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Are You on the Path to Burnout?

Are You on the Path to Burnout?

I enjoy catching up with congregation members at a favorite coffee shop. I not only really like a bold cup of coffee, I also enjoy unhurried conversations where joys, hopes, dreams, and fears bubble to the surface of our often too busy lives. A conversation I am having more frequently is around the stressful work world so many are experiencing in the fields of health care, mental health, education, business, and non-profit worlds. For many there is a lingering post-COVID exhaustion, staffing pressures, mental health challenges, increasing workloads, longer work hours, economic pressures, and a host of disruptive technological changes. This amount of stress is putting more people on the path to burnout. Finding themselves physically, emotionally, relationally and spiritually depleted, the cry of the heart I often hear is articulated with these words: “I don’t think I can do this anymore.”  

In addition to the high stress of the workplace, we live in a cultural context with increasing macro-pressures that are also fueling burnout. We sense in unsettling and disorienting ways what the writer of Psalm 11:3, declared, When the foundations are destroyed what will the righteous do?The worldview and ethical foundations we have stood upon are fast crumbling around us. The organization Renovare convened 35 leaders from many societal sectors including the arts, media, technology, politics, mental health, higher education, non-profits, and clergy. Four macro themes emerged around our cultural moment. First, we are in a time of deep instability manifesting itself in panic, isolation, and loneliness. Second, polarization and breakdown are increasing across our culture and institutions, including the church. Third, many people don’t know who they are, what is true, and where they belong. Fourth, there is a loss of confidence in leaders because of abuses of power and tragic character flaws. 

In addition, to these macro cultural pressures, the orthodox Christian faith we hold dear is not only marginalized, it is increasingly ridiculed and vigorously opposed. The increased overload in many workplaces, the broader cultural pressures, the overwhelming bombardment of information, the gnawing isolation and loneliness, and the dizzying amount of technological and cultural change are all contributing to the emotional, spiritual, relational, and physical depletion of burnout. How do we navigate our cultural moment and our challenging Monday worlds so that we can flourish and not face burnout? As a starting point, I suggest carving out some time to evaluate your pace, your patterns, and your people. 

First, how is your pace? The late Dallas Willard, whose now-famous advice to pastor John Ortberg to ruthlessly eliminate hurry, was once asked what one word he thought best described Jesus. Dallas paused for a moment and then said, “relaxed.”  As yoked apprentices of Jesus, are we like Jesus in that manner? Are we learning the importance of healthy pacing in our lives?  Let’s remember that Jesus, although facing innumerable demands and having many important things to do, lived a wise pace of an unhurried life. He often said no and we should, too. Looking back at your week, month, and your year, what pace have you been keeping?  We know that when a car speeds, it can kill, but do we grasp that when we speed through life, important things can be missed, souls can wither, and relationships implode. What is your weekly schedule telling you? Are you trying to do too much?  Are you trying to say yes too much and no too little?  

Second, what are your patterns? We are all patterned people whose habitual daily and weekly rhythms form us either for flourishing or spiritual, emotional, and relational impoverishment. Varying seasons of life often require adjustments to life patterns. Yet regardless of our life season, God built into creation a rhythm of six days of work and one day of rest. Weekly sabbath rest is God’s great gift to us in every season of life. Sabbath is not to be seen as the end of an exhausting week, but the climax of the week. God had all this in mind when keeping the sabbath became an integral part of the Ten Commandments. Abraham Joshua Heschel who wrote one of the most insightful books on the Sabbath puts it this way, “The Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays, the weekdays are for the sake of the Sabbath. It is not an interlude, but the climax of living.” How are you building a sabbath day within your weekly planning and patterns? What changes do you need to make to observe a consistent weekly sabbath day? While a sabbath is about much more than avoiding burnout, I know of few better antidotes to burnout than regular sabbath day practice. 

