Ten Thousand Hours?
What does it take to be successful? For many in the church the assumption is that great preachers are born, not made. One of the reasons that likely feeds into this assumption is that the Scriptures speak about the office of pastor as Christ's gift to the church (Eph. 4.11-12). True enough. One of the requisites the church looks for as it seeks to ordain a man to the gospel ministry is whether he has the requisite gifts--can he preach? Another important question to be asked is whether the man is called. Does the man have a sense of the internal vocation of the Spirit--the desire to pursue ordained ministry? But a second question is, Does the church recognize the man's gifts and believe he should be in the pulpit? However, is that all? Once the giftedness of the man is established, has he arrived? Perhaps he needs a few pointers from reading a book or two on the subject of preaching, perhaps he needs some classes at seminary, but in the end, how can he improve upon what God has given him, right? Perhaps not.
In Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers he identifies a pattern that separates excellence from average talent. Time. Among a group of musicians, the truly gifted and superbly talented began playing their instruments at the very early age of five and were practicing several hours a week. Less talented musicians began playing much later and practiced a bit less. In general, Gladwell identifies the ten thousand hour rule. In order to become truly proficient at something, you have to invest ten thousand hours. Galdwell mentions the Beatles as an example. I suspect that most people think that it was simply raw talent, creativity, and a lucky break that made the Beatles. But Gladwell points out that in their early days as a band, they played in Hamburg, Germany, for a year and typically played music for as much as eight hours a day. This forced them to practice, learn new material, expand their repertoire, and it also gave them time in the saddle--they put in roughly ten thousand hours of practice.
When it comes to gifted preaching, one has to be willing to put in hard work. Yes, the gifts of the Spirit are essential, but this does not mean that a gift cannot be honed, sharpened, and exercised. For churches who want to participate in shaping and molding men for the ministry, do not hire interns to do busy work. Give them the opportunity to hone their gift--let them preach under the careful supervision of the pastor and session or consistory. For men who want to become better preachers, not for their name's sake but for the edification of the body of Christ, preach. Understand that the only way a minister will get better is by faithful study and plying his craft.
Whether for ministers, or Christians in any vocation, we must disabuse ourselves of the notion that competency and proficiency comes naturally. There's a cliché that seems apropos, "If something looks easy, it's hard, and if something looks hard, it's impossible." In pursuit of excellence, Christians need to be willing to be disciplined--put in their ten thousand hours so they can truly become proficient at their vocations. In the end, chances are the world will never notice, though perhaps in some instances it will. Nevertheless, for the Christian, the only one for whom and to whom we do all things is the triune Lord--for his glory, not our own.