Church leaders exhort people, but is it enough to overcome "the loser syndrome" that many Christians feel? Leadership Journal correspondent Greg Taylor caught up with World Vision president Richard Stearns to talk about passivity, commitment, and the relationship between discipleship and evangelism.
In your new book Unfinished (Thomas Nelson) you write about the "loser syndrome." What do you mean by that?
People say, "Well, I'm not smart enough, or spiritual enough, or skilled enough to make a difference in the world. So I'm just going to try to lead a good life, go to work every day, retire, and play golf. And I'm saved, so I'll go to heaven when I die." There's also a tendency for people also think, I can just leave it to professionals. My pastor will do it, not me.
We really need to help people in the pews understand that believing is only the beginning. Unless they build their entire life on this foundation of the Christian faith, they will always live a compartmentalized life, and will not be effective.
God doesn't want to use people who aren't committed. God invites us but we have to RSVP. We have to say to Jesus, "Here are all the things I have in my life: my money, my house, my career, my skills, and we have to lay them down and ask him to use us. Many Christians have not taken that step. They've not gone all in with their Christian faith.
A lot people say, "I want to do something like you're doing, I want to make a difference for God!" Often I have to answer, "Why would God use you for a significant assignment if you haven't even committed to the simplest things? You haven't committed to tithing, to obedience, you haven't committed to reading the Scripture. If you are faithful in the small things you'll keep getting bigger opportunities to serve.
How have church leaders contributed to this passivity?
One of the traps leaders fall is valuing belief above behavior. Pastors often talk about doctrine and not as much about behavior and how doctrine informs behavior.
We also tend to place explanation above exhortation. So we explain Scripture quite eloquently and thoroughly. We have our scholarly approaches to the Greek and the Hebrew but we leave the exhortation piece out. We need to apply the Word to change lives. We should set high expectation for following Christ.
I hear few sermons that exhort me to leave the church and be a different person. Another trap church leaders fall into: building an institution instead of a leading a revolution. If we are all about institution-building, we are in the wrong business. God called us to lead a revolution. Institutions can serve to advance the revolution, but it's got to be clear that the goal is the gospel revolution and not just building a bigger and bigger church that's more comfortable for people that go there.
Does every disciple have to become an evangelist?
The body has many different parts and functions in the body and we have such a narrow definition of evangelism. I call it "Bingo Card Evangelism"—people check the box on the card that says "I made a commitment for Christ today." If they do that, we feel like we've done our job, that somebody heard the message and checked the box.
I have a much bigger view of evangelism. The key player in evangelism is the Holy Spirit. We don't convince people to become Christians; ideally we live lives in front of people in such a compelling way that it causes them to want what we have, want to know more about what makes us different. That's when they start to seek, and when they seek the truth, the Holy Spirit leads people to the Lord. So it's not even up to us, really. We need to go live among people in the four corners of the world. We should show them a different way to live, show them lives of integrity, honesty, diligence, and forgiveness.