Magazines 2020 May - Jun Persuasion is good, but mobilization is better

Persuasion is good, but mobilization is better

25 May 2020 By John G. Stackhouse

A call to help too-busy believers

Our American cousins are now in the full frenzy of a national election campaign. Amid the polarization of the Republican and Democratic parties over the last generation, a new strategy has emerged – mobilization versus persuasion. Can the Canadian Church learn something valuable from such a distinction?

Yes, the Apostle Paul became all things to all people in order that he might persuade some (1 Corinthians 9:22; 2 Corinthians 5:11). But our primary obligation is to make disciples (Matthew 28:19), to develop full-grown followers, not merely to acquire the assent of the mildly interested.

Church leaders in particular have at the very heart of their calling the command to equip the people of God for energetic and effective service (Ephesians 4:11–12). "Stir up the gift within you," Paul exhorts young Timothy (2 Timothy 1:6), and he commands all of us to "Work out your own salvation" (Philippians 2:12).

In a recent Atlantic cover story, however, David Brooks warns us that the American family is not in any shape to be highly mobilized for anything, let alone for serious discipleship. And it isn’t likely that the Canadian family is doing any better.

With the exception of the well-to-do, whose marriages and families are supported by all the helpers money can buy – from babysitters to tutors to coaches to therapists – almost everyone else, it seems, is unmarried, divorced, widowed or wishing they were. Meanwhile, only a minority of children are growing up in stable homes with both parents.

What can church leaders do to mobilize the already persuaded for ministry and toward maturity?

Even the families of highly religious and prosperous people are stretched by the exaggerated demands and expectations of affluence, with both parents working and then running their kids to lessons and teams of all sorts, every day of the week.

How are church leaders, concerned to disciple such people and mobilize them for ministry, going to get them to pause long enough to be taught?

Single parents? What time do they have for anything but spiritual subsistence?

what can church leaders do to mobilize the already persuaded

And what about the many single people, from youth to the growing numbers of long-lived elderly?

John Wesley might come to our aid. He was a master organizer who devised different kinds of groups to fit the different needs and abilities of different kinds of people.

Our current way of organizing small groups ("Whosoever will may come – if it fits into your schedule") only accidentally/providentially puts people together who are best suited to helping each other. And our merely asking for volunteers to staff church ministries (when everyone feels so busy that we can’t even stay for the refreshments after the Sunday morning service) clearly isn’t working well either.

What can church leaders do to mobilize the already persuaded for ministry and toward maturity?

For some, particularly single parents, we need to provide survival strategies, caring relationships and practical assistance that will sustain them in faith, hope and love. They might find joy in volunteering for this or that. But mostly we need to be helping them raise their offspring, pay their bills and stay spiritually sane.

For others, particularly singles of all ages, we need to connect them better with spiritual friendships, appropriately varied social opportunities and a range of service challenges that can put to good use their available time and talent.

For still others, particularly busy families, we need to challenge their priorities and especially their expenditures of time and money. Has sport, music, dance or other afterschool pursuits become an idol to serve no matter the cost? Is family being used to dodge service responsibilities and learning opportunities in the church – the spiritual family whose legitimate demands Jesus clearly says must trump those of the biological one (Matthew 12:48–49)?

As the already persuaded become the thoroughly cared-for and properly mobilized, we can expect other Canadians to notice, to become persuaded and to enjoy being mobilized themselves.

But if we settle merely for weekly maintenance services – maintaining identity, loyalty and tithes – we will end up with as little to show for our efforts as those candidates who aimed merely to persuade without doing the hard, crucial work of mobilizing.

How’s your campaign going?

john g stackhouse
John Stackhouse is professor of religious studies at Crandall University. Find more of these columns at