Volunteering to serve in a local church and within the surrounding community is at the heart of the gospel. Jesus best capsulated the idea of how the gospel connects to serving in Mark 10:45. The non-serving Christian is an oxymoron.
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For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
Paul said it this way:
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit but in humility, count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:3-5).
The Christian who does not have the heart to serve others has a functional gospel breakdown of the mind—something is wrong with their thinking. To not help others is the antithesis of what Christ has done for all believers (Matthew 18:33).
Notice how Paul appealed to us to have the mind of Christ. He is implying that not to have a servant’s heart is not to have the thinking of Christ. You could say the non-serving Christian has a spiritual, mental illness. If your local church is predominately a non-serving local assembly, here are a few things for you to consider.
The most important consideration is whether or not your church has provided a gospel vision that ties directly to the idea of serving. Serving, first of all, is a leadership issue. People need well thought out guidance on what it means to connect the gospel to everyday life.
They need explicit instruction about how to make the functional gospel alive within their sphere of influence. They need to understand how the heart of the gospel is serving. The Christian aims to make the name of Jesus big in our world: you do this by helping others.
One of the most effective ways to cast this vision is from the pulpit. The teaching pastors have a captive audience every week, who gather for instruction about the vision and mission of Christ.
- Are the other-centered expectations of the gospel taught from your pulpit?
- Is your church body transforming into an army of servants?
The church membership will, for the most part, reflect the heart and attitude of the church leadership. This worldview means if the church leadership is not setting the pace in serving others, do not expect the membership to be anything different from what the leaders are proving by their example.
When I talk to pastors about leading others well, one of the questions I ask them is, “What do you want your people to be?” Whatever you want them to be, you must already be that in practice. Leadership is an example to the flock.
Not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:3).
Never ask, “Am I an example?” Always probe, “What kind of example am I?” We all are examples, either for the good or bad. If I were pastoring a church and the people were not serving well, the first things I would examine would be my own heart and life.
This perspective is another angle on Matthew 7:3-5: if I am not modeling the thing I want others to become, I must change first. It would be hypocritical of me to want others to serve, while I am not setting the pace by my example.
Churches have different philosophies regarding the makeup of their constituency. Some churches are predominately made up of people with affirmed and authenticated faiths—as much as one can discern personal regeneration.
Other churches are on the other end of the spectrum, where they are seeker-sensitive. The church with the tighter filter will have an easier time motivating their membership to serve.
I have been part of this type of church before and found it to be an enjoyable experience to have so many joy-filled servers. But the downside to this model is that it caters to a narrower demographic, and it can be authoritarian. They can be less missional, while more ingrown.
If you lower the bar by not making much of membership, which tends to grow more attenders than members, the number of people with servant’s hearts will be less.
I have no answer for these two outcomes. Each church will have to decide the kinds of people they want to attract. The church in which we are members has a “whosoever will policy” (so to speak). It is not seeker-sensitive, and there is not a tight filter regarding who can be part of our local body.
The upside to our model is a lot of people can hear the gospel preached each week. The downside is more consumers come through the doors than active servants.
- What kind of people does your church attract?
- Subjective question: what percentage of your church is regenerated?
Being busy is not the best way to frame the problem when it comes to thinking about why people do not serve. The question is never about being too busy; it is always about personal value choices—what is it that you value?
We all are busy. You will be hard-pressed to find a non-busy person in a first world country, even if it is the person who watches twenty or more hours of television each week or spends an excessive amount of time on Facebook or playing video games.
Everybody is busy. The better metric is to examine where people spend their time. Once you figure out where they spend their time, you will find their heart treasure—the thing they value the most.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21).
If you work from the premise that everyone is busy, what you want to do is look inside their calendars, schedules, routines, and time management practices.
For example, a new convert will have no time allotted for incarnating Jesus because they did not know Jesus until recently. They filled their schedule with the things from their former manner of life (Ephesians 4:22).
You may also have people who have not heard a gospel vision for serving. Without this vision, like the new convert, they filled their lives with themselves. As they learn a new way to live, they may realize there is no room in their calendars for incarnating Jesus, so they decide to change.
Perhaps you have others who have over-obligated themselves in things they cannot extricate themselves from at this time. Maybe it will take a while for them to move from a self-centered calendar to a gospel-centered one.
