A Less Recognized Component in our Calling is that an Inadequate Response toward our Reasonable Service can Render Us “Unprofitable” to God. What do we say when Organizations WORK to ‘Encourage’ Unprofitability?
There is no higher status in life than to be ‘called of God’. Those who are ‘truly called’ in this age are destined to realize the most priceless experience: having been pre-selected by God the Father for early inclusion in the Family of God. Perhaps even, being ‘chosen’ to be a part of the very Bride of His Son!
Much is said in scripture regarding the unprofitable servant, and is something we must each be attentive to at all times, lest we slip into a state of unproductive lethargy. We have seen too many do that very thing over the years.
But there’s another less considered component in this picture, that of a climate within the Church that generally encourages and even promotes the unprofitable condition among its people.
A Study in Contrasts
An insightful study in contrasts can be made by considering the Mormon Church. Even with its many unusual and distinctively un-orthodox doctrines, yet their growth characteristics and political stability are noteworthy. Much of this can be attributed to the regard they have toward capitalizing upon their member’s talents, especially at the local level.
The Mormon Church employs the approach of utilizing their local people in positions of responsibility. They seem to be continually seeking to identify talented members that can be used in the local areas. As soon as a local stake 1 is established, their people of talent and accomplishment and demonstrated faith, as they define it, are delegated positions of leadership. Theirs is a hierarchical form of government, though patterned more after the Masonic order than the Catholic model. Theirs’ is an approach of finding ways to employ local talent in a way that benefits the local congregation.
They teach their young people for about a decade, from later adolescence and through their late teen years, and then send many of them out on ‘missions’, interfacing with their membership, and especially the general public in widely outlying areas. Their resulting growth rate would be regarded as very encouraging if it was found to be equaled in the Churches of God.
The Church of God, on the other hand, is more oriented toward repression of local talent and responsibility. Personal initiative, should it arise, is at first suspect, and if not easily suppressed, firmer pressure is applied. And if not adequately suppressible, a person with too much zeal, cognizance or initiative is effectively muscled aside. (It’s typically identified as a form of ‘pride’, or at least uninvited ‘ambition’: both dreaded character flaws, despite much the same being abundantly evident in some of their ministerial echelon.) This is very likely one of the reasons the Church of God in the modern era exhibits such ‘little strength’!(Rev.3:8)Many regard the biblical assessment of Philadelphia having little strength as a general complement. It has been noted that there is no negative assessment of this Church as there is with all the others.
In an age of severe persecution, that statement might legitimately be regarded as a mild complement. But we aren’t living in an age of severe repression. Ours is an age with wide open opportunities, open doors like have never been seen in human history. For us to have but a little strength in this present opportunity climate is not a commendation. We shouldn’t regard it as one! The more logical point of Jesus’ assessment being: We should be a lot stronger than we are!
Ever in Learning Mode
Conversely, the Church of God teaches its people for decades. In some cases of late, for even three and four decades, yet wouldn’t consider the audacious act of permitting them to speak before the congregation, nor even such a minor assignment as conducting a local Bible Study, let alone sanctioning them to go out and interface with other groups or to go into the world and in any way preach the Gospel! What does that say of our confidence in our teaching programs? If our thirty and forty year people aren’t yet reliably ‘useable’ in any way, why are they regarded as so under-prepared after all that time? (If in fact they are babes continually!) What does that say of their teachers or their teaching system?
Is it that the teachers are incompetent? Or is it a result of a less excusable condition, that they don’t want and won’t allow the membership to approach that threshold of competence that would intrude into their exclusive domain? It seems at least that the leadership acts that way?
The point here is that one organizational approach is oriented toward positive encouragement of its membership where the other is more repressive of its membership’s talents and initiatives. Why would anyone be surprised at the dramatically different results?
