Today’s guest post is by my friend, Daniel Darling. He’s a pastor and a great writer. His new book, Real-Owning Your Christian Faith is coming out this summer. I encourage you to pick up a copy.
Ever since my father slipped out of Sunday evening choir practice to take my mother to the hospital for my birth, I’ve been part of a church. As a kid, we were at church whenever the doors were opened and a whole bunch of times when the doors were not. I’ve served on church staffs my whole life and am now a senior pastor.
I love the Church. I love churches. I love being around God’s people. But if you’ve been raised in the faith as I have, you know this life has it’s own unique set of challenges.
Here are the top three, as I see it:
- Unrealistic Expectations. For some reason, we have this expectation that if you grow up in the church, in just the right system, you will end up mastering sin and loving God always. Well, nobody says it quite that way, but that’s the underlying assumption. We tend to treat church kids like products rolled of an assembly line. We put the perfectly formed babies in at one end and expect that by age eighteen, they will roll of the line with just the right measure of spirituality, giftedness, and grace. We expect them to set the world on fire. I can’t tell you how often I was told growing up, “You are going to set the world on fire. With your heritage, there is no limit.” These people meant to encourage, but unwittingly they saddled me with unrealistic, otherworldly expectations. The truth is that even church kids, raised in good homes with good parents, who have been taught all the right doctrines—these kids still have a sin nature. We will have struggles and weaknesses. We have besetting sins no system can iron out. We are not Christian machines.
- Prone to Wander. When my parents came to faith, they were adults who had seen the impact of selfish living and worldly pursuits. They didn’t need to be told the dangers of life lived apart from God. They already experienced that. But me? I heard rumors of the bad stuff “out there” but how did I know it was really that bad? Maybe my parents were exaggerating a bit. Every human heart is “prone to wander” but for the child of the church, who has only known faith, I think this impulse is a bit stronger. Sometimes this is manifested in legalistic self-righteousness and other times its displayed in all out rejection and rebellion against the church. We often want to blame rebellion on bad parenting or bad systems or bad churches—but these are just environmental factors. The truth is that the natural human heart is set against God. I think 2ndGeneration Christians must acknowledge and guard against this tendency.
- Stagnant Faith. For a child of the church, faith can quickly, easily grow stagnant and routine. And it’s not simply the fault of the church paradigm in which we grew up. It’s because having known Jesus all of our lives, He becomes too familiar. This is why its important for us to wrestle with our faith as if it is new, to plum the depths of doctrine and mine the Scripture as if we’ve just discovered them. Every generation of believers must have their own awakening, their own radical experience with God that makes the faith of their parents their own.
What other challenges do you see?
Barna Research discovered that 61% of pastors are lonely and have few close friends.
The loneliest people in churches are often pastors.
Why is this so?
Four key factors inhibit pastors from developing close friendships.
- lack of formative modeling: in our families of origin we’re close to our parents and/or they never modeling for us how to create intimate relationships.
- some pastors develop a loner tendency-they’d rather be alone
- personality-some personalties can unintentionally push people away
- wounds from our past can compel us to put up walls with others
I visited a physical therapist recently to get some kinks out of my back. As she torqued my left leg into a pretzel, she told me about a friend who recently got news about a life threatening medical condition. As my therapist shared, she felt unsure about what to say to her friend facing such sadness. Even though I’ve been in ministry over 30 years, the right thing to say to someone sad still eludes me. What should we say to someone like her friend? Or better yet, what should we not say?
Since our youngest was diagnosed with a brain tumor 25 years ago, what people have said to us has run the gamut from perfect to really bad. Most people really want to encourage us when we hurt, but often they say exactly what you don’t need to hear.
Here’s a few statements to NEVER say to someone in pain, no matter what kind of pain.
- Every thing will be all right. God’s in control. (Yes, God is control, but everything may not turn out right.)
- Just have more faith and you will be fine. (Platitude.)
- God told me that you’d be healed/your problem will go away. (Why did he tell you and not me?)
- Could there possibly be some sin in your life? (Sounds like one of Job’s friends.)
Criticism hurts, especially the non-constructive kind. We tend to stay away from such critics. But is that the wisest choice? Should we draw close to them instead of pulling away from them?
Murray Bowen, the father of family systems, coined the phrase “non-anxious presence.” He used this term to describe a personal quality that when a leader exhibits it, can keep a family or a group’s overall emotional reactivity and anxiety down. He and others suggest that leaders should not cut off from critics, but should actually stay connected to them in a calm way.
What does a non-anxious leader look like?
- can truly listen to another, even if he or she is bearing bad news or criticism
- can hold his emotions in check when in the hot seat
- can acknowledge the emotions of his critic
- will calmly and courageously respond instead of reacting
Ernest Shackleton, one of the greatest explorers ever, modeled this non-anxious presence with his Antarctica expedition crew as they were marooned for over a year in 1915-1916 after their ship was crushed by the ice. His calm presence and his drawing to difficult crew members allowed him to lead them all to safety. Not one man perished. Here’s what he did.
- His photographer, Frank Hurley would feel slighted if the crew didn’t pay attention to him and would become difficult to work with. Instead of isolating him, Shackleton gave him a place in his tent and often conferred with him.
- His physicist, Reginald Jamer, was an introverted academic. Shackleton feared that his personality might invite ridicule that in turn could escalate into a serious issue. He made him a bunkmate as well.