"How big is the chip on your shoulder?"
The question was directed toward our opinion of "traditional" church and it's a good one! It's a valid inquisition because it is based on a common scenario—burnout often leads to blame and bitterness. If you've read Our Story, you can see we've experienced some intense ministry fatigue in the past and our approach moving forward doesn't resemble the form of church described so well as the "Evangelical Industrial Complex." Is this because we're bitter? Or is it because we deeply desire something better?
An Unnecessary Comparison
"Different" is by nature a negative comparison. It implies that "One of these things is not like the other." But being different has never been our agenda. We're not reformers. We're believers. We believe that Jesus was who He said He was and that His ways are worth following. "Are we like Jesus?" is the only comparison that matters.
The Jesus' Method
In Mark 1, we observe the launch of Jesus' earthly ministry. There's an easy-to-follow progression in this chapter—Jesus' baptism, wilderness journey, announcement message, the calling of the first disciples, and crowds gathered everywhere He went. Wouldn't it have made sense to stay where the crowds were and start a mega organization right then and there?
Instead, Jesus moves on, preaching about a "Kingdom" unlike earthly kingdoms, taking His disciples with Him on a mind-bending journey where they would be transformed and prepared to carry the movement forward. It's obvious, Jesus' methods were very different from both the institutional paradigms of His day and ours.
We Have A Problem
It is with deepest love and concern for God's people that we confess "We have a problem." Actually, we have a few! But let's look at one making recent headlines with the likes of Perry Noble removed from his post due to "moral failing" and Pete Wilson stepping down due to "burnout" both while at the height of ministerial "success." (Both wonderful guys by the way.) The cold-hard truth is that Pastors in the "Evangelical Industrial Complex" just aren't lasting! Why?
Systems Not Individuals
"I believe in personal responsibility." some are quick to say. They proceed to pick apart each leader who didn't measure up to expectation, making judgments about their character and rationalizing their demise. But if the issues are so common for so many, wouldn't it be astute of us to begin asking questions about the system instead of focusing on individual blame? I believe in personal responsibility too. But I also believe that if the "well" is contaminated, it isn't helpful to blame those drinking from it for having weak stomachs.
What is the system that supports the behavior of the individuals within it? What are the social context and cultural framework that lead to the consistent behavioral patterns? If we are finding multitudes of Pastors incapable of continued ministry, either due to burnout or moral failing, then shouldn't we be asking questions about the system they're falling out of?
The Spiritual Landscape
Let's face it. Our generation has been deeply influenced by decades of mass market consumerism. We've understood that our lives are defined by our needs and wants and that these should be supplied by the system around us. We are the center of a universe that owes us "happiness."
This has affected our theological perspectives. If there is a god and we behave well, then he/she/it has a responsibility to provide us with what we want and need. (UNC Professor Christian Smith calls this Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.) The greatest entitlement of our generation is the belief that “I should be happy.” It is not surprising then that Christians affected by the prevailing mindset look at the church as bearing a responsibility for "meeting my needs." Church then becomes transactional, not familial.
The Transactional Church
Being "relevant" has been a hot topic for the church. I'm glad! We want our message to make sense to our hearers. The message shouldn't change but our methods have to! However, I suspect we've drifted dangerously toward altering the message itself in our attempts to possess mass appeal. We simply cannot embrace consumerism and materialism while also embracing the values and vision of the Kingdom of God!
Mike Breen spoke to this directly in a recent podcast...
Where the church (especially the megachurch model) has failed is that there has been an uncritical acceptance of this mass-market consumeristic mentality....
We 'go to church' to receive religious goods and services.
The places where we see the most cases of pastoral burnout or "fall," are the places where this prevalent consumeristic mindset goes least challenged.
Pastors are placed in an elite position and status where they are looked to as the primary dispensers of what is wanted and needed. They themselves become an offering to the consumption of the masses. And as they are consumed, they find themselves needing to somehow escape the voracious appetite of the beast to which they've been thrown. They are mind, body, spirit and soul offered up week after week to a hungry monster whose appetite is never satiated.
Eventually, these Pastors find themselves out on the edge, abstracted from reality, adopting a position within a celebrity culture. Before long, they become idols within a system hell-bent on drawing us away from the true God. No wonder their souls are hungry and their hearts cry out. For if they are to fall or fail, they will become a burnt offering to judgment, devoured by the very beast they've been feeding.
Listen, we are not here to cast judgment or blame! We are directly questioning the acceptance of a system within the church that stands contrary to our gospel. We are sick and we think it's time we asked, "Why are we unwell?"
Where Do We Go From Here?
At L24 Collective, we've committed to a way of life that rejects religious consumerism and seeks to build authentic and purposeful relationships—a community following Jesus, living in the world for the sake of the world. (Read "Together In Every Season.") From our inception, we've sought to pattern our group's rhythms with these priorities in mind.
"Well, that's great for you L24 people. What about the rest of us?"
Just meditate on Jesus' words for a moment...
- What does following Jesus look like in the context of this statement?
- How can we make this pursuit a collective one instead of an individual/me-centered one?
- Is there anything (a mentality, a system, etc.) that needs to be left behind in order to pursue this?
- If you're involved in local church leadership already, how can you begin to lovingly and constructively help your spiritual family take simple steps toward health and wholeness?