What Does Total Commitment Look Like?

The idea of total commitment is not new, and it goes back farther than those infamous 30 'would be' back in 1979. Right after delivering the 10 commandments to Israel (Deuteronomy 5), Moses said this to the people:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
God expected all of them. The things of God were to permeate their lives. This is the same passage that Jesus quoted in Matthew 22 saying everything else hinges on this command and the command to love each other.

God expects nothing less than everything we have. Total Commitment. One of the things the ICOC attempted to do was to legislate and regulate that commitment. We tried to define what total commitment looked like in terms of how much you read your Bible, how often you shared your faith, how much you prayed, how much money you gave, etc. We tried to do what God had, at least in the New Testament, not done - quantify commitment.

Few would argue that there's a commitment problem in the broad expanse of mainstream Christianity. It only takes a cursory look at the lives of many who claim the name 'Christian' to see that the things of God are not the guiding force in their lives that Deuteronomy 6, Matthew 22 and other passages teach us that they should be. But there's little we can do as individuals to change the whole of 'Christianity'.

On the other end of that spectrum, in terms of one on one relationships, we can at times see in our close friends things in their lives that don't reflect their professed commitment. In these close relationships there is much we can do to help each other along. We know each other well, we respect each other and we have the foundation for these kind of challenging conversations. Not only are they possible, they are necessary. If we fail to initiate them, we are not acting in love.

But in between, at the level of the individual church or small group within a church, how does this total commitment manifest itself? Churches have their own culture and personality. They can be healthy or not, they can be sinful or righteous, they can be committed or not. It's the sum of the actions of individuals that creates this corporate personality, but that personality also influences the actions of the individual. It is truly a body of its own, made up of many individual parts, but with its own personality. The heart and actions of the individual and of the church are intertwined, each relies on and influences the other.

So how does a church or small group define what total commitment looks like in that context? In other words, what does a church that's living the commitment Jesus called us to look like? We've all been to churches where we didn't see the commitment. There are many signs that make us wonder and the more that are present the more we wonder. Low attendance, lack of zeal, struggling financially, lack of growth, little fellowship.

Before my recovering ICOC friends scramble for their heart medication and inhalers, I'm not going all old school on you. It's a real question, though, how does a church practically live out and maintain the commitment to Christ that we are called to? What does growth, evangelism, zeal, giving, attendance, etc. look like within a group of the committed and, more importantly, what does a church leadership do if it feels that there's a problem in one or more of these areas?

I am really interested in your thoughts on this. You might have guessed that this is something we are wrestling with here in Columbus. We do know what we should not do, that is go back to regularly checking every one's calendars and checkbooks and making sure folks have evangelistic goals to make sure they are committed. Not that our calendars and checkbooks are off limits or evangelistic goals are never appropriate, however, it's just that sort of constant monitoring for compliance is short sighted at best, producing temporary results while leaving the struggling behind. We want to take the long view. What does this family of God believe on such matters? Families have principles they stand and live by that define who they are, but they may be different for another family. In the same way, what are the Columbus Church of Christ principles that define us? Others may not follow them, but this is who we are and what we are about.

I think it can create a powerful sense of community and unity to have such things. But how does a church develop them without them going from principals that unify to rules that divide?

I welcome your thoughts.

15 Comments

I'll risk looking like a hijacker and say this:

  1. Nothing less than Total Commitment is acceptable to God.
  2. NOBODY IS TOTALLY COMMITTED.
If there is one thing our movement (and I mean CoC's, Christian Churches, ICOC's, all of us) has screwed up, it is our deep, abiding fear of what Bonhoeffer called "Cheap Grace".

The problem with this obsession is that you can practically count the times the NT writers addressed it on one hand (e.g.: Jude 4). Pretty much the rest of it (ok, so I'm exaggerating) is addressing folks just like us, obsessed with performance.

