Posted tagged ‘servanthood’

When Christians, and Their Churches, Disagree

March 2, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        March 2, 2019

 

In my 36 years of shepherding flocks (“Pastor” comes from the Latin for Shepherd), I guided congregations through a few briar patches of heated discussions and thorny issues. Sometimes my style fit and sometimes it didn’t. When I was president of the Mason School Board back in Michigan, since again, my style fit and, although we had a few disagreements too work through, we always managed to come through the discussions with a high respect for one another.

As a pastor I remember differences that we had about renovating the sanctuary. Two different churches I pastored over the years had the wood paneling on the sanctuary walls…you know, the paneling that showed up in the basements of homes back in the 50’s and 60’s! Each was gradually brought along to seeing that a change would not offend Jesus…but it took time. We considered switching out pews for chairs in one of the congregations, but one person protested vehemently. Her concern was for one of the senior saints of the congregation, that he might fall over in his chair and hurt himself. We disagreed with her, but did not force the issue. The saint, who lived to the age of 91 was loved by all and anything that might harm him (though we doubted that a chair would increase the chances of injury) became a point that we longer wanted to debate. 

Churches are hot beds for conflict and disagreement. When people are passionate about an issue or situation…and there is passion on both sides…the depth, or lack thereof, in Christian community becomes evident. In that respect the church mirrors the world instead of becoming different from the world. 

Let’s be honest! Too often the church is simply a commercial for the world instead of a repository of the love and grace of God. What I said to a 7th grader student a couple of weeks ago, who was trying to minimize the amount of classwork she had been asked to do, I could also say to a  number of church folk. “So what you’re saying is this is you.” I made an imaginary dot in front of me, and then drew an imaginary large circle around it. “And this is the world, and the world revolves around you. Is that what you’re saying?”

Our churches are dotted every service with people who have that mindset!

True confession: I’ve been that “dot” a few times myself!

Words like “surrender”, “sacrifice”, “servant” echo through the Bible. “Sacrifice” appears 54 times in the New Testament and “servant” gets mentioned 157 times. They are words we say in our liturgies and write in the church covenant, but often get pushed to the side when things are going against our opinion. Sides then get chosen and sometimes all holy hell breaks loose! 

In recent times a few churches have resembled more hell than holiness. Prominent church pastors have gone to war with some of the leaders of their churches. When the pastor of a mega-church gets relieved of his duties it rarely ends well for anyone. When denominations have doctrinal disagreements or differences over contemporary issues, unfortunately, it rarely ends in a good way. The battles make for good news in our drama-addicted culture, but after the heated fog lifts there always seems to be a lot of wounded people laying around. 

Of course, even Jesus couldn’t bring his disciples to 100% agreement! But after he rose from the grave, and the Holy Spirit was poured out, his remaining eleven were able to unite to the point that they changed the world!

All things are possible!

Happy To Do It!

October 19, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     October 19, 2018

                                         

I’m mostly a happy person. I smile a lot, and frown mostly at middle school students who are being doofuses!

A few weeks ago my next door neighbor’s father passed away and they traveled from Colorado to California for the funeral. Their lawn needed to be mowed, so I did it! No biggie! When they returned from their trip they expressed their gratitude for taking care of their yard.

I replied. “Happy to do it!” (He edges my sidewalk and driveway a couple of times each summer!)

I didn’t feel like I HAD to do it. I didn’t cringe about spending an extra 30 minutes cutting his grass after I mowed my own yard. I was happy to be a good neighbor in their time of sorrow.

It made me think about Jesus and his acts of service for others. The gospels include a lot of them…healing the blind man, touching the leper, restoring the paralytic, feeding the five thousand, calming the waves, raising the dead, turning water into wine…I could keep going!

In all of Jesus’ miracles, all of his acts of service, I don’t sense that he felt obligated to do any of them. 

Okay! There is the exchange between him and his mom at the wedding in Cana where she seems to be saying to him, “Jesus, do something! They are running out of wine!” Jesus says that his time has not yet come, like “I do this and the cat’s out of the bag, Mom!”

I don’t think that Jesus walked around smiling all the time, but I believe he was happy to serve those in need, those who were afflicted, and those who were seen as being the unimportant and disposable. 

There’s a distinct difference between feeling obligated and feeling blessed to serve. It’s noticeable in most stores and businesses where face-to-face encounters with customers are at the core of the purpose. We notice when an employee goes above and beyond for us, and we also notice when someone who is on the time clock seems like he doesn’t really want to be there and we’re more of a nuisance than a customer in need. Recently Carol and I ate at a restaurant where the hostess/greeter escorted us to a table and then said, “Your server will be…” By the end of the meal it became apparent that the “server” hadn’t read his job description!

I’ve visited churches where the attitude of the members has been “I’m here for 60 minutes and then I’m out of here!” and I’ve visited churches where the attitude has been “Can I help you find where the coffee is, the nursery is located, or be of service in some other way?” 

Jesus was happy to serve, to restore broken lives, and care for those who needed a shepherd. 

