by Jason Lanier
This past summer, our church’s youth pastor, Justin Lucas, developed and presented a series of talks for a group of young aspiring leaders. The series was titled, “Leaders in Training”. Asking a team of pastors to make a selection of topic and presentation date, he provided a selected list of presentation topics ranging from critical and strategic thinking to the importance of EQ. Because I was the last to respond to the invitation to speak, I was assigned the only remaining topic: “Commitment to Competency”. As we’ve heard it said, “beggars can’t be choosers”. Though I was not excited about the pedantic tone of my assigned subject title, I was committed to being a team player and was happy to help Pastor Justin with his inspired and important project. And as a father of three boys and a once-upon-a-long-time-ago public school teacher, I was committed to the great value of the two core subjects presented in the title; Commitment and Competency. Praying for inspiration and understanding, I set out to prepare my talk regarding, “Commitment to Competency”.
While considering the two key words of my title, I began to feel the weight of their meaning in my life and our culture. These two words take much of their meaning from virtues that they presume to be present in the practice of the concepts. And the value, guidance, and consequences that both of these concepts (whether present or absent) tend to have in our lives cannot be denied. Additionally, when considering the interconnectedness of both commitment and competence, I decided that it was necessary to prepare a discussion that regarded the overlap between these two critical words. I could not merely talk about competence alone. Since I can be committed to something without being competent, and I can be competent at something while not being committed, I needed to prepare accordingly.
So what does a “commitment to competency” mean? How will I explain the meaning of the two broader concepts and the more specific truth? Not wanting to assume anything by relying on my own understanding of the words, I began reading and thinking. Reading professional articles and books on the subjects at hand, I considered my life and the lives of others.
WHAT DO THE WORDS MEAN?
We derive and convey our knowledge and understanding of concepts through the use of words. Words, generally speaking, are nothing more than an arbitrarily assigned collection of visual signs (letters) and aural interpretations (hearing and interpreting/understanding phonics) that attempt to express the meaning of lots of things; such as, a behavior, an experience, a concept, an idea, or a vision. Often times, in our attempt to understand or teach an individual word’s meaning, we find a preponderance of other words requiring additional research and reflection. Since words are expected to efficiently and effectively communicate quite a lot of information to the listener and/or reader we must choose them well and use them well. I don’t know if this will make sense (due to my own limitations in explaining what is in my own mind), but truths and concepts always exist before the invention of a word that describes the truth or concept. So in order for a word to successfully describe or convey knowledge to someone, there has to be some familiarity with some aspect of the word’s meaning that allows for the communicator to build upon. Looking to observable examples of a relatable concept, we use these similar meanings to build a context for a specific word/concept that we’re hoping for others to understand. (Side note: One of my favorite passages regarding my faith, my love of words, and my commitment to the Word is John 1:1-14. Here we see the lofty view and personification of words and THE Word…the Logos.)
Determining that my personal background and ministry was the best approach for me to take in my presentation, I opened my talk with the following statement: “At the age of 18, I failed to pass the music college’s entrance exam and my voice audition was a bust. Not perceiving failure as a choice and yet not knowing that God was calling me into the music ministry, I committed myself to overcome the obstacles. Today, at the age of 44, I’ve been serving churches as their music pastor for 25 years.”
In that light, I have a little something to share about commitment and competency. Though commitment and competency have not come easily in my life, I was able to create a list of behaviors and truths that have helped me along the journey. The list is a list of commitments that precede and lead to competency. But first, here are some key concepts represented by often too familiar words. Consider their meanings.
COMPETENCY: the ability to do something successfully or efficiently.
ability: possession of the means or skill to do something.
successfully: in a way that accomplishes a desired aim or result.
efficient: in a way that achieves maximum productivity with minimum
wasted effort or expense.
Take a moment to ruminate on the weight and meaning of those four words. Competency. Ability. Successfully. Efficient. Now consider the following questions in the light of those four words and write out your answers.
What are you currently competent in?
What do you desire to be competent in?
Three more words…
COMMITMENT: the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause/activity;
an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action.
dedicated: devoted to a task or purpose; having single-minded loyalty or
devoted: given over to the display, study, or discussion of.
Looking back to your response to the previous two questions regarding competency, weigh and review them by asking yourself, “Am I interested in or am I committed to competency?”
It’s important to understand that a commitment begins with an interest. But it’s more important to understand that an interest is not a commitment. Choose thoughtfully. Commit wisely.
