LEADERSHIP LESSON NO. 39–“Keep Good Records, a Journal Even.”

“Pastor,” the caller said, “I have a question, and I’m embarrassed to ask it.”

Thinking I was about to do some telephone counseling, I donned my best pastoral manner and said, “Don’t be. Tell me about it.”

She said, “Well…sir…could you tell me when I got married?”

It turned out that I had performed the wedding for this woman and her estranged husband several years earlier and she was now needing to benefit from his insurance with the Veterans Administration.

And if that wasn’t enough, she said, “It was either June 1, 1969, or July 8, 1970.”

I said, “You don’t even know the date?”

She had an excuse which I have long since forgotten.

After digging through the calendars of my pastoral ministry for previous years, I called her back. “You and Sam McFranklin were married on March 3, 1971.” She thanked me and hung up.

I hope everything worked out for her, but have my doubts. Anyone who doesn’t even remember her wedding date probably has a lot of other loose strings dangling in her life.

Let’s hear it for keeping good records.

I sat in a meeting in which the pastoral team was divided, one man saying one thing, another contradicting him. As a result of the divided leadership, the entire church was split down the middle and serious consequences were looming.

On the surface it seemed to be a “one said/the other said” controversy with no obvious clear-cut resolution. Then one of the men volunteered something that settled the issue.

“Here are the minutes of the meetings,” he said, as he opened a file and produced a stack of papers. “Furthermore,” he said to the man across the table, “your wife is the clerk and took these minutes.”

According to the minutes of the church business meetings, the first man was correct in his position and the man whose wife had taken the minutes was clearly mistaken. The matter was settled, or would have been if the plaintiff had been interested in the truth. Unfortunately, his primary interest involved getting his way, which moved the controversy to another plane altogether.

I was not then and am not now a judge, but had I been, the notes of the church business meetings would have been the smoking gun and would have ended the “trial.”

There is no way to overstate the importance of keeping good records of what you did, what something cost, who you met and talked with, what you agreed on, and what each side promises to do. Even years later, such records have been known to settle disputes and save a lot of grief or even money.

The easiest way to keep such records is with a daily journal. With a cheap notebook–or better, a hardbound wordless book–and a ballpoint pen, by spending 15 to 30 minutes a night recording the events of the day, a person can leave an invaluable record for the future.

A handwritten record with the day’s date at the top is worth far more than a computer log. With the computer, one can go back in and edit each day’s entry time and again, and only an expert would be able to tell. But a dated log in one’s own handwriting carries a weight of legitimacy that has been known to stand up in a court of law in many occasions.

On January 14, 1990, I opened a blank book I had purchased that day and began to write. The opening words for day one were: “Margaret, Neil and I went to Providence Baptist Church in Charlotte at 11. Pastor Henry Crouch’s father (Perry) had just died, so George Bullard preached. He’s leading the church in a self-study these days. Preached on conflict. I’m tired of the subject.”

The record for that day continues: “In the afternoon, killed 5 hours watching football playoffs–Denver beat Cleveland and San Francisco beat the Rams.”

“Around 7 pm took a 4 mile walk, the first in months. Legs very stiff afterward. While walking, prayed: 1) for my children’s salvation, 2) for Margaret, 3) for me to learn to preach, 4) for revival to come to FBC Charlotte, 5) for the right church to call me as pastor. (Note: I had left the pastorate of the First Baptist Church of Charlotte four months earlier after a conflict.) Specifically, for the Father to lay it on the heart of whoever to recommend me there.”

A note in the margin reads, “This continues to be my major prayer list every time I walk.”

I ended the day’s contribution to the journal with this prayer: “Father, help me to disciple myself in my personal habits. Tend to be lazy. Need to proof the typed manuscript of my book on Luke and get it back to the typist. Give me wisdom about when and how to approach my children and their mates about salvation. Please send us a buyer for our house and the new place of service to coincide. Thank you, Father.”

The buyer for the house arrived within a few days and the new place of service–the First Baptist Church of Kenner, Louisiana–opened up in late summer, right on schedule. I finished the manuscript on Luke’s Gospel, sent it to several publishers, all of whom turned it down, and it has been collecting dust in a closet ever since. I’ll probably dust it off when I retire in 18 months and see if it’s worth reworking.

As for the salvation of my three children and their mates, four of the six are doing great. We continue to pray for the other two and for Heaven’s blessings on all of them. I figure if a dad doesn’t pray for his children, chances are no one is going to. So I pray.

The first entry in that journal was January 14, 1990. March 6, 2001, was the last day. By the time I ended the journaling, I had filled the 50th book. They take up the entire bottom shelf of one of the bookcases in my study at home. These volumes record every sermon I preached for over 10 years as well as the details of our family life and all the major incidents in the first decade of my pastoral ministry at Kenner. My grandchildren will someday want to open the appropriate volume and read about their births. It’s all there.