Another pattern to pay attention to is our daily sleep. In Psalm 4:8 we read, In peace and safety I will both lie down and sleep for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.  Getting adequate and regular sleep is foundational for flourishing and avoiding burnout. This year at our Leawood Campus we had a seminar on sleep. Let me share a few practical tips that were offered. First, we must realize there is a relationship between good sleep and regular physical exercise. Daily exercise has multiple benefits, and good sleep is one of them. What is your physical exercise pattern? Second, avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening, and create a regular pre-sleep routine, including a consistent time you go to bed and when you get up. Third, stay away from screens and your phone prior to bedtime. What they do to your brain and the light they emit affects melatonin and hinders good sleep. Keep your phone and computer screens out of your bedroom. Keep all work out of your bedroom. Your body has memory and it will function best when that bedroom space is associated with sleep.  How are you sleeping? What is your sleep pattern? 

Third, who are your people? Inevitably, when I interact with someone approaching or facing burnout, I ask them about their close friendships. Do they have a handful of people in their lives who they do life with, that know them well? Do they feel seen, safe, soothed, and secure in the context of a few close friendships? Christian psychiatrist Curt Thompson points to isolation and loneliness as a major factor in burnout. Peering through the illuminating lens of interpersonal neurobiology, Curt writes, “We know the brain can do a lot of really hard things for a long time as long as it doesn’t have to do them by itself. We only develop greater resilience when we are deeply emotionally connected to people.What close friendships do you need to cultivate and give more attention to? 

In the midst of the many stresses of our Monday worlds and in a culture that is increasingly hostile to our faith and worldview, we can avoid burnout and instead flourish. As yoked apprentices of Jesus, may we pursue daily intimacy with Jesus, keeping a sustainable pace, embracing wise patterns, and cultivating close friendships. Let’s pursue a path of flourishing, not burnout.

What’s Happening in Our Made to Flourish Mission?

What’s Happening in Our Made to Flourish Mission?

A wise and seasoned sage once said we often overestimate what we can accomplish in a year and we underestimate what God can do in a decade. The timeless insights of those unforgettable words have been repeatedly validated in my experience. This truth is particularly evident today as we witness the expanding nationwide impact of Made to Flourish. From Christ Community’s inception, we have not been about ego-driven personalities or shallow trends. Instead, our mission has always been catalytic: to be a caring family of multiplying disciples influencing our community and world for Jesus Christ. As apprentices of Jesus walking in the power of the Holy Spirit, for God’s glory alone, we are making a profound impact on our communities, our city, and our nation in ways that were unimaginable even a decade ago.

Eight years ago, Made to Flourish was conceived and birthed out of Christ Community as a separate not-for-profit organization carrying forward the leadership and vocational missional essence of Christ Community. Based in Kansas City, Made to Flourish serves on a national scale as a catalyst for pastoral formation and church revitalization. Made to Flourish empowers and equips pastors and churches to more faithfully and effectively prepare congregants for their vocational callings beyond the church walls. Many of our outstanding national staff and board originate from Christ Community, and a significant portion of my time and efforts is devoted to serving this strategic organization.

Let me give a concise update on how God is using Made to Flourish as an extension of our catalytic mission. Currently, there are 8,000 pastors in our national network, representing some 7,800 churches. Furthermore, we have partnered with 35 churches across the nation representing various denominations who have established a pastoral residency akin to Christ Community’s model. Together, as a closely allied national residency network, we are training a new generation of pastors. In 2024, we plan to launch 19 more pastoral residencies. Over the next five years our goal is to establish 100 pastoral residency churches nationwide. Can you imagine what a God-honoring impact that will make? Our prayerful aim is to help shape a new generation of pastors who are holistically flourishing as well as embodying a deep and abiding commitment to equip congregation members for their Monday callings. 

We recently introduced a new skill-mapping tool that leverages technology to provide church leadership with deeper insight about how God has called each congregant in their life outside the church walls. This assists local church leadership to better equip and encourage congregants in whole-life discipleship. As a pastor, I longed for a helpful shepherding tool like skill mapping for many years, and now it has become a reality. A growing number of churches are utilizing this helpful tool and the early reports are exceedingly positive. Common Good, our award-winning magazine, is also continuing to grow and foster a robust national conversation. Presently, Common Good has 10,000 subscribers and our goal is to have 35,000 subscribers in the next five years.   