The Great Commission
One of the main facilitators of this particular mindset is the regard for what is called the Great Commission. It has long been recognized that there are two major activities in the Commission as delivered to the Disciples by Christ, recorded in places such as the concluding verses of the book of Matthew. “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
From this, two activities are recognized. They are typically: An outreach to the greater world and actively teaching those who respond. What is usually overlooked, at least in more tightly structured organizations, is a third aspect, not usually promoted. It’s built right into the logic of the sentence as it’s worded! When we see the fully cyclical nature of this instruction, we’re drawn to the conclusion that there is a third component.
Outreaching is one thing, teaching the responders is another, but if it’s left there, if that’s all that’s done, the effort will eventually stall. The formula for real growth is built into the third aspect. And, this is what’s usually overlooked. You see, to fully DO what this Commission requires, (teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you) then they must teach the responders to ‘go into all the world’ themselves! Because, that was one of the primary things He commanded them!
It’s this third aspect that completes the cyclical nature of the instruction. With the third aspect implemented, there’s a formula for regenerative growth! It was never intended that the Disciples reserve this ‘going into all the world’ to just themselves. Those they were teaching should be taught, to the degree that they can be, to do the same. To the degree they’re taught, their proficiency in doing so is impacted. The Apostle Paul took note of a deficiency in the laid-back Corinthian Church, seeing their contentment with being bottle fed week after week, but without attaining the level where they could begin to teach others (the primary action word in the Great Commission besides go!).
1 Corinthians 3:1“AndI,brethren,couldnot speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. 2: I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. And later, writing in Hebrews 5:11-14 “…we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. 12: For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. 13: For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. 14: But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” Not only teaching, but having attained a proficiency level to be able to discern difficult issues on a Spiritual level!
Those Churches which employ the two aspects of the Commission only are bound to a growth pattern of simple addition, if any. Those which recognize and actively employ all three are those which can realize more exponential growth patterns. Why is that so difficult to see?
Not Without Complicity
But, the fault doesn’t lie entirely with Church leadership. The climate within the Church for decades has engendered a response condition that has fostered a whole generation of reticent Christians. The condition Paul encountered in Corinth is still found today. We have too many who are perfectly content with a laid back ‘let the minister do it all’ approach. After all, it requires a lot less personal effort that way. Milk is sufficient diet for these! One needn’t study all that hard, one needn’t prepare himself to face challenges, make appropriate judgments (1 Cor. 6:1-5) or personally deal with meatier issues.
Notice Paul’s assessment of how members ought to be. Those able to handle ‘strong meat’ aren’t those who have been spoon fed for decades to the point they’re ready, but are “… those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” Use factors into the equation. It is the practical involvement of direct and personal exercise of ones’ spiritual faculties that allows the individual to attain ‘full age.’
So, while the ministry is content to have it so, the membership also helps promote a generally non-productive condition.
Doing Ones’ Duty
We members are more than willing to do all we are called upon to do. That’s generally regarded as an adequate response on our part. What we should also allow to factor into our thinking is the response precaution presented in Luke 17:10. “So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.” What this leads us to consider is that just doing ones’ duty of and by itself is not exactly what God wants of his elect. We are called upon to put more into our calling than just the minimum. (And not all are even up to that level!). God expects personal initiative be added into our response to His calling and talent investment in us. Finding ways where we can make a difference, finding how we can make a positive contribution into the situations we find ourselves in is the commendable state.
What employer would want to continue employing people whose contributions to the company only brought a return level equal to their salary?
Similarly, if the net product of our calling is no greater than the spiritual input meted out to us, are we better than the servant who wrapped his God- given talent in a napkin to be presented back at the end without it having brought any increase? If we are to take that parable to heart, we see there clearly is an expectation of personal increase on our part. If it were all God’s doing, then why would He, how could He, justifiably fault any servant for non-productivity?
“For the kingdom of heaven is as a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.…Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant,…Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury… And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mt. 25:14-30)
There are many factors that can be used to excuse a lack of personal responsiveness. They start within each of us. But, it’s especially inappropriate when we allow others to persuade us into exhibiting the unprofitable condition.
171 Their term for an administrative base of local congregations, not dissimilar to a diocese in other religious organizations.