Skip Navigation Links
News
Entertainment
Marketplace
Directories
Faith
Church
Mission
Education
Connections
Family
International
Help
Seeking God?
 

Visit this room to gather, learn and share with the Body of Christ

Go With the Guilt
The catchy phrase reminds us that sometimes it's okay to say "no" and trust God with the outcome.


People tell me it's my best sermon. It's the sermon they remember the most. Except I never preached it as a sermon. I only mentioned it in the introduction to an appeal for help with a church function.

The catchy phrase reminds us that sometimes it's okay to say "no" and trust God with the outcome …

Once a month or so, we place red folders (like the kind some churches use to record attendance and visitors) at the end of each pew. Inside each folder is a sheet of paper listing some "opportunities to serve." People are encouraged to read through the list, see if something interests or excites them, and then sign with name and telephone number.

The tasks that are listed are usually short-term and very concrete. For example, we have asked for people who are willing to bake a cake for some event, to help out in vacation Bible school, to help drive a new refugee family around, to help plan Advent worship services. You can sign up, help out, and then be done with it.

One Sunday, I introduced the red folders by saying that I had heard recently about a minister who said to his congregation, "Sometimes when we are asked to do something, we say `Yes' even though we want to say `No.' We say `Yes' because we're afraid that, if we say 'No' we'll feel guilty. Instead, we say `Yes' and feel angry because we're too busy, we're not really interested in doing the task, we're feeling pressed into doing it. If the choice you're facing is between saying `yes' and feeling angry or saying 'no' and feeling guilty, I want to encourage you to go with the guilt. Say 'no.' "

After sharing this story, I encouraged our congregation to take this same attitude toward the appeals for help in the red folders. "You should not sign up unless it is something you want to do," I said. "Go with the guilt!"

The phrase caught on. Many of our most dedicated, faithful and over-worked folk received it with a tremendous sense of freedom and relief. Some worried that the important but less glamorous work of the church wouldn't get done. They were afraid that everybody would take it as permission to be lazy, to avoid their responsibilities.

There was a possibility that people might react that way. But two factors worked against it. Firstly, the hardest workers in any church don't usually work out of duty or obligation. They love their Lord and they love His Church. They believe in what their church is trying to do. Out of love, they give their time and money and energy with great generosity. They might wish that others would contribute more of their fair share. They may use words like "responsibility" and "duty" to describe it; however, they would probably admit that the work they do for the church isn't mostly a matter of duty or obligation. It's a matter of love.

The challenge is not to get people to work harder out of a sense of obligation. The challenge is to get people to love God more and to believe more passionately in the mission the Church is accomplishing.

Some people love crunching numbers; some people love pushing brooms.

Secondly, the "go with the guilt" message is part of a bigger shift in our congregation's way of being the Church together. It develops out of a belief that the Holy Spirit is actively at work in the Body of Christ. The Spirit gives gifts to the church's members. These gifts fit together for the well-being of the Body. Not everybody will enjoy doing the same things. Some people love crunching numbers; some people love pushing brooms. Some people love the time they spend in the kitchen, some people love the time they spend serving at the local mission.

The challenge is to trust that God knows the work that needs to be done to keep His Body functioning well, and that He is supplying the gifts among His people to do it.

We must believe that the Spirit is at work in people's lives pushing, prodding, and pulling them to serve their Lord. The challenge for us is to create an atmosphere where people feel free to respond to that pushing, prodding and pulling in creative and daring ways. Because we're all learning and growing together, it is all right to try something, even if it doesn't work out the way we had expected or hoped. It is more important to have tried it.

I love telling the story about Daniel Brown who is pastor of a very large and busy church in California. When people ask him how the church got to be so successful, he tells them that they just kept trying so many things that, by the law of averages, some of them had to work! We all need to work on that "law of averages," trusting in the Holy Spirit's presence throughout.

Sometimes God leads people in directions they're uncertain that they want to go. When people say that they aren't sure of themselves, we need to encourage them not to let that stop them from moving ahead. If they are venturing into new territory, they can expect to feel uncomfortable. They can take things slowly, one step at a time, as God gives them the courage to move ahead.

Our congregational focus is changing from "getting the programs done" to "growing the people.'

One of the advantages of the red folders is that they allow people to try out new tasks in small chunks. Newcomers don't have to jump in by volunteering to be the Chair of a committee. They can help set up tables and still feel they are contributing.

People who are exploring new directions in their lives can sign up for short-term experiences. They can be part of the worship planning team for six weeks and then be done with it. Those who are busy elsewhere and who cannot commit a large chunk of time can help out in short-term activities and still know that they are contributing.

Believing that the Holy Spirit has placed more than enough gifts among us, we are always looking for ways to allow people to contribute their gifts in ways that take account of the realities of their lives and that will help them grow. Our energy is spent less and less on trying to convince people to do the very important work we think needs doing. Our congregational focus is changing from "getting the programs done" to "growing the people.'

New questions have become important to us: How can we help people discern the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives? How can we help them become conscious of the gifts they have and don't have? How can we help them take down the blockages that keep them from responding to the Spirit's work? How can we help them overcome their fears? How can we provide new opportunities for them to experience the wonder and privilege of being used by God in His work of healing the world?

We've still got a long way to go. We still get caught too often in worrying where we will find the people to meet the agenda which we've already planned. But the direction we're moving in, is one where growing joyful servants of Jesus Christ is our focus.

0f course, there are some risks in moving in this new direction. What if the Holy Spirit doesn't bring forward anyone to run a program that we consider vitally important for the Church? What if nobody wants to teach Sunday school? What if nobody wants to be in charge of keeping the building in shape? The self-images of the minister and of the congregation are at stake. As clergy, we're very used to trying to meet the expectations of the congregation. As congregations, we strive to offer the kinds of programs, that we think people want. What if the Holy Spirit doesn't come through for us?

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing our church, and so many others today, is learning to trust God instead of ourselves. If the Holy Spirit has not provided persons or gifts to run a particular program, perhaps that program doesn't need to be run—at least not by us. If we don't run it and people miss it enough, somebody will consider it important enough to commit time and energy to it—eventually. If we don't run it and nobody misses it, then it wasn't needed after all. Sometimes we forget that we are not the only congregation that God is working in. Some work God will give to us to do. Some work He will give to another congregation to do. We don't have to "do it all." God asks us to be faithful to the call He places among us. That will keep us more than busy!

We have to stay close to God to hear what He is saying to us.

All of this means that we must, first and foremost, be a people of prayer. We have to stay close to God to hear what He is saying to us. If there is nobody to do something that we think needs doing, is it a sign that we aren't hearing God's call to us? Or are we trying to do it the wrong way? Or is there somebody who needs some growth and encouragement before being ready to take up the work? Or is this work given to another congregation to do? Prayer will help us find the answers. And even when we are sure that it is something we are called to do, we will still have to stay close to God. He is the One who will give us the courage and energy and joy to do what He asks us to do.

"Go with the guilt." I didn't know it when I said it, but it was a first step towards growing and serving our Lord with delight and joy.

Rev. Christine Jerrett is minister of Grace United Church Pastoral Charge in Sarnia, Ontario.

Originally published in the Fellowship Magazine, September 1999.
www.fellowshipmagazine.org

 

 
 
 
 

Advertisers

Visit our Marketplace

Support the EFC ministry by using our Amazon links