Someone put forth the idea a few years ago that if a worker in our cause does not receive a call every three or four years there must be something wrong with his work. This person did not say that the worker ought to accept these calls, just that he ought to get them. This article is written to defend the view that he ought to reject them more often than not. It is written from the assumption that money is needlessly spent to move workers around, since many of the moves are unnecessary and produce neither an improvement in the worker's professional development nor in the results produced by the efforts of the organization as a whole. Having stated this bias, I will set forth my diagnosis of the situation and some suggested ways to improve it.
A union president, who was a slave to the cause if ever there was one, loved to exhort his workers to "get on the collar!"—an expression that meant more in those days of horse-drawn farm appliances than it does in our motorized day. When a horse is putting forth real effort it has to lean into the collar of its harness. If the tension on the collar is slight, the horse isn't working very hard. As that union president knew, some horses don't put forth their best efforts. Indeed, some of them scarcely ever allow the harness to be applied. They just gallop around the pasture, kicking and bucking.
Just on the Payroll
This same executive was presiding over a committee that was considering certain sustentation requests.
"How long has Brother X been in the work?" a member asked.
The union president straightened up, looked the questioner square in the eyes, blinked a few times, and then whispered: "Brother X has never been in the work—he's just been on the payroll for forty years."
It was an exaggeration, of course, and perhaps an unfair one, but there may have been a core of truth at its base. There aren't very many unproductive denominational employees. The level of incentive and effort is far higher than is considered normal in many organizations, but on the assumption that there are some horses that are traded because they won't pull, it may be worth while to examine some of the sources of this phenomenon.
Discontent With Location
A horse may be satisfied with its harness, it may pull its share of the load for a while, but then during the heat of the day or the cold of the night it begins to think how easy it would be to plow in a different field, and then the tug chains go slack. This is a serious malady that might be labeled morbus perip a teti cus . It is more widespread than many realize. If the number of denominational employees who wish to change their place of work were known, we would be astounded.
Workers in the eastern part of a division get the idea that everything would be better in the western part, where informality, opportunity, and innovation reign. Workers in the western part, tired of their surroundings, begin to long for the more glamorous environment that they mistakenly imagine the east to be. Workers in rural places look toward the cities, where they think they will be appreciated more, while city workers look from one city to another, where they think their work would be more fruitful. Workers in a land other than their place of birth yearn to be home, while workers who toil in their motherland get the itch to sail the seas and find the pot of gold at the end of a Europeanized rainbow.
It is foolish to try to surmount a sea of troubles by running away from them; there will probably be more troubles in the new place. You may not be noticed in your present obscure station, but you can grow there, and then, when a more demanding opportunity arises, you will be strong enough and skilled enough to meet it, whereas the fellow who has spent the past decade chasing a moving van will find himself fitted for little else.
We believe that there will always be a need to have workers from "outside" in every possible field, simply in the interests of defeating the tendency to tribalism that exists in every inbred society, but those outside workers should go from the developed countries to the less-developed countries and not vice versa in the overwhelming proportion of cases for a good many years to come. Our denomination's marching orders cannot be efficiently carried out if the brains of the army continue to desert for more affluent climates at the present rate. If every worker who is heading in the wrong direction were to be overtaken like Jonah, the great fish would have a feeding frenzy such as he never before enjoyed.
Discontent With Administration
Other horses express their discontent by neighing for a different teamster. There are delicate acts of adjustment that must be made between a worker and the person directing his work, but those adjustments are not all on one side. There are varieties of work horses just as there are varieties of teamsters. The teamster must not expect a nine-gaited walking horse to do well at a plow in gumbo soil, and the horse must realize that the teamster's first responsibility is to cultivate and harvest the crop, not to foster horse shows.
How many horses that whinny for a new teamster are more unhappy when they get one? If they expended their energy on pulling the load instead of snorting and shying at the driver everyone would be more contented. There is a certain amount of work to be done, the harness is the same for everyone, and the personality of a teamster is never an excuse for refusing to pull.
What good is it for a horse to be able to outrun the others if it has never learned to tolerate a jockey on its back? Instead of winning the race, that horse will only dump its rider on the turf and end up out of bounds.
Discontent With Assignment
Still other horses look with envy at a different plow. Pastors think it would be better to be a Bible teacher because they wouldn't have so much administrative work to do, and Bible teachers think the pastors have it easy because they don't have to run at the call of class bells. The examples could be multiplied.
We must develop the abilities that God has given us and accept the fact that He has seen fit to give some talents to one and others to another. All too often sturdy draft horses exhaust themselves trying to run races or prance with a fancy gait when they could carry a pack or pull a load with great success. The lighter horses, on the other hand, wish that they could be hooked up to the tug chains of a gigantic load when they are better fitted to run like the wind.
As much as we may dislike to admit it, we live in a day of specialties. Life is too short to become expert in everything. The generalist still has his place, but the specialist is a good man to have around when his technical knowledge is needed. Today there are calls for specialists in every line —the ministry, administration, medical work, industrial work, and in all the disciplines represented on the faculties of our schools. If a man finds himself unhappy with general work he is foolish to think that he must get out immediately and enter some glamorous specialty. It can be taken as an axiom that success in the specialties is based on a deep experience in a broader context. The best way to ensure that you find your proper niche in God's service is to do the tasks you are given with all the energy that God has given you. Then, when one of the old reliables goes out to pasture you will be ready to step into his particular harness.
What are the causes of these debilitating discontents? The hearts of men, including those of workers, are desperately wicked and complicated, so who can know them? It would be presumptuous to try to diagnose all cases or to prescribe sovereign remedies—the difficulties are too varied for that, but this disease is in epidemic at certain places, and so a suggestion about possible treatments may be in order.
Tell it not in Gath, but one of the most important causes for itchy feet is an empty head. Workers who stay abreast of their field of preparation are not given to the delusion that utopia will arrive with the next move, the next election, or a change of title. If the malcontents among us would stop spending so much of their money on creature comforts and start spending more of it on good books and journals many problems would be solved. All too often a worker races to his appointments in the latest model car, laden down with tape recorders, projectors, slides, appliances, and gewgaws, and when he arrives finds himself without anything to say! What folly!
Let such people stop spending time on things that are less than vital, let them start spending an hour a day at their desk with their Bible, the aids we have to understand it, and their professional literature, and they would probably forget about migrating.
It is an open secret that some workers hope for a new administrator in their organization because they have lost hope of wheedling a promotion out of the present one. The remedy for this is to stop dreaming that positions in our denomination are tinseled presents within the gift of an individual, and start realizing that election to office in our church is an act by which the constituency recognizes industry, integrity, and ability. Instead of chasing the will-o'-the-wisp of preferment, let the brother with the transfer bug in his mind settle down to the reality of his task.
Workers who imagine that they would be happier if they held the next fellow's title instead of their own are victims of a disillusionment that sets in when a man neglects his work and then tries to assign specious reasons for its failure. He won't fool anyone but himself. There is no substitute for concentration on the job at hand. When you have succeeded at that you will find that your present place is a pleasant one. The careful workman's change of job is the climax of an apprenticeship rather than the admission of a defeat.