Living the Tension – A Salesman And A Pastor
2 years ago, 4 months into my journey of workings as a salesman at Oracle, I detailed 8 ways in which being a pastor of a local church is basically the same as being a salesman for a large corporation. That was April 2013. We’re now April 2015, so I wanted to jot down a few more thoughts, this time 6 lessons that I have learned from living in 2 worlds which don’t normally collide.
Just to give you the background, Leanne and I, with Jacob and Annabelle moved to Dublin in September 2012 to build a whole new life (ideally with a job in the tech sector for me) and to start a church. 8 weeks after arriving I got an offer to work for Oracle as a Business Development Representative starting in January 2013. After 9 months there I moved to become a Channel Account Manager at HubSpot in September 2013. And then in October 2014 we launched Christ City Church so I have been living the tension of being a full time salesman who pastors a church. You can read about 11 lessons from 6 months of church planting in my previous post. Here I want to reflect more on the salesman side of things. Here are 6 reflections.
(1) I have grown
Working in business, I have grown in both skills and character. One of the great things about working for HubSpot is they place a huge emphasis on culture; we actually have our own culture code (which even quotes C.S Lewis – see slide 75!) and an acronym for what we look for in our people: HEART (humble, effective, adaptable, remarkable, transparent). This week gone I had my annual performance review which had 2 sides to it – a sales target performance and a HEART performance. And my manager gave me some helpful feedback into my character, my communication skills and my general attitude around the office. But even aside from the official review, I have grown in character because learning the discipline of reporting regularly to someone, being accountable for targets, dealing with people from all different backgrounds, working hard, dealing with success and failure, receiving praise and constructive criticism, and working ultimately for God (Colossians 3:22-25) has been really good for me. As I say in this sermon, I want us to be a church that works for the good of the city and the glory of God.
Being in full-time Christian ministry was a real privilege and there are unique challenges and joys in that role. And maybe I’ll end up there again. But being thrust out into ‘the big wide world’, I got to see bits of my character I had never seen as a full-time Pastor, particularly when it came to temptations (more later). So I think I have grown as a disciple of Christ. I am more sensitive to different people and views (though still growing in this!) and certainly more appreciative of how the outside world views Jesus and Church.
On top of character growth, I have developed skills from being engrossed in the business world. Skills of discipline, sales, negotiations, organisation, communication and analysis, as well as developing a whole wealth of knowledge around sales, marketing, customer service and how business is conducted in different countries of EMEA.
All of this, both the character and skills development, has actually meant I have grown as a Pastor in many ways. Most particularly I have more of an eye on those who don’t know Jesus and think Christianity is crazy, dangerous, weird or untrue. This affects my preaching, my leading, my vision-casting, my 1-2-1 discipleship, my pastoral care and my empathy for certain situations people are facing in the workplace. I have a credibility in my preaching and discipleship when speaking about being salt and light in the everyday world of work because I am trying, and often failing, to do it myself.
(2) I respect the city more
Whilst I always had plenty of outlets to hang out with those who didn’t go to church when I was a Pastor, particularly from playing so much sport, I had never really engaged with the city in the way I do now. Maybe without realising it I lived in a little Christian ghetto and wasn’t aware of the influence, shape, dynamics and power of the city. Tim Keller, who has written extensively on cities, says:
In cities you have more Image of God per square inch than anywhere else in the world.
Because cities are crammed with people all striving together, we see more common grace at work than in any other place. Additionally, and Keller argues this, you also have more opposition and darkness in the cities for the same reason – more people crammed together whose hearts are all tainted in different ways. So the city can be a force for good and a force for evil. The job of the church is to spread the dynamics of the kingdom of God within the city and fight the kingdom of darkness within it.
So for me to have to cycle into the city and engage the full 5 senses in it has been great. I have “tasted and seen” the good and the bad of the city. I have met the rich and the poor. I have tasted some great, great food. I have smelled the Jameson hops. It’s been great. But I have also come to understand the power of the city to influence people and pull people in. Long hours, mentally exhausting jobs, lots of potential money to earn, plenty of drink to be drunk, great highs (we hit our targets) and deep lows at work (the new guy doesn’t pass probation), the smell of sex in the air and certainly in the jokes, the opportunity to progress, to prove yourself, to succeed, to people please, to conform. The business world has power to influence your character, affect your family life and shape your destiny in a way that I had never realised or appreciated.
(3) I have felt the power of money on my heart (like sex and power).
When you’re paid a Pastor’s salary, there is no opportunity to ‘make big money’. The areas I used to have to watch my heart for was around contentment, generosity, envy and trusting God to provide. Well, actually the same issues still prevail but from a different stand point. Right from the word go, in both my interviews at Oracle and HubSpot, the opportunity to ‘make big money’ was held as a carrot in front of me. And on top of commissions there are always extra incentives to be won and to shoot for. There is a danger that you get sucked in, either because you want to win or because you want to get rich, or both. The desire to get rich can seem so appealing because with money you can have fun, be secure, find great satisfaction and be more popular and maybe on the face of things and for a short while, that is true. But ultimately it is a lie. More on this later.
