Yes, I like coffee. Sumatra Mandelung, Mexican Altura, and Starbuck’s Gold Coast are my favorites, but I’ll drink cheap coffee at the diner, too. I drink coffee every day, most of the day long. I take the same aluminum coffee travel mug with me to work, to meetings, on business trips. So it’s natural that a particular pastor thought my energy was from all the coffee. But the coffee wasn’t the reason for my activity. I was working directly for Jesus, and considered it a divine assignment to rescue a struggling church. Passion drove me to help them be a local community congregation of authentic believers ministering to the couple of thousand people living within “walking” distance.
Passion drove the early apostles. Peter was by nature impulsive, but under the control of the Spirt, he had a drive that made him fearless – even in prison. Same for Paul, who went from top academic scholar to radical outcast because of his single-minded focus. In the end, his life was spent moving around, in and out of prison, and was finally killed for his faith. And for what? For his Savior!
There is a missionary family sent out from the church I attend, to work “under cover” in an unnamed Muslim nation, where there are probably less than a handful indigenous Christians. In a conversation with the missions pastor once, he asked “Is it worth it?” He was subjecting his wife and kids to heat and deprivation with so very few results, and wanted assurance that his passion was focused well. The pastor assured him with what the rest of us knew, that we are in awe of his dedication and focus, encouraged by his single-minded passion for the Gospel. Our faith is deepened by hearing how he perseveres under God’s protection.

You will see much the same in the pages of the book Jesus Freaks. That book is a collection of vignettes of people who have forfeited their lives for their faith. The family who encouraged each other to die faithfully. The girl at Columbine High School who faced down a shotgun and affirmed her faith right before she died.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[i]<!–[endif]–>

Most of us don’t make those kinds of choices. Our choices are what to have for supper, or where to go on vacation, or what to watch on television. We aren’t usually faced with the choices given to Jim Elliot and the missionary team taking the Gospel to the Anakana Indians.  He said that “a man is no fool to give up what he cannot keep (his life) in exchange for what he cannot lose (eternal life with God). It was his paraphrase of Jesus’s “he who saves his life will lose it.”

Ken Hemphill says the common characteristic of influential leaders during the turbulent ’70s and ’80s that drove missions activity was their passion. But for too many of us, that kind of passion is only a distant memory. The worries of the day wear at us. Too many pastors entered ministry to win the world, but quickly found that answering daily mail, keeping in touch with fragile parishioners, and trying to keep each week’s sermon fresh.
It’s easy to get worn out. I tried working in a church part time while working a full-time job. The church started to regain some life just as I hit a busy season at the job. Out-of-town business trips began to be the closest I had to a vacation. By then end of the summer, I was physically exhausted, and had to quit the 20-hour church job to even hope to survive the 60-hour weeks at work. Staying on track is hard when you can’t seem to find time to recharge. It’s often harder for the lay people in your church. Those on the edges are often living on that ragged edge of existence.
Restoration begins when you find the purpose and regain the passion. Dean Kelly examined American churches in the 1970s and concluded that it is the spending of our lives in the pursuit of something greater than ourselves that energizes the soul and gives meaning to our existence. He says that “the power generated by that intense commitment of human life in voluntary devotion to a cause is, in the long run, the greatest power on earth.”
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Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life reminds us that life is not about living the “good life” and retiring early, but rather to spend your life using your time to bring as many to salvation as possible.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[iv]<!–[endif]–> It’s what John Baldoni calls living the “engaged life.” He notes that in the modern workplace, many are “workplace zombies,” working in an environment that has sucked away any initiative or spirit for work they might have.” The solution, he has found, is help the people “know they are making a positive difference.” When people know without doubting that what they are doing is essential for the accomplishment of the mission, they usually get passionate about it.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[v]<!–[endif]–>

Dan had gotten his feelings hurt and had left church for a while. He decided that was silly and began attending, sitting on the back row so he could come in quietly and leave quickly. That is, until a need was communicated to his wife Nancy that she was well equipped to fill. And they became regulars. Another need arose that Dan thought he could do, and he did it. And then another. A few weeks later, I stopped him to tell him what an awesome job he had done (he had exceeded the standard in stripping the old wax off the tile floor and rewaxing the whole fellowship hall). He seemed surprised that I would notice, but found another job to do. Again I communicated my thanks about how essential his service was, that the church would not be the same without his work there. He brightened, and humbly accepted my compliment. A year later, the church is still small, still struggling, but Dan is still giving beyond the ordinary. He has found his passion, and it drives him with an internal force.

