|n Baptist ChuThe Nike Formula: Just Do It! |
by Josh Hunt
Faith without works is dead.
Dreaming, believing, setting goals. . . these are all well and good. Ultimately, what gets things done is work. Every good idea degenerates into work.
The bottleneck of the evangelistic process has always been laborers (Matthew 9:37). A laborer is someone who works. Faith is important. Dreaming is important. Believing is important. So is doing. What we do when we get off our knees is every bit as important as the prayer of faith.
Jesus told his disciples to watch and pray (Matthew 26:41). He also told them to "Rise, let us go!" (Matthew 26:46) There is a time for everything. A time to pray and a time to act. A time to dream and a time to sweat. (See Ecclesiastes 3) When Peter saw Jesus transfigured he wanted to set up camp. Jesus reminded him there was work to do in the valley.
Paul admonished us to, "Not become weary in doing good," (Galatians 6:9) There is a not so subtle implication that their ought to be a temptation to grow weary. Someone who is never tempted to grow weary in doing good is probably being disobedient to something. Paul said a similar thing to the Thessalonians: "And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right." (II Thessalonians 3:13) I think we ought to occasionally wonder close to tiring of doing what is right. Never actually tiring of the work, but feeling the temptation of fatigue from time to time. I have observed many pastors who seemed to know too much about gardening and golf and not enough about leadership and preparing outstanding sermons.
With this point, we would not find much opposition in the evangelical community. Most would agree with the last chapter that we need faith. Most are nodding in this chapter as I stress the need for work. I am about to lose some of you. Please read carefully.
I don't think God is pleased with faith and effort alone. I think he wants faith and results. Not just hard work; accomplishment. I think he meant for us do to what he told us to do, not just get tired trying.
One of the most sinister lies ever whispered into the heart of the church by the evil one relates to this point. It the lie of faithfulness. Nothing wrong with faithfulness to be sure. The question centers around the meaning of faithfulness. The lie of faithfulness says that effort and sincerity are all God desires; he is not concerned with outcome. The lie of faithfulness says that all God wants is activity and heart; whether we are effective or not is irrelevant. It is a lie and it is killing us. God is not just interested in how much sweat is on our brow. He is also interested in whether we brought in the crop. The fields are ripe. If we sweated out there but didn't bring anything in, something is desperately wrong.
Suppose I asked my son to rake the leaves while I was gone. Suppose I came home and he had not raked the leaves. I would be disappointed. If he told me he tried to rake the leaves but was unable to do so, I would be understanding, especially if he convinced me that he had a good reason. But, if he told me that he thought all I wanted was for him to be faithful to moving the leaves around, I would be bewildered. I would be frustrated by this double speak. If he told me he had been faithful in raking the leaves, I would want to know, faithful to what? Faithfulness to the task necessarily implies that you try to get it done. It does not imply that you spent all day in the yard. Quite bluntly, I don't care how much time he spent in the yard. What I care about is how many bags of leaves are on the curb.
If we try and fail, grace is available. The gospel is all about grace. There is no place for condemnation in Christian experience. Grace; all grace. This is not about condemnation. It is about the fact that we will never get done everything we ought to do. There will always be a measure of disobedience, and God loves us and accepts us anyway. But, let us stay clear about the objective: making the disciples of all nations. Let us never be content with activity that does not result in obedience to that task God gave to us.
There is a disease that has reached epidemic proportions in America. It has deeply affected all of us, even the clergy. It is the disease of victimitis.(1) The disease of victimites is a belief; the belief that I am a victim of someone else. It is someone else's fault. Finger pointing is at least as old as the Garden of Eden, and apparently was not eradicated by the cross. How many times have I heard preachers whine and moan about "the deacons are obnoxious, no one is committed, I can't get anyone to do anything any more. The field is hard; the people are cold and indifferent; no one wants to work anymore." The hidden assumption in all these statements is that I am not the problem. The problem is over there. It is someone else's fault. I am behaving perfectly; someone else is to blame. Great progress can begin when I recognize I am part of the problem. Maybe a big part of the problem. Maybe a small part of the problem. Not much happens until I admit I might be part of the problem. I might be part of the reason why the church in America, as a whole is corporately disobedient to what God told us to do.
This is not to say that the field is not hard and the people should be more committed and so fourth. It may be so. It is just that you can't do much about that. All you can change is you. All you are responsible to change is you. It is a sin to try to change anyone but you, unless, or course, they want to change. That is what people mean when they talk about someone being a controlling person. Jesus used the term "Lord it over." (Luke 22:25) He was speaking of that part of us that wants to be God. It is the fallen, dark part of us that wants to control other people. Healthy, spirit filled people only worry with controlling themselves.
