I am writing a series of perspectives on ‘Building Community Within’ to reinforce the series of sermons preached during the May-June period on ‘Community’. My previous perspective was entitled ‘Warm and Welcoming’, exhorting everyone to make True Way a hospitable and embracing family. Today, I want to look at why and how we should serve and build up the Body of Christ in our community.
We love because He first loved us. In the same way, we serve because God first served us. How did God serve us? The second person of the Trinity ‘came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mark 10.45). This is the greatest service that Christ has rendered to us – to offer up his life as a sacrifice on the cruel cross so as to redeem us from the bondage of sin and death. More importantly, it is a service that Christ rendered to God, a service of ultimate obedience to fulfil the salvation plan that God in his extravagant love had put in place in order to save us from the consequences of the Fall. Let Jesus’ model of sacrificial service spur us to serve. Let us be so overwhelmed by his amazing grace that we are compelled to serve out of our gratitude and love for him. We serve because he first served us.
Service, like Bible reading and prayer, is a spiritual discipline by which we can grow in our spiritual walk with the Lord. Every spiritual discipline is a means of grace, a channel through which the grace of God is poured into our lives so that we are being built up in faith, love and hope even as we serve the Lord’s cause. Our faith will increase as we step forward to serve. The inertia can be great as we contemplate: ‘Will I be able to make that commitment given my already tight schedule?’ We need to exercise faith in order to say ‘yes’ to the Lord. We need to believe that God will empower us to serve; he will give us wisdom to manage our time; he will give us the physical energy and strength; he will give us the mental and emotional capacity to carry out our responsibilities. We may be weak but we believe that his power will be made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12.9). In the course of our service, we also need faith to uphold our commitment to serve in spite of work and family demands. I was encouraged when I heard from a young adult that he told his boss that he would not be able to work overtime that night because he had to go to church for worship rehearsal. He was given a very last minute notice of the overtime and he felt that it would not be fair to the worship team if he were to pull out suddenly. I was encouraged by his courage to seek first the Kingdom of God. He might risk getting into the bad books of his boss but he trusted that God is sovereign, and that is faith at work.
We do not just grow in faith, we grow in love too. We grow in our love for the people we serve; we grow in our love for fellow servants; we grow in our love for the Lord. As we give tuition to the children from the neighbourhood, as we teach in the U12 (Sunday school), as we hit the streets to do share the gospel, we realise that we need to exercise a lot of patience in engaging and relating with the people. They may not appreciate our efforts; they may be uncooperative and uninterested; they may take us for granted; they may even be outright defiant. What should be the motivating force that will keep us going? Love! Love for God who has called us to serve these people and love for these people whom God has commanded us to love.
Then there is the opportunity to serve alongside each other within the ministry. Again much patience is needed because we have different styles and ways to go about doing things. Conflicts may arise and sometimes fellow servants become enemies. What we really need to do is to learn to be humble and respectful towards each other so that the spirit of unity can be maintained at all costs. St. Paul’s exhortation must be heeded: ‘Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace’ (Ephesians 4.2-3). Serving together gives us many opportunities to exercise the ‘one another’ principles – be kind to one another, accept one another, forgive one another, submit to one another, etc. I hope those who are serving together will get to know each other better. Our interactions should not just be confined to ministry matters alone and beyond that, we feel like strangers toward each other. Showing love sometimes requires the exercise of the will, especially when the heart is reluctant but in the process, we will grow in love.
As we serve, we grow in faith, we grow in love and we grow in hope too. We realise that many things are outside our control so we pray as hard as we work. Our labour of love may not yield immediate results; our good intentions may be misunderstood; our efforts may not be appreciated; but we are not discouraged because our hope lies in God who is sovereign and we have the confidence that as we entrust the outcomes into God’s hands, he will make all things beautiful in his own time. It is such a hope that will help us persevere in faithful service to the Lord. And so my prayer for all who serve is that our work will be produced by faith, our labour prompted by love and our endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 1.3).
I really want to see people being more forthcoming and taking the initiative to serve. You can start with an area of interest, e.g. if you love to sing, perhaps the choir is a ministry you can explore. You can also start with an area of need. The U12 ministry and the tuition ministry are always calling out for helpers and teachers. Don’t be too concerned with what spiritual gifts you have or have not. There are instruments that can give you a glimpse of your spiritual gifts but more importantly, as you serve, you will be able to find out what they are. The community will be able to affirm you on your gifting. Be humble and teachable. Knowledge and skills to carry out a ministry can be learnt along the way and the leaders overseeing those ministries as well as fellow servants will be at hand to guide and lend support. The pastors’ responsibility is not to do all the ministries. They cannot! Their role is to ‘equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ’ (Ephesians 4.12). As long as you are part of this community in True Way, you play a part in building up the Body of Christ in this local church. As long as one of you is not serving, the local church is not functioning at her fullest capacity. Everyone counts regardless which stage of life you are in – young or old; married, married with children or single. Everyone is in it together. We are community. We are family.
I am looking forward to the day when people will rush forward to volunteer their service whenever a call for help is issued. Presently, leaders lament that announcements are not effective in encouraging people to come forward to serve. We have to personally approach people, sometimes almost begging them to help. Ultimately, we serve not because the pastors or leaders are asking us to serve; we serve out of our gratitude to the Lord who has first served us but we also know that as we step out in faith to serve, we too will grow in our discipleship, by his grace and for his glory.
Rev Lee Kien Seng
August 7, 2016