May 20, 2023
Building People of Substance for Works of Power
Recently, I’ve had several conversations with pastors who see a “lack of commitment” in church members. Some expressed a sentiment that this has worsened since the pandemic. Theories abound as to the cause of the issue. Some say, “Life has gotten too complicated.” Others claim, “The internet has become a substitute for real church.” Then there’s always the complaints that, “The younger generation is disconnected and doesn’t value church.” The list goes on. Any or all may be true. But it doesn’t do much good to gripe about it. How do we change it?
During a conversation with a pastoral couple in the Millennial age range, I was brought to a halt by one comment: “I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt that they are doing the best they can in their situation.” It hit me that as a Baby Boomer (circa 1948), my concept of “lack of commitment” may not be shared by those born in a different time. Maybe my challenge is to help people (Including myself) get a biblical worldview on the subject. Before I berate them, let me judge myself: Do I know what I’m talking about? Have I discipled them adequately? Do they know what’s expected and why? Do they know why they should even care?
With that task in mind, I spent a little energy researching the subject of commitment: what is it and how do I foster it?
When I was training for ministry, I was pickled in the quote from Psalm 15, the spiritual man is one who “sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not (Psalm 15:4b KJV).” In addition, I was in the crowd that believed the pastor was the visionary who went to the mountain, heard from God, and came down to tell us earthlings what to do. I was also influenced by coming into the Kingdom and the ministry while the wave of the Charismatic Renewal and the Word of Faith movement were still rolling. Culturally, “church” was still widely considered to be a positive thing, and the general perception of ministers had not yet been poisoned by a slew of very public failures. That is not where we live today.
With a little internet search, I found three kinds of commitment that seem particularly applicable to church-world today:
1. Commitment by pledge or obligation. Webster says, “an agreement or pledge to do something in the future; adherence to something to which one is bound by a pledge or duty.” Synonyms might include obligation, responsibility, duty, promise, or vow. Simply put, “because I gave my word.” Such a promise can stem from a desire to please others, a commitment to the organization or institution, a desire to please a beloved leader, or even a result of manipulation by a leader.
2. Commitment to the plan, the cause, or the vision. They believe in the mission, so they agree to do their part, whatever they may think their part is. Paul alluded to this idea in 1 Thessalonians 5:13, when he encouraged church folk to esteem and love their leaders, “for their work’s sake.”
This reminded me of a book by Patrick Lencioni, “The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team.” In it, he identified lack of commitment as dysfunction #3. This refers to a lack of buy-in to the plan that we are carrying out. I may nod my head, even agree with the general idea, but I don’t own it enough to let it direct my choices. That could be any program in the church, or even the way we do church in general.
In our day, this may well be fostered by a skeptical, perhaps self-absorbed, generation being led by someone who expects cooperation based on their leadership position: God’s man with God’s plan, now get on board! Whatever the reason for the disconnect, Lencioni believes this head-nod, half-hearted assent leads to avoidance of accountability and attention to personal goals rather than team results.
3. Heart-felt, sold out commitment. This is the kind of commitment we’re all looking for: “the state or an instance of being obligated or emotionally impelled. (Webster)” We often use words like dedication, loyalty, allegiance, devotion, or fidelity to describe these too-rare cases. This is commitment that comes from an internal state that esteems the purpose over personal convenience. It motivates people to service that costs something. It’s not what I do just because I’m on the team, or because I have to, or to avoid conflict or embarrassment. This is a heart thing. I serve because I believe.
Now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the churches of Macedonia. In the terrible ordeal they suffered, their abundant joy and deep poverty overflowed into rich generosity. For I testify that they gave according to their ability and even beyond it. Of their own accord, they earnestly pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And not only did they do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us, because it was the will of God.2 Corinthians 8:1-5 BSB
If we think we see a lack of commitment, it behooves us to find out where the problem is and address the issues. As leaders, we need to lead, not complain about lousy sheep. God thinks we have what we need, either in ourselves, in our flock, or in the timely additions He will make in the future. It’s His vision, His plan, and His Kingdom. He has more invested in this than we do. He provides what we need to carry out the vision He gave us. Let’s ask, “What’s the problem, and how do I change to address it?” Here are just a few ideas:
Type 1 commitment issues: If people are making commitments, saying they will do something, then not doing it, what remedies can we try?
