Once upon a time I did the stuff just because it was the good and right thing to do. As a perfectionist, two things happen. One, I constantly scan the world for things to fix and put in place. Two, my motive behind everything ultimately boils down to this desire to get it right and be perfect. Growing up in church, that is how I approached service. There was a hole and I could fill it. Not only did this allow me to right a wrong in the world, but it also let me add it to my little pile of good works I unconsciously tried to accumulate in my favor.
Fast forward several years past giving up on God, desperate for the solidity of the faith I once had, I knew Christ was the only firm foundation. I also knew I had to sort through what I believed and what was true. I wanted to get back into regular church attendance but anxiety and emotion dictated only brief appearances on Sunday mornings. I would slide into a back row somewhere on Sunday morning and run for the hills as soon as the service concluded. I even joined a Bible study, but my real journey back to faith in God didn’t start until I began doing again.
Friends from the gym invited me to their Sunday service. My first time attending, I hung around after to talk to them. And since I needed something for my hands to do to keep my feet from running, I volunteered to roll AV cables. Immediately, I felt the shift. Service gave me purpose. It connected me and grounded me and gave me a task oriented outlet for my anxiety. Here I could observe and absorb. Here I could start benign conversations with others that would eventually blossom into life affirming relationships without having to explain my new attendance or my spotty church past.
Before I deemed myself ready, I was asked to commit to more than rolling cables and start singing on the worship team. My rawness terrified me. If there be any clear, transitional moment in my life to point to, it is that one. In the past, I had always associated service and leadership with a certain level of spiritual maturity.
But the gospel is what qualifies me and transforms me, not a clean track record.
In service, I began to understand the magnitude of grace, unmerited favor. For the first time, my doing a task and filling a hole became pouring back out gratitude for what Christ had done for me back when I wanted nothing to do with him. It was no longer doing the stuff to do the stuff, but an offering back of my two hands, my talents. I no longer try to tip the balance in my favor but work to honor the One who looked at my mess and scooped me up in his arms anyway. And I no longer serve because I want to be a good Christian, but because I want to be like Christ.
I’ve seen maturity in my life as I have learned to do my part. As Ephesians 4:15-16 tells us, we grow when we all do the little parts we were made and designed to do in love. Maturity in service? Maturity through service? Either way, it’s essential. I started doing again because I was growing but I also started growing because I just started doing it. That’s the very illustration of sanctification, I guess. Rolling cables opened the doors to so much else. This blog is part of my story and my service. God has given me talent with the written word and my goal is to turn it back to his glory. I didn’t start here. But I also didn’t say no to the steps that stretched me and grew me to the point where I could do this.
And service isn’t just about a dedicated time in the four walls of a church building. The point of it all isn’t to go to a building or meeting and oil the machine once a week. The point of it all is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Ephesians 4:11-16 reminds us that God gave us preachers and teachers and gifted orators, not to reach out to the world, but to equip the rest of us to do so. Until we are all mature, until we all work together properly, until we all grow so that we are building up the body of Christ in love.
What a provocative thought! Those we deem in the “ministry” only serve to train and help prepare the rest of us for ministry. Why do I make it so complicated? Ministry is simply to live like Christ in my daily life. Every day from waking to sleeping is service or ministry. Every second of my work day, every word to another person. How do I work to build others up in Christ, in love? The little things then take on a whole new existence and gravity. Christ, who was fully God, didn’t count that as a thing. He served. He became the lowest, he poured out in humility. And he did it in the quiet times where he touched one and called another. His greatest lessons were not to the crowds but to the men he modeled a humble life to day after faithful day.
So, it involves us and requires our involvement. We learn, we do, we reach out in and endless cycle on repeat, ever growing in love, in Christ.
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whole the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Eph. 4:11-16)