After burning out, would I ever lead again?

I’ve been in church leadership since 1990, and full time staff from 2000 to 2009 when I was forced to resign due to depression and anxiety. Would I lead again? Up until now, I would have refused to even contemplate the idea. But my wife just came home after attending church – my former church, fuming about things like hypocrisy, in-authenticity, and PR bullshit (we’ve been made a scapegoat for anything that was bad about church) and we had a great discussion about what church could be like if we could start with a blank slate.

If this burned out, back-from-the-brink pastor could dream a little dream, it would go something like this:

If a pastor didn’t have a budget to meet, rosters to fill, attendance wasn’t measured, and behavior modification wasn’t on the radar, then I reckon it would be a ball. We would be free to do what we’re gifted for.

One caveat would be that I would not be paid – and therefore not full time and not on staff. I don’t think I would even have anyone “reporting” to me in any official capacity, and I definitely wouldn’t have a job description. I would do what I am gifted and led to do and what I’m passionate about. That beautiful little sector where the circles of gifts, strengths and passion overlap is where I’d live.

I’d think more about following Jesus than leading others. I would let Him lead them and remain only a catalyst.

I’d think more about two-way conversations than preaching messages at or to people.

I’d focus more on relationships, than productivity and efficiency.

I would hasten slowly.

I would concern myself more with journeys than destinations.

I would be brutally honest and leave PR spin to politicians, salesmen and con artists.

The life of the church would not revolve around me. I would not be the primary vision caster or motivator. I would allow people to get their own vision from God.

The church wouldn’t be exclusive. It would be a place for followers or non-followers alike.

Relationships with God and others, underpinned by love and acceptance would be the highlight.

Being would take priority over doing.

We wouldn’t own buildings or take on any debt.

The Sunday Service would not be the peak spiritual experience of the believers week.

The arts would have equal place with the spoken word.

Busyness would be a swear word.

I would not burn people out volunteering.

People would be more important than things, issues, ideas, structures, programs, productions, goals or causes.

I would tell stories. God’s story. My stories and others’ stories.

Yes it’s just a fantasy and no I don’t think this will ever happen, but there’s nothing wrong with dreaming is there? Some like Small Boat Big Sea are at least heading in the right direction. A transcript of an interview with them really gives me hope.

Why church is irrelevant, and what to do about it

Yesterday and the day before I attended training by Partners in Depression, a new initiative which is setting up support groups in every state of our country to educate and equip carers of depression sufferers. The course was absolutely tremendous and I’ll tell you more in the days to come.

Today I wanted to tell you that I subscribe to communications guru Tim Schraeder’s updates and I just can’t say it any better!

“I’m sorry to say it so harshly but it’s true… no one cares about your church. Look at recent polls, church attendance, or even watch the news and it’s fairly obvious… people don’t care about the church or what we have to say anymore. Here’s what he had to say recently:

We’ve lost credibility for some legitimate reasons. And don’t chalk me up to being a church basher, I passionately care about the church, I’m just saying what’s true and what some of us might not want to admit.

The Church has moved from the center of our Western culture and while some fight to keep it in the public square others of us are realizing the greatest way we can impact culture is by being on the periphery.

Christianity at its core has always been about counter-cultural, so why in the world do we try to be perceived as being relevant by looking just like the culture around us?

We’ve cheapened the Gospel by trying to be accepted at a great cost. The emerging generation can see right through the charade. We’ve created a machine out of what was always meant to be a movement.

We’ve organized something that was meant to be organic. We’ve franchised something that was meant to be localized. We’ve put CEOs in the seats of what was meant to be a spiritual office and treated salvation like a commodity. We made an idol out of our methods.

And to try and fix everything we’ve thought marketing it to look like a cheap version of everything else in culture was a good idea. Here’s two truths: people don’t like the church and people don’t trust advertising. Why use a mechanism people don’t trust to promote something they don’t care about?

I’m not trying to paint a picture of gloom and doom, I am just saying it how it is. I have great hope for the Church and believe that it does matter and believe the church has a great future ahead of it… we’ve just got to make some adjustments.

