Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Discipleship: Balance & Faith, Not Fixing People

It is a lesson that doctors and pastors have a hard time learning: we cannot “fix” people. Medicine and God can fix people, but people cannot fix people. I think this even applies to being disciples and making the disciples: We cannot fix people; only God can. The sooner we learn that, the better.

We cannot be all things to all people - even in the church. As much as we want everyone to come to Sunday School, never miss worship, be here whenever the doors are open, etc., the reality is that once we invite people and encourage them, we have to let God do the rest. It doesn’t mean we need to be lazy or “hands off,” but neither can we make nor fix people into being faithful. Only God can do that.

I am keenly aware of this, being that pastors tend to be people pleasers. The problem with this is (a) no one can make everyone happy, and (b) Christians are supposed to please God and God only. I know what the expectations are: pastors are supposed to be CEO’s, administrators, counselors, academicians, teachers, visitors of the sick and lonely, fund raisers, spiritual leaders, marry-ers and bury-ers, and excellent preachers. The fact is that it is impossible to do all of these things to suit everyone – so why try? We must please God first. And in the end, only God can fix things anyway.

Trying to be something we are not, and trying to do what is not in our power leads to burnout. The most sobering statistic I have ever read is this one from Jimmy L. Draper, former head of Lifeways Ministries: today, for every 20 people that go into the pastorate, only one of them will retire from it. They either burn out, get dismissed, have a moral/ethical breakdown, or just quit. I know I can count over 30 people I have known in the past 20 years around my age that are no longer in pastoral ministry.

Before you feel too sorry for me, I think all of these things apply to all of us as disciples: do we see ourselves as fixers, or helpers? Do we see ourselves as lone rangers, or in partnership with Christ? Do we think that we don’t pray hard enough, or is it possible that we’re simply not listening (or liking!) what God might be saying to us?

It’s all about balance and faith – in all things. If we please anyone, it needs to be God. Only God can fix what is broken, and only God can cure us of what ails us.