Sunday, March 9, 2008

What I learned at NPC -- Motto for 2008

Here's a personal confession.

At the National Pastors Convention (NPC) we attended seminars as often as we could. We interacted with well-known leaders and got some of the inside scoop through Zondervan. Because we are authors and seminar leaders, they gave us special treatment. I often feel self-conscious and suspicious of special treatment, but I sensed a lot of sincerity from the Zondervan group.

Halfway through the convention, I started to feel overwhelmed with the dynamics. One lunch, Jonalyn and I went to In-N-Out and talked about our impressions together. I shared discouragement over seeing so many leaders, so many on the 'cutting edge' of their fields, and how their age and experience and knowledge so far surpasses my own. It was that part of me that wants to serve the church through a non-profit and yet seeing myself as contributing little compared to what many, especially professors, are offering.

The other half of the discouragement came from seeing those I didn't perceive as all that qualified getting so much press and coverage. And I see the new 'pastor celebrity movement,' putting young mega-pastors into print, in part, because they will sell many copies and not necessarily because they are saying anything much more than is already published. And that's discouraging. I'd often rather hear the passionate professor over a pastor anyway (is that bad?)

So there I was at In-N-Out, struggling with these two dichotomies, reflecting on my own mission, struggle, voice. It was a mire of self-reflection, really, that gooped me over with despair. In the quest to help others see God had I become focussed on how I'd get to that point?
I recently read a commentary on how attractive power is to the evangelical community (well, any community really, the Christian one being nonexempt), how we cling to it when we get it and forget our purpose in it. And I saw how that temptation was creeping into my own thoughts. I was focussed on getting into a higher 'status,' to get 'recognized' for the purpose of having a broader voice. Was I conflating my desire to for a 'broader voice' with desires to be validated, affirmed, be seen as important?

So two things emerged from this, from prayer, from my experience at NPC. And it had nothing to do with what was taught at the NPC. This reflection came from observation of the evangelical climate of the convention and my own struggle to be 'successful' at my work and a leader of the larger body.

So here's my motto to grow into for 2008. Jonalyn and I have been saying it to each other at our various events since my In-N-Out confession.

1) Be yourself
2) Serve the people

That's all I have to offer. And that's what God wants me to do. Keeping those two simple ideas before me as a discipline of 'centering down' my motivations and gifts has already proved to be a relief of a burden and a focus on the needs of my audience.

I'll add a third idea that I learned from my acting mentor, Bethany Crawford, in college. After all the preparation and rehearsals were over, she'd tell me to let all of it go and allow the rehearsals to carry my action. My job on the stage at the moment of performance was to concentrate not on the technique of storytelling or characterization. Rather it was to enjoy the performance. Before I'd go on, she'd say this idea I'm adding as the third part of my new motto:

3) Have fun.

And there's my personal confession.

I have an additional fear that if I am to 'be myself' that they won't like me as 'myself.' But I guess they will have to deal with it. Cause that's all I've got. It's the human thing.

Be Yourself. Serve the People. Have Fun.


Journey said...

your "self" can't be all that bad... I've never laughed so hard while filling gas cans and pronouncing things without "L"'s...:)

Grace said...

i always appreciate it when leaders i look up to admit when they have to rethink what they really are about and find the reason for why they are where they are at. it encourages me to do the same.

your frustration about young writers from mega churches going into print with books that offer little to no new material reminds me of a book i just read for my class Religion in the Modern World. it is written by Elizabeth Eisenstien and is titled The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, vol 1. chapter 4 deals with the involvement of the press in the reformation and goes into the discussion of taking the sacred act of being a scribe and placing it in the hands of the "secular" presses. it goes on to talk about what these scribes were left to do, make pamphlets for the common/lay people to read to understand the scripture on their own. the rise of capitalism stirred the presses to take on just about any material that they thought would sell... it is a good read and it is interesting to see how even as the faith was being revolutionized it was coming under attack from within... it reminded me so much of the modern culture today. the book is available through google books if you want to just read that chapter. one thing that helps me in dealing with the situation of Christian writings is to look at our foundations and see that we really haven't moved that far from where we were. but that could just be me as a historian.

and i do agree with your new motto. it helps to simplify our mission.

Dale Fincher said...

Adam, that's because we've both weird when we ATV with our Hemet and Goves and Gogges. :)

Dale Fincher said...

Savannah, Thanks for the comments.

Yeah, it's crazy how capitalism-gone-bad exploits so many good things (it's a lack of virtue in economics that causes this).

Your post also reminded me how Christan magazines rate 'influential' people/leaders, young leaders, evnagelical leaders, emerging leaders, political Christian leaders, etc. in the church; why not just let leaders rise to the top based on their merit and not on their popularity? Do we have to name them? What benefit does that do but potentially close us of from hearing other voices because we've 'celebritized' an 'elite' bunch...

jeremy zach said...

Yes I love it!!!

Be who you are and what you are called to do, while serving everyone besides yourself and having a grand old time.

Do you think the In N' Out fries had anything to do with this profound revelation?

Dale Fincher said...

Thanks, Jeremy!

As for In-IN-Out, we can't rule that out. ;)

tracy said...

i think you hit it on the head when you recognized the fear that people will reject the real you. i think that is our biggest fear if we let ourselves admit it.

as far as celebrity authors, i try to look at it from this perspective: if it brings depth and transformation to lives caught in the world, then great. i know there are less noble realities, and the material is nothing new, but sometimes that's what it takes for people so enthralled with bestsellers and "the latest thing." i see the book in the airport and think, "well, this might catch someone's attention that grabs the crazy book next to it."

i personally am not wooed by the popularity but know it can reach those on the fringes. and then God has to deal with the after effects. :)

Anonymous said...

