Church Junkies

One of my loves in ministry is the church. I grew up in a great church (Hillside in Succasunna, NJ) and have been on staff at three great churches which I absolutely loved, and because of that history and because of how great the church has been often in my life I think I’m actually a church junkie.

And throw into the mix that I love being used for the good of others, I love seeing good things happen in the life of the church and in the lives of the folks in the church and I love being a part of the organism that is the church that I find that these passions and loves can easily become obsessive and addictive.

I don’t know if you can relate to that at all, but for me if it wasn’t for my life outside of the church (and thank you God for that life) I could easily spend 24/7 being involved with the ongoing life of the church, but the more and more I think on that the more and more I think of dangers that can come from that sort of way of thinking and living.

Danger #1 – To give myself so over to the church I can isolate myself from the world around me and as a result of that become out of touch with that world and almost live life in a bubble. A few years ago I was leading an elder board discussion at a former church and we were looking at a text book Pastor Tim Ysteboe had referred me and in that Elder Handbook one of the qualities it affirmed in elders was that they be connected/in relationship to the world around them so that they could understand it.

Danger #2 – To give myself over to the church in overwhelming terms risks burnout. In any profession work-a-holism breeds an eventual fall. I watched a movie at home with my wife over Christmas vacation and in it these Wall Street Executives lived life to the maximum or beyond the maximum but the life picture I saw of them was that they had peaked by their midlife and sacrificed everything of significance to reach that peak. What helped me to see that was a character in the film that had success (not as great as his executive peers) but had a more balanced view of life and was not willing to succumb to the goals of his peers. So how do we guard against that? I wrote a paper at college on burnout and I remember talking to someone who had crashed and I walked away with these insights:

-Get a hobby

-Have people in your lives who understand the pressures of the church but aren’t a part of your church so you can talk issues through with them

-Balance time with family and guard it

-Be available but don’t feel like you need to be available 24/7 (there is wisdom in turning a cell phone off or not answering it always)

-Be encouraged to have realistic goals for ministry and that programmatic goals aren’t the ultimate measuring stick for if we’ve done well. As well, encourage your Elder Board and whoever you are accountable to, to know the demands of ministry and to not put more on you than is fair. (I’m not sure how you do that but what I know is that I’ve been a part of elder boards that have had that in the DNA and it’s been wonderful)

Danger #3 – To give myself over to the church risks the relationships I should be cherishing the most, our families. I’ve written on this before and if you are single in ministry maybe this is tougher to see right now but were your relationship status to change, I’m guessing might be easier to see. I’d encourage you to see the hierarchy of relationships that God has given to us like this:

-#1 relationship is between us and God

-#2 relationship is in our homes

-#3 set of relationships is with those in our influence

When #3 overtakes #2 or #1 we really invite chaos into our lives.

I enjoy writing for this blog and for our youth workers and pastors. One of my youth worker friends asked me once how do I figure out what to write on. Honestly, if a thought comes in my head, I write it down and think on it until it looks like something worth writing on.

For this post, I had all of what I just said figured out for a while but I wasn’t ready to put it to paper until the following thought dawned on me.

I started thinking about what I must look like if I’m some sort of church junkie.

And you know what I pictured myself looking like? I pictured myself looking like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. I pictured these leaders totally immersed in their study, in being truly about them and less about the work of God because they were building their own kingdoms and picture those men proud of all THEY had done.

And the more and more I thought about how those men lived and did “ministry” the more and more I shook my head and hoped that their way of doing ministry wouldn’t describe me. I think that for us to give ourselves over to the church in obsessive and unhealthy patterns puts us at risk for living like the religions leaders of Jesus’ day.

I’m curious what you think of that thought and how you would respond were you to see any church junkie in you.

For me, when I see some of this church junkie in me I know I need to

-Be reminded that ministry isn’t about how much I accomplish or about how many programs I start or run

-Get my relational-hierarchy adjusted by God’s grace

-Share my ministry and to give it away for others’ edification

-Balance my inside the church experiences with my outside the church relationships and as well have passions that have nothing to do with church

I’d love to interact with you on this and trust this helps you and the ministry God has given to you, and that’s one of the reasons why I find myself writing on this because our ministries are God’s gifts to us, and when we neglect them or over-prioritize them we misuse this gift from God to us and to those around us.

Rev. Mark Johannesen is pastor at Word of Life Lutheran Brethren Church in Le Sueur, Minnesota.

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