Burned Out on Church?

5 Books to Read if You Are Burned Out

Your church should be a place that refreshes you and gives you the opportunity to refresh others as well. Even in the best environments we can get caught up in what we are doing and lose sight of the why behind it. In general, it’s just a good idea to take time to refresh your soul. If you find yourself in this place, or maybe you have given up on church entirely, then here are five books that may encourage you from those who have walked through similar experiences.

Pharisectomy: How to Joyfully Remove Your Inner Pharisee and Other Religiously Transmitted Diseases by Peter Haas

The name gives you a good indicator of what you can expect from this book. It is irreverent, hilarious, and packed with insightful research and biblical clarity on healthy and unhealthy church culture. I was surprised by how much I laughed out loud reading this book. It’s a good thing it keeps you chuckling because the smiling provides an excellent anesthetic for the heart surgery that will take place as you read this book.

The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out by Brennan Manning

Someone asked me recently what my all-time favorite book was. This is definitely a contender for first place. Rich Mullins credits the message of this book with changing his life, but only after first resisting it. This was the same for me. I came across this book for the first time over 15 years ago, but my religious mindset at the time caused me to reject it. I sometimes wonder if exploring this book then may have saved me a lot of heartache. On the other hand, the lost time has only increased my appreciation for this simple message of grace.

In this book, Brennan artfully confronts the destructive falsehood of manmade religion with brilliant strokes of grace. It is tweetable, readable, and utterly unforgettable. It is packed with stories of brokenness and redemption, including his own. The Ragamuffin Gospel is a balm to any broken heart that desires more of God and less of man-made religion.

Toxic Faith by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton

Toxic Faith could be a textbook in a class on how to recover from church burnout. It takes a spiritual and psychological approach to revealing the cause and solution to a toxic faith, as well as church burnout, in a believers life. If you are interested in a Christ-centered and psychological approach to understanding how to get out of a religious rut, then this book is for you. Toxic Faith has given me the language to discuss ministry burnout and how to recover from it more than any other resource.

Soul Survivor: How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive the Church by Philip Yancey

This book took me completely by surprised and redirected my life in a path of healing and grace but not before helping me confront my own religious pride. Philip Yancey is without a doubt, my favorite Christian author. Scratch that. He is my favorite author. In this book, he discusses how 13 unlikely mentors who, starting with Martin Luther King Jr., helped restore his faith in the church after growing up in a racist fundamentalist church in the South. His access and background as a successful journalist give him a unique approach and delivery on this subject.

A Tale of Three Kings: A Study in Brokenness by Gene Edwards

If you want to serve in ministry leadership in any capacity, then you need to read this book over and over again. It has more one-liners and zingers than just about any other book on this list. It is also the shortest and probably the easiest to read. It is a parable following the stories of David, Saul, and Absalom, that will help you identify healthy leadership and the unhealth that is in your own soul. A healing and enjoyable read.

Bonus – Shipwrecked: A Journey to Discover Authentic Faith by Josh Roberie

I decided to write this book after reading somewhere that there is more truth in fiction than non-fiction. From that idea, I wondered how I could share the emotions that surround the struggle of breaking away from religious pride and finding authentic faith in the humblest of circumstances. I wanted to weave together a journey that was enjoyable to read and also included the gems of truth that have helped me find enjoyable and meaningful Christianity in my own life. In Shipwrecked, I use an allegorical parable of a sinking ship to tell a story, loosely based on my own, of finding healing and hope after experiencing religious exhaustion.

What did I miss? Comment with your favorite book on this topic. I’d love to check it out!

Enjoying the Journey

A story of happy accidents.

Do you have something you are passionate about but maybe are not the most talented in that area? For me, that is running. I started running almost by accident. One year, after moving to a new school, I found out I had missed football tryouts. Instead of sitting out of sports completely I decided to look for another option. That’s when I found out the Cross Country team doesn’t have tryouts. They will take anyway willing to suffer a hilly trail, blisters on their feet, and constantly sore calf muscles. While running through country roads, winding paths, and quiet downtown streets I fell in love with running. It was a hobby birthed almost by accident.

If only all accidents had a happy ending.

