Thursday, May 24, 2012

Church Life... Why?

For all the Christians out there who serve day in and day out within their church homes.

Why do you do it?

Anyone who has invited me to serve somewhere over the last couple years can attest to the fact that I have an initial hesitation in response to the invitation and often times say "no."

This is a new development in recent times and I am finally "putting thoughts to paper" under the assumption that I'm not the only one out there who carries this instinctive yield in her heart of hearts.

In testimonies and sermons we often hear someone on the platform proclaiming freedom from the idols and vices they once hid behind- drugs, alcohol, lust, media, and other surface issues that cut off circulation to the depths of their conscience. 
Another example would be those who hid because of the pain of heartbreak and abuse inflicted upon them by someone significant in their life.

But what about us... The ones who hide their pain & struggle behind Christian ministry? 

I have never run to drugs. I've never abused alcohol. My dependence or unhealthy outlets such as comfort food or the negligence of have never been so extreme that I can say I have ever lost control, hit rock bottom and required medical attention.

What was my vice? What has been my outlet? What has also let me down and hurt me more than anything else in life?

Christian ministry.

There is nothing in my life that I've had a harder time saying 'no' to. In high school I was in church just as much or more than I was a full time student and a part-time athlete. As I was given more church leadership, I experienced more judgement and pain from the people I called friends to the point where I didn't know how to commit to friends for the longest time out of an instinct to protect myself. With every passing year came a new set of friends to try and grow with.

While growth and leadership blossomed, so did legalism, self-righteousness, pride, and captivity. I had to be perfect. If I wasn't perfect I wouldn't be a good example to the children I ministered to and their parents. If I wasn't perfect, my peers would have even more of me to pick apart. 

Church life taught me how to be a good diplomat; how to be politically correct. At least I had the favor of my leaders. I could lead, I could teach, I could sing from a platform and no one could touch me. 

Eventually a breaking point came. All the striving has been exhausted and the last several years of moving away from my original grounds has created opportunity to examine how I truly want to live.

This isn't a question of whether or not to stay in the church. For many I think that does become an issue. If that's you, let me encourage you to let down your guard. Yes, people in the church hurt sometimes. Other times leadership is poor or something didn't come through for you. Let me remind you that the fear of the Lord is the only fear worth retaining no matter how much it hurts. Jesus said these two things go hand-in-hand: if we love him, then we feed his sheep and tend his lambs. Don't let the imperfections of human beings trip you up from running the race to win. Indeed, we are all human.

Which is why it makes me crazy when I start to step deeper into church life again. There is this expectation among the involved church-goers to be a part of everything.

"Did you go to Saturday night service? Did you go to Sunday morning? What about Sunday night?"

"You missed out on God's message to you tonight! Should've come to service..."
(As if God can't speak to you anywhere else or in any other way. HE is God!)

"So you attend women's ministry... But are you serving in it?" 

"You should join my team! (Even though I already know you're involved in other things.)"

It seems a bit intensified these days because my church has a leadership college integrated into it and therefore attracts people who live and breathe church life.

I've probably poked at and may have offended some people by now so let me continue on with clarifications.

While I carry scars from church life, few things have taught me more. I gain so much from showing up for services each weekend. The church has always been my outlet for exercising my God given gifts and talent and I absolutely love being a leader in those things. There is nowhere else I have flourished more than inside church walls. I love being a part of church life!

But what is it worth if I'm doing it for the sake of living up to people's expectations or even simply their suggestions? How meaningful is it to pour hours of effort and service if it is out of obligation?

Though I am attempting to embrace a lifelong pursuit of full-time ministry, I know what it is to be a full time student and to have commitments that require a high priority alongside, but outside of church life. Why are those things so hard for involved church-goers to respect?

Before I ever started considering full-time ministry, I wanted to be in the marketplace and really thought that's how God would use me in this world. Perhaps they will blend. But I can't tell you how many times I have felt labeled as less of a missionary for having a marketplace mentality, even to this day.

I'm just going to say it straight: that is NOT how it is supposed to be. When is Christ's body going to see the legitimacy in the people who can only make it to church once or twice a week? Why do we feel like it is so hard to relate as a ministry school student to someone who is going into a marketplace profession? Suddenly the mentality has shifted to this idea of reaching out to university students without actually sitting in classrooms alongside them.

God uses and places his people in all parts if the world- the missionary to the third world, the mega church pastor, the Fortune 500 company's CEO or associate, the student in university, vocational training or leadership college.

We have got to stop letting the details hinder us from looking at the common, core mission. No matter what our place is, we are called to GO INTO the world to MAKE disciples. While serving in church is a good thing and should be part of our Christian walk, we aren't meant to hide from the rest of life's requirements and priorities.

I'm not interested in letting my work life, studies, or home life suffer because I've made church life my only priority. 

Loving and serving Jesus is my life's entire priority and that can be exercised by cleaning my apartment, getting my degree, putting in the hours to the best of my ability at work, or faithfully serving in church every week. Even pastors have to pay their bills and taxes like everyone else.

Colossians 3:23 says, "WHATEVER you do, do it with all your heart, as though working for the Lord, not for men." (caps. added)

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit." -Philippians 2:-4

"For it is by grace that you have been saved, not by works, so no man can boast." -Eph 2:8-9

"The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." -1 Samuel 16:7b

"We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully." -Romans 12:6-8

We could be an established pastor, the most faithful servant, the most committed leader... But if our relationship with the Lord is not established one-on-one before all else, what is it worth in the end? What source do we have to pour into people? I don't want to continue living my life in a way that the time I spend in the quiet place is significantly less proportionate to the time I spend pouring out.

I'm not going to exhaust myself signing up for things because other people expect me to or excite me into making an emotional decision. Every area of life has its significance and God watches how I steward them all. I refuse to neglect one because I prefer the other. I certainly don't want to remain in a legalistic lifestyle of believing that what I do and how often I serve in church is the defining factor of my relationship with God.


Open our eyes to the truth of our hearts. How can we be more faithful to you today? Help us to see and respect our brothers and sisters and encourage them in the diversity of positions you have placed us in to fight this battle and expand your kingdom. Teach us to recognize the significance in the menial daily responsibilities that are also of worth to you. Make us more like you and more faithful to you each and every day.

In Jesus' name,

(Thanks to Sheila Walsh... her testimony was the push I needed to write this.)

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