Carrots and Sticks

Over on our family blog (, I've started a series of posts explaining how we got from Ithaca to Ireland. In one of last week's posts I talked a bit about a very difficult time our family went through from 2007 to 2009. In recounting that period, it got me thinking about how God has worked in my life repeatedly. I think it is how he works in the lives of most people. And for lack of a better phrase I'll call it the "carrot & stick method."

by bob

Jul 16, 2013

carrot on a stickOver on our family blog (, I’ve started a  series of posts explaining how we got from Ithaca to Ireland. In one of last week’s posts I talked a bit about a very difficult time our family went through from 2007 to 2009.

In recounting that period, it got me thinking about how God has worked in my life repeatedly.

I think it is how he works in the lives of most people.

And for lack of a better phrase I’ll call it the “carrot & stick method.”

Let me share two stories from my life, and then two biblical stories that illustrate what I’m thinking.

In 1995, I visited a couple Vineyard Churches for the first time. I was ordained with another denomination at that point, and working as a campus pastor/University Chaplain at Cornell University.

After my second Vineyard visit I had a very strong sense of God saying, “You need to check out the Vineyard.” (the carrot).

Now, while visiting those two Vineyard churches, I really liked what I saw and experienced (and not just that no one was wearing a tie or a suit…well except me, because I didn’t know any better).

So when I had this sense that God was saying “Check out the Vineyard,” guess what I did.


Well, I did “wish” I could be in the Vineyard…but all my relationships were in my current denomination. I was on the leadership team of the campus ministry department in our state. The majority of my support came from churches within my denomination…there would have been a large cost to “check out the Vineyard.”

So for the next two years I did nothing. I didn’t even visit another Vineyard in that time.

Then, in the summer of 1997, the campus ministry department I was part of went through a crisis. They fired the statewide director, instituted a new philosophy for campus ministry, and hired a new director from outside the organization to oversee the whole thing. And although we tried, it became clear that he was not someone I felt I could work with. (the stick)

So guess what I did…

I checked out the Vineyard, and I knew immediately, “This is where I need to be.”

So after about 6 months of checking, Liz and I both decided the Vineyard was the right place for us.

In 2009 I’d been leading the Ithaca Vineyard for 10 years, and until about 2 years before that, had been having, for the most part, a great time.

Then I went through an extremely difficult 2 years. (the stick)

One of the things that hit me in months following was that I couldn’t remember the last time I checked in and asked God, if this (leading the Ithaca Vineyard) was still what he had for me to do.

I assumed it was…but I hadn’t asked.

So as we spent the following summer in Ireland, for the first time in years I focused on that one question…”what do you want me to do with the rest of my life?”

Although, “Plant a church in Ireland,” was not what I expected…it was clearly the answer to that question. (the carrot)

Now, if God calls you someplace and it is difficult, I don’t think you leave unless it is clear God is leading/calling/directing you to something else.

Simply leaving, causes us to miss out on what God is trying to work out in us, or teach us…and eventually we’re going to need to go through it and learn what he wants to teach us. (I think much of the church leaving/hopping that occurs is people simply delaying the work God wants to do in them. Or even worse, putting it off altogether.)

You might wonder, shouldn’t we be obedient enough, that all we need is the carrot…a calling…a vision God has given us to go or do or be something?

Maybe. And I think with some things it is. The two examples I gave were both major changes, with major consequences for many people.

At the same time I’m taking some consolation in the fact that the bible seems full of stories of God working this way in people’s lives.

Two example…an Old Testament one and a New Testament one.

In the beginning of Genesis chapter 1 God’s command to humanity is to “fill the earth.” (the carrot) After the flood, in Genesis 9, he gives the same command to Noah and his family.

Yet generations later, in Genesis 11, what is everyone doing? Making a tower that reaches to heaven so that they won’t be “scattered all over the earth.”

You know how that ends. God confuses their language, and scattered them over the face of the earth. (the stick)

Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, they are a bad example…this was a group up to no good.” (yeah, so much different from us, right?)

So on to our New Testament example. In Acts chapter 1 Jesus tells the early church they are to go where? “Jerusalem (where they were), Judea, Samaria & to the ends of the earth.” (the carrot)

Six chapters later in Acts 7 we read the story of the stoning of Stephen, which was the start of a great persecution against the church. (the stick)

Then we’re told one of the results of that persecution was, “All except the apostles were scattered (they were still in Jerusalem)

Where did this persecution scatter them?  To Judea & Samaria.

And what did they do when they got there? “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”

I love that story.

It helps me not to beat myself up.

I think it is a great example of the grace that the Father has toward us. Why didn’t I listen and join the Vineyard two years earlier than I did? Why didn’t I…do lots of stuff?

But when I read stories like this & see how he weaves situations in our live together, it removes that burden. Should they have gone to Judea & Samaria immediately?

Or in the midst of a difficult situation, did their response now become clear?

It’s often easier in hindsight to see what we might have done, had we had just a bit more clarity…but I think rather than beating ourselves up, recognizing that, we eventually got to where we were supposed to (& likely even at the right time) opens us up to the grace the Father wants to pour out in our lives.

Just something I was thinking while writing about our journey.

Do you have examples like this in your journey?

What about Bob?


I grew up in Western New York and have started and led missional church planting efforts for a little over 30 years. As you might gather, I have opinions about the church, and I share some of them here.

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