The last item for the final day’s entry was a note about the worship services the previous Sunday, March 4. My son Neil had presented a one-man drama of Peter giving his testimony of Jesus. The note says: “Very very good.” And then this: “He practiced in front of the kids last night without telling them what he was doing.” (Grant would have been almost 7 and the twins just over 4.) “They listened intently and Erin said, ‘You walked on water!!'” (Even at age 4, she was perceptive.)

In former days, lots of people seemed to have kept journals. Now almost no one does. I suppose in some ways, blogs are journals in that they record so much of the events of our daily lives. However, a blog does not fill the role of a private journal. A journal is your own record of what you want to remember about the day’s activities. It exists for no one except yourself as a rule.

At the very least, even if you do not do as I did and devote the last half-hour of every day to journaling, no matter how tired I was, one would do well to have such a blank book handy in order to jot down significant events from time to time.

If you have to confront a church member or discipline a staffer, when the session ends, you should write it up and keep the account in a safe place. You never know when you might need it.

If the church business meeting dealt with a weighty matter on which people were divided, you’ll want to make sure that adequate records were kept and that the minutes were later presented to the congregation and approved.

If the visitor in your office threatened you in any way–to have you fired, to work for your termination, to oppose your leadership–write down the conversation exactly as you recall it the moment he/she leaves. You never know.

You’re not allowed to tape someone in your office without their knowledge, but a written record of the conversation jotted down immediately afterward carries a great deal of weight and authenticity if the matter should ever come to light.

Financial transactions should always be backed up with the necessary paperwork. On my daily calendar, I note the beginning mileage on my automobile for that day as well as appointments and meetings. When I rotate my tires or change the oil, it goes on the calendar for that day. At the end of the year, all of that is dropped into my tax files. If it’s ever needed, it will be available.

Not long ago, I ran across an article where the writer was promising to make any reader famous in the future. Guaranteed to work, he said. No question about it. His suggestion was simply for the reader to start keeping a daily journal.

“Write the mundane stuff of your daily life,” he advised. “Future historians can get all the big events from newspapers and such. But the trivia of your own existence–what you ate, where you went, the movies you saw and what you thought of them, the conversations you had on important matters, medical matters and the treatments/prescriptions, the crises faced by your family members–all of this will be fascinating reading by a future generation.”

The writer added, humorously, “You’ll not be around to enjoy the fame, but your descendants will certainly know your name.”

Someone once said that a journal should be directed toward one’s grandchildren or even their children. Your own children will have lived through much of what you cover and will not find it remotely interesting, but in the distant future, this will be a personal history from someone they are connected with.

That’s a good reason, I suppose, for journaling, but it has never been mine. My reasoning is simply that you never know when keeping good records may ride to your rescue and save your hide!

3 thoughts on “LEADERSHIP LESSON NO. 39–“Keep Good Records, a Journal Even.”

  1. Joe: I kept a journal of my activities during the last 20-25 years. It was not detailed. Just facts about what I did in relation to my activities with and for the church. Records of visits, with whom I spoke, visited in the hospital, and a record of meetings attended, funerals, weddings conducted, study time,mileage, and well you get the idea.

    My records helped me very much on one occassion when a Deacon said I had not visited his stepmother in the nursing home. I went to a Deacons meeting that they had called and were having it without me. I heard about it. I went into the meeting, pulled out my record and said here are the dates I visited the particular person if anyone is interested. The man who had confronted me said,”Oh that is not important now”.

    I then left the meeting.

    In the last several years when we were encouraged to keep good records by our Baptist State Annuity Rep. I did so. Each month I would give a daily account of my activities to the church. I was careful not to disclose any information about what was said. In the last church I Pastored it helped me get a raise. After the Pastoral Committe had read a few of those one said, “I did not know how much a pastor really did in his work”, or something similar. The commitee recommended a raise and it was passed by the church. I still have most of those record books and many of my statements to the the church.

    It has been valuable and helped me understand what I was really doing.

  2. Brother Joe,

    I am very much in favor of keeping a journal of the day’s events for work as well as for personal time.

    As a librarian, I’m very concerned about what happens to blogs when the blogger decides to end the blog. If they stop because they are tired of blogging, then I have encouraged them to keep the blog up for a while so that people who have viewed it will have time to look at their favorite posts and know what has happened to the blog. If they just pull the blog, then a great deal of wonderful writing and thinking is lost to the reader. I hope you have given thought to saving whatever is on your blog in some format that is permanent. When technology changes, and it will, it would also be good to be able to move to the new technology.

    The paper journals that you have kept seem to be safe, but I was at a garage sale about 20 years ago and saw an entire lifetime of research sold by the family who didn’t know the value of what they were selling. Those journals need to be very well labeled (or described) so that your descendants will know what they are about.

    Keep posting, journaling, and thinking. It benefits many people!

    William McMullin

  3. Joe,

    I have kept a journal for years. Each year I buy a new day book to write down each days activities. However, I now have a file cabinet drawer full of the last 25 or 30 years of my life. And I always wonder who would be interested after I am gone? I have a feeling it will all be trashed. But, you are correct about it being a good record for personal reasons. I can always look back and see when I did a certain thing or went to a certain place.

    Rita Pope

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