Going minimalist for the minister requires cutting back on ministry as well!
A thought series by Jason Duncan | 8 minute read
I’m doing this, I watched the documentary, I listened to the podcasts, I’ve read the articles. I’m in. I’m becoming a minimalist.
What is it about the minimalist lifestyle that is so attractive to me? Why has it infiltrated my heart with reckless abandon, like the gospel, or 80’s nostalgia? Why am I so… in?
Welcome to the wonderful world of Jason’s brain and the over-spiritualization of everything.
Where to begin…
Is this a christian thing? No.
Am I going to turn this into a personal christian thing? Yes. I’m sorry I can’t help it!
(Please keep in mind, this blog is “Jason’s thoughts” and I am not the Holy Spirit telling you what you should or shouldn’t be doing)
If I were going to jettison my possessions for the sake of joining a trend and frankly a passing fad (everything has a time-stamp, Google “waterbeds” and “wall paper”) there would be zero merit to going minimalist. Before I dig deep though, I need to fill you on some backstory, because my decision to declutter wasn’t instantaneous, it was a slow, deep, burn.
December 2016 I did a five day fast. (super-christian here, hope you feel terrible about yourself now.) In a deep self examination of myself, God, his plan for me, where I should serve, what ministries I should engage in, I learned something about myself that I didn’t like at all. I’m really selfish! Like, it’s really bad!
Wait Jason, relax a little… you started a podcast for others and to hang out more with a dear friend, you give up personal time to teach and preach at retirement homes, drug recovery programs, church, the jail, you play in the praise band at church, you go to Pastor’s Academy to prepare yourself for the church family you don’t even know if God called you to in the first place. All on top of your 8 to 5 job which you work to support your family. How can you tell me you’re selfish?
That’s the exact reasoning I brought up to God during that 5 day fast when God started to reveal my selfishness to me. (by the way, this logic of reasoning, “look what I’ve done for you God,” is a lethal form of legalism often observed in the non-prodigal son. Luke 15:25-32)
Truth be told. I wasn’t doing those things to “advance the kingdom” I was doing those things for me. I don’t know why. Maybe I was resume building for a future cushy church job where someday my 8-5 could be my ministry, and at the end of the day I could come home and actually spend time with my family, instead of doing all the “stressful extras.” It doesn’t work that way (any honest pastor knows).
You see I felt empty inside because I didn’t have the church job, so I needed to fill the empty with things to make me feel less empty. I made an idol of it. I was jealous of those who did have said church job, so I was overcompensating. Double the output, claim it in God’s name, and get spiritual recognition from God and peers. check! Pretty much every Timothy Keller book will tell you, when you say things like “If I had X, then I would be happy” in your head, you’re trapped in idolatry. Yes, even the noble pursuit of ministry can become an idol. What I learned is that there is this super fine line between submissive obedience to God and selfish ambition that I cross, like, all the time!
[By the way, if you do something you think your pastor should pat you on the back for, but then you get, like, super mad at your pastor when they don’t. It’s probably a good sign you’ve made an idol out of your pastor. Which is super unfair, because your pastor isn’t God and you don’t really need his/her “pats” when you have God’s…. Also he/she is probably super busy with other needy people.]
So I guess God told me I was selfish that one time I stopped eating food to “listen” to God. So I did the worst thing I could possibly do. I prayed one of those prayers that God answers. (I’m trying really hard not to type out a string of expletives right now just thinking about it). I asked God to
empty me of me so I could genuinely love God and others as myself.
Sorry to be offensive. That was f-ing dumb, because God answered.
First recollection after the prayer. Sitting in a diner with Pastor Chuck last summer who had just moved back to Michigan from California. He was living with some relatives while he was closing on a house. The closing was taking a super long time (because that never happens) and most of his family’s possessions were still in storage. They had been living out of suitcase for weeks. He made the comment, “it’s amazing how much stuff we have that we don’t actually need or use and how much you don’t really miss it when it’s gone.”
God put a pin in that comment, and when I prayed that prayer God unpinned it.
OK God, um. cool? Sweet answer, a recollection of a off-topic comment made in a diner conversation. Now what? I’m selfish, and Pastor Chuck doesn’t need his toys. Great talk.
Then I watched the Minimalists documentary on Netflix. I told Jess as we were watching, “They make a lot of great points but ultimately they are self absorbed just as much as anyone with a lot of possessions”
But I’ll be damned if that stupid documentary didn’t fixate itself in my brain for days after watching it, and God kept saying, “ahem, remember that prayer you said a few weeks ago, the one where you wanted to “empty yourself.” *nudge* It was like that Jesus painting I put as my Skype profile picture was winking at me and I just wanted to punch it in the face.
