Could too much ‘church’ actually hurt believers’ spiritual growth?

The concept intrigued me — worship, Sunday School, discipleship and service. Those were the only four commitments my seminary buddy said he was requesting of the members of the congregation he served as pastor.

He cut out all extracurricular activities. He urged the members to move away from the once-pushed plan to build a recreational facility. And he asked the ministers on staff to eliminate any unnecessary meetings. too-much-church

He wants the congregation and staff members to dedicate themselves to growing in Christ and being salt and light in the community, not being busy at church.

If church members are so busy doing church activities, then they aren’t out in the community, he said. And if they are exhausted from all the church obligations, then they won’t have much energy left for their own spiritual growth, much less sharing with nonbelievers.

Overwhelmed with life

I thought more about what my friend was attempting to do in his church and remembered a strong Christian family I learned about who pulled away from church recently solely because of being overwhelmed with life. Church — which had been a major focus of this family’s life for years — had diminished into one more distressful obligation riddled with guilt for not doing enough. I’m sure no one actually forced these feelings on the mother and father, but it was certainly how they were feeling and it influenced their decision to pull their family out of the church.

Many are reaching out to the family, urging them to return and sharing concerns of how being out of church is not the answer. But I’m not sure anyone is finding a way for them to simply come worship without feelings of unrealistic expectations.

Calm instead of bustling?

What if our experience in church was truly a Sabbath experience of complete and full worship of the one true living God rather than a schedule of bustling activities where we zip into the parking lot still getting ready, run into the church service five or 10 minutes late, then rush to our Sunday School (or life group) class while catching up with friends along the way?

What if we knew our time attending church services each week would be energizing and filling but not hectic? What if we could truly clear our minds, calm our hearts and still our souls so we could hear from God in those moments and give sacrificially through our complete worship? What if we could leave our church services ready to face the world again?

Responsibility to be prepared

Of course, it is our responsibility as individual Christians to be prepared for worship and not the church staff’s issue. We have to be disciplined enough to spend time in the Word throughout the week so our hearts are prepared for the corporate worship service. And we have to be disciplined enough to guard our schedules appropriately to prevent the chaos that sometimes revolves around church time.

But still I wonder if our church leaders could do more to help members see the importance of being still (Ps. 46:10). If there are constant requests to sign up for endless activities at church, then members will feel obligated and sometimes even pressured to participate, which adds one more thing to the schedule.

Rested and revived

While there are certainly special events we would not want to give up for various reasons, it would be an interesting exercise to make note of how many requests are made of us on any given Sunday morning. Do we feel rested and revived in the Lord when coming to church or do we feel overwhelmed?

I would venture to say it is somewhat seasonal based on individuals and what is happening in their lives. Sometimes we are energized by all the activity; sometimes it discourages us.

Maybe we could find a way to alternate roles based on our seasons. When we are on top of things and feeling empowered we could serve more, and when life is difficult to balance we could be given a guilt-free sabbatical from our church roles — but not attendance.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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Polishing the rough spots

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The distance and coldness slapped me in the face. I knew my friend had a lot on her mind so I didn’t worry about it — at first.

When it happened again, I asked if she was OK because she seemed upset about something. She said she was and didn’t offer any explanation.

After a few days of the same experience, I investigated because she obviously wasn’t OK. I thought back to what might have happened and realized I was what happened.

In a pressure-filled, deadline-crunched, sleep-deprived moment, I had barked at her about a project we were both working on. In the moment, I didn’t realize I had been hurtful.

My words were not meant to target her. I was actually frustrated with myself because I had not prepared as thoroughly as I thought I had.

Rebuilding trust

As soon as my aha moment came, I ran to my friend to apologize. She appreciated the acknowledgement and eventually warmed up to me — but it wasn’t immediate. She kept me at a slight distance for months.

It hurts me deeply when I hurt another person and yet I’m extremely capable of doing it.

I don’t tend to panic nor react frantically in tense situations. I’m the person who stays calm, assesses every side of the situation and determines the plan of action. But with this calmness under pressure comes a laser focus and sharp directness that can easily stomp on another’s feelings.

While I’m continuously working to improve in this area, I’ve also learned to show others grace when the situation is reversed. I try to give them the benefit of the doubt that they aren’t targeting me, that they are merely under a lot of pressure at the moment.

Many friends have modeled that same grace for me through the years.

Reading the right cues

In fact, another friend of mine and I had a rough season once when we were misreading each other’s emotions as being upset with the other. Once we realized what we were doing, we made a pact that we would always tell the other if something was wrong in our relationship rather than forcing each other to guess.

