Lately I have had a number of conversations pertaining to the difficulty of working inside the Church “machine”. I have always felt as if we over complicate “taking” the Gospel to those in need. That feeling always made it difficult to reconcile how we “do” church with the light Yoke Jesus spoke of. Then a friend said something that helped close the gap. He said, “In order to ‘do’ church the way we’ve always done traditional church, you just have to be okay with it chewing up and spitting out members of your congregation.” He suggested one in every twenty church volunteers will be used to exhaustion, experience burn out and leave church. Typically they will leave jaded, cynical and hurt.
His point was that if you plan to run your church the way “we always have,” then you have to be “okay” with that consequence as a part of the business of church. Obviously a pastor would never verbalize it that way, or even go into starting a church with that mentality. But there is an underlying and unconscious acceptance that it is going to happen and you have to be fine with it.
If Pastors Burn-out
To be fair, i was not able to validate the 1 in 20 statistic. What I was able to find were numbers for Pastor “burnout” rates. Multiple articles stated that 1500 pastors leave their ministries every MONTH due to burnout, conflict or moral failure. If that is the number of pastors, think about the number of congregants that do a lot of the ground level production work on any given Sunday. With those pastor numbers and their ratio to the number of volunteers, 1 in 20 does not seem so absurd. Even without the reports and statics, my anecdotal evidence to support that assertion is based on watching so many people leave the church, hurt, tired and jaded, because they felt like The Church only wanted to use them for their own agenda. The collective feeling is that the church exploited their talents and willingness to give to and serve.
Surely this is not how it was meant to be. Every time I think about this, I am drawn back to what Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
This is not an invitation to come and do nothing. This is an invitation to those that have been trying to be good enough. It is an invitation to those wearied by religious work; to those who are heavy burdened from having labored in the function of religion. This is not an invitation out of work, but rather one into better, more life giving work. Jesus is talking about putting on a yoke, which has everything to do with work. He is telling us that His ministry and His work, though it requires much of us, is nowhere near the burden we are experiencing inside of the system of religion we have built.
Work of the Ministry
I think many of us have misinterpreted what doing the “work” of ministry really is. Historically the Church has required much in the way of “task completion” from its workers. Often times that expectation is to the point of over-working the saints. To me it seems clear that the yoke Jesus was talking about comes in the form of life spent together with others. Living with people is hard. It draws out every emotion and requires much of our time and resources. But living with people is not “work” in the way that the Church has defined it. Instead, it is Gospel work and is far lighter a burden than perfectly executing a weekly program that 3000 people depend on.
Do Church or Be Church
Please do not think that I am throwing out traditional or institutional church, I am not. I am for the communal gathering of the Saints. And, I believe that there are those that God has called to fulfill specific pastoral offices and even lead those communal gatherings. Gathering is both biblical and vital to our relationship with each other and God. However, I do not think our Sunday productions are what Jesus was talking about when He said “light burden.” Right before Jesus talked about His easy yoke, He talked about knowing the Father. That is the work He was talking about, the work of introducing people to Him so that they would know The Father. This is done in community with others. This is done by being in the world. When we live among and love and serve our neighbors, as Jesus commanded, we are doing His work. He calls us to put on His light yoke because we were built for a ministry that is focused on loving each other, loving God and loving our neighbor through relational living. As we pour into other Saints, and allow them to pour into us, with the love of Christ, we tend to stay more full. In that way we are far better equipped for the work of the ministry.
Some Are, Many Aren’t
Again, I am not suggesting that God does not call some to work in church buildings on Sunday mornings. But we ought to be careful in billing this as THE main avenue for service or doing the work of Jesus. While God may call some Saints to “work” on Sunday mornings, so many more are not. Looking over the church landscape, convinces me more and more that we have complicated the burden and yoke of Jesus to the point of exhausting the workers. Surely Jesus did not intend for His followers to burn-out in their carrying of His Gospel. Because that would go against His promise of abundant life (John 10:10) and easy yoke. In the end what remains is the guarantee that when we figure this out, we will have healthier disciples. And healthier disciples means a healthier church.
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