Focus less on convincing people that they should …
… and more on equipping the people that already want to.
I’ve been contemplating this idea all week long. It seems like everything I do is geared toward convincing, cajoling, urging people to practice the pattern of discipleship – you know: weekly worship, small group study, proportional giving, selfless service, and radical hospitality – and it gets tedious. Worse, it feels empty.
It feels empty because I obsess over the people who don’t seem to get it, rather than celebrate the people who do. And I need to stop that. It puts me in a dark and scary place where I begin to doubt a whole lot of stuff about my vocation, and I’d rather not be there.
And the truth is, there are an abundance of people who “get it” when it comes to being a follower of Jesus, people who need no convincing. I feel so much more energized, focused, and happy when I get to hang out with people like that, hear them talk about God and church and discipleship and what following Jesus means to them. It is joyful and filled with grace and the power of the Holy Spirit.
And yet …
I have read several articles and books lately that describe how the church is being confronted with issues like:
- sporadic rather than weekly worship,
- small groups as cliques or clubs rather than true growth in grace and knowledge of God,
- giving when it’s convenient rather than proportionally to one’s income,
- being “nice” to others rather than engaging in selfless service, and
- staying home when you have house guests rather than actually inviting a stranger to church.
Now it sounds like I’m just griping. And I don’t want to be “that pastor.” But I need to be honest. It just takes so much energy to move people from being a good-person-who-goes-to-church-every-so-often to actually becoming an authentic disciple of Jesus Christ.
So I was thinking maybe I need to take a break from trying to convince people that they should, and focus more on equipping the people that already want to. Encouraging, cheering, thanking.
Like for example, last night there were eight people in Bible Study, and there are usually more than twice that number. My initial reaction was one of disappointment at the low attendance. But you know what? The discussion at that Bible Study was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had all week. Why? Because of the "want to."
And what does it say about my own theology when I think it is up to me to convince people that they should follow Jesus? How narcissistic is that? What would happen if I actually allowed the Holy Spirit to convince, cajole, and convict?
And what if I then saw my role simply as the one who would meet them in the midst of their life and help them follow that conviction?
I suppose what I’m getting at is that I’m tired of trying to generate the conviction in people and being met with a resounding “meh.” And there are so, so many people who have already felt that conviction and are actively following it – and so yeah, that’s the people I want to be with.
In the Gospels, three different groups are described. In short, these groups are the “Scribes and Pharisees,” the “crowd,” and the “disciples.” The “S & P” group is openly antagonistic toward Jesus. The “disciples” have transformed their lives to follow Jesus.
But the “crowd” is that large and mostly anonymous group that’s hanging out and listening to what he has to say, watching what he’s doing, enjoying some bread and fish with 5,000 of their closest friends, but haven’t made the commitment that the disciples have to actually follow him wherever he goes.
It has been my pattern to focus mostly on people in the “crowd” and move them into the “disciples” group. But just lately I’m feeling God nudge me to spend less energy there and more time and energy with the disciples. And in particular, with disciples who have found the church to be … well … let’s just say “lacking” when it comes to discipleship opportunities.
I believe that I am called in particular to serve people who have felt the Holy Spirit’s conviction to follow Jesus but cannot find a way to pursue that conviction in the life of the church.
In other words, focus less on convincing people that they should and more on equipping the people that already want to.