The experience was so freeing that I challenged myself to move quickly to resolve any conflict that might arise in all my relationships.

My goal is to stop myself the second I realize I’m being unfair or hurtful, take responsibility and apologize, then regroup in a way to have a calm and mutually respectful conversation. I’m learning to truly validate the other person’s feelings and decipher the facts of the situation while trying to avoid emotional responses. I’m also learning I don’t have to always be right — yes, that might have been the hardest one for me to swallow.

When I’m on the other side, I’m trying to calmly alert the person right away that what he or she did or said was hurtful to me. From there, my goal is to be kind, forgive and not leave any awkward feelings between us. It is really hard to tell another person when he or she has hurt or frustrated you, so I’m also working hard to not react defensively when someone is bold enough to share.

Worth all the effort

Some days merely attempting to live in relationship with the vast number of people in our lives can stretch our abilities, but I’ll be the first to say it is worth all the effort. I can’t imagine my life without all the amazing people who make it so rich, joyful and fulfilling. I’m just thankful they choose to love me despite my many shortcomings.

—By Jennifer Davis Rash

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Rash named editor-elect of state Baptist newspaper

BIRMINGHAM (TAB) — Jennifer Davis Rash has been named editor-elect of the nation’s most widely circulated state Baptist newspaper — The Alabama Baptist (TAB).

Rash, who began her journey with TAB as a news writer Jan. 1, 1996, has served as executive editor of the publicjennifer-rash-10-4-16-smallation for the past six years.

She oversees the weekly production of the paper in all its formats — print, digital, social media, etc. She also has been directing the launch of a new website for http://www.thealabamabaptist.org and blogs at http://www.rashionalthoughts.com.
Rash has served alongside and been mentored by TAB’s editor and president Bob Terry for nearly 21 years. She joined the team five months after Terry became editor. Together they have helped lead the staff to receive more than 200 national and state awards for work in news writing, feature writing, editorial writing, layout, design, investigative reporting and broadcast.Terry made the announcement of Rash being promoted to editor-elect during the Oct. 7–8 TAB board of directors’ meeting in Birmingham.

“In 2010, Jennifer chose The Alabama Baptist a second time when she was offered the editorship of the Arkansas Baptist News that year and turned it down. It would have made her the first female editor of a major state Baptist paper,” Terry said.

“It was a hard decision but Jennifer chose to stay at The Alabama Baptist. She was clear. She wanted to be editor of a state Baptist paper. She was also clear in knowing that God called her to serve in Alabama.

“At some point I will finalize my plans for retirement and as I do so, it will be with great appreciation for the action of this board of directors and with great confidence in the future of this ministry,” Terry said.

Selection process mckeever-rash

The Alabama Baptist will have superior leadership. The board of directors, acting as a search committee of the whole, could not have done a better job in selecting the next editor and president to lead this ministry.”

TAB board chairwoman Amelia Pearson, Ed.D., explained that the board took its action in order to have a succession plan in place. The succession plan would be activated at retirement, resignation, incapacitation or death.

“The goal was for the organization not to be caught in a crisis time without having plans in place to proceed in an orderly fashion,” said Pearson, who is retired after serving as a college faculty member, dean and president across 40 years. “Many businesses have succession plans in place and that was a good model for TAB to follow.”

The board affirmed Rash in her quest to be editor six years ago, so she was the obvious choice when it was determined a succession plan should be established whenever and however that transition is triggered, Pearson said.

“Jennifer Rash is an exceptional writer and has demonstrated tremendous capacity as the executive editor,” she said. “We are very fortunate to have someone with Jennifer’s skills and talents to name as editor-elect for The Alabama Baptist.

“Jennifer has big shoes to fill as Dr. Terry has been a superb editor and provided excellent leadership to the staff and the board of directors for many years,” Pearson said.

“She is blessed to be able to work under Dr. Terry’s mentorship as she continues learning the various aspects of the paper’s top position.”

Rash agreed.

“To be able to learn so many life lessons, develop my skill set and grow up in general through the ministry communications channel of The Alabama Baptist has indeed been a blessing and a gift,” she said.

“I will always be indebted to Bob Terry for the investment and confidence placed in me to grow into the person capable of the position,” Rash noted. “And to have the unanimous support of TAB’s board of directors provides the strength and foundation I need to continue developing into the leader I hope will make them proud.”

Along with her responsibilities with TAB, Rash currently serves as vice president for Associated Church Press and is a past president of Baptist Communicators Association. She also serves as an instructor for the online ministry communication certificate through the Ministry Training Institute at Samford University in Birmingham.

