By Colton Corter
We are always in the danger of couching our suspect motives in euphemisms that make them sound nobler than they are. I know this all too well. My “discernment” can be code for “rudeness” or my lack of a theological spine is spun off as “balance.”
I wonder if something similar has crept into many of our hearts when talking about our desire to “serve” in the local church. I attend the largest seminary in the world, with scores of brothers training to take the gospel to the nations. We live in Louisville and our city has been blessed with a lot of churches that preach the Bible and love the gospel. So inevitably there are a variety of churches that we join during our time here. Praise the Lord! However, I’m concerned with why some brothers join the churches that they do. It is not uncommon, when talking with guys about where they have joined as members, to hear that they have not chosen to go to one of the “bigger churches” in town because they “want to be able to serve.”
So what’s wrong with that? Maybe nothing. There are great reasons to go to a church that is less healthy for the purpose of seeing it grow in its witness to the glory of Christ. Especially after getting your degree, there comes a time when you leave the relative comfort of your church to serve the Lord’s church elsewhere. But I’m concerned that we see such “sacrifice” as an unqualified good. In doing so, I wonder if we seminarians and other young men are, even subconsciously, simply trying to veil our pride and lack of understanding with regards to the church and its health.
I Know You Don’t Mean This But…
I seriously doubt that anyone would verbalize this but saying that you have chosen to go to a church that you can serve instead of one of the churches that we attend gives the impression that we don’t have the desire to serve our own churches. Might it be that you feel a tad superior to the rest of us that have chosen differently than you have? You, after all, are the one who is “serving” while we are simply attending and doing the regular old work of being a healthy church member.
What it really comes down to is what we think “serving” is in the life of the local church. I’m worried that when some brothers say they want to serve in the church, what they really mean is that they want to teach publicly in the church. I’m worried that is what I often mean when I talk about trying to get “plugged-in” at my church. Longing to teach and preach God’s Word is a terrific desire and should be cultivated. We are in seminary for a reason. But our desire to teach is sometimes a desire to receive recognition that is construed as a desire to teach. We think that we have a gift that must be shared with the congregation now. But I think that we should keep two things in mind as we try to serve our local churches now.
First, we aren’t nearly as gifted as we think. There is a great need for a gospel-realism in the hearts of young men my age. I came from small-town Arkansas where I could have been an elder at any church around my area (that is not good, by the way). I got to teach a lot and knew more about the Bible than most of the people I was around, by God’s grace. But when I came to Louisville to join Third Avenue Baptist Church I was acutely aware that I was a much smaller fish than I’d realized and found myself swimming in a much larger pond than I was in before. These brothers know God better in every conceivable way. One of my elders took time in the membership process to remind of that fact. He told me the bench was deep and that it would be a long time before I would ever teach in any capacity, if ever (what a recruitment speech!). But he told me something else that leads to the second thing. “Take this time to develop in areas that you are not as good at.”
So second, we have to realize that service takes more than one form. This is particularly true as Baptists but more on that shortly. If we look for a church where we feel like we can help out and by that we really mean where we can preach a lot then we might actually be looking for a place that fits us better as a consumer. In other words, we are looking to what the church can offer us. The church becomes more about what we can get out of it than coming together as covenant members to worship the Triune God as a local embassy of the Kingdom of God.
If you are so keen on serving by teaching, how often do you serve in the nursery? Teach the kids Sunday school? Disciple younger believers? Our church sometimes has a hard time convincing we, the high and mighty seminarians, that we should fulfill our covenant promises to help “bring up such as are or may be under our care in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” No one ever ignores the email about bring the Sunday evening devotional. How often have we deleted the nursery request? Or the guy asking for a ride to church? These are questions I have to constantly ask myself. Perhaps you should ask them to?
A wonderful way to serve your local church is to be a Congregationalist. Brothers, the congregation, not finally the elders, have been given the keys of the kingdom! Do you wish to serve the local church? Be a Baptist! Attend faithfully, disciple other members, share the gospel with your neighbors, grow in holiness and, if they Lord sees fit, teach God’s Word to God’s people. The elders of the church lead the church but they are not the only ones who serve. As younger men, we should be more in love with our duty to, as Jonathan Leeman points out, protect the “who” and the “what” of the gospel, than we are to get up in front of people. The latter should sprout from the former!
So you want to serve? Great! That is what it means to be a Christian and member of a local church. But let us allow the Bible to define our categories. We must realize that the glory of Christ and not our self-fulfillment, the health of the entire body and not just own our flourishing is the aim of the local church, because in doing so we reflect the glory of Jesus Christ in the gospel of absolute free grace. And who knows, maybe you will be allowed the privilege to open the Bible and serve your church in that way.