The Most Insidious Cult of Them All

Forget the Sunday afternoon door knockers with their magazines, or the mantra chanters, or those who hunt in their suits and ties. When it comes to the cults, they are small fry. We have already been sucked in, comprehensively seduced by a cult that has wrought enormous devastation personally and collectively. Not too many books have been written about this particular one. It remains mostly unidentified.

Symptoms of the Cult at Work….

While we complain vehemently and often about its grip on our lives, we seem powerless to do much about it. Yes, nearly all of us suffer deeply from its symptoms. This cult is especially devious:

  • It focuses clearly on getting things done
  • It promises returns for the energy devoted to it
  • It gives a real sense of progress when others seem to be in doubt as to what to do next
  • It provides a reason for living
  • It conveys a strong inner conviction that personal worth is gauged by effort and dedication
  • It keeps leadership groups, like diaconates, up late at nights in the belief that the Kingdom is being dramatically advanced
  • It always produces healthy agendas
  • It has given birth to countless committees
  • It applauds activity with rarely a thought about productivity or effectiveness
  • It brings acclaim to cult proponents as they drive themselves into the ground

All great stuff you say. So, what’s the problem? Why break into a hot sweat? Surely we need a bit more of all of the above if we really want people to sit up and take notice. Ah, but that is the seductive line for which we fall without so much as a question. Like the unsuspecting fly, we do low passes over the spider’s web only to be caught and consumed.

The Cult’s Awesome Power to Destruct….

While there may seem to be much to commend it, this cult has the capacity to ruin us. Consider:

  • Stress is increased to the point where we are ready to snap – and sometimes do
  • Decisions which really should take time are made on the run and often with very painful outcomes
  • Family ties and friendships are left withering on the vine
  • As a consequence, partners or offspring may feel that they are constantly having to compete for attention and become bitter, discouraged and depressed in the process
  • Frustration leading to bad temper and anger becomes a way of life
  • There can develop a preoccupation with what is wrong rather than with what is going well. There is a classic loss of perspective.
  • A shortage of time leads to functional relationships where people are valued for what they can do or deliver rather than for who they are
  • When needy or difficult people show up, there are no resources left to cope
  • Pastors and lay leaders burn out trying to accomplish too much
  • Churches are distracted by a huge range of possibilities often forcing the exercise of prayer, or worship, or the building of a loving congregation off to the side. The result is a picture of the Gospel which is certainly unattractive if not absurd.
  • Pastors and their people do not have the time for their own personal reflection, study and growth
  • The simple pleasures of relaxation are spoiled by the subtle poison of consuming guilt arising from inexplicably having time for oneself. Something must be going wrong somewhere!

It’s time to expose this cult, understand the damage it does and break into new levels of freedom and faith. We urgently need some strategies to help us escape from its terrible hold upon us. Like any person caught up in a cult, we need help to free our minds and spirits. We are not going to make it on our own. Deliverance is not automatic or easy and those most seriously trapped will often refute the reality of their captivity.

Unmasking the Cult….

What cult? The cult of busyness, of course: the desire or the complicity which allows for every waking moment to be filled up with something. The belief that life is devalued every time there is the unexpected opportunity for having a cuppa, or taking forty winks, or reading a novel, or staring at the wall.

It’s the idea that life is one long agenda which will never come to completion; that every day is too short; that we are not serious about the Kingdom unless we are juggling a dozen ministry balls at once. Unlike laziness which is generally much more obvious to everybody and certainly not a vote winner, busyness wins marvellous acclaim for its appearances of sheer energy and great dedication. We need to find steps to be freed from its tentacles.

Stop One: Deliverance Through Some Rules of Thumb….

So where is the escape route from unrestrained busyness? How do we buy out? How can we quit? How can we be released from its terrible, addictive clutches? Well, we need some fresh rules of thumb:

  • Let’s establish realistic (and probably fewer) goals for each day
  • Let’s understand that rough edges and loose ends are par for the course
  • Only a few of the expectations held by others will be fulfilled (and certainly not all the expectations of self)
  • Some short-term goals need to be jettisoned or turned into long term ones
  • Not everything will get done today and that will be fine
  • Most deadlines can be negotiated
  • People come before paper work, the keyboard, or googling
  • It’s time to invest generously in reflection and review
  • Others can be invited to share the responsibilities
  • It is not necessary to know everything, control everything, or be everywhere at once
  • Mistakes, made by self and others, are the proof of our humanity and nothing much more
  • Some problems will not be resolved no matter how much prayer, discussion or collaboration is undertaken so they become unhappy distractions which just sit there
  • What does not get done today may not need to be done, tomorrow, or ever
  • Each day should have some fun and humour somewhere

Step Two: It’s time for leaders to reflect….

