Those of us who make our living in full-time church ministry regularly lament that people are less committed today than they were in the past. It seems much harder to find people who will commit to teaching Sunday School (for more than a few months at a time), serve on a committee, lead a ministry team, or (dare I say it) work in the nursery. We hear stories of kindly ladies and gentlemen in bygone eras who taught the same Sunday School class for fifty years (and had to walk to church uphill in the snow, both ways). It can appear that people in past generations were just so much more committed to the church and their communities than folks in the 21st century.
Looking at society in general, it really does look like people are less committed these days. More marriages end in divorce–and earlier than ever. More young people are putting off the serious commitment of marriage or not getting married at all. Anecdotal evidence seems to demonstrate that employers are less committed to their employees, and employees are less committed to their jobs as well. More and more people seem restless, unfocused, and unwilling to stick to anything important for a long time. So I guess a case could very well be made that we are dealing with people, inside and outside of the church, who are less committed than ever before.
In many ways, I think we have (using a psychological word here) “enabled” folks today to be less committed. We make things easier to commit to, shorter in duration–and with helpful exit strategies to boot. Assuming people don’t like to commit or are too busy to commit, we lower the expectation, almost being afraid to ask for responsible duty anymore. I see it all the time in the church, and I must admit that I have succumbed to the temptation as well. In a well-meaning way (not really in a dishonest way), I’ve downplayed the extent of the responsibility: “Oh, it really doesn’t take that much time.” “You can always get subs if you’re out-of-town a lot.” “You don’t have to commit for a year, six months would be great.” Essentially, it becomes more practical to combat an overall sense that people are less committed with asking them for less and less commitment. But is this really the best solution?
Before answering that important question, I want to go on record to say that even with all of the evidence given above, I just don’t believe we are really facing a problem of commitment today. I have a feeling that every generation has felt like people are less committed than they were in the past. To me, the issue is (and has always been) WHAT people are committed to. Human beings, made in the image of God, are equipped with the ability to commit–to pledge their hearts and minds to something or someone. In our sinfulness and weakness, we just end up committing to the wrong (or less essential) things. A lack of commitment in marriage is really just a commitment to something or someone else (usually myself). I lack of commitment to my job is really just a commitment to something else (comfort, ease, recreation, etc.). A lack of commitment to the church is really a commitment to some other activity or organization that I find more important or more interesting. You get the point. Essentially, the problem we face is misdirected and misguided commitment, not an inability to commit.
So now back to the solution. Hopefully it’s obvious, even if it’s difficult. We need to call on people to commit, period. We don’t need to lower the bar or find ways to make it easier to commit. At the very core of true commitment is personal sacrifice, diligence, and responsibility. To make commitment “easy” is to undermine the whole notion, and to do ourselves and those in our congregations a great disservice. Commitment to Jesus hasn’t changed. He has always called His people to follow Him and serve Him alone. While folks today have lots of options and are free to commit to whatever activity they choose, the church needs to keep on demonstrating and promoting the joy and beauty of committing to the Lord’s service. We can’t keep expecting less and beg more. Then, with the bar of commitment still raised, those of us in the “recruiting” business must leave it to the Holy Spirit to draw people to the work of the ministry in the church as well as in God’s Kingdom!