The Church is Not in the Service Industry
It's been busy. Our church has been busy trying to get back on track while covid and leadership stress/burnout have been throwing a barrage of banana peels and turtle shells at us. And as I've been talking and listening to members in our church and discussing with other staff, I've come to realize that many are starting to think of the church as a service industry or a producer of a spiritual consumer good. Some of it is expressed this way:
"I've done my part. I've been serving for _______. It's time for someone else to step up."
"I'm already stretched thin. I'm tired and I've got nothing left!"
But it also shows up in another way: in the way we interact with one another as part of various ministries. When there are ministry meetings and we are unable to make it for whatever reason, we say things like:
Sorry, could I get the minutes from the meeting?
Oh I can't make it but I could get the notes from _________.
And I have to confess I've operated this way as well.
People needed goods from me to do what they needed to do... so I've operated as if ministry meetings/functions were just vehicles for giving instructions, information, content. This way is more efficient. It gets things done.
But it doesn't transform us.
In the church, surely there are things to do; we have services we want to perform and we want to perform them well. But that isn't the primary purpose of service. When we are received into the community of faith, we are blessed new identities that we get to live into. Service, more than doing things for others, is a means of sanctification -- of transforming us into Christ's likeness.
When we treat ministry and service primarily as a good that we produce -- when we become preoccupied with how much we are doing or how much time we are giving to service -- we lose sight of the good that the Spirit is doing in us.
Service is a means by which the the Spirit produces the good of us. We -- the people we are becoming -- are the primary good of service. The Holy Spirit uses service/ministry to transform us by placing us in relationship with others. Our service is a way we can live into the love we are called to share with others.
In relationship with others we can be stretched. When we get tired and stressed; when we feel like we are not appreciated or seen in our service, we should not merely dwell on our limitations or disconnection, but pause to consider how God may be working through difficulties.
How is my tiredness leading me to depend on his grace? (rather than wallow in my exhaustion?)
Is my isolation/disconnection/underappreciation leading me to feel contempt for others or is it helping to reveal my need?
Being primarily aware of the Spirit's work as we work, gives us grace and strength to continue our service and love to others because God has not stopped his work in us even when our lives are difficult.
Recognizing the Spirit's work also helps us to share joy. For service is not always drudgery and hardship. There is joy. And in service we not only identify with Christ in his death, but also in his resurrection. In service we get a front row seat to see new creation sprouting up from the dirt. And recognizing that it is God's work keeps us from becoming proud and boastful and helps to foster hearts of gratitude.
God is working in us. And as we work to serve others, we can choose to have our hearts attuned to his work.
Our church does provide services and ministries, but the main work of the church is formation -- it is the Spirit's work in conforming us into Christ's image. In our church and in myself, I hope we can receive his grace to participate with the Spirit not only in the work he is doing through us, but also in the work he is producing in us.