how to be content when you don’t feel like you’re achieving anything

13 09 2013

“How do I grow spiritually?”
“Well, I wouldn’t start from here.”

It’s hard to measure spiritual formation. It’s not all relative – that would make it meaningless. But it does depend where you are starting from, and what else is going on in your world. How do we measure spiritual formation in someone with mental health problems, or who’s life is consumed with complex parenting, or who has no reliable relationships? Or all 3. Or more.  

So easily we use measures that are, well, measurable. Bums on seats. Numbers in home groups. Baptisms. Retweets? 

Small churches in deprived areas can be hard to organise, to develop, to grow. People often have multiple issues in their lives, and also an outlook often unfamiliar with ideas of progression, change, development, responsibility and leadership.  So forget detailed programmes of discipleship courses based around growth and professional development.

Sometimes you have to accept that standing still is an achievement. Really? Is it possible to be content with standing still? I didn’t want to hear that when I was at college. But yes, it is, if the ground beneath you is constantly dragging backwards. That is how it feels for so many people. Aspiration? How can you aspire if simply not going under is an achievement. 

Can we be content with this? When all around us books affirm growth and development and ‘success’; when our very being is one that yearns for and believes in God’s power to transform and redeem. And what we mean by that is lives led less chaotically, listening to the Spirit, families at peace, worship lifting the ceiling and the gaps in the rota filled voluntarily. And what we get, for the most part, is tiny incremental moves and an unreliable PA system nobody knows how to fix.

Is that ok? 

I imagined asking Jesus this and him replying with “How are you?” Trust him to  have a left-field perspective. 

A universal must of ministry [that especially applies in a deprived area?] is character. Am I consistent? People don’t expect it. Am I trustworthy? People don’t expect it. Do I lead by example? People don’t expect it. Do I only talk to people because I want them to come to church, or do I actually care? People don’t expect it. Do I model a faith rooted deeply in Jesus, yet expressed and lived honestly and in the same world as those among whom I live? Have I let go of my internal markers of ‘successful ministry’ that grind me down with their voices of comparison and criticism and simply let God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – be the most important things in who I am and what I do.

Because we are building the Kingdom, not churches. Though churches are easier to measure.

Then my eyes are opened to what God is doing that I simply couldn’t see before. That the tiny increments are a massive deal for those they happen to. My world can be so churchy. I’ve been working out my faith all my life. Many of my people have not. It is new to them. 

Forgive my haste. Grow my character. Build your church. 



12 responses

13 09 2013

This is very good and helpful. Thanks.

13 09 2013

thank you. awesome. relevant. timely. profoundly insightful. and yes, maybe at times simply not going under is in itself a sign of God’s grace and mercy. and maybe at other times going under and then coming up again is equally grace-ful. and even if someone goes under and, humanly speaking, doesn’t come up again… even then surely God is in the drowning with them. with us. triumphalism helps nobody. being real does. and being real is ultimately what God, who is Being, calls us to be. not to do – to be. thank you.

13 09 2013

Brilliant. Very true.

13 09 2013

Arrr…the ever present ‘bar’. Where do we set it? Where are our expectations? Where are God’s? This afternoon a stranger knocked on my door. I invited her in. She asked me to pray for her. We prayed together. Her hope is to not feel so lonely. She asked for tea, but would have preferred wine. She knows Jesus, but her heart is full of guilt. Come as you are I said. (Kurt Cobain not Jesus!) Grace and ‘bars’ often wrestle with each other. We need to have them both, but God’s ‘bars’ and Gods grace. Lord help me.

13 09 2013
Dave May

Kevin thanks for this. For me it’s a nudge in the right direction but I probably need a good few more nudges. Maybe likewise for you. In any case, bless you for your honesty, we need more of this.
If you haven’t already, check out a blog called Musings on Life and Leadership by Chloe Lynch who runs a church of similar proportions (not necessarily style) to yours and is posting along very similar lines just now.
Sorry I’ve no wise words of my own to offer right now. But add someone we both rate highly would say, “Grace & Peace”.

14 09 2013

Jesus invites us to ‘be’ worts and all.
Society demands we ‘do’ and do it right.
I think I’ll stick with Jesus !

15 09 2013
Shelley Pipe

Sometimes being a part of Christ is near impossible when you’re trying to be part of a church. I don’t know where or how this disconnect happens but I never felt further from the Jesus filled life I had in dark corners by myself than when I was trying to find my place in a congregation. I don’t know now if I just misunderstood church and what I was supposed to do there but I felt like a fake. Having not been raised going to church I didn’t know anything about it but by goodness I loved Christ with such passion and awe that I felt I should be there and add my voice. I love Christ passionately still! But my voice became silent if not compliant. Things my heart vehemently cried out for fell mute behind a fear of not being a good enough Christian for my new church family. So when the opportunity came I quietly walked away and guess what….no one came looking for me.

You’re congregation is very blessed to have you. I feel blessed to have found your words.

Cheers Shelley

15 09 2013

Thanks Shelley, I know you’re not alone in how you feel, and I hope one day you find a way out of the fringes and into the heart of a realistic and hopeful and engaging community. Thanks for your encouragement to me.

15 09 2013

Yup. Note to self: go and think likewise.

16 09 2013
Scott Davies

In the book ‘Crossroads’ (sequel to ‘The Shack’ and not related to the soap from the 70s/80s – showing my age!). It paints a helpful image of our lives being like a garden and slowly over time it is weeded (if we allow it), it has seeds planted and so on. Sometimes we judge churches and ourselves like a TV garden makeover – expecting instant success or speedy instant changes. The reality is very often difficult and ultimately more rewarding. It’s not how you start but how you finish and the ‘fun’ along the way!

16 09 2013
Scott Davies

Sorry ‘different’ not ‘difficult’. Although that too sometimes!

18 09 2013

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