I’ve discovered something recently that I find to be rather alarming: the church as an institution is enemy territory. Before I completely offend many of you (especially those in my local congregation), let me clarify that I don’t mean any particular church as a specific group of people, and certainly not my own. But it seems to me that church work has great potential to bring about spiritual illness, apathy, and even death. Perhaps it is enemy territory not because of the Christians within it, but because it is the front line in our spiritual battles — the place where our greatest spiritual aspirations come face to face with our own selfishness and opportunistic voices from the other side.
Why do I say this? What does it mean? Where is this all coming from? Over the last six months I’ve had the honor and responsibility of coordinating our annual ladies retreat, which finally took place last weekend with a record number of women in attendance. While I have been involved in my church for many years in children’s ministry and small group leadership, this was my first exposure to what I would call “church work.” We formed a committee, had regular meetings, followed-up with each other through email and phone regularly, handled money, copied forms, and so on. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so corporate.
And while I could go in several directions with this post, I want to focus on one person: me.
I’ve never had to fight so hard to keep my eyes on Jesus, as when doing church work. I would wake up early to pray, only to be distracted by all the things that had to be done. Then I would finally get myself recentered, only to be derailed by interpersonal drama on the committee. After a few days I could feel my spiritual focus slipping away. It was beginning to seem so fuzzy, the Reason lost in all the details. As the lead coordinator I needed to have a rock-solid grip on the big-picture, but I couldn’t even pray effectively. I began to feel defeated by an unseen enemy.
One night I stayed up until 2 a.m, journaling and praying. I read Bible passages out loud because the clamor in my head prevented me from focusing on the words silently. God brought passages to me that directly pertained to specific situations, that gave me spiritual discernment in certain matters. When I finally went to bed, I felt refocused and my enthusiasm for the retreat had returned.
Miraculously, I wasn’t tired the next day. But struggles within the committee became worse and that night I was back in the same fog. So I called a dear prayer warrior. As she prayed with me over the phone, I could feel my spirit draw under God’s protection once again. My focus began to return and remained strong through the rest of the week and throughout the weekend. And the whole retreat went really well — it was truly a Spirit-filled weekend.
So here’s my question: why was it so difficult for me to stay focused on Christ while planning a Christian retreat? Has anybody else out there experienced something similar with church work?