How to Keep From Dying Inside (When Your Church is Stagnant)
Some of you won’t relate to this clergyman’s “dirty little secret” at all. But some of you may.
Pastor Jack lowered the back of the recliner just a bit more. 4:00 PM Saturday afternoon. ESPN interviewing Tiger Woods. Hard to enjoy it though, even though he liked Tiger. Hadn’t got started on his Sunday sermon yet. Ugh. Maybe he could get something off the internet.
“What’s the point,” he thought to himself. “Not going to make a difference anyway.”
Pastor Jack’s dirty little secret?
He gave up on his church a long time ago. He didn’t quit pastoring, he just lost hope. Now he goes through the motions. Coasts as much as he can. Does what he has to do. That’s it.
A few more years until retirement and a lot more time on the golf course. That’s his vision for the future.
I’m not criticizing Pastor Jack. Fact is, he came to this assignment full of high hopes. Sure, it was a smaller church but he was ok with that. There still are things that can be done to make an impact.
Over time, though, it sank in. This congregation was entrenched in lethargy, committed to the status quo, aggressively passive. Nothing he could do would change that. For various reasons – maybe legitimate – he decided to stay anyway.
Then, Pastor Jack allowed something terrible to happen. It wasn’t an affair nor scandal of any nature. No, much simpler: he allowed himself to die inside.
Last week I published the blog article I Want to Change… But My Church Does Not. It suggested a couple of strategies you can use with a church that is resistant to change but also raised the possibility that you may have to consider leaving.
Here’s the part I left out – your church may not respond rapidly to the idea of changing. Yet, you like Pastor Jack may not want – or may not feel the spiritual release – to leave.
By the way, I’ve seen scores of clients in my counseling office with a similar dilemma. Their spouse makes life difficult. Dreams of a blissful marital relationship crumble into the harsh reality that the spouse will not change anything. Still, my client decides not to leave the marriage. The therapeutic question then becomes, “How do I manage to make the best life possible for myself?”
Sounds dreary but people do find ways to make the best of their situation! I see it happen all the time.
So how do you keep your enthusiasm for life and ministry high in face of trying to push an immovable boulder uphill?
Allow me to turn to a perhaps unlikely scripture and see if we can apply it.
In the famous “spiritual warfare” passage of Ephesians 6, Paul proposes that some situations call for pure, plain endurance:
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 6:13 NIV)
My point here isn’t that your congregation is evil! I’m simply saying that in some circumstance, after you’ve done all you can, you simply must persist.
No, that’s not easy. But a way to remain alive and vibrant exists.
Paul’s strategy starts with attending to your personal spiritual development. (That’s my take on “putting on the full armor of God”.)
In fact, you’re going to need to do a lot of praying. Paul goes on to urge his readers to “…pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” (Ephesians 6:18 NIV)
Finally, don’t allow your small-minded congregation to make you small-minded! If you stay and they won’t change, you can still find creative outlets for your passion to reach out to the wider world:
Serve as a part-time hospital, prison or police chaplain
Ask God to give you at least one “disciple” to take under your wing to mentor and develop
Commit yourself to periodic short-term mission trips (and invite church members to come along – the experience could very possibly help “unfreeze” some attitudes!)
Develop yourself as a free-lance devotional writer, if that’s your bent
Find other creative ways to personally express your love for Christ to people in your community such as periodically working in a shelter for the hungry and homeless
In short, discipline yourself to stay spiritually vibrant. Allow yourself to find other outlets for your spiritual passion.
Then, trust God to use your faithfulness year in and out to inspire and ultimately create the change your heart desires.
How many pastors do you know suffering from this kind of dirty little secret? Am I on the right track? What do you think about my suggestions for coping?
Pastor Jack, if you’re reading, I know the spark still burns. Regardless of your situation, you can fan it into flame again!
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