In my first three years of ministry, I was committed to preaching—but not to sermon preparation. The result was dozens of halfhearted sermons prepared the night before to be endured by the dear saints. It took a Damascus Road experience to make me realize that if I sincerely wanted God to manifest Himself through my sermons and deeply influence people’s lives, I had to be willing to commit far more time and effort than I was willing to.
I then wondered if I, as pastor, would commit in my area of ministry, perhaps others would commit in theirs. I discovered that commitment is infectious, and the results astounded me. Members began committing themselves and the church was on fire. We experienced growth, spiritual and numerical, never before seen in that church. To this day, I remain grateful to those members who loved and encouraged me, in spite of my lack of commitment.
I have identified five levels of commitment and how they affect the local churches. I have discovered that when we introduce these to our members, they not only recognize where they are but are also able to prayerfully decide to advance to the next level. Each level is progressive, beginning at level 1. If you are at level 4, it means you would have acquired the best qualities and overcome the accompanying weaknesses of levels 1, 2, and 3.
I hope the five levels will help you grow personally and will encourage your congregation to increase their levels of commitment.
Level 1: The slacker
At the first level of commitment, we find the slacker. By definition, a slacker is someone who is not doing what he or she is supposed to do. For example, they may say that they are going to do something but either never follow through or do it haphazardly. The slacker always produces mediocrity.
The children’s ministry volunteer may have agreed to teach the kids in the Bible class three times a month. But she is always late and never prepared, and nobody can predict when she will show up.
The pastor does not prepare the sermon and goes up to the pulpit to preach a half-hearted message that makes members wonder whether he or she put any effort into it.
The problem with level 1 is not people underperforming in comparison to others. After all, people have different skill levels. Rather, the trouble with level 1 is people underperforming in comparison to themselves. You know you are at level 1 if you always fail to live up to even your own skill set.
At level 1, a lot gets discussed, but it never leads to anything being done. Meetings are long and purposeless. People are angry and frustrated. The worship service takes place without order or any sense of reverence. Members are embarrassed to invite anyone to visit their church. And everything around the church is basically mediocre.
Paul helps us see this issue from a different perspective: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. . . . It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:23, 24, NIV).
Even if members cannot be enthusiastic about serving others, hopefully, they will be concerned about serving the Lord. When we underdeliver and consistently give to the Lord that which is not our very best, we dishonor His name, and the kingdom of God suffers a great loss.
Level 2: The responsible
At the second level of commitment, we find the responsible member. People at this level are reliable, trustworthy, and dependent. Having a strong sense of duty, they are always there on time to complete their responsibilities no matter what and thus do exactly what they are supposed to do. Responsible members encourage faithfulness around the church.
How different would your church be if people always did what they were expected to? However, as much as the second level of commitment is an ideal starting point, it is by no means the final destination.
Level 2 individuals fail to see two important truths. The first is that God calls us to be more than just responsible, more than just faithful. He summons us to be generous and kind.A little more than 2,000 years ago, another group of responsible individuals—the Pharisees—took their religion very seriously and faithfully did exactly what it was expected of them; that was precisely the problem.
In Matthew 23:23 Jesus says, “ ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone’ ” (NKJV).
A sense of duty can only take us so far. We must go further! For instance, if the sense of duty could compete in a race, it would probably win a 100-meter sprint but would never stand a chance in a marathon.
The second truth is that God calls us to more than a contract mindset, “I’ll do my part, you do yours, and we both stay in our lanes.” He summons us to covenant relationships. A contract states the expectations and privileges of all parties involved. If one of the parties fails to meet the requirements or abuses the privileges, it breaks the contract. A covenant, on the other hand, is a relationship that demands and flourishes on more than simply doing things because you have to. One can argue that what pronounces people married is the signing of an official contract, but what keeps them together is the covenant they made to do things out of love and not just from duty.
When we commit to doing only what others expect of us, we fulfill but do not excel, we please but do not satisfy, and we serve but do not love. And that is why, though you may start at level 2, make sure that you do not stay there.
