Take A Seat, Preacher: 4 Vital Habits When It’s Not Your Turn to Preach

Seedbed Preaching CollectiveI am now an author for the Seedbed Preaching Collective, and this article was written for the Preaching Collective page.  Click here to read it on the Seedbed Preaching Collective, and to find other Preaching Collective content.

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Preachers have a notoriously hard time listening to each other preach. I guess it’s only human nature. Mechanics will assess the work of other mechanics, a hairstylist will probably always have something to say about your haircut, a musician will usually notice a mistake that an untrained ear would miss, and pastors critique each others’ sermons.

In these summer months when most preachers find themselves taking a break from the pulpit for one reason or another, how can a preacher listen well?  Two years ago I transitioned from being the lead pastor of a growing church to a ministry role at Houghton College. I went from preaching 46 weekends per year on average (plus special services, funerals, weddings, etc.) to a role at Houghton where I have over 55 opportunities every year to preach, teach, or lead worship at various events, but only find myself on a church platform to preach or lead worship around 30 weekends per year. As a result, I have to take a seat about 22 weekends per year. Here are four habits that have been vital for me, and maybe will help you take a seat this summer.

1. Put Your Red Pen Away and Learn Something

Students don’t use red pens. Teachers use red pens to grade their students’ work, but when you hear a sermon you are not there to give a grade: you are there to learn and grow.

I don’t think I’ve seen two pastors yet in my travels who preach the same way. Note-taking, manuscript preaching, note-less preaching, object lessons, putting images on a screen, or not – I’ve seen it all and then some. The mode of delivery can be a distraction especially for us pastors who preach all the time.

You can always learn something, though, in any sermon. Sometimes the learning comes easy. Sometimes I have to be very creative in my ability to learn, but you can always learn something. Maybe it’s a song you didn’t know before. Maybe it’s a theological, historical, or biblical point you didn’t know before (or had forgotten). Maybe it’s something about their delivery that you’ve never tried before. Maybe it didn’t even work for them, but you can try to utilize it in a more constructive way. You may not like the sermon. You may not want to hear it a second time. But you can probably still learn something, and if you go into it the service looking to learn something God will rarely let you come up empty.

When it’s your turn to take a seat, put away your red pen. Be a student, not a sermon critic.

2. Behave How You Want Others to Behave When You Preach

As a preacher, especially someone who serves as a guest speaker in a variety of settings, I cannot tell you how much it means to me to find a smiling, friendly face in the congregation. It is a gift to find someone who makes eye contact and stays engaged. Every once in a while I even find someone who laughs at my jokes.

When you take a seat, be aware of how you look from the pulpit. Do you appear engaged or indifferent? Are you expressing a warm demeanor, or detached? Are you just waiting for this to be over, or are you fully present? Actually, whether or not that sort of stuff helps other preachers the way it helps me, I know acting that way makes a big difference in my heart when it’s my turn to take a seat.

And put away your phone. Even if you typically use your phone for reading Scripture, you may want to bring a hard copy of the Bible just to avoid the appearance that you’re texting, surfing, or tweeting. Regardless of how it looks, your phone is a gateway to a million distractions. You’re better off leaving your phone in your pocket.

When it’s your turn to take a seat, do unto the preacher as you would have others do unto you when it’s your turn to preach.

3. Make the Most of the Weekend

I went 12 years without a weekend off. 12 years without a true, non–vacation, run-of-the-mill weekend off. I think lay people don’t realize how much of a sacrifice it is for pastors and their families to give up our weekends. I remember how strange it felt when I finally got my first true weekend off in 12 years. I remember saying to someone, “You mean this happens every week?” It made me realize that, while I faithfully took a day off in the pastorate, a day off is no match for a weekend.

A Sunday when you don’t have to preach might be the closest thing you get to a weekend off all year long. Guard your calendar. Stay up late on Saturday night. Make special plans. Seize the day.

When it’s your turn to take a seat, make a weekend out of it.

4. Put An Arm Around Your Loved Ones

I will never forget the Sunday two summers ago I woke up to go to church. It was the first time in my adult life when I was not a church’s pastor on a Sunday morning. I was still an ordained pastor, still doing pastoral work, but no longer responsible for one specific congregation in the same way. I was usually to the church before my children were even awake on Sunday mornings, so going to church with my family was a foreign idea.

