Understanding the metaphor of five common driving hazards is critical to the life and health of individuals, churches and communities. These hazards/conditions are a picture of low joy congregations. They also apply to the individual in that an individual low on joy can experience these same symptoms. Today we look at rain and fog (impaired vision leading to lack of growth), and black ice (an inability to manage emotions).
Suddenly out of the driving wetness you see a massive grill about to annihilate you…Rain and Fog create conditions similar to what happens when the strong and weak do not mix. Rain and fog impair vision so you cannot see what is coming or anticipate making corrections. Many near accidents happen because of those road conditions. Many accidents and casualties happen in congregations also when the strong, who have the resources and maturity, do not connect with those who are weaker.
Part of how the strong continue to grow is by sharing and giving life. Those with few resources, or little maturity, grow by receiving and then giving. But when the two camps do not interact within the same community the weak stay stunted. The transaction of giving and receiving life does not happen.
Ed Khouri says a kind of “recovery ghetto” develops within those churches. When you hurt, all you can focus on is what hurts. People with pain and problems are over here, and those of who are “fine” and “have it together” are over there. The goal for God’s body is for the two groups to interact and share life together, lest the weak remain in their pain and develop a problem centered focus.
I (Chris) recently sprained my back and it has been a very painful ordeal. But when my back is hurting and I am sitting there trying to focus on my computer, all I can think about is this throbbing pain!
That is what happens for those who find themselves in this place of pain. They focus on what hurts and may not know how not to focus on the pain.
The strong—those who have some maturity—remain in their comfort zones. They want to keep the status quo and do not rock the boat. They stay where they feel it is safe, which leads to a form of “keeping up appearances”.
I remember growing up in the church. I always believed that I had to have my best look—my best smile, my best clothes—I had to have the best for God and for people. The problem was that I didn’t feel like I could bring any dirty laundry. I wanted to hide my dirty laundry. I didn’t want people to know that I had dirty laundry. That kept me weak and stuck. And that is a common pattern.”
Isaiah 58 lays out God’s solution to these dynamics. It talks about a certain kind of fast that God wants from His people—a fast that cares for the weak. It stresses how those who seem to have it all together need to share—need to give some of that life.
Those who do not have a lot of life to give, for them it is time to receive. As pastors and leaders we want mutuality between the two camps so that the congregation becomes one camp, one body.
When the strong and weak do not mix there is a lack of a transformation zone, a comfort zone replaces it. The comfort zone impairs the vision much like rain and fog. There is a loss of vision and transformation doesn’t occur. People may know the words and talk the talk. A congregation may have the best music and the pastors give the best sermons, but if the strong and weak do not mix something is missing.
You still go home and still fight with your wife; you still might have anger issues or struggle with hidden addictions. There is no change. The lack of growth is often attributed to lack of faith. Many people who are stuck might feel, or may have heard, “if only I had more faith, if only I tried harder; if only I’d prayed harder; if only I’d served more—if only I had made better choices everything would be fine.” Photo Courtesy of Microsoft
Those are all good things, but if you see somebody who is drowning, they don’t need a sermon. They need a life- jacket or a tow rope to get them to shore. They need to find “Where God was in all that. What does God have to say about this stuff?” The strong must be able see ahead to provide what the weak need for stability and maturity.
Separation of the camps leaves people feeling guilty, particularly the weaker camp because they feel, “What is wrong with me? I am a failure? God is not going to want to share life with me.” All kinds of unhelpful stuff follows that thinking.
Black Ice — Black ice is hazardous. You can see the frost and ice on the landscape, but not always on the pavement. It is very scary hitting black ice because you have no control of your vehicle. You can press the brake; try to turn your wheel, but you slide wherever your momentum will take you. This same kind of thing happens when emotions and conflicts cause ruptures. Having little to no emotional control indicates little capacity—meaning that you or I have little capacity to manage feelings or recover from upset. When there is little capacity for recovery, people tend to avoid the troublesome emotions.
If you grew up with a raging parent, you will likely have a hard time dealing with angry people. You will try to people please. You will try to make them happy; and want to avoid making them mad so you try to please. Or, if you don’t know how to get back from shame then when there is a conflict or a disagreement or a rupture, you feel stuck in shame.
For many churches patterns developed over years where a leader, staff member…someone acted out and got into some kind of trouble. No one knew how to explain it so leaders put more rules in place to prevent these disasters from happening and yet they keep happening.
These people do not understand that lack of maturity and low joy is why train wrecks continue—they have no language for joy. Trouble is right around the corner when joy levels start to sink. Problems become very big and the environment fear based because people don’t know how to manage what they feel.
If you know how to manage what you feel, you can feel upset, come back to joy and it’s okay. You can still keep in relationship and still remember what is important.
You might have a fear of upset, for example. Then you don’t want to upset the pastor or certain elders; you don’t want to upset certain congregants because they have resources or they are an important part of the church. I frequently advise pastors, “don’t make decisions out of fear.” Rather, look at the fears that motivate you because they will hamstring you in some way, shape or form.
A fear of hopelessness is common …Then you will find yourself not knowing how to sit with people when they feel hopeless about something, so you stay busy. This is part of the BEEPS phenomenon where if you don’t know how to manage some emotion, you find other ways to deal with it. You may stay busy; you may overwork, you may… Whatever it is, it is solving a problem in an unhealthy way. The goal is to learn to manage what you feel and know that it will not kill you.
The Psalmist says, “I will not die but will live!” Psalm 118:17
Low coping capacity leaves people feeling disconnected. You may have been going to a church for 10-15 years but you don’t feel like people know you. You may not feel seen by other people, or by the leader—there is a disconnect that you can’t put your finger on. Those are some of the things that you hear when joy levels are low and people don’t know how to manage what they feel—not a fun dynamic.
Action Step: To help you examine your own life for fears and low joy, meditate with the Lord on the following questions. You might want to share these questions with your family, staff and/or board to make an assessment of joy levels in your congregation.
1. What hinders joy for you?
2. What are some of the obstacles?
3. What helps or hinders your joy?
4. What hinders joy for your congregation?
5. What role does fear play?
Next week will be the final blog in this series. We will be highlighting the solution to low joy.
May your joy be full,
Chris & Carol
Chris Coursey, MA Theology — Author, Speaker and Thrive Trainer, www.thrivetoday.org
Carol Brown, Author of The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity and Highly Sensitive www.fromgodsheart.com
 Ed Khouri is one of the co-authors of Joy Starts Here. He specializes in addiction recovery.
This post drawn from a Pastor’s Weekly webcast by Chris Coursey, Sept. 12,2013