Humble, Serving, Local Church

#servetogrow part 5

Learning about other cultures makes you aware of your own culture.  Someone pointed out to me that people in Northern Africa have a very community based identity, and I can help but notice this same attribute in so many other world cultures.  Having your identity defined by your tribe or family is very different from the culture I grew up in.  It brings America’s culture of individualism more glaring into view.

Movies like Footloose, where a young boy finds his identity in doing the one thing his family and tribe disapproves of - dancing, or E.T., where a child of divorce relates more closely with an alien than his own school and family, or Sixteen Candles, where a family is so disjointed that they forget their daughter’s big birthday, remind me where I get me individualistic thinking from.  I rarely say “we” or “us.”

When I read the letters of the Bible, only a few of them were written to an individual.  There were some letters written to Timothy, one to Titus, and one to Philemon.  17 of the 21 letters were written to a specific congregation or multiple congregations.  They were written with to an audience with a different culture than ours, a culture with community based identities.

As you read this passage from Philippians, imagine it was written to your local church, in the way it was written to the church at Philippi.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
— Philippians 2:1-11 ESV

Reading that passage with a community mindset, it takes on a different life in your mind.  I don’t imagine Paul telling me to humble myself personally and serve, but I imagine Paul telling my people to come together humbly and serve together.

As an individual, we absolutely should take on the humility of Christ and take the form of a servant.  It is a life-long process of sanctification.  This process is spiritual growth.

As a church body, we should also be taking on the humility of Christ and taking the form of a servant.  That means, not just serving each other, but serving our cities and communities.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

Our church should look at the people who are not yet part of the global church, those that do not know the life-changing news of the gospel, and count them more significant than our congregation.

I don’t see that happen very often.  I don’t think it’s because people in churches are selfish jerks either.  I think there are a lot of reasons that answer the question of why this isn’t happening in most local churches.

1.  Groupthink

Groupthink is defined as the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility.  This is a real thing.  It has been proven by psychological testing.  When humans get together and try to make discussions as a group, creativity goes by the wayside and so do our biggest individual core values.  As a Christian, we know we value serving others, but as a group, that individual responsibility of serving others gets lost.  It takes serious creativity and risk-taking to serve those outside the church.  Groupthink is killing our ability to do this.

2.  Status Quo

Changing the current situation takes a big momentum shift.  It is extremely difficult to change.  Making changes in church culture or policy sometimes ends in pastors being fired or people changing churches.  Those kinds of high-stake consequences make change almost impossible.

3.  Human Nature

It is just a fact that our flesh is drawn to easy and comfortable.  We don’t even think about how much we depend on the comforts of our homes and inward-focused churches.  It is only when our comforts are challenged that we even consider how we operate.  When we remodel our kitchen or go on a mission trip, we are thrown out of our comfort zone and question bigger decisions.  When things our comfortable, we rarely think about the big picture.

4.  Perks of Membership 

Many church members see their church as a type of club they belong to.  They view their tithes as dues, and it is awesome when your club has great benefits, a gym, great childcare, free coffee, cool t-shirts, fun trips, or cool camps.

5.  Lack of Volunteers

Every church struggles to fill nursery volunteer slots and teaching roles.  Church leaders and members can view those empty slots and built a narrative of scarcity.  They see those empty service positions and they decide that their congregation doesn’t have an interest in serving.  The fact is that nursery workers and teachers will be hard tasks to find volunteers for until Jesus comes back.  The true narrative is that congregations are full of people who want to serve, have diverse talents to give, and would gladly use those talents to reach the lost in their community.  They just don’t want to change diapers, and who can blame them.

So how do we stop the groupthink and change the status quo of local church?  How do churches begin serving their city and community?

The worst thing you could do is get mad at your pastor or church leaders.  They are working hard in an emotionally and spiritually difficult job.  They don’t need someone upset; they need someone set free.

I think the best thing you can do is start a work and invite church members to take part in your act of service.  Start small and get your pastor’s blessing.  You pastor might or might not the church’s name associated with your service project.  Be ok with it either way.  Call it the Philippians Project if you need to.  Find out something your community needs and serve them.  Find someone that isn’t a part of the Church, and find a way to show them that you count them more significant than your congregation.

Reading this, you might realize that I began this post telling you to think less individualistically, and now I am telling you to act individualistically.  In a perfect world, we could change our church culture and make it more outwardly focused on a dime.  The reality that we discussed makes this impossible.  Do what you can to peacefully change your local church’s culture and focus, but that is going to take time.  If we wait for those changes to happen before we begin serving our community, forget it.  You might as well pray your great-great-grandkids will have fun serving their community with their church.  You are the church.  You change your actions, invite your church members to join with you in serving, and I think outwardly-focused service will be contagious.  

As you serve your city, you will grow spiritually.  You will become more humble.  You will become more like Christ.