Simplicity, Sabbath, and Christian Fatigue Syndrome

Growing up, I went to church (I know…that’s a theologically loaded phrase-just hang with me) a lot.

A lot. (Read that last sentence slowly for dramatic effect, please.)

On any given week, we had Sunday morning services, Sunday school, youth choir, discipleship classes, student ministry, Tuesday night outreach, Bible drill, Royal Ambassador’s, and Friday night at the gym. Sprinkle in the occasional Saturday brunch, outreach event, and Judgment House, and our lives revolved around being at the church building. (I’m incredibly thankful for the commitment my parents made to raising me in a godly home…it set me on a trajectory that would shape my life in massive ways.)

I remember vividly one late Sunday afternoon sitting on the back deck grilling with my dad. My little brother was swimming in our blue kiddie pool, and mom was there taking it all in. I felt guilty the moment this thought passed through my head, but I let it pass anyway. I guess I was just a little devil child.

I sure wish we could just skip going to church tonight.

As I thought it, fire from heaven spit down into my eyes and scorched me.

Turns out, though, the rest of my family was thinking the same thing. We weren’t trying to be heathens, choosing to indulge in our sin rather than worship Jesus. We just all wanted to be together as a family and relax…ahem *Sabbath*…instead of cleaning up, putting on our “Sunday best,” and driving across town to our second worship service of the day.

Maybe you grew up in that sort of environment, too. It’s not that churches set out to heap burdens on people and create guilty feelings when they even think about not attending a Sunday evening service. “Stuff” just happens. One good idea gets thrown on top of another, and before you know it, every night of the week is loaded with a different event.

The Simple Life

“Simple church” (HT: Thom Rainer) doesn’t happen unintentionally. No church drifts into simplicity. Currents take a church towards complexity. Towards an increasing number of functions, events, and opportunities to “go to church.” Since each of these events is linked with a grand idea, a dynamic leader, and the heart of a person who wants to lead people to Jesus, they’re incredibly difficult to stop even when the timing is right.

“Simple” churches give families the time to invest in one another. Time to serve their community. Time to enjoy a Sunday Sabbath. Time to minister to their neighbors. Time to invite people into their home. Time to be the church, rather than simply go to church.

Complex churches give people “Christian Fatigue Syndrome,” wearing people out with good things and not freeing them up to do what’s best. When people are hit with CFS, they become desensitized to authentic worship, boil evangelism down to sharing a tract, and treat biblical community as just another activity on their already-too-busy schedules rather than the life-giving gift God intended it to be.

Time to quit giving people Christian Fatigue Syndrome.  

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Ben Reed
Ben Reed is the small groups pastor at Long Hollow, a multi-site church in the Nashville, TN, area. He holds an Mdiv from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Ben is also an avid coffee drinker and CrossFitter, but not at the same time. Catch up with Ben at BenReed.net. In his book, "Starting Small: The Ultimate Small Group Blueprint," he helps leaders through the process of putting a small group ministry together and creating a place where people belong so they can become.