If I have ever said it, I beg forgiveness of those who have struggled under the burden of guilt my words inevitably carried. I know this blunt instrument has been used to bludgeon people into involvement in endless little pet projects. The awful truth is that it can be effective. It helps to get the job done.
It comes in many forms. Perhaps the most common articulation of this abuse is the poisonous statement that, “The problem around here is a lack of commitment.” Or you may hear it expressed as, “If only people were a little more committed…” In one of its most vicious manifestations, it feigns gratitude stating, “I am so thankful for the few people around here who are really committed.” In a more subtle form it finds expression in the claim that, “The state of this organization is the responsibility of every member of this organization.”
In whatever way it is expressed, the underlying message is always the same. There are things that need doing and “you” are not pulling your weight in getting the job done. The speaker has certain expectations that are not being met and is hoping to solicit increased involvement in the active life of the organization by appealing to the human inclination towards responsibility and commitment.
This language is most commonly found in volunteer organizations which depend upon freely given people hours and financial resources, to fulfill the group’s mandate.
There is a particular problem for the church in this use of “commitment” to badger people into greater involvement. It defeats the first purpose for which the church exists.
If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. (John 8:31,32)
The church exists to participate in the work of enabling people to discover that freedom for which “Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1)
When “commitment” and “responsibility” are used to pressure people into an action or a generosity they do not feel genuinely motivated to offer, they are being enslaved rather than set free.
Churches need to cut their coat to fit their cloth. If the available resources freely given will only support an organization of a particular size and level of activity, we need to be content with the defining parameters of those resources. In the end, a church that is characterized by contentment is far more likely to enable people to share their gifts than one that constantly calls for greater commitment and more responsibility.
The problem for the church is that there are certain things that just need to get done. But, how many things actually need to get done? What are the irreducible minimum number of functions that, if not fulfilled, the church will cease to function as a church.
It is odd that we seem to think that the church will be seriously threatened if the fence does not get repaired. But we seldom worry if the church fails to demonstrate
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22,23)
The English noun “commitment” does not appear in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, The NIV Complete Concordance, or in The Concise Concordance to the NRSV. As we use the word “commitment” it is not a biblical concept. Jesus did not demand commitment of his disciples. He invited them to “Come and see” where he was living (John 1:39). He called them into a living relationship.
The problem with so much “commitment” and “responsibility” talk is that it does not emerge out of a living relationship. Those who demand “commitment” and “responsibility” of others, often have little awareness of the life circumstances of those they are attempting to pressure to greater involvement. I do not know the pressures and demands that are placed upon your life. I do not know what are the healthy parameters of your level of involvement.
We are all at different places in our lives. For some people getting out of bed and sharing once a month in public worship, may be a demonstration of total commitment.
The English word “responsible” shares the same root as the word “responsive”. I am only truly responsible when my actions are responsive to the deepest inner promptings of God’s Spirit. I am responsible when I recognize that
where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Corinthians 3:17)
The only commitment required of anyone, is the commitment to open and respond to this Spirit.