March came in like a lion and went out like one too, with 18 inches of snow falling here March 31 and April 1. Despite a snowy beginning of spring, we’ve had several visitors, including one exhausted pastor making his first ever retreat.
I spent some time listening to his story. Exhausted, he had come to see that his driven attitude toward ministry was slowly destroying his well-being and even his effectiveness. Encouraged by his wife, he wisely decided that he needed to let go of all the activities by which he defined his successes and effectiveness, and get away to be with the Lord for a few days. He desperately needed to re-order his life around God and not his ministry.
“Doing” for God had to give way to being with God.
There is something inside most of us that resists “getting away” and tempts us to avoid it. We feel like we’re not accomplishing anything when we do so. Because we define ourselves by what we do and how much we do, it is as though we cease to exist as productive, significant and “important” people when we “get away” even for just a few days. If we’re not there, doing important things, we feel as though we become unproductive and thus unimportant to the members of our churches, and, more significantly, to ourselves. This is an ugly, destructive game that pastors can play, and it has a name: Performance.
Whatever else ministry may be, it is not a performance. Rather, it is a partnership with Christ, through the Holy Spirit, based on an intimate relationship with Christ. Looked at this way, ministry makes no sense apart from retreats, where one spends some time being with Christ. Have you ever noticed that people who are genuinely Christ-like seem to spend a lot of time with Christ? Have you ever noticed that performers are about putting on shows?
Getting away is about being with God and not doing more stuff. Certainly, it is not about performing. How on earth can we perform without an audience present? And if God is our only “audience” when we go away, are we really so stupid as to think we can perform for God, when God sees through the veneer of our supposed impressiveness to our hearts?
Performance can become a great burden, for performance is about our unrealistic expectations about ouselves and our capabilities. God’s expectations about us are gently realistic. Being omniscient, God knows full well what we’re not capable of. Take the Apostle Peter, for an obvious example.”Even though they all fall away, I will not,” he tells Jesus at the Last Supper. Fortunately, the Lord’s expectations of Peter are lower than Peter’s: “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times” (Mark 14:26-31). Yet, Jesus chooses Peter to be one of the three nearest him at Gethsemane.
The Lord is less interested in Peter’s “performance” than he is in simply being with Peter. When Jesus was taken and crucified, Peter the performer died too. The Peter whom Jesus raised up was no longer a performer.