For two years now, I have not been a local minister. Through my Teaching Rocket seminars, I have still been privileged to continue in ministry; I speak in some pulpit somewhere about 40+ Sundays a year. The fact is I’ve been a preacher/minister for a specific church in some form since I was 16. But not being in local work these two years has given me an intriguing perspective.
One question that has been on my mind for quite a while is this: Are we expecting or demanding too much of people?
Especially in the last six months, it has hit home to me how impossible it has become to do all the things a “responsible adult/loving spouse/good parent/faithful Christian” ought to be doing. To be clear, I’m referring to the standard(s) we have created in order to qualify for these titles, NOT what God requires. Time is a finite resource, and I’ve simply run out of hours in the day to give to the perfect pursuit of these things.
Some of you, I imagine, feel like you give and give and give, only to discover that it’s not good enough.
In order to be a “responsible adult/loving spouse/good parent/faithful Christian,” you have to eat right, exercise, brush your teeth, floss, drink 8 cups of water a day, recycle, avoid carbs, avoid red meat, avoid sugar, avoid artificial sweeteners, exfoliate, use conditioner, keep a tidy lawn, keep a tidy house (less important than the tidy lawn; the HOA doesn’t come to your house), track mileage for more tax deductions, get regular oil changes, tire rotations, donate to St. Jude (OK, that’s a good thing), save for retirement, save for a rainy day (or a sunny day if you live in the Pacific Northwest), never put anything on a credit card, make enough money to support your family, but do it on one income (the wife cannot work outside the home).
Add to this the need to spend quality time with your kids (and by that, people really mean QUANTITY time), attend all their ball games and performances, attend PTA meetings, meet-the-teachers, and related events. If you homeschool your kids (because public schools are the worst), you earn mega bonus points, but then you’re pretty much on your own. If you use a co-op, you’re cheating (so some homeschool parents tell me). But you also have to take them on playdates, take them to museums, libraries, and other educational attractions, take them to the playground, the movies, amusement parks, and to the beach (if your kids are shallow and worldly) or the mountains (if your kids are deep and spiritual). Science-fair projects, backyard gardens, one pet from each of the major animal classifications, and shelling money for the latest kids craze (video games, clothing, concert, etc.) is also mandatory.
Add to this the need to spend quality time with your spouse. Go on a date once a week, a weekend getaway every month or two (every two months ONLY if you want to keep your relationship hanging by a thread), and a fantastic couples vacation once a year. To have a REALLY healthy marriage, you will need to discharge all of YOUR responsibilities daily on your own while also performing some or all of your SPOUSE’S responsibilities—because a healthy marriage is where you give 100% all the time, right? Husbands, you can never say your wife is wrong. You can never criticize her, because she should be perfect in your eyes. But you must also give her your opinion when she asks, or else you prove you don’t really care about her. Wives, you can never criticize your husband because he’s your spiritual head. But you need to nag him regularly, because we men just can’t survive without your input.
Add to this the need to do those things that a faithful Christian ought to be doing. Visit the nursing home once a month. Shut-ins and visitors one night a week. Have a devotional with your family in your home every night. Have a devotional in your home for fellow Christians another night. Spend another evening preparing for not one, but two, Bible class lessons you will be teaching that week. Have Bible studies another night with non-Christians. Pray before all meals. Door-knock every other Saturday (when hardly anyone is at home). Service project another Saturday each month. Youth activity the other Saturday each month. Attend both worship services on Sunday, attend Bible class both times (because you teach), youth devotional on Sunday night. Read your Bible every day. Pray every day. Fix food for all potlucks. Cut up old bedsheets for hospitals in Africa. Go on a mission trip once a year.
And if you must fail in all these, you CANNOT fail to support the conservative Christian political agenda on Facebook. That’s one thing God just won’t let you forget to do.
In case you haven’t caught on, I’m being mildly sarcastic. But my point is that we sometimes expect WAY TOO MUCH of people. For most people I’ve met in the church, they are doing good to be a good spouse and parent and provide financially for their families while also attend all church services faithfully and occasionally teach or serve in some other capacity at church when they have time.
I understand that Christianity is sacrificial. Yes, we bear a cross. But which cross? And for how long? And to what end? To conform to God’s standard or someone else’s?
Some people need to be shaken out of their comfort zones. Some people need to be challenged to step up. But others need to be comforted and urged to step back, cut back, and reconnect.
Of Jesus, it was said, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,” (Matt. 12:20).
Do you feel like a bruised reed? Cut down by the howling, adversarial winds of life? Do you feel like a smoldering wick? Have you given so much that your joy of life (and even your life itself) seems about ready to extinguish? May I share with you some good news?
While God created us to work and strive and achieve and prove our faith by our works, he also insists that we at times “be still” (better translated: “stop” or “cease striving”) and know that he is God. You will never, ever satisfy everyone in your life. But if you are his child, God is ALREADY well-pleased with you.
To church leaders, let me urge you to reconsider what you’re asking of your members and how much. Preachers, when you rail against your congregants for not doing ____________, you need to be honest with yourself and ask, “Am I doing this?” You cannot ask of your fellow Christians what you are not already doing yourself.
It’s inevitable that I will return to local ministry and preaching at some point in the future (when? only God knows). When I do, I’ll be sure to make it a point to be kinder to people and more gracious in my expectations of them. I will want my fellow Christians to grow in the grace of Jesus Christ…and anything beyond that might be asking too much.