Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Deep and Wide

Written by: on September 18, 2019

Cal Newport is an Ivy League trained, associate professor at Georgetown University.  In America, this usually means you are a pretty big deal, and Cal Newport certainly is.  Not because of his computer science research, which is the field he teaches at Georgetown, but because of his incredibly popular, mass media, self-help books.  His collected works can be useful for anyone from ninth grade, to professional executive – and at 37 years old, Newport has become a celebrated author at a very young age.

In Newport’s critically acclaimed Deep Work, he focuses on the importance of “deep work,” provides techniques on how to best achieve deep work status, and punctuates how crucial deep work is in the workplace.  What is deep work?  Newport describes deep work as, “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit.  These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”[1] Many famous people have utilized this deep work concept to achieve extraordinary success, including JK Rowling, Mark Twain, and Woody Allen.  Most importantly for the modern reader is that, “the ubiquity of deep work among influential individuals is important to emphasize because it stands in sharp contrast to the behavior of most modern knowledge workers – a group that’s rapidly forgetting the value of going deep.”[2]

But why does this concept matter to us?  Here is where Newport shines.  The entire book can be summed up via the “Deep Work Hypothesis” which is – “the ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy.  As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.”[3] Thus, if you can master deep work, then you will become successful in your profession.

Newport lists numerous suggestions on how to do this (quit social media[4], embrace boredom[5]) however the suggestion I’d like to reflect upon is his recommendation to “schedule every minute of your day.”[6]  I have the perfect opportunity to attempt to follow his suggestions as I am about to commence serving a new church.  The parameters I set over the next few months will help guide me throughout the duration of my call and I do look forward to trying out his “calendar block” method, especially while “exegeting” the culture of this new church.  My hunch is the culture of this church will play an active role in how often I have to adjust my calendar block.  Let me explain.

At the first church I served, members rarely visited the office.  If anyone visited it was often a member of the New York City homeless population or a police officer.  Those visits were rare and almost always brief.  Not so at the call I have served in most recently.  Members would visit the church office often during the day and the expectation was that I would be available and pastoral.  Both cultures have their upsides and their downsides; however it was much easier to stay on task, and manage a calendar at my first call.  In fact, I ended up often leaving the office when it was time to do anything that required uninterrupted work at my most recent church position.

I had a colleague at my most recent call, the church where visitors and interruptions were unscheduled and frequent; who reminded me that her former boss had told her that being present for those visitors was in fact “the call – the most important thing – what God has called you to do.”  Not the sermon writing, not the church newsletter, not the annual budget, but the availability and the ministry of presence.  Though I look forward to utilizing Newport’s strategies, I wonder if in the church world, the term “deep work” has a different definition – and may I suggest it begins with, “where two or more are gathered.”[7]


[1] Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016), 3.

[2] Newport, Deep Work, 5.

[3] Newport, Deep Work, 14.

[4] Newport, Deep Work, 181.

[5] Newport, Deep Work, 155.

[6] Newport, Deep Work, 222.

[7] Matthew 18:20.

About the Author

Rev Jacob Bolton

5 responses to “Deep and Wide”

  1. Thanks for your post Jacob. Yes, I agree with you. Many times our bosses define what deep work ought to be. I’m a fan of Newport and his book Deep Work is one I’d recommend to people. However, I think it would difficult to apply some of his principles for ‘non-knowledge jobs’ like manufacturing where output or number of widgets produced is the only metric.

    Can you just imagine a worker in a machine shop insisting to work only 4 hours a day because beyond that we aren’t able to function optimally? The worker can site all the studies at her disposal but I doubt the boss would care.

  2. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Thanks so much for sharing the aspects of your different postings. Yes, pastoral work is often filled with unscheduled, unplanned, and at times, unwanted people interruptions (distractions?). The dance is your definition of deep work working within the life of a congregation and their definition of deep work. It is always a dance and I look forward to hearing how your current posting dance goes.

  3. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Great thought, Jacob. I think you are on to something. I wonder if the business models that have influenced many church leaders have created more CEO’s than shepherds. Care is such a critical aspect of growth and discipleship. Care requires presence, a different type of deep work.

  4. Digby Wilkinson says:

    You’re going to embrace filling every moment of your diary rather than embracing boredom? Seriously? Boredom is lying on the couch watching movies, eating chips, and drinking beer. What are you thinking? However, if you are intending to diarise time on the couch, then I guess you’ll be ok.

  5. Thank you Jacob, I appreciate your observation that the church is different and has more to do with availability and presence, and certainly it does start with “Where two or Three are gathered”. Its an important reminder.

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