I recently came back from a conference featuring pastors/authors Rob Bell, Peter Rollins and Shane Hipps called Poets, Prophets and Preachers. It was an inspiring time and I left filled with more hope and promise for our local ministry – The Mercy House – and my own personal dreams than I have in a long time. And while I bask in the glow of a pastoral pep rally, this seems the opportune time to work through some thoughts.
In one of the sessions, the power of the sermon was addressed and there was a statement made by Bell that found every head nodding along in agreement – that our work never lives up to our expectations. In fact, the results are often confounding. The best sermons that we craft end up falling o the floor as soon as we speak the words we thought were so powerful on Saturday night. The last second efforts scraped together from a week dealing with crisis after crisis ends up being a potent, life-changing message. And that holds true no matter what art form you’re dealing with.
It can be maddening. Painter friends of mine wonder why the canvases labored over remain unsold while older, much less technical works are the ones that sell. Musicians often speak in interviews of being surprised by the legs of a last-second addition to an album while the other “sure-fire” tracks never garner any radio spins. No matter the venue, sometimes our most valiant works go unnoticed or even refused while the half-hearted, there’s-no-way-this-will-work efforts receive all the praise.
Thus, the artist, the preacher, the writer, the potter are all left in a precarious position. Of course, this is no excuse to rest on your laurels, but it also removes the longing to hold out expectations for something you cannot control. As Rob spoke, I wrote a note that I’m not sure how much was a quote and how much was my own mind working around what was being mentioned. But in that moment, I simply jotted down “…so the most you can offer is a grounded, focused, truthful effort.”
There might be other, even better, descriptors, but that’s what struck me in that moment. It’s an inner calling to make things excellent, no matter what the turnout or response. And there’s also a beauty to realizing I’m turning in a less-than-stellar assignment only to receive a gracious “A”. It keeps you humble, or at least it should (rather than being lazy), and it keeps the ego in check in thinking it all depends on you.
Has anyone else found this concept to be true in their own lives – their own masterpieces being ignored while watching other unexpected pieces finding themselves on center stage?
Matt Conner is a freelance writer and music journalist. As the founding pastor of The Mercy House, he led a church community for more than six years in intense community development across racial and socio-economic lines. As a writer, he’s interviewed thousands of musicians for multiple print and web-based publications.