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.
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.
Only the gospel is powerful enough to massively and drastically change the life of a Christian. It should be giving us a whole new identity and making us almost unrecognizable from the people we used to be.