Is Our Busyness Masking Spiritual Boredom?

Nancy A Leport:

I do believe this fits the small church as well because too often small churches think if they just add a program more people will come to the church. Think again is what this blog is saying.

Originally posted on Inside the Large Congregation:

The large church is known for the quality and depth of its programming, and for the exhaustion of its staff team. It’s true, every one of my client congregations is functioning with a burned out staff team, and pastors on the brink of exhaustion.

We assume that a growing and thriving church is always adding more programming, enhancing current programming, and making certain that there is something offered to satisfy every imagined need. We heap on more and more options in an effort to improve participation and engagement. But it isn’t really working, is it? Those who are already engaged and active feel compelled to participate in the latest new offering to show their support. In fact, we are creating more opportunities for those who are already over-engaged, while the under-engaged watch our frenzy with mild disinterest.676x380

As we design and facilitate more programs, what is it that we fancy…

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Sabbath 2.0

I recently preached a sermon on ‘Sabbath’ and I must say I was surprised at the response.  People were genuinely surprised to hear about Sabbath as a gift, as a way to rest and reconnect with God, as a day of joy, food, fellowship and deep conversation.

To many as they were growing up it simply was a day when they had to go to church, visit the relatives, eat a big meal and have no fun.  Sabbath meant boredom to them not joy.  As they got older some of those aspects of Sabbath fell away but the sense of it being a day of obligation remained and not always an obligation they looked forward to.  Plus with their busy lives during the week, they didn’t have time to rest on Sunday.  It had become a day to catch up with work around the house, shopping, laundry, lawn work and the obligatory hour in church.pressured person

Others spoke about how busy they are on a Sunday morning when they get to church checking on committee work, making contacts with people they won’t see the rest of the week and any number of things on their to do lists.  One woman, the church secretary, told me she hates coming to church because people think she is on the clock and there to work.

So how did we get to this point?  How did this beautiful day of rest, refreshment cloudsand renewal become a day of work, stress and obligation?  Perhaps the more pertinent question is how do we redeem the concept of Sabbath in a culture that is way too busy for its own good?

Let’s start with us as pastors.  We are not very good at taking a Sabbath rest each week.  Fewer and fewer pastors that I talk to take their days off anymore.  There is too much work to do, they tell me.  And then they ask me why are they feeling so burned out and spiritually dead inside.

The spiritual renewal that comes with Sabbath rest is necessary if we are to lead a church into spiritual renewal.  Being ultra busy doesn’t make us better pastors, it actually lowers our ability to respond and be present.

There is a story told of a group of Western businessmen who went on safari in Africa.  They hired a group of African guides to lead them.  Each day the Westerners were up every morning before dawn and went all day long without hardly a break.  This went on for several days and then one morning as the Westerners were gathering to leave for another frenetic day they couldn’t find the African guides.  Finally they found one of them and told him to gather the others because time was wasting and they wanted to get started.  The African man looked at them and said, “We are not going anywhere today.  We are going to sit and wait for our souls to catch up with our bodies.”

iStock_000010338713MediumIsn’t it time we decided to sit and wait for our souls to catch up with our bodies and model that for our congregations as well?  Even if we cannot take a full 24 hours of Sabbath (and if we are honest, most of us can), we can take Sabbath moments where we pause and let ourselves be refreshed in the presence of God.

Teaching our congregations to do the same can be a first step toward the renewal of body, mind and spirit.  So many of our people are exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally from the pace and circumstances of their lives that they cannot think of any other way of being church than the one they are used to…It’s easy and doesn’t require any more energy from them.

But with Sabbath rest whether in moments or hours, the body and soul do have a chance to rest and renew themselves.  And a rested body and soul is a body and soul ready for the newness that is missing from our churches.

If we keep ignoring this gracious commandment to rest on the Sabbath and keep it holy, then our souls will be permanently separated from our bodies.    And when that happens the church is dead.

“Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God…”  Exodus 20.8-10a

Bible closed with a chain lockIs this the commandment you intentionally choose to break each week?



flexible kidsAs I get older my bones, joints and muscles don’t seem to bend the way they used to.  I am reminded of my chronological gifted-ness every morning as I get out of bed or rise from a chair.  The knees take a while to flex properly and my back needs to un-kink itself.

Just like the human body, the body of Christ sometimes has trouble with flexibility. 

There is a church that offers a program for older adults that includes an exercise program for them to maintain their flexibility.  They gather once a week to stretch, bend, and twist their way to better posture, muscular flexibility and bone strength.

As I joined them in their exercise regimen I found myself wondering what we do for our congregations to keep them spiritually flexible so that the church doesn’t become unbending and stiff like our joints and muscles.

Now by spiritually flexible I don’t mean following every whim and new concept that comes along.  What I do mean is being open to the Spirit’s leading and allowing God to make things new, renew old things and promote health so growth can occur.