- Teach them the importance of their own word.
- James 5:12 NKJV But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No,” lest you fall into judgment. (2 Cor 1:17-20) Christians shouldn’t need an oath. Don’t lie.
- Mk 11:23 It impacts their faith. If you can’t believe what you say, how can you speak to mountains?
- Model it in your affairs as their leader. Keep your word. Be on time.
- Don’t manipulate. Emotional appeals garner emotional responses. Guilt is a poor motivator. When the immediate consequence is removed, so is the commitment. Be careful about saying “God told me.” Your team will notice if God keeps changing His mind.
Type 2 commitment issues: They nod approval of the plan, but they don’t own it as theirs. Follow-through on “your plan” is not on their personal priority list. How do we help them?
- Be sure you’ve heard God before you say, “Thus saith the Lord.” If it’s just a good idea you had, that’s OK, Say that.
- Spend time explaining the vision, what does it mean? How does it line up with the Word of God?
- Psychologists tell us that people need around 7 repetitions, spaced over time, before they begin to consider something as a possibility to act on.
- We begin forgetting things after the first hearing in anywhere from a few seconds to 20 minutes. Faith comes by hearing and hearing and hearing…
- No one is as excited as you are about what God said to you. You cannot make them get passionate about it, only God can do that. Pray for them to hear and understand. Pray for yourself to be able to make it plain to them.
- God told Habakkuk to “”Write the vision And make it plain on tablets, That he may run who reads it. (Habakkuk 2:2)” That’s hard to do in our dizzy, digital world. We don’t have handbills or mimeograph machines anymore; we have phones. How do I write it and get it where people can and will read it?
- Let people think, pray, and ask pertinent questions.
- If they feel pushed or rushed, they may say “yes” just to get you off their back, or they may “commit” just because they like you and want your approval. Remember, they need to give themselves first to the Lord and then to you, because they believe it to be the will of God.
- Most people will not ask questions unless they genuinely wonder. It may seem trivial to you, but it’s not trivial to them or they wouldn’t have risked embarrassment or conflict to ask it.
- Allow input and acknowledge concerns, even if you don’t agree. (Remember, they are probably doing the best they can with what they have.) These are wonderful teaching moments – God stuff, natural stuff, explanation of stuff in the vision they haven’t grasped. They can’t know what they don’t know. That’s what you’re for. Teach when the opportunity arises.
- If you can’t agree with someone’s ideas or concerns, give an honest assessment of why not. It communicates value.
Type 3 commitment issues. This level is what we want. Let’s assess accurately, then intervene effectively. Remember the Macedonians:
“For I testify that they gave according to their ability and even beyond it. Of their own accord, they earnestly pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And not only did they do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us, because it was the will of God. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5 BSB)”
- Are they doing this with a willing heart?
- This is marked by unreasonable generosity.
- The concern is to bless others, not check their piety box, polish their résumé, or garner some other temporal blessing.
- Do they consider it a privilege to be part of this? This is the opposite of grudging obligation and is marked by a joyous attitude. gratitude rather than complaint.
- If the answer is no to either of these questions, then check these three things:
- Where is their consecration to the Lord? Does His will matter to them?
- Have they given themselves to you (or the Body that you serve)? Do they believe God set them there?
- Do they know and believe that this project is the will of God?
I guess that’s the only question that really matters. Do they love God? If so, do they believe this group is where He put them, and that this project is His will? We all know folks about whom we can say, “Yes!” to these things. Everybody else is an ongoing project. If they’re genuinely doing the best they can with what they have, then how can I provide them with something they lack. I think I hear the Lord saying, “Virgil, if you love me, feed my sheep.”
If you love Me, keep My commandments…He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me.John 14:15, 24 NKJV
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.John 21:17 NKJV
3141 W. Ironwood Hill Dr.
Tucson, AZ 85741
Follow us on Instagram and Facebook.
For the serious man on Father’s Day: Man Alive!