Baking vs. Cooking

Dr. James Emery White | Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary | Monday, June 7, 2021

Baking vs. Cooking

I had an eye-opening conversation with my oldest son the other day. He was talking about cooking for his family. I asked him how often he cooked, and he said he cooked most of the dinners—and really enjoyed it.

I was a little surprised and said, “I didn’t know you liked cooking.”

Then he dropped the line: “I do. I hate baking, but I like cooking.”

My heart sunk.

Growing up, all he ever knew was baking. That was my thing. For family day breakfasts, or Christmastime cookies, or hot fresh bread, it was always me baking with the kids. I thought to myself, You hate baking? Did that mean he had secretly hated all that time spent baking together?

But then he said: “I loved the time we spent baking together as a family and with you…”

[Whew.]

“… but baking itself isn’t my thing. Following a recipe, getting every measurement just right, cooking just the right amount of time, everything spelled out… I just don’t like it.  

“But cooking I love. I love experimenting and improvising, trying new things and seeing what comes out. Playing with spices and ingredients. Starting off with an idea and seeing what happens. Tasting and testing. Starting off not knowing exactly what you’re going to end up with. That’s fun.”

Hmmmm….

Baking vs. cooking
Order vs. freestyle  
Steps vs. inspiration  
Implementing vs. improvisation

I had never thought of it that way, much less as a metaphor for how one could go through life, much less lead.

My tendency and, if honest, orientation in terms of personality, is toward being a baker. While my thinking and research and reading is very “cooking” (eclectic and searching in nature), the result is for me to then take what I have found through cooking and bake. And to put it in recipes so that others can bake. I cook on my way there, but once I get there, I’m a baker through and through.

Not for my son, and I love that about him. Like most fathers and sons, we are simultaneously very similar and very different. Like me, Jonathan loves learning and reading, teaching and the mission of the church. Unlike me, he is an extrovert, more naturally pastoral and intuitive with people, and… a cook.

The world needs cooks. People who experiment and tinker, play and care little if it doesn’t turn out just right (at least for that one time). They begin with a playful spirit that wants nothing more than to avoid the mundane and the routine of the tried and true.  

We owe almost all of our innovation to cooks.

Yes, there is a place in the world for the baker. We are the ones who work the process and the strategy with bulldog tenacity. We may have “cooked” our way to a recipe, but once we have it, we bake it until our fingers bleed.  

While bakers run a tight ship, if they are good leaders along with their baking tendencies, they will have a very large place for cooks. It will often be cooks who bring creativity, improvisation and blue-sky thinking.  

If you are naturally a cook, then you need to open yourself up to some baking, which means to remember the goal of cooking will only serve others if it allows them to replicate what you create—in other words, help them know how to bake what you cook.

Oh, and it’s okay to bake with your kids who hate baking.

James Emery White

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I Believe” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.