A reminder about this series: We are seeking to always cultivate leadership that is effective and displays the compassion of our Lord. We asked pastors to choose a book that has influenced their leadership and tell us how they use it. These are not book reviews, and therefore the men will not qualify what is wrong or what they didn’t like in the book. We are making the disclaimer up front that some of these books are from non-Reformed and unbelieving authors. There are things in the books that wouldn’t apply to church life. That disclaimer now taken care of, the men share how the books have helped them.
(You can find the other posts in this series here: “Lessons in Leadership”)
Here is our third installment, from Christopher Chelpka, pastor of Covenant OPC in Tucson, AZ.
Five Gears: How to Be Present and Productive When There Is Never Enough Time by Jeremie Kubicek and Steve Cockram
The subtitle for Five Gears suggests that you’ll become more productive if you follow the book’s advice. That’s probably true but the book is much more valuable than that. Because *Five Gears* provides insights into a critical skill that anyone who wishes to lead must learn: relational intelligence.
Five Gears describes the different ways that we connect and engage emotionally with the world, and with people in particular. The person who knows which gear to be in and how to switch from one gear to another has “relational intelligence”. Leaders with relational intelligence know when and how to be present.
Gear 5 is the “in the zone” gear. The authors call it Focus Mode. I need Gear 5 for sermon writing, worship, in-depth study, and planning. Most leadership teams of a church use Gear 5, at least once every meeting. The OPC Book of Church Order requires sessions to “concert the best measures for promoting the spiritual growth and evangelistic witness of the congregation.” This usually involves some careful thinking and undistracted discussions.
When this gear is not present enough in my life, I long for it and grow annoyed with the world. I get frustrated that I’m too busy chasing cows to build fences. When I get regular time in Gear 5, alone and with the people I serve with, I feel more prepared to love and serve everyone, happy about doing it, and hopeful about the fruit.
But too much of Gear 5 and I act like a kid whose addicted to video games, unable step away and talk about something else.
Gear 4 is a task mode. Gear 4 is for cruising the agenda for a VBS planning meeting, for quick birthday phone calls between emails, for checking in with the Snack Team to see how things are and if I can help.
When I’m in Gear 4, I’m okay with a certain amount of distractions as I jump from one task to the next. Gear 4 can be energizing. Putting check marks into empty boxes can feel really good, a couple steps down from triumphant, I think. But with the right mix of pride and fear motivating things, Gear 4 can also become addictive. Too much of it and I struggle with anxiety.
It can also prohibit “real work”— the [deep work] (Deep Work – Cal Newport) that happens in Gear 5—from getting gets done. As Gregory the Great warns pastors:
Often, when undertaking the care of supervision, the heart is divided through contrary concerns and [the pastor] is unable to handle single tasks because the mind is confused and divided by many things. This is why a certain wise man carefully warns, saying: ‘Son, do not meddle in many things.’… For when the mind involves itself more than is needful with external things, it is like [a man] who is so preoccupied on a long journey that he forgets where he is going.”
It was learning about Gear 4 that I came to see how these gears cross the traditional work-life distinction. Work doesn’t always mean toiling and life doesn’t always mean resting. For example, it’s possible for me to stay in Gear 4 all day doing church work and remain there when I’m with my family. I’m running errands, helping with homework, prepping a meal. There’s nothing wrong with these things. It’s just wrong to think that just because I’m with my family and not “at work”, that I’m therefore connecting with them or recharging my own resources. I’m not. I’m in still in Gear 4.
Gear 3 is about building relationships in low-stakes contexts. The authors call it Social Mode. It’s the mode for small talk in the snack time between worship and Sunday School. It’s the mode for mingling at the annual church picnic. It’s the mode for meeting neighbors near the church for the first time.
When I was in college I remember telling a friend that I only do “big talk” never “small talk.” That was foolish. Small talk allows you to learn a lot about a person broadly. Third gear conversations often lead to second gear connection and fourth gear opportunities, as the authors put it. Gear 3 helps improve relationships and make them run more smoothly. But, of course, getting stuck in Gear 3 often looks like laziness and lack of discipline.
Gear 2 is about deep and fully present connections. Gear 2 is taking your daughter out for breakfast before school, just to be together. Gear 2 is about spending time with your elders without a problem to solve or an issue to discuss. Prayer happens in Gear 2.
It’s hard to imagine getting stuck in this gear since most of us never even use it, but as with the others it’s possible. Too much time talking about personal things, over-sharing in general, or wanting more out of relationships than is realistic are signs you might be stuck.
Gear 1 is a recharge gear. Gear 1 is about taking the time you need to make sure you’re not always running on empty. They offer the example of a cell phone battery. Just as you wouldn’t start a long conversation if your phone’s battery is only at 5%, you probably shouldn’t start a long conversation if your emotional/mental/physical/spiritual energy is only at 5%.
“We know we cannot, by sheer force of will, make our cell phones work when the batteries are dead. Why, then, do we think we can force ourselves to run well on empty?”
The authors recommend starting each day here in Gear 1, just as you do in a car. And by the way, resting to recharge is different from collapsing from exhaustion. To keep this from happening, so that you can do good work, being present in all the different ways you can, good rest is essential.
The book is full of practical suggestions on how to function in healthy ways in each of these gears, shift between them, and what it looks like to get stuck. They also have advice on going in reverse, i.e. saying sorry.
Learning how to shift takes time and feels awkward, just as it does when learning to drive, but with practice it becomes more natural and intuitive.