May 23, 2014


A friend of mine posed this question on a forum of which we’re both a part: "post-Easter down time is a myth. Discuss."

While it would seem that the answer is in the question (at least, for his context), this is an issue I've run into on a fairly regular basis over the last six years in ministry: our churches are far too busy. If pastors - worship pastors, senior pastors, associate pastors, children's and youth pastors … those that are tasked with equipping the body for ministry (see Ephesians 4) - if we are too exhausted from doing ministry, we have on our hands a self-perpetuating problem. Pastors will never be able to find the time to equip churches for ministry if they’re too busy doing the ministry themselves, and if they never find the time to equip those same congregants for ministry, they’ll always have to do the ministry itself by themselves. Translation?

They’ll never actually lead people to do anything.

How often, in the name of “setting an example,” have pastors been over-worked to exhaustion and burnout?

Part of this is an expectations issue. Church culture can be one of the most brutal places to work because often, Christians in our country live by the expectations of the rest of our society: if you pay for something, you expect results. I pay a plumber to fix my pipes, I pay for my computer to work, I pay for good food at a restaurant, and I pay my pastors’ salaries (out of my generosity!) to do the work of ministry and make our church look good. They are the specialists; we pay them to be holy, to lead programs we like, to play the music that we like, to make us feel connected, to visit us and all of our extended family when we’re sick, to provide decent coffee on sundays, and if it’s not too much trouble, to do all of this on a salary that doesn’t require too much of a stretch on our church budget.

Yes, consumerism is a problem because our people buy into their culture instinctively - it confirms their deepest desires, that the universe culminates with their preferences and tastes; woe to the person who gets in their way. It’s all well and good to spend sermon time talking about how “the Kingdom is not about you” (and let’s be honest, we’ve all used that phrase at least a dozen times), but it’s quite another to put that philosophy into practice. People nod when you preach that, of course, assured they’re not part of THAT problem. But then, as soon as you ask them to sacrifice something in the name of Jesus for the sake of the church - a style of music they love, a sunday school program they’ve always attended, even a tradition in which they’ve never actually participated but has "always" been around - you’ll discover an entirely different congregation has been lurking beneath the surface.

Pastors, let's be totally honest: ultimately, this is at least partially our fault: we enable the dysfunction out of fear. We enable that consumerism by pandering to the fear that they will leave if we don’t do all of the things they expect of us, because if they all leave, we no longer have a salary. It’s a catch-22; we enable their consumerism by caving, but will probably be miserable, and yet chances are we may not have a job if we don’t. So we strive to maintain the “historic” programs (the ones that don’t really work but we do because we “have” to), but also recognize that as culture changes, we need to add new things to what we do, and so we’re stretched thinner and thinner and thinner. 

Remember, though: if you’re going somewhere and nobody’s following, you’re just taking a walk, but worse, if you’re an enabler, you’re really running to keep up with a herd of sheep going in the wrong direction. The idea of “leading by example” is a myth only insofar as somebody’s actually following. If nobody’s following, if you’re going in the wrong direction, it might be worthwhile to figure out why before you work yourself to a pile of bones. The movement away from consumerism is a slow, long, painful road, but if we’re honest, in the beginning the pain is mostly ours. 

But it’ll be worth it if that’s where God is going.

And we'll never know unless we withdraw from the culture and rest. We need a critical distance from the things that keep our laser focus week after week. So many of us say we're "30,000 feet" people, but in reality, we haven't had time to dream because of church budgets and counseling Mrs. Nesbit again and answering a thousand emails and worrying about that one anonymous letter and did I mention church budgets? There is so much noise in our lives; dreaming will never happen unless we actually get to sleep. And if we're really the leaders, we decide when that happens.

In order to break the cycle of consumerism, we must first choose to let it end in ourselves.

In order to do, we must first be.

Two resources for you related to this. I don't normally do this so bluntly, but frankly, this is a growing problem and it needs to be addressed, and these two authors have done so incredibly well. First, Facing Leviathan, by Mark Sayers, is a brilliant piece of writing and speaks strongly to the culture change that's currently in process regarding noise and consumerism in churches. Second, Mad Church Disease, by Anne Marie Miller, is a must-read and can be bought with the accompanying 30-day devotional Beating Burnout. Don't let this go any longer. You and your churches - and frankly, the Kingdom - deserve so much better than torched leaders pandering to consumerism. 

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