The Everything Syndrome

There’s a problem within the evangelical church that I’ve noticed over the years, one that I might call the “everything syndrome.”

What do I mean by this?

Let me give you three examples of the everything syndrome.

1) Everyone is a leader.

This is what we love to communicate. Everyone, as in every single person, is a leader.

We encourage people to change their big idea of leadership because everyone can lead right where they are. Lead your family, lead in your workplace, lead in your school, lead in your small group, lead by simply being an example. You are all leaders and you can begin leading today.

It sounds like a motto that’s worth rallying the troops around.

But if everyone is a leader, I might argue that no one is truly a leader.

Applying the term leader to anyone and everyone allows this important word to become an amorphous concept where it gets applied left and right with no real sense of its meaning.

You see, leadership is a particular calling and it’s not for everyone. In Scripture, we read about folk identified as apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers (Eph 4). Long ago, the word used for a leader in a local church was elder or overseer.

These people had specific ministry callings and functions. They were set apart as leaders. They had other leaders recognize their leadership and lay hands on them to appoint them as leaders as well. Not everyone was an apostle or prophet or evangelist or shepherded or teacher or elder. That was true then; the same is true today.

But in the west, everything is run through the grid of individualism. We think of how everyone can be and do anything they set their mind to. Yet, simply stated, not everyone can be and do anything they set their mind to. It’s pie in the sky and will leave folk disillusioned.

We also love championing the priesthood of all believers, founding this in 1 Pet 2:4-9. But, again, we run this passage through a western individualist lens. We fail to see the collective nature of this passage and what it means for God’s people to function as a “priesthood” – not as individuals, but as a collective people together. Priesthood is a plural word.

So, I would argue that, if everyone is a leader, no one is a leader in the end.

This is a part of our everything (or everyone) syndrome.

2) Everything is worship.

This is huge in our evangelical world today. We argue that worship is not just music; worship is not just songs. Worship is our entire lives, everything we have and do and say and think.

One place where this idea is built upon is Rom 12:1-2.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Here we find the word worship. It’s the Greek word latreian, which can be translated service or worship. And it seems pretty clear that everything is worship through the presentation of our bodies as living sacrifices, to the transforming of our minds on a daily basis.

But what’s the context here?

These words were originally written to a community of Christians (both Jews and Gentiles) in the city of Rome in the first century. Paul has just completed an immense treatise on his gospel as understood through the story of Abraham and Israel being fulfilled in Jesus, the Messiah. After the long discourse, he spends his final words laying out practical instruction for this group of Christians.

This is how Paul wanted the people in Abraham’s story, joining through the work of Jesus, to live: You all need to present your bodies as one living sacrifice; you all need to think different with a renewed mindset. This is what true worship is.

The word sacrifice would invoke a specific worship context for Paul and his readers. They wouldn’t be thinking about brushing their teeth, paying their bills, shopping at the market, etc. They would imagine the gathered people together as a living sacrifice.

It’s not to say that we don’t want to honor God in our hygiene, finances, shopping, eating, driving, reading, sport, etc. But the idea, at least in Rom 12, is one of a specific setting of sacrificial worship. And together they were to have a transformed mind, knowing the will of God together.

Paul does something similar with the Corinthian church. After asking, “Who has known the mind of the Lord?” (quoting Isa 40:13), Paul clearly states, “But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16).

For Paul – and the ancient scriptural text – worship was a corporate response to God.

Though I used to argue Rom 12 teaches that everything is worship, I now see something much different here. Here, and in all of Scripture, worship is the response of the people of God together before God.

Even more, I would argue that, if everything is worship, nothing is truly worship.

Worship is an intentional, specific response. If we keep arguing that everything is worship, we lose our intentionality in our response to God. Worship does not happen merely because we brush our teeth or drive our car or cut our grass. Worship does not happen by spontaneous combustion. It’s specific, it’s intentional. In Scripture it’s a collective response of God’s people together.

Live to the glory of God; worship intentionally with the people of God.

3) Everything is mission.

This is not unlike the previous statement about worship. Many modern missiologists would argue just this, that everything is mission. Christopher Wright does just this in his work, The Mission of God’s People, on p26.

everything is mission

Of course, I understand the concern of placing mission solely into the “cross-cultural evangelistic” box. The mission of God is broader than this practice alone. However, just as with worship, I do agree with the sentiment, “If everything is mission, then nothing is mission.”

Mission is a specific and intentional action carried out by the people of God. As with worship, it doesn’t just happen, doesn’t just come about by spontaneous combustion. Simply mowing one’s grass, eating a cheeseburger or reading a book does not constitute as the mission of God.

Now, could the mission of God take place within those contexts of mowing, eating and reading? Yes, of course. But mission is specific and intentional. If one is mowing, eating or reading alone, then there is a large chance that actual mission is not taking place.

I think Scot McKnight has done well to dispel this “mission is everything” mindset in his book Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church.

I understand our desire to unearth and stir leadership, worship and mission where it may not have existed before. I can admire that we long to see the people of God actively engaged in the work of God. However, I believe the “everything syndrome” leaves us with no real leadership, no true worship and no authentic mission.

Perhaps we are trying too hard with the everything syndrome. Perhaps we are misreading the intent of Scripture and misunderstanding what God meant when he meant faithful leadership, worship, mission and more.

In the end, if everything is everything, then everything becomes nothing.

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2 thoughts on “The Everything Syndrome

  1. Interesting article, I hadn’t quite thought of this idea of ‘everything syndrome’ that way. While I still believe that everyone is a leader. Because leadership is influence, and everyone has some level of influence. I resonated with what you said about mission, that just because we want to break out of the ‘cross cultural mission is the only mission’ box doesn’t mean everything is mission. Great article! Going to be following!

    • Thanks for interacting. I think the idea of leadership as influence is a more modern definition. Of course, leaders have influence. But I would say leadership is much more than influence. Much, much more.

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