Namely: input versus output. Godin makes a great point on this today:
[Input versus output] is one of the most important decisions you’ll make today.
How much time and effort should be spent on intake, on inbound messages, on absorbing data…
and how much time and effort should be invested in output, in creating something new.
There used to be a significant limit on available intake. Once you read all the books in the college library on your topic, it was time to start writing.
Now that the availability of opinions, expertise and email is infinite, I think the last part of that sentence is the most important:
Time to start writing.
Or whatever it is you’re not doing, merely planning on doing.
I wrote this several years ago in seminary, but it remains just as relevant today:
The Supremacy of God in Preaching is built upon the premise that “the vision of a great God is the linchpin in the life of the church, both in pastoral care and missionary outreach” and that, consequently, “our people need to hear God-entranced preaching” (p. 11). Since God is infinitely glorious, the linchpin of all life is that He be seen as infinitely glorious. Our lives will be out of sync with reality—and thus glory—unless what we see conforms to what is real. And when we do, God’s great aim in creation and redemption is fulfilled—He is glorified (shown to be glorious) and we are satisfied.
An article from the McKinsey Quarterly. Here’s the first paragraph:
For all the benefits of the information technology and communications revolution, it has a well-known dark side: information overload and its close cousin, attention fragmentation. These scourges hit CEOs and their colleagues in the C-suite particularly hard because senior executives so badly need uninterrupted time to synthesize information from many different sources, reflect on its implications for the organization, apply judgment, make trade-offs, and arrive at good decisions.
Godin explains why it is necessary for e-books to be priced differently than hard covers.
The Stanford Social Innovation Review has a good article on Worldreader.org’s effort to help improve global literacy through getting e-books into the hands of children in the developing world, rather than print books.
The lower cost of digital distribution makes it possible to get more books into the hands of more people in the developing world, and thus create a new culture of reading and increase literacy rates.
I’m glad to see this happening. It’s a good example of how the changes in publishing go far beyond simply how we engage with books here in the U.S.; there is potential in the future of publishing to address large global problems, such as illiteracy, with more effectiveness.
I have been pondering for the last few years whether there might be a way to utilize e-readers to help advance the cause of theological education in the developing world. Worldreader.org’s efforts might point the way to some helpful strategies in that regard as well.
Here’s an excerpt from the article:
Efforts to improve global literacy typically focus on getting books into the hands of children. Could electronic reading devices leapfrog old-fashioned paper books and catalyze a new culture of reading in places like sub-Saharan Africa? That’s the idea behind Worldreader.org, a start-up nonprofit with worldchanging aspirations.
Dispensing Kindles and other e-readers in the developing world may seem like a fancy solution to a low-tech problem. But Worldreader founder David Risher, a former Amazon executive, says the big goal is to drive down “the cost per book read to the absolute lowest it can be.” Reading selections in many village schools are too limited and, he adds, often too Western to engage young readers. If donated books gather dust in the back of classrooms, they do little to engender a love of reading.
“Lack of access to books has been solved by e-books,” says Risher, noting that thousands of titles are available as digital books. “But there’s no market-driven plan to get e-readers to the developing world.” Worldreader, strong on corporate experience, intends to “prime the market pump,” he says, “and put thousands of books into millions of kids’ hands.”
The infrastructure for supporting e-readers already exists in much of the developing world, thanks to a network for connecting and charging mobile phones in even the most remote regions. E-readers use the same network to download books. During Worldreader’s trial in a village school in Ghana, students used an existing solar charging station to power up their Kindles, which were donated by Amazon. Their comfort with mobile phones and texting meant students had little trouble using e-reader features such as an online dictionary or text-to-speech capability. Because the devices include a built-in light source, students were able to introduce family members to a new activity: reading at home after dark.
(Related to this: You can also learn about Desiring God’s efforts to address the cause of theological famine relief through distributing books to pastors and Christian leaders in the developing world.)
The old organization was built on control, but the world has changed. The world is moving at such a pace that control has become a limitation. It slows you down. You’ve got to balance freedom with some control, but you’ve got to have more freedom than you ever dreamed of.
