Christian commitment, or rather the lack of commitment and not frustrations over church growth is one of the leading causes of baldness in pastors. Seriously. Ok, well maybe not quite true. But I do believe there’s a correlation between stress and hair loss. Pastors who emphasize, encourage, challenge, and demand greater commitment from today’s church member are plenty stressed. Stress causes hair loss, so surely you see my masterful (il)logic.
Sometime ago a sister colleague in ministry visited this blog and commented on an earlier article I wrote entitled Worship, Church Membership And Commitment. That article was for the sheer purpose of venting. It was poured out of a heart of pain and frustration and offered no solutions to the troubling issues. This article came out of my sisters challenge or invitation to take the next step after venting. It was time for more contemplation toward possible solutions.
Subsequent to the article I left the full time pastorate and ended up in Christian education and academia of the seminary kind. Listening to, and trying to soothe the anxieties of seminarians about to graduate often times left me feeling conflicted. How do I share this challenge without scaring them away? But whether I choose to tell them or not, the reality of the increasingly evident lack of commitment is there awaiting many of them.
Looking around and talking with other colleagues, there’s great agreement that these three commitment, desire, and discipline go hand in hand. Commitment is not something that can be done on its own. It’s committing to something. Making yourself obligated to doing something needs the fuel (motivation) of desire, and it takes discipline of life or in that area of one’s life to follow-through beyond initial excitement at the thought of doing the thing. You’ll actually do it.
From very early into my first pastoral charge of 3 rural congregations in a circuit of churches, I recognized that the fundamental obstacle to multifaceted growth in the congregation was a lack of commitment on the part of the membership. A survey of both the local and national context revealed this was a widespread issue. In the wider denomination, the churches in the region, and international Christian forums I heard pastors lamenting the same issue. And it didn’t matter the size of the congregation. It was still a problem.
But as I looked deeper at the symptoms I realized that the major underlying issue was a lack of deep meaningful relationships. As with any family, relationships can become dysfunctional overtime and where no deliberate efforts at healing takes place persons will not develop basic values such as dedication, loyalty, and commitment to each other. The broken relationships on the ground was a reflection of still broken relationships with God.
This was not very comforting.
Moreover, the attitude of some pastoral colleagues was a seeming acceptance of a terminal condition that was not about to change anytime soon so best use my energies on a potentially more rewarding fight. I could not accept it. I still do not accept that I have to accept it and just do maintenance and keep the doors open. Unacceptable. My hair began to grey faster than US President Barack Obama’s since his occupancy of the Oval Office.
In recent years, I served as Moderator of an Association in Central America where I worked at the time. This gave me even greater insight into the challenges congregations face, and how this impact on the levels of commitment of their members. It was no better than what I had observed in my previous pastoral charge in a different country. I surveyed the scene in North America and Europe and recognize that this phenomenon is most marked in Western and Westernized cultures.
So what’s the solution then? I concluded that our work is really to build desire but I wasn’t hearing it expressed anywhere else how I felt it in my heart. So I couldn’t quite say it with confidence. Then I attended Edinburgh 2010 and God arranged it so that I would not leave there without an insight into my own struggle that was unresolved. This was so even after all the grand presentations and expressions of joyful anticipation of how revolutionary and creative mission would be accomplished on the ground around the world. The answer came in a quotation in the opening words of the closing speaker Dr. John Sentamu, Archbiship of York. The quote was a version of this which I subsequently found online
“When you want to build a ship, do not begin by gathering wood, cutting boards, and distributing work, but rather awaken within men the desire for the vast and endless sea.” [Disputed quote from Antoine de Saint Exupéry]
I thought, YES!! That’s it. That’s what I have been thinking and now I’ve heard it expressed. So the only question then remains, how do I ‘awaken within persons the desire for the vast and endless sea’ of God’s people; the ones whom Jesus looked upon and had compassion on them and said, ‘truly the harvest is plenty but the labourers are few.’ But that desire is not exclusive to a desire for God. Neither can we love the one we cannot see without loving those we see.
Suddenly my call to Christian Ministry was once again lit with the conviction that education is where I belonged. I’m to be a “desire awakener,” that’s what happened to me when I was an ordinary member in church. My desire was awakened and I must have done something or cooperated with the efforts of others and the relentless Holy Spirit to keep it building. I refuse to accept that such a desire is some kind of gift to a select few…
Do let me hear what you have to say.
Peace and Love,