Brake On, Power Off


The scene from our property...frozen crabappleI did one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done this week. It may not seem like much at first glance, but it made for a lot of unnecessary work, pointless ponderings, and general angst.

We got hit by a snowstorm, followed by an ice storm, followed by a snowstorm. As we live at the top of a hill, about fifty feet higher than the road that runs by our house, we need to navigate a steep drive. Snow makes this difficult, and we sometimes can’t get up our snow-choked driveway in my wife’s car, a Corolla.

On the other hand, I have a 4×4 pickup that laughs at snow and ice. No matter how bad a mess our driveway might be, I’m up it in a flash.

Which is why this last week was so stupid. I attempted to venture out after the storms had run their courses. I clear the driveway by first running my truck up and down it to create a basic, driveable path, then I spread halite in the treadmarks. In a day or so, the salt does its work and my wife’s car has no more troubles getting in and out.

Imagine my surprise when I turn my truck around to make the uphill jaunt and wind up in a ditch on the side of my driveway. Now imagine me scratching my head as to why, only to discover that I had the parking brake on.

Now a 4×4 is one of man’s greatest inventions, but it’s not magic. Run yourself into a watery, icy, muddy ditch and you’ve got troubles. My troubles amounted to 80 minutes of me pushing on the back end of my truck while my wife spun the wheels a lot.  The truck stayed where it was, and I retreated to our warm house for a cup of coffee with a packet of cocoa dumped in for good measure.

The next morning, after the ground had refrozen, I got in the truck, put it in 4-wheel low, and promptly drove out as if nothing had happened.

None of this madness would have occurred if I’d released the parking brake before I first attempted to drive up the hill. As is wont with me, this amounts to a lesson that goes beyond 4-wheel-drive pickup trucks and icy driveways.

Nothing drives a church into a ditch faster than to have the spiritual parking brake on. How does that happen? When leaders fail to identify gifts in their congregants.

I don’t know when this failure first began, but somewhere in the Western Church’s life we gave up tapping the power of the next generation, leaving talented people unchallenged and underdeveloped. And the blame for this lies entirely on leaders of local churches. Entirely.

When you look at the model of the early Church, its leaders called out gifted people for ministry. The leaders identified the gifts in those folks and worked alongside them to tune those gifts for maximum performance.

Today, we’ve got bupkis in this regard. Instead, we rely on folks’ self-identification of their gifts, on spiritual gift inventories that are little more than wish fulfillment for many, and the result has been a lot of wheel-spinning and ditch-dwelling.

Personally, I think that it’s the role of every pastor, elder, and deacon to keep their spiritual eyes open to the giftings of people within their churches, then encouraging those gifts. This goes beyond just mentioning that so-and-so is needed in the nursery to watch the kiddies when the adults are worshiping. It’s an active one-on-one process that helps others grow into their giftings.

And this is spiritually discerned, too, which, in the end, is what dooms this endeavor in most churches. Too many leaders don’t know how to see with the eyes of the Spirit, instead relying on calling out someone’s natural abilities rather than their supernatural ones.

A church comes packed with people God gifts for service. Too often, though, those people become 4x4s with parking brakes firmly set, their service hampered because no one is there to guide them into the powerful workings of God’s gifts in their own lives.

A. W. Tozer calls this error a tragedy, and I agree. It’s a tragedy that persists through the generations as we fail to meet the obligation to develop our fellow Christians into all God would desire they become. Instead, we’re satisfied with a pittance of the power available to us. So we run off into one ditch after another and fool ourselves into thinking that this constitutes the abundant life.

Please God, give us the guts and smarts to release the brake.

6 thoughts on “Brake On, Power Off

  1. David

    Two elderly female missionaries were traveling across the Rift Valley in their ancient Land Rover. One morning the Land Rover began smoking rather badly about an hour after an early morning departure. They stopped, and as they sat worriedly discussing what the problem might be, they noticed a tall Masai warrior striding towards them out of the brush. Fear gripped them as they sat helpless in their disabled vehicle.

    The painted warrior strode slowly around the Land Rover, then moved so suddenly the women were unable to move. He reached in, pulled a lever, and pulled his arm out of the window.

    “Your parking brake was on.” He said in flawless English. Then he strode away into the African bush.

  2. I agree that the leaders in a congregation need to be aware of the Spirit working in their church. But I’ve also noticed that some of those leaders have their parking brakes on too.
    You are right, we’d better wake up and realize that the future of the church is in the hands of the youngsters we sometimes dismiss out of hand.
    Good analogy, Dan. And, oh, I agree with Peter. Some pictures would have been enlightening if not down right funny.

  3. You’re right, Dan, that gifts aren’t developed, and that the problem is in church leadership. From what I’ve seen, either leadership doesn’t have any spiritual discernment themselves … or they do, and they feel threatened, so they deliberately yank on someone else’s parking brake. This is biblically known as bruising the tender reed, and church leadership is very good at it.

  4. Heather

    I’ve been in church leadership before (Youth Director) and must admit that identifying gifts in my volunteers and delegating responsibility were not my strong points. I think a lot of the problem we have with sharing responsibility and trusting God to enable others to use their gifts effectively is the panic that if everything isn’t done just right that people will leave. This is silly, of course; first of all, the people who would walk probably weren’t there for the right reasons anyway. Secondly, it’s the ability to offer one’s gifts that makes people part of the body of Christ, perfect or not.

    I think part of the problem may be that those in leadership (especially paid staff) sometimes feel pressure to pretend we are capable in every area assigned to us, and that if we acknowledge our weaknesses by delegating certain things to others who are better gifted for them, that we might be out of a job. This isn’t an excuse, just some insight.

    Anyway, great post Dan. I think this should be required reading at church leadership retreats 🙂

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