Being competent is a good thing, but you need to be aware of one danger: “If not controlled, work will flow to the competent man until he submerges” (Charles Boyle). So if you aren’t deliberate about it, your competence can actually be your undoing.
This is the issue of performance load. Here’s how Josh Kaufman explains it in The Personal MBA:
Being busy is better than being bored, but it’s possible to be too busy for your own good.
Performance load is a concept that explains what happens when you have too many things to do. Above a certain point, the more tasks a person has to do, the more their performance on all of those tasks decreases.
Imagine juggling bowling pins. If you’re skilled, you may be able to juggle three or four without making a mistake. The more pins that must be juggled at once, the more likely you are to make a mistake and drop them all.
If you want to be productive, you must set limits. Juggling hundreds of active tasks across scores of projects is not sustainable: you’re risking failure, subpar work, and burnout. Remember Parkinson’s Law: if you don’t set a limit on your available time, your work will expand to fill it all.
Part of setting limits means “preserving unscheduled time to respond to new inputs.” This is necessary to handle the unexpected. And this means we must recognize that downtime is not wasteful. Kaufman goes on:
The default mind-set of many modern businesses is that “downtime” is inefficient and wasteful — workers should be busy all the time. Unfortunately, this philosophy ignores the necessity of handling unexpected events, which always occur. Everyone only has so many hours in a day, and if your agenda is constantly booked solid, it’ll always be difficult to keep up with new and unexpected demands on your time and energy.
Schedule yourself (in terms of appointments and projects) at no more than 80% capacity. Leave time to handle the unexpected. And to enable yourself to do this, realize that, counterintuitively, people (and systems — this is true of highways, airports, and all sorts of things) become less efficient when operating at full capacity, not more, and that downtime can actually increase productivity. If you keep these things in mind, you can help prevent your competence from being your undoing.
Good thoughts from Russ Moore. We need to remember that the Christian life is “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). Not either/or, both-and.
Teachability is often confused with subservience.
A person is wrongly thought to be teachable if he is passive and pliable.
On the contrary, teachability is an extremely active virtue.
No one is really teachable who does not freely exercise his power of independent judgment. He can be trained, perhaps, but not taught. The most teachable reader is, therefore, the most critical. He is the reader who finally responds to a book by the greatest effort to make up his own mind on the matters the author has discussed.
Josh Kaufman describes this well in The Personal MBA:
If you’re trying to create something, the worst thing you can possibly do is to try to fit creative tasks in between administrative tasks — context switching will kill your productivity. The “Maker’s Schedule” consists of large blocks of uninterrupted time; the “Manager’s Schedule” is broken up into many small chunks for meetings. Both schedules serve different purposes — just don’t try to combine them if your goal is to get useful work done.
When he says “don’t try to combine them,” he means, “don’t try to do them at the same time.” Most of us have things to make and things to manage (and wouldn’t want it any other way), and Kaufman gives a good model of how to integrate both into your day without creating interference between them:
I typically focus on writing for a few uninterrupted hours in the morning, then batch my calls and meetings in the afternoon. As a result, I can focus on both responsibilities with my full attention.
That’s a good approach: a large chunk of time for creative tasks in the morning, with the mid-day and afternoon free for those things that require dividing your time into smaller chunks and going with the flow.
A good word from Josh Kaufman in his book The Personal MBA:
One of the beautiful things about learning any subject is the fact that you don’t need to know everything — you only need to understand a few critically important concepts that provide most of the value. Once you have a solid scaffold of core principles to work from, building upon your knowledge and making progress becomes much easier.
Along with this, Kaufman quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson’s helpful point on methods and principles, which is good to keep in mind:
As to methods, there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.
Christians should care about whether the organizations they work in are managed well and, if they are managers themselves, they should manage well. This is first of all because, as Patrick Lencioni points out, management is a form of ministry. Lencioni writes:
I have always thought it was a shame that more people don’t go into “giving” professions. In fact, I have occasionally felt pangs of guilt that I didn’t choose a career that was completely focused on serving others. I have deep admiration for dedicated and hard-working clergy, social workers, or missionaries, and I wonder why I haven’t abandoned my career and moved into one of those kinds of jobs.
