Working for the Man:
Jeff Jones, Senior Pastor
September 18/20, 2009
I’m sure many of you had some kind of family reunion this summer, and I hope it went well. My guess is that most family reunions have those one or two family members that keep things interesting, that put the fun in dysfunctional, those kind of people that you don’t talk about very often. I have a cousin-in-law very much like that, and one of the silent battles of a reunion is who gets to the TV clicker first, because that person ends up deciding which sports will be viewed in the main room. This is a big deal. The stakes are high. In our family, this cousin-in-law makes a bee-line for clicker control. Very good at it. Unfortunately, he also happens to be a NASCAR fanatic. Now, I’m from the deep south, but somehow I missed the NASCAR gene in the shallow gene pool of the Southeast. I just don’t get it, and I’ve tried. Last summer, at the reunion, I sat with my cousin-in-law determined to get the NASCAR bug. I watched for a few minutes, and then said to him, “You know, I’m not really getting the thrill of this. These guys aren’t going anywhere but in circles, and they do it over and over again. Not much suspense here. They go in a circle, then in another circle, then another circle. And we are on lap 30, with a long day to go.” He tried to explain what was happening, talked about how athletic these guys have to be, how much they have to endure in that long of race, and about how much of the race is about managing that many miles. You can’t just point your car and push the accelerator. You have to work with your pit crew and others to manage the race, because you have to stop and re-tire, refuel. You can’t just go around in circles for 500 miles.
I watched another twenty minutes or so, and can’t say that I caught the NASCAR bug. In fact, that was a painful twenty minutes. But I did have the thought that all pastors have from time to time when you are enduring something uncomfortable, whether it is cancer or clinical depression or a NASCAR race, “At least there is a sermon illustration here.” For us, life is one big search for a sermon illustration.
And here it is. So many of us in life, in career, simply ride around in circles as fast as we can, not necessarily going anywhere, and not necessarily thinking about how to manage the race. We are just racing through life, because life is so full, between jobs and bills and chasing kids around and volunteering and churching, it’s so full. So full that we seldom stop to think about where we are going. We aren’t really managing the race, we are just racing. And that doesn’t work very well, which is why most people end up at a destination they regret, why most people never reach their full potential, why most people don’t cross the finish line with a checkered flag waving.
Today we are concluding our series, Working for the Man, and today may well be the most significant, life-changing week of the series…because today we are talking about the most important management responsibility that 100% of us in this room have, the responsibility to manage ourselves well, to manage our own race well. Most of us in business read a lot and think a lot about how to manage others well, but far more important than that is managing ourselves well.
Today we are going to be focusing on a challenge in the Bible from a boss to someone on his team, from the apostle Paul to Timothy. The challenge is found in
Slide: ____________ ) 1 Timothy 4:13-16 (New American Standard)
and today I’m reading from the New American Standard: Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.
Now Timothy did for a living what I do for a living. He was a pastor and a teacher. He got paid to talk a lot, just like I do. Quite a gig. Paul wanted him to focus on his core area of gifting, his unique contribution as a pastor and teacher, and that’s a great sermon right there. Feel the intensity of the passage. Paul wanted Timothy to passionately give attention to his job, to his core gift area. That’s a great message, but we’ve actually already done that one, so today I’m going to focus on what I believe is the most important phrase out of a lot of very important phrases:
Slide: ____________ )
· Pay close attention to yourself . . .
As much as Paul wanted Timothy to focus on his core contribution, even more significant was what he said first, “Pay close attention to yourself.” Timothy, be sure that you manage your self well. Today we are going to apply that one challenge, and in life and career it is arguably the most difficult and most important challenge we have. When Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, did his ground-breaking research on what makes really great leaders become really great leaders, he summarized is as people who lead themselves well. It’s why leadership expert Dee Hock, argues that effective leaders need to spend about 50% of their time and effort on self-management. The only way to end well is to manage the race well, and this applies to everybody in this room—not just business leaders.
So, let’s talk about self-management, what it means to pay close attention to ourselves. Notice it is a command, because no one else will do this for us. We can’t count on other people to watch our lives, to manage our lives. It’s our job. We aren’t victims in this world, or in our jobs, and we have choices about how we live our lives. So today I’m going to break the self-management role into a three slice pie. The first one I’ll talk about only briefly, the development piece.