Watch the sermon… the part where he was ignoring his kid…. Wrecked me! All of the sudden my selfishness was being brought to light in a big way!
I went home to my modest 900 Sq foot, 3 bedroom house I share with my wife and 3 kids and a stupid dog. (I’m sorry dog lovers, I’m literally the dad from the movie Beethoven, who secretly loves the dog, but also wants to bury it in the hole it dug where my lilac bushes used to be) I sat down in my office loaded with my super spiritual books, let’s be honest, I use to intimate others into thinking I’m more christian than they are. And I had to fight back tears.
I had been complaining to Jess how Oliver (age 8) doesn’t want to spend time with me just the day before. I sat in that office chair and remembered that sermon, my prayer, and how Oliver keeps asking for his own room because he is sick of sharing one with his two younger brothers. I looked around at that room in our house that was all “Dad’s stuff” and asked myself “What the hell am I doing?!”
First, He doesn’t want to spend time with me because I haven’t made myself available to him because I have been enamored in obtaining a “spiritual status.” Worse, he can’t even have his own space in our house, not because lack thereof, but because dad has all of his stuff in it!
Do I appear selfish now? I think so! Why couldn’t I see it before? The truth is, this is just one of the many revelations God has shown me about my selfishness over the past month. It honestly feels like the Holy Spirit is sitting on my shoulder and every action i commit God says “that’s selfish” or “does this help others?” It’s honestly getting old really quick, but I’ve realized I’m extremely selfish and I care a whole lot less about others than I thought I did. That’s changing now, and it isn’t because of me, it’s because of God working inside of me conforming me to the image of Christ who was… get ready… extremely unselfish and really cared about others!
So, back to minimalism.
First I’m not doing this alone. Jess is on-board, which makes it much easier.
[Side ministry note, as a general rule, if you and your wife aren’t on the same page about a ministry decision, it’s a pretty good indicator God hasn’t called you to do that “ministry” and that “ministry” is more inline with selfish ambition which James called demonic (James 3:15). Seriously lots of marriages have been destroyed by this (more to come on this topic)]
Second, I’m not going crazy with this. I’m taking it one step at a time. I have a life goal, it’s broad, but it’s present. Empty me of me, so I can genuinely love God and others as myself. It’s even rooted in familiar bible verses! Go figure! (Jesus Phil. 2:3-8, who was imitated by Paul, Phil. 3:7-8). Without this goal in mind, minimalism has no value. It might as well be called “miserablism” because once you get rid of everything that’s all you’ll be. Don’t take that the wrong way, you don’t have to have my goal, but you do need a goal.
I’m going to shed things as I feel I need to shed them. Clearing a room of all my stuff for a child is a big deal, but I can’t wait to finish and see his smile!
But it doesn’t stop at stuff, harder to declutter, and insanely counter-intuitive, is ministry. Personally I think ministry and the 60-80 work week of the pastor is a sin that needs to be repented of. Both, by the pastor who is destined to be burned out or succumb to a career ending sin, and the over demanding church goer who requires constant suckling of the teat (Hebrews 5:12). I had to say “no” to ministry, and that really sucks. I hate it.
Sorry retirement home dwellers, I sincerely love you, but I’m in sin, and I can’t visit you as often. Sorry future church family I was preparing for. I sacrificed alot of family time for you over the past 8 years, I’m eternally grateful to my instructors, but I often attended you in the sin of selfish ambition. Sorry praise band, I love shredding my guitar every weekend, but I can’t be on stage every weekend, because it would be a sin to devote that much time when other guitarist need the same space to serve.
So what’s left? When are you going to stop? You can’t get rid of everything, you can’t quit all of your ministry! You’re right I’d die inside if quit preaching and teaching, but I have to stop saying “yes” to everything and focus on a few things and do them really well. The key for me is selfish ambition. I have to Empty me of me, so I can genuinely love God and others as myself. If I can’t love others because I’m so consumed about my appearance or how it fits on my “pastoral resume”, then its sin. I have to cut it off because it would be “better for me to enter the kingdom of Heaven maimed, than to have the whole body of selfish work cast into hell.” (paraphrase Matthew 5:20)
Though there are a lot of amazing people already doing this, I would love to have you follow me on my journey! This idea isn’t new, and frankly I’d rather you read your bible than this, but nonetheless I’d be honored to have you join with me! In the coming weeks I’ll be posting pictures and what not, and sharing how I make decisions on shedding things like clothes and books (oh my Lord, the books!) and the articles, blogs, videos I’ve read / watched to help me make those decisions. Check back every Monday!
<bio> Jason is not a pastor </bio>
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