While I have not completely abandoned the idea of one day doing that, I have come to the realization that all managers can — and really should — view their work as a ministry. A service to others.
By helping people find fulfillment in their work, and helping them succeed in whatever they’re doing, a manager can have a profound impact on the emotional, financial, physical, and spiritual health of workers and their families. They can also create an environment where employees do the same for their peers, giving them a sort of ministry all their own. All of which is nothing short of a gift from God.
And, second of all, this is because an organization will be exponentially more effective in accomplishing its mission if it is well managed.
But what does it mean to manage well? Interestingly, effective management is not first about the nuts and bolts, or the details that most people would find un-interesting. Effective management, above all, means managing from a well thought point of view that is based upon how humans are created and has the supremacy of God as its ultimate aim. This kind of management is anything but boring.
What are the components of an effective management philosophy that is based upon the fact that humans are in the image of God and that the glory of God is the goal of all things? I am going to outline eleven.
Having posted the screen shot of the top-level file categories for my personal files division yesterday, below are the top level categories for my work files.
As I mentioned yesterday, I’d like to go into more detail about the logic behind the structure and how to set up good file categories and an overall system that doesn’t bug you, but I figure it is better to post something brief and incomplete now and then also do a full version down the road, rather than just do nothing in the interim.
You’ll notice that while my personal file division was organized by area of responsibility, my work files are organized by department. Then, within the department files the sub-files are by area of responsibility for the department.
“Executive Management” means things pertaining to the overall leadership of the organization; it made the most sense to treat that as a department in itself. “Talent” means “HR,” because I think it’s better to look at people as people rather than resources. “BBC,” “BCS,” and “CDG” are related organizations that we work closely with; for simplicity it made sense just to treat those as departments as well.
One last thing on filing for now: It is possible to create a system that doesn’t bug you. I think it was about 5 years or so that I developed the approach I am using, and it hasn’t bugged me since. The actual act of filing is not always fun and I try to keep that to a minimum; but I never find myself having to think hard about where to put anything, discontent with the structure, or unable to find anything quickly.
Here’s the screen shot for my work files:
I’m slowly beginning to read more and more books on my Kindle or iPad, rather than in printed form. I enjoy reading books electronically, but there are two large drawbacks.
First, it is hard to thumb through the book quickly. You can click “next page” over and over, but this is still relatively slow compared to just quickly turning through the pages of a physical book. The ability to thumb through a book quickly is extremely important for maximizing your comprehension of the book because it enables you to preview the content rapidly before your main read, and it allows you to review the content rapidly when you want to look back and reinforce what you’ve learned. E-books just go too slow to make this work well.
Second, it is hard to quickly go through the book to find a particular section or quote. I know you can easily review all your underlined portions together, which is a nice advantage. But sometimes the section I want isn’t something I underlined. It becomes cumbersome to get to the point I want.
What is the solution to these two problems? Here’s what I would like to see. It is probably technologically impossible right now, but it would almost be a perfect solution.
What I would like to see is a digital book with actual pages. It would have about 300 pages, like a printed book. The difference with a printed book, though, is that each of those pages would utilize electronic ink. As a result, when you decide to read, say, George Bush’s Decision Points, the whole book becomes that book. When you select a different book to read, the whole book then becomes that other book. And so forth.
In other words, instead of having a single screen that displays the contents of the book, like the Kindle does, you have actual pages which allow you to read the electronic book just like a printed book. To go on to the next page, instead of hitting “next page” and waiting for the screen to change, you actually turn the page and there it is — just like in a printed book. This creates a more natural experience and allows you to flip through the pages quickly in order to preview and review, thus solving the two problems I outlined above.