Most times in life an accident means trouble, pain, or at least a change of plans. I wish they were all happy accidents, but most of the time they are not. I heard the sticky note was created by accident. I wish I had more accidents like that. Most of my accidents would lead to me giving up on creating, not creating something that changes a company for the better.

Have you ever had an accident slow you down?

A New Goal

Last year I set the goal of finishing a half-marathon under two hours. About six months later I finished a half marathon at 2:00:44. I started slow and missed my goal by 44 seconds. I wasn’t exactly happy about this, but at least I was getting close. It seemed inevitable that I would break two hours at the next half marathon. When the next race came a few months later I finished at 2:00:04. Four seconds people!

At that point, I wanted to throw my running shoes over the nearest powerline (ala Marshawn Lynch) and give up forever. I would let my running dreams hang over the neighborhood by their treacherous laces as a reminder to all who saw them to never run. Running will break your heart.

One More Try

Instead of giving up though, I doubled down on my efforts. I found a partner who was a Boston Qualifier, aka much faster than me. I went back to the gym and committed to a cross-training plan. I showed up early mornings at what I call the unforgiving circle of torture or what you may know as the local track. I put in the work. I even took it easy when I got too soar. I did everything right, and you know what. I was running much faster than a two-hour pace.

Everything was working according to plan until another accident found its way into my plans. Seven days before my race where I was almost destined to obliterate my two-hour goal I allowed my momentum to carry me down a hill too fast and twisted my knee in an awkward way.

I wouldn’t be able to run my race. I wouldn’t make it to my goal.

Another Disappointment

What really upset me was that I had never worked so hard, been so consistent, and invested so much time towards a running goal. So many times I got to the finish line and know I didn’t do my best in preparation. This time I had. I truly did my best but wouldn’t get the satisfaction of finishing. It felt like something I paid for was taken from me right as it almost touched my fingertips.

But was there any lemonade to be made from these lemons? The thing that caused me the most pain, the amount of time I had invested in this goal, would ultimately by my saving grace. When I really thought about it, yes it was a sacrifice, but getting up early to run and going to the gym to workout was its own reward. I was healthy, had lots of energy, and felt good about myself. Making new friends and growing in relationship with old ones all came as a result of the journey to get to that under two-hour mark.

An Unexpected Destination

I didn’t make it to the finish line, but that was always only 1% of the experience anyway. If you can’t enjoy the other 99% of the process than you probably aren’t investing in the best thing for you. When I looked back over the time leading up to that disappointment I can happily say that I enjoyed the experience of preparation. The final destination was not the two-hour half marathon expected through. Instead, the journey took me to a place that taught me a new lesson in enjoying the journey.

Life is full of unfinished business, unrealized expectations, and unfulfilled dreams. If we measure life by destinations then we ignore the lessons and pleasures of the journey to those destinations. Many times God is not just leading us to somewhere or to do something but to become someone. I want to be someone who enjoys the journey and helps others do the same.

Unfinished Business

3 Ways to Handle Unmet Expectations

Have you ever thought of the perfect comeback except it was too late? Maybe someone put you on the spot and you didn’t think of the right response until the ride home. You left the conversation with unfinished business. Once you realized precisely what you wanted to say the chance to show the world your wit and brilliance had passed you by like someone waiting for a bus that has already come and gone.

It’s taking too long

Lately, I have been working on an outside project that is taking much longer than I expected. Ladders, tools, and pieces of wood are spread out all over the place. It has become a huge inconvenience. Not only that but each item is also a reminder that the project I want to be complete is currently just a mess. Parts of my heart can look this way at times as well.

Unfinished business can leave us with an uncomfortable weightiness. It’s like a cold for the soul. What do we do with this feeling? It can come from the abrupt ending of a hope or dream we wanted to work out. It’s the ache in the soul that arrives when people we love depart too soon. We know this feeling when the plans that we meticulously document in the journal of our heart are surprisingly blotted out by someone else’s intrusive marks.

What exactly are we supposed to do with unfinished business?

1. Honesty – This may be the most difficult thing to do, but we first need to be honest with ourselves. We should ask if this should ever have been our plan or desire to begin with. Was this ever the right relationship or career path or is it just wanted I wanted to work out? Is there a better fit elsewhere?

