Overreaching. How a Mighty Church Falls.

In Gordon MacDonald’s article How a Mighty Church Falls, he talks about research by Jim Collins (Good to Great and Built to Last) on organizational decline. One of the reasons for the decline of a great organization surprisingly, wasn’t complacency, it was hubris. A sense that because we’re good at a few things, we should be good at everything. He calls this “Overreaching” and defines it as the undisciplined pursuit of growth accompanied by the neglect of those core principles upon which an organization was originally built. It is about getting larger and larger, more and more expansive, even if it costs the organization its soul.

Overreaching is definitely an issue of today’s contemporary church and it’s the offspring of the idea of excellence. I’m not going to get started on excellence because I’ve just got too much to say on that one! Overreaching is what contributed to my burnout and it’s based on several things. I won’t unpack them too much, because naming and shaming will probably be enough to get you thinking.

1. A conquest or revival mentality. Brian McLaren discusses this well in his “A New Kind of Christian”. The idea that church is going to conquer the world and take over and be victorious isn’t much different to the conquistadors who sought world domination in the name of religion. Ours is a little more subtle obviously, so we roll our conquest ideas in a veneer of revival, even though the bible never mentions revival. Sure they happen at times in history, but they’re never sustainable, and visit any place that revival took place today and they’re usually pretty dark places. How often have you heard “we’re going to take this city in the name of Jesus”? I’ve said it. Loudly.

2. Pseudo faith, or should that be hyper faith? We’ve moved on from the “name it claim it”, “blab it grab it” kind of faith, but the idea never went away. It’s still there. You only have to listen to contemporary preaching that asks “what are you believing for? You’re insulting God if you aren’t believing for a miracle. Your God is too small, God is attracted to great faith etc. etc.” So if we are faith-filled leaders, we’ll be believing God for massive churches and we’ll preach about it and cast the vision, and come hell or high water, we’ll kill ourselves attaining it.

3. Our personal needs for identity, significance, recognition or acclaim (depending on where you’re clingling on that slippery slide). Ahhh so much we can say here right but we probably don’t have to. Personally, my identity was wrapped up in my performance. I was driven to perform so I could feel ok about myself. When our church is growing and getting bigger than other’s we feel successful, and significant. The pats on the back and acclaim of the people who attend the biggest church in town doesn’t feel too bad either. If you get big enough, you get more invitations to speak abroad and wait for it – you get to go to the green room at major conferences. This all sounds ridiculous when to me now I’m out of the system, but it all made lots of sense when I was in that little bubble.

4. Wrong theology – Living things grow. Heard that before? This theology (call it what you will) suggests that if the church is healthy it will or worse SHOULD experience limitless growth. Last time I checked, I was alive, but I’m not growing in size. Eugene Peterson is famous for saying that he’d rather pastor a small church where he could know everyone than a large one where he couldn’t know all his parishioners.

5. Consumer mentality – more is better, when sometimes less is more. We get sucked into consumerism and import its’ values into ministry and figure that bigger is better, having the latest and greatest is necessary, and we spiritualize the importance of it.

In all of this hubris, we overreach and just as Collins suggests, it does indeed cost the organization its very soul. That’s why you’ll find that if you scratch the surface of many churches who are overreaching, you’ll find angst, anxiety, tiredness, striving, desperation and burnout underneath the thin patina of faith, growth, excellence, busyness, and the whiff of victory which is always just out of reach.


“I’m soooo busy” aka “I’m special”

“Hi, how are you?”

“I am soooo busy.”

This is a common daily occurence across the world nowadays. I would love to know when it began (and where!). Responses used to be “well thank you”, “fine thank you” and the like, but I think today, the “busy” response (or the “tired” one) is probably the most common.

Have you ever tried the opposite response when someone asks how you’ve been lately? “Not busy at all. Sooo much spare time. Really relaxed.” Sounds terribly lame doesn’t it.