Until we realize just how high the stinking bar is and that all of us look more like limbo players than high jumpers, we'll just go on comparing ourselves and seeing who's Totally Committed Enough.

I'm NOT saying it's not a problem. I AM saying obsessing over it seems to be completely missing the point of the cross.

Heh - ya hit one o' my buttons there! :)

That's all well and good, Mark - and I agree with you - but that doesn't answer the question, does it? I guess your comment really points out why this is hard. We have a history of focusing, laser like, and making sure we are doing enough to be acceptable to God. We can't, but that does not make it a free for all.

For example, if a church of 1,000 middle class American folk have a weekly contribution of $100, that's an obvious problem, right? So, what does a Church do about it? How do we respond? How do we live out our flawed commetment without blowing God off?

What I'm talking about is when the flaws in our commitment start to impede the work of God in his church, how should a church respond?

In a way, I think it does answer the question by saying, in an obtuse way, that it may be the wrong question. I see it as similar to a person with Anorexia asking for weight loss suggestions. Really.

Your example is actually a good one for me to see because we give way less as a percent of our income to our local church than we did at one time, even though we agree with the things the money goes for (mostly salaries and rent).

If one weren't a good enough friend to ask, one would never know that we are still highly committed. I won't enumerate here (lest I fall into the same trap), but we now do and give enough (not always to our local congregation, though) that we may be arguably more committed than before.

Another example: recently two friends here wrote an article for our bulletin, the gist of which was "Not Saved By Works, But". Being a friend, I wanted to whack them upside the head with a stick and yell, "Stop with the buts already!" Our inability to teach about grace without throwing those "buts" in there shows just how far off we are.

But, just so you know I actually read and appreciate your article, here's where I think the apparent lack of commitment comes from: many folks were doing all of this stuff somewhat out of fear of being rebuked for not doing it. We removed the Negative Reinforcement when we repented of that. But deep inside these folks, they had made a decision to follow Jesus and live lives that show gratitude for the Cross. Somehow, we have to figure out how to dig that back out of them. That is the question I wrestle with as I try to live as a disciple and help my friends do the same.

I have to ask the question "why ask the question?" Most of the time, (at least in my experience) that question is raised to separate, divide, make one feel better about oneself as you say we do things more.

Like Mark points out, (I think), once your saved by grace you continue in that saved relationship unless you continually deliberately sin against God and fall from that grace. So what else is there? You can get into a lot of stuff that really doesn't matter to God. Now He cares about the heart and some of those things may help someone's heart be closer to Him or may help someone else keep tabs on their heart better but a lot of times those things hurt in themselves. And, once you start down that path you do Romans 2. You start judging others and are judged yourself by the same things. And, you will always be able to find someone else more commited than you unless you keep changing the criteria.

So, why ask the question? What's the real issue? Not enough money in the coffers? Slow growth? People feeling lost without being told what to do? I don't know what it is but hacking at commitment level will not solve the problem. I do believe that when people are happy they give, they share, they stay. And, people feel happy when they feel loved. People feel loved when they feel forgiven, listened too, empowered and protected,(not a complete list I'm sure). God does all those things very well. So we can help people see that in God but they also need to see it in us. We all need father figures to show us the Father.

Forgive my complete ignorance of ICOC culture, but isn't commitment motivated by love and gratitude for what Christ has done for us - not out of some legislation or compulsion by a church, even our own beloved home church?

The fact is, my home church is going through this very same angst. Attendance is steady to up, but giving is down. Participation in church programs is down. Some programs may have to be trimmed. Our congregants seem to have a consumer mentality toward church; they want more but don't seem to want to give more. What can we do? What can we do?

The answer has to come in the individual heart. Be grateful. Be loving. Be Christ in this world. Not because you have to, or because there's a deficit at church. But because you can't take your eyes off the cross, and because you just can't help yourself.

