1. We are called to serve, not to be served.
(Mat 20:25-28 ESV) 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
To love as Jesus loved, we must love as servants.
Now, how many congregations of Christians struggle with this one? How many church leadership meetings struggle to deal with a lack of volunteers? A lack of commitment?
Well, the fundamental problem is that we’ve imported Western consumer values into church, pretending that the members are there to be served. They aren’t. They are there to serve.
And yet, good, well-intended church leaders repeatedly make the mistake of selling the church to the membership and to potential converts as a place to be served. We say we are here to meet “felt needs.” But “felt needs” are different from needs described in scripture — which are often not felt at all. Indeed, the need to be needed and to have a place to serve is a great need, but often an unfelt one because it’s so far removed from our culture.
Therefore, any proper church program of ministry must be all about serving others. The vision of the congregation has to be: this is a place to come serve others. This is where you can be equipped to be of value to others, to matter, to live a life of ultimate meaning.
And the leadership needs to resist the temptation to say: “This is a place to have your needs met.” It is, of course, but it won’t be your felt needs. It’ll be your real needs, the needs that God reveals that you may not even be aware of, not the needs the culture says you have.
You see, we have to own our advertising. If we market the church as a place where you get good feelings and healed marriages (which is true but incomplete), we’ll find it hard to persuade people that this is also a place where we serve others by bringing them to Jesus to heal their hurts and marriages. And so we don’t have enough volunteers to heal hurts and marriages. Why should we? That’s not why our members joined!
2. We are called to love the unlovable
(Luk 6:32-33 ESV) 32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.”
Jesus loves me. And you. And every other unlovable soul out there. We are annoying, difficult to dea with, challenging people, and Jesus loves us anyway. To love as Jesus loves, we have to love the hard to love.
Now, we’ll be getting to those outside the church. But for now, consider the impact of this teaching on inside-the-church relationships. It’s easy to love lovable people. It’s easy to be nice to the nice. But every church has its fair share of jerks and people with great emotional needs. There will be people so immature that they don’t know how to love back. They won’t be used to being loved and so they won’t know how to act as loved people.
I believe that God will judge his people especially by how they deal with the unlovable — the mentally ill, the jerks, the outcasts, the ugly, the ingrates, the irresponsible.
Consider small groups. Most small group meetings have a meal — and nothing messes up a small group like an irresponsible member who refuses to carry his or her fair share of the cooking or hosting load. Worse yet are those who make commitments and fail to keep them. These people destroy small group ministries.
Now, I don’t for a moment condone their behavior! They are sinners, but we normally deal with their sin by looking the other way. We tell them to bring the rolls, and then we secretly buy rolls and put them away ready to serve because we know they’ll forget or not bother to do what they were told. We manage around them. What should we do?
3. We are called to hold one another to account
To love as Jesus loved, we must hold people accountable.
(John 21:17 ESV) 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
Peter denied Jesus three times, and Jesus confronted him, in love, demanding that he avow his love three times — and then charging him to shepherd his people. Jesus confronted Peter’s sin rather than throwing Peter away, and the result was a highly motivated, highly effective leader of Jesus’ people. When we’re hurt and let down by others, we prefer to throw away the relationship rather than confronting the sin.
What is the loving thing to do with the irresponsible? Well, to lovingly, gently confront them. We call them to account and tell them they aren’t holding up their end of the deal.
(Lev 19:17 ESV) 17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.”
(2Ti 4:1-2 ESV) I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
Love compells us to try to help the irresponsible members act better. We gently explain how their behavior hurts others and how it makes them look. We tearfully ask them to repent.
You see, in contemporary culture, “love” means “no conflict,” but running from conflict is the surest way to destroy a church. You can’t run a church if the congregation is filled with the irresponsible. If your members don’t keep their commitments, you’d may as well close the doors.
More importantly, if irresponsible members aren’t held to account, they won’t become servants. After all, the reason people are irresponsible because being a servant is not very important to them. Therefore, church leaders should create a congregational expectation and culture —
a. Members will be given very real responsibilities.
b. Members will be given whatever training and support they need to keep those responsibilities.
c. Members will be held to account when they don’t keep their responsibilities.
No one will pretend it’s okay or quietly re-assign the work to others. This just teaches the members that there are no consequences to being useless — and creates a congregation where a few responsible members do all the work.
“Love one another” one requires that we hold one another accountable.
(Heb 10:24-25 ESV) 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.