One of the big sports stories yesterday involved my favorite team. Quarterback Sam Bradford informed the Philadelphia Eagles that he wanted to be traded. Drama in the NFL!
The word is that since the team made moves to, supposedly, draft a new quarterback, Sam isn’t willing to play. Now, I’m not going to pretend to know what he is thinking or why. There are plenty of people on TV and radio for that. I’ve heard he’s a great person–even a United Methodist. There may be other legitimate reasons for his wanting to leave. So, considering myself to be a nice Eagles fan (oxymoron?) and a decent guy, I won’t say the first things that came to mind. Still, as an Eagles fan, a part of me remembers Sam as The Human Band Aid.
Besides the sports side of the news, I was interested in this story because it tied in perfectly to a discussion I had this weekend with a group at Bible study. We were discussing church ministry. Actually, it was a 3-week conversation that I can’t easily recap here. In short, we looked at several aspects of ministry from the book of Acts and the resurrection story of Broadway UMC.
The Sam Bradford side of our meeting arose as we talked about getting people involved in ministry. It was my chance to share the “able and willing” ministry request. Several years ago a mentor/colleague taught me this concept and promised it would save me a lot of headache. So far, that’s been true.
Before I explain that, let’s make a few things clear
I’m a pastor. That means a lot of things to different people. For this post, it means I’m also a leader. I have to make decisions, offer guidance and be an example of ministry, among other leader-ish kinds of things. As such, there also comes a time when I need to ask people to serve. Sometimes it’s for a one-and-done type project. Other times it may be something more extensive. Either way, when you see me coming, I want you to know a few things.
First, I’ve prayed about what I’m about to ask you. I didn’t just find the first arm to pull to do something. I try to be intentional in what I do when it comes to the church. There’s a reason, therefore, I’m asking you. Secondly, I want you to give me an honest answer. I’m not a manipulator, and I’m not going to guilt you into anything; I want you to be as honest with me as I am with you. As best as you’re able, answer yes or no. Plus, it’s easy to tell when you’re not comfortable. Also, if you decline, I’m not going to think less of you, or find a way to illustrate your lack of faithfulness in next week’s sermon, or even consider it a lack of faithfulness (most times). Finally, and this is the big takeaway, I’m going to ask if you’re able and willing.
So, here it is
Yes, you HAVE TO say you’re both ABLE and WILLING to commit. You cannot be able and not willing, or willing and not able. If you’re unable and unwilling, you’re probably not even worried about this.
Let me explain.
If you’re able to help, but you’re not willing, why would I want you around for something others of us are working hard at? Yes, God can change people’s heart while they serve; I know that and I’ve seen that. Too many times, however, I’ve also seen the ill effects a bad attitude can breed. It may be you have some open time in your schedule; so, you’re able. But if you’re going to be thinking about, talking about and wishing you could hurry up and get out of here so that you can get to your fishing trip, lunch date or Bunko game, please don’t say yes.
Saying yes when you’re able to help but really not willing probably won’t do any good for you, and it might even do a little harm to someone else.
It’s possible that you’re more than willing to help; you’re just not able. For example, you might be committed to something else already. The family may be coming into town. You might just be physically exhausted from life and everything else you’ve been doing. If you really want to help, but something is keeping you from doing so, don’t commit. I get it. You don’t need an added side of busyness to an already full plate.
Saying yes when you’re willing but really not able may eventually lead to burn out and extra stress. Who knows? You may be keeping someone else from serving.
Let’s be clear, if you’re never able or willing, that might be a sign of something you need to pray about. But my hope is that you will take all this into consideration if/when I ask you to serve one day. I think if you do, you won’t feel guilty about not being able to help even when you really want to, and maybe ministry will be less of a chore if you’re able to but just aren’t quite ready to be willing.
From a business perspective, I think the Eagles have every right to tell Sam, “You signed with us; you’re playing with us.” But if it were church, and he just wasn’t willing, I think I would have one message for Sam: