Richer, deeper, and more satisfying

“What would it look like to move from ‘more, bigger, faster’ to ‘richer, deeper and more satisfying?'” No, that quote is not from a church leader of any stripe; it’s from a Harvard Business Review blog by Tony Schwartz, president and CEO of The Energy Project. His basic idea is that business is currently focused on providing more products and services without increasing capacity. In other words, most companies are working their employees too hard in order to generate income. This approach, Schwartz argues, “generates value that is narrow, shallow, and short term — diminishing returns until there are ultimately no returns at all.” His solution is to slow down. “Calmness,” he says, “is critical to being able to think clearly and deeply.” That leads to a focus on those things that are truly valuable for the long term.

The idea resonates with me in almost every aspect of life. I certainly feel stretched thin at work, and it seems my students do, too. Life at home? With three active teenagers it’s always hectic, but I have noticed to my dismay that even summertime brings little rest. Apparently the directionless—and therefore possibility-filled—days of my own childhood summers are gone, lost in a whirlwind of camps and games and practices and lessons. When my kids are sprawled listlessly on the couch watching TV, they aren’t enjoying the guilty pleasure of occasional laziness—they’re exhausted.

All of that bothers me, but not as much as the fact that many, if not most, congregations seem to have succumbed to the allure of “more, bigger, faster” even though “richer, deeper, and more satisfying” are values that permeate the biblical worldview. Building programs and capital campaigns certainly have their place but not at the expense of quiet for prayer and contemplation. Teaching and preaching that address the realities of life in the world are not only acceptable but absolutely necessary. Yet they dare not be confined and conformed to the patterns of the world, as if we are not preaching and teaching forgiveness and the way of salvation. The church needs volunteers for many projects, of course, but we are there first and foremost as worshipers, as sheep that hear their shepherd’s voice. Too much, too big, too fast. James Smith’s observation in Desiring the Kingdom that congregations have, to some extent, bought into the “secular liturgies” of consumerism and therapy rings true for me.

I hope this doesn’t come off as a curmudgeon’s rant, or perhaps I should say as only a curmudgeon’s rant. It’s really a plea to slow down and listen to Christ’s voice, to think and pray, to take the time to find joy in creation and new creation.

I have often been critical of congregations and church bodies that follow too closely the latest business trends. I might change my mind if Schwartz’s vision for business reminds them of the “richer, deeper, and more satisfying” life that is ours to be expressed in living together as Christ’s church.

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5 Comments

  1. Mike July 23, 2010
    Reply

    Thank you, Prof. Robinson, for this post.

  2. Karol Ketcher July 23, 2010
    Reply

    Thank you. Thoughtful, helpful, and needed by our people.

  3. Mark July 24, 2010
    Reply

    Is this not a question about how different we are willing to be? And what we are willing to do to bring that about?

    The vast majority of people are not going to give up the pace (just like the vast majority never became monks). The Wall Street reply that only 2 years of cash flow move the needle and the rest is equal to zero may appear to be short sited, but it is really tough in business sorting out the ‘I have no real idea, so I’m going to talk deep’ from those who have a real long term idea that must be funded. Business has special places for those bets – venture capital and places like IBM Watson Research.

    Your thought resonates, but we should recognize that in taking the “deeper” path, we can’t force others to join. We can just plea as you have it. If we want to be that “deeper” church, we have to realize it means being separate and smaller and that we might be wrong. The vast majority of those venture capital bets don’t pay out.

    Oh well, back to swim lessons for the three young ones.

  4. Don Ray August 16, 2010
    Reply

    Bravo, Prof. Robinson!

  5. Paul Marschke November 12, 2010
    Reply

    Thank you for calling our attention to this article from the HBR Blog. I believe that most of us in the LCMS have long dismissed the call for growth as shallow. I agree to an extent but believe that we may need to correct for an overly critical view of church growth, or at least growth in size of congregations. At the same time, I have experienced personally situations where the emphasis on numbers clearly was shallow and henced detrimental to the mission of the church. This blog strikes a positive chord in me. The call to richer and deeper is at least as important, probably even more so, as growth in numbers. I like the way the blog put it. May I have permission to quote your comments on this article? They would be supportive of a number of classes I am doing or want to do in this area, including one this Sunday (11/14/10)

    Paul Marschke
    Evanston, IL

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