Recently, our staff was talking about things our parents would tell us that we find ourselves repeating to our children or ourselves. We had to admit that we increasingly sound like those voices we vowed never to imitate.
Some of our “favorites”:
“If you’d done it right the first time, you wouldn’t have to do it a second time.”
“Use it up, make it do, wear it out.”
“Clean your plate, there are starving children in the world…”
“If you start something, finish it.”
Finally, Chris Gambill mentioned one that we all agreed retains great merit. When he would give only half-hearted effort to some task, his mother would implore him to “Put your heart into it!” She was inviting him to show some energy, to display some real effort and give an honest try at whatever task he was passively engaged in.
Whether it be washing a car or cleaning a room or doing homework, “putting your heart into it” is a way of saying “invest all of yourself in this and you’ll do a better job and be a better person”.
As we talked, we agreed that “Put your heart into it” is an appropriate antidote to much of what ails the modern-day congregation. Far too often, we find churches that have devolved into patterns of ritualistic, meaningless repetition. Such congregations sleepwalk through worship, teaching, outreach, prayer or any number of projects or ministries. As their energy ebbs, conflict and discord begin to arise. Pessimism and fear dictate how they approach their future.
The admonition to “put your heart into it” is not simply suggesting adopting a positive attitude or an invitation to look at the world unrealistically.
Instead, it is something akin to what Jesus said to his disciples when he taught them to pray in Matthew 6. Lamenting the “meaningless repetition” of many prayers, he invites them into an intensely personal, self-revealing, humbling posture of prayer that transformed their very lives.
One trait that seems to be ever-present in thriving congregations but largely absent in dying congregations is energy, or passion. High levels of energy and passion for the Gospel mark congregations who have been seized by the enormity of their mission and have given themselves fully to it. On the other hand, when we have grown callused toward the transforming power of the Gospel, we tend to adopt a laize faire spirit that dulls us and blinds us to its potential.
The church of the 21st century faces significant headwind and a multitude of challenges. Half-hearted effort will doom us to irrelevance at best, and extinction at worst.
Paul wrestled with the same issues as he made the rounds to churches in Greece and Asia Minor in the first century. Facing intense oppression and resistance, many found the going so difficult that they were tempted to give up or give only a weak effort.
In Colossians 1, he reminds his readers that they, like him, are called to a grand mission: “to make the word of God fully known…to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of his mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” He concludes with his personal testimony that “for this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.”
The energy we need as God’s people is not something we conjure up or create on our own. We are, like Paul, to be inspired by the person of Jesus Christ and the mission he has given us.
So, how might we invite our congregations to “put their heart into” their life over the coming year? How do we inspire one another?
- Why not start with confession? Admit it: we’re tired and tending toward lukewarm. The first step in doing something about it is to own it.
- Look inward first, then outward. Do we have a heart problem? Have we lost our first love? Have we gotten caught up in the “thick of thin things”? Is it time to fall in love with the Gospel again?
- Assess what about our congregational life drains us of energy and what inspires and motivates us.
- Ask the hard question: what do we need to stop doing so that we can do the things that matter most?
While ministry in our day is challenging, I believe the opportunities to impact our world have never been more real. Our culture has never needed what we can provide more. We really do know the answer to every question that people are asking. Let’s remember: Jesus is the answer, to everything. That is our message for the world. That is our task.
Now, what would it look like if you fully put your heart into it?