A long time ago a close friend looked me in the eye and said, with sobering gravity: “I would die for you.” That was a marker moment in my life, and those words are seared in my memory. A relationship defined by “die for you” is transformational.
Jesus also had close friends who declared they would die for Him, but when the moment came they scattered and hid. Alone and abandoned, Jesus did what He said He’d do—he died for them… and for us. In His prayer time just before His arrest and execution, Jesus tells His Father:
“During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me. I guarded them so that not one was lost…” (John 17:12).
Afterward, when the reality of what Jesus had done for them sank in, that band of cowards mobilized into a Spirit-led “band of brothers” so brave that they changed the world. To a man, they died for Jesus. In between their frightened scattering and their martyrdom, what changed in the souls of these 11 remaining disciples? That’s really the great question of faith formation—what moves people from a mild affinity for Christ to a die-for-you commitment?
I met pollster George Gallup Jr. more than a decade ago, shortly before his death. During a broad update on the state of the church, he spotlighted a sobering truth: only one out of eight Americans had a “deep, transformative faith.” Maybe that’s why, he speculated, nine out of 10 churchgoing teenagers (88%) were dropping out of church by the time they graduated from college.
That’s a sucker-punch statistic. It says most people never move from faith window-shoppers to never-look-back disciples. Author Malcolm Gladwell, in his book The Tipping Point, writes: “The best way to understand the dramatic transformation of unknown books into bestsellers… or any number of the other mysterious changes that mark everyday life is to think of them as epidemics. Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do.”
“Dramatic transformation” is fueled by an epidemic in the life of a person. And what are the components of that virus? Among other factors, here are four…
- Christlike presence in the midst of crisis—Dig deep into an adult Christian’s story and you’ll likely find several turning points in their journey toward “deep, transformative faith.” In a study I led several years ago, nine out of 10 Christian college students surveyed said they had a “crucial recommitment experience” that was as significant as their conversion. These experiences were fueled by four catalysts: crises, outreach trips, big events, and camp experiences. Now, crises have no inherent power to cement a person’s commitment to Christ. But, like surgery, they do have an unmatched power to open a person to deeper healing. The key: When the crisis hits, is there a passionate Christian engaged in that person’s life—not to answer unanswerable questions, but to offer determined love?The right question to ask ourselves: “Where would Jesus be?”
And the answer: Right there in the middle of the crisis.
- Staying power—As I’ve talked with parishioners and ministry leaders over the years, it’s amazing how many times they’ve both pointed to the leader’s staying power as a key to “viral” impact. The longer we stay in ministry, and the longer we stay at the same church, the more likely we are to contribute to “viral” faith epidemics in the lives of the people we serve.
The right question to ask ourselves: How do I build and ensure relational trust with the people I serve?
And the answer: I resist surface temptations to move on when things get tough, and answer only to the Spirit of Jesus for my “release.”
- Clarity—In business author Jim Collins’ bestseller Good to Great, he and his team of researchers studied 11 companies that beat the odds and vaulted out of longtime mediocrity into longtime excellence. One transforming catalyst is something Collins calls the Hedgehog Concept. Briefly, it means companies that embrace one simple purpose, then pursue it with passion, succeed. Companies that skittered between one “passionate purpose” after another stayed mired in mediocrity. Determine your ministry’s God-given purpose, then organize your ministry around it.
The right question to ask ourselves: What’s my clarifying purpose, and how does that “dance” with my church’s clarifying purpose?
And the answer: Vibrant Faith’s clarifying purpose is “We believe vibrant faith in Jesus Christ, lived out in community, transforms everything”—what’s a purpose that captures your passion?
- Challenge—If you rarely challenge people to commit at a deeper level, they’ll have few opportunities to embrace transformation. I think that’s exactly what God did when he struck Saul blind on the road to Damascus. He challenged him to change: “Why are you persecuting me?” Now Saul had a choice—to continue down the same road or choose another fork. He took the fork less traveled. To paraphrase the Jerry Maguire catchphrase—”Show people the forks!”
The right question to ask ourselves: How am I challenging people to commit more deeply, and how often?
And the answer: Jesus was always inviting people to take a next step toward relational intimacy with Him, and I will do the same.
Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith. His new book is The Suicide Solution: Finding Your Way Out of the Darkness. He’s the general editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible, and author of 40 books, including The Jesus-Centered Life and the new daily devotional Jesus-Centered Daily.