I recently had an experience and an insight from it that may be very significant to the way we are leading the church. The recent experience was going through the Dynamic Marriage facilitator training program. Although the purpose of this brief article is not to promote that particular program, I will say that all churches would do well to train some people to facilitate this program in their local congregations. I’ve not seen anything quite like it, and as an elder in Phoenix, I will do everything I can to get every married couple in the church to go through these classes. But, on to the insight.
The thought that hit me is very simple but probably pretty profound at the same time. According to the Dynamic Marriage facilitator training, just about all marriages fall into 1 of 3 categories: 25% are good; 50% are stagnant; and 25% are on the verge of breaking up. The trainer said that the 25% good ones are good because the marriage partners in these unions are self-starters. They hear marriage lessons and put the suggestions into practice. They read the recommended books and talk to others and get help. Taking this at face value, about one-fourth of all people are self starters and the remainder are not. From my experiences in life, I would agree that this is likely an accurate figure.
By applying this principle to the church generally, we as leaders (self-starters) may be expecting virtually every member to become a self-starter spiritually. We have said in the past couple of years that people need to take responsibility for themselves and their spiritual growth and not be dependent on leaders. That sounds noble and righteous, but is it actually in touch with reality? What we are really saying to people is “Be like me” (a self-starter). People keep saying things like “I’m not pulled in to relationships.” “I don’t have any friends.” “I am isolated.” We keep replying, “Well, have you initiated with anyone; have you sought out help, etc.” Are we expecting the impossible?
How do the Dynamic Marriage people handle the fact that 75% of all people are not self-starters? They provide very detailed structure, with specific expectations and accountability. Otherwise, that large percentage of people will not get help in their marriages, and many will end in divorce. What did we as a movement provide for our church membership in past years? Detailed structure, with specific expectations and accountability. Was that wrong? No, it was necessary. What was wrong? The types of expectations, accountability and motivation used. Strong directive leadership was not what was wrong; I think it was what was right – another right thing often done in wrong ways.
Our people who are complaining about us not helping them with relationships and other components of the Christian life sound like complainers who won’t take responsibility for themselves. Could it be that they are simply crying out for help—the kind of help that non-self starters always have needed and will likely always need (at least at points in their lives until they reach real maturity)? The ideal is that all disciples should become self-starters, and hopefully with time and good direction to help mature them, many will. But if we don’t lead people from where they currently are to where they need to be, they may never even stay in the church. If many leaders keep leading like they are, the church may well end up with only self-starter type members, and quite long lists of immature or otherwise weaker disciples who have died on the vine.
—Gordon Ferguson (April 2005)