A friend was celebrating his fortieth birthday. His family discussed an appropriate gift to mark the occasion. When the day arrived, they presented him with an elaborate, expensive treadmill. Today, it’s a nice clothes hanger in his bedroom.
Over coffee one day, he told me the treadmill was a metaphor of his life. Maybe it was the forty year milestone with its evaluation of goals and progress at an important life threshold. Still, he reflected discouragement and frustration because he was working harder than ever but accomplishing less. He felt like he was spinning his wheels. You know, like a treadmill.
By the way, he is the pastor of a Baptist church.
A treadmill isn’t the anti-Christ. When used, they are an efficient way to exercise in comfort. But, they are emblematic of the expenditure of mega-energy without movement. And, that is perhaps a picture of church life these days. From what I’m hearing from church leaders, they are busier than ever. But, they don’t always seem to be getting anywhere.
Three specific church treadmills are most obvious in congregational life today.
The Priority Treadmill
Mission is storm central for most churches. Congregational leaders devote much energy discovering and communicating their mission. Churches have taglines, t-shirts, coffee mugs, and impressive displays announcing their purpose. They are often very clever and unique. Whatever the statement or tagline, however, the mission of the church must be about making disciples. Jesus knew his mission (see Luke 19:10) and was very specific in assigning a mission to his followers. Any other priority will result in more spinning wheels.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Matthew 28:19-20, ESV
The Performance Treadmill
Since the Garden of Eden, work has occupied the human species. An equation etched on one of our brain synapses is a cause and effect formula: more work equals more results. So, by nature we’re prone to try to work ourselves past any problem. So, there are more programs, activities, ministries, opportunities, and possibilities at church than ever before. Today, many very effective churches, and people too, are learning the disciplines of simplicity and the productivity of less. Some churches even cancel their entire calendar for a period of re-assessment, rest, and focus. Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger (B & H Books, June, 2011) is a great resource when we want to get off of the performance treadmill.
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10:38-42, ESV
The Preferences Treadmill
My friend Curt Bradford reminded a state convention committee of a quote attributed to Dr. Herschel Hobbs, “We don’t have to be twins to be brothers”. We are all distinctly different and bring our own preferences to kingdom service. As a result, the fastest spinning wheels at church may be the frustration of trying to please everyone in fulfilling that mission. Unity isn’t uniformity. Moving forward means leaving the preferences treadmill behind.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Galatians 1:10, ESV
Scripture speaks of running races, finishing the course, forward motion, effective and productive faith. To influence our secular culture, Christ’s church better get in the race, and off the treadmills where we just spin our wheels.
So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.
Acts 9:31, ESV