I enjoy exercising. I have exercised regularly for years. When I was a teenager, I worked out primarily because I wanted to have a perfect body (I never got there). Over time, my motivations for exercise have dramatically shifted. I feel better when I exercise. I’m happier. I’m not as anxious. I am more alert and awake to do the other things I love. I choose to exercise because I see the evidence that it prevents physical atrophy and helps me to be a better “me.”
The same can be said of serving within my local church. Serving promotes personal growth, authentic discipleship, and prevents spiritual atrophy.
I committed my life to following Christ and was baptized when I was 17 years old. For several years after that, I was growing and changing rapidly from the person I was before, but I never chose to step up and serve in the church. I would hear recruit teams share the needs their areas were experiencing, and I would hope to avoid eye contact so that I didn’t have to make up some reason why I couldn’t give of my time to help. Quite frankly, it wasn’t that I didn’t have time; I just flat-out didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to make the time to give of myself. I didn’t see how I could add value to my church by serving, and I didn’t see how serving would add value to my life. My goodness how blind I was!
Fast-forward a few years. I was a college student in Virginia attending a church in which “serve and be served” was a basic premise. If you called this church “home,” you were encouraged to be an active participant in the organization in some capacity. This “encouragement” didn’t come from a perspective of legalism, or expectation, but rather of love and invitation. This church really honed in on the God-given gifts and skills of the people that were there and invited them to use those skills to advance God’s kingdom right there.
How many of you out there would say that you want to be valued, part of something meaningful, and as though you “belong?” I would be willing to bet that most of you responded with an adamant, “Yes!”
During my years at this church, I began to feel wanted. I quit believing that I was expendable, and I and started to realize that as a Christ follower, I wasn’t just called to believe, I was invited to be intricately woven into God’s family. Serving wasn’t just for the people that had “arrived,” it was for me too!
I decided to sign up to work with this church’s children’s ministry. I started out just filling in when someone would be absent, and then steadily I became more and more involved. After several years, I was asked to join the part-time staff at the church. Now, years later, one of my greatest passions is God’s people---all of God’s people---evaluating their God-given skills, talents, and interests and finding a place within the body of Christ to use those gifts. Not everyone gets excited about holding babies every week. Not everyone is comfortable leading. But everyone has something to bring to the table.
I think that as people we are wired to weigh opportunity costs. We can’t have or do everything, so we make choices. Sometimes these choices are based on pure motives like what is best for others. Sometimes our choices are based on what has the most value. Sometimes our choices are just for the sake of preference and what we would enjoy the most. I know I am not the only one that struggles against the clock every day. I think that most of us would say we want our time to matter and count towards something; life is too short to waste. Some of you might be like me 10 years ago, and maybe you just don’t see the benefit of giving of your time to your church.
But what if I told you that stepping up to serve all those years ago changed me? What if I told you that for the first time, I belonged somewhere? What if I said that plugging in and intentionally saying “no” to other things (including my Sunday afternoon nap) grew me into someone that finally had a place to call home? Serving in the Church enabled me to really connect and develop relationships with people. Serving was the catalyst to me honing in on who God created me to be, and I had so hungered for purpose and meaning. Don’t we all? And what is more meaningful than owning our salvation purchased by Christ, and embracing the Body of Christ called “the church?”
Some of you may legitimately be unable to serve during traditional times like Sunday mornings. It's ok to think outside of the box on your role in your church family! Maybe you attend a house church and there isn't a major organization to jump right into, or maybe you live abroad and culturally the dynamic of church is very different than American church. To all believers reading this, I boldly declare that the Body of Christ transcends culture and time restraints. Serving means giving of yourself to meet the needs of other believers out of your abundance of time and resources. I cannot tell you what this looks like for you personally, but I certainly encourage you to search God's heart on the matter! He loves you and you were made with His purposes!
With all of my heart I believe that we each have a vital role. Paul writes to the church in Corinth that we are all equipped with different gifts, and we are called to use them. Can you imagine if your stomach quit working because it said, “This body doesn’t need me; the lungs have got this one.” How crippling! In the same way, we are all a vital part of the global, eternal Body of Christ. You are invited to be all in and more than someone that watchers from the sidelines.
Like exercise, it may mean carving out the time because you see the value added. But I promise that God uses your energy, time, and talents to change the world when you commit them to Him, when you humbly submit your time and energy to Him to be used up for His glory. Serving impacts your community, your church, your peers, your family, and it impacts YOU! Give it a try. Commit to giving of your time in an area that you are interested in. Give it more than a few weeks---a year?—and see how your own heart changes as a result.