Another year is coming and with it, the promise of new opportunities. For many, the New Year is a time for personal resolutions: "This year, I will get fit." "This year, I will save money." “This year, I will eat well."
These resolutions, while well-intended, often fizzle out around January 2nd. However, we in the church are called to more than watery promises or half-hearted goals.
WE ARE CALLED TO SERVE
Jesus set this example in his ministry. Both Jesus's words, like those in the sermon on the mount, and his deeds (like the washing of the disciple's feet), demonstrated that Christianity is not a call to personal greatness, but to great service. We are called to bring the gospel to the world around us, not merely in our words, but in our deeds as well.
And yet, as I look around the church of America today I am sad to say that we seem to be better at warming pews than touching lives. The modern church goer appears to prefer isolation to community, self-improvement to biblical discipleship, and being fed to serving others.
Now, don't get me wrong. It is important to be fed spiritually. You SHOULD go to Bible studies, pay attention to the Pastor's sermon, attend Worship services, study the Word, etc... but not at the exclusion of serving others.
YE OLD 80/20
Most Christians are familiar with the adage of 80/20 within the church. This phrase is so common that it might as well be a hymnal or stained glass windows. We have come to EXPECT that 20% of the congregation will do 80% of the work in a church. If you don't believe that this is true, then ask yourself: how many ministries have there been in the past three years in my church? Ok, now who ran them? If the same names keep overlapping departments and ministries year after year, then your church has 20% (or fewer!) of the congregation at the wheel. These are the "20%" who are driving the vision of your church and (trust me) if they aren't burnt out now, they soon will be.
Christians are not meant to work in a vacuum. We are made to be a fellowship of believers who love each other and work together for the common goal of advancing God's Kingdom. Paul even goes as far as to point out that we are ONE BODY in Christ (1 Corinthians 12) and further notes that if one part suffers, every part suffers (verse 26).
Thus, to expect a lively, growing church with an 80/20 structure is like expecting a body to keep living vibrantly once 80% of it is dead.
Dead Bodies=Dead Faith
There is a real and present danger in calling oneself a Christian while acting like a rock.
In one of the more convicting passages of the Bible, James very clearly calls out the Christian who spectates rather than serves:
"14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. "
James 2:14-17 (NIV)
OUCH. Now, let’s be clear. James is not saying your works are what save you. ONLY the blood of Jesus Christ can do that. What he is saying is we can’t give lip service to this Christian life. That is why it is called the Christian Walk--or more appropriately RUN--not the Christian.sit.in.the.pew. Action is required. It is not enough just to talk about serving. You have to do it.
Or as James again eloquently puts it:
“Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” James 1: 22.
Best Intentions- the 20%
Now, this does not mean that the "20%" who serve are somehow better or more devoted Christians. Only the Lord knows the heart. Both sides of this proverbial can dampen ministries in churches. Just like the "80%" who don't serve can hinder church development and ministry growth by inaction, the well-intended, but misguided "20%er" may inhibit the spirit's work in their own life and ministry by overextending their talents, time, and gifts. In fact:
The 20% who carry the torch to the detriment of themselves, their family, their professional work, and the church body are equally to blame for the stunted ministries and lack of spiritual growth in the modern church as the 80% who do nothing.
The Bible is very clear that EACH part of the body has a unique role and no one person is meant to carry the whole load. Not even the Pastor.
Thus, you Mr. or Mrs. I-AM-IN-OR-I-AM-LEADING-EVERY-MINISTRY-IN-THE-CHURCH, are not doing anyone a service by being everyone’s everything. In fact, your great service for 2017 might even be: to SIT this one out.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 wisely reminds Christians that there is a season for everything. Just like we wouldn’t expect a farmer to plant or harvest in the dead of winter, a church should not expect it's leaders and workers to continue working season after season without periods of refreshment.
Even the Lord rested (Genesis 1). Why would we be expected to do anything less? If other areas of your life, including your spiritual life, are suffering because of your hyper-service, then I encourage you to pray and reflect on what God would have you do or not do in 2017.
Finally, a plea to our ministry leaders: please don’t overwork the 20% or neglect the 80%.
Too often I have, or I have seen ministry leaders pile tasks increasingly upon the servant-hearted Christians in church ministries. This over-tasking only increases the risk of burn out and does nothing to encourage active participation. At the same time, church leaders are often afraid of offending church-goers or driving people away by pointing out the very real fact that they should be exercising their faith and serving within the church.
Let's stop the cycle of burnt out ministry workers becoming barnacle pew sitters after a few years of service. Let's restore sanity and compassion to church ministries by asking our former ministry workers and leaders to return to service if they have had periods of refreshment, while presenting our congregation members with the very real expectation of duty and stewardship--not merely attendance. In doing so, we can make a way for new Christians to learn and be discipled, rather than expecting the 20% to fill the gaps. Additionally, we can sow into leaders who are in a season of rest to encourage their spiritual growth and to respect their steadfast commitment to the Lord.
The Outcome and Conclusion
Ultimately, by restoring compassion and sanity to church ministries, we will not have to worry about the archaic 80/20 rule. Instead, we can demonstrate unconditional love the will attract volunteers to our ministries and result in spiritual growth for the entire church. Again, it is not enough to hear the Word; we must follow it.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
So let's do it! Let's love each other this year! Let's welcome in new volunteers and encourage those who have served faithfully in the past. The 80/20 structure cannot continue in the face of Christians loving one another because the 80/20 rule is built on selfishness (on both sides of the percentage). But love is not selfish. It crowds out selfish ambitions by caring for others more than your care about yourself. Imagine what the church of today would look like if we followed the "golden rule" as religiously as the 80/20 rule. Let's serve others they way we wish to be served in 2017.