Its like a nervous tic that kicks in when life feels too calm and sane… ‘I should be doing something BIG – starting something – firing something up – kicking big goals – setting BHAGs (do people still do that?) and it feels like a default setting that so easily gets tripped if I don’t consciously resist.
Its not that I’m against doing worthwhile things, but I am very much disturbed by my tendency to see these as ways of validating ministry work.
Think – ‘The more I do the better a pastor I am’ or ‘the bigger a project I take on the better a leader I must be’. We all know that’s a nonsense but its very much a part of our way of being as western Christian leaders.
As I read Petersen’s memoir I came across the story of his church in ‘building mode’, energised, focused and passionate, but then he went on to write about the malaise that followed this – the lethargy and lack of energy that seemed to pervade once the tangible tasks had been fulfilled.
In his struggle with this he sought advice from a mentor. The advice was to start another building project – because people need something tangible to keep them motivated. This advice floored him and he had a ‘lights on’ moment as he considered the type of disciples we are producing if we need to have a tangible project constantly on the go to cause them to feel alive and engaged in the work of God.
He describes it as the ingress of American culture into the life of the church – a not so subtle syncretism that earned the applause of many, but it also became a turning point for him in his understanding of ministry. He wrestled with the need to be busy for several years before realising that his best work was done when he had space to think, pray and listen. He could pastor better when he wasn’t busy – even if he still felt the urge to prove his worth by activity.
Its a tough line to walk because the choice to not be busy can devolve into ‘one more episode on Netflix’ rather than intentional space to pray and listen. Over the last 15 years I have managed to let go of busyness fairly well, but I haven’t always managed to live well in the new space. And at times I feel like it’d be easier just to ‘get cracking’ and start some things up – that way I can see what I’m doing and feel productive again.
However when I use the ‘space’ well and genuinely tune in to the voice of the spirit I find myself doing things that are useful