Labor of Love

 In Church, Community, Faith, Fred's Blog, Leadership, People, Relationships, Uncategorized
Listen to “Labor of Love” by Fred Smith

We helped move our daughter from Los Angeles to Dallas this month and it was a good opportunity to once again experience what a group of Harvard researchers labeled, the “Ikea Effect: When Labor Leads to Love.” While struggling with those tiny tools, inserting A into D, and inevitably starting over from scratch, at the end of the day the Ikea effect is absolutely true. It’s not the quality of the work that matters but the difficulty of the challenge and actually completing it. In fact, even building the simplest piece, “an arduous, solitary task, can lead people to overvalue their (often poorly constructed) creations. Labor alone can be sufficient to induce a greater liking for the fruits of one’s labor.” I can vouch for that! I gave the daybed and the bookcases their own names and think of them now as family.

In some ways, I have allowed the quality services of the large church I attend to rob me of the Ikea effect. Because I want my worship to be top quality, I have had to farm the labor out to those specially trained and whose job it is to keep it at that level.  Sometimes I do wonder if we have done a disservice to both of us in the exchange of quality for the love derived from labor. God no longer needs my best if I am willing to pay for the best of others.

Only Your Best

Have you ever been in a situation where only your best was accepted? It was probably your most demanding teacher, a coach, a project team or the leader of an organization. If you are fortunate, it happened early in your life and gave you a taste of what it means to give it everything you have – and then some. What was the effect on you and the others? It was hard but exhilarating. There were times in the middle when you thought you would fail but then you overcame the obstacles. But had you not been challenged by someone or some situation you would have lost an opportunity that is rare. It was not satisfactory to be good enough. It was only your best that would do.

On the other hand, what is it like to work in an environment of low expectations? How do we remember the times we did the minimum to get by and no one complained or wanted anything different? It was awful. It killed the spirit. It attacked our ambition and enthusiasm. Alexander Pope put it this way, “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” Demanding the best of people is a weight and a burden. The pressure to be average and good enough is enormous in every field and the resistance to excellence is normal – until people experience the rewards of giving the best they have.

The Amazon Effect

There are times when the church deprives them of that by low expectations. We ask them to attend but have to make the experience compelling for them to come back week after week. We give services for free and ask little to nothing in return. The more programs we offer the less commitment we experience. We have stopped asking people for sacrifice and the church is in a constant search for ways to attract people who are always wanting more for less. More choices for less cost and delivered on the spot. The Amazon Effect.

But, this is not all the fault of the professionals, is it? We are the ones demanding more but only on our terms. We want on-demand, user-friendly, spiritual apps that allow us more freedom for other things. We want more but with less responsibility. Too often we want membership privileges without paying the dues. What might we do if all the free services, inspiring music, teaching, and conveniences went away for a year? Would we find ourselves fading spiritually or might we actually grow? The power of the church is not arrays of options for customers. The power of the church has always been sacrifice and commitment. That is why the extraordinary growth of the church is in the global south and other places that are hard. In spite of persecution, repression, opposition, no money or facilities, very little professional training, high demands, and few rewards the church is growing. But this is not new. People and organizations with high demands always grow and the temptations for those who are successful is to relax, find more ways to serve themselves and gradually decline. 

Maybe it’s time to give up some of the demand for quality in exchange for the labor leading to love.

Collage by Mary McCleary

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    Tim R.

    Thanks Fred. This is encouraging to me.

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    Greg Smith

    Great thoughts on what we miss with “professional” church, and how we are poorer for it. Worship and the community of the church requires time and investment. Thanks for the helpful “reset”, because the traps are all to easy to fall into.

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    Debbie Glass

    I’ve learned important lessons in life “the hard way.” It always felt like I was either too dull-headed or too stubborn to get those lessons in an easier way. But I did grow and I did learn through many toils, dangers and snares. Thank you Fred for this insight. It was freeing.

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