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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Deep or Wide?

Written by: on September 19, 2019

Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people or gifted people but for deep people.[1]

This is one of my favorite all-time quotes. I read this from Richard Foster at just the right time – at a pivotal time in my leadership journey. It is like I could see a fork in the road and a choice to make. I sensed I would be loved by God either way I chose but that the quality of fruit would differ based on the path I chose. I had this picture that people would take and eat fruit from my life on both paths, especially those close to me. What do I want to offer them: tree-ripened fruit given over to the natural, sweetened process of abiding or shallow, early, hastily plucked produce that may be technical sustenance but was sort of ‘meh’?

I never interpreted this word picture as an ultimatum or threat but as an invitation to the good life – counter-intuitive to me but a better way. Newport in his book Deep Work references various researchers and case studies to assert that the good life is the deep life.

I hear this call – live a deep life. Don’t just skim on the surface, consuming and moving on constantly. And my observations and imaginings from Jesus’ life challenge me, as He models perfect depth. Lack of hurry; enough margin to be interrupted; and roughly thirty years of anonymity before beginning his public ministry shout to me.

All this example, insight and research and still I struggle.

What is the pull, the allurement, for me to live busied and hurried? Is it not an over-identification with productivity? Is there perhaps a subterranean part of me that is more infatuated with utilitarianism than being human and having limits? But I also am realizing that focusing and “going deep” feels too constraining, too narrow. It hits on a fear of missing out or living with regrets for choosing the wrong focus.

It has been one year of not being an executive pastor and it has been harder than I probably care to admit. On quieter days, I have moments when I pine for the back to back to back meetings. I miss the sense of being in demand, of being needed and of making decisions. My days in this new season are full but they are not frantic. Frantic can be a real addiction.

High-level executives are given a pass from Newport on his theory of deep work. There are certain roles at certain organizations that require frequent, fast, strategic decisions. Deep work does not make sense. These people should hire people to think deeply on behalf of them.[2]This is a helpful exception he offers. While I don’t consider myself to have been remotely in the same category as Newport is referring to, it did highlight for me the fork in the road decision I made earlier in life and the natural implications it now has in my current vocational reality.

Is it possible to have both deep and wide in life? I wonder. I spoke with a counselor this summer who, after listening to me, challenged me to focus and narrow. Exactly what I was afraid of! He was adamant that no one has experienced real success in life that did not focus or narrow at some point. He used the image of an upside-down funnel and told me I need to get in a chokehold. Ugh.

We may argue with the counselor’s assertion that success only comes with focusing. But I think one airtight statement we all can agree with is that no doctoral student ever finished their dissertation without focusing. It appears I will have no choice but to go deep if I want to finish.

I do believe that deep is productive. What Richard Rohr posits about the relationship between contemplation and action is helpful. Good, deep contemplation of the love of God leads us not to inaction; it leads us to right action.[3]

 

 


[1]Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: the Path to Spiritual Growth(San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 2018), 1.

[2]Cal Newport, Deep Work(London: Piatkus, 2016), 46-7.

[3]https://cac.org/contemplation-and-action-2016-05-13/

 

About the Author

Andrea Lathrop

I am a grateful believer in Jesus Christ, a wife, mom and student. I live in West Palm Beach, Florida and I have been an executive pastor for the last 8+ years. I drink more coffee than I probably should every day.

6 responses to “Deep or Wide?”

  1. Thanks Andrea for sharing that quote. I love it. I don’t remember if I’ve ever read the book, but I know it’s a “must read.”

    I’m curious, did Foster elaborate on that? Did he cite examples of deep people and contrast it with the intelligent, gifted ones?

    • Andrea Lathrop says:

      Hi Harry – I highly recommend it! But I don’t think Foster gives a lot of concrete examples you are referring to – at least from what I remember from the book, I’ve listened to him over the years too. He is often calling leaders to go deeper with God – and to value the things that cultivate that depth. He was friends with Willard who said that the greatest enemy of the spiritual life is hurry. They both challenge me on my value system – I like the idea of being gifted and intelligent but want to value depth with God more. Appreciate you!

  2. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Andrea,
    I appreciate the challenges of your executive pastor experiences. I find it interesting that your counselor utilized the funnel, I use this illustration often in coaching other pastors or coaches. You also see the need for focus in developing your dissertation (you can tell from my post that is my consuming application of Newport’s Deep Work). I pray you find epiphanies as a result of your “funnel” work!

  3. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Excellent, Andrea. I facilitate a resource called “Focused Living.” The premise is the same as the counselor’s reference, the upside down funnel. The more narrow the focus the wider the influence, the opposite is also true. I’ve experienced both and can tell you, the counselor is correct! Deep does make way for wide.

  4. Mario Hood says:

    Love this! I think the upside-down funnel is the complete opposite of what many of us in the West think as success or important work.

    This past summer Dr. AJ Swoboda came to our church and taught of the Sabbath. All of it was great but he said this one statement and it has never left me. He said, “if you read the bible the only person that is said to run to and fro is the Devil”, he continued and said, “many of us think busiest is a sign of faithfulness but the Devil leaves in busiest, God flows from rest”!

    I think it takes deep work to rest in a culture that preaches business!

    • mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

      Pretty amazing Swoboda quote there Mario.

      I applaud you facing your trepidation and going deep Andrea. You are brave and we are all grateful!

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