“There’s no where for me to serve around here.” Being involved in pastoral ministry in various roles for a number of years now, I have heard this line more than once. Generally, people want to do something at the church. For the most part, the desire to serve is commendable but perhaps sometimes slightly misguided. We have been conditioned to think of “serving” almost exclusively in terms of having our names on the flow chart for the organization. Tim Hawkins hilariously explains what Christians often mean whey they say someone has a “servants heart.” It means start stacking chairs! But ministry is so much more than stacking chairs, making the coffee (though important), turning on the lights, and handing out the bulletins. There are many weekly essentials but these tangible jobs are far from the whole story of what it means to serve.
Recently I took our elders through The Trellis and the Vine (on sale for $1.99!) This book provides a helpful paradigm shift for thinking about ministry not so much in terms of programs but in terms of people. To give you a really short version of an illustration they use, imagine someone asks the pastor after a service where they can plug in at the church. The person may be somewhat frustrated since they don’t have an official role. What would the pastor say? He could come up with a list of things to do or new ministries to start, but is that best? The authors explain that a better alternative would be to point the individual to people. Look around. See that person, they are a new believer and need someone to disciple them. See that person, they are going through a tough time and need encouragement. (This illustration is adapted from pages 26-28).
In short, we need to be practicing “one anothering.” There are 47 plus places in the New Testament where we are exhorted to be one anothering. Love one another, forgive one another, encourage one another, bear one another’s burdens, and on the list goes. We need to think of serving not so much in terms of where we serve but who we serve. Sometimes that means our names make the flow chart as the Sunday morning coffee maker, but sometimes that means we are simply attending and looking for opportunities to encourage, exhort, and bear burdens.
Rather than waiting for the church leaders to tailor make a position for you, think about your own gifts, abilities, resources, time, and desires for how you could serve. It may be that you do not ever make the official serving list. But if serving is only thought of in terms of having our name on the list, then in theory at least, the jobs could all be taken. (Although, I believe children’s and nursery is endless!) If we think of serving in terms of people work, as long as there are people around, there are ways to serve one another.
Individually, we do not need permission to be one anothering! We need to simply jump in the game and start. This is what Christians have done for 2 millennia. Maybe you do want to see if something more could happen for you in terms of an official capacity at your particular local church. This may also be a good desire. Here are a few diagnostic questions that will help get to the heart of that desire.
What do I want to do? It is amazing to me how God seems to work desires into the hearts of his people that are diverse and unique. We are all different and bring a unique perspective. I find it helpful to note that Paul starts the qualifications for pastoral ministry with noting that this should be something the man desires/aspires to do. 1 Timothy 3:1 says, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” Notice that the “office” and the “work” are inseparable. You can’t have the position if you don’t want to do the work. The work is people work.
God uniquely works desires into the hearts of his children. Whenever someone has something they really want to see happen at the church, I try to hear them out and see if that’s something I can help facilitate.
What can I do? I love music but I’m no musician. I can have a desire in my heart to bless the congregation with my own rendition of It Is Well, but the reality is, that would not be well. Amazingly, God so often pairs people. Someone will have a desire to see something happen but may lack the skill or resources to pull it off. Someone else may have expertise but lack the energy, confidence, or assertiveness to make it happen. God often uses people who feel inadequate for the task (Moses being a prime example). But Moses actually could do what God asked him to do, he just didn’t think he could.
What may I do? It’s possible you have a desire for a particular ministry that doesn’t line up with the direction the elders of the church are heading. There are good reasons why the church may not want to do the interpretive dance ministry. You need to be humble enough to submit to the leadership of the church and seek to fit into their direction. After all, church leaders are charged with setting the course for a church. The last thing they need is factious people determined to start a rogue ministry.
What needs to be done? Every Sunday, we have people assigned to the children’s building to be hall monitors. The job is simple: sit in a chair, watch the doors, and call someone if something weird happens. No one has the spiritual gift of hall monitoring. Lots of times we need to simply do the jobs that need to be done. We sometimes say that we want pull our load, but we don’t really want to take care of what needs to be done. Be faithful, even in the small task. The Lord sees and knows. He uses willing servants.
Why am I not doing it? There are plenty of good reasons why you may not be actively serving. There are also some bad reasons why you may have given up on serving. The question is why are you not actively one anothering in some way?