“This isn’t going to grow the church!”
“Sounds like a gimmick to me Pastor!”
“We don’t have any money to do all that”
“We need to look out for our own first”
“We need to strengthen the members with an internal focus first!”
The logic is really quite seductive. Almost convincing. Intoxicating even.
But Horribly wrong, unbiblical and even sinful. Sure Galatians 6 says to “do good to all, especially to the household of faith” but it also says in the previous chapter to “love your neighbor as yourself.” The church was never meant to be a club that exists to serve club members with their wants, desires, and preferences while the rest of the world goes to Hell.
So let’s say for a minute that the arguments above are valid. Then what about the words of Jesus to love your neighbor? When are we to care for the widow and orphan? When to care for the hungry, homeless and naked? When will that take place? When will you and your church ever make the shift?
When people are finally satisfied so they can finally give attention to others? When will that be? It isn’t likely to be any time soon. Is it?
Our sinful flesh has a strong appetite for satisfying self. So what’s the solution? The emphasis between serving self (church members) and others (not yet believers) should never exclude serving people of faith, rather it should always favor serving others. In that way it combats our sinful nature to favor ourself but there's another reason: When you serve others you are far more fulfilled and get your own needs met far more than if you were the main recipient of someone else’s care!
Externally focused ministry shifts from a consumer, “me first” or “what I want” mentality to a Christ like, servant mentality, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…taking the nature of a servant” (Phil 2:6,7) “Serve wholeheartedly” (Eph 3:7). Let’s be honest, the first serves the desires of the sinful nature and the later seeks to live by the Spirit. The first will never accomplish the will of Christ but the later always will. We see it evident in St. Paul who sacrificed his wants, desires, preferences and even his rights for the sake of those who did not know Jesus! “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor 9:22). How then can we in our churches continue to fool ourselves into thinking that what we do is not for ourselves but for the sake of others…(if they would only attend!). The truth is that we need a steady diet of serving others because there is always such inertia pulling us toward selfishness.
But wait, there’s more! When we serve others, even and especially when we are not fully ready, we put ourselves in positions where people may ask questions, make comments, and there will be interactions that may tug at the growing Christian servant who shows up to serve. That, along with the simple fact of realizing that we are going in the name of Jesus, perhaps for the first time, will move us to be ever more hungry for the sacrament and the Word of God so we will be more equipped and prepared to be ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor 5:20).
But wait, there’s still more! When we serve others in the name of Jesus it is often exactly the kind of thing our unbelieving friends, neighbors and co-workers want to participate in to “make a difference.” They probably won’t join you on Sunday morning but they may indeed join you in a work party, food drive, clothing drive, or other event that helps the less fortunate. And along the way they can meet your Christian friends from your community of faith. Can you imagine the conversations that can take place over a snack or the drive home?
So the goal to “strengthen the members” happens exactly because of and during the living out of an external focus and there is no need to “be prepared first.”
- So where is the focus of your church and ministry? What is it really?
- What are you going to do about it?
- How can you direct whatever you do for others, confident that along the way you will be giving and experiencing love ourselves as Christ loves through us?
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