church culture

Do we need to be friends in the church?

Did you know a synonym for kindness is friendship?

kind·ness

/ˈkīn(d)nəs/

noun

  1. the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.

friend·ly

adjective

  1. characteristic of or befitting a friend; showing friendship:a friendly greeting.

  2. like a friend; kind; helpful:a little friendly advice.

  3. favorably disposed; inclined to approve, help, or support:a friendly bank.

  4. not hostile or at variance; amicable:

I learned this little synonym fact teaching a kids Bible class how we could use the fruits of the Spirit to help us know how to pray.

I started asking myself this question: Do we need to be friends with our brothers and sisters in the church?

Why is it that showing friendship is sometimes hard for us? Why is it that we want to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit, but it does not come naturally? Small acts of kindness sounds so simple, but small acts of friendship doesn’t sound as simple. How do we take friendship into our communities and imitate God’s kindness? We are going to need His Spirit to help us share that fruit.

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Lord, help me to be kind to those who know you and to those who don’t. Let me be a friend to those who are easy to show care for and also to those who are challenging to show care towards. Amen. 

The problem I encounter in my heart when I think about showing friendship as a fruit of the Spirit is that friendship sounds deeper than kindness. I want to pick and choose who I show friendship to. This is me struggling with the sin of partiality. When I pull back from showing friendship to my brothers and sisters, I am either wanting something out of my effort or I am trying to protect myself by withholding vulnerability.


Lord, help me to see your image in all of my brothers and sisters. Help me to not put a premium on friendship with the wealthy or people who look like me. Help me to be vulnerable enough to hold friendship out to others without the instinct to protect myself or use friendship to get ahead in life. This friendship is though you as a fruit of your Spirit so I know you will help me. Today help me to go deeper in relationships and commit a random act of friendship. Amen.

My dear friends, don’t let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith. If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, ‘Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!’ and either ignore the street person or say, ‘Better sit here in the back row,’ haven’t you segregated God’s children and proved that you are judges who can’t be trusted? Listen, dear friends. Isn’t it clear by now that God operates quite differently? He chose the world’s down-and-out as the kingdom’s first citizens, with full rights and privileges. This kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God. And here you are abusing these same citizens! Isn’t it the high and mighty who exploit you, who use the courts to rob you blind? Aren’t they the ones who scorn the new name—‘Christian’—used in your baptisms?
— James 2:1-7 MSG

I’ve been reading the book Anatomy of the Soul, and it explains how brain science teaches us that we were made for community. We need to be kind to others, and we need them to be kind to us. We need to see our brothers and sisters as friends, and we need to be treated friendly in return.

Anatomy of the Soul also teaches that what we need is a few very close friends that we can trust with all of our story. This isn’t everyone in our church community, but we need to be really known by a few people to help us process our story.

It is hard work making friends, going deep with people, going deep with God, being kind in our church community, being friendly to our family, letting others know us, but we need it. We can’t go it alone and accomplish anything as the church. Alone we are just one body part of the body. We need each other to serve and to be healthy.

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When you keep your relationship with God exclusively fact-based and rational, it’s easy to make judgments about others and yourself. Such judgements reduce your anxiety and increase your sense of safety and protection. However, this way of being also has the curious effect of increasing the isolation you feel, both from others and within your own mind. If you allow yourself to be known by God, you invite a different and frankly more terrifying experience. You are now in a position of vulnerability. If you permit others to know you, they can make their own assessment of your worth. They can react to you. You grant them the option to love you or to reject you. In essence, you must—must—trust another with yourself.
— Curt Thompson, Anatomy of the Soul

What about you? Do you struggle with friendship in your community? You are not alone, but I pray we can begin to show love through tangible acts of kindness and friendship.

Keep Learning From Mister Rogers, Your Soul Will Thank You

As soon as Fandango told me our town had a viewing, I absconded to the theater to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor, the new Mister Rogers documentary. It was a moving movie, and even though my husband and I bought our tickets late and had to sit in different rows, it was such an enjoyable theater experience. Stephen Thompson from NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour Podcast expressed that “the movie feels like you are getting warmly and softly hugged for an hour and a half,” and that’s the best description that could ever be said.

Why was it such a feel-good experience? It is rare for someone to tell you-you are liked. It’s even rarer to be told that you are liked just the way you are. Mister Rogers said it, sang it, believed it, and lived it. Mister Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister who attended seminary on his lunch hour over a period of eight years. He believed that God liked him just the way he was and he should, therefore, feel that way about every God-created person. He looked through the screen and openly invited the whole world to be his neighbor, and he believed that everyone who knew they were liked would in-turn like their neighbors also. The world could be a very different place, not because of just one sweater-clad friend, but it could be different because of God who is love, the Holy Spirit that Rogers relied on as translator of this Devine message, and us — his neighbors.