And I loved it. My favorite part? I got to sit with my family in church.

There are many Sundays when I am jealous of my friends who are pastors who get to perform baptisms, or preach to their own congregation, or lead communion. There are certain Sundays of the year when I really wish I had a church to whom I could preach. I console myself those mornings by putting my arm around my wife or one of my children during the sermon. It’s a simple pleasure that simply makes a big difference in my life.

Whatever else you do when you take a seat, make sure you put your arm around someone you love.

Why It Matters
Like other professions, it is no secret preachers are opinionated about their craft. But unlike other professions, it is vital to your soul that you can hear the voice of God through other pastors. You have blind spots, I have blind spots, and it is not just for the sake of time off or as a professional courtesy that pastors must learn how to take a seat. In the battle for the preacher’s soul, this is an often overlooked battlefield.

© Steve Dunmire 2015

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Dr. Steve Dunmire is Director of the Office of Ministry Resources at Houghton College (Houghton, NY). He is an ordained pastor in the Wesleyan Church, and was a pastor in Buffalo-Niagara region churches of New York State for 12 years. Steve also serves as director and primary instructor for Houghton College’s Equipping for Ministry program, which provides non-traditional classes for adults seeking ordination and personal enrichment. For more content visit SteveDunmire.com, or follow him on twitter at @DrSteveDunmire

4 Reasons Why Pastors Should Love Numbers

May 31 brings to close another statistical year for many churches. Whether your fiscal/statistical year aligns with the calendar year or not, I know many pastors dislike statistical reports, and they come up with many reasons for why traditional statistics don’t really matter.

But pastors should love numbers. Here are 4 reasons why I love numbers.Numbers!

(1) You can’t have smart goals without good numbers

An acronym I hear often is that goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. In other words, if you set a goal for yourself and it is not measurable, then how will you know when you have achieved it? If your goal is to get in shape, a way to make that goal “measurable” is to determine to lose 10 pounds by next month, or to ride 100 miles this month on a bike. One month later either you will have met that goal or not, and most likely if you meet that goal, you may be on your way toward your larger goal of getting in shape.

Numbers help make vague goals specific, and in so doing, they bring focus to our work.

(2) Numbers are stubbornly honest

“Figures don’t lie, but liars sure do figure,” goes the old saying, and I’ve known people who operate that way. Look no further than Coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots. When the Patriots were accused of breaking NFL rules earlier this year in #deflategate, Belichick held a press conference where he claimed to be quoting scientific data to prove that his team had not cheated, but “what he said didn’t make any sense” (according to Bill Nye the Science Guy). There are certainly cases like this where data or statistics have been twisted or manipulated, but that often means ripping statistical data out of context, or deliberately misinterpreting the data (because even good statistics need accurate interpretation most of the time). I am certainly not condoning any kind of number-twisting. And if you engage in that sort of number-manipulation, you will eventually get caught because numbers are stubbornly honest.

Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells once famously said, “You are what your record says you are.” He meant that, while you might want to make excuses for why your team is better than they appear to be, your win/loss record tells the true story of how good your team is.

Numbers are not opinions. They are stubborn facts. They are objective, not subjective. They are sometimes subject to interpretation, but when you overdraw your bank account, it’s no sense saying, “I don’t see myself as being broke.” If the numbers say you are broke, you are broke. Numbers are stubbornly honest that way, and they will sometimes tell us what no one else has the courage to say.

(3) Trends and perspective

Some things happen gradually and thus are almost imperceptible. We have a spot in our house where we mark how our kids are growing. Of course I know that they are growing all the time, but sometimes it’s astonishing when I see how tall they were last year compared to today.

An awareness of trends is a really key aspect of leadership. Attendance numbers may fluctuate year to year, but if your attendance numbers are dropping steadily over five years, you might want to take notice.

Numbers are meaningless without knowing where they fit into the big picture. Numbers can give a sense of perspective. If your church attendance is down, but every church in the neighborhood is down, too, then maybe there’s something bigger going on beyond your control (meaning you may need to adapt, not just make excuses).

