The Balancing Act of Being and Doing (Anxiety and Prayer, part 2)

By Joe LaGuardia

In her memoir Leaving Church, spiritual author Barbara Brown Taylor talks about churches walking the fine line between putting people to work and encouraging people to take Sabbath rest, promoting spiritual growth and affirming that God loves us as we are, and attracting people to come to worship while being passionate about sending people out to join Christ at work in the world.

If churches get off balance on one side — say on the Sabbath, the affirmation, and the sending — then we make Christianity come off too easily, discipleship without a cost as the German ethicist Bonhoeffer might say.  Teeter to the other side — the works, the growth, and the gathering — then we threaten to forget that our faith is just as much about being as it is doing.

Taylor writes, “I thought that being faithful was about becoming someone other than who I was . . . and it was not until this project failed that I began to wonder if my human wholeness might be more useful to God than my exhausting goodness.”

In other words, what good are we to be ministers and missionaries of the gospel if we are exhausted all of the time—how do we, as a church, find that balance?

I found this question pertaining to balance lingering under the biblical words that span from Isaiah 62 to Isaiah 63.  In Isaiah 62, God encourages Israel to put restlessness to good use (I address this more fully in part 1 of this series) .  When we are restless or working hard, anxious or unable to focus, Isaiah says to use that energy to pray.  “Take no rest,” Isaiah says to Israel, “all you who pray to the Lord, and give the Lord no rest until he completes his work” (v. 6).

In Isaiah 63, the prophet invokes a different strategy—those who focus on the Lord and righteousness by turning restless minds and busy hands towards the Lord in prayer, will in fact find Sabbath rest in the Lord just as God’s people did centuries before:

“As with cattle going down into a peaceful valley, the Spirit of the Lord gave them rest” (v. 14).

As leaders in the church, we are stewards of a complex and growing congregation—the more programming and people we attract, the more we are called on to serve or to delegate that service.  My prayer, however, is that church—and the things that you do individually—is life-giving.  I hope that it is a source of joy and, when restlessness does come your way, it motivates you to pray, seek Sabbath rest, and seek the Lord’s face.

Ministry is about who we are, not only about what we do.  Fourteenth-century Mystic Meister Eckhart once wrote that what we do should not form who we are; rather, who we are ought to embolden what we do.   We have to put the horse before the cart, and get our spiritual ducks in a row before releasing the ducks to take flight.  Let’s not neglect the balance that the Lord calls us all to  have as we live—together as a church—in Christ.

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Balance political work with family time…

Curated.

A recent article by Zach Dawes, Jr., asks whether we have turned a corner in a national conversation on balancing family and work…

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) made headlines when he told GOP House members that he would not sacrifice family time should he be elected as the next Speaker of the House. After sharing his vision for a renewed Republican Party during an Oct. 20 news conference, Ryan said, “I cannot and will not give up my family time,” which would mean that he would not “be on the road as often as previous Speakers.”

Read more here at EthicsDaily.com

Church Abuse, and other forms of discipleship

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By Joe LaGuardia

I have a confession: I abuse my church.

By abuse, I don’t mean it in the contemporary sense of the word.  I mean it in the traditional sense, like when your grandfather abused those old work boots by wearing them in and putting them to work over the last four decades, boots scarred from a hard life forged in the protestant work ethic.

When I say I abuse my church, I refer to the challenges that push it beyond familiar comfort zones.

Jesus asked his disciples to bear the cross in order to follow him; without a few crosses to overcome, the church cannot have celebration.  Where there is no grave, there is no resurrection, according to theologian Karl Barth.

In this context, abuse is a part of discipleship.

There are several ways I abuse my church. For one, I abuse my church when I challenge it to bear the cross of intergenerational ministry.  In a culture that caters to every age group, some churches separate the generations in worship and ministry.

Large congregations cannot get around this model of ministry.  Nevertheless, the notion that families need a break from one another when they get to church is overrated.

Research proves that families can grow in faith more effectively by following Christ together.

Holly Allen and Christine Ross, in their book Intergenerational Faith Formation, demonstrate how this type of ministry benefits families.  Since all people yearn for belonging, it is “the best way for people to link narratives, communities, mentors, traditions, and practices” of a common faith.  It is “essential to Christian formation and the development of mature faith.”

I also abuse my church by making it bear the cross of responsibility.  Sure, I can preach sermons that provide all the answers to life and tell parishioners what to think, but this program of indoctrination only goes so far.

Indoctrination may dispense useful information, but it rarely teaches people how to think theologically and critically for themselves.

We ministers are not able to return home with churchgoers and read the Bible for them.  When we pass on and get to the pearly gates over yonder, our pastors will not be with us to help answer Peter’s quiz questions.

We need to hear directly from the Holy Spirit, not just words about the Holy Spirit from a third party.

Once responsible, I abuse my church by refusing to put on a performance during worship.  Quality worship is born from within.

Nor is worship about “getting fed” (notice, this phrase is always in the passive tense).  Worship is about celebrating where God is at work in our lives, a response to the grace that we have witnessed.

No amount of Bible study, singing, preaching, or ministry activity can “feed” you.  Only Jesus is the Bread of Life and the eternal wellspring that quenches our longings for the Divine–and our worship to God flows from a soul filled with love and overwhelmed by the Holy Ghost.

It was the philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, who noted that all of us are worshiping God whether in the pulpit or the pew.  God is our audience.  Clergy are the mere conductors of the orchestra of the saints.

The last way I abuse my church is to beckon it to bear the cross of missions.  God calls the church to reach beyond its own walls and avoid becoming an escape from the rigors of life.

Again, we confuse function with intent.  Church is intended to be a resource for the journey, a mere launching pad for reaching out to share the gospel with others in the world.  It is not intended to be either a final destination or a social club.

Every church can take the broad way that looks comfortable, but it is the way that leads to destruction.  The narrow way of discipleship, which leads to life, is strewn with crosses, risks, and demands for vulnerability.  Like Grandpa’s work boots, it exhibits a journey of abuse and hard work, of ownership and maturity.