So many congregations look at church growth as bringing in more youth by having an exciting youth program, offering more fundraisers to increase the budget, tweaking a worship service, sending post cards to new families and becoming more visible in their communities.

While these are tasks that may or may not bring in new members, they are not what I mean by becoming flexible enough to follow the Spirit’s lead.

Congregations, like our bones and muscles, need exercises that develop flexibility.  The change in spiritual muscle tone comes when people are actively engaged in spiritual renewal of their own lives…

  • By exercising their minds with spiritual disciplines
  • By opening their hearts in dialogue with God and each other
  • By sharing where they see God working in their midst. 
  • By being open to transformation 
  • By becoming new creations

None of these things are easy but then improving flexibility in our bodies never is.   Is it time for a flexibility inventory in your Body of Christ just like a physical therapist does when we are about to undertake a stretching regimen? 

Three key questions to ask yourself whether a pastor or a lay person:

  1. Where has this body of Christ become inflexible and unbending?
  2. Where have I become inflexible and unbending in my opinions about church growth?
  3. Where have I made assumptions about what the Spirit wants for this church and me?plan B

Once you have those questions answered, the exercising begins.  And as you know the more  self-discipline you have to be intentional in your exercises, the more flexible you become.

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”  2 Timothy 1.7





I am reading an excellent book on church renewal right now by Daniel Smith and Mary K. Sellon called Pathway to Renewal.  And it makes me so sad.

Their points are excellent and it is written with the lay person clearly in mind.

What makes me so sad is the amount of time they,  and we, by extension as pastors, must spend in preparing our congregations for renewal.

And here are the questions this raises in my sadness:

1.  Where did the church veer off the path of being God’s agent of renewal and transformation in the world?

2.  Why do people of God need to have it painstakingly explained to them why renewal is a good thing?

3.  Why do laypeople need to be convinced?

4.  Why do pastors need to be convinced?

5.  When did we lose sight of the importance of a personal spirituality and a healthy spiritual connection to God for each individual church member?

6.  If the goal of congregational renewal is to notice and experience God in its midst, then when, where and why did we forget this?

These are not accusatory questions because as a pastor I understand clearly what they are saying having witnessed renewal attempts that have gone terribly wrong.  I know they are right. And I know that I am accountable for the message and I model I put out to my congregations.  I just don’t understand how I/we let it get this bad.

Walking in Sunshine

One of my favorite hymns is Walking in Sunshine All of My Journey.  I love the words and the music.  And for one who really can’t sing, it is one of the easier ones for me to sing. 

Sky at SunsetI also love sunshine. I am one of those individuals who needs sun or I sink into a deep funk.  So it follows that one of my favorite images of God is that of light and those scriptures that speak of Jesus as the light of the world and the darkness can not overcome the light resonate in my soul.

Many churches today are sunshine based as well.  All the music is up beat, sunny with words of thanksgiving, praise and joy.  Congregants show only a positive attitude and any discussion of darkness, depression and despair is quickly squashed with counterpoint scriptures and admonitions to pray harder or trust the Lord won’t give you more than you can handle.

And as Barbara Brown Taylor points out in her new book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, learning to walkthe church is not always the place where people can take their darkness with confidence.

How does your church respond to darkness?  Is it seen as a negative to be expunged from the body?  How do you respond to those who are experiencing a dark night of the soul?  Are you willing to go there with them or do you fear it will challenge your core beliefs about God?  In short, are you afraid of the dark?

I’ve known pastors who are quick to diminish my pain with platitudes and scripture verses without realizing this is my journey and not a threat to them.  I’ve known pastors who when faced with their own dark night or major tragedy flounder with fear that God has abandoned them because the sunshine has been blotted out. 

As churches face their own dark times, it might do us good as pastors  to visit our beliefs about the darkness and how we walk in it. And with the number of people in the world living in their own darkness, it would be a mission to them if the church can learn how to walk in the dark alongside.

I love what Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us of…darkness is not dark to God; the night is as bright as day.iStock_000027543299XSmall

“Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as day, for darkness is as light to you.”  Psalm 139:11-13

Blessings on your journey,


Your Energetic Imprint

In my work with busy, stressed clergy, one of the things I hear over and over is how tired they are, how they have low energy and are bordering on burn out.  stressed man at computer_opt(1)

Although the solution to this physical and emotional condition might look easy to those who are not acquainted with the life of a clergy person, it is anything but easy.    Men and women who accept the call to ministry embrace a fierce ethic to serve God sacrificing much to fulfill what they believe is their responsibility to that call. 

Time business concept.Contrary to popular opinion clergy work more than one hour a week.  The average clergy person works between 60 and 80 hours a week in a highly stressful profession.  And this is NOT healthy nor do I believe fulfills their responsibility to the call.

