Running on Empty

We have expended an humongous amount of energy in the last ten years trying to help our churches become more ‘missional’ and much of it has been from good theology and with the best intents. But it has been hard work.

Not just that, it seems that many who have started on this journey have found it incredibly difficult. It’s not simply that those in the community aren’t interested. Its true that we are one of the most secular countries in the world and the Christian faith does have something of an image problem, but I think the issue runs deeper than that.

Increasingly I am coming to the conclusion that the reason we find it so hard to engage in mission is because our own spiritual formation is lacking and has been lacking for a long time. We have not done discipleship well, so we have people who ‘know the rules’ and can keep the club functional but lack the passion to do much more.

When love for God is fading its hard to find enthusiasm for introducing others to him.

Its epidemic to be so busy with work (often because we have bought the consumer myth) that we lack time to build relationships with people let alone God. Simply challenging people to ‘get on with the job’ of mission is like telling a fat person to run a marathon. It just isn’t going to happen. Or if it does it will be from all the wrong motives and will then get done in bizarre and unhelpful ways.

There is so much that needs attention in the life of ‘church’, but as I have reflected recently on what I consider the most critical place to start if we are to be effective, I am coming back to the need for some more substantial and rigorous spiritual formation. I don’t mean more Bible studies, although you won’t go far wrong if you’re really engaging with the Bible.

But I do mean helping people to recalibrate their own spirituality so that they find themselves deeply connected to God and living life out of that connection.

When mission and evangelism are engaged in dutifully and as tasks they are rarely effective, but when a person who is encountering God regularly and genuinely connects with another person then its impossible for that experience of God to stay hidden. So when we ‘send people out’ who are running on ‘spiritual empty’ it ought not be a surprise if they come home disappointed, burnt out or simply disinterested and uninspired.

So the focus of my own life this year will be in kindling a deeper and stronger connection with God. Not so I can do mission more effectively, but because I need that. I have no doubt that the result will be a more credible witness, but I think the horse needs to get in line with the cart.

7 thoughts on “Running on Empty

  1. Mate, been thinking a lot about this stuff too (chat on Friday?!!) To be honest mate, you’re the trailblazer for most of us, so I think wht you have experienced is what most of us have. A repentant, prayerful life seems to be necessary in the mix somewhere for me.

  2. Hamo,

    I think the last two paragraphs are succinct and insightful. Please forgive the lack of originality but I am going to follow the same goals. It’s true that “when a person who is encountering God regularly and genuinely connects with another person then its impossible for that experience of God to stay hidden”. In addition I’m sure that that will reflect in such a positive way in all areas of one’s life.

    thanks again


  3. Hamo,

    Fully agree. Some brief thoughts/comments…

    1. Could it also be that the recent decade of missional initiatives contained a fairly healthy dose of Western romanticism (colonisation?) within and therefore when things got tough weren’t satisfactorily equipped?

    2. I wonder if many of us have really studied our faith and culture enough? Missionaries (well useful ones) in foreign cultures commit to a life of serious study and reflection as they come to understand what a Gospel engagement with culture implies. I suspect our conversation is often too jargonised and held within modernist Christian paradigms. Too isolated. We know that isn’t working.

    3. I find David Adam’s Celtic Daily Prayer a really useful foundation. To do it daily (as a daily office) knowing that friends with similar commitments over the world are doing the same is very powerful.

    4. I have found that a weekly reflection on the lectionary also gives structure and unites me with other Christians around the world.

    5. So yes formation: spirituality, character, disciplines, community, discipleship, etc. are what we are left with.

    6. Finlly, I agree that it is a really tough project. Our culture currently doesn’t want religion – not as we present it. Some big issues there which comes back to the romantic bit… that will kill us if we crave it.

    Great post Hamo, plenty to think about


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  5. Hmmm,

    This issue has hit me pretty hard as well in the last couple of weeks. In a pastoral role it is very disturbing for me to find so many in the church who are utterly content to keep the life-saving club going, but never actually wanting (or perhaps knowing how) to save lives. Does ‘zeal for your house’ still consume us?

  6. Hamo

    You may not remember me? I dropped out of the institutional life of the church long ago. I even let the whole emerging church thing go. It was just more of the same as far as I could see.

    I follow your blog and enjoy reading from the sidelines. This post, however, speaks loudly to me and I feel the need to comment.

    For me its actually your third paragraph that actually nails it. We, actually, have to stop loving God…

    … at least in the juvenile banal sense that I continue to hear in the odd sermon.

    We have enter into the darkness of faith where God (as we have constructed him) ceases to exist.

    What most church folk think of as Christianity is, in the scale of life’s journey, just the very beginning. Your right, the churches are full of spiritual babies.

    However, they are not going to change until they are ready and most of them will never be ready.

    Move on yourself and some others will follow.

    Get into the great spiritual writers of the Christian tradition. They are easy to access these days.

    Find people who can guide you. If you take this journey, you are heading out beyond any map… out to where no map can made. You will need a guide you can trust.

    Look for others on the journey. They are out there. But they are hard to find. They don’t advertise. That’s not how it works.

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