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As a little girl, Mister Rogers was my friend. He made me feel safe and heard. He told me things I still need to hear as an adult.

1. Express your feelings.

Mister Rogers frequently and intentionally included the message that we all have feelings and it is good to express those feelings in healthy ways. Last year, I became very discouraged in the ministry. My husband and I had been serving at a very missional church for twenty years, and we were both feeling burnout. We began seeing a therapist to help us work through our tough time, and one of the things he told me was that I was afraid of my feelings. He said to me, “It is like you view your feelings as a dark closet, and if you let one feeling affect you that you will be engulfed in the dark closet and you won’t be able to get out.” As an adult, I’ve had to relearn that lesson that we all have feelings, and I’ve had to allow myself to feel and express those feelings.

There’s no ‘should’ or should not’ when it comes to having feelings. They’re part of who we are and their origins are beyond our control. When we can believe that, we may find it easier to make constructive choices about what to do with those feelings.
— Fred Rogers, Life According to Mister Rogers

2. Slow down.

One of the most countercultural pieces of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood was the pace of the show. His slow speech and slow movements were a subtle cue, as was his life-sized traffic light glowing yellow. The show had the ambiance of a Saturday spent at grandma’s house. He would often bring out simple props like paper, instruments, or cups and play with the props in an unstaged, unpracticed way, letting the paper accidentally tear where he didn’t intend or letting the cups fall across the table. He gave his neighbors the nudge to accept that it is good to slow down and try new things. When my husband and I experienced ministry burnout, we went to a week long ministry retreat that was intentionally slow paced and were reminded of the importance that rest has in the kingdom work. As an adult, I need slow. I need permission to try and fail. I need to let the cups fall sometimes and pick them back up again.

It seems to me, though that our world needs more time to wonder and to reflect about what is inside, and if we take time we can often go much deeper as far as our spiritual life is concerned than we can if there’s constant distraction.
— Fred Rogers, The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers by Amy Hollingsworth

3. Be yourself.

Vulnerability became a mantra and catch-phrase to many after Brene´ Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability and shame when viral in 2010, but Mister Rogers was modeling vulnerability every day in his neighborhood in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. He sang his easily-poked-fun-of self-composed lyrics, wore his mom-made sweaters, and never tried to be someone he was not. Even when being interviewed on edgy late night talk shows, he spoke slowly and appeared to be the same guy who welcomed me with a song and a shoe-swap as a kid. One scene in the documentary we are shown footage of his neighborhood show where his shares his love of swimming with his neighbors. He is completely at home with himself, even when he is donning a speedo and swimming loops in the pool. We get the feeling that it never even crosses his mind to not be completely himself, and we are told that we made today special by just being ourselves.

The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.
— Fred Rogers, Life According to Mister Rogers

4. Invite everyone to be your neighbor.

The genius of Mister Rogers is that he was able to translate the second part of the Great Commandment into simple, secular terms and model loving your neighbor in a practical way. This command is a great struggle for everyone. Loving and liking others doesn’t come naturally, but doing this is essential to Christian life: seeking wholistic ministry, valuing and carrying out the Great Commission, having a healthy family life, confronting racial prejudice and bias, and seeing the image of God and the preciousness of life in each and every neighbor.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder if God and neighbor are somehow One. ‘Loving God, Loving neighbor’ — the same thing? For me, coming to recognize that God loves every neighbor is the ultimate appreciation!
— Fred Rogers, Life According to Mister Rogers

5. Remember the invisible.

Posted above Mister Roger’s desk was a saying in French from The Little Prince. It said, ‘What is essential is invisible to the eyes.’ This quote is very much like what Paul penned in Second Corinthians 4:18, “as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” We must always be focused on the unseen, realizing that these things are not just important — but essential.

Beside my chair is a saying in French. It inspires me every day. It’s a sentence from Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince, and it reads, ‘What is essential is invisible to the eyes.’ The closer we get to know the truth of that sentence, the closer I feel we get to wisdom. That which has real value in life in any millennium is very simple. Very deep and very simple! It happens inside of us — in the ‘essential invisible’ part of us, and that is what allows everyone to be a potential neighbor.
— Fred Rogers, Life According to Mister Rogers

Can we see the world as our neighborhood? Can we see the good in others and like them just the way they are? Can we recognize our feelings and express them in beautiful ways? Can we remember to keep our eyes on the invisible, unseen Kingdom work? Can we slow down rest, play, and be vulnerable? I think we can. Mister Rogers showed us it could be done.