You see “busy” means I’m wanted. I’m useful. People are actually clamoring for my time and attention. I’m solidly booked – in fact I’m overbooked. I’m special. I’m important. I’m popular. So much implied by that little four letter word beginning with “b”.

Busyness is actually becoming a way of life. One that brings hurry, rush, stress, pressure, anxiety, speed and adrenaline into our lives and it permeates in such a way that we even rush when we don’t need to! You’ve got no idea how quickly I eat my tea, so I can get to the washing up, so I can get to the kids bedtime routine, so I can get to….  We just get caught up in it all. After all, our busyness is tied to our importance and significance, so the moment we’re not busy, we are …. well, nothing! Nobody… unimportant, useless, unpopular, and undesirable. Not really something any of us aspire to be.

The problem with busyness is it claws at our humanity. A famous study had one group of college students research the parable of the Good Samaritan – someone who stopped to help an assault victim. Following that, the group was told they immediately had a test on the subject and were already late and had to get to the examination hall.

The other group studied something totally irrelevant to the parable and were told they had plenty of time to get to their test. On the way there, a “victim” was lying on the ground nearby. The students who stopped to offer assistance were the ones who believed they had plenty of time.   Ironically the ones who studied the parable of the Good Samaritan were less likely to stop…..

Worth thinking about. Anyways, I gotta go – I’m soooo busy.

Half Time

My wife gave me “Half Time” by Bob Buford for my birthday. He owned a large cable TV company and was extremely wealthy when his only son died swimming across the Rio Grande forcing him into what he describes as half time. It’s the break between the first half of our lives and the second half.

It’s a great read. Bob has devoted his second half to helping unearth and release what he calls “latent energy” in churches.

I’m picking up some great things, but unfortunately a bit despondent right now so they’re just ideas for now. But here’s a great quote on his observation of how the church can work against discovering your “one thing” and moving from a “success” mindset to a “significance” mindset.

“The irony… is that the church has become one of those masters under which many first-halfers feel hopelessly indentured. The joy that ought to come from serving others in Christ’s name is missing because so much of what we do for the church is done out of a spirit of obligation and involves doing work that is far removed from our core competencies. And that is because, as first halfers, we have not yet discovered who we are, what we really enjoy doing, and how even the most undesirable task can be a freeing, exhilarating experience if it arises out of our core being.

For most people, church work is not like a hot-fudge sundae but is like broccoli and spinach your mother made you eat as a child”


One step forward, two back

I’ve been feeling really despondent lately. I’ve lost motivation, I feel a heavy heart. I really don’t want to do anything but hibernate. I didn’t want to go pick tomatoes this morning but went anyway. I don’t really want to force myself to do much, because I’ve found that forcing myself to do things costs me in terms of energy and authenticity… how do I know if what I’m forcing myself to do something is best for me?

I think turning 40 – something I haven’t been looking forward to – has made me think about how useless I feel again. I’m really struggling to deal with this usefulness issue. Maybe that’s just it… it needs to be dealt with. I can’t seem to decouple the issue of being and doing. I can’t seem to discover significance in who I am in Christ and the fact that I’m valuable to God regardless of what I do for Him. So, here I am, doing nothing with my life and struggling to feel like my life matters.

Interesting news out in the last few days from British scientists…

PEOPLE who spend a lot of time surfing the internet are more likely to show signs of depression, British scientists said today. But it is not clear whether the internet causes depression or whether depressed people are drawn to it.

Full article here

Hmmm maybe I should log off! No seriously, I’m pretty sure that depressed people are drawn to the internet, rather than the opposite. I recall the worse I was, the more I wanted to be distracted, to escape and to relate to people on my terms hence surfing the net, and using social networking sites was a place that meant I had no responsibility. My wife thought I was addicted to facebook. The irony is that now with her workload and recovery from depression, the kids did a little acronym for their mother and the letter “A” stood for “Always on Facebook”. The other thing she does is watch mandarin speaking soapies on YouTube. Once she did it for a whole weekend while I was away and the kids met me at the door distraught that mum had locked them out of her bedroom and watched clips all weekend.