Life on the wheel – 5 reasons why your church calendar is out of control and what to do about it

Hamster WheelA pastor friend recently referred to the sum of all the activities at his church as “the wheel.” Hearing him say this, a vision of a large hamster wheel came to mind.

There often is a sense in a church body that things need to happen and that everyone needs to pitch in to keep the wheel turning. We have programs that need to be staffed, teaching times, activities, concerts and meetings. Every day of the week has opportunities for people to be involved in some church activity.

At some point, it becomes exhausting and people settle for activity in place of relationship because it seems to be expected of them.

The point of this post is to look at why we fill up the schedules and work people to the point of exhaustion and the talk about what to do about it. We add programs and ministries because we think we must. As a result, we fall into the trap of busyness. I can think of five reasons why churches fall into this trap:

  1. Expectations of People coming from other churches– They have expectations of what it means to “do church.” They evaluate a new church based on whether or not their favorite ministry is done at that church. If enough people express this expectation, then the leadership may feel pressured into providing that ministry.
  2. The church program du jour– Church strategists tell us that this or that program will draw in the un-churched and will promote growth. The experts sometimes promote programs intended to attract a different demographic than currently attends. Remember the fad of adding a “contemporary” worship service to attract or keep a younger demographic?
  3. Desire to be or appear spiritual– If I am doing spiritual things, it means that I am spiritual doesn’t it? We can fool ourselves into thinking that we are indispensible to God’s program and work ourselves to death trying to accomplish what God can do by simply speaking it into existence.
  4. The need to be needed– Similar to #3, we can fall into the trap of needing to be needed which results in the desire to be available 24/7 to do anything that needs to be done, regardless of calling or gifting.
  5. Lack of a clear vision to God’s calling – Without a clear vision of what God is calling me to do, I am subject to being pulled in many directions, some of which God never intended for me to go.

Let’s be honest for a moment and face the fact that at one time or another each of us is drawn toward one of these traps. Expectations, tradition and a false sense of importance each has a strong pull. It does not require much thought to just do what you think is expected of you. I can easily do church activities because that is “how it is done” based in my prior church experience. This same thoughtlessness can happen in a group like a local church.

A wise man once said:

The man who knows how to do something will likely always have a job, but he will work from the man who knows why he should do it.

Strong leaders, who will be especially vital to lead the church through the 21st Century, need to resist these pulls to busyness. We need to ask the question of why we are doing the things we do. We need to seek God to determine if He thinks these things are necessary.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 28:19-20 that the mission of the church is to make disciples. This mission should be the “why” behind every activity of the church. Making disciples is a relational business. The Apostle Paul repeatedly endorses the concept of imitation as the means of raising up disciples (see 1 Thess. 1:6, 1 Thess. 2:14, 2 Thess. 3:7-9, 1 Cor. 4:16, 1 Cor. 11:1, Eph. 5:1 and Phil. 3:17). Imitation implies repeated contact which implies relationship. We are called to be in fellowship and body life so that this imitation can take place.

If people in the church are experiencing burn-out; if some leave the church because they did not feel connected; if it is becoming increasingly hard to staff church ministries, then your church has a bad case of busyness caused by doing replacing relationship.

The fix for busyness is to step off the wheel and begin asking ourselves why we have each activity and asking God to show the real result. We need to have the discipline to drop the activities that are not producing healthy disciples. We need to do a gut check and be honest about how relational our church is and whether we are laying a foundation of love and fellowship on which the good work can be based.

We must be people oriented and not program oriented. Church programs were made for man, not man for the church programs.