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I’ve been thinking about this concept a lot lately. Some might call it avoiding responsibility. I like to think of it as outsourcing. We think we’ve dealt with it by putting it on someone or something else. For me personally, I’ve thought the most about this in the context of church. Working ministry as a part-time career, it’s been a challenge to draw healthy boundaries. I’m naturally a more empathetic character, and if I see a wound, I want to heal it. (With a Hawaiian/Italian heritage I basically want to mother all things with food and love) But the challenge with ministry is that your job is about relationships. Your effectiveness is not easy to measure and there is a temptation to serve at all times and in all places. This leads to incredible burnout and bitter disillusionment. I’ve felt it personally, and seen it happen. I’ve also seen many remain in ministry who could probably benefit from a decent sabbatical – attempting to give from a dried out well. This leads to all manner of insincerity and the kind of Christianity that I think most people would deem hypocritical. This can also lead to an unhealthy pattern of serving to be seen – filling a personal void of love or attention with the recognition one gets from “good works.” This is dangerous.
This is dangerous because one day you will buckle under the unrealistic pressure and lash out in a stupid way. Or you might create a second life in the dark, one in which you can blow off steam or let loose or finally let your hair down (but it is those secret habits that end up owning you). And all those people who have been depending on you will be disappointed. Some might write off Christianity entirely if they put you on a high enough pedestal – these stories abound in our culture.
Which goes back to that notion of outsourcing I wanted to talk about. I think we are tempted to outsource our spiritual growth to the churches or ministries we ascribe to. We want them to do the work; we want them to tell us what to think, how to act, what to pray, who to serve. We rely on teachers or leaders too heavily, which can lead to a culture of personality worship, an almost cult-like devotion to a single man or woman. Good leaders deserve recognition, but never worship.
Today I realized this goes further than church. This is a nature of man kind of thing. We prefer to be governed, prefer laws and rules that force us into a mode of behavior rather than choosing it ourselves. Yes, there is some choosing involved – I mean, you can choose to break the law or not. But there is this penchant to put ourselves under systems of control, and I think it is an attempt to avoid taking full responsibility over our own lives.
We want to be told because we’re lazy. We want to be told because then, if all goes to pot, we can point the finger at someone else. But she said this would work, he preached that in a sermon last week, they taught me that in school. It takes no small amount of will to actually engage with life. It takes honesty and courage to make your own choices and face that music alone.
I think of the story in scripture in which Israel asked God for a king. He would have ruled them himself, each person accountable to their creator, but they preferred a middle man. Give us someone to tell us what to do. Let us be ruled.
And what is the answer for us in ministry or leadership positions? Like most who pontificate from safe spaces of anonymity on the Internet, I don’t have a clear solution. I don’t know how to keep people from outsourcing their lives. But I have learned that there is such a thing as being too helpful. I’ve learned you cannot control someone into holiness. I’ve learned that fostering a dependent mentorship only stokes my ego and leaves that person weaker in the long run. I’ve learned that the best thing I can do is listen, share honestly from my experiences, and humbly submit to the person I’m counseling that he or she needs to spend time in reflection and prayer on their own time. I am there to encourage and support. I’ll tell a person plainly if I think they’re doing something stupid (they have to ask first). But in the end, life is of your own making.
I, alone, am responsible for my spiritual growth. I, alone, am responsible for my character and deeds. If I am not happy with where I am in my spiritual journey, or my life at large, no person is going to fix that for me, no one else is to blame.