Should I serve inside the church or should I serve outside the church? Yes…
This is how as an interrogator, I learned the hard way not to ask compound questions. Did you rob the bank on Monday or did you rob the bank on Tuesday? Yes. So which is it?
If you serve inside the church walls… does that mean you are off the hook outside the walls?
Christians are called to both serve both one another AND the needy, i.e. “the widow, the orphan and the foreigner among you.” When we serve one another inside the walls we are serving by extension the ministry of God’s Word. When we serve outside the walls we are serving the ministry of God’s Work. Both Word and Works are necessary.
There is the danger of thinking that if we usher or work in children’s ministry, that we are absolved of working in the community. As a pastor, spending all my free time inside the walls, I even tried to convince myself that I was off the hook. Nice try.
We only hurt ourselves when we forgo community work because God ordains that kind of service as one of the ways that He changes our heart (i.e. sanctifies us). In short, I hate going, but once I’m there I feel like it was great idea (that’s simple heart change). And while he’s changing our heart, other hearts are changing as we model (and yes even speak about) the gospel.
We are called to be God’s agents in world repair- the Jewish term is Tikkun Olam. I especially love Isaiah for his Two Cities Theme: the city of man vs. the city of God- it’s currently a poor crime ridden ghetto filled with people who abuse each other. But in the end we see its transformation into a Holy City. Even though its not here yet, we are to be part of that transforming process- now.
The deep peace of knowing we’ve been accepted by Christ should be changing the way we work and rest… into rest at work. There is more to rest than our past and our future. And there is also more to rest than a day off or a vacation.
Think about your past. When you accept Christ as Savior- there is rest in knowing you’ve been forgiven for all your sins.
Think of your future. Because there is also the hope of the future rest we will have in heaven.
But there is also a rest today. The author of Hebrews writes: “Now we who have believed enter that rest…” Now. So not only do we get a physical day or two off once in a while., but as we go about our daily work, whether at our jobs or as parents, or whatever else it is that you do, you can not only occasionally rest FROM it, you can rest IN it, too. If your truly resting in your unconditional acceptance by the God of the universe, your work should look a lot different than the harried, blowing up at co-workers, late again for the meeting, yelling at the kids, thorns and thistles that everyone around you is experiencing as work. Here’s how:
Because you rest in Christ, you’re going to work towards excellence, but you’re not going to worry about the outcome, because good or bad, that’s up to God. You are not accepted based on outcomes.
Because you rest in Christ, your work doesn’t define you, Christ and his acceptance of you is what defines you.
Because you rest in Christ, you don’t overwork- because you’re not approved by taking on more than you can handle. And you’re not lazy- because you trust God will provide the rest you need.
So now Christians have a choice: we can do our work the old way or the new way. We can strive and contend and struggle or we can “rest at work.”
NoVA feels like one of the most workaholic cultures in the world. As the 80s band Loverboy sang: we’re all working for the weekend. We strive and contend with God to get him to give us what we want, when we want it. What’s the one thing you have to have or do- that, like water, is your most basic and core need? That you have to stay on top of? And when things don’t stay on schedule, causes us to strive and contend- and there is no rest until you get it. So how do we get to a place of rest where we can trust in God for our most basic needs? How can God quench our thirst? Not just physically, but spiritually.
Check out this talk on Numbers 20 and how a quarreling, contentious and thirsty Israel tries to hold God’s feet to the fire and how when we do that we’re actually laying our rod across Christ’s back:
I hate serving. I love serving. You could say I have a love/hate relationship with serving. I hate getting started because its inconvenient. It takes me out of my game. I don’t know anybody there. I don’t know what to do or how to do it. So my default setting is usually: “don’t I do enough already?” Then, after the guilt sets in, the evil twin of, “I don’t do enough.”
These are the two places from which Christians should never serve. Because frankly, you could never “do enough” or not “do enough.” Christ already did everything. The first is born of pride the second guilt. If we’re “doing enough,” we’re taking credit for doing something that we think should cause God to love us more. And when we’re not “doing enough” we think God loves us less. Both attitudes are opposite sides of the sanctification by works coin. God won’t love you more for doing more and he won’t love you less for dong less. But precisely because he loves us unconditionally like that- we should love him back- in obedience.
So rather than looking at service opportunities from the “works” binary, simply try to obey… for obedience sake. Simple obedience is the gateway drug to sanctification. Now surely there will be valid times when you can’t or shouldn’t. But simple obedience gets us over the reluctance hump. Once you try it, figure it out, meet the people, serving becomes something you want to do rather than have to do. That’s a heart being sanctified.
The Cheesecake Factory is known for its ability to pull off an eighty page menu. Churches, not so much…
Cheesecake Factory Church
The Cheesecake Factory is known for its ability to pull off an eighty page menu. Churches, not so much. In church world, something for everyone sounds great but usually fails at disciple-making. A church with too many menu items becomes stretched and spread too thin. Or, as Frodo Baggins would say “butter scrapped over too much bread.” You wind up with a dozen or so ministries with a dozen or so people in each- it dilutes resources- people, energy, time and money. Ministry fatigue results. So I prefer the Steakhouse model instead, pick a few things you can do well and stick with it.
What ministries in your church are good at disciple making? Where can you get the most bang for your buck? Small Groups are a “big bang” discipleship program. Connectivity, care and share, in depth bible study, gospel application, meaningful group prayer, leadership development, and even eating the occasional cheesecake together. If your only going to get people one time every week or two outside of church, this is a good one.
If you have many programs that accomplish all of these things well, then great! But we should always be evaluating and asking- how are they making disciples? If you’re only hanging out/socializing, that’s great- maybe you’re only studying the Bible together, not bad either, or serving, or praying, etc. But where are you doing all these things at once?
Check out this message on John 17:17-24 – its as close as I’ve been able to come to fully and biblically articulating the (drive by) theology behind my position: The Beauty of Gospel Community
Most people are reluctant to go to group prayer meetings precisely because they’ve been to group prayer meetings. Count me among the recalcitrant. Group prayer time used to send me into despair. I once suggested privately to my wife that we should pass a Yahtzee timer around. Not very loving or patient on my part. Hopefully, I’ve grown since. But my problem wasn’t the prayer, it was the prep. The backstories dominated the time. All too often, they began, “It all started back in fifth grade.” Cue famous painting “The Scream.” But two years ago, a couple of our Life Groups began to combine once a month for dedicated prayer time. Wary of past time sinks, we laid a few ground rules:
Get started right away. After a short 2-3 minute introduction by an informal leader- with a few community and church themed things we should be considering, we got started, right away.
No backstories. If the details are important, they are important enough to reveal them in the prayer.
Make a list of things to pray for BEFORE you arrive.
Pick a passage of scripture to pray for- concerned about the will of God? Worried you won’t have anything to pray? Plenty of material here. God’s Word is God’s will.
Embrace the silence. The Holy Spirit is still moving.
Then simply pray until everyone is prayed out. You’ll know when. Our early meetings lasted 15 minutes and eventually stretched to 45. It felt like two. Prayer is like distance running- you have to get in shape.
Getting right to prayer was the answer. There is still a place for backstories- albeit more appropriately in Life Group setting where the express purpose is to share life experiences. But give it a try. Get a couple of groups together, once a month, and if you’re nervous, have one of the pastors take the lead until you get the hang of it.