This morning, I head Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Fives “The Message”. The hip hop classic contains the well known lyric, “Don’t push me, ‘cause I’m close to the edge, I’m trying not to lose my head.”
Hearing that line made me think of the number of people I know who are continually pushing themselves to the edge of burnout. And, regardless of their field of employment, the folks around them seem to celebrate their dedication to their work.
In our American culture, we have too often celebrated workaholism. The American Church has also embraced (and often celebrated) the “sin” of busyness. We almost idolize clergy and ministry leaders who push themselves to the edge of burnout (and then ridicule them if they indeed hit the point of burnout).
Remember, busyness does not always equal effectiveness.
Some of the most effective clergy I know model a life of vocation that practices appropriate boundaries and limitations. Some of the least effective clergy I know embrace a pace of work that violates God’s boundaries and limitations. Too often, those who embody an appropriate pace of life and work are referred to as “lazy” or “not dedicated”, while those embodying a life of busyness are celebrated…even if their church is dying, their family is falling apart and their physical health is terrible.
Yes, we have too often equated busyness with effective, dedicated service. Being busy does not mean one is fulfilling “the call”. It could just mean that they are busy…and inefficient.
In the 10 Commandments, God designed patterns of rest and renewal into our way of life. Yet, when was the last time we held another accountable for violating the sabbath? When was the last time we encouraged another to utilize their allotted time off?
What if the Church began to model and encourage healthy patterns of work, play and rest? What if the Church began to treat workaholism as we do other vices?
Let’s be honest, most workaholics utilize this vice as a way to avoid working through other issues. If we stay busy, we won’t have time to deal with pain, anger, relationships, and reality.
So, what if the Church modeled a pattern of work and rest that encourages boundaries and limitations? Would we find our ministry to be more effective and efficient? What if the Church became a place of rest and renewal, rather than a place that adds to the busyness and chaos?
What if we reduced the number of activities we offer and encouraged self-care? I mean, how many times have our churches made people feel stressed, guilty or overextended because they feel it’s necessary to participate in every activity we offer?
The Church is called to be counter-cultural. One of the most counter-cultural things we could do in the US is to reject the sin of busyness.
How can we slow down and honor God’s boundaries and limitations?
This morning, I woke up to news of a mass shooting in Indianapolis. Reports have said that the shooting lasted no more than 2 minutes and left 8 people dead.
This Sunday, there will be clergy who speak about America’s obsession with guns.
Some will speak in favor of stricter gun control.
Some will say “They are coming for our guns. Next, they’ll come for our churches. You better go buy some guns this week.”
Some will remain silent.
I’m not preaching this week, so I’m typing a blog post! Honestly, it takes a great deal of courage for pastors to speak in favor of stricter gun control from the pulpit. Pastors who speak to this issue (or post blogs or social media posts) will be told they need to “stick to the Bible and stay out of politics.” So, many weigh the risks and ask, “is it worth the amount of pushback to speak truth to power?”
I’ve already started seeing posts on social media saying, “guns aren’t the problem, people are the problem.” However, the gun was the weapon of mass destruction in this and so many other gun-related deaths. So, what do we do with that? Maybe if people are the problem, stricter gun control would make it more difficult for the wrong people to own guns.
Do we have a people problem? Of course, ever sense the creation of human beings there has been a people problem.
Do we have a gun problem? Absolutely.
A CBS new report shared that “Americans are 10 times more likely to be killed by guns than people in other developed countries, a new study finds. Compared to 22 other high-income nations, the United States’ gun-related murder rate is 25 times higher.”
Again, we have a gun problem.
Now, let me be clear, I don’t want to take your guns away. I know plenty of responsible gun owners.
However, I do believe it should be more difficult to purchase a weapon than it is for me to make a withdrawal from my savings account.
It would be easier for me to legally purchase a gun today than it is to renew my drivers license, get health or life insurance, get a library card or purchase my allergy medicine. I’m sorry, but something is wrong with that scenario.
Common sense gun control continues to be opposed by many avid 2nd Amendment supporters. For me, there is a red flag that is immediately raised when people don’t think it should be increasingly difficult to purchase firearms.
If one is a responsible citizen, stricter gun control shouldn’t present a problem.
It’s interesting to me that gun control is a divisive issue in the Church. Jesus didn’t live, die and live again in order to protect our 2nd Amendment rights. Jesus didn’t die in order to provide us with the right to gun ownership. And, yet, the way some people of faith talk about guns and the 2nd Amendment reveal that we have a new idol…guns!
