Q&A with Bart Garrett, Lead Pastor of Christ Church of Berkeley, Oakland, Calif.
I help people live lives that make them satisfied, happy, purposeful, and grateful to God for all that he is doing for them and in them.
Inspired by the interviews in the Paris Review and Bomb magazine, "The Questions" in Sports Illustrated, and the regular interviews on the blogs of Tom Peters and Guy Kawasaki, Comment has asked a diverse group of mentors for their stories.
Comment: How would you explain what you do to an interested nine-year-old child?
Bart Garrett: It seems like a lot of people spend a lot of time working, playing, doing things they have to do like eat and sleep, take out the trash, get the mail, pay bills, you know, things for you like homework, packing your lunch, tying your shoes. Well, I really think that God cares about us and loves us so much that he wants to be a part of all of those "everyday" things. I work hard to help people see where God might already be a part of their lives so that they can live lives that make them satisfied, happy, purposeful, and grateful to God for all that he is doing for them and in them. I think that God will also help people see their potential and how that can be used to help other people, help build a great city, help care for people that need food or shelter or clothes . . . Things like that.
Comment: What first drew you to this work?
BG: Having friends in college tell me that I should become a pastor because I love people and love helping them. I first pursued the study of law and would have had an opportunity to help create and form culture there. But for me, and where my heart is and gifts lie, being a pastor feels a bit more direct and hands-on in the process of cultural transformation and renewal. I tell our church people that I am really a medic or chaplain, that as they are on the front lines of culture creating, I am there to help bandage their wounds and provide the right spiritual equipment for their task and mission. It is the difference between church work (mine) and the work of the church (every member).
Comment: As a novice, what were your most valuable learning experiences?
- Meeting with a group of scientists every week in the pub to discuss the convergence (or lack thereof) between faith and science. These conversations, more than any other, have been a crucible for me as I learn to process my faith in a very secular, scientifically minded culture that is Berkeley.
- Studying Tim Keller's preaching.
- Reading C.S. Lewis and N.T. Wright.
- Meeting with a lot of executive directors in the non-profit sector in an exploration of the hopes, dreams, fears, and needs of our community.
- Going to people's places of work to "see them in action," put on their spectacles, try on their shoes, and talk to their colleagues.
Comment: What is the best advice you've ever been given?
BG: To paraphrase:
- We tend to grossly overestimate what we can accomplish in a year and grossly underestimate what we can accomplish in ten years (Richard Foster);
- At the end of the day, remind yourself that you can only do what only you can do (Fred Harrell, pastor of City Church San Francisco);
- Never overestimate the power of one sermon (if it falls flat, get over it!), but never underestimate the power of one sermon (a lot of people are walking around out there radically changed by one sermon) (Steve Brown); and,
- Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in one generation, so we work in hope (Reinhold Niebuhr).
Comment: From what sources do you draw inspiration for your work?
- Tim Keller;
- John Stott;
- National Public Radio;
- any and every British evangelical theologian as they seem to always think apologetically in most of their work; and,
- my colleague and friend, Jonathan St. Clair (I could never start a church alone in an urban environment).
Comment: What rituals and habits structure your workday?
BG: : I study, write, and think best in the mornings, thus, I am sort of a radical introvert in the mornings and a radical extrovert in the afternoons. It took me five years to learn this about myself. In my first five years in ministry (four in Atlanta and then my first year here in Berkeley), every morning appointment I am thinking about how I need to be writing or working on a sermon or training, and in the afternoon, I am sitting there staring at my computer screen, dazed and confused, tired and not creative. My ritual or structure though varied and flexible, is 8 a.m. until noon (working alone), and then noon throughout the afternoon, meeting with people. I have one weekly breakfast with some guys, but other than that I am pretty much a hermit in the morning. I would add though that I prefer a coffee shop to a quiet office. The ambient noise helps me concentrate and anything I am preparing for (sermon, article, leadership development course, meeting, whatever) involves the sacred intersection between God and people. I find it hard to prepare for stuff like this in a vacuum like an office. I want to sit around people and observe them—what they might be thinking, what they are reading, talking about, what they are wearing. I have found many an illustration or application in a message by trying to get in the skin of someone sitting across the way and trying to apply it to their life.
Also, I love to start the day with a jog, and a cup of Peet's coffee is a must. Their scones are great too, but they are starting to hang over my belt buckle—they've become a two morning per week delight! If I plan my week right, then my last Thursday afternoon appointment (I take Friday's off) is at the Bittersweet Chocolate Shop. There is nothing as decadent as a dark, dark, dark chocolate bar to end a work week. And I mean nothing less than 75% cacao. This shop doesn't mess around with the dumbed down, distilled stuff!
And I love to meet my wife on the couch at 7:30 p.m. after putting our three girls (6, 3, and 1 years old) to bed, to recount the day, talk, hang out before we read, watch The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and/or The Office before bed (we don't do this as much as we would like, but we are working on making this a habit).
Comment: What are your favorite tools?
BG: My Mac PowerBook (I have turned in the PC operating system of the flesh and for four years have enjoyed the OS of the Spirit). Buying a Mac was truly a conversion experience. I am tingling just thinking of that urbane moment in the Mac store, when customers and salespeople alike gathered around me to give witness to their own conversions. It was a moment that would rival any hug at the end of any 12-step program.
The power of a pint of beer to help someone settle down and talk about the spiritual dimension of their life.
Telling people that I am a minister while playing a round with them on the golf course. Although I am somewhat of a hack, this special knowledge that I impart around the second hole usually adds 15 strokes to their game and insures that I am going to the 19th hole with the promise of a free drink.
Comment: Tell us about a project that delighted you.
BG: We have launched a 501c3 organization called Project Peace which is the task of bridging the resources of local churches with the needs of social service providers, organizations, and agencies in the areas of compassion, community, culture, and conservation for the purpose of societal renewal.
Comment: How do you plan your work?
BG: By temperament I am a pretty spontaneous guy, but I have learned that I really do have to have an agenda for people. I say that a bit to rub you, the reader, the wrong way (shock value), but in reality, everyone else in their lives (boss, spouse, neighbor, parent, child, friend) has an agenda for them, and thus, I feel like I want to be intentional with how I help someone either engage spiritually or grow spiritually. I think I am able to do this in a pretty relaxed, non-obtrusive way, but now that I am in my early thirties, I can definitely see how much I now plan with regard to relationships and conversations. What used to just be "hanging out with people" is now, "after a couple of years of investing in and loving this person well, how will they be either closer to knowing Jesus or transformed in becoming more like him?"
Comment: How does your work connect to other aspects of your life?
BG: For me, the joy and pain of the plight of a pastor is that work is always connecting and converging with each and every other aspect of your life. This creates a unity of passion and alignment of purpose that very few people have the privilege of enjoying. On the other hand, your work bleeds in and unless you just get away for a couple of weeks, you can never really stop the hemorrhaging. You are awakened to pray for someone, you carry the burden of someone else's screwed-up marriage; your "on" time is usually everyone else's off time (nights, weekends, holidays). You simply cannot punch the time clock or turn it off. Ministry is life and life is ministry. Unbelievably rewarding! Terribly draining!