Dale, I appreciated your words in this blog article. I too have had conflicted feelings of wanting to make the greatest Kingdom Impact while at the same time wanting to be validated and encouraged along the way. I have also been at "those events" and been disappointed by some in high influence spotlights wishing there was a bit more humility.

I continue to journey with Jesus to be a human-being and not a human-doing...this is hard because of my selfishness, but I am on my way...

Be are being faithful and are right where God would want you to be. Be faithful to your God-given design.

Jeff Baxter

Dale Fincher said...

Tracy, there is sanity in your approach. And, yes, some pragmatic ends may be reached. Thanks for the perspective.

And, of course, I have to add a 'yet'...

Yet how far do we allow the pragmatic to take us? McLuhan told us that the medium is the message... and I think that's often the case.

I think back to my experience at the International Christian Retail Show and all the trinkets with the name of Jesus on it. And some of those trinkets will really reach some people. But should we still permit it?

I know you know the tension... and I appreciate your humorous conclusion: God can deal with the after effects. I just wish we could actually work toward alleviating the problems without producing more.

Dale Fincher said...

Thanks, Jeff, for your encouragement. You read my struggle well. We're all in this together! :)

Jodi H. said...

I like you. (What if Dale doesn't like me, so it doesn't matter to him that I like him?)


No really, well said. I believe we all feel the way you do in our own arenas of life and it's a huge struggle to be a humble servant and yet strive for success. But I love going back to the core truths and realizing that nothing else matters beyond those things. It doesn't even matter if people don't like the real you... because... (and here's my latest mantra) **there's nothing that anyone has to offer us that we don't get perfectly from Jesus!** Not their approval, not their friendship, not their love! That is something I'm trying to continuously wrap my brain and heart around.

Philip said...

This was good timing. I was talking to one of my good friends about this the other day. He's looking to go to Fuller and I'm looking to go to about five places right now.... Anyways, we talked a lot about our struggles with just focusing on serving and not on credentials or anything like that. We look at the big names, as you said, and don't want to be as popular but we do want to be as influential or helpful to people as they are.

For instance, I'm debating about going to the same school I'm going to now for a masters degree because one of my professors said that it looks better on a resume to have different schools under your belt. This is definitely true, and it would broaden my horizons, but it seems like a good fit right now. It's hard to fight the credential war and impossible to win. I get trapped in it all the time and have to slowly work my way out of it.

I think it is important also to realize that the great men and women in the past were great because they were themselves. Chesterton, Schaeffer, and Lewis all went through their ministry with totally different degrees in areas than the area they are known for. To be yourself is what made these men where they are. It's a good motto to follow.

tracy said...

good questions to think about...
what's your opinion on allowing those things? what do you see as the downfalls?

Dale Fincher said...

Jodi, good point... if I don't like the real you, then it doesn't matter what you think about the real me! LOL

I know what you mean about Jesus and his love. And it's good to be reminded of what he is truly offering.

Don't you think, however, that other humans in our lives do offer things that Jesus doesn't offer, like tangible community? Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be no middle ground when meeting someone you look up to. You are either elated with them or totally grossed out. It's the same with popular musicians. I've met some like the members of Delirious and old school Big Tent Revival, and found out that i liked them more. There have been many more, unfortunately, that just gave me the willies. Excuse me, wiies, Adam.

I would like to point out that I am elated with Jonalyn and yourself.

Tyer, ha

Dale Fincher said...

Philip... good words. I know many who have had the same struggle... the political-educational game.

I have friends right now who have an unaccredited undergrad (even though they have accredited doctorates and successful real-world experience!) who will not be considered for educational positions because of their undergrad. It's a shame!

We have to strike that uncertain balance between strategy and trust in God; between wisdom and faith. And that's the deal in the Fallen world.

The lives you list are great examples to bear in mind!

Dale Fincher said...

Tracy, I'm glad you asked... :)

I have a talk that touches on this a little... it's in our Soulation library:

The talk is called "Apologetics Without Argument" and the direct link is here:

If you jump to minute 23, you'll hear the specific issue. But I think you'll find the whole talk intriguing.

In brief, let's suppose someone wanted to declare the gospel with a bumper sticker. One person may start considering Jesus for the first time. Yet ten others may find Jesus tacky, simply because bumper stickers are usually tacky. And they may think to themselves, "If I become a Christian, do I have to be tacky too?"

That's the issue of medium overshadowing message.

If you just look at photographs of television preachers today, many of them are a medium overshadowing a message.

And if we do the same with poorly written books or emphasizing celebrity over real content, many will see through the facade and gain an impression about Jesus and the church.

I've noticed an epidemic of plugged ears in the public square today because evangelicals (not to mention fundmentalists) take little heed to the medium coupled with our inability to address moral issues with charity... no matter what our message, this medium is resoundingly ineffective.

In light of that, don't you see some of that as a 'downfall' or even a pitfall we want to do our best to avoid?

I'm trying to watch this in my own life and work, but it isn't easy. But I should still try.

Dale Fincher said...

Tyer, you're aways an encouragement!

I thought it was only midde-schoo girs that gave guys the wiies... musicians do too? :)