Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"This Does Not Work For Me Any More"

"Light bulb stories" like this one resonate with me very strongly.
Working on the staff of two mega-churches, I built a career that brought me to the point where speaking on stage and in front of a camera to more than 2000 people a week was normal. Creating new ministries and teaching hundreds of people in classes and ministries during the regular week, and countless one-on-ones over coffee.was a piece of cake. I ran into a couple of problems, though. I couldn’t escape the Voice inside of me that kept insisting that I was created to work in small, focused, and personal ways that freed people up to be who they had been designed to be.

I also had a predisposition for pleasing people and being intensely concerned with what they thought of me. Particularly those in “authority.” The longer that I stayed in ministry, the more obvious one thing became. If my soul was going to survive, I would have to push past fear of taking a different route the one I had grown to know. I made the decision to face the fear and pursue the dream that I’ve carried inside of me for years. I thought the crucial moment it would be different.

I thought that it would happen with a loud fanfare, a swell of emotional music, and quite possibly a dramatic yell where the camera moves to an overhead shot. It wasn’t that way at all. I found that changing my life started with small, quiet decisions. I only said seven words.

“This does not work for me anymore.”

I sat in a regular Monday meeting, the same type of Monday ministry meeting that I have sat in for 20 years. Four faux leather chairs forming a square. A squat coffee table in the middle. Square windows overlooking manicured lawns. Decoration in the Christian/casual/corporate vibe, where we do serious business in our flip flops and non-ironic tshirts.

For 20 years I had sat in these same offices, in the same megachurches, having the same conversations regarding numbers and participation and programs and organizational processes. Which volunteers are leading or not leading. Who’s on board with The Vision? Who is not on board with The Vision? Things that I knew were helpful and fun and desired by the congregation. However, while I always had a title of Pastor, there was very little pastoral work being done. I was only ever evaluated or paid on the number of programs, and the number of butts in the seats of those programs. Programs that I knew from experience were not healing people. Processes and programs that were not changing lives, or turning people’s hearts toward God. And I had to say the truth, because the prospect of my own soul collapsing under the repetitive weight of NO LIFE CHANGE finally overcame the paralyzing fear of losing my livelihood – of losing my whole identity. So I said the seven words. “This does not work for me anymore.” And I did not die. What do you know about that?
A fair little bit, bro. My words (to my wife) after one Jesusless worship service too many were: "I can't do this anymore."

You might also enjoy How a Megachurch is Rediscovering the Gospel.

11 comments:

Jody Britton said...

Agreed with the mega-church malaise (I was a worship pastor at one).

But, this is like the 4th guy I've known that has then gone into motivational speaking/coaching. . and is asking folks to pursue their dreams and be courageous (as he was when he left his job).

Is that the alternative? I don't think so. I don't know about this guy's new work. . but the others I've seen have been pretty God-less. Very Oprah-ish.

We can have huge churches, or very small ones. . where we stick to the Word, are very, very patient with life-change, and take care of ourselves and our families. It is being done, and you don't have to go become Tony Robbins (even if Tony carries a bible up on stage).

Jared said...

Jody, I am not a fan of "life coaching" or quasi-spiritual motivational speaking either. But I only meant to highlight this aspect of this fellow's story, not endorse his current profession. Hope that make sense.

Tiffany said...

This is very moving. My husband is an associate pastor and we've had a similar experience. It was scary to think how much of what he was doing at his pastoral job was not related to spiritual life in Christ. I think this is epidemic. Thanks for the post.

Aaron said...

Thanks Jared,

that's what I figured (I wrote the first comment. . my wife was logged in :) )

I guess it's kind of a shame that mega-church work does push some guys into motivational speaking. . .it's almost like that's what they viewed their job as being before, and now they can do it without all the messy "church stuff". (yikes).

The public adoration is a drug, you have to be consistently tearing that down, and contuing in personal ministry to individual people. If you start farming all of that out and start sequestering yourself. . . Tony Robbins is not too far off.

Lore Ferguson said...

I identify with this so much: "I can't do this anymore." I said those same words after only three years of being on staff at my church, but it was enough. I could NOT do it anymore. I thought it would be the death of me. And it was, in a lot of ways.

But it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Thanks so much for passing this on.

Roberta said...

As a follower of Jesus for some 60 years I was in a comfortable place praying with prayer warriors every week and seeing new believers come into the fold. But then our church board and our senior pastor took a sudden (a year after a retired pastor joined our congregation) turn. They decided to hire this retired pastor who worshiped at the alter of moveon.org. I was fearful that the Lord would expect me to speak up. I prayed for somebody else to speak up. Nobody did. I was the loan voice. Nobody listened to me. After much prayer and overcoming fear I left that church and joined another. I only have one other person to pray with at my new church. She had a stroke recently so I fear the Lord will take her away and I will once again be the loan voice. But that is ok as nothing is too difficult for God!

Allison Gray said...

I know this story far too well. My husband and I left a mega church where I worked part time in the office because the focus was all about the numbers and giving the people what they wanted, not giving God what He wanted. We were lay leaders for a monthly worship night, and for months we sat in leadership meetings and discussed why we weren't getting the numbers the pastor had hoped for. I continually asked if anyone had prayed and asked God what His direction for the service was (seeing as worship should be directed at Him), and was told that prayer was dead in the church, and that a prayer team was not a workable option. They treated us like we were insane for suggesting such crazy ideas. Instead, they discussed what genres of music we should be singing, generational preferences, etc. It was so clear that all they cared about was giving the people what they wanted, and not in giving God the glory due His name. We finally left in exasperation when the service ended for the summer.

Kevin said...

Check out Tullian Tchvidjian. He is ALL over this.

Peace in Jesus.

nhe said...

I'm with you Jared - my resonance with this is off the charts.

I've been wondering a lot lately if God is calling back into ministry (after a 15 year hiatus) to go specifically to the "I can't do this anymore's". The number of people saying this out loud is growing. I think that if I had a church full of about 30 of them, we could do some damage. I would starve to death, but it would be fun.

Todd Giesen said...

I am the senior pastor of a small church in the Palm Springs area where we preach the Word of Gos without concern for the demands of the people, where we sing music because it is sound in doctrine (who cares about the cool factor?), where we do things NOT to fill a calendar, but fellowship and where we are seeking to have the Lord bless through prayer, preaching, personal evangelism and practical relationship living...

At times I wish our church would grow faster, but alas it is NOT and I am not sure it ever will get to "mega-proportions" because of our stance on not pleasing people, but Jesus...

It is all about who we are trying to please and cater to.

I am a pastor who labors in the Word of God and prayer and who seeks to feed the flock of God. I also seek to put my life into the men of the church and see them grow to their potential for Jesus Christ.

It would be my great joy to see the young people from our church go into full-time ministry and spread the Gospel because of what their parents are hearing, doing in private and conveying to them at home.

Are we seeking to grow a congregation and get more buns in the seats? Or, are we seeking to convey Truth to folks as we live life with them and preach the Bible?

Sometimes my ego screams "grow" at any cost! At other times, the Holy Spirit speaking through His Word as He urges me to "...grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen." - 2 Peter 3:18

It is for His glory!

Nick C said...

In response to some of the comments in this thread - some of the comments in Furtick and Chandlers discussion at The Elephant Room (www.jamesmacdonald.com) are gold for thinking through this issue.