Although each one of us may not be directly involved in Made to Flourish, we can all be a vital part of this catalytic mission. First, I invite you to pray regularly for the leadership and ongoing impact of Made to Flourish. Second, I encourage you to go to the Made to Flourish website  and subscribe to the Common Good magazine. Becoming a regular reader of it will invite you to join an engaging and robust conversation, while also providing you with the encouragement and equipping for your Monday vocational calling.  

I am pleased to announce that Matt Rusten, our executive director, will be stepping into the role of president. Matt’s dedication and integral leadership have shaped our organization’s growth. I am confident that his new role as president will continue to move us forward in pursuit of our mission. Matt will continue leading the senior leadership team, as well as devoting more time to writing and speaking as he represents Made to Flourish. In light of Matt’s transition to president, I will be taking on the role of executive chairman. My intention in this shift is to work closely with our board to provide support, guidance, and continuity as we navigate the exciting path ahead. In addition, I will continue writing and remain engaged in other strategic priorities in the years ahead. 

Together as one church family with five campus locations, we are experiencing the uplifting favor of God in numerous ways. Whether you are newer to our church family or have been a part of Christ Community for many years, never has there been a time to be more grateful and energized about the catalytic mission we have been called to faithfully embrace. 

The Other Half of Discipleship | Why We Learn Life-on-Life

The Other Half of Discipleship | Why We Learn Life-on-Life

The people we spend time with profoundly shape us. I was reminded of this truth recently at a small gathering of seasoned Christian leaders, focused on forming flourishing pastoral leadership.

Seated next to me was a surgeon who had spent many years training physicians in a prominent teaching hospital. We all listened with rapt attention as he made the compelling case that while the classroom of medical school was vitally important, it was inadequate to give the wisdom, skill, and competency needed for surgery. What was absolutely essential was lots of time at the scrub sink.

He went on to describe the process of scrubbing up for a surgery alongside more inexperienced surgeons. At the scrub sink, they talked through what the surgery would involve and what they might anticipate. Leaving the scrub sink, they rolled up their sleeves and did the surgery together. Afterward, as the team cleaned up back at the scrub sink, the lead surgeon would debrief with the rest what had taken place and what they learned during that particular surgery. Then they would go to the break room for some refreshments and more conversation.

The surgeon went on to say that in preparing a new generation of surgeons, extended times at the scrub sink were not optional. They were essential. In a similar way, he advocated for more intentional scrub-sink discipleship in the church at all levels, including in the preparation and formation of pastoral leadership.

 

Scrub-Sink Discipleship

The scrub sink is a helpful metaphor for more intentional and transformative discipleship and church-leadership preparation. For it is in a hands-on, life-on-life scrub-sink experience where needed tacit knowledge is transferred and obtained.

What is tacit knowledge? It can be defined many ways, but the basic idea is that tacit knowledge is the kind of learning gained through personal experience and relational connection. Tacit knowledge is implicit knowledge. It is a kind of knowing that goes beyond mere words. Learning to ride a bike, for example, requires a good deal of tacit knowledge. To gain the knowledge and skill necessary to ride a bike, a bike-riding manual may be helpful, but it is far from sufficient. We need to actually get on the bike, and in most cases, we need someone else there who knows how to ride a bike to guide us and cheer us on as we learn.

The twentieth-century philosopher Michael Polanyi (1891–1976) thought deeply about the important dimension of tacit knowledge. In his masterpiece work, Personal Knowledge, he writes, “By watching the master and emulating his efforts in the presence of his example, the apprentice unconsciously picks up the rules of the art, including those which are not explicitly known to the master himself” (53).

“Shared experience is the heartbeat of the tacit dimension.”

Polanyi realized that while the classroom and curricula are effective conduits of propositional knowledge, they are limited when it comes to gaining tacit knowledge. The tacit dimension of knowing transcends words and flows from personal relationships in the context of real-life togetherness and experience. Shared experience is the heartbeat of the tacit dimension.

