Laziness, Super-Spirituality or Legalism

Some interesting comments from Pete Dray on his blog, on how Christian leaders can struggle spiritually with laziness, super-spirituality or legalism. Or any combination of them. Pete notes

It's very difficult to manage responsibility effectively in Christian leadership. Often it seems that Christian leaders are burdened, tired and even joyless. (Click here for more on Pete's blog)

I think I see this quite a bit. I commented on the blog:

Many Christian leaders are poor at maintaining ourselves spiritually. Here are a few reasons:

1. We have no measurable standards of success and therefore tend to think we will be valued by visible activity and/or numbers. Therefore activity-organisation easily replaces prayerfulness

2. There are comparatively few boundaries between work and non-work. Two possible consequences: work overflows into everything and we never have any real down time; we start to think of non-work as work or feel burdened by work people-responsibilities during non-work time and therefore justify laziness

3. People don't understand what we do and assume we are doing less than we are. Answer: why should we expect them to understand? They don't do it

4. People assume that those responsible for feeding them spiritually are themselves being fed by someone else. But few people ever inquire. Therefore it is quite easy for Christian leaders to live spiritual lives that are less fed and less observed than anyone else. (And their spouses even more so). There is nothing more spiritually weakening than feeling that you have to feed others when you have nothing to give, but can't tell anyone

I could go on listing reasons for another half an hour. But the conclusions would be the same:

1. Christian leaders are much better at meaningful evaluation - and therefore at boundaries - when someone else is able to say to us when we have done a good job and done enough. Either a line manager or external accountability. We are poor at establishing when to stop otherwise because the workload is potentially infinite

2. Lack of boundaries inevitably affects seeking God, which inevitably impacts on our receiving grace, which inevitably impacts on our joy in the Lord. If we are unable to put boundaries on our work we should at least put unassailable boundaries on our prayer life. And preferably do it with others

3. If I can say this, I think that young (male) missions staff are most in danger of establishing bad patterns that last for a whole lifetime of ministry, by making the following mistake: "I want the super ministry, and the way to get it is for my elders to see me being busy and successful. That is the way to credibility." I see this a lot. It is spiritually deadly

4. Without principles for boundaries it becomes very difficult to say "no". Especially if you know that your ministry will be evaluated positively by saying yes to everything, and negatively every time you decline. It is easy for people to read a "no" as "our minister simply doesn't get why this (thing that I want to do) is a spiritual priority (ie saying no to me means they aren't wise and spiritually discerning or haven't heard the Lord as clearly as I have). If the person or people in question have the power of hire and fire it is very difficult to say no to anything

In my years leading a ministry team I found that ministry effectiveness went up considerably for people who didn't feel they had the final say on when to stop and when they had done a good job. They found it impossible to evaluate. Having someone else tell a student group on their behalf that they couldn't come on this occasion was a blessed relief. Similarly having someone else with experience look over the diary and help review work patterns.

At various points in ministry I have had an accountability group do this for me. Only on a couple of occasions did the group really bite. One time a member said "your work patterns at the moment are to the detriment of your marriage. I want to see your diary tomorrow and will be taking things out of it, and ringing your boss if you refuse"! Fantastic! If there wasn't pressure from my employers to sacrifice marriage on the altar of ministry, it was easy to feel it, and emotionally very hard to decline. That person took all the pressure off me doing so. 

I never did the evaluation for my staff for the sake of merely organising work. It was also for guarding spiritual life, bodily vitality and relationships outside of work that can so easily be damaged by lack of work boundaries. But the most important reason for this kind of accountability was to help the team seek God for his grace, and spot with them when work patterns were to the detriment of this. Because that is entirely self-defeating. Leaders who are busy but not living in grace - or who use busyness as a substitute for living in grace - need to take a serious rain check.

Hope you are seeking Him for his grace today.