In this blog I’d like to address low energy because I think low energy is a clergy killer and a church killer as well.  In subsequent blogs I will look at other stressors like insomnia and burnout.  However, if the pastor’s energy level can  be attended to many of the other stressors take care of themselves. 

Much of the literature today on clergy stress focuses on time management.  If clergy are working 60-80 hours a week, then managing time is a must.  However, whether we work 40, 60 or 80 hours a week we have the same amount of time – 24 hours in each day.  We cannot manage the time because it never changes.  What we can manage is our energy levels during those 24 hours.

The human body is a bundle of energy – mostly electrical and it can be used up.  There are four energy centers in our bodies – emotional, physical, mental and spiritual.  A clergy person draws on all four centers 24/7.  When one center is depleted all the others follow suit because we have to draw from them to make up the short fall.Woman Yawning

If you were to take an energy inventory right now, how would you rate each of your centers on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being no energy and 10 being off the charts?  These numbers are critically important to the health of your church. 

Here is why this goes beyond just your own personal sense of well-being.  Every minute we are sending out an energy message to those around us.  Without a word we communicate our energetic signature.  And these messages have a tremendous effect on the people around us. 

Are you sending out  positive energy to those around you so they get a good vibe seeing you as approachable and resonating with them or are you sending out negative energy producing a bad vibe and ‘telling’ folks to stay away?   Not sure?  Ask someone close to you and take their counsel to heart.  What can you do to increase and/or change the energy level you are projecting?  What is the imprint you are leaving on your congregation and those around you?

Running and CarefreeYou may need to take a break for a few days (when was the last time you took your day off).  You may need to seek out a spiritual director to walk with you for a while.  You may need to start an exercise regimen or change your diet.  You may need to see a therapist, hire a coach or seek a mentor to talk about the unique pressures you are facing. 

Without addressing your energy levels you may find that if you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.   If you are feeling drained and your church is declining, this is not a good direction in which to be heading. 

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” 2 Cor. 5.20




Church Health and Wellness and Your Role

Pastor, prophet, priest are the roles we are called to live out in the church.  There are times when we need to be all three at once and many times when one role supersedes the others.  One of the failings, in my opinion, of seminary training is in clearly helping new pastors learn how to be each.  It seems to me, again IMHO, that many seminaries are turning out intellectual gurus who have a great deal of book knowledge but little, if any, practical knowledge when it comes to the delicate spiritual life of our parishioners.

As a result I find in my coaching that far too many pastors have an intellectual air about them that shuts them off from their congregations and impoverishes the pastoral, prophetic and priestly roles to the detriment of the church and the call of Christ.

Now, maybe I have just heard far too many lectures that are supposed to sermons lately and that is why I have come to form this opinion, or as a coach I walk into a church that has been pummeled with ideas without any attention  to the spiritual life of the congregation, or I have witnessed far too often the death of a church due to lack of passion for Christ.  Whatever the reason, I am on my soap box and posit this as food for thought.

Today the 3 P’s have been replaced by 3 C’s – CEO, Caseworker, Consultant.  Pastors are called to run a non-profit, which is often in financial trouble, to find ways to bring new life to a dying church and to direct troubled families to the appropriate services on a daily basis.  We are the ones who are expected to solve the problem.  And the problem is real if we are to survive financially and have a church to lead.

In doing so many times the power of the P’s is lost as we work and think more and more like a secular business man or woman.  The urgency of the problem propels us into problem solving mode rather than question asking mode.

The C’s are the reality of the modern-day pastorate.  We cannot escape them.  What I would like to offer though is a way to move through the C’s in particular without losing the P’s in the process.

I would like to add another C and that is of coach.  Instead of trying to be the one who fixes everything and everyone at the risk of fixing nothing, we need to be trained in the art of coaching people.  (Seminaries take note!)

When a person is coached, he/she is the one who finds their solution.  Coaching is about a relationship in which the coach is the cheerleader, advocate, question asker and accountability partner.  Developing this relationship takes time and the quickest way to destroy that relationship is to tell the other person what to do and how to do it, i.e. to fix it.  (CEO/Consultant/Caseworker can all work against a coaching relationship).

Isn’t it the prophet who asks the deep questions?  Isn’t it the pastor who established a relationship based on the word of God, trust and presence?  Isn’t it the priest who reminds us through ritual that we are all part of a bigger plan and purpose?

The church’s coach in the pulpit, the board meeting, or at the altar brings the 3 P’s to life in a way that empowers the church in a way that telling, directing and fixing can never do.

And the hardest questions to ask…are we a coach or a CEO?  are we the pastor or the Caseworker?  are we the consultant or the prophet?  are we the priest or the answer person?

Just wondering…

“How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land.” Psalm 137.4