Who could have anticipated that after devastating drought, bushfires, hail and floods, a deadly virus would turn up, slamming shut the doors of every church building in every suburb and town in the land!
I’d been thinking about writing this piece before Covid-19 turned our lives inside out. But now, in God’s puzzling providence, I’m convinced he’s given us a moment to reflect and re-commit ourselves to the extraordinary privilege of ordinary servant ministry in the local church.
If you’re preparing for vocational word ministry, or serving in your local church in a lay capacity, or perhaps married to someone already in local church ministry, where do you see yourself fitting in to your local church? What are your expectations for serving in your local church?
Let’s face it, local church ministry is messy, frequently slow to produce positive results, not for the fainthearted, and honestly – it can look a bit ordinary. There’s a reason Paul likened it to parenting.
We need to be renewing our minds (Rom 12:2), so that our lives are transformed to reflect what God is doing through his precious church.
So here are some reminders, challenges and suggestions that might help you as you consider serving your local church:
* Start by reading Ephesians, slowly, with the help of Lionel Windsor’s outstanding verse-by-verse reflections, to help you think God’s way about his church. My church is more than ‘Fairy Meadow Anglican Church’, and so is yours. It’s an embassy, an outpost of God’s eternal, universal and ultimate Church. God has ordained that, through the local church, gospel truth will be lived out before a watching world. He has chosen to make known the wisdom of his salvation plan through the local church. Your earthly, regular church is a taster of the heavenly assembly of Hebrews 12 and the heavenly reality of Revelation 19 and 21. What a privilege then, to serve in the local church!
* Read a helpful book on church. Try Sam Allberry’s short book Why Bother With Church?.
* Sin is a feature of the local church on earth, not shared by the heavenly church. Surprise! Be realistic in your expectations as you serve in your church. Expect to be hurt, disappointed and misunderstood. Embarking on vocational gospel ministry is far more like boarding a naval cruiser in wartime than boarding a luxury cruise ship (before the age of Corona!). Expect it to be exhausting and challenging, but ultimately worthwhile. So prepare yourself – keep building spiritual stamina, establish habits for sustainable sacrifice, exercise your muscles of grace, forgiveness and patience. And serve in God’s strength, in unity with the crew of local believers God has given.
* Train and discipline yourself in personal Bible reading and prayer. If you know God well, you can humbly give him the glory in the good times and confidently lean on him in the harder times. Knowing that our security, significance and satisfaction is found in the achievements of Christ on the cross helps us steer our way through the complexity and messiness of local church life with grace, joy, wisdom, patience and forgiveness.
* Be a lifelong learner and observer of how people work – how they interact and respond with you and with others. Learn what makes different people tick – and you will also observe what makes people explode! Learn to be a careful listener. When we ‘get’ both the Scriptures and people, we’re better able to love and serve people well.
* Learn to be self-aware, so that you can serve others well. Know your own personality and sensitivities, your strengths and weaknesses, and the sins you struggle with. Learn to pause and reflect on your own responses, motives and sensitivities, and on how you cope with change. Commit to putting off sin and putting on Christ-likeness.
* If you’re pushing back at the idea of investing in serving the local church, reflect on why that might be. Perhaps get help from a wise Christian or a Christian counsellor who ‘gets’ the challenges of ministry. Be honest with God, confess any sinful attitudes and pray for a heart that longs to love and serve the local church, as Christ has served us.
* Quit the snare of compare! Read Sophie de Witt’s book Compared to Her to help navigate your way out of the comparing and judging of ourselves against others that so damages our lives and ministries and dishonours God.
* Just as you would in the surf, put up your hand for help when you’re struggling – don’t drown quietly. We will struggle and stuff up, flounder and fail. We will over- estimate our capacity and forget that we’re the finite, dependent creatures, not the Creator.
These next two are for those who are married to ministers…
* We are told that celebrities are ‘social influencers’. Recognise that you will be an influencer in your local church simply because you’re married to the minister. That’s not a mould you’re poured into, but a God-given privilege. How can you be a ‘gospel influencer’, especially among women – pointing the unsaved to Christ, the Saviour they need and Lord they can trust, and building up the saved to maturity in Christ, encouraging them to join in with God’s grand plan to unite all things under Christ? Paul urged the Corinthian church to “follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Cor 1:11). What will that look like for you, in your church?
* Talk with your husband about how you can serve each other well, so he can serve your family and the church well. How can you do life and ministry together, in your circumstances, in each season of life, using the opportunities God has given your church to make and grow disciples of Christ?
* What strategies can you put in place to remind you of the extraordinary joy and privilege of local church ministry? I keep any thank you card I receive from Christian brothers and sisters in our church, simply to remind myself in the hard times that serving in the local church is worth the sacrifice, now and for eternity. Sending thank you cards might feel culturally weird in our modern times, but it’s distinctly Christian to express our thanks and appreciation to others, so let’s set the pace in recovering the art of outwardly expressing gratitude to others.
There are a gazillion opportunities for gospel-shaped ministry in the local church, in every season of life, whether or not we’re theologically trained, paid or voluntary. The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. My prayer is that God will open our eyes afresh to the extraordinary privilege of ordinary gospel ministry in the local church.