I wrote an end of the year reflection in December, doing some introspection. Its the final chapter in my Soul Artisan book. I thought I’d risk sharing some of it here. -JB
Planting the church almost killed me. There are parts of me that still haven’t recovered 6 years later. I think I’ve been burned out since we launched our first service in 2012. Why? I’m not an organizational leader nor an overly relational person. I am an introverted man of thoughts and ideas. I’m a scholar and thinker. I’m a teacher and a preacher. Words and ideas energize me; people wear me down until I need to retreat to a book to refill. Organizing and giving sermons fuels me; organizing people and programs sucks me dry.
Larger established churches can afford pastor “specialists” such as a Teaching Pastor or Executive Pastor or Small Groups Pastor—each pastor serving in their “sweet spot.” A pastor of a tiny church plant ends up wearing all the hats, and it has taken its toll these past seven years. Even the Energizer Bunny will wear out if you take away his drum (which he was made to “bang”) and place in his hands a dozen other things his batteries were never meant to power.
I know what you’re thinking: Why in the world did you ever sign up for church planting? I didn’t. Are you crazy? Why would anyone ever sign up for this?! God called me to it and I am obedient to a fault. I’d go sell toothbrushes in Great Britain tomorrow if God called me to.
I was also endowed genetically with a strong work ethic, a no-quit attitude and drive to succeed at whatever cost. My top 5 StrengthsFinder results reveal a lot about my personality: 1) Achiever, 2) Learner, 3) Intellection, 4) Input, and 5) Connectedness. Listen to some descriptions of these personality traits and see if you find me in them:
Achiever. You have an internal fire burning inside you. It brings you the energy you need to work long hours without burning out. It is the jolt you can always count on to get you started on new tasks, new challenges. It is the power supply that causes you to set the pace and define the levels of productivity for your work group. It is the theme that keeps you moving.
Learner. You love to learn. The process, more than the content or the result, is especially exciting for you. You are energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence. Your excitement leads you to engage in adult learning experiences—yoga or piano lessons or graduate classes.
Intellection. You are the kind of person who enjoys your time alone because it is your time for musing and refection. You are introspective. In a sense you are your own best companion, as you pose yourself questions and try out answers on yourself to see how they sound. This introspection may lead you to a slight sense of discontent as you compare what you are actually doing with all the thoughts and ideas that your mind conceives.
Input. You are inquisitive. You collect things. You might collect information—words, facts, books, and quotations —or you might collect tangible objects such as butterflies, baseball cards, porcelain dolls, or sepia photographs. Whatever you collect, you collect it because it interests you. And yours is the kind of mind that finds so many things interesting. The world is exciting precisely because of its infinite variety and complexity. If you read a great deal, it is not necessarily to refine your theories but, rather, to add more information to your archives. If you like to travel, it is because each new location offers novel artifacts and facts.
Connectedness. Things happen for a reason. You are sure of it. You are sure of it because in your soul you know that we are all connected. Yes, we are individuals, responsible for our own judgments and in possession of our own free will, but nonetheless we are part of something larger. This feeling of Connectedness implies certain responsibilities. Your awareness of these responsibilities creates your value system. You are considerate, caring, and accepting. Certain of the unity of humankind, you are a bridge builder for people of different cultures. Sensitive to the invisible hand, you can give others comfort that there is a purpose beyond our humdrum lives. The exact articles of your faith will depend on your upbringing and your culture, but your faith is strong. It sustains you and your close friends in the face of life’s mysteries.
Well, there I am! I’m a highly driven person with the stamina to achieve one’s goal (or complete the task God has given me). But also a very introverted, idea-driven teacher and thinker who loves learning and reading in the quiet of my home study.
Yet, I have always seen that fifth strength— connectedness—as the odd one that doesn’t seem to fit. Upon further reflection, however, I believe this ‘connectedness’ is the relational/pastoral ingredient in my makeup. It’s the thing that leads me to want to bring my big, life-transforming ideas of faith and the gospel beyond the walls of my study and into the busy marketplace of ideas — you know, on Main Street. My writing and preaching aims to invite people into the larger reality of God’s Story, to be reshaped by his Kingdom values, and live lives that intersect with and impact the lives of others around us.
So, I share all of that to say this: I have taken steps this past year to handoff ministry duties that have been draining me, and asking the Leadership Team for permission to pour more hours of my week into the aspects of ministry God has most gifted me for. I am investing more hours each week in studying, reading, writing, preparing sermons, and teaching a new midweek class called Three Taverns. I am slowly learning how to not feel guilty about embracing these alone activities in “the pastor’s study”, trusting the church will benefit from the outflow of these pursuits.
Let’s face it: We live in a world held hostage by pragmatism and efficiency. We value things that yield instant, visible and tangible results. Churches and pastors have drank this Kool- Aid as well, turning the pastor-theologians of older days into slick, efficient CEO leaders of today’s church businesses. Churches now value programs and building campaigns and hitting organizational smart goals and balanced budgets and artificially constructed growth benchmarks that, if we’re not careful, leave little room for the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
And where are the pastor-theologians today? At many other times in the 2,000 history of the church, churches wanted their pastor’s to be wise stewards of the mysteries of God. They wanted teachers who could open their minds and teach them the full counsel of God. People wanted in their pastor a wise and holy man or woman. Today, just give us a leader (that very word is modern and not found in the NT) to run a smooth operation, keep the congregation happy, and we’ll go get our teaching from our favorite megachurch pastor’s podcast or online teaching.
For better or worse, I don’t have any interest in playing these church growth games, buying into the pastor-as- CEO role, or measuring church vitality by corporate-world metrics imposed upon God’s definition of what the church ought to be. I gained my pastoral training in the school of Jesus and the Apostle Paul and Spirit-infested atmosphere of the early church movement described in the Book of Acts. I see no growth charts and very little in the way of organizational strategy.
Rather, I see people infused with the Holy Spirit, captivated by the gospel, and messy little communities of broken and redeemed people learning to live together in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. I see God giving the church “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11). I see God giving gifts of all kinds to all people to each do their unique part (1 Cor. 12).
So, all of this personal angst and leadership exhaustion eventually led me to a moment of decision. Either I will continue giving the church “all of me” and slowly burn out doing things I’m not called nor gifted to do; or I will start giving the church the “best of me” and trust others can step up and take on the rest of the load. We are in the middle of that transition as I write this. I am grateful to our Leadership Team for their understanding in this and desire to free me up to do what I’m most called and gifted to do.
I’m reminded of what Paul told Timothy,
“Fully carry out the ministry GOD HAS GIVEN YOU” (2 Timothy 4:5).
I’m learning to be content doing the specific ministry God has given to me. There will always be more to do, and I pray God will give those ministries to other more qualified and uniquely gifted people. I’m finding my tank more filled these days. I’m having a blast, and thankful for my church and their willingness to let me be the me God made me to be. (Try saying that phrase five times fast!)