The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Church Burnout: Guidance for Frustrated Christians

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The Church today is overrun by Christians who are getting their emotional needs met under the guise of “serving God.” Instead of being led by the Holy Spirit, they are being led by other humans and their own egos, which of course leads to many problems. Perhaps you’ve noticed that your brothers and sisters are far more interested in socializing during small group sessions than in really chewing on spiritual meat. If you’re serious about advancing in the faith, it’s only natural that you find this exasperating to be around, just as a student who is seriously interested in getting educated will find it annoying to be stuck with a teacher who doesn’t want to teach.

In the Church, many Christians aren’t interested in learning or growing with God. They just come for the emotional perks.  And then there’s always a percentage of them who aren’t really saved at all, but merely playing the role of tares among the wheat. As a serious Christian, how should you respond to such a frustrating environment? Unfortunately, there is no local club you can attend where only dedicated Christians congregate. Our church leaders are supposed to be dedicated, yet many feel a strong need to be cool and this results in them continuously ignoring the Lord’s convictions. What you need to be aware of is your own attitude, for when it starts becoming bitter, action needs to be taken.

MOTIVATIONS

When you find that other Christians are consistently working your last nerve, it’s time to ask yourself why you are attending church in the first place. Either God is telling you to go, or you’re going out of guilt. Guilt is by far the more popular motivation.  Even souls who are more advanced in the faith get bogged down by years of brainwashing that all Christians are supposed to attend church regularly. Of course God Himself never gave any such direction to His devoted followers.  On the contrary, God is famous for socially isolating His guys by forcing them to violate social norms.

Noah didn’t come across as very rational for building a ridiculously large seafaring craft in preparation for water cascading down from the sky.  In Noah’s day, no one had ever heard of rain.  If your neighbor across the street is building a huge flying saucer in preparation for an alien invasion, and if he launches into an emphatic speech about impending doom every time he sees you, are you going to be drawn towards the guy?  No, you’re going to duck out of your house when he’s not looking and you’re going to write him off as a nut.  And then there was the prophet Isaiah–a man who walked around butt naked and barefoot for three years claiming “God told me to” even though that same God frowns on streaking.  And how about Ezekiel?  Where was his fellowship?  When you see a grown man lying in the dirt for over a year cooking food over burning poop and playing with toy soldiers, are you going to hang out with him?  No, you’re going to give him a wide berth–especially when all he does is make weird, incoherent noises because God has glued his tongue to the roof of his mouth.

Here’s a reality about growing closer to the Lord: He tends to have a negative effect on your social life.  He’s jealous, possessive, and a wellspring of strange commands.  Everyone else thinks it’s a great idea to go on a prayer walk through the neighborhood, and you’re the only one hearing God telling you to stop telling Him what to do in other people’s lives.  Everyone else is helping out with VBS and God is telling you not to get involved.  It’s not like He’s giving you some other holy activity to engage in that you can tell everyone about–He’s just telling you that He’s the Boss, and you’re to follow His orders.  Stick close to God and it’s only a matter of time until He makes you look like a self-centered stick in the muck to everyone else.  You don’t pray like they pray.  You don’t serve like they serve.  You’re always hiding out behind the excuse of “I’m waiting on God”–which is considered to be a slacker’s copout in the Church.

So then, why exactly are you attending church?  Well, you feel guilty.  But why do you feel guilty?  Because everyone’s quoting the author of Hebrews who was trying to talk a group of young believers out of reverting back to Judaism.  According to his logic, hanging out with other believers was vital to staying strong in the faith, so he told his people not to forsake gathering together.  But wait–since when is relating to God something you do with other people?  Isn’t it a private matter of the soul?  Of course it is.  Jane is married to Tom.  What’s going to keep that marriage strong?  Hanging out with other married couples at every available opportunity?  No.  If Jane and Tom want to protect their own marriage, they need to do more than just socialize with other married couples and read about the concept of marriage.  They need to spend time alone where they can focus on each other and deal with the issues that come up between them without a bunch of distraction.  It’s the same with you and God: other Christians can’t resolve your spiritual conflicts for you.  Other Christians can’t make your spiritual choices for you.

When the author of Hebrews ordered his people not to forsake fellowshipping together, he was making the major assumption that there were church groups available where mature Christians were actually congregating.  Well, that’s quite a leap to make, especially given the fact that the author of Hebrews himself didn’t even have a correct understanding of who Jesus is (see Rethinking Your Christmas Theology: Who is Jesus?).  If the shepherds are teaching a bunch of lies about God, how healthy can the flock be?  And if the flock is all bogged down in wrong theology, what kind of impact will they have on you?  Not a very good one.

The Church today has little to offer those who have moved on to deeper levels of the faith because there is so much emphasis placed on spiritual infancy in our congregations. While God clearly intended believers to assemble together in order to drive each other on towards deeper commitment to Him, we’ve decided that the main focus of Christians gathering together should be to entertain each other and evangelize unbelievers. Such a focus has really harmed our gatherings, for while we’re busy pandering to the unsaved, and imitating what the world calls “cool,” we’re avoiding the many subjects that developing Christians really need to discuss. As a result, souls can either stagnate or go elsewhere in order to gain a higher education, and the only other place they can go is to God Himself.

