The creative road

The Creative Road

I have a problem: I’m an impatient, procrastinating perfectionist (in recovery).  I like things to be a specific way, but my timing is often too late, and my attention span too short, to get me to where I want to be.

This problem manifests itself most clearly in my work as a writer and pastor.  I love the beginning of the creative process, when ideas are running through my mind like a Lamborghini on the Autobahn, because progress is rapid and smooth.

But the moment I choose a topic to address, progress begins to slow until I eventually feel like my mind is in a horse-cart on some cratered, back-country road.  It sucks, but I don’t think this feeling is unusual for people who do creative work.  In fact, I don’t even think it’s a problem, unless I start looking for a shortcut, an easy way off the road.

When you take the easy way out, when you don’t push through the potholes, you sacrifice the quality of your product.  When you procrastinate and start on a project too late, you almost force yourself to skip the struggle, on the other side of which is a greater product that has the potential to make a greater impact.

It's better to experience difficulty in the process than disappointment in the product.Listen to me: Even if you’re really skilled at what you do, don’t use your talent to justify turning off the road prematurely.  It’s better to experience difficulty in the process than disappointment in the product.

Earlier this week I was writing a sermon for this Sunday.  I had some good notes, and had invested a significant amount of time in explaining and illustrating two major points before I realized they weren’t really major points at all (it’s a long story).

In the past I might have told myself, “I can make this work.  I didn’t invest all this time in these points for nothing!”  But this time I took a step back, identified the main point of the text, and made my previous points sub-points of a sub-point!  And you  know what?  I’m really, truly excited to preach this weekend, because the product is good.

Don’t procrastinate.  Don’t take shortcuts.  Stick to the process so you can celebrate the product!

 

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Good execution is never easy (at least not at first)

good-execution-is-never-easy

This morning I started a 22-day pushup challenge to help raise awareness about the suicide rate among veterans (supposedly 22 former servicemembers kill themselves every day).  I recorded myself doing the pushups on Facebook Live, and one of the comments left under my video really got me thinking about life and leadership.

The comment was from a friend from church, who said, “Those were some really well executed pushups!”  Immediately I thought, Yeah, but it was a major struggle just to get through them all!

The more I thought about it the more I realized that good execution will always be a struggle, at least at first.

Think about it.  We’ve all seen people doing “pushups” that really look more like head-bobs.  Instead of moving their arms and working their chest muscles, these bobbers just move their heads up and down as they count, and while those “pushups” are much easier to do than those done in good form, they’re not nearly as beneficial.

But if you consistently push through the pain in order to do well-executed pushups (even if you do fewer of them), your muscles will eventually grow, allowing you to do more pushups more easily.  High-level execution practiced consistently will, over time, enable you to do more than you may have ever thought possible.

As a youth pastor I recently organized a big Christmas party for the students at my church.  I put a ton of effort, more than normal, into planning games, preparing a sermon, organizing the evening’s agenda, mobilizing volunteers, promoting the event, and executing all that we had put together.  And you know what?  I was exhausted afterward, but the party absolutely rocked.

I need to continue to execute at this high level, not only in the area of ministry, but also in my relationships, my writing, and my spiritual disciplines, because the prize that follows good execution is worth the pain.

 

Be Helpful, Not Just Clever

welcome_to_fight_club_14317627100Pastors are tasked with shepherding the flock, equipping the saints, and evangelizing the lost, but there’s an additional pressure we often feel that has nothing to do with our calling.  We often feel like we have to be clever on top of everything else, offering a performance that is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking, and when we can’t come up with just the right tweetable phrases we feel like our sermons are somehow inadequate.

That feeling reminds me of the scene from Fight Club (the movie) when the nameless protagonist (Edward Norton) meets a rebellious soap salesman named Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) on a flight.  Norton’s character is an empty shell of a man who tries to fill the void in his soul by attending various therapy groups and by shopping from catalogs, and when he puts on a facade for Durden (who sees right through him) he gets called out for it:

Narrator: Tyler, you are by far the most interesting single-serving friend I’ve ever met… see I have this thing: everything on a plane is single-serving…

Tyler Durden: Oh I get it, it’s very clever.

Narrator: Thank you.

Tyler Durden: How’s that working out for you?

Narrator: What?

Tyler Durden: Being clever.

Narrator: Great.

Tyler Durden: Keep it up then… Right up.

[Gets up from airplane seat]

I want to ask the same question to pastors: How’s that working out for you?  Lately, I’ve been asking myself the same thing.  I will say this: there’s nothing wrong with being clever, as long as it isn’t our end-game.  Jesus was insanely quick on his feet and delivered some strong, punchy statements that are definitely clever, but he was also helpful, so that is what we should all strive to be too.

His words were not empty.  They weren’t powerless.  They were marinated in meaning, and ours should be too.

The delivery is imp
ortant, but even more so is the substance.  So let’s be people of substance, in our lives and our words.  Whether we’re a pastor or a plumber, let’s make sure our voices are saying what matters, not just what sounds good, interesting, or entertaining.

What’s Your Next Step?

What's Your Next Step

My church offers something we call “Next Steps” to help guide our guests through the first few milestones of their faith. These steps include things like salvation, baptism, serving, giving, and getting involved in a small group.  What I love about our Next Steps is they provide a clear path for those who are new to the church but are unsure of how to answer the question, “What’s next?”

But regardless of how long you’ve been a believer, all of us should be trying to figure out our next steps. Proverbs 4:26 (NIV) says, “Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.”  In other words, don’t just keep wandering through your life without considering where your feet are taking you!

As we mature in the faith it can sometimes require more prayer and patience to discern where we should plant our feet next, but that shouldn’t stop us from putting forth the effort. Quite the opposite, actually, because when we truly “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7) God can take us places we previously thought it would be impossible for us to go!

Not only that, but I think failing to take your next step is to take your salvation for granted. Let me explain:

The first few verses of Acts 3 talk about a man who was born lame, unable to take a single step in more than 40 years of life. Each day he would beg for cash at the Temple, until one day Peter and John came along and Jesus healed the man through them.  The man’s response to the miracle was appropriate: “He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them” (Acts 3:8, NLT).

Not only is this an amazing and praiseworthy biblical event, but it’s also a powerful metaphor for our own spiritual condition.  From the time we’re born we are spiritually lame, and salvation is the first step our souls ever take after they are miraculously healed by Jesus.  But how ungrateful would we have to be to experience a miracle like that only to take one or two steps and then quit?

When you recognize it's a miracle you can even walk, every step is special.When you recognize it’s a miracle you can even walk, every step is special.  So as you consider your paths and prepare to take your next steps, don’t do so out of mere obligation, but walk, leap, and praise God for the miracle he’s performed in your life!

Need help figuring out your Next Step?  Click on the “Contact” tab to let me know and I’ll be happy to help!