A lot has been written lately about people in my age demographic leaving the church. Some have suggested reasons for this, others countered with other possibilities. Solutions have spanned the spectrum. We're told our generation is wary of anything that hints at consumerism, and then in the next breath we're given reasons for attending church that center on what we can get out of it. It's no wonder we are leaving the church--we're not even sure what it's for.
This post isn't really about millenials leaving the church. It's not about millenials at all, actually.
The consumer mentality of church members and church-goers is not unique to my generation. It can be found in every demographic in probably every church. Where I most often see it, and where I am most often guilty of it myself, is in the area of service.
My husband and I started attending our church nearly eight years ago. We were there just a few months before people were volunteering us to serve in various areas. We found ourselves part of a newly formed "Greeting Ministry," I was working in the nursery, we were teaching kids on Wednesday nights. It was a little overwhelming. We didn't know how to say "no," so we "served" begrudgingly. Truth be told, we were both pastor's kids and were unsure how to be normal church members.
It was easy to think, "Well I'm not sure this is my gifting. Maybe I should find something that uses my talents and abilities better."
There's nothing wrong with wanting to use our gifts to serve our church family. But then again, who would say they have the spiritual gift of changing diapers? Holding doors open? Setting up chairs?
Thankfully the Lord revealed to me the selfishness of my heart. I wasn't serving anyone, really. I was performing needed tasks, but my heart was not in it. Even still it's easy to slip back into this. It's the mentality that thinks my service on the Sundays in which I sing with the worship team are more valuable that those in which I am a substitute teacher in the preschool department.
People leave churches over things like this. When our gifts are unneeded or we go unrecognized for some God-given ability, we decide we'll go somewhere else where we're "needed." So we leave a church with a need for workers in every children's department because we just don't feel we're being used there.
I think ultimately it comes down to this: Are we serving for the benefit of the Body, or for our own self-fulfillment?
Serving in our local church is not meant to meet our needs for self-fulfillment or self-worth. We don't go to church to "find ourselves." Or if we do, we learn the only way to find our lives is to first lose them. That's the whole picking up our cross and following thing (Matt. 10:38-39).
A love for Christ is accompanied by a love for His bride. My church family is just that--my family. I can't imagine saying to my husband, "I'm sorry, I just didn't change our son's diaper today because it really isn't my gifting and I'm not sure it would really use my talents well." No, I love my son and I love my husband. If the diaper needs to be changed, I change it. It's a simple way to serve in love and meet a need. This doesn't mean my gifts aren't important. What it means is that sometimes the need for a servant is greater than my need to use a specific gift.
A love for the church means a heart that desires to give. There are weeks I'm tempted to go to church and sit back and be served. Now, sometimes being served is what we need to do. If you're one who is always giving, but in pride refusing to receive, that's not okay. Allow others the chance to serve you. But if we refuse to serve in the nursery because Sunday is our one chance to get away from kids, we're thinking of church wrongly. The Bible speaks strongly about the church being our family, even more than our flesh and blood families. (UPDATE: For a great series on this, see this post and those following). So Sunday is not a chance to take a break from family--it's a chance to serve our true family.
When you are part of a body that loves and serves and gives, there is a beautiful bond that forms. You see people serving in the background and you praise God for that. You see the joy of service in others, and you want to follow suit. You see a need and you long to meet it.
It's not about self-fulfillment; it's about self-denial.
The church is the bride of a Bridegroom who emptied Himself and took "the form of a servant." He humbled Himself to the point of death on a cross. Our Savior did this on our behalf. He freed us from trying to one-up one another. He freed us to serve in love, just as He did. He freed us to rest in the knowledge that our service does not earn our salvation.
We love because we have been loved, and we serve because we have been served.
As we head into the fall, many churches are looking for people to serve in a wide array of areas. Let's not wait to be wanted or asked. Let's find out how we may serve our family in love.