Today perhaps I’ll be allowed to serve someone who is in a tough spot and I’ll be happy to do it!

The Entitled Church

March 23, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 March 23, 2017

                       

     A few days ago I wrote a piece on the entitled church attender. I presented the idea that there are a lot of church attenders who mirror one of our cultural themes as they relate to the church. That is, there is a heightened sense of entitlement, and focus on what the church can do for “me”, as opposed to how I can join a community of believers in service and ministry for Christ.

An old friend of mine responded to that writing with another view that got me thinking. Having lost her husband in the last year she experienced a church that seemed to place its needs above her grieving. She had held a couple of positions within the congregation, and it seemed as if the church was more concerned with her continuing on in the work of those positions than it was in her journey of grief.

She was right on! The shoe is on the other foot this time! There are a number of churches who treat their servants like the Borax Mule Team. The focus is on getting things done, as opposed to being a community of believers who lean on others and are available to be leaned on.

We talked about it quite often in my years of pastoring: burn-out! The exhaustion of the saints and the pastor. It seemed that there was seldom good balance; that it was either the pastor burning the candle at both ends, or the twenty percent of the saints who were doing too much. Sometimes it was the pastor who drove “the mules”, and sometimes it was the church leaders who barked behind the pastor like an army drill sergeant!

Rarely were there situations where the rhythm of the saints and the clergy found a healthy balance.

And so my friend finds herself, after years and years of serving, now wondering about the church. Did it consider her to be like middle-management in a corporation? Did it really care for her, or simply care when it was convenient?

Honestly, that scenario has been played out too many times. Sometimes the church even uses the excuse of the Great Commission to minimize the importance of its messengers! “We’re all about Jesus, so put your pity party on the back burner!”

Entitled churches are simply gatherings of entitled church attenders who have control of the reins!

“Hahh, hahh!” says the guy with the whip riding behind the mules.

The Need To Be Served

June 23, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        June 24, 2016

                                  

As I was driving along yesterday and listening to the radio an interesting statistic was shared by the radio host. He said that a recent study revealed that the typical American family now spends more money in restaurants than it does at the grocery store. In other words, we eat out a lot and spend more of our food budget on a bacon cheeseburger at Applebee’s than packages of ground beef and buns at Safeway.

It also indicates that we are accustomed to being served by others. My driving destination was the car wash to have the layers of Midwest bugs cleaned off my car. It occurred to me that I was served by the man who welcomed me and took the order of what I wanted done; I was then served by the hospitable lady at the register who took my payment and chatted me up for a moment, and then I was served by the man who did the finishing wipe down. In the simple task of getting my car washed three people had directly served me.

After that I went to Sam’s Club to buy some items that I didn’t really need. I almost always use the “self-checkout” lane at Sam’s Club, but even in that lane an employee came up to me and asked if I had found everything I was looking for.

Earlier that morning I had been at Starbucks. No surprise to those who know me! The employees there served and engaged me in conversation. Once in a while I get an email from Starbucks asking me how my recent visit was. There is a short survey that pointedly focuses its questions on how the service was in my visit.

In other words, my morning was punctuated with various people in different locations whose mission was to serve me.

Yes, they were being compensated for their service, but the point is that “being served” is now a major part of the fabric of our lives. When we receive poor service we usually react in negative ways. During our recent cross-country road trip from Colorado to Ohio and back, Carol and I were on the receiving end of great service and really, really…I mean, really bad service. We stopped at several McDonald’s along the way. Most of them had adequate or good service, but one of them stood out with the lack of service. I don’t usually do customer reviews, except when Starbucks offers me a reward for feedback, but I felt compelled to evaluate the experience at this McDonald’s. It was an on-line evaluation, and at the end of it there was a question asking if it was okay if a McDonald’s management person called me on the phone. Surprisingly, a few days later a lady named Nancy called me and asked me about the poor service I had received. She was extremely apologetic and promised me that she would be addressing the issue.

When bad service is given people are concerned. Bad service is an indication that the customer isn’t that important, and customers expect to be served.

I think there’s a lesson for the church in all of that. Our roots are firmly planted in servanthood. Jesus is known as “the servant king.” The early church was about serving. The first restructuring of the first church was because certain people weren’t being served (Acts 6). Deacons came about because of the need for people to be served. The Christians in Rome around AD 250 took charge of people who were infected with smallpox. Families would turn their backs on the sick, but the Christ-followers cared for them in their last days, even to the point of laying down their own lives. Serving was part of their DNA.

We live in a time when many people come to church to be served, which is okay…but they’ve missed part of the message. As followers of Christ we serve and are served. The church is not a gathering of consumers. We’ve been consumed by the love of Christ. That realization changes us!

Carol and I are fixing dinner tonight for two of our children and one son-in-law. It would be easier to go out to a restaurant and be waited upon, but that “food budget stat” has stuck in my gut. I’ll grill, Carol will make a squash casserole and another side dish, and, I guess, we will serve!

I think it will be a good evening!