Fleshing Out The Words
Here is a brief list of commitments/behaviors that I believe, when regularly practiced, have helped me towards achieving competency in a chosen talent or skill. I have purposefully listed these commitments/behaviors in a particular order of ascension. Though they have all become important to me, I practice them in sequence as I continue to pursue a life of purposeful meaning and of satisfaction. As you read them know that I intentionally selected each word in constructing each point in an effort to describe my own understanding. And though I did my current best, I have not “arrived”; meaning, I am always in pursuit of these values and as I evolve this list will likely evolve, as well.
A Commitment to Honesty
-Develop an honest self-awareness driven by a humble hunger to be more than you are. Know that your conscience is not an unerring guide. It needs experience. It needs challenge. These bring wisdom.
-Continually be in dialogue with yourself. Test your thoughts. Question your feelings. Ask yourself “why” as often as you ask yourself “what”.
-Know and own your interests, your skills, your passions, your successes, your failures, your fears. Write them out. Review them often.
A Commitment to Accountability
-While pursuing and practicing competency, receive and weigh all feedback. This is risky and you’ll often be encouraged by others to ignore “critical” feedback. Though there is well-meaning wisdom in that advice, I’ve learned and prefer to do the following with the feedback that I receive from others.
Balanced with your developing and honest self-awareness:
-Ask yourself, “Can I grow from this feedback?”
-Learn to discern the difference between flattery, malice, and the personal ambitions of others.
-In the light of both criticism and praise, understand that it is not always fruitful to seek to understand and it is rarely fruitful to seek to be understood. But should you conclude there is additional value to be found in the feedback than simply receiving it, assume that the person you’re listening to knows something that you don’t and dare to ask questions and then listen intently. Seek clarity.
-Be willing to honestly admit what you don’t know.
A Commitment to Teaching
-Read/Listen to a broad number of topics and subject areas. Don’t pigeonhole yourself into only reading and listening to professionals in one narrow specific field. Often time, many many things are actually connected and inter-related. Always be a student. Be responsible for teaching yourself.
-Apply what you’ve learned often. Reminder: We’re talking about a commitment to competency. To achieve that, you have to apply what you’re learning to what you’re pursuing.
-Understand that writing is thinking. Writing plays a large role in the development of critical thinking.
A Commitment to Community
-Seek out and connect with successful people
-Seek out and connect with wise people
-Seek and receive feedback from these curated connections regarding your competency
-Be responsible for something/someone besides yourself. Being responsible for something or someone is a great way to practice and develop your competency.
-Be inspired, not discouraged, by other’s competence in domains that you love
“The one who walks with the wise will become wise, but a companion of fools will suffer harm.” Proverbs 13:20
A Commitment to Celebration
-I personally struggle with this one in my life. My personality is achievement-oriented. Meaning, the total sum of my daily thought-life and decisions is always oriented towards the completion of planned goals. Once achieved, I immediately orient myself towards next things. This is not healthy. Commit to taking the time to acknowledge your accomplishment and to rest in the accomplishment. If the accomplishment is befitting of special occasion, create an occasion around your accomplishment. Also, humbly and politely accept others’ celebration of your accomplishment. It’s okay. Really, it is.
A Commitment to Vision
-If you accomplish your goal/vision, you must be prepared to seek the answer to “what do I do next?” (After celebrating, of course!) We need new dreams and new visions. Committing ourselves to meaningful, purposeful work is our calling, our purpose, our reason for existing. We’ve been given two commissions by our Creator: 1) Genesis 1:26-28, and 2) Matthew 28:16-20. Therefore, always be in pursuit of something. Always have a vision to give yourself to. Also, it’s not uncommon to need to spend time and energy seeking inspiration. Vision will likely and naturally grow from the practice of the first four commitments in this list.
A Commitment To Patience
-When I look back to the leader that I was at 19 years old, I am grateful for the more mature leaders who took the time to talk to me, guide me, chide me, and to celebrate me. They were gracious towards me with their time and thoughts. They were patient, too. The Scriptures are filled with admonishments and encouragement to be patient, to know He is patient, to know that the work is ongoing, that He is faithful to complete it, and that there is a season for everything under heaven. So take time to know yourself. Spend your life’s days to know God. Seek to discern the season of your life and embrace it with patience without fretting, worry, or disdain. Stay the course.