The good news is that when we change, everyone else nearly has to change. A soft answer turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1). When we employ the soft answer, rather than returning anger in like kind, our enemy nearly has to become our friend. I say nearly because it is what usually happens. That is what the proverbs are about: the things that generally happen. The writer never meant to say that there would never be a time when someone would use the soft answer and his accuser would only become angrier. Sometimes it happens. But usually, a soft answer turns away wrath.
To use the soft answer as a means of controlling another person is wrong. It is sinful. It is "lording it over." Everything has to do with motive. It is the motive to want to change another person against their will that is sinful. Inviting them to change is what we are called to do. Manipulating them to change is what we must run from.
Victims try to control others by living out the victim's role. They blame others and pout and use guilt. (If you loved Jesus you would come to my meeting.) Healthy, spirit-filled people work on self-control and invite people to change. They always leave the choice with the other person. They stand in a posture of confessing their tendency to be the victim and resolve to repent of it.
It's time I take the gloves off. If you are a pastor, I want to shoot straight with you. If your church is not growing, you are the number one reason. That is the good news. It is good news because it means you have a lot of control. When you change, everything has to change. It is impossible for a pastor to change and a church remain the same.
One of the ways I want to invite you to change (it is your choice, of course, whether you will change or not) is to accept responsibility for leading your church to be obedient to the great commission. Notice I did not say to take responsibility for trying. I assume you are doing that. I am inviting you to take responsibility for leading your church to obedience to the great commission. I am not inviting you to grow a church to feed your ego. I am inviting you to obedience to the great commission of Almighty God.
Many seem to think "this church growth thing" is about 2 parts ego to 1 part Bible. We are not talking about ego. We are not talking about personal kingdom building. We are talking about building the kingdom of God. We are talking about storming the gates of hell. We are talking about being obedient to what God told us to do. Will you accept? If so, consider setting down the book right now and telling God how you feel. Go ahead, stop now and pray. This prayer may change the whole trajectory of your life and the life of your church.
Tell God you are sorry you have not been obedient to the great commission up to now. Tell him you were wrong and you want to take responsibility for not doing what should have been done. Gladly and joyfully receive his grace. Stand in the fact that this does not call into question whether or not you are loved and accepted by God. You may want to confess that you do not have a clue how to lead the church to be obedient to the Great Commission. Much of what you are doing now is not working, but you are not sure what to do. Ask God to empower you and claim the promise that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. Commit yourself to abiding in Christ and bearing much fruit. Enjoy God just now.
I don't believe we, as the church in America, will ever become obedient to the great commission until we repent of being disobedient to it. This is not an issue of discovering a new methodology. it is a deeply, profoundly spiritual issue. It is an issue of obedience.
Now, go and sin no more. Resolve not to try to be obedient to the great commission, but to do it. Just do it.
Where did this idea about faithfulness come from, anyway?
I know where this idea about trying hard comes from. It come from a heart of kindness. It is birthed in a heart that wants to comfort and lend encouragement to the brother who has toiled all night and caught nothing. We want to say to that brother, "It is OK. You tried. You toiled all night, that is all that matters. Your toil was enough. Rest in that." That is what we would want to say in our misguided kindness, but it is not what Jesus would do. In this situation, Jesus said, "Do something different." Look at the passage:
From what we know about fishing back then, we can be sure of one thing, they had not let down their nets in the deep water before. Every one knew that was not where the fish were. The fish fed in the shallow water. Peter was as much as saying, "We have never done it that way before." Jesus was saying, "I want you to try something you have never done before, go out into the deep water." We need to develop the obedience of Peter to say, "Because you say so. . ."
Don't miss it: Jesus never said to Peter, "Results don't matter. All that matters is effort. You toiled all night, Peter. Good job that is enough." Jesus never said that. He said go out again and bring in a net full of fish. I will show you how. Go out into the deep water. Results do matter. They matter because people matter to God.
What comfort can we offer to the laborer who has toiled hard but has not been able to bring in the harvest? Do we add to his pain and discouragement to tell him that his work does not matter? "All God is interested in is results; your efforts, though they have exhausted and discouraged you, mean nothing to God." Is this what we say to our brothers? Hardly.
I think something like this would be more appropriate, "You tried. You didn't get the results you wanted. Let's try something different. Let's keep trying until we find a way that works. As we try different things, let us pray and ask God to give us wisdom. Let us read the stories of what God is blessing in others places. Let us try to learn from them. Let's us try and keep trying until we learn to be obedient to the command to make disciples. In the mean time, grace is available. Listen carefully and you will hear the spirit of God whisper into your spirit what he said to Jesus a time or two when he was here on earth, "This is my Son, whom I love." Mark 9:7 Do you ever need to hear God say to you, "I love you son. I want to remind you that you are my son and I love you." I do. We need to remind each other of these things and built each other up. This is what the church is all about.
