Two Sets of Virtues

It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love? (David Brooks)

I’ll admit that I’m attracted to the résumé virtues. Who wouldn’t want to be known as a gifted communicator, a beloved pastor, a clear writer, and a successful church planter?

Then there are the eulogy virtues that will never make it onto a résumé. In fact, they may make my résumé less impressive: man of prayer, husband and father who made time for wife and kids, servant who didn’t chase limelight, good friend, man who cared.

A friend of mine was asked by a search committee what he desired if he came to their church. To his credit, he responded with a list that reflected mostly eulogy virtues. It would be great for the church to grow, but what he wanted most, he said, was to love the Lord more, to love his wife more, and so on. It wasn't the answer they expected.

The older I get, the more I recognize my desire for the résumé virtues, and the less I trust this desire. In the end, it’s the eulogy virtues that I really need. I’m praying instead for a character God can use rather than accomplishments others can admire.

The Benefits of an Annual Study Group

Every year I gather with a small group of pastors for a week. We meet the same week every year. The agenda is simple: on Tuesday morning we catch up, and then we get to work under the leadership of a Bible scholar. By the end of the week, we've completed our study of a book of the Bible or a theme (like the parables) and are on our way to being ready to preach what we've studied.

Photo compliments of Chris Brauns

Photo compliments of Chris Brauns

This honestly is a highlight of my year. Some reasons:

The relationships — Having met with the same group for a number of years now, I really appreciate these people and look forward to seeing them every year. There's something about walking with a group of fellow pastors over the long haul, even if you only see them once a year.

The Word — While pastors should always be in the Word, we have to fight for time of study. It is a treat to dedicate a few days to the in-depth study that we crave.

The format — It's one thing to read a commentary. It's another thing to have a commentator in the room. And it's one thing to work alone on the big idea and approach to a sermon based on a text. It's another thing to sit in a room full of sharp people and work on it together.

The break — I am usually tired by this time of year. I've come through winter and Easter, but haven't yet slowed down for summer. This May retreat is a good opportunity to take a breath and begin to slow down, or at least change gears from the frantic pace of ministry.

We're not the only ones who do this. Other formal and informal groups hold retreats or colloquiums. It meets a real need.

If you know some like-minded pastors with a high commitment to the Word, and they're interested in dedicating a few days a year to this kind of thing, then you have a lot of what's needed. I'll bet you can find a Bible scholar (completely optional) who would be delighted to help you work through a portion of Scripture as you prepare to preach it.

I've often wondered why groups like this aren't more common. Try it. Big conferences are good, but I'd trade ten of them for one of these.

Saturday Links

Links for your weekend reading:

What Small Churches Can Do, Part Three

Smaller churches are no less hindered from doing what God has called his people to do than are larger churches.

Is Christianity Dying?

Bible Belt near-Christianity is teetering. I say let it fall.

The Organization That Will Surpass Google, Apple, and Wal-Mart

The church is the only earthly institution that will last for eternity.

10 Unforgettable Lessons on Fatherhood

Ray Ortlund, Jr. on ten lessons he learned from his father.

Love Theologically

The Bible nowhere suggests that good theology can hinder love.

15 Ways To Avoid Burnout When Working In Hard Places

How do/should we cope in these difficult times when we are feeling under enormous stress? Here are some pointers.

Shutting Off The E-mail Firehose

The following eight steps will help you overcome e-mail overload.

Thankful

I’m attending an annual retreat this week with a group of pastors. I blogged about this a couple of years ago. I think every pastor should consider starting or joining such a group. I find it much more helpful than a big conference — and that’s not a slam against the big conferences.

Study Retreat for Pastors — photo compliments of Chris Brauns

Study Retreat for Pastors — photo compliments of Chris Brauns

I was struck by something that one of the pastors prayed yesterday. He thanked God for the retreat. and then mentioned that there are many in the world who would kill to be part of something like this. It’s true, and I don’t think about this enough.

It’s easy to overlook how blessed we are, and it’s tragic. To have the time, to have the money, to have access to scholars, to have over 4,400 resources in my Logos library, to enjoy the company of pastor friends, to have the privilege of being in vocational ministry are all incredible privileges I am prone to overlook. God forbid me from taking them for granted or developing an attitude of entitlement.

We’ve received much. What will we do with what we’ve been given?

The Smartphone and the Soul

It’s still a good quote, even though it’s dated:

Fax machines, emails, telephones, beepers, an over-committed schedule, the press of people's needs...these are the tools of mass destruction for spiritual leaders. Their development and deployment often proceed without inspection. They threaten to shut down the spiritual leader's communion with God. Once that happens, the leader's effectiveness is destroyed. The leader becomes a casualty of a struggle that is as old as humanity – the drowning out of eternity by the screams of temporal concerns. (Reggie McNeal, A Work of Heart)

Fax machines? Beepers? Other technologies have taken their place, most notably smartphones. According to the one report, smartphones have had one of the fastest penetration rates of any technology ever introduced. I remember seeing a secret review unit of the iPhone in 2007, less than a decade ago. It’s impossible to go anywhere without seeing one now.

Is the phone in my pocket a tool of mass destruction for the soul? Does it hinder my connections with people and God? Maybe there is some danger. Consider what these numbers reveal about Canadians between the age of 18 and 24:

  • When nothing is occupying my attention, the first thing I do is reach for my phone — 77% agree
  • I check my phone at least every 30 minutes — 52% agree
  • The last thing I do before I go to bed is check my phone — 73% agree
  • I often use other devices while watching TV — 79% agree

Since smartphones aren’t going away, we’d better learn to live wisely with them. Secular books like The End of Absence and Christian books like The Joy of Missing Out and The Next Story explore what technology is doing for us, and how we should now live.

I have two thoughts.

First, pastors and church leaders have to go first. Technology gives us great tools, but always at a cost. Unless we’re careful, we’ll get swept away in the currents along with everyone else. I heard a pastor speak recently about some of the habits he’s cultivated to maintain his spiritual life in an always-connected world. He checks email only twice a week. He’s disabled email on his smartphone. He puts his phone away when he arrives at home and refuses to check it. While I’m not suggesting that we should adopt his habits, I am suggesting that we think carefully about the habits we want to cultivate so that our souls can thrive.

Second, we need to disciple in light of this technology. People haven’t changed, but some of the pressures we face are new. We’re constantly connected, instantly available, and glued to screens from the moment we open our eyes in the morning to when we shut them at night. As Michael Harris writes in The End of Absence, “That is the end of absence— the loss of lack. The daydreaming silences in our lives are filled; the burning solitudes are extinguished.” We need to disciple others in light of these new realities, and consider practices that guard our souls in this always-connected world.

We live in an always-connected world. While I’m happy about this, there are trade-offs. We need to think carefully about how to live well with this technology, which is a gift, but also a potential danger to our souls if we’re not careful.