“Go ye into your comfortable church and listen to the Gospel”
– Mark 16:15
Wait, that’s not right, is it? But if it’s not, why do we, as Christians have a tendency to think that way?
I have been challenged repeatedly, over the last year, to change my attitude about church. And the more I learn about my expectations and demands, the more I realise, that’s not what God wants from his children — and the more I understand that this erroneous thinking is not unique to me.
The great commission actually says: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel.” But so often we fail miserably at that. Instead, we go to church on Sunday and we expect to be ministered to. Me, who’s been a Christian for 22 years of my 26 year existence, still shows up at church with the expectation that it will be tailored to me. How messed up is that?
What I’m learning is that church shouldn’t be for me. Church should be for those who don’t already know the gospel. Church should be my opportunity to share with others what I already know!
But what about growth? Cause I hear that question a lot when I ponder this. Isn’t it important for Christians to grow deeper in their faith? Absolutely it is. But Christ and his disciples, and then his followers who started the early church, gave us an amazing template for how to grow in our faith — by serving others.
Can you imagine Peter, showing up once a week to staff meeting with Jesus, demanding that Christ serve him? Can you imagine Paul, after getting the call on the road to Damascus, sitting down and spending the rest of his life listening to someone else preach to him? Not a chance! These guys got up, got our of their comfort zone, and served others and shared what they were learning! Neither of them were pastors: Paul killed Christians for a living, and Peter was a fisherman. But they both realised, in a way that we have forgotten, that they had to serve.
Church is a framework in which each of us is called to serve. No church, anywhere, is perfect — and I know, because I’ve seen churches all over the world. But that’s OK, cause neither are the people who walk in the door. The church’s obligation to us as Christians isn’t to coddle us and make us happy, and it isn’t there to magically save all our friends. The church’s only obligation to the mature Christians who attend is to provide a framework in which each of us can build our own ministry.
What does that mean? It means, the church and it’s staff provide us a safe place to bring our non-Christian friends, where God and the Bible are discussed openly. It provides us with resources, and support and opportunities. It provides us with topics to discuss, and a Biblical foundation on which we can build our relationships with our friends. What it doesn’t, and shouldn’t do, is take the responsibility away from us: God doesn’t put our friends in a church. God puts our friends in OUR lives. And if we get them out to church, great! But that doesn’t mean we hand the responsibility over to the pastor as soon as we escort them in the door!
No growing church is going to be comfortable for stagnant Christians. The more healthy and active the church is, the more difficult it’s going to be to just sit there and do nothing. But that’s OK, we should embrace that discomfort! That’s God telling us we’ve misunderstood the Great Commission. If I’m not growing in church, it’s not because the church isn’t meeting my needs, it’s because I’m not serving. And that’s a sign to me that I’ve gotta set down my King James Version, get out of the pews, and get to work!
In my limited experience, nothing has forced me to grow more than serving. It will push you, it will stretch you, it will bring you to your knees exhausted and empty and broken before God. It will challenge you in a way that no preaching ever will. But God will honor it, without fail. He’ll fill you up again until you are more satisfied than you ever were before. He’ll pick you up when you think you’re done, and He’ll give you a glimpse of the incredible things He was able to do because you emptied yourself for Him… And you will be in awe that He could use your simple obedience to change lives.
So to everyone at Northway, and Faith Baptist, and at every church in the world, who gets it; who understands that church is not an opportunity for them to be served, but it’s an opportunity for them to grow through service: thank you. To every person who greets at the door, or runs a camera, or teaches Sunday School, or stacks chairs, or cleans toilets: You have understood what church is for. You are God’s obedient children.
To those of us who complain that the music isn’t our style, or the preaching isn’t old school enough, or the moving lights are too distracting, or our needs aren’t getting met: get off your butt, pick up a mop, an offering basket, or a toddler, and serve God in whatever church He’s put you in. Only then will you be able to grow.