and minutes of relevant discussions, and as appropriate, interacting in ways that solve and prevent problems.  Keep track of next actions as agreed in meetings, and follow up with others to ensure these items are accomplished.
  7. Church Activities:  Assist as needed in church activities.
  8. Other:
    • Assist building services in keeping the church buildings uncluttered, organized, neat and orderly, bringing problems to attention of building technician.
    • Be proactive within prescribed limits in foreseeing and resolving problems, as well as conducting business in ways that avoid issues.

Working Hours:  Usual hours will be Monday-Thursday 8:30-5, Friday 8:30-noon; however, these hours may be revised as needed when attendance is needed at church activities or events.

We Require a committed Christian who is comfortable working in a United Methodist Church environment, with the following qualifications:

  • At least 3 years of responsible office experience required
  • High school diploma required, college preferred
  • Must be a self-starter who is responsive and has a high level of initiative and follow-through, who can anticipate needs and efficiently get things done, as well as a desire for constant improvement in performance and efficiency.
  • Excellent oral and written communication and listening skills, as well as good spelling, grammar, punctuation abilities.
  • Highly organized and detail-oriented, capable of learning and using David Allen’s GTD (Getting Things Done) system
  • Excellent interpersonal and relational skills, including the ability to deal cordially and efficiently with others without being pulled into any issues or complaints they present.
  • Professional attitude, appearance and demeanor, maintaining grace under pressure.
  • High degree of discretion with confidential information.
  • Excellent computer proficiency with MS Office Suite, email, and ability to learn and use Arena church database
  • Ability to juggle multiple tasks and shift priorities as necessary, while maintaining a positive, can-do spirit.
  • Capable of functioning both independently and as part of a team.
  • Good driving record, current driver’s license and own vehicle, for running errands
  • Physical abilities to see, hear, speak, sit, stand, walk, lift/carry up to 10 lbs., fine motor skills and ability to move about as necessary.

We provide competitive pay and full benefit package, generous holiday schedule, and a fun, supportive and collaborative work environment!

TO APPLY, please email the following to jobs@hpumc.org, specifying Exec.Asst. in subject line:

  • Resume & cover letter/email
  • Salary requirement
  • Your religious/church affiliation (HPUMC or Munger Place membership not required)

No calls, please.

This Is Why I Love My Job

On Sunday, I was reminded how grateful I am that I get to do what I do.  The congregation I serve in East Dallas celebrated our 5th birthday on Sunday, and I’ll be the first to tell you that the sermon wasn’t the best part of the service.  No, it was what happened afterwards that everyone is talking about.

Who Knew Cardboard Could Make You Cry?

We had asked some folks from our congregation to share their “cardboard testimonies” immediately following my sermon.  Nothing I could ever say could be as powerful as what those folks wrote on their cardboard signs:

I feel so grateful to get to be a part of a place like Munger and to see the saving power of God up close.

Amen.

 

 

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How My Friend Mike Found His Way Back

It’s sad but true: “pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  What C.S. Lewis meant by that phrase is that it’s often not until we are really hurting from self-inflicted wounds that we are ready to turn from running away from God to running to God, only to find that the God is there to welcome us home.  My friend Mike’s story of redemption and healing is one more example of this pattern.  And it’s a great story….

On Highland Park United Methodist’s website, Mike tells of his anguish after learning his marriage of 12 years was ending:

I was in the backyard with our three dogs (two of whom were about to move away) and I fell to my knees and starting howling like a wounded animal. Eventually, it resolved into something resembling words, ‘Oh God, Oh God, Oh God…'”

God put great people in his life at exactly the time Mike needed them, and one of them invited Mike to both our church and his men’s group.  I remember well the first interaction I had with Mike, which he describes here:

I made arrangements to meet with Josh [Mike’s friend and a member of my congregation] and he left me with one key takeaway: I should join him and Kimberly [Josh’s wife] at Munger Place Church that Sunday. I wasn’t particularly interested, but I was too weak to say no.

