I recently attended an annual conference for the denomination I serve. During the opening session, one of the prayers was crafted to include a series of opposites, designed to cover everyone in leadership of churches and congregations, no doubt. It included:
- Men and Women
- Young and Old
- Experienced and Enthusiastic
And I can’t tell you what else it included, because my mind stuck on that last point.
Is it impossible to be both experienced AND enthusiastic? Or does experience kill enthusiasm?
The Hidden Meaning
I’m sure the person praying did not intend to stir such a philosophical question. But perhaps there was a bit of a Freudian slip… a critique on pastors and lay leaders alike that we have lost our enthusiasm along the way (I’m guessing somewhere between budget meetings and policy-making, but that’s just me).
Furthermore, there seemed to be an underlying assumption that young people would be the ones to restore enthusiasm, not the “experienced.” Or said another way, we needed to borrow young people’s enthusiasm to revitalize the denomination.
But this raised two new concerns for me (see why I have no idea what the rest of the prayer was about?):
- Unless we change what our experience does to us, the “young” will soon become the “experienced” who will soon lack enthusiasm.
- We risk alienating a majority of our denomination who may find another way to revitalize enthusiasm that has nothing to do with time (or age), but everything to do with experience.
Why is this a big deal to me? Confession time: I’m a bit of a “word-nerd.” I love the etymology of words: what they really mean and how their use has evolved over time. And when it comes to the word, “enthusiasm,” there couldn’t be a more important word for the church today!
The Literal Meaning
In today’s world, someone who is enthusiastic possesses great energy. They are on fire about something. We applaud them. Perhaps we admire them.
But take “enthusiasm” into leadership and watch the change. The enthusiastic leader tries to light that same fire under the people they lead. And the admiration turns to disdain. Underlings who don’t share the same exuberance are forced to manufacture energy to get excited, or they’ll simply resist leadership initiatives. And eventually, this negative response from the masses will do one of two things to a leader.
- The leader will get worn out and stop trying so hard (aka, “experienced”)
- The leader will move on to a crowd who does share their joy (aka, leave the organization)
But watch what happens when we go back to the beginning of the word enthusiasm. Go back through the Middle French, to the Late Latin… and all the way back to the Greek:
- “en” – in
- “theos” – God
“En-theos” is to be “divinely inspired, possessed by a god.” In the case of a Jesus follower, this is the Christ living (abiding) in us. This is where being possessed is a good thing! You can read all about this in John 15, but this is the verse that hits me:
“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.” (John 15:4 NLT)
Perhaps the reason we’re concerned about fruitfulness and vital congregations has nothing to do with age or experience. Perhaps it has to do with how much we are in Him and He is in us… “en-theos.”
Quite apart from the opening prayer, I attended a breakout session for local pastors, wherein the speaker challenged us to be deliberate about our personal time with God as leaders. He said:
“Christ must be in everything you do as a pastor (leader). If not, we risk becoming ‘the bland leading the bland.'”
In retrospect, I wish I could have introduced that speaker to the opening prayer participant.
But most of all I wish that we, as Jesus followers, would return to the root of enthusiasm and recognize that it’s not about experience in life or age… it’s all about experience with God.
If we can do that, experience and enthusiasm will no longer be opposites.
Returning to the root of words might help a little. But I believe returning to the root of “THE WORD” will ensure that our experience leads to even deeper “en-theos.” I pray our first priority will be to invite Christ to be present in every aspect of our leadership. Where this is true, fruit… and dare I say, “enthusiasm,” will follow!
Do you find experience kills your enthusiasm? How do you prevent that? How do you keep Christ at the center of your leadership?