Key Idea – Everybody should be busy, especially a Christian. An un-busy Christian is another oxymoron. The real issue is whether or not they have created time and space to incarnate the Savior in their spheres of influence.
Could it be that the Christian does not know how to serve? You never know what all their perceptions of the church are. Perhaps they see the church like a corporation: the hired staff does the work and the attenders consume what the paid workers provide.
Maybe they are tentative about putting themselves forward regarding their gifting. Perhaps the church member is not aware of the needs of the body or how they could fill those needs.
They may have a tight definition of serving, meaning, they see serving as something you do on Sunday mornings rather than a 24/7 opportunity, no matter where you are. (I will speak more to this in my last point.)
All of these dilemmas regarding ignorance could be solved by normal vision casting on Sunday mornings, as well as other equipping meetings. You should never assume that because you said it one time that everyone knows they are called to serve.
Calling people to serve should be said so many times that “serving type language” becomes part of the church culture’s way of communicating with each other. “How may I serve you?” or a similar phraseology should be common-speak in any local assembly.
One of the hardest things to overcome in “getting people to serve” is their selfishness. Selfishness is the gospel’s kryptonite. Whether you are talking about serving or something else, nothing will kill the good causes of the gospel like the selfish heart.
Our hedonistic heart-strings are double-knotted to the things of this world. We are the ones we love the most, and that is every person’s battle. No exceptions. Servanthood cuts against the grain of the selfish heart. This bondage means the “serving battle cry” must be a multi-angled assault against the human spirit that is held captive by selfish tendencies.
- Gospel envisioning from the pulpit is a start.
- Modeling it from leadership is another angle.
- Teaching it in small group contexts will also help.
One of the essential areas to infiltrate your community with the servant mantra is the home. Our churches are made up of families, and as each family begins to grasp and live out the servant’s mindset, the local body will start transforming.
Do Not Pre-judge
Be careful about being frustrated with non-serving people. There are reasons they do not serve. I have noted some of those reasons already; every non-servant is not the same.
You must assess and help each person according to where they are with the Lord and where they need to go with Him. Do not make blanket assumptions or statements about those who do not seem to be serving well.
If eighty percent of the people are not doing the work, do not assume it is because they are defiant. Perhaps they come from an abusive church culture. Maybe they have been hurt by Christianity, and they have come to you broken and struggling—looking for a place to rest. Perhaps they are burned out.
Maybe they do not trust the church because of what happened to them in the past. You never know all the reasons a person does not practically engage the church and community with a servant’s heart.
The most useful thing you can do is build a relationship with the church members, with the hope of having future conversations with them. You want to envision them about practically applying the gospel according to how the Lord has gifted and equipped them. To assume without asking questions is unkind and naive.
To serve others does not mean we are to volunteer exclusively at the local church facility or property. There are more places to meet needs than the local church functions. Christ served everywhere He went.
You do not know what every one of your church attendees is doing. Just because you do not see them serving in specific or needed areas, it does not mean they are not doing anything.
You should not narrow incarnating the gospel to just “working at the church.” That would be a short-sighted and self-limiting vision for the gospel. Christians should be serving everywhere they go, even while on vacation. Maybe you could ask the question this way:
- Is there a time or place where I should not act like Christ?
- Umm…let me think.
Servant Christ never stopped serving others. We also should never stop. The real question is what kind of serving are you doing. There are only two categories: self-serving or other-serving.
The truth is that every person in your church is serving. What you want to do is teach them how to be less self-centered and more other-centered. It is the difference between being gospelized and non-gospelized.
Sample Questions to Ask
If you want to get the ball rolling by talking to others about serving, here are a few questions that you can ask.
- What are your gifts? How has the Lord gifted you?
- If you could do anything for your local church, what would it be?
- What do you enjoy doing?
- What keeps you from using your gifts in our church?
- What are some of the things you do that we might be able to implement in our family?
- When it comes to volunteering in your local church, what thoughts do you have about it?
One of the most effective contexts for discussions on serving is in a small group of friends. If there is training for small group leaders in connecting the gospel to serving and if they can train their small groups, the local church can experience an amazing transformation.
And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2).