But unlike a real book, this book can be turned into any book you want. For, since the pages use digital ink, the contents of the book can be changed to whatever electronic book you have purchased and want to read. At the beginning of the book could be your library and the primary controls (similar to the “home” section on the Kindle), which would then serve as your control center where you can browse your library, select what book you want to be reading, shop for more books, and so forth.
If a book is longer than the 300 pages that this electronic book would have built into it, when you get to page 300 you just push an icon on the screen to tell it to change the pages to show 300 to the end, rather than pages 1 to 300. Or something like that.
Obviously the big challenge with this type of e-reader is creating pages which display digital ink and are able to bend like real pages. That might be a large obstacle! But it would seem that there should be some way to get that figured out.
There may be other drawbacks as well, making this an utter pie-in-the-sky dream. But it sure would be great to see something like this.
I have wanted to post on filing for a long time, but have not gotten to it because there is so much to say. So, instead of continually putting it off, I’m just going to post some brief things on filing now and then. Doing incomplete posts on how to set up your file categories are probably better than doing nothing at all. And, eventually, I hope to get around to a full series on the subject.
So, here are two pictures of my file categories. You’ll notice in the left-hand part of the screen shot that I divide my categories into 7 major divisions, which are:
- MP [= personal]
- DG [= work]
- NC [= consulting and such]
- General Reference
- Quick Access
I will save going into the distinction between these divisions for another post. For now, I thought I’d just show a screen shot that shows the categories I use in my personal files.
The organizing principle for these categories is area of responsibility. Each area of responsibility gets a file — if I have something I need to file for it. The result is that everything has a place. Further, it is easy to know how to create a new category if nothing existing fits for something — I just ask what area of responsibility it pertains to, and if it doesn’t exist, I just create a file for it.
Within these categories are sub-categories, which I will also save for a future post.
One other thing that I’d also like to talk about now but will save for later (among many other things) is why filing even matters at all when you can search your computer.
In the meantime, here’s the screen shot of my personal file categories (sorry if it’s small — just click to enlarge):
And here’s a continuation with what wouldn’t fit in that screen shot:
One other note: Just because I have a category of something here doesn’t mean that this is the primary repository of my files for that area. I also have paper-based files, which continue to be the main home for many of these categories (for example, bank statements, which I don’t like receiving electronically). My physical files follow the same structure so that everything is based on one unified approach.
Tomorrow I will post the categories I use for my work files.
Rick Warren writes in The Purpose Driven Life:
We have all heard people say, “I took a job I hate in order to make a lot of money, so someday I can quit and do what I love to do.” That’s a big mistake. Don’t waste your life in a job that doesn’t express your heart. Remember, the greatest things in life are not things. Meaning is far more important than money.
Someone might say, “That’s hard to do in the current economic environment.” And yes, it can be.
But Warren is making a much wider point here that goes to the issue of how we think about jobs in general. We need to stay away from the mindset of “deferred purpose.” That is, don’t fall for the view that your job is merely or even primarily about earning money, such that you need to take whatever job you can get now (or whatever pays the most) with the aim of doing what you really want later. If you do this, chances are the “later” will never come. When you chose a job, you are often choosing not just a job, but a path.
Further, the “deferred purpose” approach only takes into account one dimension of ourselves — the economic. But, as the Bible teaches and management thinkers of today are also pointing out (such as Stephen Covey — see, for example, Principle-Centered Leadership or The 8th Habit), people are more than just economic beings. We are also social, talented, and spiritual. When choosing a job, you cannot isolate one dimension from the others. To take a job only for the money is to treat yourself as merely an economic being. We need to view our work not as just a way to earn a living, but as something which in itself ought to engage the social, psychological, and spiritual dimensions of human nature.
And, when you do this, you will be more effective in your job. (Interestingly, it is not only the case that people who work for more more than money are more effective; it is also the case that companies that exist for a purpose beyond making money are also more effective. See, for example, Jim Collins’ chapter “More than Profit” in Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies).
