This Isn’t Fun Anymore

repairbox.jpgYes, I said that.

 
"This isn’t fun anymore."  I was referring to my ministry and life in the church.  I suspect it went even deeper than that.  In general, I was not experiencing very much satisfaction with my life as a Christian. 

 
Maybe you know the feeling:

 

  • You are surrounded by people but feel alone.
  • You feel as if many in the church are singing one verse of a song while you are singing another verse — and perhaps even a different song.
  • You feel like you are drowning and the people around you are walking by and saying nothing.
  • You wonder why life seems to be exhausting and disappointing.  This is it?

I can’t point to a year.  I can’t point to a situation.  I can remember feeling what I just described.  Brennan Manning describes this well in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel:

 

We discover our inability to add even a single inch to our spiritual stature.  There begins a long winter of discontent that eventually flowers into gloom, pessimism, and a subtle despair: subtle because it goes unrecognized, unnoticed, and therefore unchallenged.  It takes the form of boredom, drudgery.  We are overcome by the ordinariness of life, by daily duties done over and over again.  We secretly admit that the call of Jesus is too demanding, that surrender to the Spirit is beyond our reach.  We start acting like everyone else.  Life takes on a joyless, empty quality….

 
Something is radically wrong.

 
Our huffing and puffing to impress God, our scrambling for brownie points, our thrashing about trying to fix ourselves while hiding our pettiness and wallowing in guilt are nauseating to God and are a flat denial of the gospel of grace.

 
Our approach to the Christian life is as absurd as the enthusiastic young man who had just received his plumber’s license and was taken to see Niagara Falls.  He studied it for a minute and then said, "I think I can fix this."  (The Ragamuffin Gospel, p. 16)

Been there. 

 
I spent years trying to fix the church.  Trying to fix other people.  Trying to fix my family.  Trying to fix me.  No, I wasn’t alone in that futility.  Like an alcoholic surrounded by liquor bottles, I was surrounded by the expectations of others, which only fed that inward desire to fix.

 
(In particular, I’ve noticed the same thing in many ministers.  The expectations are plenty in a church.  For a while, a minister thinks he is living up to those expectations.  That can only feed a starving ego.  It can also become a drug that a minister begins to seek in order to anesthetize the pain.  These expectations only get greater and greater with time.   Finally, something has to give.  So this person either sinks into depression,  has a moral meltdown, or feels spiritually and emotionally fried.)

 
One does not have to live in the bondage of trying to meet others’ expectations.  Freedom for me has been found in God’s grace.  You and I will always be imperfect people — disappointing others at times and even disappointing ourselves.  

 
Niagara Falls is beyond me.  I can only stare at its wonder and beauty.  My meager tools and knowledge can’t fix me much less anyone else.  Most churches don’t need to be fixed by people with little tool boxes.  Most churches just need God.

 
Does any of this sound or feel familiar to you

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26 thoughts on “This Isn’t Fun Anymore

  1. yea. been there. spent years trying to fix it.
    then, reality. there is no fix. at least on my part. I was not asked nor called to fix people or myself. if that were the case< i would  not need Jesus. but I, we, still do. He is the fixer. I hand him the tool he ask for.
    now. Be. look around, complain a bit, but focus now is about scattering seed and connecting.
    good stuff. I’ll be back.

  2. In such a time, it’s comforting to open up A Sacred Sorrow by Michael Card. The down times can be a path to worship, he says. And he tells it beautifully, with many scriptures as the foundation.

  3. This should be required reading for ministers, and Christian workers of all kinds, Jim. Keep track of it somehow. Reprint it again next year. It’s well done. I think reading Ragamuffin Gospel was a turning point for me … and maybe for everyone who reads it. thanks for this post today.

  4. Yep… I’m right there today Jim. I think for me the problem isn’t that it’s always this way, but that I am always so up and down… yesterday afternoon I felt great, by last night (about 6 hours later) I felt awful. This isn’t fun anymore. So where do we go from here?

  5. Your post described where I was six years ago.  A fifteen year veteran of the pastorate, and sick to death of all that went along with it. So I left, and have not looked back.  Before my despair turned to all out cynicism, I got away, and God has blessed that decision.  It was good to read your post today, and know that I am not the only person to go through that.

  6. L.L. I am not familiar with Sacred Sorrow but it sounds interesting.I think you are so right–down times can lead to worship. 

  7. John,Thanks for your kind words and encouragement.  I will keep the post.What a wonderful book!  I’m glad to hear that it made its mark on you as well.

  8. Hi Emma,Good question!  (Where do we go from here?)  For me, it was very, very helpful to examine the whole issue of expectations.  My own as well as other’s.  (It is amazing how many things we do simply because we believe others expect it).  Then after some prayer, I need to decide (out of all these things I am doing) what I need to stop doing and what I need to continue doing.I also think it is important to acknowledge how I really feel.  To not "pretend" someone is driving me nuts when they really are.Might be helpful to helpful to examine my own expectations of others and life in general.  I might wish to reflect on my expectations of God.  For many of us, our expectations of people are far too high and our expectations of God are far too low.I guess I see this as a long process, Emma.  These are some of the issues, thought, which I have tried to work with in my own life.  