Giving people permission to express their gifts and talents “makes life more exciting for them and creates more energy” in the organization.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[vi]<!–[endif]–> In my own experience, when I have been given a job that matches my spiritual giftedness, the hours spent pass almost effortlessly. When I was first assigned as a jail chaplain, it was such a grace gift from God that although I was walking with a cane from a hurt back, I almost didn’t feel the injury and moved easily in the power of the Spirit to minister to those men. It was if I was released from drab existence. I became “engaged” in the work.

Passion is the fuel of a living church. In the Revelation letter to Laodicea, it wasn’t the lack of knowledge, or funding, or the wrong music style or even a small congregation that earned them such long-lasting rebuke. It was their lack of passion. Without that clear understanding of why they were gathered as a congregation of believers, they were doing more harm than good, and deserved the rebuke given them.

If a failing church is to recover its purpose and return to spiritual health, the first task is for those who are willing to live the purpose-filled passionate life. In Good to Great, Jim Collins has informed us that the difference between a failing organization or even a merely good one, and a great organization is its single-minded focus on doing what it is best at doing and not worrying so much about everything else.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[vii]<!–[endif]–> Knowing the organizational focus will allow you to zero in on those tasks and leave the rest for someone else to do.

It is not the mission of the church to be a 12-step recovery program, even though lives will be turned around in the functioning church. It is not the mission of the church to feed and clothe the poor, although the poor will be fed and clothed by an active congregation. It is not the mission of the church to create social policy changes, but social policies will change by the actions of passionate Christians. It is not even the mission of the church to help people live good lives, although the maturing members of a healthy church will be satisfied with the quality of their lives. Because they will be doing things that matter, things that make a difference, things that energize them and feed their passion.

Passion is built on personal connections. Passion is reinforced by the telling and retelling of the stories of those connections. That’s why Testimony time is so important. It forces the teller to remember why they chose this path. Like an old married couple retelling the happy stories of their courtship and marriage. And it encourages the listener to connect at an emotional level. Not just to hear the words of another’s passion, but also to experience that moment vicariously. Public baptisms are that kind of vicarious participation, reaffirming the commitment of the faith. The action of seeing the results of the church’s evangelistic activity will evoke a memory of our own baptism, causing us to add that person to our community by the shared experience. And it will in some stir the passion to move the organization forward with more membership by their own actions.

Passion is not enough by itself to drive the church forward, but without that passion, the failing church will not recover. I would not say you have to wait until everyone is passionate about the outcome. Some are content to remain in the small, struggling church, constantly living one Sunday from failure. But if the leader can find a handful who can catch a vision to look beyond themselves, to find the passion, that will be enough. When the angel of the Lord stopped in to see Abraham in Genesis 19, Abraham asked that Sodom and Gomorrah be spared if even a handful could be found with a sincere passion for the life of faith. The same will happen in the struggling church, if the people are given the freedom to act according to the passion.

The following chapters will touch on specific activities that are needed in this process. Using these ideas, empowered by the Spirit of God and energized by the passion of the willing, I am confident the struggling church can be saved.

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<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[i]<!–[endif]–> dc talk and The Voice of the Martyrs. Jesus Freaks (Tulsa, OK: Albury Publishers, 1999)

<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[ii]<!–[endif]–> Promotional email from SBC International Missions Board, Wed, 29 Mar 2006, 17:58:48

<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[iv]<!–[endif]–> Piper, John. Don’t Waste Your Life (Whealton, IL: Crossways Books, 2003)

<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[vi]<!–[endif]–> Collins, Jim <!–[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 <![endif]–>Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t. (NY: Collins Business, 2001)

copyright 2008, Harwin House Publishing, Hampton, VA  All Rights Reserved

 

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