It is quite impossible to progress past certain levels in the faith until you learn how to discern God’s leading in your own life.  You also need to decide that you are going to treat His counsel as superior to all others. To help you get there, God will intentionally drive you away from fellowshipping with other Christians for a period of time so that you will be forced to learn how to rely on Him.  With so many bad shepherds in the Church, it is very difficult for souls to develop good discernment skills until they cut ties with other believers, because in churches today “God’s will” is nothing more than a label we use to promote the pastor’s will or the majority opinion.  Believers are intensely pressured to conform to human agendas in every area, and since most humans aren’t listening to God, this becomes quite problematic (see Why You Don’t Need Community Confirmation). Yet because attending church gives us that much needed feeling of belonging, it’s very hard to let it go. To encourage us to cut ties with an environment that is hampering our relationship with Him, God will begin to withdraw our grace for putting up with shallowness and bad teaching until we find ourselves forced to leave rather than stay and risk being in constant sin with our foul attitudes.

WHEN TO ATTEND

As a maturing Christian, you shouldn’t attend church without clear leading from God.  To doggedly hang on to human assemblies at the wrong point in your walk will only hamper your growth. If He is leading you to go, remember that He can use both good and bad sermons alike to strengthen your understanding of His truth. There is no perfect church, and you must learn how to rely on God alone for discernment.  You must also learn how to stand on what He tells you even when no one else agrees with you. These are critical skills to developing strong faith and we must not refrain from going to a church simply because we don’t agree with something that’s said. The Holy Spirit’s leading is always the final Authority—we must go anywhere He directs us, even if He directs us to go nowhere at all.

There is no ritual in Christendom that God won’t have you take a break from at some point and this includes reading the Bible and attending church. We must learn to rely solely on God to lead us and we must grow immune to all the guilt trips of man. That said, ask the Holy Spirit to show you what the root cause of your current exasperation is. If it is Him directing you to take a break from fellowshipping with other Christians for a while, then you need to trust His wisdom over your pastor’s. But perhaps you will find that He does want you to stay where you are at, and if this is the case, you will need to employ a different strategy in order to brighten your mood.

IMPROVING YOUR ATTITUDE

Unmet expectations are the cause of a lot of misery on this earth. Ever feel like Christians treat you even worse than unbelievers? They really don’t, but it seems like they do because you expect more from them. There’s something about knowing we’re all one body in Christ that makes us instantly look for an extra dose of support and care from our fellow believers. What we forget to remember is that we Christians are merely saved, not perfected. We are still depraved human beings and we can act just as hypocritical and nasty as those who deny God’s existence. When God makes it clear that He wants you to stay in a congregation that is filled with people who are bringing out the judgmental in you, it means it’s time for you to lower your expectations. With the Holy Spirit’s illumination, you will discover that they are not doing anything that you’re not just as guilty of doing, nor are their attitudes any worse than your current hostility.

God calls those who are advanced in the faith to be extra patient and gracious with those who are younger. Of course you can’t do this without His help, but a swift way to get your focus right is to remember that God is always teaching you. No matter what annoyances you are currently dealing with, God has placed you where you’re at in order to take you to the next step in your own walk with Him. Naturally you want to be around others who are as serious as you are, and certainly that would feel edifying and uplifting. But remember that intimacy with God involves learning to appreciate His Divine perspective and God is extremely patient and compassionate towards all of us. Instead of focusing on what’s wrong with everyone else, ask God to give you His heart for the souls you meet with and to help you learn whatever He wants to teach you. As we mature in the faith, we will learn to approach everything as a learning opportunity and be continually listening for the Holy Spirit’s insights.

God has a different function in mind for mature Christians than He does for the young. For starters, He purposely spreads mature Christians out geographically among the various outposts of His Church. Perhaps you’ve noticed how rare it is to meet someone who is zealous for God and well advanced in their theology. Zeal for God is common in the newly saved and a delight to be around, however it lacks the wisdom of those who have been through intense periods of refinement. The young need guidance, and with so many self-appointed leaders running around promoting carnality, it is more important than ever that mature Christians be available for God to place in the company of souls who could benefit from their example. With maturity comes a well-developed reverence for God and submission to His agenda which makes mature Christians particularly useful to Him. Instead of saying every thought that comes to mind and engaging in a lot of petty arguments, they have learned how to sit still and listen for His prompting. They know how to speak and how to be quiet. Because they are willing to follow His lead and they are not owned by the approval of people, He can use them to help expose souls to new ideas and inspire them to seek Him more fervently. A mature Christian has an enticing aura of God about him—one which attracts others towards God instead of inspiring the worship of mere mortals.

The goal of a maturing Christian should not be hobnobbing with other believers, but listening to God and staying in alignment with His will at all times. We aren’t long on mature Christians in the Church, so if you’re one of them, don’t be surprised if you find yourself stationed in a group where no one agrees with you. Many advanced truths about the faith sound upsetting and even irreverent when we are first exposed to them. It is important to always remember that you didn’t learn what you now know overnight; you had to go many rounds with the Holy Spirit and wade through a lot of insecurity and upset. If God is using you to stir up new ways of thinking in the souls around you, it’s only natural that they will feel a certain measure of discomfort around you. But if you are staying in step with the Holy Spirit, you can be sure that He will use you to bless your brothers and sisters in some spiritual way, even if they don’t appreciate it until years after you’ve departed.

For the mature Christian, contentment comes from knowing you are where God wants you to be, not from understanding His plan. If you’re experiencing burnout with the brothers, check with the Holy Spirit to see if He wants you to take a break or stay on. If He wants you to stay on, ask Him to give you His attitude towards the souls around you and to help you absorb everything He plans to teach you. Remember that no matter how frustrating your current assignment is, it will surely draw you even closer to God if you remain focused on Him.

FURTHER READING:
Hating the Bride of Christ: Help for Christians who are Disgusted with the Church
Fellowship In Perspective
The Price & Privilege of Knowing God
Renegade Ministries: Is it always wrong to defy the authority of the Church?

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