In recent years, a frequently requested subject for topical Bible messages is on commitment: how to get people involved? Many people, even Christians, are basically lazy, and would rather just let someone else do it. The “laity / spectator” mentality of some churches tends to aggravate the situation. Should elders actively address this problem, or should they just wait until the Lord provides the necessary leading and incentive to get things moving? Enter the good word “Initiative.”
One dictionary defines initiative as “the power or right to take the first step.” I found the third definition especially interesting: “The spirit needed to originate action.” The word “spirit” was not capitalized, but does suggest there is a spiritual side to taking a first step in a worthy endeavor.
Some time ago in an Elders ShopNotes article (July, 2005), we considered the word “accountability.” In simple terms, initiative has to do with getting something started, and accountability has to do with keeping it going. Both are important words for leaders.
Checking the Record
One cannot study the life of the Lord Jesus without seeing that He was a man of action throughout the years of His ministry. To accomplish His Father’s will, He constantly took initiative and ultimately changed the world. At age 12, it was time to be about His Father’s business (Luke 2:49); at the Jordan, no one asked Him if He would like to be baptized; He came to John and requested it (Matt. 3:13). Over the next three years, He called and trained the disciples, sought out and helped many needy people, and spoke the words He received from His Father. Always He moved according to a plan. Even in death He could say of His life: “No man takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself” (Luke 10:18). Jesus didn’t just wait for things to happen; he took steps to actively accomplish the will of His Father.
The apostles followed this example. They had received a commission that began with the word “Go,” and they went. Several passages record the initiative they took to solve problems that could stifle the health and growth of the church; (see Acts 6, 15 as examples).
Action Still Needed
Long years later, the church still has a clear mandate for action from the Lord. His message is to be taken into all the world; disciples are to be made, baptized, and taught (Matt. 28:18-20). Elders must feed and care for the flock (Acts 20:28), and gifted men are to equip the saints for service (Eph. 4:11- 12). Now all these instructions are addressed to the will of those who are taught in the Word, and cannot bear fruit until someone takes the initiative and “originates action.” Sometimes, creative methods which embody timeless principles can change stagnation to renewed zeal.
Taking the Initiative at Home
I would like to give an example from our own experience in the work here. Not that any of us excels in initiative, but a practical illustration may bring encouragement to some.
Our home assembly had experienced growth and blessing in the early years, but inevitably, problems arose that took a great deal of time for the elders to resolve. True, things did get resolved, but the result was that feeling, well known to leaders; a mixture of fatigue and gloom. How to get growing again when so much energy was being spent fighting small fires? The devil could ignite them faster than we could put them out!
As we prayed and discussed this, we realized that it is the responsibility of elders to identify needs and problems, and then take the initiative to solve them. Ultimately the Lord presides but He has given us all resources required to do the work; we just needed to act.
Gradually a plan was laid out. We could ask each of our five elders to oversee one significant part of our assembly life. He would not “do it all;” just make certain that his area of special concern received adequate time and attention in the elders’ meetings, and he could serve as a contact person for the congregation in his particular specialty. The five areas we chose were: ministry of the Word, pastoral care, hospitality, music in the assembly, and small groups.
At this writing, details are still being fine tuned but the overall picture is very encouraging, both for the elders and for the church. With these positive areas to focus on, there is simply not time for much of the negative. Trials still arise, and must be dealt with, but the idea is to devote quality time to the things that will benefit all those in fellowship; not just the few that disrupt.
We are finding for example, that visits by the elders to families in fellowship can be more strategic when suggestions about who might benefit from a visit are gathered from the small group leaders and passed on to the elder giving shepherd care to that ministry. The preaching of the Word and music on Sunday are enhanced by helpful insights gained among those who extend hospitality to visiting speakers, and so on.
Finally, it is becoming evident that the believers are more confident to take initiative to meet needs, participate in the meetings, serve in the assembly and reach out to the lost when the elders are setting a good example. If the OT priests took no initiative in the plan that God gave for crossing the Jordan into the promised land, they might never have crossed the river. Like them, we want to dip our feet in the water and trust the Lord to roll back the waters in response to our steps of faith. It’s rewarding to see the assembly growing again!