Over the last several weeks, a number of church members have noticed how full our calendar has been getting. They’ve been saying, “We’ve got enough on our plate already! Be mindful of how much you’re asking of the membership.” We’ve heard your voices and you’re right!
In a blog post a few weeks ago, I mentioned that traditional structures of family support are often in short supply and said that we needed to find new ways to meet the emotional and spiritual needs of families and individuals who are “often over-scheduled, over-stressed, and over-extended.”
In lives that are already full, the church shouldn’t be the one to pile on. Activity should never be confused with progress, or programming with organizational health. In fact, more activities and programming often prohibit churches from focusing effectively on core principles and objectives. Over-programming can actually inhibit progress and be unhealthy for churches and communities.
If we want people to create margin in their schedules, we have to be willing to create margin in ours. And if we want to create spiritually supportive communities, we have to identify the best times and spaces for that kind of community to take root and then give those spaces priority on our calendars.
In a recent Atlantic article titled, “America’s Workers: Stressed Out, Overwhelmed, Totally Exhausted,” Rebecca Rosin quotes this advice from Peter Senge, a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, about how to combat the overwhelmed, totally exhausted cultures we create for ourselves:
“Create your own community, a network of like-minded people. Humans are wired to conform—that’s why these cultural pressures, however silly they may seem, wield such power over us. So find a group that fits your values that would make you happier to conform to.”
I doubt Senge had a church community in mind when he offered his suggestion, but isn’t that what many of us are looking for in our churches–a community of like-minded people who share our values? Aren’t we looking for a community that will help us stand firm against cultural pressures and instead conform to Christian values that will give our lives more substance and happiness?
Clearing space on our calendars isn’t easy. But if we value mental health, overall wellness, and spiritual well-being, we have to do it. It means saying no to great new ideas and passing up valuable opportunities. It can even mean saying goodbye to programming and ministry projects that continue to be effective.
But it also means saying yes to greater focus and clarity. Clearing space on our calendars allows us to say yes to greater unity of purpose and energy. And saying no provides the opportunity for our church and its members to model in our individual and collective lives the kind of balance and margin that our neighbors are craving.
It doesn’t hurt that that kind of balance is biblically mandated, either. Prophets warn about earthly activity that ultimately leaves us feeling empty (Haggai 1:5-9, Isaiah 55:1-2). Micah even identifies activity and industry that leaves us feeling unfulfilled as a curse or judgment from God (Micah 6:13-15). The psalmist offers us a God who leads us beside quiet waters and restores our souls (Psalm 23). And Jesus offers himself as a place of rest for the overburdened and weary (Matthew 11:28).
Ultimately, our incessant drive toward ever higher levels of busyness belies an arrogance that refuses to believe that the church or our workplaces or our families will make it without us…and an inability to acknowledge that we need rest and restoration to be at our best for each of them. Even worse, in our habit of busyness, we can quickly begin to adopt the attitude that God needs our activity more than we need his.
Ultimately, finding margin and balance are all about leaving room for God’s activity, creating room for God to lead. When God leads, our souls are restored. I’d be happy to conform to and be a part of a community that values that. As our pastor says, “I’d like to join a church like that.” I bet a lot of our neighbors would to.
So get some rest. Find some balance. See you Sunday.