In my denominatioin (the United Methodist Church), congregations are urged to “advocate for laws that prevent or reduce gun violence, such as: universal background checks on all gun purchases; ensuring all guns are sold through licensed gun retailers; prohibiting gun purchases for those under restraining order due to threat of violence and those with serious mental illness who pose a danger to themselves and their communities; ensuring greater access to services for those with mental illness; establishing a minimum age of 21 years for a gun purchase or possession; banning large capacity ammunition magazines and weapons; promoting new technologies to aid law-enforcement agencies to trace crime guns and promote public safety.”
Again, I’m not advocating for the removal of guns. However, I do believe in stricter gun control.
I’ve heard it said that in any gathering (especially a church gathering), there are most likely people present who have caused you harm. Through their words, actions, silence or inaction, there are people who have either intentionally or unintentionally caused you harm.
When this takes place within the church, it presents an interesting challenge. When the church gathers, we often hear messages about love, grace, mercy, compassion, forgiveness and reconciliation. Yet, because we are human, there are times we fail to live up to the call and cause one another harm.
The question I’ve often wrestled with is, “how do we seek reconciliation in an environment like that?” How do we practice the ministry of reconciliation with those who have caused us harm?
To be honest, I’m often a stick in the mud. I’m set in my ways. I don’t want to change. I don’t want to adjust. I don’t want to seek forgiveness and reconcilation. I want others to change. I want others to adjust. I want others to seek forgiveness and reconciliation.
The more I study Scripture, the more I recognize God’s call to love and grace. The longer I follow in the way of Jesus, the more clearly I hear the call of Jesus…”Don’t be a stick in the mud, Jason!”
I think it was Albert Tate who said, “Stop defending your position and start listening to the heartbeat of God.”
The reason we are sticks in the mud who cause one another harm is because we are spending more time defending our positions than following the lead of Jesus.
My non-believing friends are the first to tell me…”Jesus was all about love, peace and grace. But, you Christians seem to be all about judging others and telling us all how lost we are.” Their critque may be a stereotype, unfortunately it’s all too true.
The church is unfortunately not all that different from the surrounding culture. The body of believers should embody unity (not uniformity, but unity). However, we are known more and more by our division and hostility over issues of race, politics, and economics.
My prayer is that we will stop being sticks in the mud and focus on being people of love, grace, mercy, compassion and empathy.
There is a quote often attributed to Albert Einstein that defines insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
If one is familiar with the Church in America, one might assume that Christian leaders have rejected this definition of insanity.
For far too long, Christian leaders and churches have been committed to “doing the same thing over and over” while “expecting different results.” Let’s be honest, some of the rejection of the observation attributed to Einstein would be his position as a theoretical physicist (the rejection of science and common sense is an unfortunate source of pride for many within the Church).
For years, pastors, church staff and volunteers have attended conferences and listened to podcasts that encourage finding new methods to communicate the message. I would argue that our methods really haven’t changed. We continue to do the same things, but dress them up in different clothes. Our gatherings still have music, sermons, Scripture readings, offerings, etc.
So, I wonder, do we need to stop trying to do things differently and just focus on doing different things?
The Church has been so focused on doing things differently that we really haven’t attempted to do different things. And, if we’re being honest, so much of what we refer to as “new” or “different” has already been done.
Or maybe it isn’t that we need to do different things, but we’ve had the wrong idea of what it means to do things differently?
Too often, our ideas of “doing things differently” are narrowly defined as adding a contemporary service, wearing blue jeans, calling our Bible studies by different names (“Life Group” seems to be popular), or embracing whatever the latest fade or gimmick that is being pushed by the so-called experts. Maybe those things work, but are we reaching “new” people or are we just stealing sheep? For some congregations, these minor changes to the methodology of ministry have been seen as major (even causing some churches to split).
Church experts continue to point out the rise of those who claim no religious affiliation while those claiming to be Christian declines. What that reveals to us is that all the things we’ve believed would be the answer were not the answer. While we’re dressing the message up in different clothes, we’re still losing ground.
I doubt those who are currently not interested in our churches will be drawn to our church because we have cool lights, a fog machine, beautiful stained glass, a worship leader with skinny jeans, a pastor with a robe, leaders with lots of product in their hair or our own app.
Maybe doing things differently means narrowing down what we do in order to do it better.
Maybe instead of trying to “be all things to all people” we could clearly define our ethos and let that guide us.
Maybe we should spend less time focusing on Sunday morning and more time focusing on how we live out our beliefs throughout the week.
Maybe instead of focusing on Sunday morning gatherings we should be focusing on how we are serving our community in practical and tangible ways.
Maybe if those outside the church could actually see the church being the hands and feet of Jesus they would be drawn in…maybe not into the church, but to serve alongside us?
