I am just sitting in a cafe in Newcastle, having a bit of an unexpected time to myself, it was a day when I could have met and had three conversations with different people, work related, and in the end I only had one. But that’s ok.
For I think its ok to stop. Every now and then stop.
Its 10 years since Austerity began, 10 years since the big society, 10 years since the gaps began to appear, in a bigger way than there was before, 10 years since faith group began an onslaught of activity motivated by compassion, anger and even a desire to be respected. There has been a serious amount of ‘doing’ in the last 10 years.
Its street pastors, youthwork, community lunches, transport, cafes, food banks, community centres, family work, dementia care, financial responses, child care, and the list goes on…
Mission fatigue may well be creeping in. It wasn’t going to take long, an ageing church 10 years ago filing the cracks, was going to tire, and no manner of additional support and training is going to help when the next crack is revealed, by the latest organisation wishing to fill it with the latest need for volunteers. The next new thing might be the thing that energises then exasperates the collective empty tank.
Are you with me?
Anyone else feeling it?
Maybe no amount of concerted resilience and determination is enough, one more session, one more activity, one more need to fulfil, it is sometimes incessant.
It might have to stop. You might need to stop.
The wheel of need keeps turning, so maybe, if your programme or ministry is young, its worth projecting ahead, before the burnout kick in
‘one strength of this project, is that I haven’t thought about quitting this week’
said a youthworker to me in the last year
‘we’ve been doing a holiday club every year for the last 6, we’re just tired’.
was a response to an email this week
Maybe missional tiredness is kicking in, because not only the need is great, but also its twinned with a responsibility that its more relied on than ever. 10 years ago there might have been suggestions that the church was one of the catalysts of the end of the welfare state, mission that was social action became a reason to exist. Now.. ? what next?
Because the church that aged 10 years is not going to exist in the next 10. No really. And look around, there aren’t many 40 year olds in churches, except the very few. the very few that exist in university towns, or those who went hard at attracting young families.
And I wonder whether its not that mission fatigue might cause a case of serious reflection. For its not good enough that the same warn out people jump into a different ministry. They need a break. They need a proverbial cancellation of two appointments to catch a break.
But what if the reflection causes a time to think about approach.
What if Mission fatigue is caused because the church has assumed a giving role.
Think about it..
Think about all the conversations in the streets, the foodbank, the lunch club, the activity… do you as the ‘church’ take the role of the giver, the provider, the server of the community – and so then- what is expected of you?
For all those involved to keep giving, serving and giving and serving of themselves? And that tank has only so much left in it. You are expected to give, to listen, to serve… and possibly even hope that the divine God might back fill your giving by restoring, strengthening and tending to you, though the means that you find restoration in.
But what if there was a different way?
Because that just feels exhausting… and if you’ve read this far, you’re already thinking of all the things you do and realising how much it takes out of you…
What if you stopped giving, and started receiving, instead?
Yeah, stopped trying to solve, fix and serve – but instead listened, received and built together?
But we’ve always done things this way, you might say, but for how much longer….?
I wonder whether there might be a greater energy in creating community and developing more mutual approaches, so that rather than a serving giving model, its more a mutual community participation and collective model, one where giving occurs as well as receiving,
And yes that means that the power dynamics shifts, but that is no bad thing.
One thing I notice is that the places where there are mutual conversations, where community grows through the sharing of gifts developing these, there feels more energy, compared to a purely serving approach.
If working upstream is another response, then we might need to proverbially stop in the cafe and consolidate, and realise that not only can’t we carry on as the church filling the gaps, but do more, significantly more at challenging the system, and the ideology that creates the gaps. If the church continues to have a reason to be because of horrific cuts , then it could be seen as complicit. But a reason to be, is only lasting so long, its bloody tiring.
Im glad there are those that can hold this government to account, bishops for one in the house of Lords, and challenging local authority decisions has been done is the many acts of social action, political action that have been taken, and developing community organising has been one approach that has done this, challenging low pay, racism and other systems.
So, there’s not only a call to sustain ourselves, but also to look through the fatigue and tiredness and reflect on whether actually we can keep the way we do what we do sustained forever, and contemplate a different response that could be more sustaining. The food bank cannot carry on forever, neither should it. Can we do Ken Loach out of job in terms of making real life films about poverty, however good they are. If we’re serious about solving the problems in society then our burnout isn’t the solution. But, reading, thinking and reflecting on poverty, social justice and community actions, development and education might be. Sustaining ourselves is key, but sustaining ourselves in roles that consistently drain (even with good support and management) might be to be reflected on. Its not that churches need more time to argue with each other about practices or theology or sex – but that being prophetic is to be in tandem with being practical.
If you are missionally fatigued – might it be that you have given too much, tried too hard, and missed the reality that its not just faith that might sustain you, but that there are gifts in the community that are there and can be given… you can take a break…