 

I still need all these lessons as much at forty-one as I did when I was four. 

 

I think the big question for our soul is this: Can we accept that we are liked by God just the way we are, not the way we’ve decided we need to be to fit in or to try to be liked? Can we accept that God likes the deep down person we are at the soul-level of our creation, with all our faults and feelings? I’m asking myself that question.

Why do I feel the need to question it?

I think I need to recapture the childlike faith that didn’t question Mister Rogers sitting on my living room carpet with my pigtails in front of our console television.

God likes me just the way I am. Can I say it, sing it, believe it, and live it? Can you?

           Photo by  Pawel Kadysz  on  Unsplash

          Photo by Pawel Kadysz on Unsplash

The Kindle version of this is on sale for $0.99!

Church, Balk about Bannon

Saturday night, I read that president-elect Donald Trump was considering naming Steve Bannon his chief of staff, and I wrote emails and tweets to Trump, Pence, and Paul Ryan voicing my disapproval of this possible choice.

Why did I care?

Steve Bannon has been strongly linked to the alt-right group, which is just a coded name for white supremacy.  (The fact that white supremacy is being veiled and normalized is just one problem I have with the media coverage of this story.)

Sunday afternoon it was reported that Trump named Reince Priebus his chief of staff, but Trump named Steve Bannon his senior counselor and chief West Wing strategist.  It is telling that Bannon's name was listed first, top billing, in the official announcement from Trump's transition team, above chief of staff.

I believe Trump was sending a message to his other appointments to defend Bannon.  He's at the top.  Fall in line.

I also wonder if Trump isn't throwing this out there to see what sticks.  Are the Christians who turned out in big numbers to vote for him going to balk?

Church, we need to balk!

There isn't some video of Bannon admitting to believing alt-right, white supremacist views I could show you.  He is too smart for that.  He wouldn't have a promised job at the White House if he admitted such views publicly.

Just because there is not one single, infallible piece of evidence against Bannon does not mean he is fit for this appointment.

I will tell you the exact moment in my mind that Steve Bannon became unfit to serve as a staff member of the West Wing; it was 14 days after the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on June 17, 2015.

Watching the news coverage of that shooting was as traumatic and heartbreaking as any other terrorist attack I've lived to see covered on television.

It was personal.

I spend more days in a church than I spend away from the church.  I even lived in our church building when we were first married and planting our church downtown.  During worship on Sunday mornings, I look out at a sea of faces that are all shades of brown and pink.  If there is anywhere I long to be most free from the fear of shootings, it is when I am with my body of Christ that I love dearly.

That church shooting was completely heartbreaking for all Christians, not just for African-Americans.

Steve Bannon ran the "news" site Breitbart from 2012 to 2016, and just 14 days after the church shooting he ran the headline, "Hoist it high and proud: The Confederate flag proclaims a glorious heritage."

You can feel any way you want about The Confederate flag, but this headline was run during a time when the news was still full of photos of the shooter Dylann Roof squatting in his backyard holding a Confederate flag.

It was despicable, and it isn't the only disgusting headline Breitbart has published; hateful is their specialty.

Non-white Christians feel hurt that 4 out of 5 white Christians voted for Donald Trump, and Steve Bannon is one big reason for that hurt.

I didn't cry whenever Trump got elected.  I tell you when I cried.  I cried on Wednesday night when I was driving to the gym after reading a Facebook post from a Latino missionary we support financially and through prayer.  He posted that he was hurt that his Christian friends had not only voted for Trump but were on Facebook gloating and celebrating that Trump had won.

This is a missionary that I have shared meals and prayers with.  He moved his family of three to a third-world country to work with people who identify with a different religion than Christianity, a dangerous assignment.

I mourn with my brother in Christ.

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
— John 13:35 ESV

White Christians, we "held our nose" and elected Trump.  We have a responsibility to speak out about actions that go against our beliefs.

Do I even have to say that white supremacy goes against our Christian beliefs?

I have 613 Facebook friends, friends who are almost 100% Christian, and only 4 of my friends responded to my pleas to contact their representatives about Bannon's appointment to the president-elect's White House staff.  I've had friends and family tell me be careful where I get my news from.  I had one of the members of Trump's Evangelical Advisory Board email me back to tell me that I need to stop listening to liberal media.  That email was crushing because of the 27 names on his advisory board, he was the one I respected the most.

