The Martyr Complex

Church isn’t supposed to be hard work. I know you don’t believe me, but it’s not.

So often I meet people in churches I’ve been involved in or from elsewhere who are working incredibly hard for Jesus. It’s laudable but it rarely looks to me like the Way of Jesus.

Jesus taught a way of ease, with kind yokes and light burdens (Matthew 11). We should be disciplined (1 Corinthians 9), but we shouldn’t be driving ourselves into the ground.

So often I meet people in churches I’ve been involved in or from elsewhere who are drifting for Jesus. It’s distressing, but I wonder if the church has really done very much to help them get away from it.

Stop Being Martyrs

I think that one of the reasons some people are drifting and others are driving themselves into the ground is because the overworked don’t ask those with no discipline to do anything.

I understand why, ‘ask a busy person if you want something done,’ the business proverb goes. It’s true too, as anyone who has led people knows. They’re competent and do things well and it’s all straightforward. Great, but those aren’t values of the Kingdom. I love it when everything in my church is done really well, why wouldn’t I? But when that gets in the way of asking something else to do anything it’s not a good desire. It’s actually my sinful desire for perfection and it needs to get in the bin.

I don’t think the only problem is that the leaders won’t ask them to do things, they don’t ask because it’s easier to ask the same old people. Which isn’t good, but why do those same old people keep saying, “yes!” with such (fake) enthusiasm? I think it’s because they’re martyrs.

This is especially prevalent in people who helped to plant a church or are on staff, but it can appear wider than that. Essentially, dear sweet people who love Jesus very much think it’s Godly to absolutely crush themselves with responsibilities in and around the church community. It isn’t. Please stop it.

This might be motivated by a desire to ‘work’ our salvation or to ‘strive’ towards Jesus. It might be motivated by a sense that we’re supposed to kill ourselves for Jesus (no, we’re meant to kill our selves—harder but less hard work). I think most of the time it’s neither, it’s more likely that they’re good hearted people who take on more bit by bit over time and don’t think it’s OK to say “no” to something.

I’ve seen far too many people burn out from this over the years.

Stop being a martyr, Jesus doesn’t need your blood or your sweat: he shed his for you. He needs your life. It’s OK for you to have a rest, and a sustainable rhythm of life in the church community.

Good Leadership

Now, where does responsibility lie here? We’re responsible for ourselves. Don’t drive yourself into the ground.

Leaders, of all stripes, don’t drive your people into the ground. Why not ask someone else to do this new thing. Take a punt on someone who you aren’t entirely sure can pull it off (or give them a responsibility from someone else). The only way you will increase the diversity of those who lead and serve in your church is by taking what seem to you to be risks—that’s our blindness speaking, often, but you only learn to see by taking what feels like a risk.

Ask the person who needs more help, or who doesn’t do it how you imagined but still did it. Widen the circle and keep widening it.

For one thing you give Jesus the opportunity to speak and act through a greater number of people, for another you increase your chances at making disciples. Both of which are things we’re here to do in the first place.

If there really isn’t anyone to do whatever it is we’re talking about, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it?

Hearing the wrong message

The problem with this sort of post is that the wrong people tend to hear the wrong message. Those of you who need to rest may well be wired to think you’re drifters and take on more. Those of you who need to do something may well be wired to think you need to rest.

We should also think wider than ‘official’ church serving roles—though those are good hearted things to do—and make sure we include all the more important serving: the person you sat and cried with, the person you cooked for, the person you laughed with, the people you prayed with.

I can’t solve those misunderstandings, though I can ask the Spirit to speak to your heart right now as you read this sentence, and gently nudge you to see whether your serving in the church community is good discipline, lazy busy-doing-nothing-ism, or two breathes away from being crowned a saint after your martyrdom.

Friends, Jesus came to bring us rest.

Photo by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash

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