Rash is an honors graduate from the University of Alabama with a bachelor of arts in journalism and earned a master’s of theological studies from Samford’s Beeson Divinity School. She grew up at Mountain View Baptist Church, Phil Campbell, and served two years on the missions field with the International Mission Board after college. She and her husband, Jason, have been married 19 years and are members of NorthPark Baptist Church, Trussville.

Related articles:

Baptist News Global

Baptist Press (SBC)

Biblical Recorder (North Carolina)

Western Recorder (Kentucky)

Word Slingers (Oklahoma)

 

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Facing the fact we do have limits

margin

The books needed a purpose again. They had been boxed up for too many months and either needed to find residence on a shelf in my office or find a new owner. They weren’t doing anyone any good hidden away from the world.

I don’t remember what motivated me that particular day to clean out my books and slice open the tape on the box, but that’s what I did. I organized the books by categories and determined to start reading through them one at a time, then pass them along to others.

But where to start?

I settled on the leadership category, the discipleship category and the relationship category — all areas that continuously need polishing in my life.

As I glanced over the titles, my eyes noticed a handful of books focused on balancing life and creating margin.

Margin — the space between ourselves and our limits.

I remember understanding that word for the first time about 10 years ago when a colleague pointed out I had none. He wasn’t the first nor the last to note this about me, but he was the first I remember using this particular word.

I didn’t really worry about it at the time, but life — as life tends to do — exposed my true deficit of margin and recently I’ve landed in a season where margin is vital.

Toothpick world

When we leave no space in the area between ourselves and our limits, then every day can feel like it is out of control and the more we try to gain control of our lives, the more we lose the battle.

And don’t even get me started on how the toothpick world in which we live comes crumbling down the minute one thing doesn’t line up in order.

As I reflected on my personal battle with margin that day, I focused on the titles trying to decide which book to pull off the shelf.

When I saw one simply titled “Margin,” that seemed like the best place to start. I pulled it out of the lineup, laid it on top of the other books and within minutes forgot about it.

Reading, learning

But that book wouldn’t be invisible for long.

A few weeks later in a conversation with a group of friends attempting to navigate their own margin struggles, at least three people suggested I read Richard A. Swenson’s book, “Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives.”

I made a note to get the book and even started looking up where to buy it when it hit me — there was a book with the title “Margin” already pulled out on my shelf ready to read. Sure enough, it was the same book.

And when I thought through why I had the book but had never read it before, I realized I had actually purchased the book in the mid-1990s right out of college.

I don’t remember exactly why I purchased it, but it made me realize that despite many years of ignoring the need for margin my quest for it has been a 20-year journey.

Oblivious to issue

Swenson says most people don’t realize their need for margin nor the fact they have eliminated it in their lives. We are working through pain, overload, stress and frustration, not realizing we are furthering the difficulties the longer we fail to create space. And we are hurting our relationships to self, others and God in the process.

Problems one at a time are perhaps manageable, he says, but “they just won’t stand in line. Instead they grow from problem pile into problem mountain and then all fall on us at the same time.”

Jennifer Davis Rash

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What I Am Reading

In His Place: A Modern-Day Challenge in the Tradition of Charles Sheldon’s Classic “In His Steps” by Harry C. Griffith IMG_20160819_111524

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a novel built around incarnating Christ in our everyday lives, but once I started reading it I couldn’t put it down. In fact, if it weren’t for previously scheduled commitments that afternoon I would have finished the book in one sitting.

The story definitely convicted me of areas where I fall short in my Christian walk and reminded me of how many people are hurting and misunderstood around us. It challenged me to always be thinking about how to be Christ to the world around me.

I also connected with the characters in the story and bonded with them almost immediately. And along with the content I loved the weight and feel of the book itself, the torn edges of the pages and even the cute doggie on the cover.

Thank you to my friend, Betty Baggott, for sending me the book and thank you to Harry Griffith for transporting me to the center of the story and challenging me at the same time.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

 

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When news reporters get it wrong

The print version of the article hit the newsstands the day after the interview. The digital version was live only hours after the reporter wrapped up her questions.

My kind of reporting — immediate. But with that kind of turnaround also comes the potential for mistakes.

I knew the potential so I carefully pointed out the misunderstandings made by other reporters earlier in the day, but she made other errors.

And I will admit it was frustrating to see my name in print as having said something I did not say and having described something in words I would never use.

Plus everyone personally acquainted with the story knew what was incorrect in the article, so my pride kicked in because I feared they wouldn’t know it was a reporting error and would think it was my mistake.

I had a decision to make. Would I contact the reporter and yell at her or would I think about the situation calmly and be part of the solution rather than create more havoc?

Being a journalist and knowing what it is like to be on the other side of the situation, I decided to be part of the solution.