I understand how much of the media's trust has eroded over decades of skewed reporting and assaults on Christian values.  That is why I am not asking you to believe anything that is being said about Steve Bannon by the liberal media.  Judge him by his hateful words and shameful reporting as head of Breitbart.  Or if you are willing, listen to Glenn Beck's opinion of Bannon.

Christians have done a good job the last 8 years praying for our president, praying for our country, being aware of what is going on, and holding people in government accountable.  We cannot quit this oversight just because a Republican is in the White House.

Donald Trump has made this staff appointment to see how the Christians who turned out to vote for him will respond to it.  Are we just going to fall in line or are we going to refuse to sit quietly by as Bannon takes this job in our capital?  We have to make it heard that we will not allow someone to work in the West Wing advising our president that has spent the last 5 years peddling hate.

Please contact president-elect Donald Trump, vice-president-elect Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, and your state's two senators.

A quick phone call has the biggest impact.  Few people take the time to call, so it holds more weight than an email or a tweet.  So far, I found calling to be very quick and easy.  Most offices have an automated answering machine that allows you to leave your opinion on any issue and have your voice heard.

Church, let's pick up our phones and balk.

Here are the numbers you can call:

  • Donald Trump (646) 736-1779 (Note:  the ability to leave messages has been disabled.  This is not ok because it sends the message that the president-elect does not want to hear from his constituents.  You have to email info@donaldtrump.com.)
 
  • Mike Pence (317) 232-4567  (FYI, a real person answered when I called.)
 
  • Paul Ryan (202) 225-0600 

If you live in Texas, you can contact the following senators.  If you live in a different state, you can find your senator's info here.

  • Ted Cruz 202-224-5922
 
  • John Cornyn 202-224-2934

Just a few moments on the phone could change the way our country is run the next 4 or 8 years.

 

 

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
— Galatians 6:2 ESV

Review of A Mile Wide by Brandon Hatmaker

I love to read.  I’ve set my goal high this year, one a book a week, and I’m on track to meet that goal.  I almost always enjoy the book I’ve read (I did pick it, why wouldn’t I.)  But rarely do I not only love the book, but also feel jealous that I didn’t get to write the book I’m reading.  That is how I felt about Brandon Hatmaker’s new book that released this past Tuesday, A Mile Wide:  Trading A Shallow Religion For a Deeper Faith.  I wish I had wrote it.  It is just so good.  God forgive me of my covetousness.

The book is divided into two parts: The Gospel In Us and The Gospel Through Us.  Brandon encourages us to take our small view of the gospel and make it bigger.  As we grow our view of Christian life we can take that gospel and pour it out with a truer mission, seeking justice for our communities, full of grace and truth.

There is an idea in Brandon’s new book that I’ve been discussing with anyone who will verbally process with me, and that is the idea that discipleship happens during outreach.  (I even wrote a whole blog series on it called #servetogrow over the summer.)  Brandon illustrates this idea beautifully.

My favorite part of the whole book is in the chapter discussing discipleship called A Deeper Discipleship.  Brandon tells about an experience he had volunteering one Tuesday night with an organization called Mobile Loaves & Fishes (MLF) with his friend Alan Graham.  After spending the evening handing out groceries, blankets, and clothing to homeless and working poor families, Alan fills Brandon in on his mission at MLF.

‘I’m making disciples,” he [Alan] said. ‘You see, we’re doing a lot of good here. But my job, and yours as a church leader, is to make disciples. My job is to get as many people out of the pews and onto the streets of our city as I can, because I know it’ll change them.’

This was paradigm-shifting for me. I’d served people before. I’d been on multiple mission trips and served in different environments. But this was different. This was in my hometown on a Tuesday night. It was something profound wrapped in something seemingly simple. Somehow what we had just done shifted my thinking from handing out a sandwich to learning a name, hearing a story, and connecting at the soul level.

And I heard the Spirit whisper, Remember what you’re experiencing. Capture how this feels, and help others feel the same. This is going to change you. It’ll change them too.

I’ve thought about that night a thousand times since then. It’s the moment when I realized for the first time that something was happening all around me that wasn’t about me but was changing my heart. After years of checking boxes and hoping for transformation, I could physically feel my heart being reshaped.

Everyday experiences become discipleship experience when we have the right attitude and perspective.
— Brandon Hatmaker, A Mile Wide

I’ve only given you a piece of the story.  You absolutely have to get this book and hear more.