2. Healing – We need to be careful about continuing our journey on broken feet. Pushing through without pausing to heal may appear to be the best path but often leaves us stranded, vulnerable, and worse off than before. Wounded warriors are immortalized in film but are often the first casualties in the story of life when they do not stop to get the help they need. You will encounter pain in your journey but if every step hurts it may be time to not give up, but rest for the sake of finishing well.

3. Hope – Unfinished business can sometimes just be a reminder of who is the one actually writing our story. When we take the pen out of God’s hand we often settle for a dimmer version of the brighter story he had planned for us. Unfinished business reminds us to trust, have faith, and lean on the Author of our lives. You never know what surprise ending He may have in store for us if we insist on our own narrow expectations.

A missed opportunity, a failed accomplishment, and people who leave our lives too soon can leave us with feelings of despair. These are also opportunities for us to not only be reminded where our trust and comfort should really be but to also witness the miracle of God finishing the dream in a way that is beyond anything we could have ever expected.

Doing too much

Doing less so that you can accomplish more

Have you ever seen someone is “doing too much” or being what we used to call a “try hard”? Maybe they are being inauthentic, trying to impress someone, or overcompensating for some reason. On the basketball court, he is the guy with all the new gear but can’t dribble or shoot. At a party, this may be the person who talks too loud and laughs at his own jokes but no one is really interested. In some ways, we can all be doing too much. It may not be annoying as the person I just described but doing too much can lead to us being less productive overall.

Normally our greatest strengths are also connected to our weaknesses. I have the gift and curse of doing too much. In fact, one of our family values is “hard work.” This is because it is not only a strength of mine but also of Amy. Our parents have a great work ethic and have passed that down to us. It is something we want to pass along to our kids as well. But is there such a thing as doing too much? Are you someone who sometimes has trouble accomplishing everything on your task list?

I didn’t realize how busy I was until the other day when I was on the phone with a friend I listed all the things I was involved in.

1. Training for a half marathon

2. Writing a book

3. Keeping up with a blog (Setting aside time for creative thinking, writing posts, editing posts, creating email marketing campaigns, scheduling social media posts, finding images to support the blog posts, etc.)

4. Working on numerous DIY projects that include finishing a deck, building a pergola, creating a stone pathway, adding a shelf desk in our kitchen, creating a hanging storage system in our garage, etc.

5. Onboarding new employees at ARC

6. For the first time, we were doing two ARC trainings in back to back months followed by the ARC conference

7. Preparing for the ARC conference

8. Reading 5 books at the same time (Leadership Book, Audio Book, Self-help book, funny book, small-group book, and not to mention my daily Bible reading and the book I was reading to Sophie each night)

9 Leading a small group and

10. Preparing a team of 25 for a mission trip to NYC. And I’ll stop here even though some of the most significant challenges we faced as a family are not even listed here.

I wonder what your list would look like?

Here is the thing about doing too much. This list of 10 things is actually not a list of accomplishments but of failures. I know that sounds harsh but I mean failure in three very specific ways.

How Accomplishments Can Become Failures

When we do too much…

  1. ...we don’t do anything to the best of our ability – While doing all of this I was constantly feeling like I was falling short in each specific area because my attention was constantly divided. I couldn’t do one thing without thinking about all the other things that needed to be done. I was exhausted mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually which means I was never able to give my best.
  2. …we fall prey to discouragement – When I would look at my to-do list over the past couple of months I would often get so discouraged that I would not feel like doing anything. If there were only a couple of items on the list I could have been energized to get them accomplished. In my case, the shadow from the mountain of tasks before me often darkened my day before it even began.
  3. …we live by the tyranny of the urgent instead of by the priority of our values – A long list of activities and accomplishments may be impressive to some. My experience has taught me that doing a lot often means not doing what is most important. What is not on the list above is being a husband, dad, child of God, and being a witness of Jesus Christ. When we try to do too much we often end up sacrificing the things that are most important on the altar of accomplishment.

In the past couple of months I have not been blogging; which is one of my favorite things to do. This is because I have been doing too much which is an old habit of mine that is resurfacing. Learning lots of lessons from this and maybe it will give me content for future posts. For today I will wrap up with this thought: The key to doing more is actually doing less. We have to learn to edit the good things in order to be focused on the God things.