Slide: ______________ ) Development
Paul commands Timothy, as we just saw:
Slide: ____________ ) 1 Timothy 4: 14-15
Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery (elders). Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Timothy’s progress in the exercise of his gifting, in his case teaching, was his responsibility, and the same is true for you and me. You and I are the steward of our gifts, no one else is. Even though, as we saw last week, that good bosses give attention to the development of the people who work for them, you and I can’t count on that. It is our responsibility. I can’t complain that nobody cares about my development, because I am the one who should care most. If I am not developing or growing in my area of gifting, my area of calling, that is my problem, not my boss’s problem. If my passion is running low, that’s not my boss’s problem, that’s my problem. If I’m stagnating, that’s not someone else’s problem, that’s my problem.
How many times have you seen people in a stagnant situation, no growth, no joy, no passion, no challenge—just turning the crank, putting in the hours. If that’s you, then change it. You are not a victim of a bad boss or company or circumstance, you are a victim of your own bad self-management. Far too many times people act like a victim. My company just doesn’t care about me. That’s a bummer, but it doesn’t mean you can’t grow and develop. You do what it takes. I have to discipline myself to read the right books, talk to the right people, and engage the right experiences in order to continue to learn and grow and be stretched. Nobody else is doing that for me. In the short run, you can get away with neglecting this, but in the long-run you shrivel up. It’s like Howard Hendricks says, “I’d rather drink from a flowing stream than a stagnant pond.” If we aren’t learning and growing, we are just a stagnant pond.
So, let me ask you, “Are you growing? Are you taking pains to focus on your area of gifting, or are you neglecting it?” You will never accomplish what God put you on this planet to accomplish until you take responsibility for your own development, until you manage yourself well.
The second piece of the self-development pie is
Slide: _______________ ) Replenishment
doing what is necessary to replenish ourselves. We can’t escape this need, because it is how we are designed. We are like this car that can go for a while on one push, but then needs a fresh one. We’ve talked in this series how we are created to work, and that is true. We are also created to rest and recreate. That cycle of work and restoration was built into us from the very beginning.
Going back to the beginning of creation, we read in Genesis that after the 6 days of creation, God rested,
Slide: ____________ ) Genesis 2:2-3 NIV
By the seventh day, God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done (2:2-3). Later, God commanded that humans do the same; one of the Ten Commandments is the Sabbath, taking a day out of a week for restoration. God’s idea was not working 24/7 but 24/6, a cycle of hard work and good rest.
Now, let’s think about what God modeled on that 7th day. It says that after 6, he was finished with what he had been doing. Did that mean that there was nothing left to do? In other words, is this the last interaction God will have with his creation? Is God planning to do anything else related to this world he created? Of course he is. But after those days, he decided that he had done enough, not everything, but enough. Time to stop work, and start resting. It’s a decision to stop work, not because there is no more work to do, but because it is time to stop. The Hebrew word from which we get “Sabbath,” Shabbat, means to cease, to pause, and to stop. We could keep going, there are many more things to do, but we aren’t going to do them now. We are going to stop, and devote time to restoration.
That’s a cycle we see in Jesus’ ministry. Take some time to read the first 6 chapters of the book of Mark, and you’ll see this cycle that Jesus had of working really hard, then getting away to rest, to rejuvenate. It wasn’t that Jesus didn’t have more to do, but it was time to pay attention to himself, to replenish.
One time a very generous business man in the Dallas area paid a lot of money to send me to an executive coach, someone who works with CEO’s of large corporations. Very nice, and it was helpful, but the main thing he talked about was managing priorities, and his biggest challenge to CEOs was to have at least one day a week that he referred to as a “free day,” where you only do what is restorative, no work at all. He had all this research to show how leaders became far more productive and creative as a result. That was great, but all you had to do was read Genesis. It’s how we are created.
