Stop or Hit the Gas

The beauty of memes on social media is their  brevity. A world of truth can be shared in a few words. These  three below sum up the enduring lessons I and my family have learned in the last few years.  The brutality of our times is mirrored in what passes for Christianity. The real thing is mostly found away from nice real estate with the label “church” on the sign and various and sundry parachurch ministries.

The bigger something gets, the less humanity and kindness shows up and the less of Jesus you will find. Corruption sets in to the machine.  People get ground to bits in the gears and nobody cares.  The cowards hunker down and look away. Naked opportunism replaces sacrificial service and love is never the motivation, unless we’re talking about love of self.

It’s a choice to join the ambitious and the shiny people, or to show up in someone’s life who can’t do anything for you. It’s a choice to value people and remember those who are in pain or to hit the gas and pass them by  on the superhighway of Christian “ministry.”  But just remember that if you do hit the gas, you can’t know the Jesus who stopped when a suffering person called out. You are serving someone and something else.

struggle

worth

meme

When the Show Must Not Go On

canceledHaving witnessed and experienced a great deal over my lifetime in parachurch ministry, I have come to the conclusion that the most important question we can ask ourselves in ministry work is this: Why am I doing what I am doing and at what cost to my health, spiritually and otherwise,  and the most important people in my life?

Those who are single must also ask these questions, but those who choose to create families and then go out and work in additional ministry are the ones who need to ask this question frequently and allow themselves to give honest answers.

There is a wrong-headed view that we are ultimately responsible for carrying forward God’s work. While it is true God works through humans, I don’t believe that abandoning our first responsibilities to our families to reach strangers is OK with God. The human toll on families can be horrific.  Ask some of the children of foreign missionaries who were left at boarding schools most of the year to be raised by strangers how that worked out for them, as some of the tragic stories have made recent headlines. God didn’t give you children to outsource their upbringing to hirelings so you could minister to others. He didn’t give you a spouse for you to be AWOL. The unreached tribes are not more important than your own children. The unreached of America are not more important than your own families. No, they are not.

A mindless obsession with busyness for Jesus ends up being counterproductive. Ministries that insist on growth at the expense of the humans running the machine will ultimately crash or at the very least, lose what impact they might have had. Also, the business that creates the busyness often becomes the subconscious focus. Keeping the gears turning becomes more interesting and compelling than the spiritual and physical realities on staff. Workaholism (even when called ‘sacrifice for Jesus’) creates burnout, burnout can maim and kill, literally and metaphorically.

A friend of mine who lived nearly exclusively for his work ended his own life last fall. He did great work, and he did it all hours of the day and night, but in the end, he died by his own hand, the same way his non-Christian brother had. It is a tragedy I am still getting over. Every life needs balance. Without even a little counterbalance to work, we are doomed.

God never calls us to do personal kamikazes for Jesus on the deck of ministry. If we’re personally self-destructing to keep gears moving in ministry, we are doing more than we are called to do. If we are imploding because of someone else’s vision and wrong priorities, we are called to say no. A sanctified, holy, NO.

God is gracious and merciful. He frequently allows wake-up calls. He allowed me a wake-up call, thankfully.  But the sobering reality is that the damage to spiritual lives, physical lives, and relationships is sometimes not easily repaired. It can be permanent and life-altering.

The “show” must not go on as usual when it is harming others. That is not the work of God. That is the work of flesh and it will fail. No person, single or married, can withstand years of burnout and be OK. Those with family responsibilities have their first calling, and any job that requires more than a decent work schedule is asking you to go out of God’s parameters in terms of priorities. Any leader or leadership structure that requires or allows you to go outside a work schedule that respects your spiritual and physical and family needs is outside of God’s parameters. Idolatry of someone in ministry doesn’t end well. And when we listen to someone else’s voice over the loving voice of our Shepherd, we are asking for trouble.

