Church pastoring and church planting can be quite thrilling experiences in their embryonic stages. As a guy with a natural entrepreneurial bent, I drew a lot of energy in the early days of Soma from vision-casting, fundraising, strategic thinking, meeting new people, developing new leaders, and praying something invisible into visible existence in the city of Indianapolis.
Several years into pastoring this fledgling church, I’ve begun to notice something peculiar happening in my own heart and in the ministries of guys that planted with me in my community – we can get addicted to the thrills.
For some, this can lead to the neuroticism of a never-ending quest to recreate the original thrills of those formative days early in the planting process (let the reader understand: the empty hype of “bigger, better, faster, stronger”). For others, disillusionment can creep in as they begin to realize that they actually have to pastor the church they planted, which entails the kind of mundane plodding that Eugene Peterson captures with his brilliant book title “a long obedience in the same direction.”
Recently I was preparing for a session on a man and his family for a small conference our church held, when I happened to stumble back across a quote from C.S. Lewis in his famous work Mere Christianity:
People get from books the idea that if you have married the right person you may expect to go on ‘being in love’ for ever. As a result, when they find they are not, they think this proves they have made a mistake and are entitled to a change—not realising that, when they have changed, the glamour will presently go out of the new love just as it went out of the old one…In this department of life, as in every other, thrills come at the beginning and do not last…It is just the people who are ready to submit to the loss of the thrill and settle down to the sober interest, who are then most likely to meet new thrills in some quite different direction. The man who has learned to fly and become a good pilot will suddenly discover music; the man who has settled down to live in the beauty spot will discover gardening.
It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go—let it die away—go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow—and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time. But if you decide to make thrills your regular diet and try to prolong them artificially, they will all get weaker and weaker, and fewer and fewer, and you will be a bored, disillusioned old man for the rest of your life.
(New York: HarperOne, 2011, pp. 108–111.)
While Lewis is referring to marriage, it struck me that we often approach pastoral ministry in the same manner. Seeking the thrill rather than the thrill giver, using people for the thrill they can provide us rather than the glory we are to give God and our neighbor, we restlessly run from one campaign to the next, one “global city” to the next, one event to the next, hoping that the next big thing will yield a greater thrill while hopelessly discovering the diminishing returns of a disillusioned ministry life.
How do we avoid the brutality of this compulsive ministry cycle? The good news of the gospel is that Jesus invites to participate in a salvation where the soul-satisfying thrills of life with God never diminish, but are always increasing. But the path to eternal joy and satisfaction comes through the death of self-seeking pleasure: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life….if anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:24-26)
Let the thrill of ministry die away, and seek the presence of the thrill-giver through communion, solitude, service, and contentment, and you will find a world of new thrills all the time. The thrill of enjoying God’s presence. The thrill of enjoying a healthy family. The thrill of enjoying your people. The thrill of enjoying pastoral longevity. These are the quieter and deeper thrills that you were created to enjoy – now how thrilling is that?