Tom Arthur: Five things to stop doing in 2012

Some goals are better set in the negative.

Sometimes things are better said in the negative. Have you ever tried to rephrase the Ten Commandments in the positive? It’s not quite so easy, and something gets lost. Marcus Buckingham wrote about the one key to success in his book, “The One Thing”: find out what you don’t like doing and stop doing it. So in the spirit of Buckingham, here’s my list of five things I’m going to stop doing in 2012.

1.) Stop doing the same things. I tend to be a person of habit and rhythm. In many ways this is wonderful for the contemplative life, but it tends to create a kind of communal inertia that breeds inward focus. I’m also somewhat risk-aversive. I think the ordination process of my denomination, which lasted eight years for me, tends to screen out the risk-takers and let in the moderate, dependable and steady. That’s me. But this year I’m going to take the risk of new things, God-sized things, even if they fail.

2.) Stop spending time in the office. One of the same things I like doing is going into my office, sitting at my chair and working at my computer. I’m somewhat introverted, and I’d be happy to do that all day long. But somehow that doesn’t seem like the right rhythm for a pastor. So I’m going to push myself and get out of the office as much as possible. In fact, I’m tempted to give up the office altogether. Pack it up and evict myself. I’ve tried this lately and have found it surprisingly refreshing. I have small expectations, one or two conversations in the coffee house, but I bump into so many more people from my church and not in my church. I’m even contemplating how to create a worship service out in the community. In 2012, I’m going to work and worship outside my church doors.

 

3.) Stop ignoring the people who serve me in the community. I tend to be pretty task-oriented. I go to the store, get the stuff on my list, checkout and get home as quickly as possible. How many people do I ignore along the way? Too many to count. This year I’m going to start conversations with the cashier, use their name posted on their name tag, be genuinely curious about them, ask questions and look for openings to spiritual conversations.

 

4.) Stop reading my email when it comes in. I have had a bad habit of being too prompt with my email. Why have we begun to expect email to be as quick of a way to get a response as a phone call? I don’t know, but that expectation is creeping up more and more. The organizational gurus that I’ve read almost unanimously command their disciples to read email only once or twice a day. I’ve been experimenting with this and find that the time it takes me to read and respond to emails expands or contracts to the time I’ve allotted for reading them. Fifty emails will take two hours to read and respond to if I’ve got two hours, but if I’ve got thirty minutes, then I’ll read and respond to fifty emails in thirty minutes. In 2012, I’m going to read email only once or twice a day.

 

5.) Stop reading only contemporary leadership books. Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. I’ve been reading only contemporary leadership books and have neglected the saints. As of late Paul Borden, Geoff Colvin, Nelson Searcy, Richard Hamm and Coach K have been my guides. I’ve forgotten Augustine, Aquinas, Julian, Teresa, Francis, Wesley, Calvin and others. This year I’m going to start back up a conversation with the ancients.

And so in the spirit of number five, I hope that by quitting these things I will, with Wesley and the Methodists of old, “never be triflingly employed” -- but rather employed “to save as many souls as you can, to bring as many sinners as you possibly can to repentance, and, with all your power, to build them up in that holiness without which they cannot see the Lord.”

Tom Arthur is pastor of Sycamore Creek United Methodist Church in Lansing, Michigan.