There are still birds singing, flowers growing, blue skies and love in this world, and how easily we forget that in the race. We are also doing God’s work by loving and laughing and caring for those in our families first. Everything else must come a distant second in our hearts and thinking. The payoff for right priorities is without price.  And the price for wrong priorities is too high.

Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat. ~ Mark 6:31

In Praise of Micro Ministry

Grandchild offering small bouquet of summer wild flowers to grandmotherThere was a picket outside a mega-church in Seattle yesterday. Victims of the whole celebrity pastor system that allows pastors to operate with zero internal accountability are increasingly refusing to stay quiet. When all efforts at handling things quietly and biblically fail, those injured by those waving the banner of Jesus are going public. Due to the damage to souls that is done by narcissistic leaders in high places, this is a good thing. Destroyed faith and lives are not small things, and if others can be warned about these places, good.

Detractors cluck at vocal victims of these ministries for “touching God’s anointed” or “harming the cause of Christ”, ignoring the fact completely that people are the cause of Christ, including those in these ministries who are thrown under the bus. One pompous employee of a Christian media ministry told a reporter that employees should just suffer their losses for Jesus and say nothing. But those suffering the losses and abuse really weren’t suffering for Jesus at all. They were suffering for someone else’s image and power, no matter how conservative and Bible-believing a cause being run. Nowhere in the Bible are we called to shield predators, liars and abusers of others. If that’s what Jesus needs to advance His cause, it’s worth a second look at what we believe.

There is another kind of ministry, far away from microphones, spotlights, and donor letters. It’s the ministry that puts groceries on a family’s porch when they are hurting, the ministry of calling up a little girl on her birthday and singing Happy Birthday to her because she has no grandparents in her life, the ministry of somebody’s company and a kindly ear that doesn’t listen to criticize, jump in or one up the other person. This kind of ministry is one on one. It’s the hug in the middle of a coffee shop, a call “just because I wanted to check on you”, a surprise email, a divinely-timed meeting where encouragement gets exchanged.

The evangelical church is massively screwed up, and not just because of false teachers, Disney-style entertainment on stage or big shot pastors. The church of Jesus has gotten off track, ironically, because people stopped being important as individuals. We became statistics and numbers and cogs in ministry machines. In the name of “saving souls” of faceless strangers, actual faces and hearts became increasingly meaningless both internally in ministries and in many cases, externally as well. Workaholics in these settings justify their rotten priorities by running like rats on treadmills to save families and souls of strangers while their own are destroyed. What a twisted notion of ministry.

Our neighbors recently lost their little dog they had for 15 years. That little dog was the shadow behind Cheryl and John all the eight years we have lived here. Emmy was most concerned for our neighbor lady, and when we returned home from the grocery store, she saw Cheryl in her yard tending to her flowers. Em ran over to her and told her she was sorry about Boomer. She hugged our neighbor for a long time and they talked and talked. I was proud and touched to see the growing empathy in our five-year-old who is learning to feel for others in their sadness. That’s a real ministry she has in showing love to others.

To those of you who engage in the ministry of love, one on one, and think you’ve done little for God, I have great news for you. You are being the hands and heart of Jesus in a way that no big shot with stage or microphone ever could be. Scripture records the one on one ministry Jesus had to rich and poor alike. He mixed with the educated of his day, but also the lame and the diseased and the untouchables that society had shunned. That’s all I want to do with my writing anymore. I spent many years writing and speaking about aberrant spiritual trends within Christianity, 24 years in total. I still hear from those who appreciated the info. But the finest work I will ever do for Jesus involves continuing to love my husband and children and grandchildren, writing about life lessons, giving a little encouragement here and there, sharing family joys and struggles and letting God use it how He chooses.

Macro-ministry is a mess these days. Corruption of all kinds is rampant. Frauds abound. Micro-ministry, one on one with others, is where our energies can be safely spent when we commit our daily lives to Jesus for His use. Somebody needs a kindly touch today. Maybe you know them?