I just started teaching on the gifts of the Spirit. This week I walked my congregation through Romans 12:6-8, the gist of which could be summarized in the Nike slogan: “Just do it!” Someone commented the next day that what I really need for the congregation is a good cattle prod, but I seriously doubt that my church would tolerate that kind of motivation from its pastor.
But what will it take? The kingdom of God offers “shovel ready” opportunities for God’s people. We simply need the laborers who are willing to do the work. God has given us a vast harvest field, His Son, the gospel, and all the gifts and resources we need to accomplish the work. Too often, though, there is still a disconnect between belief and action. How do we bridge the gap?
Erase the Perception vs. Reality Fog
A friend of mine is struggling with her teenage son. Though he has some issues, he is still a nice kid. Unfortunately, he will not do his school work. So he’s failing. It is that simple. He knows exactly where he stands with his teachers and in terms of his prospects for graduation. However, he doesn’t seem to grasp the reality of his situation.
Just like this high school student, many in our congregations are not getting it either. When they think that they are fine while not giving their lives to the mission of God, they are failing. Pastors are tasked with giving a reality check to their congregations that blows away the fog of faulty perceptions.
Don’t Skip the Training Wheels
My friend’s frustration with her son’s situation escalated this week when the school kicked him out for over a month. Their answer to failing grades is “do it on your own.” Does anyone believe that removing a student from teachers, tutors, and a structured setting will enable him to somehow miraculously do better on his own? Of course not. Nor can we motivate people by preaching “just do it!” We need to come alongside them, point out the opportunities, teach the how tos, and model the work we hope to see accomplished. In our headlong desire for something innovative, we cannot overlook the essential value of training wheels for ministry.
Leave the Excuses Behind
In seeking out help for my friend, I sought the advice of another – an educator with significant experience with teenagers. She recommended a book detailing the deficits of the developing teenage brain. Now, I’m sure there is value in understanding what is behind the problem, but we need solutions. We cannot change the biology of the brain, but we can shore up the weaknesses. In our ministries, we can cast vision and detail next steps for maturity-challenged saints. We can raise expectations while simultaneously raising the level of encouragement.
Use an Audible Stopwatch
While everything in me knows we need to reward the slightest advancement, I am also well aware that time is short. My friend is concerned about her son’s tenuous grasp on time. He argues that there is enough time left in the semester to get a passing grade – that there is enough time left in high school to make sure he graduates. But he’s been saying this for years and getting more and more lax in his work ethic. I have seen this behavior in other teens as well. And I see it in the church.
We know Jesus is coming back soon, and yet the knowledge stays safely compartmentalized from our hearts and hands. We think there will be enough time to reach our family members and friends. There will be enough time to use and grow in our gifts. Tomorrow. Next week. We’ll get around to it. But more and more we see apathetic hearts and absentee laborers. It is a great privilege to serve the Lord in these last days, but there is no denying the challenge. Pray for patience, exercise longsuffering, but do not allow the audible sound of the times we live in fade from conscious awareness.
Lord, send laborers into the field … motivated, Spirit-filled, hard-working laborers!
By Dr. Lori O´Dea
Dr. Lori O’Dea serves as lead pastor of New Life Assembly of God in Grand Ledge, Michigan. She is an ordained minister and member of The Network steering committee.
Reprinted with permission of the Network for Women in Ministry (http://www.wim.ag.org).