1001 New Worshiping Communities series features the wisdom of experience articulated by the Rev. Dr. Brian McLaren
March 24, 2022
For church and worshiping community leaders, the Way of Spiritual Fortitude is apparently paved with good intentions, including intending to regularly practice self-care in the midst of long hours doing ministry that can be as demanding as it is draining.
Cue the Rev. Dr. Brian McLaren, an author, speaker, activist and public theologian who spent 24 years as a church planter and taught college English before that. McLaren opened The Way of Spiritual Fortitude, the first of four online seminars put on 1001 New Worshiping Communities and hosted by the Rev. Jeff Eddings, 1001’s associate for coaching and spiritual formation. More than 80 church leaders were in attendance. Watch their conversation here.
“Your work,” McLaren assured those in attendance, “is super close to my heart.”
Eddings got the discussion going using imagery from Martin Laird’s book “An Ocean of Light: Contemplation, Transformation and Liberation.” Laird posits that each person is a mountain and that everything that happens to us is just so much weather on the mountain. “The mountain has no opinion on what the weather is weathering,” Eddings said, inviting those tuned in to sit for two minutes reflecting on “your own mountain-ness. Remember we are God’s beloved.”
McLaren recalled the early days of his ministry. He was jogging and listening to a cassette tape his Walkman when he heard this statement credited to Abraham Lincoln: Even if I lose every friend on Earth while I’m president, I will still have a friend inside me. A “wave of emotion” overcame McLaren as he heard “a coup d’état” of voices inside him telling he was working so hard he hadn’t been a friend to himself.
Not long after that, his young son received a cancer diagnosis. The boy later made a complete recovery, but after McLaren and his wife got the news, elders from his church plant paid a call. “Brian,” they told him, “your job now is to be there for your son, wife and kids. Do as little as possible for this church. If you don’t take time away from the church, you will be hurting this church and your family and yourself.”
“Ministry can be a workaholic experience,” McLaren said, “and it shouldn’t be.”
A friend and mentor told McLaren to acquire some non-utilitarian friends, people who enjoyed his company and he theirs, people who asked for nothing else in return. “A blessing in my life has been being able to find a couple of friends like that, mostly outside the church,” McLaren said.
In his quest to use a term beside self-care, Eddings came up with spiritual fortitude, which he defined as “the mental, emotional and spiritual strength to bear pain and encounter adversity or temptation with courage by nurturing resilient spiritual practices where we learn to love ourselves, that we may then love and care for others.”
“We aren’t just here as servants of a congregation. We actually matter too,” McLaren told the leaders in attendance. “If we are preaching abundant life for others, we have to make sure we are experiencing that too.”
“Let’s bring Jesus into the conversation,” Eddings suggested. Jesus issued multiple calls for his followers: Pick up your cross and follow me, leave everybody and everything behind — “and there’s this invitation to abundant life,” Eddings said. “It feels like a tension to me.”
One problem, McLaren responded, is “we hear too many preachers selecting certain parts of the gospel and leaving other parts out.” The people closest to Jesus worried about his mental health, McLaren said. On other occasions, “there are times when Jesus has the least amount of messianic complex you can imagine. Everyone is looking for him, and he’s away in solitude, getting away from the expectations of others.”
“Jesus gives us permission to be very human,” McLaren said. “There are seasons when life is very hard, and there are seasons when we can get the heck out of Dodge and be good to ourselves and take care of ourselves.”
Eddings added this thought: “My hope is we can begin to learn to be a friend to ourself so we can follow Jesus more faithfully.”
Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: 1001 New Worshiping Communities Seminar
Let us join in prayer for:
Let us pray
Thank you, God, for speaking from the margins. May you give justice to the marginalized people of our world, and may you use them to change us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.