I know of one church that has a startling trend of decline, and yet its leadership shows no concern. Instead, they consistently argue that traditional church statistics don’t measure the right things. Yet when you ask them what their goals are, all of their goals are unspecific and immeasurable (therefore, not very S.M.A.R.T.).

How do we measure up to others? How do we measure up to where we were a few years ago? What decisions do we need to make right now to be ready when we get where we are headed (or to avoid going there)?

(4) My primary care doctor loves numbers

I have a great primary care doctor. I drive 70 minutes to see him, even though there is a good doctor right in the small town where I live. I drive to see Dr. Charles because he’s thorough, we are at the same stage in life, and because I trust him.

Dr. Charles loves numbers.

Every time I visit Dr. Charles’ office he writes down all sorts of numbers. Height, weight, pulse rate, and blood pressure. He sends me down for bloodwork, and the results come back as numbers. I’m on a Vitamin D supplement because of those numbers, and he’s given me peace of mind in previous visits because my numbers look good.

But Dr. Charles doesn’t just look at the numbers.

He also looks me in the eye and asks me about my family, and my job. He talks about the journey he’s seen me go through from a newlywed in grad school to a father and husband with a full house and many responsibilities. When he looks in my eyes, I can tell he’s not just being polite: he’s being a doctor.

I want a doctor who pays attention to all of those numbers, while also paying attention to the look in my eyes. And I want a pastor who knows the value of numbers, but also the value of stories.

Assessing ministry health must always be a mixed-methods study: quantitative research (numbers and measurable data) and qualitative research (interpreting codes, analyzing comments, and identifying trends).

The Rest of the Story: Why Christians Count

As I was putting the final touches on this article, David Drury posted his article “Why Christians Count: It’s not all about the numbers, so why do Christians count?” Waves of disappointment swept over me as I was sure his article was going end up being a better version of what I tried to write here. And I was right, but in some senses I think our two articles are complementary. In any event, I highly recommend his article to you.

© Steve Dunmire 2015

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Dr. Steve Dunmire is an ordained pastor and Director of the Office of Ministry Resources at Houghton College (Houghton, NY). For more articles visit SteveDunmire.com

“In the Shadow of Your Glorious Cross” – Free MP3

“In the Shadow of Your Glorious Cross”
Written by Brooks Ritter and Rebecca Elliot
Performed by Steve Dunmire (Guitar, Banjo, Vocals)
SteveDunmire.com

Download the MP3 for free here:
stevedunmire.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/in-the-shadow-of-your-glorious-cross-steve-dunmire-mastered-on-april-10-2014.mp3
(Right-click on the player, and it will give you the option to save the MP3 to your computer).

“These crowns I’ve clenched with fisted hands, I cast them down before the throne of Christ my God the worthy lamb. Christ crucified, the Great I AM.”
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Dr. Steve Dunmire is an ordained pastor, a commissioned ministry coach, and Director of Ministry Resources at Houghton College (Houghton, NY). He is also the director of and an instructor in Houghton College’s “Equipping for Ministry” program offering non-degree courses for ordination & personal enrichment.

7 Ways to Care for Your Pastor as a Person

I am committed to using my voice to give unsolicited advice to congregations and church leaders when it comes to how they care for their pastors as people. In a previous post, IMG_4607b“10 Ways to Keep the Pastor You Love,” I urged Christians to care for the pastor at home, but it’s hard for someone who has never been a pastor to know what helps the most.

Here is some of good ways to start based on what I’ve seen, experienced, and heard from pastoral families.

1. Shorten the Distance for a Pastor Who is Far From Family

As a general rule, most pastors do not live near their families. That can be hard for a multitude of reasons. If your pastor has young children, it’s hard to be far from the support of grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. If your pastor has elderly parents, it is hard to provide care from a distance. If your pastor has grandchildren in a different part of the country, it can be excruciating. Of course many careers can move you far away from family, but it is the norm for those in the ministry and the military. If your pastor can’t make it home for Thanksgiving, think about extending an invitation to join your family at the table. If your pastor has an ill loved one back home, see if there’s anything you can help with to make it easier for your pastor to make the trip home (consider buying the plane ticket). Those little things can do a lot to alleviate the isolation of living far from family, care for your pastor as a person, and also reduce the temptation to look for a position closer to home.

