by: Rev. Ed Schneider
The definition of the word commitment has a direct correlation to a handful of descriptions. They are:
- a foundational understanding prompting action,
- an accepted obligation of personal responsibility,
- an inspired charge that is self-sustaining, and/or
- a total dedication to a person or cause.
Within a Christian context the person-of-faith believes in God’s initiation of the commitment process as well as humanity’s contextual understanding of this process itself. In other words, we rely on the faith that by God’s gracious intentions those who have been touched by God, even in the slightest way, can and will lean toward continual growth under the will of God. This is then followed by The Creator’s sustainable Spirit being given to those who have demonstrated their willingness to move into each stage or newness of transformational opportunity.
It is incredibly important to remember God not only prompts but sustains the believer’s effort. God also rewards faithful obedience with additional evidence that inevitably prompts the circle-of-faith and action to replicate over and over again.
We must never forget for Christians God is not only at the center of who we are and what we do; The Divine is also the sustaining agent that prompts understanding…. and then through that understanding we then distinctly answer God’s call to commitment.
Getting real about leadership
All sustainable church growth goals will require new and vibrant leadership above and beyond what already exists. If I were to show up at the door of any church who is desperately searching for growth that is sustainable with 20 brand new highly qualified AND COMMITED working adults under the age of 45 who love the Lord with all their minds, hearts and souls….I’m fairly comfortable most would be jumping for joy concerning the future! The challenge is finding them. The challenge is to provide the right tools and strategies to identify, evaluate, and recruit those who God has sent your way.
The key is not “finding” talented people. That is not that difficult. The goal is not simply to find people who have jobs and are involved in many aspects of the community surrounding the local congregation. Again, these individuals can be identified reasonably quickly. What every revitalization journey (or for that matter, any level of sustainable church growth) requires is COMMITMENT. Without godly people COMMITTING TO THE JOURNEY there is no sustainability. Without sustainability there will be no revitalization of missional connection to the cause of Christ.
All of us who are attempting to revitalize a broken location for Christ, we must take it seriously two very specific items;
- Why, How, and When do adults, in general, and “working-adults” who are also LEADERS, in particular, commit to a local congregation and its revitalization goals?
- How can we provide the environment, tools, and strategies to help and sustain that process?
The process of “commitment” adults go through requires a personal, highly contextual judgment of self discovery which is followed by a value-to-self and continually fed by an environment of transformative purpose, which then can be witnessed in the lives of others around them.
The opposite of this is also true.
If an adult does not experience a highly introspective and personally contextual sense of self-discovery they will not be moved to legitimately commit to anything. An adult needs to establish a personal connection to a new idea, recognized obligation, Divine calling, cause or person unless or until a rationale of value-to-self exists. This is what prompts a transformation. This is what proceeds any level of sustainable commitment. Without this process no sustainable commitment will happen….at all….ever!
When any local congregation and its leadership have decided to take on the arduous task of revitalization and renewal it is imperative they understand their own responsibilities regarding installing an environment that enhances the process of the commitment-cycle.
What is the “commitment-cycle?” This process of commitment is based on the idea that adults process information in a series of ways that eventually will result in either a decision to commit or reject an idea, action, or person.
All people regardless of age start every learning experience from a set of “known” understanding. If that known understanding is substantially appealing to them they will in turn react to that understanding in ways that are relative or in context to their previous experiences. If the adult is actively seeking new information concerning a new skill-set, some envisioned self-improvement or even a social justice issue, this will certainly prompt the gaining of NEW knowledge. However, if they do not find contextual value that can be personally internalized they will either fall away gradually or reject the information out-of-hand while moving on to some thing else.
Providing an ENVIRONMENT of COMMITMENT requires an on-going investment of supplying a continual conduit of NEW KNOWLEDGE that is received as valuable in context to the individual. In other words, ALL COMMITMENT MUST BE PROCEEDED BY NEW KNOWLEDGE that is highly internalized while being found to be CONTEXTUALLY VALUABLE.
Unfortunately, just GIVING SOMEONE INFORMATION….doesn’t work the vast majority of the time! Someone who is a “just give me the facts and I’ll decide later” kind of a person generally NEVER COMMITS TO ANYTHING in a sustainable way. There is an old saying that goes something like this;
If you say it, it might be true. If they say it, it must be true.
The same thing applies to adult learning. It is far better if the recipient of new knowledge “self-discovers” what these facts or information lead to. Is it far less time-consuming and more direct if you tell a child that 1+1=2? Of course it is. However, if you place one building-block on one side of the table and another block on the chair next to the table and then play a gathering game that allows the child to DISCOVER what the two blocks will eventually add up to….they themselves have made a discovery. That discovery then validates the joy of what new knowledge can bring. Without question they will be prompted to find out more because they associate the discovery with joy, personal value, the broadening of knowledge, and the positive acknowledgment of others. All of this, in effect, initiates the COMMITMENT CYCLE.
Is it easier just to tell them 1+1=2 and then have them memorize the information? Yes. However, just presenting facts to the child gains little in the goal of sustaining a learning pattern that includes at its foundation the value of a committed journey toward one new discovery after another. The same basic premise can be found in the process of adult learning. Remember, you can’t expect an adult to actually commit without self-discovery and self-discovery must be followed by the individual internalizing the value of the new knowledge in the context of their life experiences. The local church and all of its ministries MUST FACILITATE “self-discovery” not just dictate facts, scripture sequences, and doctrinal mandates. They must facilitate the value of on-going self-discovery.
How does this new understanding relate to finding new adults to both commit to Christ and then commit to a local congregation?
In Jack Mezirow’s book, Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning (1991 Jossey-Bass), the author brought to light that adults generally follow the path that eventually leads to a sustainable commitment through the process of internalizing the value of our personal experiences. Mezirow theorized that through the following benchmarks of introspective discovery an individual finds significant value.