I think we have a great new opportunity to reintroduce Jesus, the Gospel and the Church to a world and culture that has been weary of what they’ve seen and heard. The next generation is tired of gimmicks they want something real and authentic. They want to be known. They want community. They want a sense of belonging. They want to be a part of something that is bigger than themselves. They want to be significant.

They want to be a part of the Church they read about in Acts but have only seen poor reflections of in today’s world. More than anything they want to give themselves to cause that is greater than they are.

Why do you think movements like TOMS Shoes, To Write Love on Her Arms, LIVESTRONG, charity: water, the one campaign or any of the big social movements that are out there today exist and have so much popularity? They are all doing great work and doing tremendous good, yes. But they are telling a compelling story. They are giving people the opportunity to make a difference. They give people the chance to do something that matters. They are sadly, doing the work the church has been neglecting.

When you really care about what people care about things happen. When churches rally around the needs of their communities and are actually outward focused, truly living for something outside of themselves, that’s when change happens and that is when the church matters in culture.

To truly care about the things that matter to people is to truly live out the Gospel. God is all about people. And what matters to people matters to God. We’ve been too focused on ourselves, our numbers, our growth, our success, and at the expense of a generation that’s looking for a cause to believe in and give themselves to.

I can’t think of a better cause to give my life to than the cause of the local church and I think while we live in a culture that doesn’t care about church we have an amazing opportunity to redefine what church means and what it means to be a follower of Christ.

When we sing or pray the words break my heart for what breaks Yours, we are really asking God to allow us the opportunity to see the world through His eyes. We’ll never earn the right to be heard in culture by screaming on street corners or by having a slick ad campaign. We earn the right to be heard by caring about the things that people care about and ultimately the things the move the heart of God.

Stop trying to promote and market your church. It hasn’t been working and it won’t. Stop trying to make people care about something they’ve already decided isn’t worth their time or attention. Start listening. Start looking around you. Listen to the cries of people in your community and start responding with the love of Christ. See through His eyes. Earn the right to be heard. Be Jesus hands and feet. Do good. Care about what people care about. Be Jesus and the Church to your community.

The Church isn’t an organization or a building, it’s people. When you truly care about what people care about and prove it, people will care about you and what you have to say.”

Thanks for saying it so well Tim!

subscribe to email updates from TimSchraeder.com

Christians of the future will be mystics or will not exist at all

I just read a fantastic article by Carl McColman called The Hidden Tradition of Christian Mysticism
where he says;

Karl Rahner, one of the most renowned Christian theologians of the twentieth century, once famously remarked that “the Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.” For people whose experience of Christianity is, often, little more than a religion invested in obedience and in patriarchal morality, this seems to be a bold statement. After all, mysticism implies not legalistic religion, but living spirituality — heart-felt experience of the Divine, centered on a miraculous and joyful appreciation of the Spirit’s ability to heal and transform lives. Can Christianity and mysticism really co-exist?

It fascinates me that a consistent theme among burned out pastors and christians, is that they push back to Christianity’s ancient roots and themes. Even while I was burning out, I knew I was craving something deeper, more authentic and less structured and pedantic than the ABC’s of prayer and reading three chapters of the bible.

I started reading Henri Nouwen and was googling the practices of the Benedictines and chewing over the ideas of the desert fathers. I had begun to mediate and look for God within. For twenty years of my christian life, I thought that God was “out there”, but the contemplatives believed he dwelt inside of us, and that to commune with Him, we had to look within.

It all sounds a little “out there” to someone with a traditional western contemporary version of Christianity, but a quick flick through church history shows it has “always existed on the margins of the church” as McColman puts it. I mean, when you think about it, Christianity is more an eastern faith than a western one, and once the lens of western modernity is lifted, it does allow you “see” the possibilities much like seeing the 3D magic eye pictures.