Wow, thanks everyone, there's a lot of good stuff in here. Let me respond:

Mark - You know, when I wrote my first response to you, I wondered about the example I used. You are right, you cannot tell 'commitment' by such a simple check as how much money is being thrown in the plate. We too have actually cut our giving to the church while giving as much or more overall. We just found that there were more needs that we could help meet that way.

Now, if everyone is doing that and it begins to hurt the church's ability to keep the staff needed or have a place to meet or whatever, then there needs to be a dialog about that. Let the congregation know and trust that they will respond. If they do not, let the chips fall where they do.

Oh, and I am completely with you when you said "deep inside these folks, they had made a decision to follow Jesus and live lives that show gratitude for the Cross. Somehow, we have to figure out how to dig that back out of them". In the months following the HKL, and the lack of accountability, I had to face the fact that what I became was what I really was all along. It was fear of men and the desire to please men that made me 'behave', not God.

BEG - I love how you have always pointing me back to asking why. In this case there is a specific reason it was brought up and some other reasons, but I think going into them will only cloud the issue. The point I'm beginning to see is that if there are problems, we need to deal with those problems. Falling back on some broad 'commitment' thing isn't the right path. Deal with the specific issue with love and respect rather than broadly challenging one's 'commitment'.

Keith - You're forgiven - and perhaps better off - for not having the insight into the ICOC that the rest of us do. :-)

While I agree with you on some level that the response of 'complete commitment' is an individual one, there is a community component. The church leadership, the congregation as a whole and the small groups within should have a dynamic that serves to correct course as these things occur. Individuals will respond and move the church on, but that response will be profoundly shaped by the community in the church. Its a give and take. The challenge is how to foster and influence a change in behavior corporately without the heavy handed accountability that characterized the ICOC of old.

Thanks folks, keep the insight coming.

I was a little agressive in my response and should have been more sensitive, I'm sorry. It's a good article.

One thought I had last night is think of your specific problem and think about what you would do with your child if they were having the same problem. You'd probably come up with a solution that would last versus commitment thingys. For example, if you child doesn't want to be around the family, eats and runs (doesn't fellowship). You could make a rule that you need to be committed to staying 30 minutes before dinner and 2 hours after dinner with the family. Then curfews, etc. That would work for awhile, (probably), and may even show the child what their missing. But, most likely it will just make them not like being there more because the reason they didn't want to be there in the first place wasn't fixed. So after the committment requirement breaks, (a certain age or just don't keep it up), then they take off and someday may for good. Or you could say the problem in your mind is that they don't like to stick around. So you have a conversation about it and once you get past the I'm busy, I have homework, etc. then you get to the real issue. Dad whenever I talk about me you don't listen you just tell me what to do.

Of course it's just a story but the point is people need father figures not detention officers.

What Laura and I have decided is to just start having folks in our home again for meals, friendship, and communion (if they're not freaked out by the concept of communion outside of Sunday Worship). We are under no delusions that we can "fix" a congregation or that ours needs "fixing" any more than any other congregation. We do believe that folks need friends, just like we need friends.

We had started doing this when we moved back here last year, but had stopped for no good reason. Along with the friendship factor above, I also really believe in the "table" concepts talked about in Reese' "Body Broken" and Hicks' "Come to the Table".

I like the question a lot. I think if it is something you were wondering about, you should ask, just as you did. (Hey. It's your site, right?)

I am wondering if we are confusing commitment with devotion. The Scriptures are riddled with "make every effort" passages. And that could easily be translated to a commitment (or a "doing something") mindset. But isn't the making of every effort supposed to be based on a devotion to God and one another? I think one of the hardest things to do is to walk the balance between judging someone's outside actions with their inner devotion. First of all, we get a little queezy(sp?) about passing judgments about one another. And second of all, we are often unable to tell from the outside what is on the inside of one person.

HOWEVER...

I do believe there is a difference when it comes to a group or congregation, as Doug is suggesting. There is a much clearer picture of the overall spiritual health and devotion when viewing a group. We can quite easily be wrong about an individual. But we can be a lot more certain when looking at a group.