The cult of busyness with its inordinate blessing of running in circles, fighting battles on many fronts and delivering everything to everybody the day before yesterday has to be tackled by leaders.

The reason? Whole churches and their leadership groups can be just as much caught up in busyness as any individual with the potential for even greater damage being done. There are busy pastors, diaconates and congregations who worship mindlessly at the altar of unnecessary meetings, too much paperwork and enough administration to haemorrhage a main frame computer.

Whole churches can burn out, get the stitch, and retire exhausted wondering if the Lord ever really does have any green pastures and still water. Why not check out those hardworking folks down there at Sardis?[1] They apparently had a terrific church program. The only minor setback was that they had passed out spiritually but had not realised it. They were not actually advancing the Kingdom despite their perspiration. They were alive but dead.

So, a few questions to contemplate….

  • How much room are we leaving for the Lord of the Church to be Lord of the Church? Or have we inadvertently scheduled Him out with a full program, watertight master plan and commitments which make it all depend on us?
  • To be more precise, when do we actually make the time to listen to Him as His people? Can we hear the rustle of the wind of the Spirit amid the noise of many meetings?
  • Have we fallen for the trick which suggests that the real spirituality and devotion of the church is measured by activity and energy more than a quiet waiting upon Him together?
  • Are the visionaries attending to the vision, the problem solvers solving problems and the maintenance people doing the maintenance? Or are all three trying to do each other’s work? We need them all and a few others besides but not to duplicate effort. Such is the essence of pure frustration.
  • If the pastor is expected to preach with fervour, practicality and insight, is sufficient time being set aside for the nurturing of the spirit as the preparation for the shaping of the sermon?
  • Is the agenda of next week’s deacons’ meeting inspirational and exciting? If not, why not and what can be done about it? Should the meeting even be held?
  • Does the church meeting agenda carry an inherent sense of adventure, of forward movement, of really being on mission? Is there room to be quiet before God amidst all the words? Is it silly to expect people to show up with anticipation and hope?
  • Who is ringing the alarm bells if one person, or a group, is doing too much?
  • Have we put monkeys on people’s backs through giving them tasks inconsistent with their giftedness? How will we call the monkeys off?
  • Are we sure we need this or that new ministry if we are not properly evaluating the ones already being exercised?
  • Is our activity getting in the way of building genuine relationships within and beyond the church?
  • Just when do we relax, play and enjoy each other’s company without having to receive the minutes, move motions or even pray and study the Bible? When do we unwind, converse, take off the masks and support each other as authentic members of the household of faith?

Is Busyness Here To Stay?

It’s all very well to ask questions, but are there helpful answers? Is there any way of breaking into refreshing ways of being the people of God without living on the edge of spiritual, emotional and physical collapse? The truth is that there has to be a way. Otherwise the Gospel is not the Good News at all. Who wants to be saved solely for the purpose of trying to do too much?

It is a question of balance: it is not a matter of leaping from busyness to withdrawal. Jesus was fully involved with people but He drew His line in the sand with great facility and wisdom. His prayer retreats on the mountain, His being apart for relief and refreshment are models staring at us from the Scripture. Perhaps it is a fundamental question of faith, of believing that we only have to do our part. The case for quietness and contemplation within the context of living fully is irrefutable. The Lord will build His church whether or not we keep running the spiritual four-minute mile.

If being in service is an enduring burden with little respite and less joy, we have surely lost the plot. May we seek an increasing measure of wisdom as we continue to risk being Christ to others. May we be much more accountable to those close to us as a way of dealing with the attractive temptation to make grand solo efforts for the Kingdom. In the long run it is who we are which will surely achieve much more than what we do.

Rev John Simpson

[1] Refer Revelation 3:1-3