Consequently, if your pastor is far from family, that probably means they spend most of their vacation time traveling to visit family. That is another reason to be generous in the vacation time you give your pastor (I’m a big proponent for at least 3-4 weeks for pastors since the average full-time lead pastor works 6-7 days per week and 60+ hours per week).

2. Give the Gift of Quality Family Time

If you are going to give your pastor a gift, give the gift of quality family time. One family years ago gave our family tickets to a Buffalo Sabres game for several years, and then gave us season passes to the local zoo. Those were little indulgences that were rare for us, and we made many wonderful memories as a result of those gifts. In the end, those gifts communicated to me that they valued my family in a way that went beyond the cost of those gifts (and they WERE generous gifts). Another year my board gave my family an all-expenses paid trip to the Corning Museum of Glass (Corning, NY). We had a great little getaway, and created wonderful memories. And I felt both valued and that they understood one of the pressing needs in that season of my life: quality family time. They also set it up so that we could schedule the trip when it was most convenient for us, which also meant a lot. Part of caring for your pastor at home can be creatively finding ways to provide quality family time.

Some people are better gift givers than others, and some people are hard to please with a gift, but give the gift of quality time.

3. Boundaries

One of the perils of pastoral work is that most of the people we work with serve the church in their free time, so many pastors work normal “work hours” and then also do church work in what would otherwise be their “free time.” You may not think it’s a big deal to call your pastor at home in the evening, but in a church of even 100 people, if everyone calls the pastor at home once every year, that’s two calls at home at night every week. Before you intrude in the evening, on a weekend, or on your pastor’s day off, ask yourself, “Can it wait?” Part of caring for your pastor at home is recognizing that your phone call can usually wait until the morning.

4. Plan for Retirement

An oft-repeated joke about ministry is that the “The pay isn’t great, but the retirement is out of this world.” That’s cute, but one pastor’s son wrote to me: “My dad had a total of about $1,000 contributed to his retirement by churches over around 40 years of church ministry. So, he self-funded much of his retirement out of the meager salaries he received. They’re OK now, between social security and their parents’ estates, but that’s always grated on him.”

My last pastorate contributed generously to my retirement savings, but I know it is not the case for everyone. Helping to provide a secure future can go a long way toward caring for your pastor at home right now.

5. Parsonage & Homeownership

Having a paid-off home is one of the biggest ways for a pastor to prepare for retirement, and it’s one of the reasons I argue against parsonages (a church-owned home). I have searched high and low for a study to prove homeownership results in pastors who stay longer than their peers. While I have not found a study to prove it, I cannot find a study to refute it. I have also found countless advisors who say it’s true (or that it MUST be true). I also cannot find a single person who believes the opposite (that providing a parsonage encourages a longer pastorate, or prepares a pastor best for retirement). In a future post I plan to share my argument FOR a parsonage and my argument AGAINST a parsonage, but suffice it to say that I think helping your pastor become a homeowner is one of the best ways to care for your pastor at home.

6. Food

It’s a little thing, but it can be quite a boost to find a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup sitting on your desk.

Over the years of ministry some of the most memorable food gifts I have ever received have been:

  • a gallon of maple syrup
  • fresh concord grapes
  • homemade cookies
  • homemade pies
  • homemade cakes
  • candy bars
  • snacks for a Super Bowl party
  • an unexpected cup of coffee
  • restaurant gift cards

Of course, not all food is a treat. My wife and I were once invited over to someone’s house for dinner, and as our hosts were serving us coffee after dinner the milk in my wife’s coffee looked like it had curdled. She didn’t want to embarrass our hosts, but also didn’t want to drink coffee with cream that had gone bad. Our host realized what was going on and said, “Oh, don’t worry about that. I know it looks bad, but we stock up on milk when it’s on sale and throw it in our freezer. After you thaw the milk it only LOOKS like it’s curdled, but don’t worry – it’s fine!”

Of course it helps if you know what kinds of food or treats your pastor likes (and to avoid your pastor’s allergies), but it can be a real treat so long as you don’t serve curdled milk.

