At the recent Diocese of BC Clergy Conference Janet Marshall spent some time describing the current realities in which churches must now do ministry. She suggested that we need to realize that we are coming to the end of the time when “duty” could be used as an effective motivator for church involvement.

Marshall said:

We are losing the duty generation (everybody over 60 and 65) – we are going to lose the generations that have been motivated by duty. We rely right now on the duty generation.

I do not know how much “duty” was the driving force behind my generation’s commitment to the institutions we have supported for the past fifty years. But, I do know that “do your duty” was a familiar mantra of my childhood. It was held to be one of those self-evident maxims about which there could be no question. It was simply understood to be a fundamental reality of the orderly operation of the universe that good people would “do their duty.”

If someone did not “do their duty,” they were described as irresponsible and lazy, two adjectives by which no self-respecting individual would ever want to risk being identified.

The word “duty” came into the English language from the late 13c. Anglo-French duete which came from the Old French deu “due, owed; proper, just.” It shares a root with “debt.” So to do our duty is to repay a debt, to return that which is owed.

Obviously being responsible and showing up to fulfill one’s obligations are necessary for any human relationship to function effectively. But, as a vision for the church, “repaying a debt” or “returning that which is owed” hardly fulfills Paul’s robust vision of people who give generously out of joyful hearts.

Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)

The ministry and service called for in the New Testament are not repayment to settle an outstanding debt. The church must not depend upon a sense of something being owed to motivate ministry. Love is the Christian motivation for ministry:

Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.(I Peter 4:8-10)

We serve in response to our awareness of having been blessed by God’s “manifold grace”. We give because we know we have received. We act from an awareness of blessing. We understand that life is a flow of receiving and giving. We choose freely to enter that flow.

The foundation of the gospel and of Christian life is freedom.

It is

For freedom Christ has set us free. (Galatians 5:1)

Duty, obligation, and pressure are not freedom. They derive from that sense of burden from which Jesus came to “set us free.”

In the church we need to trust the Holy Spirit to provide all that is necessary for our community. We need to resist the temptation to resort to the blunt instruments of shame, manipulation, guilt, and pressure to bludgeon people into involvement or giving. The church builds with the materials that its members feel deeply and genuinely moved to offer. We only want people to give from an open heart and hearts only open when surrounded by gentleness and freedom.