As tothe actual question:
"What does total commitment look like"?

I dunno. But I'll know it when I see it.

Well, in 2 Chron 15:13 we learn that Asa (king of Judah) put to death all who would not follow the LORD. Maybe that is what a totally committed group looks like! Ok that's old testament...

It is the job of church leadership (evangelists, pastors, teachers... Eph 4) to prepare the people for works of service. To do that, they must preach the Word in season and out. The scriptures must be taught with great conviction and with an expectation that people will follow. The people need to be informed, motivated, commanded, warned, and led. The balance between those is important and often missed on one end or the other.

Where that can go astray, of course, is if the opinions and theories of men are taught in the same way as the word of God. Paul told Timothy to command and teach "these things". He wasn't free to make stuff up.

Anyway, that's not rocket scienece but hopfully prompts some constructive ideas.

Alan

Well, in 2 Chron 15:13 we learn that Asa (king of Judah) put to death all who would not follow the LORD. Maybe that is what a totally committed group looks like! Ok that's old testament...

It is the job of church leadership (evangelists, pastors, teachers... Eph 4) to prepare the people for works of service. To do that, they must preach the Word in season and out. The scriptures must be taught with great conviction and with an expectation that people will follow. The people need to be informed, motivated, commanded, warned, and led. The balance between those is important and often missed on one end or the other.

Where that can go astray, of course, is if the opinions and theories of men are taught in the same way as the word of God. Paul told Timothy to command and teach "these things". He wasn't free to make stuff up.

Anyway, that's not rocket science but hopefully prompts some constructive ideas.

Alan

Commitment? Sharing goals? Zeal? How to "help" the fellowship? Who exactly are you (figuratively speaking) to be the one to change the church. We can't change people. You can't properly manipulate people (even with good intentions and proper motives and techniques) into "performing" for God. What you are asking is "How can we make people do what we think God wants?" Don't loose perspective on the scripture that you quoted. People will give according to what they feel they've been forgiven. Teach the cross over and over and over again. Each Sunday, don't teach on how to rescue your heart, or serve, or whatever. Get straight to the point each and every Sunday. Giving to God doesn't always mean giving to the church either. The examples of giving in the New Testament are not tithing or any such Old Testament concept (which only applied to grains and such anyway), no, we need to give to the poor. Also, Paul says that we shouldn't muzzle the ox, meaning that preachers should get something for preaching, no doubt. However, if your fellowship doesn't support a full time person, then find somebody who will preach and work for a paycheck (not that preaching isn't work, I meant getting a secular job). Be careful with this stuff, so the full time people don't discreetly work to manipulate people in order to keep their job (yes, believe it or not, "men" do do things like that.) and lose their pure motives (check defensiveness on this! I've seen this happen in the ICOC many times, although I understand that things have been changing greatly.)

How do you define commitment? Why, what does it matter? You are going after fruit, and trying to change somebody's hearts on "their behalf". That is between them and God. I am quite aware of the one another scriptures, but I also understand that we have enough to worry about in our own lives, much less trying to take on only what God can do ( I know this is going to the opposite end of the scope and a little extreme, but I'm trying to make a point). My brother, Preach, preach, and preach the cross some more. The cross IS grace, the cross IS mercy, the cross IS love, preach those things.

What your fellowship is probably lacking, most of all is faith. Faith comes from hearing the word. It also sounds like you are lacking some maturity. Maturity can only come when we are exercising faith. When the leadership (and House Church Leader is NOT a biblical roll in leadership) is trying to "grow" the fellowship, instead of the fellowship growing because of their own struggles and triumphs, then you will get an artificial performance oriented group, lacking in TRUE faith and love.

Your job as an individual brother is to show the other brothers and sisters mercy. Your preacher's job is to preach the gospel, and the deacons' job is to serve the fellowship (KK, Money's, the sick, and so forth).

