A great task of ministry is to build faith within our churches, but so often despair and pessimism gets the upper hand. Like a magical, toxic elixir our people are sucked into this awful grip of doom and gloom and the lamenting of awful days ahead. Surely Chicken Little has nothing on a church group caught in the grips of Despair.
See what terrible behaviors despair roots into a church to cripple its appeal to its community and fall short of God’s call.
Church of Despair
Focused on Problems. No solutions will be found in the pit of despair, since the people are stuck in “anti-faith.” Some are too busy trying to outdo others in their lament of storms breaking through the sunshine.
Paradigm Paralysis – stuck. They are so locked in that despair is all they can see. Just try to introduce a new idea and prepare for hostile rejection of your efforts of hope.
“Don’t waste your time with explanations,
people only hear what they want to hear.” — Paulo Coelho
Brooding, Complaining, Blaming. Some people actually appear to be getting intoxicated with their peculiar joy of splashing darkness.
Depression. What else could you expect of such harmful dosages?
“Despair is vinegar from the wine of hope.”
— Austin O’Malley, Keystones of Thought
Control (ego) Issues. Who can rise up with something anything better? Having lowered the bar of expectations so low, any idea is easy to produce. To them, anything will look better – even to the point of over-riding the Pastor who allows them to commit spiritual Hare-kiri.
Hypocrites Are Us. Is the real moniker of this group. They are not an outpost of Christ’s Kingdom; they no longer believe their commission. They have sabotaged their own reservoirs of faith. Overcome the “gates of hell?” They couldn’t muster up enough faith to tip over a Dixie Cup of satan’s ploys.
Stifled creativity. Who would dare to consider any rays of hope? Everything will be shot down on the run way. Nothing is appreciated. Just let the lava of Pompeii do its work.
Fatalistic. The wagons are busy circling the outgunned settlers and only a nauseating melodrama of doom remains. Please vision a fainting Marlena Dietrich, with hand on forehead and nothing more than a soft and sad “woe is me.”
If two people leave their church, how quickly this is explained as “all those people!” Seriously, the exaggerations are mind-boggling to such a mentally distressed group, and this while ignoring 15 people having joined during the same time span. This happens far more often than minsters care to admit.
“Despair … is like a gas, odorless, tasteless, without nourishment. You breathe it in, your limbs relax, you cease to care, even at the moment when the steel touches your throat.” — J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace
Nostalgia – toxic. Speaking of melodrama, here it comes, “In my days, our church had over 300 people every Sunday” (in our 150 max capacity sanctuary). Those exaggerated memories will continue expanding in the minds of those who think they are in the know of the “real” problem upon us. Like the people of Israel moaned to Moses, “those whips on our backs weren’t really that ban and the shackles on our ankles . . . we can get used to that again” (Exodus 16:3; Numbers 21:5) Archeologists are still seeking the many empty Tylenol bottles which must surely litter the desert sands of Sinai, reflecting Moses’ despair.
Focused on the past – never on the present, let alone the prospects of an ever changing future. Like the spoiled little girl complaining to her mother she is bored with nothing to do. Her mother offers suggestion after suggestion until fully exasperated she offers to her little girl to go do whatever she feel s like doing. To which the little grumpy girl responds, “I don’t want to do what I want to do!” We can only groan.
Playing to lose. Here’s the real destructive game plan. They may not even realize they are laying out the scenario. Depression so hinders and obstructs their thinking that actual solutions are ignored. As C. G. Jung explains it, they are “living out their negation” (c. “The Symbolic Life”). They only comprehend the strategy of delaying loss as long as possible, but no cavalry is really coming over the hill (now they abandon the melodrama which could actually help!)
Draining. If you have been there, you know how spiritually exhausting such meetings can run. If there was any positive hope in the room before it is deflated and gone now. Such depressed groping is contrary to our human psychology. The toxins will suffocate any effort to muster up even a grain of faith.
Dark banners of doom appear. “It will never work” and “We’ve never done it that way before” will sabotage any call of hope from our Savior. God’s word means virtually nothing to people committed to dark fate.
How we perceive a situation and how we react to it is the basis of our stress. If you focus on the negative in any situation, you can expect high stress levels. However, if you try and see the good in the situation, your stress levels will greatly diminish. — Catherine Pulsifer
Repels people. The very thing that would save them is “new members!” Which is ironically the very thing are blocking. They are fulfilling their own doom. It is a pure anti-faith and no one will want to join such a sorry group of group therapy rejects. And if anyone would . . . trust me, get that standard raised higher!!
