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We meet for worship at 214 Spencer Street NE. Directions.
Service begins Sundays at 10:00AM.

beet farm wisdom for Spirit-led serving

Last Thursday my City Group had a good discussion about gifts and opportunities to serve. One member who has the spiritual gift of serving—who would die if I shared the person’s name or even indicated whether the person were male or female!—is highly gifted to do all sorts of things behind the scenes. The conversation was around the idea that we do not, as a church, assign tasks, so to speak. We do not present lists of things that need to be done. To be sure, there are needs! There are numerous little projects around the building, for example. The question seemed to be why we do not make these needs more prominent.

We make some needs known. We need more ladies to serve in the nursery on Sunday mornings. We need more folk to help with our children’s class. We need people to read Scripture and help in all sorts of ways on Sunday mornings. Because we are not driven by programming, we do not have the typical sorts of “job postings” that many churches have. I recall being in a church many years ago and seeing in the bulletin this church still needed about a 100 people to volunteer in their children’s ministry. This was in addition to those already volunteering! Because we do not have a lot of that sort of programming, we don’t have those sorts of needs. We need people to serve, but we do not need people to feed themselves into a machine in order to keep it running.

Part of our concern is by providing a list of needs, the tendency is for the list to become the sum total of serving. We’ve done what we’re supposed to do if we check things off that list. Yes, there is a list of repairs the building needs, but how do you list people in need of encouragement? People in need of financial help? People in need of correction and teaching and prayer?

How, then, are people to know how to serve? Ministry happens as gifted people are called to serve in specific ways. This call results in a desire to serve in that capacity. For example, the person with whom I was having this conversation has taken over the responsibility for cutting the grass here at the building. I did not ask this person to do this, so I asked how this person knew it needed to be done. The response was simple and straightforward: “I saw a need and asked if I could meet it”. I think we could frame this more accurately: the Holy Spirit gifted and called this person to meet this specific need by serving in this particular way. Whether this person recognizes it or not, it is clear the Spirit moved in this person’s heart to serve the Lord and his church by meeting a very tangible need.

Several years ago we had a young mom at New City who saw a need for other young moms in her neighborhood to get out and spend time with others. In response to this need she organized play dates. Sadly, her life soon fell apart in significant ways so she was unable to continue this. My point is this: no one asked her to do this. She was moved by the Spirit to do this.

I think we often misunderstand how the Holy Spirit operates in our lives. The Spirit moves us and gifts us and can give us a desire to serve in particular ways. We see this clearly at the other end of a particular ministry. Too often ministries are held onto long after the passion—and therefore the call—for that ministry has ended. When I was a new believer I remember the church’s lead elder lamenting not being able to find enough people to sing in the church’s Easter cantata. As a wise and understanding 15-year-old I immediately asked, quite naively, “If there aren’t enough people to sing, why don’t we just skip the cantata this year?”

Deep down, and perhaps not as deep as I think, I didn’t want there to be an Easter cantata. I thought they were really boring. I wanted a regular worship service on Easter, though in my vast experience of maybe two Easters attending church, I had never before experienced a “regular” worship service on Easter. While I had ulterior motives in my suggestion, it also made sense to me that if people weren’t stepping up to sing in a cantata, maybe we weren’t supposed to have a cantata.

The response was strong. Witnesses would have sworn I had slapped his mama. Of course we will have an Easter cantata! We always have an Easter cantata! If God’s Spirit is not raising up people to serve, is it God’s desire for an Easter cantata? Could this be the Lord directing his people to serve elsewhere?

I remember a conversation with a lead elder at another church. He told me they have a mid-week children’s program (in addition to their Sunday morning program) they were struggling to keep running. A couple in the church had been very passionate about this particular ministry and ran it for years, recruiting and training volunteers and serving. Life happens, though, and they moved away as the man took a new job elsewhere. For years the church struggled to keep this ministry afloat. No one had the passion for it. I think a better way to frame this is no one was called to this ministry the way the couple who started it had been. I asked him why they keep struggling. Why not let it go? Let the volunteers who are willing and eager to serve, serve elsewhere where they are more passionate.

We see in how ministries often begin and how they later fizzle the Spirit moves his people to serve according to their giftedness. The harder part is recognizing when the Spirit is moving on from a particular ministry. We immediately recognize when the Spirit moves a person to begin a ministry but we rarely recognize when the Spirit moves to end a ministry and so we struggle to hold onto what the Lord is letting go.

As I reflect back on these two interactions I am more firmly resolved that when God moves his people to serve, they will serve. Sometimes a framework is necessary. Vines, for example, need a trellis on which to grow. Whether the children’s class or the nursery or reading Scripture or playing an instrument or singing, one cannot just show up and serve. Appropriate measures of preparation are necessary. Most ministry, however, is ad hoc—spur of the moment. When we think of the gift of teaching we tend to think of someone studying and preparing and then presenting material to a classroom, but most of the time the gift of teaching will be seen in more informal settings. When one speaks up in City Group and shares some insight, he or she is teaching. When you overhear about a specific financial need and you feel prompted to give privately, you are being led by the Spirit to give. This is true of encouragement and exhortation and faith and wisdom. Most spiritual gifts are operated as the Spirit moves a person.

Again, sometimes a framework is needed. There are formal opportunities for serving, but for every formal opportunity to serve the Spirit leads us to serve in multiple other ways. When a member has a physical need we show up to help. When a wall in our building needs repair we repair it. When a member is feeling down we speak words of encouragement. When someone shares a prayer request we pray. When another has a financial need we contribute to meet that need. When the church’s grass needs to be cut we cut it. When a member is sick or otherwise unable to cook we provide meals. The Spirit is the one moving us and prompting us to do these things. The Spirit most often does this in conjunction with how we are gifted.

None of this means we sit around waiting for a prompting. We can be intentional about seeking opportunities to serve. We can pray to ask God to open up such opportunities. We can look around and see what needs to be done or what could be done and then go and do that thing. To paraphrase Dwight Shrute, ask yourself: would a Spirit-led person do this thing? If the answer is yes, then do that thing.

If I have a personal philosophy for leadership in general and for leading a church in particular, I think it would be this, by French pilot and writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

As we look to Christ together and as we remind one another of who he is and what he has done, our desire for him grows. As our desire for him grows, so our desire to serve him grows. Could we—I—do a better job getting people connected to service in the church? Certainly. Could we all be more intentional about seeking opportunities to serve? Absolutely. We must, however, be sure we are not merely marking things off a list but seeking the Lord and his glory in all we do. He is the endless immensity of the sea for which we long. When we see him, when we truly see him, there is nothing we wouldn’t do for him.