By Rob Tims
Two years into my first senior pastorate, I began to exhibit some of the early signs of burnout. Burning out at 35 was not an option, so I began to take a few steps to slow down and correct course. Among the first things I did was sign up to attend a couple of conferences.
It was a wise idea.
Each conference was different, but each had a powerful, therapeutic effect. To be with thousands of other like-minded pastors and church leaders, to sit under biblical teaching from godly men, to share meals and tears with them in prayer, was a balm for my soul. I was renewed, refreshed, and trained, so much so that I began to see the conferences as an indispensable part of my spiritual growth. “Without these conference experiences,” I thought, “I simply cannot expect to mature in my faith.”
Of course, anytime I think I need something to grow spiritually other than what the Bible says I need, I’m wrong. But to look to a few conferences or other “mountaintop” experiences as primary sources of nurture and guidance was especially dangerous.
Why? It reinforced a sinful mindset I already had: that if I just consumed the right spiritual things, I would be mature.
Each time I left one of these conferences, I left resolved to do “something” in my ministry better. The problem was that I wasn’t mature enough to understand the implications of those resolutions and keep them over the long term. So as I failed, I became even more desperate and, ironically, would look to a conference to help me.
Such is the irony of a mountaintop experience: it leads you to think that you are more mature in your faith than you actually are; it lulls you back into its snare when you face reality.
Is there any more appealing model for American Christians than one that appeals to our consumerism?
In his book, “Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered,” James Wilhoit states, “The deep longing for Christlikeness is a longing for God Himself and the primary motivator for deep spiritual transformation.”
So true, and yet so hard to believe and act on. May God deliver us from the desire to consume more in order to mature in Him. May He be enough.
Do you love God for Himself, or the programs offered in His name?
Rob Tims is husband to Holly and father to Trey, Jono, Abby Jane and Luke. He’s the author of Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, and manages the team behind smallgroup.com at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville. He writes regularly at RobTims.com and blogs every Friday at Forward Progress.