This is gonna kill me.

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You may think it would be the fatigue of the long hours, or the heartache of walking with parishioners through loss.  You may think it’s the exposure to ravages of poverty, racism, homophobia, abuse, sexism, hunger in our community.  You may think that it’s the immense disparity of the world’s resources. You may even think it’s the media’s misconstruance of what following Jesus looks like.

And truth is that all  of those experiences do weigh upon this pastor’s heart.  Heavily.  Constantly.

But the thing that takes the greatest toll on my faith, my energy, my commitment as an ordained clergywoman?   It’s the unspoken, but constant and underlying pressure of these two questions:

  • “Who else is coming?”
  • How many were there?”

Some context for us.  I’ve been going pretty much nonstop since mid-April.  And not surprisingly, the pace has taken its toll.  It’s taken me some time to get here, but I’m in the middle of vacation time, and I’ve finally been able to slow down, to listen, to see, to be.  I’ve been prioritizing … nothing; prioritizing nothing because it’s in that nothingness space where God speaks to me the most clearly.  And, among other important things like playing with goats and swimming with my littles, I’ve been needing to do a whole lotta nothing , and just listen to God.

In the quiet of prayer, in watching the sunrise, the sunset, I have found these two questions coming to me.  As I’ve prayed to God to release me from the anxiety permeating my church leadership, these two questions keep coming.  So, I’ve begun to pray to let these questions go, and be freed of their immense hold on me.

Why?  These questions are so normal, so typical, and get posed from all corners of the church — from all ages and stages of parishioners to clergy colleagues and friends to church growth experts to district superintendents and Tables I, II and III.  But for me?  What God has helped me see?  Every time the questions are posed; every single time (whether in a text message or social media or at church council) these questions are posed … I feel my heart start to pound; my pulse begin to increase; a clenching grow in my tummy and a wave of nausea rumble through me.

These questions are gonna kill me.

I know that they come from a good place.  Well, maybe they do.  At best, these two questions come from a place of sincere longing for God’s church to grow — God’s church to expand the world’s capacity for love.  At worst, these questions force ministry (and my efforts) into quantitative structures that can be judged worthy, successful, “growing,” … via numbers and personalities.  My middle school pre-algebra equation would look like:

(large numbers  + “key personalities”) @ ministry event = SUCCESS

These questions deem something worthy, fundable, successful, and mark one’s follow-ability factor.  And they are constant.  The questions are constant.  And both the questions and answers can be just as unforgiving, just as damning, as the folks and the paperwork posing them.  These questions wear on my soul as they force me to make ministry quantifiable, objectifiable and culturally appealing.

And, in my experience, steering the world toward the heart of God is none of these things.

In the end, I guess what has come to me is that when the church has come to a place where its work, my work, is constantly put to the test of numbers, success, popularity, cultural appeal?, we teach its people to evaluate the mission of the church with the wrong questions.  And, these wrong questions betray the mission of the church.  God’s church isn’t here to pack in the numbers and prove to those already present that we are doing something cool with our time. (But we are – ha!)  God’s church is here to help God’s people to grow spiritually, to know Christ, to learn healthy, life-changing, heart-transforming habits of living.  God’s church helps us know what being God’s family looks like.  The church leads us to deeper understanding and living out of holy scripture; of serving like Jesus and being a part of God’s beautiful design for creation.

But right now, I’m wrestling deeply with my current call and place of ministry and the simple truth is that these two questions are gonna kill me.  They are constant and relentless.  They are degrading, unnerving, life-sucking, exhausting.

  • “Who else is coming?”
  • How many were there?”

My prayer this day has become …

God, guide me.  Humble me.  Steer me away from the hold these questions have on me, on my heart and on my call.  Free me to do the ministry you have gifted me to lead.  In Christ’s name, Amen.

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