Maybe people would be drawn to a church where the pastors are “real” and “authentic” rather than those who appear “polished” and present an image that they don’t really live up to.
Maybe they are looking for fellow church goers who are willing to admit that they don’t have it all figured out, that they have doubts, that they fall short, that they yell “damn it” when they hit their thumb with a hammer or “shit” when they fall while shoveling the driveway.
Maybe they’ve grown tired of the Christian religious show, but would be open to exploring Christianity with people who are willing to let their guard down.
Maybe instead of investing in our buildings we should be investing in our community.
Maybe we should focus on what really matters, especially to those we desire to reach.
Too often, what we think matters doesn’t really matter to those we desire to reach. I’ve recently been reminded that some of the issues we get so worked up about inside the walls of the Church are the source of our irrelevance to emerging generations.
In my own denomination, we have been having a conversation (which is really just a polite way of saying “argument”) for decades regarding issues of human sexuality. My own children have asked why that’s even an issue. My youngest recently said, “I don’t know why you all talk about that. Shouldn’t everyone be accepted at church?”
Every single time Franklin Graham has made a comment in the last year, I’ve found myself wanting to post something along the lines of, “Franklin Graham does not speak or me” or “Not all Christians are like Franklin Graham.” Then, I remember that most of my non-Christian friends (the ones I’m most worried will associate me with the likes of Franklin Graham or John Piper or Pat Robertson or Jim Bakker) don’t actually know or care to know who Franklin Graham is.
Now, in totally honest and open transparencey, the majority of my ideas of “doing different things” really just fall into the category of “doing things differently”. I’m so entrenched in the church world that it’s hard to separate myself from “the way we’ve always done it.”
With that, if we really want to reach those we aren’t currently reaching, we need to be having conversations with them. We don’t need to have a room full of the already saved, lifetime members deciding what we need to do to reach those beyond our walls. We need to have a room full of the “I don’t care about the Church” types informing us about what matters to them, what kind of activities they would join, where they are already serving in the community and then show up where God already is at work.
We Christians have a hard time showing up where God is already at work. Too often, we see awesome things happening in our community – but if they aren’t Christian or affiliated with our particular denomination (or our non-denominational theological perspective), we decide that we have to create our own Christianized version.
And, let’s be honest, the Christianized version is usually a cheap knock-off. Just listen to the Christian radio station or look at some Christian art websites and you’ll know what I mean. Could it be that, rather than Christian music, we need Christians in music? Could it be that rather than Christian art, we need Christian artists?
If there is a community group doing great work for justice in the community, we don’t have to start our own Christian version – we could just bring Christians to join the work being done. If there is an awesome urban farm feeding the hungry, we don’t have to start our own Christian version – we could just bring Christians to pull weeds, plant seeds, harvest and distribute the crops. If there is a great trivia night in the community, we don’t have to start our own Christian version – we could just form some Christian teams to join the fun.
So, maybe it’s difficult to determine whether or not we are “doing things differently” or “doing different things.” The bottomline is this, if we truly desire to reach those beyond our walls, we need to start thinking like those we desire to reach.
In a recent sermon, I referred to the following statement made by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
If you want to know what a world that fails to evaluate others through the lens of character, just look around.
I am fully convinced that the failure to expect our leaders to hold the highest levels of moral and ethical character reveals that we have lost our way.
In an effort to gain power and control, many have forsaken the litmus test of character and integrity.
The rise of leaders who lack integrity and character has been evenly paced with the rise of lies, misinformation, conspiracy theories and disunity. And, because the office of leadership is generally one that can be trusted, many buy into the lies. The ability to identify truth, through the crafty deception of intentional misinformation, is lacking in this type of environment.
As followers in the way of Jesus, we are to judge one another through the lens of fruit. Are we producing good or bad fruit? Our fruit is part of our character and integrity.
We may recall that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). This should be our litmus test. If these things are lacking, there’s a good chance character will also be absent.
Of course, no one is perfect. Therefore, we begin to justify character flaws in ourselves and others.
Around election time, we hear, “We’re not electing America’s pastor.” Honestly, if someone’s lack of character or integrity would disqualify him/her from leadership in a local church, I’m not sure we should attempt to justify his/her leadership in any elected office.
The amount of things we are willing to overlook and excuse in order to get our candidate elected is alarming.
Again, no one is perfect. But, character still matters.
A refusal to accept truth is dangerous. A refusal to accept reality is dangerous. A refusal to humbly admit that we are wrong is dangerous. A refusal to tell the truth is dangerous.
And, it all stems from a lack of character and integrity.