As I was reading Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What, by Peter Steinke (an excellent read), I began to wonder. Are we being honest about the depth nor extent of the fundamental illness afflicting our leadership of the church in the 21st century? Maybe better said, am I being honest with myself? As we work with denominations and pastors, many of whom are now doing the church-wide initiative in emotionally healthy spirituality, it is becoming increasingly clear that the call to slow down our lives so we have integrity, is much more comprehensive and far-reaching than we initially realized. Our faulty training and models for church leadership have so negatively shaped us that, to sustain long-term change, we need an enormous inward passion from within and external support for a new direction.
Steinke cites an illustration out of the medical field. For thousands of years, women were dying of fever at childbirth. This accepted reality was so deep that none took seriously any solutions to the problem. When a doctor out of Vienna in 1847 started a new procedure where medical students washed their hand prior to examining a mother-to-be, the mortality rate declined. Yet his superiors rejected his theory and attributed the improvement to a new ventilating system in the hospital. Steinke notes that to have accepted this new theory, the medical practice “would have had experienced losses and casualties, such as credibility and authority.” They preferred a technical response (the ventilating system) to an adaptive response as he calls it (integrating new learning). To slow down our lives to have integrity with God, ourselves, our marriages and families, and then in our leadership, requires a complete revolution in the way we lead ourselves, our denominations and our churches. Many of us want quick growth and effective mission, but the time it will take to live out of our integrity. This will require a very serious pause. Think of our mega-churches, our seminaries and Bible schools and our conferences. It is easier to sharpen our theology, our missiology, our coaching of leaders, our strategy, our “technical responses”, rather than seriously open up Pandora’s box and examine the integrity of our interior life. I know how challenging it is for me. If we don’t, however, what really is the future of the Western, evangelical church? Where might the church be in 20 years?
At the end of a recent emotional healthy spirituality conference, Geri and I asked the participants to complete the following sentence: “I am beginning to realize…” The following are a few of their responses:
I am beginning to realize that…
· If truth is not in my life, it should not be in my sermon.
· I have neglected my inner life.
· I have given away my walk with Jesus to manage my congregation; I have impoverished my marriage in the process.
· My stoicism, in reality, is a self-protective device and it demeans who God made me to be.
· I need to have more self-awareness.
· No more “flying by the seat of my pants”; emotionally health takes discipline and much hard work.
· I need to place a higher priority on time with God and trust him with the rest.
· My congregation needs emotionally healthy practices if we are going to mature as a family.
· I am spiritually dry, running on empty. I need to slow down for Sabbath.
· I am more insecure and averse to conflict than I admit.
· Exploring my past is not dwelling on my past.
· I take things too personally when it is not my personal responsibility.
· The world will go on without me, but I cannot go without Christ.
Some of you may be saying, “Pete, this would require I change the entire way I do ministry? Who has this kind of time to slow down? I’ll never get anything done!” A few core issues will need to be resolved for you to go forward. First, you will need to surrender to God in trust rather than grasp out of anxiety to make things happen. Both our flesh and culture feed striving and fear. Adam and Eve legitimately worked and enjoyed their achievements in the Garden. But they were to stop and let go at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They were in trust of God’s goodness and love. So are we. Failure to do is the very essence of sin. You and I can change. Remember the teaching of Jesus, “With humans this is impossible but not with God. All things are possible with God” (Matt. 19:26). Second, the most important focus is not to change your church, but to allow Christ to change you. As your inner life is transformed, your outer world will change as well. Integrity is walking in truth, beginning first with what is happening inside of you. This kind of honesty takes great courage. Christ gave his life, creating a safe environment of love for us, so that we can have this kind of genuine, authentic relationship with him.
And finally, recognize and embrace your limits. They are a gift. You and I are not God. We are not running the world. He is. God invites us to relax, to enjoy the fact that we are not in charge of this world, that even when we die, the world will continue on nicely without us.
Does the emperor have no clothes? Am I overstating the problem?