 

Jesus and the Tacit Dimension

When we reflect on Jesus and his discipleship methods, we observe a strong tacit dimension. Jesus invited his inner circle of disciples to what could be described as a three-year scrub-sink experience. Yes, they heard him preach and teach great propositional truths, but they also lived daily life with him, observing his sinless life, his miracles, his skills, his wisdom, and his spiritual practices.

Following the resurrection, Jerusalem’s religious aristocracy were in awe of Jesus’s disciples’ brilliance and boldness. “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). How do we account for the astonishing transformation of Peter and John? Clearly, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost emboldened them, but I also believe the disciples’ three-year life-on-life experience with Jesus, where a much more tacit knowledge was transferred and obtained, is a large contributing factor. Don’t minimize the profound transformation that occurred in the life of Jesus’s closest disciples as a result of their personal experience with him.

Through the words of the religious aristocracy, Luke includes the pregnant sentence “and they recognized they had been with Jesus.” Is this mere historical observation to further the Acts narrative, or does it also give us something of pedagogical importance as we reflect on discipleship?

 

Taking Jesus’s Yoke

In our discipleship and church-leadership development, we would be wise to emulate Jesus’s life-on-life apprenticeship model, so rich in tacit knowledge. Jesus invites all who would follow him into his highly relational, highly transformative yoke of apprenticeship: “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you, and learn from me, for I am gently and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28–29). In this great invitation from Jesus, he calls all who would follow him to take his yoke of apprenticeship. Entering his yoke in obedience and submission, we encounter a highly relational apprenticeship where we learn how to live as Jesus might if he were in our place.

“The tacit dimension of discipleship embraces both the precepts and the practices of Jesus.”

The tacit dimension of discipleship embraces both the precepts and the practices of Jesus. In grace, over time, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, apprentices of Jesus increasingly are formed into greater Christlikeness. Jesus put it this way: “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).

Emulating Jesus, the early church adopted an apprenticeship model of discipleship that was highly relational, rich in tacit-knowledge transfer, and embedded in the local-church community. Writing to his protégé Timothy, who was serving in a pastoral role in Ephesus, Paul gives this grace-filled instruction: “My child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:1–2). While entrusting sound doctrine to others has a strong propositional element, don’t miss the highly relational environment of a vibrant local church and discipleship. Paul’s description seems a lot like scrub-sink discipleship. Transforming discipleship is both taught and caught.

 

Churches as Teaching Hospitals

What might a more intentional, tacit-rich dimension of discipleship mean for the local church? While our ecclesial context shapes how we answer this question, let me suggest a couple of thoughts. As good as classrooms and discipleship curricula can be, perhaps more emphasis needs to be placed on the importance of life-on-life community lived out in small groups over longer durations. This also could include a greater emphasis on multigenerational mentoring.

More than that, pastors and church leaders would be wise to focus discipleship efforts where congregants spend the majority of time throughout the week: the paid and unpaid workplace. Both pastoral care and pastoral-discipleship efforts in the church where I serve include regular workplace visits. These visits deepen relationships and become rich in the tacit dimension of discipleship and spiritual formation.

What might a more intentional, tacit-rich dimension mean for preparation of church leaders? While I am a strong proponent of the classroom and seminary, I believe we need to be more intentional to create learning environments outside the classroom that offer opportunities for obtaining and transferring tacit knowledge.

One of the most effective ways to create these environments is to establish ongoing pastoral residencies in our local churches. After completing seminary training, inexperienced pastors ideally would have a two-year immersion in a healthy local church where they learn, from more experienced pastors, the spiritual formation, proper self-care, and pastoral skills that will serve them well for a lifetime of ministry. In a sense, the church becomes a teaching hospital, where inexperienced pastors get time at the scrub sink.

 

*Reposted with permission from desiringgod.com

Remembering to Remember

Remembering to Remember

With the beginning of a new year we often pause from the hustle and bustle of busy schedules to reflect on the speedy passage of time. As the years pile on, we increasingly marvel how the past year has flown by with such breakneck speed. We hear in our hearts with increased beckoning the psalmist prayerful words, Lord teach us to number our days that we may apply our heart to wisdom.  Seeking to live more wisely in the new year, we may consider priority adjustments that require attention; life pace that needs slowing, more consistent sabbath rests, curiosities that need fostering, or relationships that call for greater deepening. Yet, there is a reflective question that we may overlook, one a life of wisdom requires. What may we have forgotten that we dare not forget?