He goes on to say

So mysticism is, in a very real way, Christianity’s best-kept secret. And even though some Christians of the third millennium remain suspicious of mysticism, many other Christians have begun to embrace the transforming power of such core spiritual practices as meditation, lectio divina (“sacred reading,” a meditative approach to the Bible and other wisdom texts), and contemplative prayer — the powerful form of prayer in which meditative silence is offered directly to God for the purpose of seeking and fostering deeper intimacy and communion with the Divine.

In all honesty, I think we’re all craving a deeper experience of the divine but the journey of discovery has been hijacked by an institutional, modern, western, attractional, business model of doing church, that hands us Christianity in a neat bubble-wrapped glossy package with the words on the back saying “This is guaranteed to work if you follow the following three steps to the successful Christian life”. Maybe the life of the contemplative is just what we need.

How Churches Stop Christians Being Christian

Michael Frost, professor of Evangelism and Missions at Morling College and the pastor of a radical church Small Boat Big Sea in Sydney was interviewed by ABC Radio National. Here’s what he said about how traditional churches tie up believers with doing church stuff which actually prevents them from living an authentic christian life:

“I think that churches are made up of people who mean well, and who are genuinely seeking to live out their faith…. But I’d much rather fashion something which is more organic, more relational which frees people to be able to live their faith out loud, and large, and in a dynamic fashion, rather than kind of squeezing into a mould where six days a week they’re one thing and then on Sundays they’re another thing. ….some churches can simply, by their structure, fashion this separation between the sacred Sunday meetings and then the rest of life, I’m pretty critical of that. I’d love to see us start to unleash hundreds and thousands of followers of Jesus who are able to follow Jesus in all of life, not just say in a worship meeting.

I’ve been going on this journey for a long time. I’ve been the pastor of some traditional-style churches in the past, but I guess it was just a growing dis-ease that I found that it was as though the structure of church, as I just mentioned before, was operating against all the best intentions in the world. I mean, I would speak to people in my churches about the need for us to be generous, and hospitable, and to live our lives in close relationship with those who don’t necessarily attend church, to be committed to the poor and to the environment, to practice hospitality, I never get anybody say to me, “Oh, Michael, I don’t think we should do that.”

I mean everyone will agree with you, but the requirements of sustaining a lot of the institutional style Christianity actually draws people out of their world. It makes them too busy to be able to then practice genuine hospitality, and to partner with their neighborhoods and their communities. So I would much rather disassemble some of that, free people up, give them more time to be able to actually do what I think they’re intended to do, rather than just to be on committees and to set meetings up and to run from one kind of small group meeting to the next.”

What do you think? What’s your experience been? Do you agree with the prof?

Would the Real Church Please Stand Up!

If I get together with you in Starbucks and have a coffee, is that church? If a few of our friends get online and chat about God and share our lives, is that church? Somewhere along the line the reaction to the institutional church has resulted in the “postchurch” church which is the one that happens pretty much wherever…. But is this really church?

Frank Viola writes

Three common critiques that postchurch advocates level against the institutional form of church are:

1) It breeds low commitment.

2) It feeds the consumerist, individualistic Christianity that plagues the Western church today. (In consumer Christianity, religious teachings and experiences are goods that one “buys into” by becoming a subscriber to a particular church that “sells” those goods. Religious professionals produce these religious goods, and consumers pay to keep them in business. Those who consume the same sort of religious goods are no more members of a real community than those who shop at Walmart.)

3) It produces little transformation in the lives of the people who are part of it.

Ironically, these same three critiques can be appropriately leveled at the postchurch “church.”
The postchurch breeds low commitment because there are no regular gatherings nor is there any real community life that’s consistent. (Talking to Christians on the Internent is virtual. It’s not a substitute for authentic Christian community where people’s lives are shared in Christ.)

The postchurch view also reflects the consumerist, individualism that reflects our culture. Why? Because there’s no devotion or commitment to a regular community of believers. It’s church on your own terms. Whenever you feel like it.

The truth is, the postchurch “church” is actually more convenient and easier on the flesh than virtually every other form of church.

Somewhere along the spectrum between the institutional church and the postchurch church, must be …. The Church?!?

Can anyone give me a heads up to where it’s at?