That is some title isn’t it! But read on, you never know where this will end.
By now you know that I have some eclectic reading habits. I read ‘junk novels’ for pleasure. I read a variety of religious journals and articles. I read about Fire Fighter related concerns and then I dabble in leadership material as well as current psychology and counseling related topics. Why do I start here? In the past week I have read an article about facing death from a Fire Fighter perspective. A second article about death from a church leader view. Then a couple of articles on burn out and a book I am reading about business management. (It is amazing what you can do when you retire!)
What does that have to do with the ministry I am currently engaged in? Well, let me go back a tad bit further to a Biblical figure who has been a model to me since I became a dedicated follower of Jesus Christ, Jeremiah, the prophet who saw the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians. A pivotal line is found Jeremiah 6:14, “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” What Jeremiah was seeing was a nation totally corrupt and facing God’s judgement while the religious leaders kept telling everyone that Jerusalem was God’s place and nothing bad will happen. God had delivered them in the past and he would do so again. Now, let me clarify what I am saying, I am not accusing anyone of being corrupt or evil. The men and women I know in ministry today are by and large dedicated and caring people, who genuinely want the best for their congregations and the people they serve. What seems to be missing is an awareness of what is taking place around us today. You see we are faced with changes and turmoil that we have never seen before. The rate of change that is taking place around us in culture and in the world will not be placated with a status quo approach to the world and ministry. However, a large number of religious leaders have been trained to lead a church that no longer exists. What see developing is that current pastors are not sure what to do, so we revert back to our training and worked before and work harder. Then again did you ever stop to consider the definition of insanity, it is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result. By now I think we need to start asking the question, what happens when working harder no longer produces the results it once did? What happens when working harder only makes things worse?
Maybe it is time to recognize that change is taking place and we need to embrace that change. Let me borrow a quote: “Every change in life requires adjusting to a new way of doing things, a new schedule, a new rhythm for daily life, a new set of expectations, or even a new way of relating to the people around you. Marcus Arelius believed that “Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature’s delight.” Change is inevitable, and loss is all-to regular. Some changes are easy, and other changes will bring up unexpected emotions. This is a natural part of human processing.” (Jada Hudson, “Your Relationship with Death”) Let me suggest you stop and read that again, change is natural and normal. Change is not the enemy, our response to change is what determines what is heathy or not. If we fail to recognize change, if we refuse to adapt and set a new schedule, find a new way of doing things, then we will die.! It is as simple as that. Instead what do we do? We try to find a way around the change, to maintain the status quo. Going back to that book from the world of business, the author suggests we spend too much time trying to help people get ready for change, when we need to be giving them a dose of reality and remind them that only in being nimble and ready to adapt can we grow and thrive. If you want a dose of reality on the rate of change, stop and think about that little phone you carry around in your pocket. That little machine has more computing power than was available to NASA when they put a man on the moon!
If you want to try something different to avoid burnout, and maybe along the way bring vitality back to the body of Christ, maybe it is time to go back to the book of Jeremiah. I can tell you right now that is not a popular approach (read the book of Jeremiah to find out how he fared). However, whose name has been preserved for posterity? From experience I know that following where God leads will not always make you the most popular person around (think Martin Luther, and Martin Luther King). However, when God called you to ministry did he call you to a job or to follow him? I can give you lots of prescriptions to a deal with burn out. Like trust God, pray more, read your Bible, take time off, and so on. But at the end of the day if this is just a ‘tool’ or a discipline to help you manage your life, then it will not do you any good. However, if those things, those tools and disciplines come out of a deep desire to follow God and to follow where he leads, then you will be onto something. I believe burn out comes from out attempt to manage the outcomes and to make things happen, rather than depending on the God who has been at work around us long before we arrived on the scene. Burn out is the result of self-effort and ego, rather than following Christ in mission
Let me see if I can circle around and make some sense out of my ramblings today. First of all, it is time for all of us to understand that death is a part of life! Period! Look around you, every living creature, every living thing dies at some time! You cannot avoid it, you cannot stop it, at times you can prolong life, you can postpone death, but you cannot avoid it. Death comes for all of us. The same applies to our institutions, they all have life spans. These organizations are born, they live, they die. When they die, it is time for a funeral and say goodbye. However, in that death, if we are willing to allow it, is a new way of life. I love to backpack and one thing Deb and I have been noticing lately is that raspberry bushes tend to grow best where there is a fallen pine tree! Now I love the stately pine tree, but I love good raspberries. I wonder, what God has in store for us, if we are willing to allow the death of some cherished institutions and ways of being in the world? What sweet new growth might he want to bring about? Maybe it is time to look at the New Testament, to John 15:4–5, where you will read these words of Jesus: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” What does the vine do to produce fruit? Does it strain harder, go to classes to learn new techniques and tools for growing fruit, or does it trust the vine to give it what it needs?
What does this have to do with Jeremiah? For one, while he became discouraged, and suffered a great deal, he never deviated from his message. He remained connected to the vine and indeed he did bear fruit. If you came looking for a simple solution, I am sorry to disappoint you. There is no simple way through the changes we are experiencing, except trust and abide. Trust that God has always had a witness, God has never left himself without his people, and God will maintain a witness. It is only a question of what the church of Jesus Christ will look like in the future. That future is not for us to design. It is for us to abide in Christ, to trust that the God who brought you into existence, who called you into ministry will lead you, one step at a time into the future. Along the way, you should probably get ready for a lot of funerals though as things as we know them today will not last. One last thing, while I look up and seek to emulate Jeremiah, I cannot claim divine inspiration for my view of the future. I just wonder, what would happen if we stopped preaching peace and instead prepared for change?