John Mark Comer is the pastor for teaching and vision at Bridgetown Church in Portland, Oregon. His books include “Loveology,” “God Has a Name” and, most recently, “The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry.” He and his wife, Tammy, have three children.
You’ve said, “In America you can be a success as a pastor and a failure as an apprentice of Jesus; you can gain a church and lose a soul.” Can you share that story?
Prior to planting Bridgetown Church, Comer was lead pastor of a suburban megachurch for a decade.
After experiencing burnout, he resigned to reorder his priorities.
“It grew really fast, and I just got sucked into that,” Comer said. “I went into it with some really salty metrics for success … there were lots of people coming and coming to faith, but not the metrics that really mattered like spiritual formation, becoming more like Jesus, emotional health, becoming a person of love, creating a culture of compassion, kindness, community and authenticity—the metrics that actually matter in the eyes of God.”
Why does eliminating hurry require ruthlessness?
Many people are making New Year’s resolutions this time of year, but God’s answer to 2020 might not be more resolutions, but more rest.
“You just have to realize, ‘Oh wow, I live in a carpe diem culture that wants to do everything, see everything, travel everywhere, read every book, see every movie, take in every TV show, meet every person, say ‘Yes’ to every request, go to every party, kill it at every aspect of our job, work out every day.’ It wants to transgress the limitations of our humanity. It wants to be God. It wants to be immortal. It’s Genesis 3 all over again. You step out of the limitations of the beautiful garden that God has put us in.”
Comer said some hurry-sickness symptoms are quick irritability, hypersensitivity to comments, restlessness when you actually try to rest, workaholism, emotional numbness to people’s pain, lack of care for your body and a slippage in spiritual disciplines.
It takes ruthlessness to mercilessly fight against a light-speed current.
“All of the cultural inertia is toward hurry,” Comer added. “So to live a life of what (pastor) Pete Scazzero calls ‘slow down spirituality’ … you have to live ruthlessly against the overwhelming tide of culture. You have to order and structure your life around spiritual disciplines of resistance or you get sucked down the gravity well.”
How has the West sped up over the centuries?
Comer shared a brief history of speed.
1370: The first clock tower is erected in a city. Most historians point to this as the turning point in the West. Time was natural and society was agrarian. It was tied to seasons, not a ticking clock. Days were longer during summer and shorter in the winter. The clock made time more artificial, a substitute for the sun setting our daily rhythms.
1879: Thomas Edison invents the lightbulb. This made it possible to stay up at night. Before Edison, the average American slept eleven hours. Now we’re down to seven.
Early 1900s: Emergence of labor saving devices. The toaster, microwave, washer, dryer, heater and HVAC system. All the futurists predicted Americans would work an average of 20 hours a week by the 1990s.
“All of this incredible technology begins to reshape how we lived in the home and creates all sorts of extra time for other things,” Comer said. “I didn’t spend two hours this morning chopping down a tree in the forest and cutting it up into firewood so my family doesn’t freeze to death. I spent three seconds pressing the remote to turn on the heater. We actually work way more hours than we did. Leisure time is almost cut in half. Economists argue Americans chose money over time, meaning we chose to raise our standard of living over the choice to live with what we had and live simpler.”
1950-60s: The death of the Sabbath. Before this time, cities shut down at 6 p.m. on weekdays, and it was illegal in many states for businesses to be open on Sundays. Most families went to church.
2007: Apple releases the iPhone. “The bringing of the Internet into your pocket or purse … we’re just 12 years into what my friend calls ‘the human experiment in omnipresence,’” Comer added. “This pace of life that many of us grew up with and assume is normal is not.”
What are some solutions?
Comer said the problem is pervasive regardless of gender, generation, geographical location, career path or ethnicity.
He shifted his life in three areas.
1. Sabbath: Comer said to be careful Sunday isn’t a hurry day. Make it a day of restful service with God and His people.
2. Spiritual disciplines: Comer doesn’t mean completing a religious checklist, but that our spiritual disciplines—reading Scripture, prayer, fasting, living in community—always lead us to the person of Jesus.
3. Digital parameters: Set limits on screen time. “That’s the big time waster,” Comer said. “When you look at these numbers, it’s just staggering. People are basically spending the equivalent of a full-time job with their phone and Netflix.”