A bored or anxious pastor is not a good pastor

Mihaly Csikszentmihaly said that:

  • When someone has skills or talents that are overkill for what is being asked of them, they get bored.
  • When what is being asked of them is not achievable through the use of their skills and talents, they get anxious.

Pastors suffer from both conditions.

Those who have been called to serve in the particular role of pastor are a unique breed of cat (Aren’t we all? But go with me here…). We say that these are the people who have been identified as being especially gifted at nurturing and educating us into the larger narrative that God is writing in history. This is a powerful and awesome reality, and, out of the full Body of Christ, we have asked particular ones of us to devote their lives to helping us see it.

This is what most pastors have signed up for. Willingly. Excitedly. Pastors are artists of the highest order, and artists will give up almost anything to make art.

And yet…

When a congregation has no interest in exploration or wonder or doubt or innovation or… The pastor is going to get bored, and will struggle with whether she wants to be in ministry in that place. Or at all.

When a congregational board insists that the pastor focus all his time and energy in marketing and recruitment for the sake of the bottom line…. Sorry, “evangelism”… The pastor will get anxious, and will struggle with whether he has actually been called to ministry in the first place. He might burn out, quit, and work at a menial uninspiring job. What a sad place for an artist to be.

What we ought to do with our pastors is help them find the sweet spot of their skills/talents where they are making the art they’ve been called to make and are stretched to make it better. I’ll bang this drum over and over again: Pastors are not called to be managers and administrators. That is an entirely different skill-set.

Pastors are artists. Do you want a good pastor? Then let her make her art, and she will blow your world wide open. If you don’t, then you’re squandering a precious gift that God has given you.

You don’t need another commentary

Artists everywhere know that it’s not the tools that make the Art. Tools just help them get the job done.

Sure, a painter can use a cool brush, and a writer can buy a new pen, but the Art is made by simply showing up and doing the work.

Don’t believe me? This man used a toy camera to make amazing pictures:

It’s a new year, and you have a nice, fat book allowance to spend. You’re probably trolling Cokebury right now looking for that commentary on Luke that’s gonna blow Year C wide open. If you can find that one good set of theologians and biblical scholars spilling their wisdom, you’re sure to set the world a-fire for Jesus.

It ain’t gonna happen that way, and – deep down – you know it.

You don’t need another commentary. You don’t need another blog post that’s going to give you the insight that will spark this thing.

You need to write. You need to dig deep, and recall that experience of Jesus that knocked your damn socks off.

When they reacted to Jesus’ teaching, they often said “He speaks like no one has ever spoken before.” They were amazed because something deep inside of him welled up and blew their hair back. He didn’t quote other rabbis like he was giving a book report. He had the word of God written on his heart.

You do, too.

You don’t need another commentary.

You Need To Know About This, 01/06/13

“One” is the best number

Please stop organizing meetings. Introverts need time to actually work. This is the plea that Alan Jacobs makes. And even though this post is a bit mean in its tone (and he’s wrong about the spelling, btw…), I still think he’s is repeating something that many introverts wish that our externally focus sisters and brothers would understand.

…So people I do not know will regularly send me emails: “Hey, I’ll be in your town soon and I’d love to have lunch or coffee. Just let me know which you’d prefer!” Notice the missing option: not being forced to have a meal and make conversation with a stranger. (Once a highly extraverted friend of mine was trying to get me involved in some project and said, cheerily, “You’ll get to meet lots of new people!” I turned to him and replied, “You realize, don’t you, that you’ve just ensured my refusal to participate?”)

Hey Extraverts: Enough is Enough

Rank amateurs

Chuck Close makes a mockery of our notions of “inspiration”:

Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work. And the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will — through work — bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art idea.’ And the belief that process, in a sense, is liberating and that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day. Today, you know what you’ll do, you could be doing what you were doing yesterday, and tomorrow you are gonna do what you did today, and at least for a certain period of time you can just work. If you hang in there, you will get somewhere.


I never had painter’s block in my whole life.

Chuck Close on Creativity, Work Ethic, and Problem-Solving vs. Problem-Creating

Beloved, let us love one another

This is the way to write music for the church.

While you’re at it, check out their previous album, Hope for a Tree Cut Down.

Preachers are not starving artists, but we often act like them

A rabbi friend of mine once told me, “You know the problem with you Christian preachers?”

Oh, do tell, I thought.

He continued, “You have no imagination with the text. You think it can only say what it says and nothing more. If that’s the case, people can just read it for themselves. What do they need you for?”


That one made me think.

Preaching is an art. I’m not saying that preaching should be artistic, but that the act of preaching is itself an exercise in making art. It is akin to painting and composing music and photography. Preaching is art that finds an audience once a week, and, in that moment, the preacher has a chance to open horizons.

Just like in other forms of art, preaching has its share of hacks (and we all started as one). Similar to the “Starving Artist” sales that permeate hotel ballrooms and exhibit halls, we find artists in pulpits all across the Church who’s work is boring and tired. It is overly pedantic and dry. It relies on what others say, and not on the inner discovery of the one saying the words.

We don’t buy starving artist paintings because they are paintings that we’ve seen before. We’ve seen them in hotels and restaurant chains and postcards. They do nothing new for us. They do not reveal the truth of the world to us. They don’t even inspire us.

These are pieces that have been done before – we’ve seen hundreds just like them. If we do buy a piece, it is on the cheap and for the purpose of decoration only (most likely in the second guest bathroom that no one ever uses).

Because Preaching is Art, it should do (at the least) four things:

It should find it’s vocabulary in an encounter with God, and nothing else. Scripture, friends. Scripture. (NOTE: The Gospel According to Marcus Mumford is non-canonical.)

It should take that private encounter and make it public. As Anna Carter Florence says, we must get into that text, look around until we are amazed, and then come out and testify to what we have seen and heard.

It should reveal something new, even if only a little. We can’t spend a lot of time telling folks what Barth or Luther saw. This isn’t a trial. We’re not being graded. Congregations want to know what we saw in there. This is our art.

It should be reflective of the common experience of us all. You and I are not so different. Start with the particular, but as Rob Bell says (curses be upon him), always go to the “thing behind the thing.”

If we don’t do those things, at a minimum, we’re giving speeches, and most likely policy speeches. Folks don’t need to come to worship for that.