7. A personal story: 4 Deaths in 72 Hours

In the first 72 hours after we brought my youngest son home from the hospital we had four deaths in the church I was serving.

I had planned to take some extra time off to savor having a newborn son in the house, but instead I didn’t even get a single day off for two weeks while I made funeral arrangements with those families. Looking back I can’t think of anything I could have done or should have done differently because I was the pastor: I needed to be there in those moments. But it was nearly overwhelming. I was dealing with (1) my own grief for those who died, (2) my sadness over the lost time with my family and newborn son, and (3) my frustration that this was yet another scheduled vacation that would be interrupted by church work. But then I also felt extremely guilty for being so frustrated. It was really just an inconvenience for me, but these poor people had lost loved ones (this is part of the tension pastors feel).

I may never forget what one friend did in the midst of that dark week, though: he stopped by with coffee. I was surprised to see him, and actually as he walked through the door I was disappointed, thinking, “Oh man – I wish he had called. He went out of his way to see me, and I don’t have time to talk because I have a funeral in 2 hours.” Actually, he drove miles out of his way to deliver coffee to me because I was officiating my fourth funeral in two weeks. It was a simple gesture that said to me, “You’re a pastor, but you’re not a robot. This is hard for you, and I know it.” He didn’t stay long. He didn’t pry. He just showed me he understood by that simple gesture. He drove all that way to be with me in one of my deepest lows of ministry and then turned around and drove back home. And it meant a lot.

Do that.

Do that even if you don’t ever fully understand what it means to be a pastor, even if your pastor seems unflappable in tumultuous seasons. Be attentive to the highs and lows. Your pastor is often the one who is there for others when they go through a difficult time. If you want to care for your pastor at home, be the one who goes out of your way to be there like that for your pastor.

 

What do you think?

What did I miss? Anything you would add or take away from this list?

© Steve Dunmire 2015
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Dr. Steve Dunmire is an ordained pastor, a commissioned ministry coach, and Director of the Office of Ministry Resources at Houghton College (Houghton, NY). He is also the director and an instructor of Houghton’s “Equipping for Ministry” program offering non-degree courses for ordination & personal enrichment.

5 Ways to Avoid Having a Bitter Family in the Parsonage (Part 2 of 2)

Living in a church parsonage can be challenging at times. A pastor friend of mine wrote this two-part article about life in the parsonage and asked for my opinion, which I found to be challenging and helpful. The author did not want to publish the article with his or her name attached for several admirable reasons, so it is with great honor I share my friend’s thoughtful reflection on life in a parsonage. You can find part one of this two-part reflection here.IMG_1763b

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In my previous post (When Pastor’s Vent Too Much in the Parsonage), I blogged about the potentially dangerous results of pastor’s venting about church problems in their homes. Sometimes this venting produces bitterness against the church in the hearts of the pastor, the spouse, and their children. If this bitterness festers in the family, they can end up demonizing members of their very own church family.

How might we prevent this from happening? How does a minister maintain open and honest communication with his/her family without subjecting them to this sort of temptation? I’d like to offer 5 ways to eliminate this demonization from the church parsonage.

First, the pastor needs to guard their family time… even when they’re spending time with family. Too easily, family time can become just another context for talking about the church. It’s okay to talk about the church and ministry, but there’s also lots of other great things to talk about! Pastoral families need to have fun together, laugh together, play together, etc. Sometimes the bitterness that develops toward the church is not the result of the pastor’s venting about problematic people, but the pastors neglect for his own family.

Second, I think it is important for the pastor’s life to be openly and honestly shared with his/her spouse. The answer to this potential problem is not to completely remove the church from the conversation. That being said, it is probably unwise for a pastor to share everything with his/her spouse. Sometimes the most loving thing to do is to not burden your spouse with an ugly piece of information. A mature pastor, I think, learns what to share and what not to share.

Third, it is important for pastors to make sure that they speak positively about the people in their church in the presence of their families. Pastors tend not to vent at work. It could endanger job security! It becomes tempting to be positive at church by day and negative at home by night. It might be especially worthwhile to verbalize the good qualities of the more stress-inducing people in the church.

