Execution: The Danger Lurking in Every Invitation
I know some of you likely will refuse to read more than this opening paragraph. That is understandable because my premise is shocking, but you might just be one of those who needs most to read a little further. Here it is: It is possible for environments that involve the most preaching to actually have the most deceived people.
Since you picked up this magazine, you are likely familiar with, or very involved with, a church that emphasizes preaching. In fact, it might be a church that still has services involving preaching on Sunday and Wednesday nights. Churches that would be most familiar with the Baptist Times see a clear biblical mandate for the preaching of God’s Word. We are passionate about this and justifiably so. Notice carefully I didn’t say that the preaching was the cause of this deception, though. The deception actually comes from another source.
That the business world sees this problem in its own ranks and writes books and columns to address it is proof that the children of this world are sometimes wiser than the children of the light. They love their money enough to be honest about their problem. We have a similar problem. The business world calls it “execution” and refers to it as the “knowing-doing gap.” They elaborate on it in books like The Knowing-Doing Gap, by a couple of Stanford professors; Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, by Bossidy and Charan; and Stick With It, by Colan and Davis-Colan. There are countless others, as well. Business leaders realize that one of the problems plaguing businesses today is an inability to execute their strategy. Much planning and excitement exist, but somewhere they get lost in actually implementing strategy. In fact, business leaders are fairly persuasive that a mediocre strategy that is executed serves a company much better than an excellent strategy that lies dormant.
Ouch! Why does that hurt? Because I’m guilty of it. I have fallen into that trap as a pastor more times than I care to elaborate on. It’s easy to do, especially in a culture saturated with information and addicted to novelty. How in the world is ignorance still a problem with Google at our fingertips? It feels good to plan, and the motivation that comes with it is a dopamine-lover’s dream. It’s the classic diet dilemma—the dreaming of what it will produce and the planning to make it so leaves us giddy. Then it comes time to actually do it, and we never fully execute the plan. Business strategy, family budgets, diets, and treadmills are just a few of the monuments to our tendency to fail at executing our plans.
I have been helped by much of what has been written about this problem. But, I determined long ago that anything I found myself passionate about would be considered from a biblical standpoint first and foremost so that I can have an actual timeless view of the problem or opportunity. (I believe the current generation makes a huge mistake of studying problems and solutions from the same modern age. New books are adequate for explaining today’s problems, but I have found it much wiser to choose solutions from something with a little more insight than the last 100 years.)
Wouldn’t you know it? Jesus and James both warned mankind of issues with execution long before Bossidy and Charan were conceived. James zeros in on it clearly in the first chapter, verse 22 of his epistle: But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. The act of hearing preaching, for example, can generate a range of emotions such as guilt, conviction, hope, forgiveness, and acceptance. The message may be clear and its point inarguable. There may be complete agreement between the preacher and the listener on what is supposed to be done. The deepest conviction and clearest presentation of truth are no substitute for what must happen next: doing something with it. Execute what has been agreed upon. Formulate a plan clear enough to be carried out. I realize that some of our invitation practices have evolved over time and not all of them are biblically mandated. But, James implies that an invitation is a great practice if it is used right. The invitation is a time to decide what to do about what you’ve heard.
The alternative is not pretty. To hear something preached, then not actually turn it into a plan to do something produces deceit, according to James. And that only seems reasonable. He goes on to say it is like a man seeing his face in a mirror, likely seeing something embarrassing, then leaving without doing something about it, and forgetting all about it. We deceive ourselves because we FEEL what has been said, and we sometimes equate that passion with doing something about it. They are not the same. This culture has conditioned us to think that because we have felt something, we have truly experienced it.
I hope you don’t take this problem lightly because Jesus dealt with it directly in a way that most people probably gloss over in their reading (or preaching). Would you characterize yourself as the wise man building your house on the rock or the foolish man building your house on the sand? Jesus clearly explained the difference when he described both men as hearing, but the wise man “doeth them” and the foolish man “doeth them not.” How strong they felt about Jesus’s words made no difference. The difference was in execution. Those who heard Jesus the most could easily be those who come to church three times a week, but seldom leave with a solid enough plan to actually execute it.
So, what do we do about this? Consider these ideas:
For the listener
- Develop the invitation habit—As soon as every invitation starts, make it an actual habit to ask God to reveal any change that is needed in your life. Be honest and let Him speak. Sometimes, you need to be willing to kneel in order to lock everything else out and allow your posture to inform your heart of its necessary attitude—humble submission. Be still and quiet in your thoughts long enough to hear what He says.
- Make a plan—If you make the change that the Holy Spirit is speaking to you about, what will it look like on Monday? What would you literally have to do different in order to be obedient to the Holy Spirit’s prompting? Many Christians can’t execute because they don’t get past how it feels. Make application.
- Write it down—Make a note in your Bible or bulletin with a date of what you determined you needed to do. At our Men’s Advance each April we insure that every message has a Plan Page, and we take time for the men to write down what they plan to do as a result of that message.
For the preachers
- Help the listener develop a plan—Study the text enough until you know what it looks like on Monday. Force yourself to answer what YOU would do differently tomorrow if you chose to believe what you were preaching. What difference would it make? Be specific. Picture someone actually trying to accomplish what you preached. If you don’t know, you aren’t finished studying.
- Limit the points—One of the greatest problems with preaching today is too much information. The listener (and the preacher) can only work on so many things at once. Determine the primary point of the text, then drive it home. I try to be conscious of the fact that our folks have been through an average of at least three messages/lessons by the time they go to bed Sunday night. Limiting the points can provide more time for background, as well as application. Besides, it could shorten the message and you won’t hear too many complaints about that.