Church is hard.
Whether you’re a congregant, a minister, a deacon, the head of a committee, or a Sunday school teacher: being a church is not easy. Since the church is this magnificent place where all peoples can come together, often times the most difficult task in being a church is communicating beyond our own world and into one that is so much larger than anything thing we’ve experience prior. Being a church means being a people, a new people who have a varied history but share a new horizon. Being church tasks us with partaking in a collective experience that centers on the person of Jesus and his work, but also can result in the recalling of days past in Egypt even though there is promise of a new land.
“Hey, Dustin– We need your expertise in being stressed.”
Even more difficult than being a church is the grueling task of “making church happen.” What I mean when I say this is that church leaders often take on all of the burden and responsibility of daily church life and carry not just their own cross but the crosses of their community. It’s already difficult enough working with others; planning events; and finding time for your family, scripture, and prayer. And then to pair it with the burden and responsibility of helping others do this can lead us to carry unnaturally large, bowling ball heavy burdens. We can often find ourselves on the road to burnout, which is paved by the unrealistic expectations that we put on ourselves for the personal spiritual lives of others. Heaving ball after ball into the carts that we pull down the road of ministry.
On this road we pull heavy carts while we grow nostalgic of the golden age: when we went to church “x” all those years ago and scarcely remember the problems that often aren’t recalled when we reminisce about a different, albeit not always better, time in our lives. A time when the common stressors of life have retreated into the least traversed parts of our memories and only the good remain, a sort of pavlovian affect. Ring a bell of a different time, and I’ll begin to desire the good old days, which often times were neither good nor really that old.
“Those were the days. We used to eat like kings… I think…”
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we call on God to lead us out, but then when we are there, in the wilderness of our spiritual journeys, we heap the burden of our communities on ourselves? I mean, where is Jesus in all of this?
I pastor a church startup in Spring, Texas, a suburb of Houston that sits right along the city’s border. The city is one part urban, one part sub-urban, and one part rural. Our church is comprised of millenials, unchurched, dechurched, and everything in-between, and often times I feel as if their spiritual journey lay delicately in my hands as if they were butterflies that I had caught wandering, and too harsh of a grasp will kill them, and too soft of a grasp would allow them to fly away only to be caught in the closest spider-web. I often feel as if Heaven and Hell are separated only by my word and work in the gospel for this people, a hefty supernatural burden that I wasn’t meant to carry.
Jesus says in Matthew 11:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
The problem with “making church happen” is that it’s simply not our job. That’s the task of the Lord. The hearts of the people lay in God’s delicate, scarred hands, as they always have, and as ministers of the gospel, we often fall into the American sin of the self-made, believing that it is I who carries the burden; it is I who grows others…
…because it’s MY church.
“Dear God, give me the strength to do everything on Sunday morning, and a twin so that I can be in two places at once.”
In reality, I’m just a prideful ox who can’t pull his own weight, let alone the weight of the Christian community. Only Christ can do that. Rather, Jesus has strapped us in and taken our bowling ball burdens and given us a cart full of pillows, made of down and polyester, synthetic stuffing and wool.
Church is hard for us because we have to learn how to let go. We have to learn that we actually can’t do very much at all. The easy yoke of Jesus is hard enough; his burden, heavy enough. Making church happen is in God’s hands, and so too are you.
So this week, come alongside me in the gospel. In our church meetings, community gatherings, VBSs, Bible studies, outreaches, preaching, and whatever else it is we do as a church, let’s unstrap our burdens and pick up something lighter, maybe a cart of pillows, maybe a cart of rest.