Warren’s point here also relates to the way many people today think of retirement. The common notion of retirement is that you work for 40 years or so in a job (or series of jobs) that you may not like in order to build up a large retirement account so that when you retire from work altogether around 65 (or maybe earlier, if you can save effectively enough) you can then be completely free from work to do whatever you want. And, much of the time (but not all of the time), the things people “really want” to do focus on their comfort, taking it easy, and recreation.
Tim Ferris, in The 4-Hour Workweek, does a good job of exploding this notion of retirement. He basically says “why do what you don’t want to do for 40 years and put off what you really want to do to the end of your life?” But Ferris doesn’t take the concept far enough. He argues for taking frequent “mini-retirements” throughout your career. These retirements can be used for service, but that doesn’t come across as a primary emphasis.
What I would want to add to Ferris is a greater emphasis on utilizing these “mini-retirements” as a means of serving people — radically, creatively, and generously. There is some incredible and creative thought that can be given to this. Along with this, the extra time that can be freed up every day and every week simply by utilizing good productivity practices in our work is also an opportunity to give more time to serving others — and in creative ways, rather than with an “oh, I better put in my time helping out” mindset. (And this is amplified even further if we are in an environment that has a results-oriented philosophy of “work wherever, whenever, as long as the work gets done,” which sees performance as measured by what you produce and accomplish rather than by the amount of time you put in.)
But we need to go even beyond this. What Ferris seems to leave out is an affirmation of our work itself as an enjoyable, meaningful thing that is itself a means of doing good to others.
In other words, in addition to becoming more efficient and effective in our jobs so that we can have more free time to serve, we also need to see our jobs themselves as a means of serving. And, further, we need to take jobs that fire us up, that spark a passion in us, so that we are fully engaged and truly serving in the way that we are called to serve. We need to get away both from the mindset that says “I’ll do a job I hate for 40 years so I can retire with freedom and money,” and the mindset that, as Warren points out, says “I’ll do a job I hate for now so I can make a lot of money and then at some point do a job I love.” Avoid the deferred-purpose mindset. Find a job you love now, so that you can serve with maximum enthusiasm now – not in 20 years.
There’s one problem here, of course. In the current economic environment, it can be extra hard to find a job that you love. And I realize that some may indeed have to take a job mainly to pay the bills so they can get by for the short term. But, in doing that, don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. And this means, first, avoid doing that if at all possible. Don’t give up too easily on finding a job you love, even in challenging economic times. And if you do find it, you will be more likely to keep it and advance (for enthusiasm drives effectiveness — it’s hard to get good at what you hate, but it’s easy to get good at what you love.). In fact, it could be said that the economy really needs more people to hold out for jobs they will love, because the result will be greater productivity throughout the entire economy as more and more people are in jobs where they love what they do.
Second, if you do have to take a job mainly to pay the bills for a season, you still can and should do that job diligently and from the heart. You can do that by doing it for the Lord, as Paul says in Ephesians 6:5-8. Be as effective as you can be, wherever you are (and, who knows, that may itself lead to something that really is a good fit in itself). More on this more specifically in another post, perhaps.
And, finally, if you do have to take a job you’d rather not in order to stay afloat, don’t let that season last too long. Before you know it, three or four or more years can go by, and you are off track. Be diligent. Do everything you can, as soon as you can, to get into a job you love. Obviously you won’t love everything about any job, and you will also have things to learn and grow into in any job and vocational trajectory. You won’t have instant success or instant effectiveness. But be vigilant and rigorous in finding a way, if you do have to “settle” for a time, to both make the most of the job you are presently in, and then get back into the role you really need to be in.
This is a theme that you see again and again. Here’s an example from Best Buy’s CEO Brad Anderson, from the book Strengths-Based Leadership:
Anderson’s career continued to advance during this time of transition, and he was named Best Buy’s president in 1991. From the day Anderson assumed this leadership role, it was clear he wasn’t going to fit anyone’s preconceived notions of a top corporate executive. Instead of conforming to the new role, this self-described “odd duck” decided to do things quite differently.