This has been challenging to me, because it is easy to neglect this part of our design. It’s hard to stop, when there is still so much to do, so many people to minister to, so many goals yet to be reached. God has used one common conversation I have with people to get my attention though. Because we did a senior pastor transition in a way that worked pretty well, about once or twice a month I get a call from a senior pastor of a large church, typically in his fifties or early sixties, who wants to talk about how to do succession well. That’s a great conversation, and I’m always up for that, but I have to say most of the time it is a sad conversation to me…because about 80% of the time, the leader has this defeated tone in the conversation. These are not people brimming with fresh fire and fresh energy. These are people who have accomplished a lot, built great organizations, seen many lives change, but by the time they call me to talk about succession, they are drained and despondent. It started to make me wonder if that is where I’m headed. I certainly know some leaders who did not do that, like Gene Getz who handed the baton to me. I talked to another leader a few weeks ago who is approaching 60 that we heard from at the Leadership Summit, Bill Hybels. I talked to him about these conversations and asked, “Why are most of these conversations like this? Is this inevitable?” He replied, “I have those conversations too and it bothers me as well. What’s happened to these guys is that year after year they end the year a little more depleted than the last year, which hardly even shows up for a number of years. But each year of being more depleted than the last starts to add up, and the net loss piles up, and they end up in their late fifties with nothing left to give.”
In Paul’s words, these are people who did not play close attention to themselves. And I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to end each month, each year, a little more depleted than when the year began. I want to be more alive, not less. But that takes hard work, a real commitment to self-management. It means trying to live every day a little more filled than drained, and certainly trying to live every week, month, and year that way. Think of it like this cup (draw it). Some things drain your cup and some things fill your cup, but it is your responsibility to make sure you don’t run on empty.
So, let’s play with this a little. I want you to take out a pen and on that piece of paper you got when you came in, I want you to make two lists. The first list is things that fill your cup, that restore you, that give you energy. The next list is things that drain your cup, that take energy away from you. These may be activities, responsibilities, or people. You may be sitting by a drainer or a filler right now. I won’t make you say. But think about what fills you and what drains you.
To make this more concrete, I’ll show you my list. Here are my refillers: Visionaries / positive people. Alone time. Family and good friends. Water. Golf. Corporate worship. Here are some of my drains: Negative people / criticism. Managing details. Counseling. Reality. Certain meetings. Manual labor. Once I know this, then I can manage my fills and drains, and make sure that I manage my day and my week in a way that I make time for things that fill my tank and am careful not to drain my tank dry.
If I don’t, then I am either headed for a dramatic crash or a slow fade, a diminished self. And yet I know that the best thing I can do for the organization and for my family is to manage my life in such a way that I have a fully energized, close to God self to offer. Same with you. You can cheat this for a little while, but it will catch up.
So, for me, this means my schedule is very set each week. I make time for things that drain and things that fill. It means if I have a very draining meeting in the evening, I try to do something filling the next morning, or the afternoon before. It means that I manage my week much better than I used to. In the earlier days of ministry I almost never took a full day off. Now, I almost always do. And I’m ruthless about it. For me, that day is Saturday, and I just don’t say yes to anything on Saturday if it is not replenishing. I have to. And then on that day I have to be careful to focus on people and things that fill and not drain. I also play golf almost every Thursday afternoon. If you would have told me I’d be doing that 5 years ago, I would have laughed you out of the room. But now it is part of me being responsible to do my work well. The free time is just as important as the focus time.
How about you? How are you doing on replenishment? Are you experiencing a net loss of vitality and energy month after month, or are you filling your tank. Please understand. This is your responsibility. Don’t wait for someone else to figure this out for you. Don’t feel guilty about filling your tank either. Feel guilty about not filling your tank, because it is part of what it means to pay close attention to yourself. You are not doing anyone any favors by neglecting this.
The third piece of the pie (making me hungry talking like this) is
Slide: ___________ ) Relationships
As we’ve seen in this series, we are created to do our work as unto the Lord and work hard. Yet, the Bible also commands us to cultivate positive friendships, to love our spouses, to raise and teach our children, to build Christian community, to serve the poor. However we do our work, we are to do so in a way that allows us to build rich relationships.
But many of us, especially those of us who are a little driven, cheat this principle too. For those of us who love to accomplish things, it is easy to cheat relationships for work. At work, you can actually get things done, make a little “to-do” list, and cross things off. At home, especially if you have little kids running around, you can’t really do that. You can’t really see accomplishment, progress. By the time you get something done, your kids have already undone something else. It’s relentless. And there is no recognition at home for raising kids. You don’t get a positive performance review. No bonus. No banquet. No promotions. It’s not like someone comes and says, “You’ve done so great raising these two, I’m giving you a promotion. You get two more to raise!”
