A slow leak

A slow leak May 5, 2015


By Mike Coyner

Recently the left rear tire on my car starting losing air. My car has a warning light to let me know when a tire is low on air pressure, so each time the warning light came on I would stop at a gas station and put some more air into the tire. With modern tires it is almost impossible to tell a tire is low just by looking at it, so I was grateful for the warning light. When it got to the point that I was having to add air nearly every day, I took my car in for a tire repair. Unfortunately they discovered a nail in the sidewall of my tire, so the tire is ruined, and I had to get a new one.

That slow leak has become, for me, a parable of what can go wrong with our spiritual life, with our life as a church, and with our ministry as lay or clergy leaders. We can get a “slow leak” and lose energy, passion, drive, commitment, or direction. It can happen so slowly that we don’t notice. The decline can be indiscernible to others, and it can deceive us as well.

Finally the “warning light” goes on – and our church statistics look bad, our worship becomes dull, our work ethic declines, or our trust in God’s grace diminishes so much that we become exhausted from doing ministry on our strength, skill, insight, and desire.

I have gone through times when my own ministry seemed to have a “slow leak” – haven’t you? I have seen churches which have lost their focus and direction – haven’t you? It happens slowly. It happens without any planning or intentionality. Churches don’t vote and say, “Let’s slowly decline over the next 20 years.” Pastors don’t plan to lose their way. Lay leaders don’t choose to get discouraged. It happens slowly.

To change the metaphor from leaking tires, I am remembering what one rancher told me about his herd of sheep. He said, “Sheep nibble their way into being lost.” It’s that way with our ministry, our spiritual life, and our church focus. We don’t set out with a plan or desire to get lost, we just “nibble our way into being lost” as we make hundreds of little decisions without a clear focus upon God’s will for our lives. Each of those hundreds of little decisions can seem inconsequential on their own, but they add up – they add up to a “flat tire” without enough Spirit, and they add up to nibbling our way to being lost.

This season of Easter is a great time to renew our focus, our direction, and our spirit as we open our lives to the Spirit of the living Christ who wants to breathe into us and to empower us. After a busy Holy Week and Easter Sunday, these following Sundays of the Easter Season remind us in a variety of ways that we must be empowered by the Spirit of Christ. We must be guided by the love and voice of the Good Shepherd. We must open our eyes to discover God’s direction. We must open our human spirit to the breath/air/wind/spirit/energy of the Holy Spirit.

Do you have a “slow leak” in your spiritual life? The Good News is that you can be re-inflated by the Spirit of the Living Christ who stands ready to energize you. So, watch for the warning signs, don’t get comfortable with “good enough” or mediocrity, and don’t nibble your way into being lost. Receive a fresh dose of the Spirit to re-inflate your life and ministry.

Coyner is bishop of the Indiana area of the United Methodist Church. This column originally appeared at Indiana United Methodists.

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