Friday, October 9, 2009

What's Wrong With this Picture

The conventional church is an organization where it accepted as normal that 20% of the members do 80% of the work. What is wrong with this picture?

In scripture we see a model where EVERYONE is given gifts and EVERYONE is expected to exercise those gifts so how did we get to this crazy unbalanced place where church burnout is rampant and where people constantly operate outside their natural gifting because "someone has to do it"? Enter "Church Burnout" in Google and you'll get an idea of the magnitude of this problem. I see it in the mega-churches I have attended and currently attend and in the tiny start up communities that I visit trying to find a place that is more sane. I came across a blog tonight of a lovely young woman that had this to say about her own experience:

I have both congestive heart failure and BAD fibromyalgia to the point that I was told not to hold a normal job anymore, which is why I work from home now. However, I'm an intern at my church and expected to be there every morning at 8AM and I don't know what time we'll be home but all I'll be doing at home is sleeping.

This resonates with me for reasons of my own struggles with balancing my somewhat fragile health with the endless needs of the church. Somehow work for the church (and other religious groups) is considered so noble, so much more important than anything else, that we don't see the paradox of having a medical condition which prevents us from working outside the home yet placing ourselves in a volunteer job that is every bit as demanding, sometimes more so. At least with a paid job we know what time we'll be home at night.

The blogger above finally reached a burnout point to the degree that she is not doing ANYTHING for the church anymore. This was the THIRD church where she had experienced the exhausting, endless, un-boundaried abuse of her individual talents and gifts. She is, understandably, sucked dry and she is representative of multitudes of us who are still suffering in the trenches wondering where the easy yoke and light burden we were promised went.

The fact is there is something wrong with this picture. From the model of a body where everyone has a role to fulfil and everyone is expected to contribute we have created a Frankenstein's monster, 80% dead, being kept animated by the other 20% and that part is also slowly dying from exhaustion and overwork. We have to stop the monster. We have to muster the strength to stand against the religious peer pressure and say, "NO MORE!" We have to realize that God himself needed a day of rest and that it isn't noble or honoring to him to pretend that we don't.

Our pastoral staffs need to be the shepherds that scripture calls them to be rather than the salesmen and recruiters they have become. They need to look around at the volunteers that they see doing all the work and notice the ones that are there for EVERYTHING. Then rather than applauding them for their dedication they need to help them find balance. They need to encourage them to NOT step up and fill the needs EVEN if it means those needs go unfilled. If the workers aren't there for a particular program then perhaps we should examine if that program is God's will for us to be investing our time, money and energy into.

I'll be revisiting this topic from several angles in the coming months. It is a personal area I need to work out and a burden I have for the dedicated, exhausted, overworked 20% that is carrying the other 80% on their backs. I hope as the team develops they will also share on this issue.

What are your thoughts and experiences? The comments page is open.

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