Jesus told the story of the man who had one hundred sheep and lost one. It was not enough that he was faithful in looking for the lost sheep. Faithfulness in that context meant he kept looking "until he found it." (Luke 15:4)
Some brothers come dangerously close to blaming God for our disobedience. They are waiting on revival. I too long for revival. But I don't think it is a valid excuse to do nothing. Faith is not waiting passively for revival. Faith is believing God can do great things and acting on that belief. Some seem to believe it is God's fault that we have not done what God told us to do. "We are just waiting for revival and when God sends revival all will be well." Implication: it is really God's fault that all is not well; he has not done his part. Victimitis.
The really sad thing about that is that we cannot know and experience grace until we understand what God told us to do, admit we didn't do it, and gratefully receive grace. As long as we blame God for not bringing revival, we will never bask in the joy of grace.
It has saddened me to hear the Sunday School reports at denominational meetings: "We had a good year in our Sunday School this year. Attendance was down. Enrollment was down. Giving was down. Baptisms were down. But, we had some good meetings. And we have some more good meetings planned for next year." I think the Father weeps over such talk.
I would far rather someone stand up and say, "We tried. We thought it through. We had a good plan. We implemented the plan. But we didn't get the results we had hoped for. We saw some scattered results, and we are going to build on these in next year's plan. We don't really feel we were as obedient to the great commission as we wanted to be. We claim forgiveness for this. And next year, we are going to try a different approach."
I know some will be uncomfortable with this approach because it depends on trial and error. I have heard people say that all we need to do is get a word from God, do that and all will be well. I envy these people. I have not yet gained the spiritual sensitivity so that I always get it right when I hear from God. Often, I sense God leading in a certain direction so I head off that way. Latter, I sense a mid-course correction so I veer off in a slightly different direction. Occasionally, I have sensed God leading me to make a 90 angle. This always seems puzzling, but he always works it out for his good.
I say always. Can I make a confession. Sometimes, I have gotten it dead wrong. I thought I heard from God on certain things and, in hindsight, I got it wrong. Dead wrong. There are other times that in hind sight I am just not sure. Years later I am still not sure. I wish I could always hear exactly what God wants me to do and how he wants me to do it. But, I must confess that has not been my experience. I wish it were. The Christian life would be much easier if it were. I envy those who never have any static on the line from heaven.
The best way I know to discover God's calling on my life is to just keep prayerfully moving, following God the best I know. I like the slogan that says, "It is always easier for God to direct a moving object," I believe this is true in the same way that it is easier to steer a moving car. Of course there are times to sit and wait on the Lord. There are times to watch and pray. And there are times to move forward even though we do not know the details of the entire journey will take us. A general direction is enough; more detail can come later. That is what faith is about.
People who would double their churches must be people of great faith. They must also be people of great works--works that result in obedience to the great commission. That raises the next logical question: "How do we know if we are making progress toward the great commission?" This is the topic of the next chapter.
Note: I believe that life change always happens in the context of relationship. If you don't believe this, cancel Sunday School. If you do believe it, grab a handful of pastors and talk about these issues. Here are some questions to help guide your discussion.
1. What is meant by the lie of faithfulness?
2. Every good lie contains some truth. What is the truth in this lie?
3. What is the lie in this lie?
4. Why is the lie of faithfulness so popular?
5. Why is the led of faithfulness so destructive?
6. What are some Biblical evidences that God is looking for results?
7. What is the danger in, "Waiting for revival"?
8. What has frustrated Josh about denominational reports at meetings? Have you ever heard anything similar to this?
9. Which comes easier for you, dreaming or doing?
10. Why are dreaming and working both important?
11. Jesus taught that the bottleneck of the evangelistic process is the shortage of laborers. Have you found this to be true in your church? What can be done about it?
12. We are commanded to not grow weary in doing good. When was the last time you were tempted to get weary of the work?
13. Some people tend to be workaholics, while others tend to be lazy. Where do you fall, say on a scale of one to ten?
14. What advice would you give to a brother who was distraught over his disobedience? How do we make grace a reality in our lives?
15. Has there every been a time when you heard the Spirit of God say to you, "This is my son whom I love. Hang in there son."?
16. What is meant by the disease of victimites. What are some symptoms? What is the cure?
17. Why is admitting, "I am part of the problem," a necessary first step to growth? Why is it so difficult?
18. What did Josh mean when he said, "When we change, everyone else has to change." Give an example.
19. What do you think about the idea of discovering God's plan for you life in progressive stages? Is your experience similar to Josh's in this regard, or does God speak so clearly to you that you nearly always get it exactly right the first time? What does the Bible say about this.
20. Let's close by praying together along the following lines:
1. James A. Belasco and Ralph C. Stayer. Flight of the Buffalo, New York: Warner Books, 1993, p. 35.