 

The Peril of Forgetfulness 

We often call them “senior moments,” those frustrating gaps in our memory as we age. It may be someone’s name we just can’t recall, a computer password that simply has vanished from our memory, or an important anniversary date. Forgetting is embarrassing, unpleasant, and even annoying, but it can also prove perilous. A missed deadline can lead to an IRS audit, a doctor’s prescription not taken can lead to hospitalization, a burning candle left lit can burn an entire house to the ground.  But perhaps the greatest danger we face is in forgetting God’s manifest presence, his bedrock promises and his great faithfulness to us.

Martyred German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us of the evil one’s temptation strategy to get us to forget God in our daily lives. Bonhoeffer puts it this way in his book Creation and Fall, Temptation, Two Biblical Studies: “At this moment God is quite unreal to us, he loses all reality, and only desire for the creature is real; the only reality is the devil. Satan does not here fill us with hatred of God, but with forgetfulness of God.”

Forgetfulness is not something we take as seriously as we ought, yet it may well be the most perilous obstacle to our spiritual formation in Christlikeness. Just a cursory glance of the Bible reminds us over and over again of the peril of forgetting as well as the crucial importance of remembering. In this new year, as we seek to live an increasingly wise life, perhaps few things are more important than remembering to remember. What do we need to remember to remember? What must we dare not forget?

 In a very dark moment in redemptive history, the writer of Lamentations encourages God’s covenant people to remember to remember. “This I call to mind and therefore I have hope. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:21-23  In The Message, Eugene Peterson paraphrases this text beautifully. “But there is one thing I remember and remembering I keep a grip on hope. God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I got left.”

 

Remembering God’s Unfailing Love  

As we enter a new year, let’s remember to remember God’s unfailing love to us. Others will let us down, disappoint us and fail us, but God will not. His promises are golden. His presence is never in doubt. He is always there for you. He will never leave the room on you. As his son or daughter, he simply, purely, and utterly delights in you. The prophet Zephaniah describes God’s loving presence with sheer delight for his covenant people. “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save, he will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV) What this coming year will bring we do not know, but we can truly know God’s unfailing love will be there for us both as individual apprentices of Jesus as well as a faith community. Nothing, or no one, can ever separate us from God’s unfailing love.

                                   

Remembering God’s Past Faithfulness

In this new year, let’s also remember to remember God’s past faithfulness. Few things build more hopeful buoyancy in our hearts and minds than remembering God’s past faithfulness. It is seen in his loving protection of our lives, abundant provision for our needs, his guiding and comforting presence even in the midst of suffering, and the many good things he showers on us simply for our delight and joy. How has God shown his faithfulness to you this past year? When God’s covenant people crossed the Jordan river into the promised land, God instructed them to carry with them twelve memorial stones of remembrance so they would not forget God’s past faithfulness in the forty years of rugged wilderness living. What might be a tangible way you can better remember to remember God’s past faithfulness in your life this year? Where are your stones of remembrance? How will they help you not forget what you dare not forget?

 

Remembering Christ Together

Remembering to remember is not only an individual endeavor, it is woven into the hopeful and joyful fabric of local church community. When we  make weekly corporate worship a high priority, together in the power of the Holy Spirit we are remembering to remember God’s good news to us, Christ’s work for us, his unfailing love for us, his faithfulness to us and his manifest presence with us. When our Lord Jesus instituted Holy Communion for his local gathered church, he placed it in a frame of remembrance.  Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” This year will you join me and our Christ Community family on Sundays with greater regularity and more joyful expectation of remembering to remember our wonderful Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? He is the one who has forgiven us, given us new creation life, and welcomed us into his already, but not fully yet kingdom. If we are going to live a life of increasing wisdom in this new year, let’s remember to remember what we dare not forget.

