There are five road conditions or driving hazards that are metaphors for low joy within churches. Understanding these hazards is so critical to life and health of people and communities that we are going to deal with them in a series so that you can take in the full impact. This is part I.
You hop in your car anticipating that you will arrive at your destination and with good results—you expect to accomplish the purpose for which you started out. But, your anticipation can be short lived and your happiness cut short with hazardous conditions. The same is true in the church. You can be drawn to Jesus and go to church to learn more, to develop relationships with God and others that will help you grow and mature, that will be satisfying, fulfilling. Those are good reasons to associate with other Christians but just like with your road trip, you can encounter hazardous relational conditions!
You have all seen these as you drive:
· Distracted drivers: people texting, tweeting, reading email, eating and drinking
· Drunk drivers: untold numbers of families have been devastated, crippled, bereft of loved ones…and it could have been easily avoided
· Rain & fog: you cannot see clearly to anticipate what is ahead
· Black ice: these are hidden hazards
· Drivers Running Red Lights & Stop Signs: this is a lack of awareness of one’s surroundings and immaturity on the driver’s part
You can expect to find these same hazards for relationships within low joy congregations. This will apply to leaders as well as congregants.
Distracted Driving. I am sure you have seen it, I am sure you’ve done it. Distracted driving or distracted leadership of churches and congregations involves immaturity. Immaturity means that you are not anchored; something is missing. Some part of your identity or your character is not fully developed. So there is some weakness and as soon as weight is put on that foundation, problems will be around the corner.
Immaturity in congregations leads to work becoming a higher value than relationships. There is an atmosphere where you serve, and serving is a very good thing, but when serving becomes a higher priority than relationships, burnout is right around the corner. When people are not anchored with their maturity, they are missing tasks and skills. Just because a person has a 38 year old body does not mean they possess 38 year old maturity. Adults can be stuck at infant level maturity—not knowing what satisfies, having never learned to do hard things or not knowing how to get back to joy from upset. These are skills and tasks that everyone has to learn and we learn them from other people who have them.
Some signs of immaturity:
· I am adrift at sea. I don’t know…
· I’m not goal oriented. I float around.
· I don’t really have a sense of who I am and that is not expressed very well when I am upset.
· Being right trumps being relational.
Where being right is valued more than the relationship, people do not feel connected in the community. It is easy to leave the church because there is no real anchor—there is nothing keeping them there. In this environment wounds are nearby. You want to have a healthy balance between “rightness” and relationships.
When there are disagreements can they be resolved? Do you have a relational approach to problems? Do you keep relationships bigger than problems?
· You will also see that there is a loss of focus with a lack of maturity because of not being anchored. People feel seen and defined by what they do, by what they can contribute, but don’t feel a part of the family. It’s painful when that happens, when joy levels are low.
· People become critical… critical of the service, the worship, the message, of the carpeting in the lobby, etc. People are not glad to be together. Or they do not feel joy from the leadership, or joy with each other. There is a lot of floundering that goes on when maturity is lacking.
Results of immaturity — I feel I have to perform to stay connected—not a good feeling. What frequently happens is that you also come to interpret this as “this is how God sees me—God loves me as long as I do all the right things but the moment I don’t do all the right things He wants nothing to do with me anymore.” That goes against what Jesus did on the cross by keeping the relationship bigger than the problem.
Drunk Driving is another common reason for accidents. People use poor judgment. Many families have been devastated by drunk drivers. The thing that is so painfully frustrating about drunk driving is that it could be avoided by the intoxicated person asking for help. Calling a taxi; asking someone who is not intoxicated to drive them home. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it?
The same thing happens in your congregation in terms of driving relationally–you struggle with hidden addictions. Hidden addictions are as catastrophic for relationships as drunk driving. Addictions are a broken approach to fix problems. Addictions are there for a reason. It is a very unhelpful way that you learn to help manage something or to solve a problem.
In churches where joy levels are low, people don’t feel like they can share their struggle. They don’t feel like they can ask for help or they are afraid to ask for help because of what people will think of them.
Low joy levels means that there is an increase in artificial or pseudo-joy, what Ed Khouri calls BEEPS—his acronym for Behaviors, Experiences, Events, People, Substances. These are all things people use to make themselves feel better.
BEEPS become a problem when they start to replace what you really need which is genuine joyful relationships where you can give and receive—where it is safe to give and receive. And when it is not safe to share weaknesses, you feel like you have to hide addictions because you are ashamed of them. It is especially hard for leaders because whatever you share can/may be held against you.
Many leaders find it difficult to share their weaknesses because weaknesses may be pounced upon or used against them. Or, they might lose their job. As staff and elders you want to create an environment, starting at the top, where it is safe to share weaknesses, find healing and grow.
When you have a congregation where it is safe to be weak, people feel like they can deal with their stuff and start to grow joy. But, when you have to hide weaknesses they feel isolated, both leaders and congregants. You feel isolated. A common feeling for those wrestling with hidden addictions is, “if you really knew this part of me, you wouldn’t like me anymore.”
Praise God! There is a solution—establish a joy filled zone! In a joyful zone it is safe to be weak or immature. Mature people who have relational skills are there and glad to be with you whether you are weak, immature, upside down or crossways with the world! By interacting with those who have the skills, you learn. And joy grows.
1. Joy Starts Here for more information on starting joy in your congregation and community.
2. 30 Days of Joy for Busy Married Couples starts joy in your marriage and family! (not listed yet on the Thrive Today website, but it is available. Email or call Chris Coursey at 309-367-4020.)
Share your glory stories or let us know how we can help!
Blessings, Chris & Carol
Carol Brown, Author of The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity and Highly Sensitive www.fromgodsheart.com
Chris Coursey, MA Theology — Author, Speaker and Thrive Trainer, www.thrivetoday.org