The Barrier of Follow-Through: A Breakthrough of Faithfulness
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9, NIV)
The Apostle Paul had it tough: he traveled around as an itinerant missionary, planting churches right and left. He had to leave those churches in (sometimes) trustworthy hands, and then he had to sit in jail and hear horror stories about how bad things got and (in at least one case) how a man sleeping with his step-mother was affirmed and accepted by a church Paul shepherded and loved. How much worse could it get?
So Paul apparently knew what he was doing when he wrote, inspired by the Holy Spirit, for us to not grow weary, to not give up. Perhaps Paul needed that truth for himself as much as the Galatians did, and one can picture him weeping (or possibly banging his head against his cell wall) as he dictated that sentence. Ministry is hard work. Not giving up -- that is even harder.
Winston Churchill gave a famous and oft-quoted speech at a commencement exercise in which he stated one phrase three times: “Never give up. Never give up. Never give up!” Then he sat down. Sometimes in ministry that is all we need to hear.
Another often-repeated quotation which has entered “churchianity” culture is this one: “God is not interested in your ability, but in your availability.” Now, obviously God prepared in advance for us to do good works (Ephesians 2:10) so it is not fair to say that our abilities are not of concern to God. But the point is well taken – that our daily yielded heart to our Father and his Son are of utmost concern to Him, and that miraculous things happen in our lives and in the lives of those we influence when we choose to make ourselves available to God. Corrie Ten Boom was a middle-aged woman during World War II who felt called by God to save Jewish people through an underground set up in her home. She prayed a similar prayer one dark night in occupied Holland:
“Lord Jesus, I offer myself for Your people. In any way. Any place. Any time” (The Hiding Place, p. 74).
God used Corrie in some amazing ways that she previously never thought possible, as she ministered to hundreds, if not thousands, in her hometown of Harlem and in the concentration camp where she eventually was imprisoned.
God, by the power of His Spirit, is able to sustain us through hardships we never thought were possible to survive with our faith intact. He is able to comfort us, give us peace, and strengthen us during the dark moments. Corrie Ten Boom experienced this when she and her sister were thrown into a concentration camp. But repeatedly, Scripture challenges us to persevere, to hold on, to run the race, to triumph. So again in scripture we find a “both/and” phenomena surrounding the reality of perseverance: that there are sustaining factors through the Spirit, and there are choices to be made by us as individuals. Both are in the equation, and both are necessarily to “not grow weary in well doing.”
Once you know what the right thing is for your vision, your leadership, your communities…just do it! Do it over and over again. Do it well. Do it right. Do it consistently and faithfully. Persistent execution of your vision will produce a harvest. Practice continuous improvement and be a laser beam rather than a shotgun. A “shotgun” approach is usually tempting to us, since it makes a lot of noise and produces an immediate response from our people! But the “laser beam” approach will be quieter and more exacting, and will yield results worth waiting for. A harvest!
It has been my experience that “staying the course” relates to four specific dimensions; each of them require constant attention and pose strategic questions:
Call: Are you clear about God’s call on your life, your call to ministry and the vision He has for you and for those you shepherd?
Character: What are the essentials of heart and mind that make up the “you” that you want to be. What are the epitaphs you want written on your tombstone by your family, friends AND adversaries? Are you clear about how your character has been shaped and is shared with others?
Community: Do you have “anchor relationships” in your life? Are there people into whom you have invested and who both keep you accountable and can undergird your life during a storm? All ministry flows out of relationships; are you building a community of relationships that model and contribute health in your life?
Competency: Have you identified your gifts and are you continuously improving your kingdom effectiveness with your gift? Are you clear about how the 80/20 rule works in your life as it relates to effectiveness?
Perseverance in ministry always relates to clarity of vision AND persistence in follow through. In short, knowing what to do and doing it consistently well is key! Basically, there are but two ways to grow a church: “We must bring people in the front door, and we must keep people from going out the ‘back door’” (FTKT, 9). This process takes time, energy, and more effort than you will have on some days. But never give up. In time you will reap a harvest, and God will give you wisdom and direction as you seek to bring people in, and keep people from leaving.
Growing Churches do their “main thing” consistently well. And, they don’t give up!
Growing Churches are led by people with clarity about their call, their character, their community, and their competencies.
One of the ways to shore up weaknesses and produce results is to ask some tough questions. It is important to evaluate your ministry using observable, measurable data so that the “truth” does not get lost in the emotion of the moment, when you try to figure out the best way to say, “I quit!” in a letter of resignation.
Some of the answers to the following questions might be difficult for you to face, but they are important to discover. Take a moment, sit down, and wade through the answers to these questions:
Does my church have entry-level places of service where new people are allowed to serve? List out these areas and number how many different positions there are.
Does my church have an effective way to help people identify their gifts, talents, and abilities? What is the specific vehicle for people to learn these truths, and how many people have learned them through this vehicle in the last twelve months?
During the last three years, have at least 60% of our new members found a place to serve? Make a list of your new members from the last three years and list their areas of service.
Have we started at least one new ministry per year in the last three years? Make a list of every ministry at your church, and the month and year they were launched.
How are the church staff and leaders doing in the area of weariness and perseverance? What is required to change morale, boost effectiveness, reduce burnout?
Being faithful to the mission and not giving up is a tough barrier to overcome, but it can be done. Many leaders find that if they do “stick it out” and overcome the faithfulness barrier, their influence increases beyond measure. Others find that a change is needed. Whichever boat you are in, please hear these words ringing in your ears: never give up! Never give up! Never give up!
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