The Unhurried and Unstoppable Mission of God

The Unhurried and Unstoppable Mission of God

For over two decades we have been committed in our church mission and organizational culture to narrow the Sunday to Monday gap so perilously prevalent in the American church. In the power of the Spirit and with biblical wisdom we have increasingly become a local church congregation with Monday in mind. As a church family we have never been more intentional or more committed to the primacy of vocational discipleship and vocational mission. Yet, I believe two of the most compelling realities for us to keep close to our hearts in narrowing the Sunday to Monday gap are gospel plausibility and proclamation, both of which are more important than ever in our increasingly secular age.

 

Seeing is Believing

The goodness of the gospel so often needs to be seen by others around us before it is truly heard from us. Taking the time to look back at church history reinforces this timeless truth. A particularly insightful church historian is scholar Alan Krieder. Like fellow early church historian Rodney Stark, the question of what enabled the early church to grow as it did against fierce cultural headwinds and formidable odds is one that captures their intellectual curiosity and disciplined research focus. In his excellent book, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, Krieder puts it this way; “Why did this minor mystery religion from the eastern Mediterranean—marginal, despised, discriminated against—grow substantially, eventually supplanting the well-endowed, respectable cults that were supported by the empire and aristocracy? What enabled Christianity to be so successful that by the fifth century it was the established religion of the empire?”

 Kreider answers this question by pointing to several factors we are wise to emulate. First, he describes what he calls habitus, that is, the very down-to-earth reflexive bodily behavior exhibited in the mysterious mundane of daily life where the early Christians lived, worked, and played. Kreider writes, “Their behavior said what they believed; it was an enactment of their message. And the sources indicate that it was their habitus more than their ideas that appealed to the majority of the non-Christians who came to join them.”  The early church theologian Cyprian summarizes Christian habitus as a non-compartmentalized, comprehensive, and distinct way of life. What we might describe as an integral and coherent life embraced not only on Sunday, but also lived on Monday. Cyprian wrote, “we do not speak great things, we live them.” It was the early Christians’ distinct lives forged and formed in a highly relational community that spoke volumes of plausibility to a curious and watching world. 

 

A Curious Lifestyle

Kreider points particularly to the virtue of patience. At first blush this may be a bit surprising, but the early Christians viewed God’s sovereign mission as “unhurried and unstoppable.” The result was they placed less emphasis on bold strategies and more emphasis on morally and virtuously distinct lifestyles that would be organically and relationally influential over time. The early Christians were known and at times scorned and ostracized for their sexual purity ethic, sanctity of life ethic–particularly for the unborn and newborn, their diligent work ethic, their sacrificial caring for the poor, and for a lifestyle of non-violence. 

 

Working Together

The gospel and its transformational influence was primarily spread in the context of the marketplace. Ordinary Christians, not clergy, were the missional key. Kreider notes, “Christians followed their business opportunities.” Pointing out the witness of Christians, Kreider notes that non-Christians observed distinct Christian differences in the marketplace. Non-Christians “experienced the way they (Christians) did business with them, the patient way the Christians operate their businesses.” Kreider summarized the profound impact of vocational discipleship and vocational mission. “What happened was this. Non-Christians and Christians worked together and lived near each other. They became friends.”

 

A Distinct Lifestyle

While the early church was far from perfect, their pluralistic cultural context is in many ways remarkably similar to our 21st century western world. There is much for us to learn from the remarkable legacy they left behind in shaping the Christian church. Kreider’s helpful insights on the early church’s long-term impact resonate deeply with our church for Monday strategic emphasis. It is our hope that vocational discipleship will bring increased spiritual formation and with it a distinct lifestyle and bold verbal witness to our local, national, and global marketplace. 

While we desire to employ our best creativity and strategic thinking moving forward, we are wise to remember the early church’s patient ferment, knowing that in redemptive history as it unfolds in front of our eyes, God’s mission is unhurried and unstoppable. With a tenacious trust, an unhurried pace, and a patient posture, may we not only speak great things, but also live them before a curious and watching world.