Fourth, I would encourage all pastors to actually deal with conflicts! Venting is the result of unresolved conflict. Sometimes there simply hasn’t been opportunity to resolve the conflict yet and the venting is might actually be a healthy way to prepare ourselves for that opportunity. But, if we’re being honest, a lot of times we simply avoid dealing with conflict. It’s easier to complain about a problematic person than to talk to the person about the problem. Don’t allow your avoidance of an issue to become an annoyance for your family.

Fifth, at risk of ending a list of spiritual-to-do’s in a very clichéd way, I’d beg you to pray. The reason prayer is nearly always mentioned in lists like this is because it makes a difference. Pray about your heart. Pray for your wife. Pray for your kids. Pray for the person that is stressing you out. Pray for their family too. Pray for your whole church. Pray until you are genuinely in love with that person again. Love, done rightly, is even more contagious than complaint.

In closing, there’s one more issue I’d like to briefly address. What if I see evidence of this phenomenon (the demonizing of church members) in the life of a colleague or his/her family? How might I confront the situation in a way that keeps me from being demonized myself? Most of the same advice applies. Pray for that pastoral colleague and his/her family. Confront them in love. Interrupt negative venting with reminders of positive truths. Don’t add fuel to the fire by sharing every negative thing you come across with every other minister. And spend time together in life (not just ministry) so that your relationship allows for all of this advice to be applied. By all means, beware of the temptation to demonize a fellow-pastor over his/her habit of demonizing parishioners.

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This post was written by an anonymous guest writer.

Dr. Steve Dunmire is an ordained pastor, a commissioned ministry coach, and Director of Ministry Resources at Houghton College (Houghton, NY).

When Pastors Vent Too Much in the Parsonage (Part 1 of 2)

Living in a church parsonage can be challenging at times. A pastor friend of mine wrote this two-part article about life in the parsonage and asked for my opinion, which I found to be challenging and helpful. The author did not want to publish the article with his or her name attached for several admirable reasons, so it is with great honor I share my friend’s thoughtful reflection on life in a parsonage. I will post the second half of tIMG_6190bhis reflection next week.

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This blog is about a very real phenomenon that I fear happens in many parsonages and pastor’s homes across North America. It damages many lives and destroys some local churches. The scariest part, though, is that it can all happen somewhat innocently.

Let me start by saying that pastoring a church is an awesome privilege that can also be seriously stressful. Pastors are people. They can get frustrated just like ‘normal’ people get frustrated. They sometimes need to vent those frustrations just like everyone else does. This venting may take place among colleagues, but it often happens at home.

Imagine a pastor going through a particularly frustrating time at his church. At the end of the day, he vents his frustration to his wife. She hears about how parishioner #1 popped-in to the office for what turned out to be a 2-hour visit to talk about nothing in particular in the midst of a very busy ministry schedule. She hears about how parishioner #2 is upset that her 2nd cousin didn’t get visited by the pastor in the hospital. She hears about how parishioner #3 had the nerve to disagree with her husband at the monthly board meeting.

All of these things are clearly weighing on her husband. They’re stressing him out. She’s concerned not only for his sanity, but his health. And, truth be told, she’s concerned about her future. She doesn’t want to move again. It’s unfair that these church-people can ruin a perfectly good evening at the parsonage. The kids soak this in this stressful atmosphere.

It’s very tempting, if this sort of cycle persists, for the pastor’s spouse (and possibly children) to begin to demonize these ‘problem-parishioners.’ While, most likely, the pastor was just (somewhat innocently) venting… the pastor’s spouse & children (motivated by love for their husband & father) defend him by making these members out to be the enemy.

All of this is understandable. Pastors need to vent and venting at home is often a good place to find sympathy. The spouse and children of the pastor love him dearly and hate anything (or anyone) that seems to be getting in the way of his happiness. There’s not necessarily any ill-will in this scenario, but the results can get ugly in a lot of different ways.

The supposed sources of the stress are real people too. And sometimes they start getting dirty looks from the spouse. The church, as a whole, might start to be viewed very negatively by the pastor’s children. The pastor himself can start to feel like his venting is validated and begin to demonize the people too. Very quickly, in some cases, the local church members are given labels as angels or demons.

I am a married pastor. I have pastor’s kids. I don’t want my wife, my children, or my own heart to stop loving and/or start demonizing the people in the church. Right? But how do I best protect them from this temptation without holding back from them what’s truly going on in my heart?

