At 33, Ethan is already on the edge of burnout. Although he is popular, strong, and gifted, the warning signs are evident. He's serving a rapidly growing church, teaching every week, leading worship, and trying to balance ministry and his family of four young children. The demands of life and ministry have Ethan scrambling. While attending a leadership retreat, Ethan explained his inability to fall asleep at night without watching recorded programs on his iPod. He's addicted to noise and cannot quiet his soul.

To his credit, Ethan has started a journey toward simplicity. It's going to be a long road and his addiction to noise and chaos will not be overcome easily. But like many other church leaders, he recognizes the health of his ministry and his soul are at stake.

We all long for simplicity, and it has become a very cool topic. Real Simple magazine, for example, will tell you how to organize your closets, unclutter your garage, and even how to leave your high-pressure job in the city and move to Montana to start a lavender farm, which then finds amazing success and eventually goes public, requiring another downsizing. The popular message is this: embracing simplicity will make your life more manageable and more enjoyable.

Among church leaders I have seen the subject of simplicity elicit two very different responses. Raise the idea and some folks' shoulders drop and their facial features soften, like an exhausted athlete who finally sits on the bench to rest. Sometimes they even appear a bit too eager to slash the schedule, quit the committees, and exit the stress. Others react in the opposite way. They erect defenses. They defend their crazy schedules and their busy (read: important) lives. It appears that without the chaos their lives would have no meaning.

But simplicity, from a biblical perspective, is not about making our lives more manageable. Did Moses' life become less complex after the burning bush? Did Esther's decision to follow God make her life easier? Consider Joseph and Mary. Did submitting to God make their young lives more manageable? Hardly. And we shouldn't forget the apostle Paul. Few would argue the persecution he endured was a manageable lifestyle. These examples, and many others, reveal that for God's people the opposite of simplicity is not complexity. It's duplicity.

If only there were two of me

What does it mean to be duplicitous? The root word gives us a clue. A duplicate is a representation or copy of an original. When the word is attributed to human behavior, it means the persona we present to others is a double, a fake. The "real" us exists somewhere, but we are presenting a duplicate in our own stead. While we recoil at the thought of deliberate duplicity (the hypocrisy of the Pharisees comes to mind), we have to face the subtle and destructive force of culturally acceptable duplicity everyday. This temptation usually revolves around the need for more—more time, more energy, more money, more accomplishments, even more of us.

Tom Cruise descends into a vault and exposes a web of laser alarms. But no alarms sound when I cross boundaries.

Remember the film Multiplicity? The main character tries to alleviate stress by cloning himself whenever it appears that "more of him" would help meet the demands of his career and family. Of course, the plan backfires humorously as his committee of selves can never agree on anything and mutinously vie for power.

This, not so humorously, is the trap Ethan found himself in. The expectations to lead an ever-growing church, deliver powerful sermons, and embody the qualities of a godly father and husband were exacting a toll. He felt like every area of his life was "screaming for more of him" and he couldn't deliver. Keeping so many duplicate Ethans on task was taxing him mentally and physically. He suffered insomnia. And a more destructive toll on his soul was not far off.

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Winter 2008: Is Our Gospel Too Small?  | Posted
Burnout  |  Busyness  |  Expectations  |  Formation  |  Renewal  |  Soul
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