The title of this post is not meant to be snarky; in fact, it should be a great relief to those of you in ministry.
One of the primary temptations for leaders in the church is feeling the need to be everything to everyone. To be the solution to every problem. The peacemaker to every conflict. The supplier of every need. This temptation is especially prominent during the holidays, when not only is your personal pace ramped up to 10, but so are church’s expectations of their leaders.
If you feel like you have to do everything for everyone and are consistently sacrificing your own well-being or the health of your family to do so, you’re outside the parameters of your calling. This is known as a messiah complex or savior complex.
Thankfully we already have a messiah and a savior. But it’s important to keep reminding yourself that you’re not him. Part of walking in faith through the holiday season is allowing Jesus to be the savior so you don’t have to be.
In John Mark Comer’s, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, he discusses the creation account which establishes that we were created in the image of God. This highlights our incredible potential as carriers of God’s DNA and fellow creators, and gatherers, and rulers. But there’s another side to the creation account. We were also created from dust. This part reminds us that we are not all potential, we also have limitations. Our bodies are biodegradable. We’re mortal. We’re finite. We can’t do it all. From dust we came and to dust we shall return.
There’s a lot of hype around your potential. Be all you can be. Chase your dreams. No limits. But very little hype about embracing your limitations. As Comer states, “What if these limitations aren’t something to fight but to gratefully accept as a signpost to God’s call on your souls?”
So, I ask you ministry leader, what if you embraced your limitations this holiday season? What would it look like to admit that you can’t do it all? What if you reestablished the priority of your soul, and let Jesus be the Messiah all on his own? Consider giving yourself permission to engage in these three practices that will help you embrace your limitations.
- Simplify your Stuff
The “gospel of America” says that the more you have, the happier you will be. This is certainly the gospel of consumerized Christmas. If you get that new dress, those new shoes, or golf clubs, if you just trade your car in for the new model, happiness is out there for you. It’s just one more PayPal click away. One more gadget away, or car payment away, or mortgage rate away. Out of reach? Yes. But barely. You’re almost there. You can feel it. As the oil tycoon John Rockefeller famously said when asked how much is enough? “Just a little bit more.”
One of the ancient practices of a healthy soul is simplicity. It flies in the face of our hoarding materialistic culture. So many of Jesus’ teachings on money and stuff, were just acknowledging that the simple life is the better life. He said things like, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” He said, “You cannot serve both God and money.” He didn’t say, “You shouldn’t serve both God and money.” He said, “You can’t.” He also said, “Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” He doesn’t get super specific. Notice he doesn’t say, don’t own more than three pairs of shoes. Or don’t by coffee makers that cost more than $500. He just made a statement about the way life actually works. The most important things in life aren’t in your closet or your garage or your online portfolio. That’s just not where “abundance” is found.
Simplicity is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from them. What would it look like for you to simplify during this holiday season intentionally and counter-culturally?
Maybe it’s time to de-clutter your house. Do the old Gail Blanke method of throwing out 50 things. Or do a mass give away of some of your stuff to good will. Or maybe you need to de-clutter your schedule. Say no to more things than normal. Really get proactive about the priorities in your calendar fo the next 30 days. Or how about de-cluttering your digital life? Are there apps to delete? Or some parameters to put around your phone usage. What about 3 nights per week of no phone after 6 pm. Or a moratorium on phone time for the first hour you are awake each morning.
- Gather with Friends
At first glance this practice may seem counter-intuitive if we’re considering embracing our limitations and caring for our souls. This one seems like it’s adding obligations to an already-busy calendar.
But not when you consider the current epidemic of loneliness in our culture and especially among those in ministry. In 2017, loneliness in our country had reached an all-time high. Following an 8-year trend, there was an epidemic before the pandemic. COVID amplified all of it. Teenagers are lonely. The elderly are lonely. Men are lonely. People in ministry are lonely. The truth is, God made us for togetherness. The first mention of loneliness in the bible is God’s initial rebuke, “it is not good for man to be alone.” Loneliness is not good.
Yet here we are. People generally belong to fewer organizations, know their neighbors less, socialize with their families less, meet with friends less frequently. Ironically, we’re as digitally connected as we’ve ever been and at the same time much lonelier.
This loneliness affects us emotionally. Lonely people are 10 times more likely to be depressed, to experience anxiety, low self-esteem, and substance abuse. They have more difficulties eating healthy and sleeping well. It also affects us physically. People with strong social connections can generally fight off sickness and disease more effectively than those with weak or no social connections.
But isolation also affects us spiritually. When we’re disconnected from others, we’re far more likely to give into temptation and fall into discouragement. We’re more likely to be self-absorbed and spend money in dumb ways. We’re also more prone to live in oblivion to our own strengths and weaknesses. You won’t get to know the truth about yourself when there’s nobody consistently close enough to know you and tell you. Friends keep us grounded and remind us often that there is a messiah, and we’re not him! God designed life to work best together. Connected. In community. You cannot flourish without togetherness.
Which means gathering with friends must become a spiritual discipline. On the same level as sabbath and solitude and surrender. Luke 7:34 says, “Jesus came eating and drinking,” and he was then accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. To be accused of these things, Jesus must have spent a lot of time eating and drinking. A major part of his ministry strategy was a long meal stretching into the evening around a table with some grilled fish, a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine.
Jesus modeled the value of meals with old friends and new friends alike. So, throw on some Christmas tunes and some hot chocolate and invite a few friends over. Your soul requires it!
- Practice Evening Examen
The examen is a method of daily reflection attributed to St Ignatius and his Jesuit order. It’s an ancient practice of the church that allows us to see God’s hand at work throughout the totality of our day. It is a simple discipline that can be incorporated into your bedtime routine. It both quiets your mind and engages you in prayer with the Father before your sleep.
The practice of the examen goes something like this; Be still for a moment and quiet your mind. Find a consistent posture. Acknowledge that Jesus is present and invite him to teach you. Then, go back in your mind to when you first woke up and watch the scenes of your day as if on video.
Go from scene to scene throughout your day. Some may fill you with gratitude and others with regret. Talk to God about this. End with a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s mercy. There are some standard questions you can adopt to give consistency to your time such as:
- Did I see someone thru the eyes of Christ’s love today?
- Did I bring my anxious thoughts before God in prayer?
- When did I have the deepest connection to God’s presence?
- Where did I display the fruit of the Spirit?
- Are there sins I must acknowledge and request God’s forgiveness?
I believe these three practices can begin to curb the temptation to try to be the go-to for everyone else this holiday season. To allow your soul to be nurtured by the one true messiah, savior of the world.