I’m going to call it. Many of the decisions that we make – whether in ministry posts or as members of the church – revolve around one particularly alluring idol: what makes my life easier.
‘Hang on!’ I hear you cry. ‘I serve jolly hard. I don’t think I’m just doing whatever makes my life easier.’ And, of course, I am sure that’s true. Not everything we do is designed to make life easier. Though we perhaps have to wrestle a bit more with whether the things do are always on our terms, if we do them because they ‘fit’ our schedule, and just enough to assuage our guilt in not serving. Guilt has a nasty habit of not making my life easier. It tends to ruin my ease. If I serve in something that is easy enough for me, that I can put in my diary and then tell myself I have fulfilled my service duties, I can keep my guilt at bay. So I serve, and am happy to do so, because it stops me feeling guilty that I’m not. But what and where and how I serve may not speak to somebody pushing outside their comfort zone.
But let’s be honest, which people tend to get the most help in our churches? Is it necessarily the people with the deepest needs? Maybe. But I’d be prepared to guess that, if most of us are honest, it’s often those who make the loudest noise. Whose concerns get heard the most? Those who spend the most time raising them usually. Even beyond our own churches, in our wider affiliations, how do we often decide where resources go? Is it those who are genuinely most needy? I think if we’re being honest, the squeaky wheel frequently gets the grease. Why is that the case? Because we all long for a quieter, easier life.
If someone is continually on at me about their pet peeve, I may well do something about it just to get rid of them. Jesus told a parable about that and, as I recall, the judge involved isn’t deemed a particularly righteous fellow. Now, it may well be that those who get on at us are in genuine need. But much of the time, we’re not really driven to help because of their need or out of love for them; we act out of a selfish desire to serve ourselves and get them off our backs.
I read this really interesting article by Adrian Reynolds yesterday. One of the points Adrian made was that many churches create training posts, not because they need someone, but because they see training as a Biblical imperative. I have no doubt many do exactly that. But I am also sure that the allure of making our life easier carries something of a draw for many too. I think this is especially tempting for churches like mine in which posts are not created because we think it would be nice but because we genuinely need more workers.
“Need” is a slippery word, isn’t it? I certainly feel we need more workers. I think most of our church would concur, particularly the core folks doing the majority of the ministry work. But it is tempting to think that we need more workers because we all feel over-stretched. In other words, workers are coming in to lighten our load a bit and make our church life a little bit easier.
I am convinced that is why a lot of difficulties arise when workers come in. We want them to make our life easier and they have the temerity to come with their own set of problems we hadn’t countenanced. We then get annoyed that there’s more work to do and life didn’t get any easier at all!
It turns out, people aren’t just workhorses for the church but real members, with genuine pastoral needs, that all require attention every now and then. Even if they do come in and lighten the burden in terms of works that must be run, there will still need to be meetings and things (that you probably weren’t having before) to keep a handle on whatever it is that you’ve brought them in to do. We really want an easier life and yet we get more problems to handle, more meetings to have and that alluring sense of ease slips through our grasp.
But this is unique to those who are appointing workers. It is appealing for members and workers to think like this too. I’m coming to this church because I feel it will serve my needs. I’ve decided I need X and this church will deliver X. But then we get there and, while it may give us X, it also demands a whole host of other things from us that we simply hadn’t counted on. We then begin to feel that church is hard, which soon becomes complaining that church is hard. And that complaint belies a deeper problem: we were expecting church to make our life easier.
So we deem church difficult and hope, in some ways, the Lord will take it upon himself to make our life easier. But, as my mum used to say, what’s that got to do with the price of fish? Since when did Jesus say, come follow me and I will make your life easy and comfortable? Interestingly, when Jesus healed the lame man and told him to pick up his mat and walk, he was immediately accused of making the man work by the Pharisees. The man was now at work showing the glory of Christ. Like that, Jesus heals us so that we are able to work for him and only those who are not truly spiritual reckon that to be a problem.
The church does not exist to make your life easier. The church exists to make you – along with the other members the Lord has give to you – more like Christ. The purpose of your church isn’t to make your life easier, it is to make it holier. The church is there to help you grow and, just like the athlete who doesn’t get fitter by sitting on the sofa, you don’t grow in Christlikeness by sitting back and not serving. Nobody ever won a race without a lot of training and hard work. Nobody wins the crown of life by trusting Christ to just make my life easier.
If we long to be with Christ, and like Christ, because we love Christ, we need to stop seeking an easy life. Instead, we need to ask Christ to grow us. We need to ask him to give us the mind of Christ who preferred others needs above our own. We need to stop expecting him to make our life easier and start expecting him to work in ways that will cause us to grow and love him more. As we grow and love him more, as we see our service as the means of growth, then we will begin see – in one of those paradoxes of scripture – as we serve him more, his yoke is easy and his burden light.