Thursday, December 17, 2009

Justifying One's Existence


It happened to me before when I was working for an IT firm. After a particularly bad quarter, my superior will somehow indicate to me with a wink: "Justify your existence." This essentially means the following.
"Conrade. You know the company is not meeting its targets for the past two quarters. Can you show me the reasons to keep you? Can you help me justify your continued employment in this company?"
The statement flows softly, but bellows loudly through my ears. It pierces my heart to think that even the boss that I trust can be so cold and business-like. Maybe he is just doing his job. Maybe he needs to protect his position as well. Maybe I am simply not up to his expectation. Maybe he sees it as a way to spur my performance.

Justify your existence in the company.

This past year, I have also witnessed layoffs and retrenchments happening in non-profit organizations. A pastor friend of mine was laid off recently. The setback is not just the job, but a tremendous loss of self-esteem. Ministers of God's churches are still human. They need to feed their family. They need to exercise their training and gifts. They need to be faithful to the calling they have received. A retrenchment is like a slap on that original sense of calling. When one can no longer justify one's existence in any organization, it is time to say goodbye.

The Calm Before the Storm
In profit-based corporations, successive poor financial performances only mean one thing: Retrenchment is coming. Amid the hive of activity lies an arduous mood of gloom. One starts to wonder how long one can continue to justify his or her own existence in the firm.

In non-profit companies, like churches and charitable organizations, a hint of worse times to come appears through 'innocent' questions. For instance, one of the dreaded questions to ever ask any minister is this:
"How much time do you spend in preparing a sermon?"
When the funds are low, the board members, or the person holding the purse strings will tend to ask questions like these. It can make a preacher felt threatened, or left scrambling for numbers to 'justify his own existence.' When a church wants to cut costs, or manage spending, this question can be deadly to the joy of serving in the ministry of preaching. In an insightful article "Why Pay the Preacher?" by Dan Hotchkiss, the writer brings us to appreciate the inner rumblings of the preacher upon hearing about connecting hours to sermon preparation time. I loved the humor in it.
"Last week's sermon about aging took me sixty years."
We can laugh at it, but not all treasurers of finance board members will find it funny. They are dead serious that we justify the amount of money the church pays its pastors and preachers. In good times, where church members are regularly contributing, preachers need not 'justify their existence.' In lean times, where the money is tight, this is when faith gets tested, financially.

My Idea on Preaching
For me, I think preaching is a calling that cannot be easily quantified into hours and minutes. There are weeks in which it takes just a couple of hours to put together a moving sermon. There are also times in which even 3 full continuous days of preparation draw a blank. Preparing a sermon is not a task but an attitude. It is an attitude that stems from a living relationship with Jesus. It is an aptitude that grows from a loving relationship with people. It is one's inner gratitude to God and neighbour that enables one to preach faithfully and truthfully in God, to the people of God.

Preaching is very much my passion. I wrote an article this week about it on SabbathWalk. In it, I maintain that preaching is not an act but an attitude. Likewise, because it is an attitude, while we can try to quantify them, remember that the Spirit of God cannot be quantified into chronological time. On the question, "How many hours do you put to prepare a sermon?" let's put out 2 hands. The first hand is to put down the numbers to give board members an idea. Be honest about the challenges and the topic. Certain topics require greater number of hours. Others less. The second hand is to be constantly aware of the Spirit's leading. Finally, put these two hands together in the shape of a praying hand. Preaching must begin, not with books or sermon materials first. Preaching being an attitude needs to begin with God, who shapes this attitude.

As we pray more, as we preach more, as we trust God more, we will strangely find that 'justifying one's existence' no longer becomes as fearful as it sounds. Trusting God is a strange discipline. Often, we feel like we need to take the first leap of faith, thinking that if we don't initiate, nothing will happen. Yet, have we ever wondered that God has already made that first move. We simply needed to keep in step with the Spirit. So our 'leap' of faith cannot measure up to the LIFE of faith, Christ has fully given to us more than 2000 years ago. God, in Jesus has already justified our existence for all eternity. Why are we still afraid? Perhaps each time we approach the threshold of fear, it simply means we have spent too much time worrying and not enough time praying.


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