When Telling Christians to "Step Up" Falls Short

Photo by  Omer Salom  on  Unsplash

Photo by Omer Salom on Unsplash

Don’t we love heroes? They’re the guy or gal who goes above and beyond the call to selflessly sacrifice for the sake of the “mission.” In the darkest hour, they shine bright. The history books praise their valor, and we shower them with medals and gifts. They stepped up.

I can remember one of my high school football coaches railing on during a halftime pep-talk shouting, “Who is gonna be the hero?” because, well, someone needed to single-handedly bring us back from a 30-point deficit. Meaning, step up! It’s that simple, right?

So very wrong.

As a men’s group leader, I can remember almost having the same tone. “You know guys, some of you just need to step up in your families, your jobs, and your churches.” We would watch a video from any men’s devotional series you can think of, and I would spend weeks describing what “stepping up” to the proverbial “life plate” looked like. Then the truth hit. I realized I was asking them to do things that I myself wasn’t doing—things that they had never even been trained to do.

Expectations without the Training

It would be foolish to tell a toddler, “You just need to walk better and you won’t fall!” They are completely incapable of physically making their legs work more efficiently. When church leaders call for Christians to “step up,” they need to be able to precisely define that idea and recognize that they are responsible for providing the training and equipping believers need. It’s heartbreaking to hear beloved brothers in Christ say in a defeated tone, “I can’t lead my wife biblically. No one has taught me how to use the Bible.” They are trying to walk without the spiritual structure to know how to do it.

My Training Took Over

In the last few weeks, I’ve listened to multiple accounts of veterans who have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. They all had multiple character qualities in common. What was striking in each of their testimonies was that in the moment for which they are now revered, all of them at some point said, “My training took over.”

This is a sticky scenario. How much of the blame stems from a person’s unwillingness to learn? How much is the lack of training the fault of the local church? It’s case-specific. Rob may be a decades-old Christian trying everything he can to step up in his respective life arenas, but he’s doing it completely unbiblically, while Dan may be a new believer who gave up a long time ago on being a leader and doesn’t know where to begin. We need to understand that regardless of who is to blame, both of these men are simply utilizing their existing training to try to work through their respective scenarios.

The principle is simple. If our response to a challenge is to rely on our training, then the quality of our training must be competent enough upon which to rely. In other words, people aren’t “stepping up” on anything if there is nothing under them to hold them up. Christians need systematic, well-designed, and well-communicated learning and application opportunities.

The Real Problem—and Solution

When we look closely at Scripture’s teaching on sanctification, what we find is a dually aligned process. God, by way of his Word (Scripture) and the Holy Spirit, begins to shape and knead the individual more into the image of Christ. As this is taking place, the Christian works by way of the spiritual disciplines to reach for the same godliness toward which God is shaping them.

I’m sure it’s not the intent of people using the phrase, but I’m afraid the message that is implied through the catch phrase “step up” is one of complete self-reliance. It’s like my football coach saying, “Who’s going to be the hero?” while failing to establish a winning game strategy. There’s no power in it. I may have the will power to read my Bible cover to cover in a year, but without God’s spirit opening my eyes to my need and revealing the truth of it to me, it’s little more than another good read on my book shelf.

Asking Christians to do things that only God has the power to do will only frustrate, stigmatize, and ultimately discourage true spiritual growth. Encouraging believers with the tools and training to align themselves with what God is doing in them through the power of the Holy Spirit will bring them peace and courage, and they will be able to achieve the daily victories we all need.

Jim Richman is an author, speaker, and outdoorsman. He is Editor-in-Chief of Journal of a Christian Sportsman, a blog for Christian outdoorsmen from around the world. To find out more about Jim, you can see his full bio here.

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