Compassion vs. Commitment
When people tell church consultant Kennon Callahan, “What we need (in the church) is people with more commitment,” he has a standard response ready. “Good friend, you have just taught me that you are a longtime Christian.” (Kennon Callahan, Twelve Keys to an Effective Church, 27).
Dr. Callahan’s response is not a put down, but an observation. He says the early motivations that lead people to investigate a church are compassion, community and hope. Compassion is sharing, caring, giving, loving and serving. Community is good fun, good times, belonging and a sense of family. Hope is confidence and assurance in the grace of God (21). People are looking for the kindness of compassion, the sense of belonging in community, and the assurance of hope, and they are hoping to find that in a church.
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Nearly everyone who walks into a church building is hoping that the people there will greet them with these three incredibly important attitudes: compassion, community and hope.
But, what are they often greeted with? Challenge, reasonability and commitment. Challenge is accomplishment, achievement and attainment. Reasonability is analysis, logic and good sense. Commitment is duty, vow, obligation and loyalty (21). These three attitudes are generally what church leaders are looking for in members. They want them to live up the challenge of Christian living, to understand with their heads the reasonableness of the Christian story, and to be loyal and committed to the church. These are attitudes are every bit as important as the three attitudes seekers bring to church with them, but it is not what they are looking for. They are looking for compassion, community and hope.
That is why Kennon Callahan responds to the statement, “What we need (in the church) is people with more commitment,” with “Good friend, you have just taught me that you are a longtime Christian.” What he means is, “You have been in the church for a long, long time. You came seeking compassion, community and hope, and you found it. So, you stayed here a long time. You lived up to the challenge of Christian living, you studied the scriptures for a long time and accept the reasonability of faith and knowledge, and you grew committed to the Lord and the church. But, you have been a church member for so long you have forgotten what it is to be someone who lacks all this, and is looking for it. In time people can accept the challenge, reasonability and commitment. Right now what they need from you, church leader, is compassion, community, and hope. Love and accept them, no matter where they are in life. Can you do that? If you can, they will put down roots because this place will feel like home, and they will feel they belong.” (Twelve Keys to an Effective Church Study Guide, 25)]
Well-intentioned church leaders know the importance of living up to the challenges of the Christian life, studying to understand the scriptures, and commitment to life and work in the church. They have worked at this for years. But, in the process, they may have forgotten what it is to be a beginner. A seeker. Someone who senses something is missing in their life so they go to church hoping to find it there. What drives them to that first visit, what Callahan calls motivational resources, are a yearning for compassion, community and hope. What they are greeted with is the set of motivational resources leaders rely upon: challenge, reasonability, and commitment. The result is a motivational gap, with the seeker often leaving, despairing of ever finding what he needs in church.
If you ever find yourself saying of your congregation, “What we need is more commitment,” catch yourself and rephrase your statement to, “What we need is more compassion.” Show enough compassion, grace, love, community, forgiveness, hope, and encouragement over time, and you won’t have to beg or cajole people into being commitment. Commitment will grow gradually and naturally as the person realizes their church is home, they put down roots, and they assume their place in the family.
How does your church offer compassion, community and hope to both members and visitors?