In many ways, serving your church is difficult. It involves sacrifice (1 Cor. 10:24). It involves deference (Romans 14:15-21). It requires bearing others’ burdens (Galatians 6:2). It requires love (Galatians 5:13).
But it doesn’t have to be as difficult as we often make it. It is something done not by our own power, but by the “grace” that God gives – strength for ministry (Romans 12:6, 1 Cor. 15:10). The selfish desires that naturally rule us can be overcome by a changed heart that desires to please Christ instead of serving one’s own self (2 Cor. 5:13-15). The motivation of future reward should be sufficient to help us not seek the ease and comfort that ministry often takes away. Serving others in the church may be hard, but it is very possible.
However, we don’t always know where we are to serve. Some people may think that ministry is strictly the job of pastoral staff; others may think it’s only for the ultra-spiritual or at least the really-mature. In either case it’s sometimes hard even for a willing heart to figure out what should actually be done. We may feel we lack qualifications; we may seem to lack opportunities; and we may definitely be short on ideas.
If this is you, there are some very simple actions you can do to overcome these problems. They may not be easy or glamorous, but they will open doors to ministry that you may otherwise have never seen.
- Show up – a lot
Come to church. No, really – show up to church. As in: attend a high number of church gatherings per week, and attend them with great consistency.
Illness happens. Sleepless nights with babies and uncooperative nap times happen. Not everyone can attend as often as they would like. Understanding there are special cases, ministry should not necessarily be withheld from those who do not attend regularly.
No one is required to come to Sunday school, the worship service, Sunday evening, small groups, and men’s/ladies stuff every single week.
But if you want to find ministry opportunities, one of the most fundamental ways to do so is simply to show up as much as you can. When you’re simply present, ministry can more easily find you.
- Commit (by membership)
Not every church has a formal membership process. But for those who do, join the church. And for those who don’t, find the closest equivalent where you can make yourself accountable to a church body and its leaders.
Why commit to such a process? What does it have to do with ministry? Can’t I just serve if I’m a Christian, you say?
In theory, you can, but if you want to serve most effectively, membership helps with these parts of the process:
Screening: The church can’t tell for sure if you’re truly born again, but a church certainly wants some procedure in place to determine who serves. For many, membership is the logical screen. It will often be rightly difficult for a church and its leaders to trust those who have not been through such a process
Demonstrated Commitment: Membership demonstrates a certain degree of commitment to the church itself and its approach to ministry. Once again, a church will have difficulty entrusting responsibility to someone who has not demonstrated they are even in it for the semi-short haul.
- Meet and Get to Know People
Whether at your home or out at a lunch, this is where you get to know people. What does that have to do with ministry? Well, nearly everything. Knowing people is virtually essential to long-term ministry by people in the church.
Ministry doesn’t usually arise in a vacuum to be placed on a “ministry needs list.” It arises as you get to know people and their needs, and as you are able to have increasingly Scripture-driven conversations so as to help them toward Christ.
So have people over to your house. Invite them out to lunch. Don’t just be content with the very rapid, surface-level talk that church service breaks provide. Instead, set up a schedule to be able to really get to know people.
- Arrive at Church Early
I know this one sounds impossible, but I’ve tried it and found that it’s somehow not. In fact, church starts for me an hour and a half after I drop my kids off for school during the week.
Showing up early gives you multiple avenues of service:
Indirect ministry: As you arrive early, you can speak with others before the service starts, rather than being there for the group setting only. This opens opportunities to serve these other people as you get to know them.
Direct ministry: You never know what will need done on a given Sunday morning. A few of the things that have been needed at my church that can be done by someone there 15 minutes early are: buy hot coffee when we have run out; stuff bulletins; carry items in from people’s vehicles; hold an umbrella; open doors; greet and hand out bulletins; show parents the check-in system and the classroom locations; set up tables and other equipment; etc.
On top of all this is the nice benefit of making sure you’re on time – even in case something happens on the way to church.
- Ask Your Pastors
Seriously: Ask your pastors. They have ideas. They know what needs to be done. They want to help you use your gifts. They want to equip you for ministry. They want to encourage and shape you in your ministry according to what they know from God’s word.
As my wife and I said at our previous church, “God loves you and Chris has a wonderful plan for your life.” Chris knew where ministry was available and he was ready not only to equip from the pulpit and discipleship, but also to enlist you for ministry among the saints.
I suspect most faithful pastors are similarly aware of areas of need within the church. Just be careful: you might send them into shock if you ask them! But when they recover, they should be able to help you jump into ministry.