“People do what you inspect; not what you expect.”
For weeks now this simple statement has echoed in my head like a yodeler’s mountain call.
It forces me to examine life anew.
I begin with seminary.
Seminary has surprised me. The things I thought I would learn are quite different from the things I’m actually learning. For example, I expected seminary to be a rich season of abiding spiritual intimacy with the Father. Certainly professors expect their students to remain “connected to the vine.” They expect us to maintain all the good Christian disciplines.
But I’ve discovered no one really inspects those key spiritual disciplines. Here’s a short list of things that do get inspected:
- Proper formatting for papers
- Proper identification of Greek and Hebrew morphology and syntactical categories
- Ability to synthesize various views in order to better articulate your own
- Ability to read, comprehend, and process about one book a week (on average) for 16 consecutive weeks.
- Proper formatting of exegetical, theological, and homiletical outlines (Say what?!)
Now all these skills are beneficial; in their proper place they are, in fact, quite important. It’s just that an inordinate focus on these academic exercises can give seminary students a false sense of security in ministry. Their measure of “success” in the classroom does not necessarily translate to “success” in the field.
I move to the Church.
The phrase causes me to think about what Northern American churches, in general, inspect:
- Annual giving reports and budgets
- Attendance reports
- Number of converts
- Number of folks (local or distant) who benefit from church programs
- Number of volunteers and/or paid church staff
What’s interesting is these two lists share a common denominator: each inspects the externals. No doubt external measurements can serve as indicators of the internal state of ones soul – but not always.
I’m living proof…
…and maybe you are too.
Externally, we are adept at putting on a good front. We successfully create pseudo-images of “togetherness,” even when our lives are a mess.
“People do what we inspect….”
Finally, I move to God.
The phrase also reminds me of what God inspects:
I Samuel 16:9 “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Hebrews 4:12 “The word of God…judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
God’s eye inspects the unseen. He peers beneath the external veneer and evaluates what matters most – the heart.
So what I am actually learning through seminary is that the health of my soul – that is the vitality of my walk with God through Jesus – is the single most important thing in ministry. I know…it’s not really rocket science.
But, I am learning (yet again) that no one else is responsible for my spiritual growth.
Seminary is not designed to nourish the soul like I originally thought. Rather, it is there to equip me in all those important external skills, which can be a great asset in ministry.
But if my soul remains broken, unhealed, untouched by the power of the Gospel, then I will never be able to give to others out of the overflow of my own heart.
I will never be able Jesus with skin on.
And I will never truly ministry to the souls of others.
Barnes, M. Craig. The Pastor as Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009.
Crabb, Larry. Inside Out. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2007.
Nouwen, Henri J.M. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. New York: Image Books, 1966.