Monday, September 29, 2008

Doing Your Job

By Sean McDonough, PhD
Associate Professor of New Testament

Last month I had the opportunity to speak to a group of relief workers who labor in some of the most forbidding places in the world: Darfur, Afghanistan, the Congo. As a young Christian, I had visions of doing this sort of thing, replete with half-formed, misty-eyed images of myself serving food to the wretched of the earth. But as I have spent time talking with the leaders of this organization, one truth has been hammered home: I am about the last person in the world who would be any good at the sorts of things relief agencies actually do. Warm feelings and an openness to new experiences do not qualify you to locate potable water sources or manage local contractors or ensure that new homes can withstand earthquakes. As much as I might have imagined love was spurring me on to get into this work, in the context of disaster relief, love boils down to…doing your job. And doing your job usually has little to do with sentiment, and everything to do with getting down to using the gifts God has given you.

Now, the timing of my next illustration is embarrassingly bad, given that the New England Patriots were just thrashed by the lowly Miami Dolphins. But over the last few years, the Patriots have been wildly successful while embracing two apparently contradictory principles: on the one hand, a submission of individual goals to team goals; and on the other hand, a remarkable creativity in the overall game plan. Linebacker Mike Vrabel may find his sack totals are down sometimes because the defensive scheme requires him to stay back more in pass coverage…but he then finds himself catching touchdown passes in the Super Bowl when he is inserted into the offense. What makes it work? A brilliant coach, and players who are willing to do their job.

It isn't hard to see the analogies with our service to God: as part of his surpassingly brilliant plan to get his creation project back on track, God has given each of us particular gifts (see especially 1 Corinthians 12-14); we are good at some things, and not at others, and as we bumble our way through life our strengths and weaknesses become pretty evident. But there is something which is sometimes hard for pastors and teachers to see: the need to let other people do their job. It's a natural human tendency to place the highest value on things we happen to be good at, and so we in the teaching profession put great stock in Ideas, which is fine…except that we sometimes make people feel as if ideas are the only things that matter.

I am reminded of one of my favorite scenes in Garrison Keillor's Lake Woebegon Days (Viking, 1985), where the crusty maintenance man Bud is recalling the night in 1965 when the water main froze: “Thirty feet of pipe he uncovered and laid hot coals on, and then it was two in the morning and hardly a soul around. Gone to bed so they could get up for church. Oh yeah. Go to church. Real good. But they hadn't called Father Emil or Pastor Inqvist when the water went out, now did they? No sir.” Bud's a little bitter, and a little too focused on plumbing as the centerpiece of life. But he has a point. I love teaching, and I believe it's an important job. But it's not the only job. Because if your pipes burst at two in the morning, you don't want to call me.

Call Bud.

No comments:

Post a Comment