Monday, September 8, 2014

Disciples will serve

This post is part of a series on what disciples of Jesus will look like.  

For you were called to be free, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. Galatians 5:13-14

In one sense, I have already covered this topic with Disciples will give. Giving encompasses time and talents as well as monetary wealth. But for many people, the personal nature of service is a hurdle even higher than that of giving money. Consider the following statements that I have heard about serving in the last few months:
  • "Can't we set a time limit on it, like three months or something? That way people don't feel like we're asking them to serve forever."
  • "So much focus on serving makes me feel like I'm just a warm body to fill a position."
  • "I feel like 10% of the people do 75% of the work in the church."
  • "We had eight people sign up, but when the first meeting came, only one person showed up."
  • "Just try something a couple of times, like a test drive. If you don't like it, you don't have to do it."
  • "Those people that are complaining the most about us not having that program anymore, they are usually the first ones to make up excuses when it's their turn to serve everyone else."
Why is serving so hard for so many Christians to embrace? Why are there some who "always make up excuses" when it is there turn to serve in a common program, while others think asking people to serve an hour a week for more than a few months is a completely unreasonable request? The end result in so many churches is that relatively few people end up doing most of the work and may have to fight back feelings of bitterness along the way. Obviously, everyone's situation is different, but I feel there are a few common factors in the American church that contribute to this mentality.

Sinful and unbiblical attitudes. Let's just get this one out the way up front. People are sinful, selfish creatures by nature, and in our flesh, we naturally default to whatever is best for us. We are busy all week, family comes first, and besides, we tithe every month. Why do they need our time as well?

We either forget or simply do not understand that of all the things that belong to God (Deuteronomy 10:14), perhaps the most valuable is our very lives. It is what Jesus shed His blood to purchase. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20); we are literally owned by God. (1 Peter 2:9). Too many in the Western church dwell so much on God as our Father that they neglect entirely that Jesus is also our Lord and Master (Jude 1:4). We were set free from sin in order to become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:18). When our Lord and Master tells us to do something, we are to obey, and as Galatians 5:13-14 says, we are commanded to serve one another.

"Professional" Christians vs. "Lay" Christians. One of the most significant downsides of the tradition of paid church staff is that it fosters the idea that they are the only ones who really need to serve because "that's what they are paid to do." Many have this idea that the rest of us are only "part-time" servants in the kingdom, and as such they leave the heavy lifting of kingdom work to the "full-time professionals." In contrast, however, Ephesians 2:10 says that we were each created in Christ Jesus to do good works, and God prepared those works even before we were saved so we could "walk in them". 1 Corinthians 12:7 says every single believer has been given a spiritual gift, a "manifestation of the Spirit", for the "common good." Every single one of us has a job to do, and we are all full-time servants in the kingdom of God. That is and always will be our first priority while we here on this earth (Matthew 6:33).

Extremely low expectations. On the other side of the equation, we have many churches who have surrendered so much ground on this topic. They do not teach and preach the harder doctrines of what it truly means to live the life of a disciple. In the area of service, many have set the bar so low on what service really is that it creates a downward spiral of desperate churches having to beg immature believers to do the simplest of tasks. Like shopping for a new shirt at a department store, they tell their members to just try something out a time or two, and if they don't like it, they can take it back for a full refund, no questions asked.

I would imagine very few people in America aspired to be garbage collectors, dish washers, or toilet cleaners when they were eight. Yet these are things that every household has to do, and all members of that household, down to the smallest and most immature, should be doing their part. Incidentally, parents, if you are paying your children to do these common household chores, please stop. It just perpetuates the idea that they only need to assume shared responsibility when it directly benefits them. By the time I was 12, thanks to the wisdom of my parents, I was doing my own laundry, making my own breakfast and lunch, taking out the family's garbage and mowing the family's lawn every week during the summer. I do not remember if I got an allowance for that or not. If I did, it certainly was not significant enough to outweigh the memory of working in my family simply because I was a part of that family. Even at 2 1/2, my wife and I are teaching our son "when you make a mess, you clean it up." Every night before he goes to bed, we make him clean up the toddler tornado of gratuitous chaos that he creates.

Being part of a church family is just like being part of a regular family in this regard. In the last couple of days, I swept up potting soil off a classroom floor after a Sunday school craft, helped to move ridiculously heavy tables back into many classrooms, and plunged a stopped up toilet full of someone else's poop. I did not do this because it was my "ministry" or my "calling"; it needed to be done and I was there and able to do it. If you are part of a church family, and every believer should be (Hebrews 10:25), support your family by doing your part of the "grunt" work that virtually no one enjoys doing. And churches, if you are paying "professionals" to vacuum your buildings' floors, wash its windows, clean its toilets or mow its grass, you are only perpetuating the problem. Train your members in the importance of serving by communicating the expectation that everyone will share in the common "chores", and then stand firm and follow through.

However, beyond these "menial" tasks, there is another level of service to which disciples are called. As I mentioned before, every believer has been given a spiritual gift, and these gifts are given for "the common good" (1 Corinthians 12:7) and to "build up the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12). Like any given part of a physical body, we each have a vital role to play that God has equipped us specifically to fulfill. God has you in your church for a reason, and if you are not using your gift to serve your church, then that church is not as healthy as it could be. Service that is your calling or ministry happens when you use your gift to meet a genuine need. God has specific good works He intends for each of us to do. If you don't know what your spiritual gifts are, talk to your church leaders and ask them to help you figure that out. Once you know, find a way to use that gift that will build up the body of Christ, encouraging your brothers and sisters on to greater Christ-likeness.

Disciples will serve, both out of love and obedience to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ and out of love for their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord.
Romans 12:11