In my next post, I’d like to offer 5 key suggestions.

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This post was written by an anonymous guest writer.

Dr. Steve Dunmire is an ordained pastor, a commissioned ministry coach, and Director of Ministry Resources at Houghton College (Houghton, NY).

Minor Leagues & Second Fiddle: What I Learned from Jhonas Enroth of the Buffalo Sabres About Paying Your Dues

Tonight the Buffalo Sabres (my favorite team in the National Hockey League), will start their 2014-15 season in Buffalo with Jhonas Enroth entering his first full season as the Sabres’ starting netminder. Head coach Ted Nolan said, when Enroth showed up after the offseason, “He had that determined look of ‘You’re going to give me this job.’ The way he performed and the way he played, he certainly earned it.”[i]

Minor Leagues

I saw Jhonas Enroth play in the minors several years ago with the Portland Pirates in Portland, Maine (the Buffalo Sabres’ minor league affiliate at the time). I was hoping to see Enroth play, but because he had been called up to start for Buffalo on Wednesday night that week (and Thursday was Thanksgiving), I didn’t expect to see Enroth in net on Friday night. But there he was.

That night I just kept thinking about how hard it must be to get excited to play in the minor leagues again 48 hours after starting a game in the NHL. Wednesday night, in a Buffalo arena that seats 18,690 people, he played against Pittsburgh Penguins superstars Syndey Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (neither of them scored on Enroth that night, by the way). 48 hours later he was back in goal for Portland playing against minor leaguers in an arena that seats only 6,733 people. I wondered to myself, “How do you get excited for this game after playing in that game.” How do you get excited for this game in front of a small crowd in a small arena so soon after sharing the ice with the best players in the top league in hockey? As I watched Enroth play well whether he was playing in the minor leagues or against future hall of famers, I became a Jhonas Enroth fan.

Second Fiddle

After that season, Enroth got his permanent call up to the NHL … to back up Ryan Miller for the past three years. For three seasons in Buffalo, Enroth played second fiddle. As backup, he played an average of 22 games per season (compared to 54 games per seasons as a starter in the minor leagues). At times Enroth struggled in his backup role, and at times he had streaks of genius (including a 9-game winning streak) where some of us in Buffalo seriously questioned whether he should replace Miller (a Buffalo legend). At one stretch he had a 14-month winless streak,[ii] due in large part to his limited playing time behind Miller. And no one was cheering for him more during that stretch than me.

Leonard Bernstein was once asked which instrument was the most difficult to play. He thought for a moment and then replied, “The second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm—that’s a problem. And if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony.”

Meanwhile, I wondered whether it was better to be the backup goalie in the big leagues, or the starter in the minor leagues. Given the choice for myself, I wasn’t always sure which I would choose.

Paying Your Dues

All of this is part of why I’m an Enroth fan: most of us have to pay our dues by playing in the minor league or by playing second fiddle before we will ever get our day in the sun. No shortcuts, no moving to the head of the line, no special treatment: paying your dues to get where you want to be. I am a Jhonas Enroth fan because I’ve watched him pay his dues, and now that it’s his time to shine, I hope he burns brightly.

Every day I watch college students who are paying their dues taking classes and studying for exams, putting in the work that is preparing them bit by bit. I am a Buffalo Sabres fan, and as a sports fan (especially a fan of Buffalo sports) I’ve learned to remain somewhat detached from the players who play for my teams. But I’m a fan of Jhonas Enroth because he is an athlete who paid his dues, took his turn playing second fiddle, and put in his time in the minor leagues.

Tonight, I’ll be cheering for Buffalo, but I’ll also be cheering for Jhonas Enroth.

Let’s go Buffalo.

© Steve Dunmire 2014

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Dr. Steve Dunmire is an ordained pastor, Director of Ministry Resources
at Houghton College (Houghton, NY), and a Commissioned Ministry Coach.

[i] http://sabres.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=733414&navid=DL|BUF|home

  1. [ii] (http://www.rantsports.com/nhl/2013/03/14/buffalo-sabres-tuesday-win-was-a-big-one-for-jhonas-enroth/)