- General reflection (ex. what does the Bible say about grace?)
- Critical reflection (ex. what is the broader implication of God’s grace to the world around me)
- Critical SELF-reflection (ex. How does this new understanding of God’s grace apply to me personally?)
Again, to preach about God’s grace is certainly reasonable and right. However, to think that preaching alone prompts the awakening of the “knowledge of God’s grace” is foolish. When we facilitate a person’s discovery-cycle we trust the interaction of God within that process. We learn to trust God’s willingness to use us as instruments of discovery, both in the initial stages as well as a continual mechanism to future discoveries.
What are the practical environmental tools of discovery facilitation?
First and foremost, be patient. Take the time to allow for the discovery process to occur. Short-changing the discovery process not only hinders the commitment cycle it practically ends it!
Second, make sure all learning experiences are completely relative to the CONTEXT OF THEIR LIVES and the WORLD AROUND THEM. An example of this would be, if your goal was to advance a group of teenager’s learning to make positive life choices then avoid telling downtown Detroit kids about the intrinsic value of central Iowa farm life. Every “right answer” about someone’s future must be couched in their own personal context. If discovering the tremendous value in loving, engaging and respecting another person, then teach that principle within the context of their lives. If your desire is to prompt teenagers….from any context…. to give their lives and futures to Christ you might want to offer foundational connections IN CONTEXT to their existing lives….RIGHT NOW….and then FACILITATE their self-discovery of how intersecting with Christ has transformational value to them. The end result would be a shared universal truth that transcends their individual reality.
Don’t tell them. Facilitate them discovering how tremendous a life devoted to Christ is and how it is contextually valuable to their foundational understanding of life….NOT YOURS….their life.
Third, there is more to the COMMITMENT-CYCLE other than knowledge, reflection, and contextual understanding. These first three segments MUST DISRUPT OLDER, MORE ESTABLISHED PATTERNS OF FOUNDATIONAL UNDERSTANDING and prompt a movement toward the CONSTRUCTION OF NEW PATHWAYS OF ENVISIONING THEMSELVES IN A NEW WORLD.
The envisioning process associated itself with the individual’s sense of OUTWARD EXPRESSION of a new INWARD VALUE or PURPOSE. How many preachers, pastors and educators have uttered the phrase, “Only what you do for God will last?” In general, the Christian’s “Christ-like” integrity is measured to some degree by their Divinely inspired ability and willingness to reach out, to practically share the value of Jesus to others. Again, it is incredibly vital to provide practical experiential opportunities to share the tangible aspects of not only a life devoted to God THROUGH CHRIST but also a life used by God to TOUCH OTHERS in the name of Jesus.
In 1988, Robert Boyd wrote and article concerning Transformative Education, where he surmised that when an adult processes new information that eventually leads to a newness of understanding and purpose, there seems to be a strong connection between NOT new information but rather an AWAKENING of what was already hidden…just below the surface…that has prompted their sense of value to the discovery they have been affected by. Even though he was strictly speaking in a clinical context it mirrors what the Christian already understands; God does the calling and God does the sustaining in the process of Christian commitment.
Fourth, if God is in it, if God initiates it, then we need to profoundly trust God will eventually prompt the commitment necessary to not only transform someone’s life but also the lives of those who have interacted with this Godly inspired person. I can not emphasize this enough….we must trust God in this process.
The better we understand HOW WE LEARN the better we can provide an environment that will lead someone to move beyond understanding to commitment. When a person commits to something they have tangibly testified, “I understand.” They connect with the value of this new information. The individual moves from a personal connection to the new information to saying, “I need to share what I have discovered so others can be touched by it.” For the Christian, it is even more exaggerated because it is associated with the meaning of life and life eternal. For the Christian sharing the meaning of Christ in the daily context of our own life and life of others is what we are called to do. It is where our faith intersects with God. Imagine what is like to awaken to that knowledge!
Remember earlier when I used the example of facilitating the discovery process in a small child? The same can be said here. The powerful awakening of God’s purpose and direction in a person’s life is like no other experience. It foundationally changes the whole meaning of life itself. There is awe in that experience. Don’t cheapen it by telling others, “We need your commitment.” Tell others how God intersects with life…with them…with others in need…with the outcast and disenfranchised. Show others not only the power of the Gospel but the grace and mercy it conveys both within their personal context and beyond what they currently experience.
Have the adult Christian SEE THEMSELVES….beyond themselves….and God will do the rest!
All human beings share something essential to the self-discovery process. Human beings thirst for the meaning of life AND how their personal life experience fits within that broader understanding of the life they are experiencing. THIS IS THE KEY to providing an environment that fosters commitment. We can not FORCE value on another because without a foundationally intimate understanding of the contextual connection of that value the doctrinal imposition will fade and fall away. The evidence of this can be easily seen in the rapid descent of general membership, worship attendance, adult male participation, and 18-25 year olds associated within congregations all across the American Christian landscape.
The branding of the Christian Church has been systematically tarnished. Of this, there is no doubt. The Christian Church must be experienced locally. It must not only call to people, it must intersect with the communities they reside within. It is true that the symbol of The Cross is our standard-bearer. However, the practical interaction of faithful Christians with others in their associated parishes is far more effective for the cause of Christ than anything else we do. Our interactions are prompted by our own commitment to carrying Christ to others. This “carrying of Christ” MUST BE EXPERIENCED in the context of each parish.
When others see the hope of newness, purpose, and the joy in continual transformative discoveries THEY WILL COMMIT!
Now….start looking around every aspect of the local congregation and discover for yourself what is hindering or blocking this environment from being experienced. Peace.