Church of Faith
This is the kind of church our Lord calls us to be. Here people believe their own message of the gospel. Challenging the “Gates of Hell?” Bring them on! These people are excited with faith’s courage. Spiritual adrenaline flows freely through the veins of their fellowship.
Focused on Solutions. Despair? How boring and useless. They have enough wherewithal that that makes perfect sense. “Let’s stop wasting time and get going!” is the new battle cry and they are thrilled to pronounce it. Problems are yesterday’s news.
Believes in itself. They read the episodes of the Book of Acts and ask where they might insert their story next.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Positive energy flowing. Can you feel it just reading these possibilities? People reluctantly open the door for the same of “whatever,” but put a challenge on the doorstep that might engage their whole self, the longing of finally doing something grand and purposeful and get ready to step aside. People will give great parts of themselves if they see it is worth their effort and can bear positive fruit of their labor. A brooding pity party will never bolster such energy. Never!!
A special benefit of positive energy is that it always feeds off itself to create more positive energy. Just as depressed people make depressed people more depressed, so with faith will energize faithful people to become even more faithful (see Matthew 25:21. 23).
Cooperation. New ideas are flowing and the only question that needs to be asked is “how can I help with that!?” Positive regard naturally fuels positive effort toward the common goals.
People focused. “Things” are nice, but will never match the energy of witnessing a life transformed into victorious life. Overcoming life’s challenges always captures and energizes the human will. Give people just a taste of that experience and sickly souls start showing blimps on their life support monitors.
Mission focused. We are after something much bigger than what surrounds us today. Heraclitus said “we never step into the same stream twice,” because all things are ever changing – Panta Rei – and people with prevailing faith are brave enough to be excited about turning the next page. And some believe their legacy might already be there!
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
Play to win – believes in its future. What a waste of time, energy and life itself to exert so much into losing. Only a very depressed and defeated soul would participate in such foolishness. We were never designed for such “anti-faith.” It runs too contrary to who are meant to be.
“So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.”
“I will put my Spirit in you and you will live …” (Ezekiel 37:10, 14)
Invests in its future! If people know that their financial support will mean something and has a purpose, the checkbooks will open. We all need something to believe in and exert positive energy to rise above our limited self and limited time span. If the purpose and urgency is felt, stewardship is a natural “response,” not compulsion.
Trivia question: how high did the stock exchange rise on the news that the Titanic hit an iceberg and was going down? For some reason, no one puts too much hope in sinking ships.
Attracts people. This is what Jesus had in mind when he sent retired fishermen and disillusioned business people into the world to turn it on its head. If they live out the call and practice faith in his presence, they can’t lose! It’s only when they cast off his call and ignore his participation that they begin the gradual process of sinking in dangerous waters. Give something to believe in and they will take notice. Give them a place in that drive and they will step up to any meaningful challenge
There’s too much at stake for us to take Christ’s instrument for world healing and peace – the Church! – and turn it into a mere fraternity/sorority of our own doing. We do not have that right.
What churches are “supposed” to be doing?
“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Pilgrim’s Progress has held great lessons of spiritual truth for Christians, since John Bunyan wrote it back in 1678.
Christian journeying to Celestial City finds his pathway difficult, so he and his companion, Hopeful find another path, but in fact this other path is a full distraction to their destination of Heaven. Along the way, the Giant Despair captures them and imprisons them in the dungeon of Doubting Castle, a grim place. They try to sing, but the darkness overwhelms their spirits.
One evening about midnight they begin to pray and a little before day, Christian remembers a key he has on a chain around his neck, named “Promise.” He thinks to himself, “Surely the Key of Promise will open any lock in Doubting Castle.” And it does. Christian escapes from Despair and Doubt by trusting in God’s promise.
Soon he is on his way once more on a sure path of faith toward his destination of Heaven.
This story is full of lessons about the danger of distractions in our journey of faith, caught by doubt and despair while we hold the key of “Promise” which breaks the spell as soon as we put it to use.
We do not have to be held imprisoned by our despair and doubt. We can step out as soon as we recall the promises of faith and choose to walk in them. The path soon becomes sure and headed in the right direction, once we decide to “walk with our Lord” in the path of faith, believing his promises of care.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6
Dr. Steve Minor, Administrator