While Wall Street analysts, among others, expected Anderson to take a more conventional approach as Best Buy’s new president, that’s not what he did. Much to their consternation, Anderson would simply disappear for weeks on end in search of new ideas. Instead of poring through trade or business books, he read everything from Rolling Stone to historical biographies. Anderson attended non-electronics conferences in search of bigger ideas. He brought in countless outside experts to challenge Best Buy’s thinking. His Ideation, Input, and Learner themes were always at work. By Anderson’s own admission, he challenged conventional wisdom to the point where it was “radically complained about by my peers.” . . .
While studying successful leaders like Anderson, one of the most revealing items we asked leaders to respond to was: “Please describe a time when you felt like you were ‘in a zone,’ where time almost seemed to stand still.” Anderson told us that he feels this way almost any time he is learning something, whether it is from a person, a book, or solving a puzzle. He said, “I find it amazing that I can be fifty-eight years old and seem to know less every day. No matter how much you learn, it just continues to open up more substantial questions and relationships.”
Anderson went on to tell us about how, the night before our conversation, he had stepped out of a dinner early so he could spend some quality time at a nearby Barnes & Noble before heading home. The voracious learner, who reads several books each week, said that he found at least 28 books he wanted to take home that evening. “It’s a disease,” he said with a smile.
We suspect that there are millions of Best Buy employees, customers, and shareholders who are glad that Brad Anderson let this lifelong curiosity run its course. While his strategic thinking led to a few experiments that did not pan out, Anderson’s unconventional approach helped create unprecedented growth. Had you invested $1,000 in Best Buy’s stock in 1991, when Anderson took over as president, it would have been worth $175,000 by 2008. Not bad for a guy who started at the ground level and spent the next 25 years soaring with his strengths.
So one of the lessons here is: lead from your strengths, even if it means being unconventional. You will be more effective being who you are than who you are not. In fact, it’s often the most unconventional minds that make a difference because what seems unconventional is often simply counterintuitive wisdom (for more on which see, for example, Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win and What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom About Management).
Seth Godin has a helpful graph and discussion today on how the way we use the internet (and the devices we use to accomplish our tasks) is affected by “time, screen size, and selfishness.”
Andy Crouch, author of Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, gives some commentary on what he sees as the ten most significant cultural trends of 2001 – 2010.
- The end of the majority
- The self shot
Yesterday I posted a passage from John Piper’s book Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God on the importance of asking questions of the biblical text in order to grow in our understanding (this is true in the rest of life as well!). For example, simply asking the question “why is the word ‘for’ here to connect these two ideas?” can help unleash a mountain of insight.
But is asking questions of the Bible respectful? Piper goes on to answer that question next, and gives a very helpful analogy:
Some may wonder if asking questions of the text is a respectful way to read the Bible. It can be. Or it may not be. An illustration may clarify. Near the time of Jesus’ birth, an angel came to Mary and to John the Baptist’s father with predictions about what was going to happen. Both Mary and Zechariah asked a question about what the angel had said. But the angel was angry with Zechariah, not Mary. Why?
It had to do with the attitude of their hearts in asking their questions. The angel said to Zechariah, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John” (Luke 1:13). But Zechariah was old and his wife was barren. He was skeptical. In fact he was unbelieving. He expressed this with a question: How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years” (Luke 1:18).
The angel did not like this response. Zechariah did not ask humbly how God would do this. He was not submissive and trusting in his question. So the angel said, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time” (Luke 1:19-20).
But Mary’s heart was different when she asked her question. The angel had said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (Luke 1:30-31). Mary, of course, was perplexed and could not understand how this could be. So she asked, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34). instead of getting angry at her, the angel answered her question as far as he could: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy — the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
Piper’s point is: “It depends on the attitude.” Zechariah’s questions stemmed from unbelief, but Mary’s from a genuine desire to understand. Hence, if our attitude is one of submission to God’s word and wanting to learn more and see how things connect and gain insight, then asking questions is indeed a good and respectful and very important thing which we ought to be doing of the text.
From John Piper, in his latest book Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God:
One of the best honors I received during my six years of teaching college Bible classes was a T-shirt. My teaching assistant made it. On the back it said, “Asking questions is the key to understanding.”