I walked into Munger, my first steps into a church for the better part of 20 years. I was pleased to find that the music was incredible. I was further pleased and surprised to find that Rev. Andrew Forrest’s sermon was both thoughtful and gracious towards those who weren’t all-in. I agreed to come back for a second week.

That second week, Rev. Forrest preached about a mishap in a river that led him to realize that swimming against the current is a fruitless and tiring exercise. It touched my heart and I felt better for the first time in a month. I wasn’t ready to believe, but I’d at least see where the current would take me.

I arranged to have breakfast with Rev. Forrest and nervously posited that I wanted to be a part of the community I saw growing at Munger. But, I wasn’t sure that I believed. Was there still room for me? (In retrospect, I can almost see Rev. Forrest reeling the fishing line as he welcomed me.)”

(What Mike calls “reeling the fishing line” was really just the grace of God hooking and bringing him in!)

God Really Does Want Good Things for Us

Neither Mike nor I believe in the so-called prosperity gospel, i.e., the idea that God just wants to make us healthy, wealthy, and wise.  After all, Christ was crucified, and sometimes the “prosperity” that God has in mind for us is cultivated in difficulty and suffering.

But, I also don’t believe that God wants us to suffer, and I definitely believe that God wants to bless us.  In Mike’s case the blessings that have resulted from him stumbling back to the Lord have been abundant:

Through my time in that group [a men’s group to which he was invited], continued immersion at Munger, a little C.S. Lewis, and a lot of Tim Keller, within a couple months, I returned to the fold. I believed as I never had before. I prayed a lot. I started doing all I could to make up for lost time, joining in a mission trip with 28:1 and making room for Jesus in every day. I’m not one to subscribe to the so-called ‘prosperity Gospel,’. But I found myself thriving in all areas of my life, including the launch of a successful new business venture that put me in a position to influence clients, employees and the public.

I felt His hand in my life in a way I’d never imagined.

You’ll remember there was a second name that God put in my head [after Mike’s cry of desperation in his backyard]. That was Crystal Decker, a woman I’d never met. Somehow through business connections she’d wound up a Facebook friend. I recalled she and her husband handling their social media-age divorce as well as I thought it could be done.

I met her and she quickly became my divorce coach, then a friend, then my best friend. She was a great advocate, but seemed pretty hard-boiled. So I was surprised when one Sunday she asked if she could go to Munger with me. She had avoided church for a long time too and thought Munger sounded like a place where ‘thinking people of faith could be in a community without being talked down to every week.’

Crystal and I married at Munger Place on October 5, 2013.”

I was honored to officiate at Mike and Crystals’ wedding.  You should read Mike’s entire (relatively brief) story here.  It’s a great story.

Please read the whole thing.

One Result of This: A One Day Conference on Faith in Business

Mike would be the first to tell you that he’s not perfect and doesn’t have all the answers.  But what he does have is faith in a God of grace and love and power, and Mike is doing the hard work of what it means to be an imperfect follower of Jesus.  As a follower of Jesus and a successful digital entrepreneur, Mike finds himself asking, “What does it look like to be faithful at work?”

As part of his attempt to answer that question, Mike and some other folks are putting on a conference called Faith in Business that we’re hosting at my church on Friday, May 1.  It’s only $15, and that includes lunch!  Mike Ullman, the longtime CEO of JC Penney, as well as other folks, will be there.

We’d love to have you.  More info here.

The Cleanest Toilet You’ll Ever Sit On

Most people would do the bare minimum if their job was to clean toilets.  Charles Clark is not most people.

Charles Clark 02

How Seriously Do You Take Your Work?

Here’s what Mr. Clark says about his job as a high school custodian: “If I clean a toilet, and you sit on that toilet, you can rest assured that’s the cleanest toilet you’ll ever sit on.”

The Custodian Counselor

Aside from the dignity and integrity with which he takes his official duties, Mr. Clark also serves unofficially (and effectively) as a counselor to troubled young men at the high school at which he works.

May God bless him.