A group of us at Kea have been working through the CPAS Growing Leaders course. What sets this course apart from other leadership material is the focus on the character and calling of leaders, rather than on the "how to" of leadership.
On Wednesday we arrived at session 8, "embracing cost". Focusing on Colossians 1, we thought about what it might mean to "rejoice in our sufferings". In context this means going into leadership with your eyes open, understanding what it will cost you, and embracing that as part of your vocation. I think this is so appropriate, and reflects the shape of Christ's own life and ministry.
But what really hit me was a small detail at the beginning. As an exercise, we were asked to list the possible costs vs. benefits of Christian leadership - a good way of engaging with the topic. And a great majority of our group headed their list of costs with "loss of time".
What a strange thing we have done to the Christian life when our biggest fear, when contemplating a particular calling, is time management stress. It's not the spiritual responsibility, or the opposition, or the thought of the wounds we might take in our personal relationships, but something quite tangible.
It's not that I am disappointed by this, or surprised, not exactly. It is a minor epiphany for me though. Most of my "growing leaders" are of a similar age to me, middle-class, professional types, with families. Time, to this generation, is a commodity every bit as precious and as seductive as money, more so for some who have as much money as they want but never enough time to use it. To sacrifice our time has become as demanding on our generosity as any financial cause. And what I wonder, now, is whether this is the right sacrifice to be asking of people. I know this isn't true of all churches, but certainly for us, with the way we do things, church is so flipping busy. Childrens work, home groups, PCC, music, outreach: they all suck the hours out of people's lives. On paper we have plenty of people to cover all the bases. In reality, the old 80:20 rule kicks in and the ones who are committed Christians end up committed to an institution, only occasionally emerging into the world that Jesus has called them to be salt and light in.
I don't know what the answer is, though. This year we have made some progress in encouraging people only to engage with those things that energise them, on the basis that those are probably the things they have a genuine vocation for. Growing Leaders itself is a way of equipping people to think about church as discipleship rather than activity, but it treads a fine line. These may take us down a different path, but the amount of work to do will remain the same. I'm beginning to think we might need to examine the basic assumptions on which a church like ours runs. I don't want to run an organisation which progressively exhausts people and eventually collapses under its own dead mass. I want to liberate people, because that's what Jesus does. "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light". Church ought to sit lightly on our shoulders, not weigh us down.