You care deeply about your members, the people God has entrusted to your care. You want them to experience the abundant life of Jesus, to become more and more like Him, and to fulfill the purpose for which God has created them.
But many if not most of your people seem to be making painfully slow progress. They come to you with the same problems they had a year ago, ten years ago. Many of your members seem stuck. They’re frustrated.
And you’re frustrated.
Are your efforts making any difference? When your members seem stuck, you feel stuck too wondering what more you should be doing to help them.
God never asked you to “fix” anyone; that’s His job. Your job is to “teach them to obey all things that I’ve commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19) My seminary dean would often say,
“Your job is to connect their story with God’s story, and then to get out of the way.”
(Dr. Thomsen Matthew, Professor Emeritus, ORU School of Theology and Missions)
But about your members; are they just supposed to “try harder?” That wouldn’t be consistent with the message of the gospel, and it doesn’t work anyway. And yet the New Testament picture of following Jesus is not at all passive.
Dallas Willard makes a clear distinction between working to earn salvation, and the effort one invests in following Jesus.
“Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action.”
And there are actions to be taken.
That sounds to me a lot like Paul:
“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
God works, and we work. It’s both-and.
Let me suggest three specific ways you can help your people take the actions that will help them get unstuck.
1. Teach them to feed themselves.
When we are children, parents or caretakers decide when, what, and how much we eat. It’s a mark of growing up when we can begin to feed ourselves. God makes an infinite variety of food available. He makes grain grow in the field, but He doesn’t harvest it, grind it, bake your bread, and hand you a sandwich. As adults we are responsible for knowing when we’re hungry, finding and choosing appropriate food, preparing it, and actually taking it into our being.
It’s the same with emotional/mental/spiritual nourishment. Your people (and you!) need such nourishment regularly, even daily.
You can help your members learn how to feed themselves. That includes taking in the services church provides, but that’s not all. It also needs to include things like daily time with God, connecting with positive uplifting people, time in nature and in creative pursuits, taking in uplifting healthy media, and more. Help them learn how to find what makes them fully alive, screen it through godly filters, and take it into their being.
2. Help them get connected.
God designed us to live, grow, and thrive in community. Gathering together regularly for worship is one important part of that, but it’s not the only one.
Each one of us needs three kinds of people in life. Help your people get connected in these important ways.
a. Leaders to follow, as they follow Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)
You may be one of these people for your members. But it’s healthy for them to hear additional leaders as well – current or past. Help them see how others have followed Jesus before them, and learn from them.
b. Others to walk with.
Each person needs a few others to lock arms with, to journey with over the long haul. The classic small group structure can help, but it’s usually much too short-term to truly create change. Teach your people to invest in a few long-term godly connections for mutual accountability and support.
c. Others they can help.
There’s almost nothing that creates more internal energy and joy than reaching out a hand to someone else and saying, “Take my hand. I know where the next few steps are. Let me help you take them.” Close, personal, ongoing helping of someone coming behind them.
And by the way, you need these three kinds of people in your own life!
3. Lift their sights to the future.
Jesus never promised our lives on this earth would be free of trouble. And when trouble comes, it’s easy to lose heart. Keeping the end in mind makes a huge difference when things become difficult.
Immediately after the faith hall of fame in Hebrews 11 comes this: “looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
“For the joy that was set before him.” If Jesus, the Son of God, had to keep His eyes on His future in order to make it, we will need to do the same.
Today is not as good as it gets. Present comfort is not the highest good. Help your members look up to see what God is doing – in their own lives, in others’ lives, in the church, in the world. We can’t understand the entirety of His plans, but to celebrate all we can see of His work brings courage and energy.
And help them look to eternity. Ultimately, even with Jesus this life is not enough. Paul claimed that without a solid hope for eternity “we are of all men most miserable.” (1 Corinthians 15:19) Your people (and you) will get worn out without a future focus that includes God making everything, everything, truly right in the end.
And that will make everything worth it.
Dr. Carol Tanksley is a board-certified OB-Gyn physician as well as a Doctor of Ministry. She’s published several books by Charisma House, and has been highlighted several times in Ministry Today, Charisma and SpiritLed Woman. Find more of Dr. Carol’s resources at drcarolministries.com.