Don't Quit! Keep Going! - June 2013 Congregational Letter
If you engage in Christian leadership for any length of time, you are going to have people problems. Put 10 or 15 adults together and try to provide pastoral care for them and what you might discover is that there will probably be one couple (at least) whose marriage is on the rocks, a few people who hate their jobs, a single mom with three kids struggling to hold things together. You will almost certainly have in your group a few people who make commitments and then think nothing of breaking them without any notice. Someone might make a commitment to do childcare or to bring snacks and then simply don’t show up. In the average group of adults there will be at least one exceptionally needy or disruptive member. There might also be several people who have significant issues of addiction or emotional problems – depression, anxiety, and the like.
You can’t be a Christian leader very long without having a children’s teacher, worship leader, or even a small group leader feel that God is telling them to quit serving in the church. It is amazing how often God tells people to quit all forms of Christian ministry given that there are so few “quit” verses in the Bible. But in America today lots of people claim that God is telling them to quit serving other people or extending themselves, not just for a season but for years.
The longer I am in ministry, the more I admire people who simply show up. I’ve met dozens of people over the years who were super-excited, seemed to be everywhere in the church for six months and who were never heard of again. The people I respect the most at Vineyard Columbus are folks who show up week after week, year after year, folks I know we can count on to teach a children’s ministry class, to lead a small group, to usher people at a service, to help with the deacon activities of the church, or to counsel financially troubled people. To use a baseball analogy, it is the Cal Ripkin’s I most appreciate - the guy or gal with the lunch bucket who shows up every day for work – not flashy but faithful.
When you lead a small group, or indeed, when you are involved in any ministry that involves people, it is easy to become weary, cynical and hard. How do we stay soft to God and to people? How do we persevere in Christian service?
I believe, in America, we have lost sight of one central truth that runs through the whole of the Bible and the whole of history, that is, that life is supposed to be hard. Do not for a moment, allow yourself to succumb to the unbiblical, unreal American ideal that life is supposed to be pain-free, comfortable and easy. I can’t tell you how many people I talk with who complain about a difficult circumstance in life and the underlying presupposition of the complaint is that the difficulty I’m experiencing is wildly abnormal. Life is supposed to be hard!
Difficult people are normal. People who break commitments are normal. Not getting your way is normal. Being frustrated is normal. Being misunderstood is normal. It is normal for things in this world to break down. It is normal to have a piece of equipment or technology fail to function. It is normal to misplace things. It is normal in this world to not have enough money to buy everything that you want. It is normal to be hassled at your job. It is normal to have less than perfect relationships in your home. Extended family problems are normal. Dealing with ridiculous bureaucracy is normal.
All these things are normal. Jesus said, I’ve told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33). Why don’t we paste that on our bathroom mirrors as a promise for each day? “In this world you will have trouble.”
Likewise, the apostle Paul said, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).”
Peter puts it plainly when he says, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering as though something strange were happening to you (1 Peter 4:12).”
I like the way The Message version of the Bible puts it, “Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process with glory just around the corner.”
What I observe in America, however, is alongside of this extraordinarily unbiblical and unrealistic idea that life is supposed to be pain free is an incredible fragility in most people that I meet. People today are exceptionally fragile. We’ve become the eggshell generation. Unlike our Depression and World War II generation, we simply can’t bear any weight at all. We cannot handle any hardship without squawking and complaining to everyone. We collapse easily. Our marriages collapse easily. Our faith collapses easily. We are easily wounded. We easily quit. We easily throw in the towel.
Just think about the people you know who have quit your group, who have quit the church, or whose feelings have been ruffled over the most minor offenses. We leaders end up having to apologize about such trifles.
So how do you keep going day after day and year after year – right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot…?
1. Understand that one of the main callings of the Christian is perseverance.
“He who stands firm unto the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13)
“If we endure, we will also reign with Him.” (2 Timothy 2:12)
“You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised.” (Hebrews 10:36)
“I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that is ours in Jesus.” (Revelation 1:9)
There are literally dozens of exhortations in the New Testament for the Christian to endure, to persevere, to stand firm, to be steadfast.
2. Understand that perseverance is only possible through the power that God supplies.
“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement…” (Romans 15:5a)
“It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy.” (Romans 9:16)
“We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life, indeed in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened so that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)
3. Therefore, understand that we need to pray for perseverance.
The human will cannot be relied upon. Under pressure, we will quit. Under pressure our wills will fail. It’s not human toughness that keeps us Christians serving year after year. It is the grace of God that enables us to persevere. We need to pray for the gift of perseverance.
I love the verse in the old hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” that reads:
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.