There are other stories that are very touching.  When I first picked up the book to read, I found myself quickly in chapter two blinded by tears.  Brandon tells a poignant story of his encounter with an Ethiopian woman on his very first flight to Ethiopia.  I won’t retell it here, but I will tell you that you will be shocked at the reason for that this woman on Brandon’s flight spontaneously praises the Lord on that airplane.

All of these stories are so stirring to me and you as a reader because it is so evident on the page that these stories are not just cute antidotes to Brandon.  You can feel how life-changing these moments were in the writer’s sensitive-to-the-Spirit heart.

This book isn’t just about moving stories.  One of the things I love about A Mile Wide is how well thought out it is.  Every point has been considered and tested.  Every chapter has lists of helpful ways to proceed or recommendations for moving forward.  This isn’t a book that ends in head scratching and warm feelings.  This is a book that ends with action.  Each subject covered has so many layers for every Christian.

I hope I have convinced you how well your time would be spent on reading A Mile Wide.  I don’t over exaggerate when I say that you will be affected by this book.  Grab a copy and let Brandon lead you deeper into a faith that not only changes you, but leads you to change others.

I Know You Believe It, You Send Your Kids to Do It

#servetogrow part 6

Last week I went to serve as a counselor at children’s camp.  I was surrounded other counselors that were just kids: teens, pre-teens, and college-aged.  Today I will get on my bike to deliver lunches to children in the low-income neighborhood that I serve.  I will have a lot of help, but I probably won’t have one adult go with me.

I know you are sending your kids to serve, at missions and outreaches, because I’m serving along side them.  You send them to serve on trips and at camps.  Why do you do this?  I’ll tell you why.  You want them to grow spiritually.

You want them to experience God.  You want their minds and hearts to be changed, so they will make good decisions with their lives.

One month from now, I will be in Ethiopia with my daughter Lucy serving with Storyteller Missions, visiting a few orphanages in the capital city, Addis Ababa.  This is my third trip to Ethiopia serving with this organization.  This year it was important to me that my daughter Lucy came on this trip.  It is one of the main reasons for serving this summer.  It’s so important to me for a lot of reasons.  Lucy is seventeen, andI want Lucy to be exposed to the realities of a third-world country.  I want her to see where her future adopted brother, God willing, will come from, what his life was like before our family and the culture he will be leaving behind.  But my biggest reason I want her to go is to mature spiritually.  I want her to see prayers answered.  I want her to depend on God when she feels uncomfortable or unable to solve the unending problems children face in this country.  I want her to see people on the other side of the world worshiping and serving the same God we love and serve.

It is obvious to me that I believe that serving leads to spiritual growth because I taking my daughter to serve in hopes that she grow spiritually.  It is obvious to me that believe it too, because you are sending your kids to grow spiritually through serving.

Why wouldn’t I want those same things for my own spiritual growth?  I do, and you should too.

Even if you served at camps, missions, and trips in your formative years, you still can learn more about God.

As Christians we often talk about the abundant life we are given, but so many times I feel that it is used out of context.  God doesn’t care about your bank account.  He cares about your heart.

On Earth, there will never be a spiritual arrival point.  There isn’t a place you can get where you will know and experience everything God has to show us or our relationship being complete.  That doesn’t happen until Heaven.  While we are here, as we serve the Lord, there are endless lessons to learn about our magnificent God.

I could go to Ethiopia a million times, and that millionth time, I will learn something new about following Jesus.

Here’s the funny thing.  It isn’t about what I accomplish serving Him.  It isn’t about what I can do for Him.  It isn’t about the amount of cloth diapers I can cart in suitcases half way across the world.  It isn’t about how many children I can feed off the trailer of my bike.  God can accomplish so much more with one miracle than I could ever do with my two hands and two feet.

It isn’t about what I can do at all.

God is concerned about my obedience and your obedience.  Obedience stretches you and leads to spiritual growth.  It draws you closer to God, and He wants you close.

I’ve learned this lesson, not on my couch, not in my church pew.  I learned this lesson packing up cloth diapers and dragging them through 4 airports over 8,000 miles.  I learned this lesson pedaling my bike in 100 degree weather.

I’ve learned so many things by coming to the end of myself but never coming to an end to our God.

I can do my best to put these lessons on paper for you to read, but I think you have to go learn them yourself.

This summer, instead of just sending your kids or your youth groups to serve, get out, be obedient, and learn something.  Grow spiritually.

 

I like to share a song with each blog post, because music is so life-giving to me.  This is a song we sang at children's camp, and I can't get enough of it!  It's so fun!

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.