For it is:
Do and do, do and do,
rule on rule, rule on rule;
a little here, a little there.” Isaiah 28:10
-The church I pastor in Red Lodge is not my first rodeo. Of my almost 55 years on this earth 33 of them now have been spent earnestly trying to spread the gospel through various ministries and with my life—to share the life and freedom I have found.
I decided it was time to get serious about following the Lord when I was 23 and long story short, went from one day being someone who was all about the party to the next day being a completely sold out for Christ believer, a Jesus Freak. I hit the ground running on a mission to save the world. At age 40 I answered the call to be a pastor and soon after helped plant a church on the south side of Billings while I was still attending night classes in a Bible Institute, raising three girls and working full time as a job superintendent for Fisher Construction—where I still am today.
So yeah, I’ve been around and I’ve been busy. In fact, let me give you a peek into a little snippet of my ministry life just before I started this church— A day in the life of pastor Dan. Just to help you see where I’m coming from.
A Busy Man
I’m standing in the front office at my former church talking to the secretary slash person who really runs the church. There’s no time to sit as I have things I need to get done but she has a request. “It would be great if you could lead a break out group for the women’s Beth Moore bible study I am doing Saturday.” She says. “There are some husbands who said they would like to be a part of this study.”
I know I am supposed to know all about this study because she has talked about it at the leadership meetings and I don’t want to admit that I don’t really know what she’s talking about so I say; “Yes, I could probably do that.” Thinking it’s one Saturday evening, no big deal. Turns out it was ten Saturdays in a row.
So I’m committed to yet another program for another ten weeks- “Oh you poor baby”- right? Here’s the deal. I was the children’s pastor which meant I Was in charge of everything from the babies to the—for much of the time I was there—teenagers. That means curriculum, teachers, supplies, recruiting, training and screening. I led kids worship and taught the kids- two services on Sunday and for the Wednesday night kids program. In a church of a couple hundred people that alone kept me real busy.
All of my Saturdays were devoted to I practicing the kid’s worship songs and setting up everything for Sunday, Sundays I was at the church by 7 and didn’t leave till 1 or 2. On Tuesday evenings—after working all day at my real job—I practiced my music and set up for Wednesday night Friends Club.
Once a month I led worship and taught at Celebrate Recovery. I preached on Sunday mornings when the pastor needed a break. Every other Monday night we had a 2-hour leadership meeting. Every summer I organized either a Kids camp or a VBS—and then led them.
And I also did most of the maintenance and repairs on the building that I had literally remodeled after designing and drawing the floor plan myself.
And of course whatever program I was talked into being a part of or leading. Counseling, planned and unplanned and all this on top of still working full time construction and raising three girls.
I am not complaining or blaming anyone, no one made me do anything but that was the way I operated, that was what all my heroes, role models and leaders did. That was the church model I signed up for– as foursquare founder Sister Aimee Semple McPherson said- “Win the lost at all cost.”
So a few weeks later I’m sitting there in a room with friends Ricky Steve and Aaron, in one of our break outs at the women’s bible study—ironically titled Breaking Free—and Steve and Rick start talking about how they are getting burned out, there is just no more joy in serving the Lord. So I have the solution- I talk them into doing another Hillbilly Trio Concert.
We have always had a lot of fun and great fellowship as we practiced for the shows. So the five of us in the Trio, (a Trio by Hillbilly count) spend the next several weeks practicing for a benefit concert to send the youth group to Thailand. We raised the money but the trip never happened in part because too many key players, including the pastor in Thailand, were suffering burn out in one form or another and, in fact, within a year nearly everyone in this story had moved on or moved away.
You see anything wrong with all of this picture?
My solution to being burned out was do add something else to do!? And my church buddies, who love the Lord and just want to serve and make a difference are right on board with me. And all the while I’m also getting little jabs from here and there intended to make me feel guilty for not being a part of this prayer group, or this life group, or taking a day or two to do something with my family.
The Lord had to get a hold of me in a big way, that’s another story, one with many parts and most of you have heard them or even lived them with me, but he woke me up and opened my eyes–thank you Jesus–before I imploded or simply threw up my hands and walked away in anger like so many church leaders I know, and this church is the result.
So when I struggle with trying to find the balance between filling the needs of the people I have been entrusted to minister to, and demanding to much of them and myself by programing them right out of a relationship with their families and their Lord—you know why.
From where I stand the church as a whole has become too busy. The church has also become very, very tired. And if people are very, very tired for too long they become very, very discouraged and eventually become disillusioned, disengaged and soon they’re walking while away the rest of us say: “Well I guess they weren’t that committed after all, too bad, they seemed to be so on fire for Jesus—hey look at Joe over there, maybe he can take their place!”
This busyness, this manic state of the church, has had the unintended result of hindering the very discipleship that it was intended to foster. Believers can become so preoccupied with trying to keep up with all that’s expected of them that they stop paying attention to what Jesus is doing. It may grow a church but it soon becomes a monster that collapses under its own weight. The bigger the machine the more that is required to feed it and the hungrier it gets. The very thing most churches state they are trying to avoid, getting religious and losing sight of Jesus inevitably happens.
We stop being disciples and become worker bees. We work ourselves right into the very thing we thought we were working so hard to get away from. You see the irony here? It’s like the people who build themselves a cabin so they have a place to go and relax but all they ever do is go work on the cabin. What was supposed to be a place of repose is instead a place of exhaustion.
This busyness and burnout isn’t a new dilemma.
Who is it he is trying to teach?
To whom is he explaining his message?
To children weaned from their milk,
to those just taken from the breast?
10 For it is:
Do and do, do and do,
rule on rule, rule on rule[;
a little here, a little there.”
11 Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues
God will speak to this people,
12 to whom he said,
“This is the resting place, let the weary rest”;
and, “This is the place of repose”—
but they would not listen.
So then, the word of the LORD to them will become:
Do and do, do and do,
rule on rule, rule on rule;
a little here, a little there—
so that they will go and fall backward,
be injured and snared and captured. Is 28:13
The Lord was a little upset at the teachers of Isaiah’s day and you may recognize the theme here as one that Jesus would reiterate over and over to the religious leaders of his day. The teaching and expectations of the teachers had become so complex, burdensome and untenable that they were no more than gibberish to most people who had given up hope of ever attaining the slim chance at righteousness they promised to the perfect. The word of the Lord had become nothing more than a religious code that was held out there so far that everyone fell short of it and ended up disillusioned and hurt.
Sound familiar? Pretty sad that we are still there. That what was meant to be a “resting place…the place of repose.” Has become the place of; “Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule.” That resting place is supposed to be our place in relationship with God, that place of repose is supposed to be the kingdom of God, the kingdom of which all of us who call on the name of the Lord belong.
Our gathering places are supposed to be places where the word is brought to life by leaders who are encouraging the redeemed to boldly follow the Lord unrestricted by fear of failure and judgment. The church is supposed to be a place where we can sit at the feet of Jesus and be encouraged, refreshed and released to do what the Lord would have us do.
The sad part is that the Kingdom of God itself suffers in this because if you are not taking the time to hear what the Lord would have you do, it will not get done. Only you can do what the Lord would have you do, only you can fulfill the purpose and the plan that he has for you. Think about that for a minute.
Please don’t go…
Many of you have, or have been tempted to, give up on the church and walk away for good. I can’t blame you for that. But please don’t give up on Jesus, he still has a plan and a purpose for you and he still loves you, no matter what. And please don’t give up on the family of God, ask him to show you where your church family is—we need each other.