Happy New Year!
I asked Matt Laidlaw, Mars Hill's high school pastor to share his thoughts. Matt has studied in Jerusalem and has offered countless insights into helping me and many others see the text in it's proper context.
I Don’t Care
This discussion is interesting, both intellectually and philosophically, but if I’m really honest, at the end of the day, I don’t find it to be especially meaningful, helpful, or practical. More to the point: I have a hard time caring about it. That said, I’m throwing in my two cents (maybe a few more than two) about this issue because Steve Carter is my friend and he asked me to. There’s not much I wouldn’t do for a friend like Steve (he’s also my boss). For him, I’d even consider writing another Matt-ifesto. So here we go.
I really do enjoy teaching in all types of forms and varieties, but I don’t consider myself a teacher in the same way that many who are participating in this conversation might and therefore fear I’m a bit out of my league. I’ve done a lot of teaching in several different mediums and settings. I’ve taken a variety of classes, written a lot of papers, and done a fair amount of research. I will therefore be coming at this from an angle that might be different from those of you who are preaching or teaching every week in front of large congregations or youth groups. Please be aware of this as you consider my perspective.
I never really considered how important conversations about citing resources or stealing teachings are in ministry or academia until my time spent studying in Israel Jerusalem
You can imagine how the impact of his rant decreased after this ironic and awkward interaction. Trust was broken and integrity was tarnished because Rabbi Moshe couldn’t cite the source he was using to make his point, and therefore the power of his point was lost.
What’s More Troubling
What’s more troubling to me than the debate about stolen teachings is that it’s truly a reflection of what teaching and teachings have become in many of our congregations. One of my mentors recently told me, “Matt, even though teaching your leaders and students is less important than 90% of the rest of your job, it’s the 10% that people will judge your success on.” Many people will equate my success as a pastor with the quality of my teaching. Can any of you relate to this?
Sipping coffee outside the sanctuary, in the car on the drive home, and around the Sunday dinner table, what are our congregants discussing?
“What did you think of the teaching this morning?”
“Did you like what pastor so and so had to say?”
“Did you think her jokes were funny?”
“Did you agree with his points?”
We feel trapped by the pressure to either a) perform well for the congregation, or b) serve as the negative topic of discussion at supper. How many of us have complained about this before? At times we feel that our teachings have become nothing more than a product to be consumed, and nothing could be more troubling to us.
But as pastors our hands aren’t clean. We’re fueling the consumerist feeding frenzy that is experienced on Sunday mornings across the America
Blah, Blah, Blah-g-ing
Some of us like to hear the sound of our own voice. Some people like to see the look of our own typed words. Deep down we all want to think and feel as if our insight and ideas are worth hearing. For some of us in our darkest moments, this is why we’re energized by teaching. For others of us, this is why we blog. As innocent and helpful as blogging might seem on the surface, isn’t it also a dangerous venture?
In Blog World, our experiences define reality. Research, resources, and the consultation of others hold little to no value in the eyes of the average Internet surfer or blog reader. Wisdom and truth are in the eyes of the blogger and the reader, and external verification holds no weight. Meaning: we really have no idea what truth lies behind the written words, what the real story is, or if the thoughts presented could legitimately hold any water.
The nature of blogging allows us to be irresponsible with our ideas and the ideas of others. We can say anything we want, any time we want, about anything or anybody we want. There is no authority—not really—holding us accountable if our ideas are ill-conceived, misinformed, or unoriginal. Blogs run the risk of being nothing more than pooled ignorance, stolen ideas, and vain attempts to prove our talents important and our lives valuable.
Blogging allows everyone to become a “writer”. Not only does this self-proclaimed title carry with it a false sense of worth from a false giver of value; it fuels a destructive and universal self-centeredness. Now that I am a “writer”, and my “work” is out there for the world to see, I have to keep “writing”. Now that I’ve created a false audience for my life to be lived in front of, people “need” to know what I’m doing, how I’m feeling, and what I’m thinking all the time. This behavior, whether I find it in myself or in others, must be called what it is: immature, disgusting, and sinful.
I wonder how much of this conversation about stolen teachings really comes from that fact that as teachers we find way too much of our identity and validation from our calling. We search for validation through our teachings and through our words and not getting the-credit-we-think-we-deserve reveals the truth that maybe our motives have been skewed since the beginning.
Let’s Not Forget
Let’s not forget that the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. Let’s not forget there is nothing new under the sun. Let’s not forget why we all probably got into this gig in the first place. Let’s not forget that in the beginning, we were all interested in sharing God’s words.
“It's no secret that a conscience can sometimes be a pest
It's no secret ambition bites the nails of success
Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief
All kill their inspiration and sing about their grief”
(U2 in their song, “The Fly”)
We’ve likely not given God the credit he deserves, yet we’re losing sleep over not getting the credit we deserve. When you’re sitting in your office, or Starbucks, or the library preparing for a teaching and you get an idea, how do you know if it’s an original thought? How do you know it’s not insight from a podcast you were half listening to while you were half driving home last week? How do you know it’s not point number three of a sermon you heard six yeas ago? How do you know that the student you’re mentoring didn’t somehow actually miraculously vocalize the idea to you sometime during the forty minutes you were explaining your next teaching to her? You don’t know. There is no way we could possibly know when we’re having an original idea, and for that very reason, we need to free ourselves from the slavery of figuring out which ideas belong to each person.
They don’t belong to any person. They belong to God. Let’s not forget the giver of life, breath, and everything else. Let’s not forget our role in this gig. We’re servants, not special. We’re co-creators, not creators.
I Want To Be The Kind Of Person
I want to be the kind of person what can just let it all go. Six years ago I was sitting in a hotel lobby somewhere in Turkey
In the hotel lobby we shared communion, our favorite memories from the trip, and the challenges we would all have waiting for us when we would arrive home the next day. When we had come to terms with the fact that our time together had come to an end, the man we’d been following so closely ended the experience with these words, “Everything I taught you on this trip is yours. I got everything I taught on this trip from someone else. Please use it in your ministries. Teach it to the people in your life. It’s yours.”
I want to be the kind of person who is eager to give credit where credit is due. I want to be the kind of person who is eager to begin a teaching by saying, “Nothing that will be spoken from my mouth is my own; it’s the fruit of the men and women who’ve allowed me to sit at their feet throughout my life, and the overflow of the wisdom that creates and sustains our universe.”
I want to be the kind of person who wastes no emotional energy on not receiving the credit I think that I deserve. I want to be the kind of person who can sweat and bleed over ideas and content and then freely give it away to others, because deep down I know and want to know it never belonged to me in the first place.