When I speak of becoming intentional about thinking harder, that’s mainly what I mean: asking questions and working hard with our minds to answer them. Therefore, learning to think fruitfully about biblical texts means forming the habit of asking questions.
The kinds of questions you can ask of a text are almost endless:
- Why did he use that word?
- Why did he put it here and not there?
- How does he use that word in other places?
- How is that word different from this other one he could have used?
- How does the combination of these words affect the meaning of that word?
- Why does that statement follow this one?
- Why did he connect these statements with the word because or the word therefore or the word although or the words in order that? Is that logical?
- How does it fit with what another author in the Bible says?
- How does it fit with my experience?
For more on what Piper means by asking questions of the text, you can also see his article “Brothers, Let Us Query the Text.”
This is an enlightening distinction that Gordon MacDonald makes in Ordering Your Private World:
In my earliest years of ministry, when this business of mental growth had not yet become a discipline for me, most of my study was what I now call defensive study. By that I mean that I studied frantically simply because I had an upcoming sermon go preach or talk to give. And all my study was centered on the completion of that task.
But later I discovered the importance of something I now call offensive study. This is study that has as its objective the gathering of large clusters of information and insight out of which future sermons and talks, books, and articles may grow. In the former kind of study, one is restricted to one chosen subject. In the latter, one is exploring, turning up truth and understanding from scores of sources. Both forms of study, offensive and defensive, are necessary in my life.
We grow when we pursue the discipline of offensive study.
A good word from Gordon MacDonald’s Ordering Your Private World:
Some months ago I led a seminar for pastors on the subject of preaching, and discussed the matters of study and preparation. Since a number of spouses were present when I spoke, I said to the group, “Now, some of you may be tempted to think that when your spouse is reading, they are really expending second-class time. So you are liable to feel free to interrupt them on impulse. What you need to realize is that they are working every bit as much as the carpenter who is in his shop sharpening the blade of a saw. Within reason, you ought not only to avoid interrupting your spouses, but also to try your best to maximize their privacy if you want them to grow in effectiveness.”
Two additional thoughts. First, the main thing I want to emphasize here is not his point on interruptions (though that is an important consideration — as long as taken together with his “within reason”). Rather, the main thing I want to emphasize is simply that reading is real work. When the purpose is study and learning, it is not second-class, throw-away time.
Second, the importance of reading is true not just for pastors, but for people in all vocations. Everyone in any vocation should devote time to reading and studying to advance their skills and ability to be effective in what they do. And when you do this, it is not leisure time, but real, first-rate work that is just as important (perhaps more important) than the rest of the work that you do.
Tim Keller has a great article at Redeemer’s Center for Faith and Work on Christians, work, and cultural renewal. It’s very helpful because, among other things, he shows that there is a connection between the way we do our work and the renewal of culture.
I’ve taken the article and turned into an interview of sorts in order to highlight some of the things I’ve found the most helpful.
Should Christians seek to change culture?
I am often asked: “Should Christians be involved in shaping culture?” My answer is that we can’t not be involved in shaping culture.
So not to shape culture is to shape culture–in support of the status quo. Can you give an illustration?
To illustrate this, I offer a very sad example. In the years leading up to the Civil War many southerners resented the interference of the abolitionists, who were calling on Christians to stamp out the sin of slavery. In response, some churches began to assert that it was not the church’s (nor Christians’) job to try to “change culture” but only to preach the gospel and see souls saved. The tragic irony was that these churches were shaping culture. Their very insistence that Christians should not be changing culture meant that those churches were supporting the social status quo. They were defacto endorsing the cultural arrangements of the Old South. (For more on this chapter in American history, see Mark Noll, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis.)
This is an extreme example, but it makes the point that when Christians work in the world, they will either assimilate into their culture and support the status quo or they will be agents of change.
How does this apply to the world of work?
This is especially true in the area of work. Every culture works on the basis of a ‘map’ of what is considered most important. If God and his grace are not at the center of a culture, then other things will be substituted as ultimate values. So every vocational field is distorted by idolatry.