Relationships take work, and they are hard, and they are easily compromised for the constant magnet of our career. I know how easy it is to cheat relationships for work, because I have been a cheater. If you’ve been around a while you’ve heard me talk about a time in my life where I managed my life very poorly. Caleb was a baby and Collin a preschooler, and I was out conquering the world for Jesus. I was working in two different ministry areas in our church, working with adults and youth for a period of time, and decided to start an organization outside the church designed to help churches around the world train leaders, called CCBT, the Center for Church-Based Training. We were starting a major discipleship effort called Discovery in the church, and I was the primary author. I was teaching multiple leadership classes that we were also creating from scratch, and I was traveling all over the country and various parts of the world with CCBT. I was also engaged in youth ministry events. What this meant was that I wasn’t home very much. I was busy in the daytime either traveling or at the office, and at nights I was either out of town or teaching some class or doing some ministry event. Typical in those days was me being gone 10 nights in a row, then home a night…then out 21 nights and home one. Out 17 nights and home. I was saying yes to every conference that wanted me to speak. I came back from one such trip, I think from Germany, after a couple of years of living this way, and Christy simply said, “I can’t do this anymore. It’s killing me, and you are completely missing the youth of your children. I’m not doing this anymore.”
And I will be forever grateful that she did. I was being so stupid, though I thought I was so smart. I was managing life so poorly and didn’t even see it. I missed about a year and a half of my kid’s lives that I’ll never get back. And as I made major adjustments to my life, there was reentry shock for me and for Christy. She had gotten used to living without me. She had become fairly independent, and for a while she probably thought about telling me to go back to the old pattern. She was using to getting her relational needs met elsewhere, not from me. And we had this awkward phase of reentry.
But I’m so thankful for it. Some of you are running so fast, and you are missing it. You are missing the lives of your kids, and you won’t figure that out until it is too late. They are probably already used to you being elsewhere, have already heard the message by your lifestyle of how unimportant they are. Over time, they just get used to life without you. Your spouse separates emotionally and relationally so far that you may never be able to bring it back around. If you manage your life away from relationships, then you won’t have them.
Like development and replenishment, we can cheat relationships for a little while. And there will by cycles of imbalance, where we will go through times where work just takes over. A cycle is one thing, but a more permanent pattern is another.
Some of you have some hard choices to make, but here’s what I want all of us to hear. This is our responsibility to manage. No one else. In my case in those years, no one was holding a gun to my head. No manager was telling me to do all that. Most of us have more discretion than we think. I certainly did, but I was the one holding the gun to my own head. Once I woke up, I fortunately had the freedom to make some major adjustments. Had I not had that freedom, had a manager been insisting I do all that, then I would have had a hard decision to make—but I hope I would have made it. If I wouldn’t have been able to stay in that job without cheating my family and key relationships, I hope that I would have had the leadership courage to say goodbye to the job. What is clear is that I had to say goodbye to something; I had to cheat something.
The hard reality is this, no one else is going to do this self-management job for you. And you are not a victim of your circumstances. As Paul says, “Pay close attention to your life.” This is your biggest leadership responsibility, and everyone in this room is responsible for one person, yourself. In the short run, you can cheat development and get away with it. In the long run, it will catch up to you. In the short run, you can cheat replenishment, but it too will catch up to you. You will end up with a diminished, defeated self. In the short run, you can also cheat relationships, but when it is too late you’ll realize that you didn’t get away with it. And you will wind up with huge regrets, wishing you had managed life differently.
Don’t cheat. Choose now to manage the rest of your life well. Don’t wait for other people’s permission to do this either. You owe it to your calling, to your relationships, and to your employer to take responsibility for self-leadership. Do a little evaluative work on this sometime today. Ask God how you are doing in each piece of the self-leadership pie. Talk to some other people about changes you can make, and ask them to hold you accountable to those. If married, talk to your spouse about this. Some of you may have to make some very major changes. Some of you will realize that you should have done this sooner, and you have some repair work to do. You have some work to do in your marriage or with your kids. You are very depleted and emotionally not a good place. You have allowed yourself to stagnate, and you hardly even know who you are any more. You have some work to do. But do it. Start now. Be a leader of yourself.
We can’t just go around in circles. God calls us to manage the race well. Whether or not you and I actually fulfill our calling in working for the man will largely be determined by how well we manage the whole race. Let’s commit to that now.