Level 3: The generous
At the third level of commitment, we find the generous and kind member. Usually comprising the core of church leaders, they go way beyond what is expected because they have a deep sense of love for God and people. Individuals at level 3 generate excellence in what they do.
The generous not only have the good qualities of level 2 and more but also understand the fundamental gospel principle known as the second-mile attribute. Jesus basically said that He summons us to do and be far more than what others expect.
When we commit to doing only what others expect of us, we fulfill but do not excel, we please but do not satisfy, and we serve but do not love.
Although such individuals form the core of your leadership team in church, they are not many. Incredibly generous with a deep sense of teamwork, they are responsible for around 80 percent of what takes place in a congregation but may comprise only about 20 percent of its membership.
Not offended easily, they aim for excellence. Instead of being committed to a ministry per se, they are committed to the Lord. Their motto is, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” (Eccl. 9:10, NKJV).
Level 3 individuals have plenty of strengths, but they also have a weakness—they may grow weary. Have you ever seen members who worked so hard for so long—always aiming for excellence, having a great sense of teamwork, willing to walk the second mile—but eventually got tired and discouraged due to the lack of support from others?
Well, as much as level 3 is a great place to be, it is paramount that we move on to the next level. God has called us to something even greater than generosity and kindness.
Level 4: The servant
At the fourth level of commitment, we encounter the servant. If level 3 individuals are hard to find in the local church, level 4 individuals are even more rare. Glowing with love, they are the embodiment of service. Besides possessing all the good qualities of levels 2 and 3, they understand that they were saved to serve and thus rarely grow weary of doing exactly that. Level 4 individuals are an inspiration.
Such people have taken to heart the words of Jesus in Matthew 20:26: “ ‘Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant’ ” (NKJV).
Although not concerned with recognition, they may appreciate it to the glory of God. Instead of asking, “What’s in it or me?” they are concerned about what’s in it for others. Filled with a deep sense of urgency for the gospel, they want their churches to become missional, and the best way they know how to make it happen is to become the example themselves.
It is amazing to see accomplished professionals cleaning church bathrooms and picking up trash and janitors delivering sermons that bring people to Christ. And they all do it with joy, love, and excellence.
Have you ever met a person who was kind and loving, who was always ready to serve with a big smile and without any hidden agenda? Take the opportunity to tell them that they are an inspiration to you.
Level 5: The martyr
At the fifth level, we find the martyr, the person who has paid a high price, perhaps even the ultimate one, as a result of their commitment to Christ.
At first, I thought that martyrs were only those who died for the sake of the gospel. We can recall the horrific deaths of the apostles, the thousands of Christians torn to pieces by beasts for the entertainment of others. Perhaps we remember the missionaries who perished at the hands of those whom they tried to save.
On the other hand, as I visited and met with Christians who live in undisclosed Muslim countries, I heard stories of women who suffered constant beatings from their husbands for becoming Christians until eventually they had to flee for their lives—literally. Young men lost the support of their families when they became Christians. All such people have one thing in common. They faced a choice: either abandon their new faith in Jesus so that their lives could return to normal or no longer be part of their family and never return to their previous lifestyle. They all decided on the latter.
Such stories are a wake-up call to many Christians. I sincerely hope we never have to go to level 5, but if we eventually do, we must ask ourselves a sobering question: Is the love of God worth more than life itself?
Just like Peter, many of us claim that we would die for Jesus if necessary, but we cannot even make it on time for church. We vow that we would preach even if it meant a lifetime in jail, torture, or death, but when asked to serve in a needed position, we reply that we are too busy. Though we might say that we would exchange all our earthly possessions for eternal life with Jesus, we cannot even return an honest tithe and a generous offering. The reality is this: we are kidding ourselves. We cannot jump from level 1 to 4 or 2 to 5. That is why they are called levels. They build upon each other, and the best time to start moving toward level 5 is today.
Finally, as you learn the five levels of commitment, I pray that you will not focus on your brothers and sisters at church but consider yourself. Reflect on your own level of commitment, ask God to help you move to the next stage, and plead with Him to keep you growing no matter what. Jesus committed Himself entirely to us—can we commit ourselves entirely to Him?