The big fear is to be lukewarm! Let's look at the lukewarm scripture:

15"'I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'"

The cause for this "Luke warmness" is materialism. A lack of giving is usually a love of money in others hearts, and that is a lack of faith. Jesus gives the answer in this scripture as what to do. From my best understanding, buying gold refined by fire can only come by working through the hard times and investing in the gospel. He says, "so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourselves…" Sounds like the fruit of the spirit.

Although we know evangelism is the heart of Jesus, look at the only example of fruit in the epistles:

22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
If you want commitment, search for these things in your fellowship! THEN you will know you have a healthy fellowship. Also, encouraging people to back off of too much TV would also help. TV force feeds mental and spiritual materialism down our throats.
I just reread this, it sounds a little gruff and combative. I really don't mean to come across so ruff. I think that sometimes I just get a little direct in what I am thinking. My apologies if I offend…

Just as a side note, P. Allen, Paul uses the "ox" quote to defend paying both preachers and elders who earn it ... and confesses that he, as a minister, has turned it down. Wow! I haven't seen any church pay their elders, only to have the preacher work part-time at something else and refuse pay for preaching. It may happen, but I'll bet it's rare!

"Paul uses the "ox" quote to defend paying both preachers and elders who earn it ... and confesses that he, as a minister, has turned it down"

You're right, I should have been clearer. I guess my thinking is that just because somebody isn't doing something, doesn't mean its right. I DO think that a minister or elder should be paid, but, there are congregations here in Appalachia that are so small that their preachers work full time jobs and still do a full time job as the preacher, meaning that the fellowship is so poor that they can't afford a full time person. And, as in my small town congregation, our elders don't get paid. We have some terrific, wise, merciful elders who do a good job, but they refuse pay so our minister and youth minister can focus 100% on what they are doing. But I really didn't want to focus so much on that, as to my sincere caring for Doug's fellowship (my previous fellowship) and what dreams I have for them to fulfill their greatest potential as a group, and my heart aches to hear that things seem a little down. I know many of those brothers and sisters, and can only hope for greatness in the fruits of the Spirit and in their love for each other. There tends to be a core group in Doug's fellowship, and there are many who are hurt and have much baggage that are on the fringes of a fantastic life in Christ, for their TRUE Christian calling, expressing love. When they want to be, they are powerful and sure, but discouragement can be a poison, which only mercy can cure. I am excited to see what is going to happen for this group, for they are on the cusp of change, and with soft open hearts, things WILL be greater. I have great faith in brothers like Doug and others in his group whose motives are pure and hearts are open. They have been studying topics such as repentance and group dynamics, surly this will bring fruit. I only hope to share what I believe to be the elephant in the room; which is the cross. So often we get humanistic and rely on our own wisdom, when the only true wisdom is that of the cross. So again I say, PREACH, PREACH, AND PREACH SOME MORE, THE CROSS OF CHRIST!

Thanks to everyone's comments. My thinking on this is that it's not really effective to 'pronouce' a standard on commitment. This has do be done onon a case by case basis. If there seems to be a problem, confront it with the individual or group involved. Listen a lto, investigate thouroughly and challenge lovingly.

The listening and investigating are more important than the challenging because through listenign and investigating you might learn that there's nothing to challenge after all.



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  • Thanks to everyone's comments. My thinking on this is that it's not really effective to 'pronouce' a standard on commitment. This has do be done onon a case by case basis. If there seems to be a problem, confront it w...

  • "Paul uses the "ox" quote to defend paying both preachers and elders who earn it ... and confesses that he, as a minister, has turned it down" You're right, I should have been clearer. I guess my thinking is that just ...

  • Just as a side note, P. Allen, Paul uses the "ox" quote to defend paying both preachers and elders who earn it ... and confesses that he, as a minister, has turned it down. Wow! I haven't seen any church pay their elders...

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