Thoughts for reflection:

  1. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What weaknesses are connected to your strengths? How can you manage this?
  2. What are your priorities in life? How can you arrange your to-do list to match your priorities and values as a person?
  3. What good things need to be edited in your life in order to focus on the God things?

Dare Greatly

Overcoming Critics While Daring Greatly

2017 is almost over and I thought I would share one last post to wrap up the year. This is not an encompassing post to process all of 2017, but rather just a final thought.

The Critic

When I began my first position in full-time ministry in 2005 I framed a copy of “The Critic” to be displayed in my office. It’s a lengthy quote from Theodore Rosevelt but is worth the read.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Some people just like being a critic. Criticizing can even become part of your identify without even realizing it. A critical mindset is dangerous. It will cause you to justify the fear that keeps you from standing out and making a difference. Most critics can be found putting more energy into finding fault in others instead of next steps for themselves.

The Solo

When I was in Jr. High I played the drums. I chose this because if you are going to be in the band you might as well pick the coolest instrument possible. Our school’s symphonic band was actually extremely good. In preparation for our most important state-wide competition I was given a solo. This was a big moment for me. The only problem was the more we practiced the more I got it wrong.l I didn’t think I would ever get it right. To highlight my embarrassment one day after band practice a girl put me on blast in front of a group of friends.

“Why can’t you get your part right? You are going to ruin the competition for everyone!”

That stung pretty bad. Mostly because it was true. It’s true I was doing horrible, and that if I didn’t get it right it was going to ruin it for everyone.

Never Trust a Clarinet Player

You know what was also true though? It was true that I was given a solo and she wasn’t. It was true that she could hide in a large section of clarinet players and no one would ever know if she played or not. It was also true that the only reason she had the opportunity to criticize me is because I had the opportunity to stand out. If you can’t take the criticism then don’t do anything worth noticing. If you want to make a difference then you have to be willing to accept the criticism thats come along with being different.

Must critics like being a critic more than they actually want people to benefit from their criticisms. They are normally stuck in places where their decisions won’t make a difference but they are willing to criticize you as you make decisions that could. Don’t listen to someone hiding in the clarinet section when you have been given a drum solo. (Did I take the band illustration to far? If so, I apologize. Also, sorry to all the not-so-evil clarinet players at there. I am sure there at least one or two.)

The Crescendo

Eventually our competition came. Up to the final practice everyone in the band, especially our conductor, was nervous about whether I would be able to execute my solo. When the moment came and the entire band become silent I lifted my drumsticks to perfectly play the beat I had practiced so many times. We received the highest rating possible at that competition, but the most important lesson for me was to never listen to someone in the clarinet section on my way to do something that stands out.

Later on I would see this quote from Theodore Roosevelt. It would remind me that the only reason someone has the opportunity to criticize is because I am doing something worthwhile that they are not or they would be helping. I do not want a cold and timid soul. I want to know the thrill of a worthy cause and be someone who dares greatly. Here is to 2018 and daring greatly.

Navigating Difficult Seasons

The surprising path to fulfillment

Sometimes the path out of your place of ordinary and into your place of extraordinary is through a place of discomfort. And by sometimes I mean every time.

In Ezekiel 20:10 God says that He lead His people out of Egypt, a place where they were in bondage to slavery. But what he says next is telling. He doesn’t say he lead them straight to the Promised Land, the place where they would ultimately enter into their rest and blessing. He says He led them first into the wilderness, a place of testing and discomfort.

Yes, God leads us to seasons in the wilderness. Jesus was even lead into the wilderness before His public ministry began. There is a place of discomfort between drudgery and destiny that we have to embrace in order to reach our place of fulfillment.

Why difficult seasons are necessary

In order for things to get better they first have to change. The discomfort of changing is the space in between Egypt and the Promised Land. It is possible to get comfortable with a negative situation. We can almost identify with it to the point that even though we are complaining about it we will do little to change it or even allow others to help us change. We get comfortable in Egypt.

What really keeps us from fulfillment

It is the space in-between Egypt and the Promised Land that keeps us from entering into God’s best from us, not the circumstances of Egypt. It is in this space that God sets us apart and speaks to us things we need to maintain what we receive in the Promised Land.

The question is, Do we have the courage to step out into the space in-between our ordinary and extraordinary?