Yes, she made mistakes in the reporting, so she needed to correct the information.

That’s where I started.

Correcting the facts

I emailed her to thank her for covering the story and turning it around so quickly. I also noted that I understand the difficulty of trying to grasp every angle of a story in a matter of about 30 minutes, then write a story on it in less than two hours.

It is similar to being assigned a research topic in school — something you are not personally familiar with — and having to crank out a summary of the most important points of the topic in a few hours.

Yes, those who carry the reporter title have (or should have) been trained to do the job and are more versatile than most to know which parts of the story are vital and which can be left out. But it is still a tremendous amount of pressure to reconcile in your own mind what exactly the story is and then to relay all the points with perfect factual accuracy.

Focusing on the facts

And you also have the challenge of knowing for sure who the expert is on the subject and who isn’t as well as working to keep the source on topic so you don’t get distracted with unnecessary pieces of information.

Print journalists have an advantage over broadcast journalists because they have a little more time to verify the facts of the story and work to gain a better understanding, but in all news reporting cases, time is extremely limited.

My recent personal experience with being misquoted reminded me of how grateful I am when those we report on in Baptist life take the time to provide information for us in advance so we have a better chance of reporting accurately.

It also helps to have the basic who, what, when, where, why and how spelled out in a fact sheet or news release of some sort to save us time chasing down those basic bits of information.

I also realize how all of us can improve our communication in general by remembering that those outside our bubbles cannot understand the parts of the stories we are living at the same level we do. Using slang terms makes for insider language others might misinterpret. Leaving out important details or making assumptions also causes confusion.

Telling our stories clearly and succinctly — and showing a bit of grace — goes a long way for the greater good.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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Carrying the weight of the world

It may feel like you are the only onOverwhelmede with all the weight of the world on your shoulders, but that feeling is shared by more people than you think.

People everywhere — in various types of jobs, ministries an
d life situations — are expected to do more with less,
no matter what other loads they are carrying at the moment.

We are all putting more and more pressure on ourselves and each other by nature of tight financial times, a resistance to draw boundaries and the mind-boggling speed at which technology increases daily.

And social media has created a new form of anxiety — FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) — which piles on another layer of pressure.

Trying to do it all

So here we all are trying our absolute best to manage our families, spend quality time with our families and friends, do more than any one human could possibly do in a day at our jobs, be super involved in countless church activities, volunteer with a specific ministry or charity, participate in our communities, keep our homes and cars in decent order, make sure our children are part of every possible activity available to them and maybe find a few minutes to exercise. Oh, and try to be available to everyone at all times while attempting to find moments here and there to spend time in God’s Word and clear our minds long enough to pray (for real, not just say some words) — and maybe, if we are lucky, get more than four hours sleep a night.

Whew, I’m exhausted just writing that paragraph, but I’m guessing more than a few of you can relate.

You might be overwhelmed if …

Do you ever want to pause everyone and everything so you can catch up?

Have you ever secretly wished you would end up with a temporary but serious illness, maybe something that would hospitalize you, so you would have a good excuse to drop everything for a few weeks?

Does it feel like everyone you know is pouring guilt on you and/or you are continuously disappointing every person in your life?

Have you ever felt overly frustrated when others don’t do what you want them to do?

Negative results

If any of these scenarios sound familiar, then you are likely overwhelmed with life right now. If you aren’t aware of that fact or if you aren’t working toward finding balance, then you aren’t only hurting yourself, you are most likely negatively affecting those around you as well.

I know when I’m at my most stressed-out points, I impose unrealistic and unfair expectations on others. I convince myself that my responsibility list is more important than everyone else’s. Frustration sets in when others don’t cooperate.

And if two of us in the same circle are overwhelmed at the same time, then a collision is almost guaranteed. Emotions are usually raw and overreactions happen easily. Hurtful words may be spoken and unfortunate decisions may be made in the process.

Three immediate actions to take

The answer has multiple layers and will have to be customized to some degree to the person’s specific situation. But things all of us can do to prevent spreading the problem are:

1. Commit to stop piling pressure on those around us. Avoid the temptation to pass our issues on to others who are not obligated to help such as might be expected with an official team at work, church or the community.

2. For one project or one day, help a fellow struggler by doing exactly what they ask (assuming it is nothing harmful) so you are the one person in their life not resisting them. It encourages both parties because we know from experience how much it means for someone to help without resistance. It also opens the door for a conversation about how we can help each other in the struggle.

3. Accept that you are overwhelmed and commit to start the process of correcting the problem. A good first step is to freeze your calendar until you can clear some space to breathe.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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