One of my favorite scriptures from the New Testament is from the Letter of James. It is a very simple verse that it is easily committed to memory. You’ve probably heard it and yet, we often forget because we do not commit it to our very hearts.
Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. -- James 1:22
This isn’t a sermon, so I won’t go into the finer points of the letter and the purpose of it. In a classic sense, I guess that I’m proof-texting and using one little verse to substantiate what I’d like to say. However, in this case, I think it’s a good verse that sets us off in a direction that allows us to discover the complexity of actually being in and doing ministry in the local church.
I have often heard in local church settings a heartfelt desire to see things differently, to be in ministry, and a desire to move past the slow decline that many churches have experienced in recent years. After long and drawn out conversations about how much has changed, sometimes we emerge from a downward spiral to hear phrases like, “we’d like to…” and “we hope to…” You can fill in the blanks after those phrases. The hopes and desires really do change depending upon where a ministry is located.
However, this is where the conversation becomes difficult. The “hope to” and “want to” won't translate into anything if you don’t actually do something. That sounds like a ridiculous thing to say because it’s so obvious - but if you want to see something happen, you actually have to do something in order to see it happen. It’s something so basic and simple that it’s really hard.
So maybe that “be doers of the word, and not merely hearers” thing kind of makes sense. We can’t just hear the words “Go and make disciples” and expect it to just happen because we read it.
Quite often I will use personal fitness or health to make a point. It makes sense to me personally and I can use it as an example because it’s my health and I can point out my own flaws. I have been on a steady decline in my health and fitness over the past few years. So steady was the decline (and increase in weight) that it wasn’t really noticeable until this past summer. My belt was getting tight, my belly was starting to be very noticeable, and I saw some extra skin in my face.
So, I decided that I needed to lose weight, start to exercise, and pay attention to my health once again. It’s personal, and yet I have to do it because it impacts my family and my overall outlook on the future.
So far, I’ve done really well. I’ve been trimming pounds, exercising more, and I am beginning to feel a lot better.
So what’s different this time from other times when I’ve “wanted to” lose weight? The answer is simple. I’ve set some goals; I’ve set some objectives; I am actually paying attention to my weight, and others are holding me accountable for the things that I say that I am going to do.
Something so basic and simple is very hard. It takes work, it takes time, and it takes dedication to the task.
The same is true in ministry. If we have a desire to do something different, we can’t simply talk about it, we actually have to do it. If we want to be in relationship with new people, we have to intentionally go out of our way to be more welcoming in our congregations. If we want to fund ministry differently, then we have to be intentional about our stewardship. We can’t simply talk about starting a small group - we have to set some objectives, prioritize it in our ministry and start it.
You’ve heard it before (again, it’s so simple). Goals have to be SMART. They have to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. Goals that are smart are more often achieved -- and sometimes when we just don’t meet our goals, there are things that we can measure that will allow us to see where we strayed from our course.
We want to increase the funding of our ministry. We want to start a new ministry with the poor. We want to serve Tshanksgiving dinner to our community. We want to start a small group ministry. We want people to grow in their faith and commit more scripture to memory.
Ok! Great! You’ve said it! Now what are you going to do to make it happen?