Saturday, February 24, 2007

Do We Serve the Church or God?

A while ago I came across a mailing from Cokesbury, the United Methodist publishing house, in our church post office box. It was a promotion for resource materials for pastors. Someone had conducted a survey of clergy and found that they were most interested in, “equipping members for service in the church.”

Immediately I thought: Yikes. Ouch. Wrong. I tossed it directly in the recycling.

It seems to me that ministry is about helping people to connect with God, providing a time and place to experience God, in a pew, at a bedside, through a meal, and more. Ministry is about empowering people to respond to God’s love in whatever way God calls them to use their gifts, resources and lives.

I don’t believe ministry is about equipping people to serve the church. Serving God, yes; carrying out church chores, no. We’ve demonstrated this in the congregation I serve and a member of by not filling slots on committees and programs. There are lots of zeros and blanks on our yearly denominational forms that attempt to quantify ministries. We don’t look good on paper, but that doesn’t mean we’re not alive in the spirit. We encourage people to say yes only to the activities of the church that bring us closer to God, closer to community. Right now one-third of our worshippers are knitting and crocheting hats for orphans at a particular orphanage in Swaziland, founded by a friend of one of our members. Women with a 45 year age range between them, some who’ve never worked with yarn before, are using their creativity to make one-of-a-kind caps for children they will never meet and they’re doing it with JOY!

In my early twenties I lived in Gilroy. There I encountered God and joined the United Methodist Church. Soon after I began to teach Sunday School. There was an older man, Eldon Nichols, whose ministry to the church was to make and present handcrafted wooden candleholders to each new Sunday school teacher. I cherished that gift. It was an affirmation of my contribution to the life of the community. I put those candlesticks on our table, and used them often. When I lit the candles I remembered Eldon, the church who trusted me and entrusted me with teaching, the children I was teaching, and the light that was coming into my life through my new encounters with Scripture and seven year olds.

I imagine that when Eldon died, the candlestick tradition went with him. To recruit someone else to takeover that ministry, would be to remove it from the realm of an outpouring from Eldon’s gifts and joy, and turn it into a church job, which someone needed to fulfill.

I have been thinking about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness this week, Satan saying, “If you’re so great, then do this,” and Jesus refuses those blatant exercises of power and finally says, “Away with you.” The church can be a tempter too, “If you love God, then you’ll do this and this and this for the church.” If, at the thought of particular requests, you find your stomach gnawing on itself or joy being drained from your bones, shout, “Drudgery be gone!”

There is so much ministry that needs to be done in this hungry and hurting world. None of us can do it all, so why not choose those things that bring us closer to God and to one another? Why not say yes to those things that reveal as Frederick Buechner says, our true calling, the place where our “deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet”?


RevErikaG said...

I think this is in part why the Church is in trouble, Cathy-- we've forgotten that as followers of Jesus, we're called to serve God, not the institution. I think people would be much more inclined to hop on board if we framed it this way, rather than the way in the brochure.
How do you translate this in the church you are at?

Phillip said...

I understand the comments you make...but would be hard pressed not to say that we need to be careful to assume church jobs do not minister to people.

Our ushers and greeters see themselves as evangelists...our guys that mow see that as a way they can work unto the Lord.

It is not church jobs but service...and when we limit or take away serving the bride of Christ (the church) and say it is a job...does unjust to what Christ himself has set up...

Just throwing it out there

Just a Disciple said...

I think you're right that it is not about serving the church, as in filling positions and committee's, but where I would differ with you is that it IS about serving one another in love 'each other's needs to prefer'.

Preach the Gospel always, and when necessary use words" - St Francis of Assisi

Galations 6:10 "let us do good to all people especially to those who belong to the family of believers"

It's great that you are doing things outside of committee's etc, and that you are serving as compelled by the love of God, only don't dissasociate serving everyone else with the need to express the love of God to each other by serving each other also.

The reason, is because we love God, but ALSO because we love each other.

Hope this helps
There is more on this subject and others on a social network I have set up to help support UK Christians in living for God in the UK. I'd love it if you would pop by, say Hi, and share some of your thoughts with us (you can even link your blog to you page!)
You can find us at

God bless