Christian medical professionals will soon see that some practices make money for them but don’t add value to patients’ lives. Christians in marketing and business will discern accepted patterns of communication that distort reality or which play to and stir up the worst aspects of the human heart. Christians in business will often see among their colleagues’ behavior that which seeks short-term financial profit at the expense of the company’s long-term health, or practices that put financial profit ahead of the good of the employees, customers, or others in the community. Christians in the arts live and work in a culture in which self-expression is an end in itself. And in most vocational fields, believers face work-worlds in which ruthless, competitive behavior is the norm.
It seems that, as Christians, we don’t always do a good job of addressing these sorts of issues in our various fields. What would you say are the main errors that we are most likely to fall into?
There are two opposite mistakes that a Christian can make in addressing the idols of their vocational field. On the one hand they can seal off their faith from their work, laboring according to the same values and practices that everyone else uses. Or they may loudly and clumsily declare their Christian faith to their co-workers, often without showing any grace and wisdom in the way they relate to people on the job.
That makes sense. What is one of the primary ways that we should seek to relate our faith to our work?
At Redeemer, especially through the Center for Faith & Work, we seek to help believers think out the implications of the gospel for art, business, government, media, entertainment, scholarship. We teach that excellence in work is a crucial means to gain credibility for our faith. If our work is shoddy, our verbal witness only leads listeners to despise our beliefs. If Christians live in major cultural centers and simply do their work in an excellent but distinctive manner it will ultimately produce a different kind of culture than the one in which we live now.
So doing our work well and for God’s glory is not only good in itself, but can also be a means of transforming culture?
[Yes,] but I like the term “cultural renewal” better than “culture shaping” or “culture changing/transforming.” The most powerful way to show people the truth of Christianity is to serve the common good. The monks in the Middle Ages moved out through pagan Europe, inventing and establishing academies, universities, and hospitals. They transformed local economies and cared for the weak through these new institutions. They didn’t set out to ‘get control’ of a pagan culture. They let the gospel change how they did their work and that meant they worked for others rather than for themselves. Christians today should be aiming for the same thing.
What is our ultimate hope and assurance in this?
As Roman society was collapsing, St. Augustine wrote The City of God to remind believers that in the world there are always two ‘cities,’ two alternate ‘kingdoms.’ One is a human society based on selfishness and gaining power. God’s kingdom is the human society based on giving up power in order to serve. Christians live in both kingdoms, and although that is the reason for much conflict and tension, it also is our hope and assurance. The kingdom of God is the permanent reality, while the kingdom of this world will eventually fade away.
The other day I came across a good TED video of Barry Schwartz discussing the importance of making sure we don’t substitute following rules for using our good sense and practical wisdom. The great irony, he points out, is that rules can become a substitute for wisdom, and this, in turn, demoralizes people. Thus, ironically, rules can actually undermine virtue. Here’s the summary:
Barry Schwartz dives into the question “How do we do the right thing?” With help from collaborator Kenneth Sharpe, he shares stories that illustrate the difference between following the rules and truly choosing wisely.
It’s not that rules are always bad in themselves. But “they are like notes on a page — they get you started.” What we need are not people who thoughtlessly just follow the rules in spite of what the true intent may be and a spirit of mercy and generosity (see the Sermon on the Mount — we are to be more than just by being merciful as well), but rather people of virtue who apply the rules wisely while knowing how to exercise judgment, not just follow a script.
This reminds me of the time I went on a long bike ride, forgot my shirt (it was hot out), and well into the ride when I was really thirsty a gas station attendant wouldn’t sell me Gatorade or water because of the “no shirt, no shoes, no service rule.” (You can read about that here, along with the management lessons I draw out). Maybe that’s a good rule in general, but this was a clear case of a rule inadvertently being used in a way that denied the opportunity to serve a genuine case of human need (even if it was my mistake to forget my shirt and not take along more water!).
Here’s Barry Schwartz’s video: