I always look forward to Rob Bell’s session when he is at Catalyst. Rob is the pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, MI. but is probably better known for the “Nooma” series of videos he has produced. He is also a popular author and Conference speaker.
He began his session by telling about a conversation he had recently had with a young pastor who said he wanted to quit. Rob asked him to draw a pie chart of what he does every week. He had been a pastor for a year and wanted to quit every day. Then Rob said, “So I asked if he practiced Sabbath.” and there was total silence. At this point I knew that my lifestyle was going to be challenged!
The Sabbath rest is one of those concepts and truths that I intellectually agree with, but which is so counter-cultural that I do not practice it with any consistency. I am just too achievement oriented to take the time for silence. But let’s get back to Rob Bell.
He next tackled the prime directive of church growth: Bigger is better. He reminded us of what happened to Jesus in John 6 – “…from this time on many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him…”
Jesus laid down his expectation and they didn’t think they could fulfill them so the crowd thinned. What would Jesus say to modern church growth experts that say if you do A then B then C, then there will be growth and numbers? Sometimes the crowd thins, and people leave, even ones who are close to you.
Rob hammered his point home by tell the story recorded in Luke 21. Jesus saw the rich giving large gifts and a poor widow giving a small gift yet even though the rich had given more money Jesus said that the poor widow had given more than all of them. The poor widow gave “more” out of her poverty than the “more” that the rich gave out of their prosperity. More is not always more. What we naturally think is an important measurement may not be how God measures things.
Rob continued his assault on the status quo by appealing to John 5:19, where Jesus says, “the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing.” His work comes from a grounded, centered, calm place where He only has a few things to do, and He sets out to do it. He is not distracted. He is not stressed. There is a difference between something that is hard and difficult and something that is a burden. Rob’s point: God will not give you a burden you can’t carry.
Rob pointed out that of the ten commandments in Exodus 20, the first 9 are external and measurable, but the last commandment about coveting is not externally observable. Rob believes that the “tenth” is sort of a reward for following the first 9 rules: if we do then we won’t have a problem with the 10th rule because we won’t want anyone else’s life. Then he went for the jugular by applying this to ministry!
Rob asked “Have you had a deep dissatisfaction with what you’ve done? Are you carrying this burden for this thing you’re building for God? Have you stressed about the size of your church or organization? Do you carry the burden of feeling like you have not accomplished enough for God?” Then came the application: God wants to set you free from that. Jesus wants you to simply enjoy the place that you are at and the work that is in front of you. At this point I was squirming in my seat but there were more questions to come.
“Is there any way in your ministry, that you have neglected to take care of yourself?” Rob reminded us that we are called by Jesus to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Rob’s point: We need to take care of ourselves so that we can be energized. At this point Rob asked the pointed question he had asked the pastor in his opening story “Have you been observing a sabbath? Which day of the week are you busy doing nothing? Which day of the week have you set aside to feed your own soul so on the other six you have enough food to share with others? Which day of the week can you not be reached by phone or email?” I was sweating but Rob was finished!
“Does your spouse get your very best, or does your spouse get what is left over from the church? Do your kids get your very best, or do they get the scraps?” Ouch! (I bet there wasn’t a pastor or any chuch leader at Catalyst that didn’t feel like they had been punched in the gut) We all know it but Rob hammered it home – our children pick up on what really matters to us without us saying a word. If it is not going well at home, it will not go well at church.
Rob ended by inviting us into the peaceful, calm place in the center of Jesus’ love. Jesus invites us to simply enjoy the place that we are at and the work that is in front of us. His love isn’t based on accomplishment.
May God make me believe that to the core of my soul!