Here to Serve

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Have you ever wondered why we call our weekend gatherings at church a service? If you are new to church or Christianity, this may seem like an odd description of the time where we stand and sing, and then sit and listen to a sermon. Many churches are moving away from using the term service and replacing it for more palatable terms like the “church experience,” or “gathering.” 

Growing up, I often took many Christian phrases for granted because I grew up in a Christian home, and I had heard them all of my life. Phrases like “Get your shoes on, we’re gonna be late for the service,” or “How was the service today?” were a part of our normal conversations as a family. I used the phrases too, because I was around people who used them. To me, they were just as normal as drinking weak, slightly burnt coffee that had been brewed in the most archaic coffee urn, likely from the time of Moses.

But, later on I realized that people who didn’t attend church wouldn’t use the word service the way I was used to. They also likely wouldn’t throw around phrases like ‘fellowship,’ ‘anointed,’ or ‘hedge of protection,’ in regular conversations. I’m sure when they heard the word service, they thought about a restaurant or the hospitality industry. Maybe their minds instantly started calculating tips and evaluating food arrival times. 

So… service. I think we need to consider that word for a minute.

At many churches, including Coastal Church, that’s the term used to describe our meeting together. Which begs the question: Who is being served? Or perhaps, who are we serving? 

Our response to this question will dramatically impact not only the way we experience church on a weekend, but the way we daily live out our faith. 

In 2002, Pastor Rick Warren wrote the bestselling book, The Purpose Driven Life. Since publication this book has sold over 50 million copies worldwide. Warren has called this book an “anti-self-help book” because it begins with this provocative statement: It’s not about you.

Wait, what? 

This is a radical and counter-cultural idea because we, as a society, are obsessed with self. 

Today, the most common photo is the selfie. 

We love to be served, and we love to publicly rate our experiences on how well we have been served. 

I know this may come as a shock to some people, but the reality is that our weekend church services aren’t about us. And I think that’s a good thing. 

So, if the church service isn’t meant to serve me, then who is the service for?

I recently read a biography of the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and he had this to say, “The Church is the Church only when it exists for others…not dominating but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.”

The church is one of the only organizations that I can think of that exists for the purpose of its non-members. 

One day when Jesus was teaching, an expert theologian asked him what the greatest commandment was. 

“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” -Matthew 22:37-40

In Luke’s account in this exchange between Jesus and the expert theologian, Jesus is asked a follow-up question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” – Luke 10:30-37

Our neighbour is not limited to the people who live beside us, or just the people we like. Samaritans were hated by the Jews, and Jesus is showing us that we are to love and serve everyone, even the people we don’t like. 

Church then, is the place where we learn to put into practice the greatest commandments. Where we serve God by giving him our hearts in worship, honouring Him with our time and giving, and by demonstrating that he is our sole purpose and priority. It’s also the place where we are equipped to serve others, together. 

We are meant to serve together. Last weekend Pastor Dave had a great message about how we are to serve not only each other, but those outside of the church as well. 

Throughout history the church (God’s people) has had an incredible impact on society as they have served together.

The church has been and continues to be the largest single provider of healthcare and education in the world. The church has fought against slavery, the exploitation of children, and has contributed more to charity than any other organization.

Many Christians may think that serving others is the Pastor’s job, but, the Bible clearly teaches that every follower of Christ is to serve others. 

I like what Rick Warren says, “We are not saved by serving, we are saved for serving.”

“You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” - Galatians 5:13

Jesus said:

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” -Matthew 5:16

The way we serve and love others needs to glorify God. It is so important that people know that the reason we give and love sacrificially is because of the love of God that has been poured into our hearts (Romans 5:5).

In short, the church service is intended to grow us in our service to God and people. 

With this perspective, questions like “How was the service today?” miss the point. The songs we sing aren’t for us, they’re for God’s glory. The sermons aren’t for our entertainment. They are meant to equip us through inspired practical teaching, so we can enjoy the abundant life in Christ Jesus, as given by God the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Maybe we should be asking questions like, 

“How did you grow in service to God and others in church today?”
“What did the Holy Spirit speak to you today through his word?”
“What did you learn today that you can use to serve God and others with tomorrow?”

And when we have this attitude of serving, we become more like Jesus. 

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  – Matthew 20:28