How do we get off our buts?

Posted by brianmaas in Uncategorized | 14 Comments

Not all that long ago, I was sitting in a congregational staff meeting, discussing some of the challenges of starting and sustaining ministries, when another staff member said, “Our problem is we’ve got big buts.” When everyone at the table turned to look at her in surprise, she said, “You know, ‘I’d teach Sunday School . . .” or “I’d like to be in Bible study . . .” or “I’d give more to the church . . . ”


She’s absolutely right. As a rule, we are people who rationalize and excuse a lot of our inactivity and our refusal to do what we know we should by plopping down our buts–”but I don’t have enough time/energy/money/experience/knowledge . . .” It’s hard to imagine ourselves simply hopping up and following Jesus whenever he calls us, like those first four fishermen who heard, “Follow me . . .” But it is important to remember Jesus’ words to the man who wanted to wanted to follow¬†but who wanted first to say goodbye to his family: “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.” Jesus had little patience with conditional discipleship.

Those are pretty strong words, and most Lutherans will respond quickly, “But where’s the grace in that?” (actually, I’m prone to respond that way–I’ve got a big but, too). Yet if we’re at all steeped in a theology of the cross and a true understanding of grace, we know that grace isn’t an excuse for inaction–it’s an invitation to action without fear of failure.

My most frustrating encounters with gracelessness are those in which people are trapped in the paralysis of scarcity–”We can’t afford it;” “we don’t have enough money/people/time/space.” I think of another colleague who says of such scarcity mentality–”Do you think you can out-give God?” God’s generosity abounds, but we sometimes miss new gifts because we’re not making use of the gifts we’ve already received–particularly the gift of a willing heart. In fact, I would suggest that there’s a spiritual anatomy lesson here–the bigger our hearts, the smaller our buts.

So what are the biggest buts you’d like to get rid of? How do we get people off those buts and into the life-giving work and reward of the Kingdom? How do we take off the blinders of scarcity and see clearly through the lenses of God’s abundance? I’m eager to hear your responses, and your ideas!

14 Responses to How do we get off our buts?

  1. Greg DeBoer says:

    Can I steal this and put it in our newsletter? This is awesome!

  2. June Baumgartner says:

    We all lead such busy lives. I just wish we could prioritize better. Decide what is important in your life and commit to it. Just show up! We all have time to sit and watch T.V. and play video games in the evenings, or we go and watch our kids and grand kids with their sports activities, but we have a hard time finding “time” or prioritizing for Christ and his church! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all find a passion, or something we love to do within our church walls and beyond? Then, it doesn’t ever feel like a job, but something we really love to do! The Lord will continue to bless us and fill our hearts with great JOY when we help those less fortunate than us.

    • brianmaas says:

      Amen, June! I’m wondering–would it help if local congregations were to offer some kind of workshop/retreat/learning opportunity about prioritizing time? The last congregation I served offered a series of classes on getting one’s financial household in order. Maybe there’s something similar for time.

      • Jennifer Wallwey says:

        I think that’s a fabulous idea. Time management is just as hard as finances for pretty much every person I know, including myself.

  3. Vera Hummel says:

    An attitude that says “time is thick” — it doesn’t matter — and space is thin — God is very near — is an approach that may help! Remembering this when we think we have “little time” changes one’s outlook.

  4. I think it would be better than ‘but’-er if every congregation would feel called to run in their newsletter or post on their church web-site. The spiritual anatomy comparison is so appropo.

    Time-management seminar – a great concept for an around-the-synod training. I sure could use it! And perhaps run two tracks – I feel that a lot of people in our church culture could also use a money-management seminar. Is there another anatomical parallel for that issue?

    • brianmaas says:

      I’m not sure, but two inspirations come to mind connecting anatomy and finances–
      Jesus: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
      Martin Luther: “God divided the hand into fingers so the money could flow through.”

  5. Bill Reece says:

    This “Great Emergence” (Phyllis Tickle) that we are upon is violently stretching our collective fabrics in every direction, often tearing and shredding it under its relentless tension. More education/awareness of these things is needed in congregations so that they/we can plan, and more importantlyaccept, the changes that we will have to make to insure the relevance of our churches that will eventually emerge on the other side. This is a big challenge….but also affords great opportunity.

  6. brianmaas says:

    Exactly, Bill. I think the paralysis that’s at the root of most of our “buts” is caused by fear–fear of change. Sometimes paralysis seems safe because we’re staying put and not moving toward something frightening–but the change is coming at us whether we move or not. So if we can achieve the education/awareness you speak of, maybe we can turn our paralysis into action, and be a part of the change, rather than a victim of the change.

  7. Michelle Michl says:

    I need to get out to this site more often….how I do miss your Sunday presence. ; )

    My problem is not my “but”…at least not where you are describing it. My problem is I don’t say no….at least not very often and that does cause a problem (I am sure this affects others as well). I love service and have always been one to lead by example versus my words, but I can only do so much (see where my “but” problem is). I see the scarcity in other people having a passion for service…at least in the church. Since there are so many opportunities for service through work, school, and the community, I see people directing any passion they might have for service in other venues than the church. Right or wrong…it does stretch people thin when they are called to service in a variety of aspects of their lives. Maybe what we are seeing is that service is no longer an exclusive “church thing.

  8. brianmaas says:

    Michelle: this is one more area where we fall down as church–there shouldn’t be a distinction between service at work, school, community and service through church. If being a Lutheran Christian means anything, it’s that we all live out our vocations as the baptized people of God daily, in all the things we do for the sake of others. Once we can eliminate the Sunday-vs.-the-rest-of-the-week barrier and reclaim a seven-day-a-week understanding of who we are and how God uses us in the world, both the church and its individual members will be healthier. And people like yourself might feel a little more empowered to say “no” not as a bad thing, but as another way of saying “God created and commanded sabbath for good reasons, and I’m being faithful to them.”
    I believe the biggest “buts” we deal with aren’t about the doing (or not doing), but simply about how we live in the world. Even more than the “not having enough” excuses are the fear excuses–”I don’t recognize that person but I’m afraid I’ll embarrass myself if I ask her name;” “I’d go to Bible study but I’m afraid they’ll learn how little I know;” “I’d talk about my faith/church/prayer life but I’m afraid people would think I’m strange.” Those buts aren’t eliminated by doing more but by seeking a shift in our self-understanding. As God’s own, we start each day with a clean slate and are the equal of any person on the planet. But we usually believe we’re inadequate (at best) and live in the fear of revealing it.
    So keep doing what you’re doing and understand that it’s ALL faith work, and say “no” a little more often for the sake of God-loved sabbath, recognizing that “no” and “but” are two different (often very different) things.

  9. Jonathan Jensen says:

    I am still processing it, but I felt there was something compelling in the WELCA Gather magazine Bible study for November which centered on “gathering the fragments that none may be lost” leading to a new and perhaps transformed awareness of God’s abundance lifted up within perceived scarcity. It seems that this implies a possible process of gathering folks out of our declining situations to be validated and discover how abundance is truly there. As I said, “still processing…”

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