Wednesday, August 21, 2013

We Need To Stop Trying

ceiling fan, ceiling, fan, lights, dusty

by Ben Howard

I'm currently lying in my bed staring up at the ceiling. The ceiling fan is whirring on high and jostling slightly from side to side. This was worrying to me originally, but it's been doing that for more than a year so I feel safe assuming that it's not about to break off and collapse into the middle of my floor.

On the other hand, that would give me something to write about.

I'm staring at the ceiling trying to think of ideas. What's funny? What's interesting? Will anyone read it? Does it need to be said? How could I make the story of my ceiling fan collapsing on top of me into a theological metaphor?

This process, this whole staring at the ceiling and hoping for inspiration process, this is not working.

I need to stop thinking so hard.

During my first semester in grad school, one of my professors gave us an article to read in class. I think it was by Dallas Willard, but I can't be sure. The article addressed why it was so difficult to re-create successful ministries in the church, essentially asking why lightning doesn't strike twice.

wire, lightning, bottle, glass, cool
The author pointed out that the most important difference between the original successful ministry and every subsequent attempt to recreate it was the mindset of those involved. During the first attempt everything is organic, no one knows what will or won't work, they don't have any expectations, they're just throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks. They're trying to do their best.

However, when they try to recreate this success, they try and stick to the original template which not only brings burdensome expectations, but also stifles creativity and flexibility. They are trying to be successful.

Success leads to failure when they become focused on recreating the success.

They need to stop trying so hard.

There's this condition in sports called "the yips". It's not a medical condition necessarily, it's more of a mental roadblock that prevents an athlete from performing simple actions that are ingrained within their muscle memory.

Rick Ankiel, St. Louis Cardinals, pitcher, throwing, yips
In one of the most famous examples, St. Louis Cardinals pitching phenom Rick Ankiel not only lost the ability to throw strikes, but lost the ability to throw the ball to the catcher at all. He spent years in the minors trying to overcome this hurdle, but it ultimately ended his pitching career (though he did make a rather remarkable comeback as an outfielder for a few years).

The yips usually come about when an athlete starts to think about all the things they need to do to be successful. Instead of just throwing the ball, they think about where their arm needs to be and how they need to turn it and when they need to snap their wrist and when they need to release the ball and how they should follow through.

They start to question and try to control what were formerly instinctual actions. It's the equivalent of trying to remember to breathe. This lack of control creates fear which demands more control and the cycle spirals into chaos.

The only cure is for the athlete to relax and let their mind wander, if they can.

They need to stop trying so hard.

Christians like to talk about the terrible state of Christianity. The church is pretty confident that the church is in dire straits and needs to do something quick.

books, pastoral books, vortex of books, vortex, spiral

There are thousands of books and articles all about this broken system in need of renovation. Books about how to grow your church, how to increase your giving, how to improve your theology, how to improve your mission, how to start a church, how to lead a church. Books on how to have church with a fox or in a box, in a house or with a mouse. Books on churches here and there, books on churches everywhere.

And I'm starting to wonder....

Maybe, just maybe, the church is trying too hard.

Maybe it's thinking too hard. Maybe it's a slave to it's success. Maybe, just maybe, the church has the yips.

I appreciate the intention of all the books and articles. Of course the people who write them and read them are well-meaning people. Hell, I'm one of those people.

But in this ravenous quest for intentional living, perhaps there is too much intention and not enough actual living...and breathing...and being.

Maybe the Church, maybe we, need to just be for awhile.

Maybe we need to stop trying so hard.


Ben Howard is an accidental iconoclast and generally curious individual living in Nashville, Tennessee. He is also the editor-in-chief of On Pop Theology and an avid fan of waving at strangers for no reason. You can follow him on Twitter @BenHoward87. 
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