When the Apostle Paul said farewell to the Ephesian elders, he quotes Jesus as saying, “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) Paul pointed to his own work to support himself while among the Ephesians as an example of this. Along these same lines, Matthew 20:28 tells us that Jesus did not come to be served but to serve others.
Based on these verses and similar statements, churches rightly develop a culture of service where people come to contribute to the life of the church. It is good to come to church with the priority of serving over being served.
The question is, what is the goal of service? What are we trying to accomplish? How are we nurturing the ones who are serving?
In many churches, the primary goal of service is to bring more people into the church. This is a worthy goal (see Matthew 9:38) but it cannot be the only goal. Jesus himself said his ministry is “to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10) Yet, based on Paul’s analogy of the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12, I conclude that growing the church cannot be the only goal.
Under stressful circumstances a human can ignore the needs of his own body for a while in order to remove himself from a dangerous situation. The body can be pushed beyond what is considered normal when the need arises.However, this cannot be a prolonged situation. There is a point where the person begins to break down physically or mentally if its own needs are neglected. In order for the body to function correctly, it must be maintained.
Therefore, service cannot be the only goal, there must be nurturing that happens along with the service. If that nurturing doesn’t take place, people will feel used and will eventually move on when they are burned out. Also, if the nurturing isn’t taking place, people will feel pressured to appear that everything is OK, even when it is not. If this is the case, they will go through the motions and those who are perceptive enough to see it will know that there is something wrong with the body.
In our physical bodies, a low temperature is a sign that something is wrong. In the same way a low temperature in the Body of Christ is an indication of problems. If visitors regularly complain that your church is cold, this is an indication that people are not getting nurtured in the body. This should be taken very seriously. Sure, there will be some who visit who have unrealistic expectations, and sure, we cannot please everyone. But, if the complaint of the church being cold and unfriendly continues to come up, leadership needs to be open to believing that it is true and take steps to begin the thaw.
We are the body of Christ, if any part of the body gives indication that it is not healthy, the whole body suffers as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:26. Therefore we need to resist the temptation to identify some in our congregation as whiners and complainers who will never be happy. They are part of the body and perhaps God wants to use those who complain to highlight areas in the church (and in the leaders) that need growth and repentance.
The street on which I lived in Allentown had a hill in the next block. A neighborhood kid who was a football player was walking with his 3 year old little sister. She started running on the hill and quickly got out of control and fell, scraping her knee and causing it to bleed. In response to her screams, the football player picked her up and said, “walk it off, you’re not hurt that badly.”
Let’s not do the same with those that come through our doors who are hurting.