So up to the age of 30 I have never experienced the power of money on my heart as I have in the last 2 years. I had experienced the power of sex and seen the ugliness of lust. I had experienced the power of status and seen the ugliness of my craving for power/status. But I had never seen the ugliness of my heart to look to money and make it an idol until now. So again I have to watch my heart to check my identity and security come from Christ which will make me generous and content.
As an aside, the same temptations of proving my identity through performance occur in sales as in sports. In fact, many of the same attributes that make someone successful in sport make someone successful in sales, e.g. discipline, focus on a target, removing all other distractions, hard work and self-assurance.
In a sense I have grown in my character and learned to respect the city more, because working in business has taught me more about my heart.
(4) I still believe that “only Jesus satisfies”
I think there are two mistakes we often make as Christians. Either we despise the city, don’t see any of God’s grace within it and don’t enjoy the good gifts he has given us within it (food, drink, friends, work). Or we look to his gifts to fulfil us in a way that only he, the giver can. So we’re to give thanks and enjoy God’s gifts whilst ultimately giving him our allegiance and devotion. Working in business and seeing how people can ‘live for work’ or ‘live for money’ or ‘live for the boss’s approval’ or ‘live for the weekend’ has once again reminded me that only Jesus satisfies. Only he can give rest to our souls. Only he can shepherd us through life, and death. Only he can give us a joy worth giving up everything else for. To follow Christ means we have to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. For some that might mean giving up a lot of good gifts we enjoy, as part of our obedience to him and to show him that he really is our treasure and pearl of great price.
And whilst I enjoy work, in fact I really enjoy work, which Ecclesiastes tells me is a gift from God, and at times I can feel God’s pleasure as I work (to steal from Eric Liddels famous quote “God made me fast…and when I run I feel his pleasure.”), there is still something infinitely more wonderful about a moment of time spent in prayer and in the Scriptures or in corporate worship or breaking bread and sharing wine with other believers. As the Psalmist said 1500 years ago:
How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God…Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
(5) I feel the inadequacy and importance of the church
The vision of Christ City Church is to make a positive difference spiritually, culturally and socially. We want to bless Dublin and work for its good. It’s a good and wholesome vision (I think). But when faced with the complexity, pace, size, density, variety and intensity of the city, we feel so pathetic and small. I can often think “are we doing any good? Are we even making the smallest dent?” So I also feel the inadequacy of the church. However, in these times I am reminded of two things.
Firstly, a verse that has been very important to me in the last two and a half years has been 1 Corinthians 1:26-31:
Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
God loves to choose a small weak vessel to defeat a big strong giant (think David and Goliath!) because in this he receives all the glory.
Secondly, it’s good to be reminded not only that “only Jesus satisfies” (point 5) but that our life is like mist which appears for a little while and then vanishes. Psalm 39:4-6 puts it brilliantly when it says:
Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure. Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom; in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth without knowing whose it will finally be. But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.
In the end it’s not just that Jesus satisfies us in this life, but that he can bring us into the life to come. We all die. All our accomplishments will come to nothing. All the money we earn will be passed on. Naked we came and naked we go. And so we need to remember how fleeting our life is and that we’re made for another life. The church has a vital role in telling people about the death and resurrection of Christ and how this secures them life after death.
(6) I love the tension
When I went for my interview with HubSpot and the Managing Director asked me what my goals and ambitions were, I told him that after 10 years of living in the church world and having one foot firmly planted in there, I wanted to put a foot firmly in the world of work and build a career over the next 10 years in business. And my aim was to see what opportunities would come from having a foot firmly rooted in both worlds. In a sense I wanted to be a priest. A priest bridges two worlds, heaven and earth, and enables a relationship to exist with 2 parties that would otherwise be separated if it wasn’t for his mediation. I want to be a mediator between the two worlds of business and church. I want to take all the good from the business world and see how it can bless the church (the skills, leadership lessons, organisational ideas and discipline) and I want to take all the good from the church world (the values, the answers to life’s big questions, the power of God and the support of a community) to bless the business world. John Stott famously said that preaching was about bridging two worlds;
It is across this broad and deep divide of two thousand years of changing culture (more still in the case of the Old Testament) that Christian communicators have to throw bridges. Our task is to enable God’s revealed truth to flow out of the Scriptures into the lives of the men and women today.
Later he said that the task of the church is the task of double listening;
The phrase ‘double listening’ has always been significant for me. And it means that we’re called to listen both to the Word of God, and to today’s world, in order to relate the one to the other
So I hope that through living, tasting, smelling, touching and seeing both worlds I can listen better to the Word of God and to my heart, to what God is saying and what others are saying and I can act as a bridge, a mediator, a priest in connecting the two worlds.
That’s the theory at least. Ask my manager and the church about the reality!