In a small group my husband and I visited, the topic of “serving the church” came up. Tim and I both began thinking about the people the Lord had brought into our lives, listening to their stories, talking to them about the goodness of God, helping them with day-to-day needs, and reaching out to them in the down and dirty places of life.
But discussion in the group took a different direction. They began talking about being parking lot attendants, ushers, and instrument-players. None of those things are bad; in fact they may be good, but Tim and I both realized that the people in the group were thinking of the church only as an organizational structure on a certain piece of property, and that in their minds “serving the church” had to be defined in those parameters.
I’m not sure why I was surprised, but I was. But for Tim and me and for many people I know, much of “serving the church” takes place outside the scope of the physical, organizational building and meetings called “church.”
I know the people of that small group would have agreed that taking a meal to someone in the church for whom a meal list has been created is “serving the church.” But isn’t it every bit as much serving the church to take a meal to a Christian who isn’t on the church’s radar? It is serving the church to help people who go to another church or don’t go to church. It can even be serving the church to go hiking with your children.
Not long ago I met with someone for whom “serving the church” almost destroyed their family because it had become a tool of spiritual abuse. In churches that manipulate and control, a person’s spiritual maturity is measured by his “faithfulness” or “loyalty,” which is defined as “serving the church,” which is defined as advancing the organization that meets on a certain physical piece of property, with a certain important person at the helm. “Leadership” in a good husband can become being taught to simply deliver orders to the family, since he is seldom home, being so busy “serving the church,” which if he doesn’t do will become a source of shame and guilt.
In some church organizations, a person’s spiritual merits are determined by such things, and his qualifications as a future leader may hang in the balance of his performance.
But that’s not the way of Christ. His Church is His people, scattered all over creation, meeting in various bodies (or sometimes, sadly, not). For us to “serve His Church,” His Church, the Church of our Lord Jesus, we are delighting to “do good to everyone, especially to those who are of the household of faith,” as Galatians 6:10 says, wherever they may be. Some of us are called to wash feet, some to rescue lambs, some to feed the poor, some to expound the truth of the Word of God. There are myriads of possibilities, as many as there are needs and ideas for ways to fulfill them. (Volunteering for scheduled church events on the church property can certainly be included, but wouldn’t be considered the only way.)
The overriding characteristic that brings all these types of service together is Love.
If we’re helping other Christians with the eternal in view, we’re serving the Church. If we do it with joy from the power of the Spirit, God is pleased, not because we need to earn points with Him, but because helping others is a natural outpouring of the love and power He has poured into us, and He loves to see the fruit of His work.
And there are no merits on the basis of which any of us need to be judged except the merits of our Savior.
This is a way of freedom. This is a way of joy.