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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

Busy, Busy, Busy
September 14, 2017

As we enter the fall season, most congregations are launching a new program year. They have recruited, and maybe even landed, leaders for each class or activity. If they are at all typical, they have heard “no” more often than “yes.”

And just as that round of recruiting winds down, many nominations committees are gearing up their process of finding nominees for the next class of officers. And here, perhaps even more so, “no” can be the predominant answer.

How do we get the most gifted of our members to serve in church leadership when they are already heavily committed, and in many cases over-committed?

One way we try to cajole such people into service is by portraying the job as a light thing. Time commitments are minimal, we say, hoping that people who are already too busy might consider taking on this “little” extra thing. There are lots of great resources to help you do the job; you don’t have to invent anything (so we say). The IAPOC strategy (“it’s a piece of cake”) is sure to backfire in a couple of ways. First, the best people don’t usually find cupcake jobs appealing. They thrive on challenge. Second, if they accept and then it turns out the role isn’t as advertised, we lose our capacity to recruit them when we may critically need them.

The deeper problem is that there is nothing in our DNA as Christ’s followers that gibes with making the pathway as easy as possible. Jesus will have none of it. His job description for his followers always involves bearing a cross and laying down our lives.

The over-busy parishioner is often a mirror of an over-busy pastor. Where is the rhythm of sabbath-keeping? Such busy-ness is often a symptom of underlying anxiety, which is utterly alien to the work of the Lord. “If we don’t do it, it won’t get done,” we fret. “God has no hands and feet but ours,” the amen corner echoes. The choir responds, “God helps those who help themselves.” While these folk sayings are lodged deep within the canon of American Christianity, they are nowhere in the Bible and their theology makes too much of us and too little of God.

Cast your anxiety on the Lord, Peter urges. (1 Peter 5:7) Paul chimes in, “Be anxious for nothing.” (Philippians 4:6) They are simply channeling Jesus, who teaches that there is no such thing as a good reason to worry. (Matthew 6:25-34)

Courage. Resolve. Self-sacrifice. Giving our all. Each of these is part of the job description Jesus gives his disciples. But frenzy? Anxiety? Burnout? Never. Such things are practical forms of atheism, as though there is no God who cares for all and gets all things done. Peter, Paul, and Jesus notwithstanding, it’s all on us.

We know better than that.

So, how do we get the job done when we find it difficult to get good people to serve as program leaders or officers?

First, be honest. Instead of saying how little this commitment will require, own up to its cost.  Counting the cost is something Jesus counsels his followers. (Luke 14:27-33) Those who have the most to give are drawn toward costliness. They live to make a real difference.

Second, plan well ahead. People with full lives can far more easily contemplate taking on new responsibilities if they have time to transition into them. They will need to set aside some of their current commitments in order to say yes, and that takes time. When possible, ask a year or two ahead. I know that I can often take on something a year or two down the road, when I couldn’t possibly do it this month or even this year.  

Finally, remember that we are not calling people first to serve the church, but to serve our Lord. It’s personal before it is institutional. The love of Christ is what energizes us for work in and for the church. (2 Corinthians 5:14)

Your fellow-worker for Jesus,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister

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