“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Paul’s words to the Galatians ring loud in our ears today - or do they? When we look about and notice how many churches and denominations seem to enslave their people with a variety of ideas, programs, requirements and expectations that, at times, seem extra-biblical, I can’t help wonder if many of us are missing the boat on freedom.
Coming into relationship with Christ is supposed to be the greatest liberating experience we have, yet for many, including pastors and ministry leaders, freedom in Christ has become a-burnout-experience. To those who become angry, disillusioned, and cynical, freedom and church are two words that don’t belong in the same sentence. Could our whole approach to church and ministry be far off base?
When we look at the scriptures we see Jesus having a very different approach than many ministers and leaders of today. Jesus seems so easy going. He enjoys hanging out and eating dinner with the biggest sinners in town. The only people he gets upset with are the religious people. Those are the hard to get along with people! When a woman caught in adultery is brought to him for judgement, he doesn’t condemn her or even give her a moralizing sermon. He loves her. No pressure. No guilt trips. Everything he says to her is restoring, loving and healing. Everything he says to her is out of the tree of life. Everything the legalists that want her stoned to death say and do is out of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I can’t help but think so many of us still have much to learn about freedom.
My home country is Canada. My wife’s homeland is America. Our two countries have the same problem. We have lots of illegal immigrants sneaking into our two nations. There are no walls built around Canada or America with machine guns and guards ready to shoot citizens who try to escape. We have no problems with people wanting to escape. Our problems are with so many people trying to sneak in! Do you have that problem in your church? Too many people sneaking in because your church is such an awesome place where people can become all they dream they can be? Is your church so freedom oriented that people are slipping in the basement windows and back doors and passing themselves off as members so they can enjoy the full benefits of living in a church family environment where freedom allows them to reach for the stars? Hello?
Why are so many churches highly controlled environments? Where do we get these ideas and patterns of management and organization? Many ideas and methods stem out of the old way of the written code and flourish because we really don’t understand the fullness of the new covenant. Some of this controlling culture stems out of our worldly egos and desires to have the biggest or best church around.
The age old struggle for power and control is as much alive in some congregations as it is in the political arena. Boards, trustees, deacons, leading members - sometimes arm wrestle for office of power broker, and the pastor or ministry leader becomes a puppet, pretending he/she is in charge. In reality this self-deception on the part of the pastor becomes a contributing factor in future burnout.
In a free environment like Canada or America, the highly creative and innovative individual can become all God blesses upon them. They can grow up to become nation shaping adults that change the way we live, work and play. Ideally, that is the way church should be. Our congregations need to be launching pads that teach and show God’s will for people and then give them the tools and freedom to launch into ministry with God’s blessing upon them - rather than the church board’s control or denial burdening down the individual with a weight that seems too great to carry.
What happens to up-and-coming superstars in countries where the government wants to control everything? The creative and innovative become frustrated, and even though they love their country, they eventually move on and immigrate to free nations where their talents and innovative new ideas can be launched and appreciated. Is this fact any different in our churches? How many congregations have lost their young because the old leadership is over-controlling or unwilling to see a new paradigm? How many very creative para-church ministries have been launched apart from a local church because the local church was too stifling or controlling?
There is a law of leadership that states a leader usually cannot attract any followers who have greater leadership skills or creativity than themselves. Thus, the majority of churches in North America have attendance between 80 and 120 people. Why? As people attend a church they begin to realize the have more on the ball than the local pastor - especially if the local leadership are controllors and manipulators. Especially if the leadership stifles freedom. The church member then makes a decision to stay and fight the system, or move on to another church where the leadership has greater skill then he does. Or, in some cases, the up and coming star may drift off and start their own ministry or church. If he/she stays in the local congregation and pushes for their new ideas and ministries, they may be asked to leave - fired, kicked-out, excommunicated, tossed out the door, sent packing, etc! This has happened millions of times over in churches and businesses in North America.
Allowing the freedom Jesus gave us to flow in all the congregation’s activities accomplishes two wonderful things. It takes huge pressure off the controlling pastor, and it allows everyone in the congregation to live happier and achieve what God has in mind for them. Until freedom reigns in our congregations, burnout in both leaders and members will continue. There is much more to the subject of burnout, but understanding freedom and living in freedom will do much to take the pressures off our lives and give us the chance to experience the joy of the Lord.
It is a good test to look at our ministries and ask “How much have I been a controller and how much of my frustration has come because people were not living up to my expectations? Did I place burdens on others that were too hard to carry? Did I judge more harshly than the Lord Himself? Or even, did I make certain decisions to please the power wielders of the congregation rather than for the good of the church? Am I frustrated because I expect more from myself than I can give? ”
Answer the questions honestly then give the whole package to Jesus and ask Him to forgive the sin of putting the will of man above the will of God. Then relax, have a good laugh at yourself for thinking you were in charge, and have fun watching Him take over in the real administration of the Church, through the life of freedom that has its best expression in serving the Lord. What a beautiful bride the church will be when she can be loving, self-controlled, wise and joyful all out of her own free will and desire, without fear of judgment and rejection, always confident that she is loved!