  9. Jason,Thanks for your comment.  Glad that God has blessed your decision to leave. While you are no longer in the pastorate, your service as a minister/servant is every bit as valuable and significant.I’m glad you wrote and hope you will do so again.

  10. Jim:I think everyone who has ever attempted to be a servant (paid or volunteer) in the church has been there. It is a good day in our career when we realize what you described and fall completely on the grace of God! I feel overwhelmed in ministry almost all the time, but there is a joy and peace in being overwhelmed because I’m no longer depending on Greg.  I know this goes against all "leadership" wisdom of the world, but I have very low expectations of people and very high expectations of God … that seems to help me deal with it. I encourage those around me to accept who we are in Christ and let Him live in and through us because in and of ourselves, there’s just not much to brag about.

  11. You said it so well. I spent 30 years trying to fix the congregations where I worked. I could get really discouraged with myself and them, but because God didn’t give up me I finally began to see His grace and life has improved. Today, I am just trying to help in what God is already doing instead of telling God what to do and then being upset when He doesn’t listen.

  12. Hi Jim,Let me offer a qualified agreement. I identify the truth your bringing out with false expectations and have shared your experience in this sense, however I know from your previous post you agree there remain real expectations from God and others that give satisfaction in their fulfillment and pain in their neglect.For example, God expects me to think and behave in a moral way. Others too have a God-given right to expect the same from anyone taking the name Christian. His grace is not given to remove those expectations…the duty to love in a lawful, God-defined way… but to enable me to fulfill all righteousness through faith in Christ.Spiritual ministry can only be a ministry of grace, but I would not want to leave the impression this means pain-free ministry, a pain that exist when our gospel is refused by the very ones it could heal. Jesus felt this when he wept over Jerusalem and so must we. In describing his own ministry, Paul said,

    "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For
    we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so
    that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. II Cor. 4.7-12

    Some leave the ministry because they never come to understand it was never offered as a pain-free work and life. They could not accept the expectation of death to self. If the cross of Christ shows anything, it shows how deadly the expectations of others can be. Yet we are called to bear it for their sake, ministering as humans in union with divine power by faith, reckoning ourselves "dead to sin but alive to God", trusting him to raise us from the dead.    

  13. Hi Jan,Good comment.  Thanks for reminding us that the issue here is not God’s expectations for ministry (which can lead to persecution, suffering, and death).Rather, the issue is that we often allow our own expectations (which may come from feelings of inadequacy or inferiority or who knows where) dominate our lives.  Such expectations can create so many problems for others and ourselves.Then, there is the issue of the expectations of others.  The problem is not that some of them might expect the minister to get his life/work in line with what God expects (No problem there!).The problem is that many have a variety of expectations of this person, his family, etc. which can completely take one’s attention off what God wants.  It is wearing, it is exhausting, and eventually it can just grind you up. 

  14. Johnny,Isn’t it wonderful when you can look back and see a ‘break-through."  To come to a place where it us not all up to you (or me).Thanks for your words.

  15. Greg,For too many years I was just the opposite of what you are talking about.My expectations of people?– High.  And–I was forever disappointed.My expectations of God?– Low.  Prayer/Scripture were often done as an "ought" instead of drinking deeply of the things of God.I am not where I would like to be with this yet.  But I am thankful that the above no longer characterizes the way I look at things.  

  16. Jim, I know the ministry has become a grind for some and I’ve felt the pressure others try to exert in an atttempt to get their way. I deal with it by following Christ’ will as my Master. No man can serve more than one master, though many men try to minister with a divided heart, craving the attention or approval of others or fearing the power others claim to have. They make the same mistake the Pharisee’s did, preferring the praise of others to the praise of God. I am called to take my direction from the Head of the body, not the members. Only then will I function in harmony with the other parts of the body. Believing these things makes it easy to say no or yes to the expectations of others, depending on their own relation to the will of Christ.  

  17. I just found your blog and have been reading through old posts. So many resonate with me, but this one in particular.

    Thank you for being real and honest and vibrant. It’s so easy to get hung up on being a “good christian,” whatever that is. Personally, I’m a crappy Christian. But I’m discovering Jesus, who is amazing.

  18. Robyn,Hello!  I’m glad you found this blog and even spent some time reading through some old posts.  I hope you will keep reading and leaving comments.Some many of us come to a place in life where we wished our lives were better.  As you indicate, the hope is not going to be found in trying harder or being more determined.  The hope for change is going to be found in being captivated by Jesus and trusting that he is enough.  That doesn’t happen overnight but is usually a long journey.Glad you came by.