I’ve just finished reading a book, “Shop Class as Soulcraft” by Matthew Crawford. In this book, he expounds on the meaning and value of physical and manual work. He holds a PhD in the arts, and writes about working in white collar jobs, but he eventually returns to what often sounds like a first love: motorcycle repair. While there are a lot of aspects to this book, I’d like to focus on one part, and see how it might apply to work in the church. Realize going into this that Crawford’s goal is not the best kind of work in monetary terms, but what is most fulfilling.
On getting his first job writing abstracts for scholarly articles and journals, he writes:
“As I was shown to my cubicle by these same people, I felt a real sense of being honored. They had made a place for me. It seemed more than spacious enough. It was my desk, where I would think my thoughts, and no longer as a private amusement tending toward alienation. Rather, these thoughts would be my unique contribution to a common enterprise, in a real company with hundreds of employees. The regularity of the cubicles made me feel I had found a place in the order of things; I felt enlarged by the largeness of it. I would wear a tie.”
I can totally relate to loving ties. They are wonderful.
“but the feel of the job changed as I settled into it…”
“…By my eleventh month at the company, my quota was up to twenty eight articles [to write an abstract for] per day (this was the normal, scheduled acceleration). Whereas Charlie Chaplin’s efforts to conform himself to the accelerating pace of the machine in Modern Times took the form of a brilliantly comic ballet, mine were rather mopey and anxious. More than anything, I felt sleepy. This exhaustion was surely tied to the fact I felt trapped in a contradiction.”
Basically, he can’t put intelligent, creative work into reading and writing, while also delivering on his quota. This continues a concept he developed earlier, the upward suck of cognitive effort from jobs into the business hierarchy (or its elimination all together). With the cognitive effort removed, he becomes a kind of functionary in his position, only fulfilling a prescribed ritual to achieve an end.
Furthermore he connects this functionary work to the concept of the classical idiot. The classical idiot is one void of concern for external realities. He is the self-absorbed man. When we remove human intelligence and creativity from our work for the sake of production or efficiency, we lose much more than creativity or innovation. We lose ownership and pride in the work, because it’s more a function of the role than of the worker’s (cognitive) ability. It also leads to false assumptions about one’s ability. I imagine it’s somewhat like a man who buys and sets up a dresser from IKEA and claims he “built” it himself, rather than he simply assembled it from pre-cut materials and picture-comic instructions. It’s idiotic in the sense that there’s nothing of himself in the work.
So what does this all mean for ministry? Church work isn’t craftsmanship after all.
Perhaps not, but the concept of “Soulcraft” that the author titles his work is surprisingly useful for describing church work. The work of a pastor in many ways could be described as soulcraft: working to see people shaped into more mature, stable Christians that honor God by their lives. It’s especially poignant for Salvationist because so much of our work is the rehabilitation of particularly broken people. But when we remove human aspects of our work – any cognitive, intellectual, creative, social aspects – we lose touch with the humanity of our work. We become idiot-pastors, trapped with fulfilling the role and checking the right boxes. That is not the work. The work is people, is soulcraft.
Let’s take the pre-packaged sermon as an example. The pre-packaged sermon is 1) efficient 2) easier 3) “approved” 4) safe 5) done 6) effective (supposedly). But this is in essence what Crawford is lamenting. There’s no ownership, no investment, no sacrifice, no social-contractual relationship between the writer, the preacher, and the hearer. I’d guess that pastors do not want to use pre-written materials, but because of time constraints they often do. This is the worst kind of time-saving device. The very last place automation should overtake is the creative, soul-crafting tools (preaching/teaching) that we use to form and develop others in the faith. Automate and idiocratize every other part of the job if you have to, but when you teach, actualize yourself in your work and in your words. Let it be sermoncraft for soulcraft.