“Why him? I built this field. You wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for me…I want to know what’s out there. I want to see it. Not invited? What do you mean I’m not invited? That’s my corn out there. You guys are guests in my corn. I have done everything I’ve been asked to do. I didn’t understand it, but I’ve done it. And I haven’t asked once what’s in it for me. I’m saying, what’s in it for me?” (Ray Kinsella, Field of Dreams)
For almost two thousand years, God has been building his church. It’s amazing to realize that God could have designed the church any way that he wanted, but God designed the church to use people, empowered by his Spirit, to accomplish his mission. God could have done it otherwise, but throughout history God has used people to build his church – people just like you and me. I’m still amazed that I get to be part of it. One of my favorite verses is 1 Timothy 1:12: “How thankful I am to Christ Jesus for considering me trustworthy and appointing me to serve him.” I can’t believe that God has given me a role to play in what he’s doing.
One of the problems with serving God is that over time, our attitudes can change and we can start to get a sense of entitlement or privilege. Our motives can be fine for years, but all of a sudden we wake up and think that we deserve church to be a certain way – that God or the church owe us something. Jesus once taught that our attitude should be that of servants. In Jesus’ day, when a servant came in from his work in the field, he didn’t sit down at the family table and expect to be served. He had to get up and prepare the meal for his master. Even when that was done, he didn’t expect a big thank you for a job well done. Jesus’ point was simple. He said, “In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are not worthy of praise. We are servants who have simply done our duty'” (Luke 17:10). We’re called to serve and obey God, and when we do, we have only done our duty. We’re servants who are privileged to serve, and we have only done our duty.
One of the greatest strengths, and also one of the greatest challenges we face at Richview right now is in the area of service. I want to tell you first of all that the number of people who serve God here every week amazes me. I’m continually surprised by the number of people who have taken seriously the call to strategically serve somewhere, and to devote time and energy to building a community that will lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. What takes place here is a testament to God’s power working through some very committed people. It’s one of our greatest strengths as a church – one that we often overlook.
I really notice this because when I invite people to come here, it’s not really me that they notice. I play a part, but it’s you that they notice. When you invite people here, you start to see everything through their eyes. You start to notice and appreciate the greeters at the door who welcome you, and can show you where the kids programs are. You notice the ushers who hand out the programs, and answer any questions. You start to notice the children’s workers who have been there for half an hour before the first child showed up, making sure that the classroom has been set up. You start to appreciate the little things that are taking place – the water being set here so I don’t choke; the PowerPoint being finalized so we can read the lyrics and follow the sermon; the sound check taking place; the worship team praying before the service. What takes place here every week – not just on a Sunday, but in all our ministries – is a result of people using their gifts and talents. When we get together and use our gifts and talents, something incredible happens. We’re fulfilled, ministry happens, and people are drawn. It’s not the sermons that make a church. It’s people like you using their gifts to make a difference.
One of our greatest challenges as a church comes from the flip side of our commitment to serve. I’ve found that it’s easy to get confused over time why we’re serving, and we start to think that we’re serving ourselves. As Ray Kinsella said in Field of Dreams, “I have done everything I’ve been asked to do. I didn’t understand it, but I’ve done it. And I haven’t asked once what’s in it for me. I’m saying, what’s in it for me?” And the minute we start to serve with an expectation of “What’s in it for me?” we fall into one of the greatest dangers of service – a danger that is ultimately fatal to a church.
Somebody has said, “The greatest sin of the church today is not any sin of commission or sin of omission, but the sin of…no mission” (Leonard Sweet). Service, by its very nature, means that we’re serving others. The minute that we make our mission to serve ourselves, or to make the church something that meets our needs, the minute that we abandon God’s mission for our mission – we cease to be a church. Peter Drucker was right when he said that every organization exists to serve people outside the organization. When it exists to serve people inside the organization, it dies. We can’t afford to exist as a church to serve ourselves, and to meet our own needs. We can never afford to come to church and ask, “What’s in it for me?”
But when we come together, and everybody uses their gifts and talents – not for their benefit but for others – amazing things happen. God’s up to something in building his church, and we’re all an important part of it. When all of us play our part, we have front-row seats in watching people enter into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ, until they grow up in him to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. That’s the big picture of what God is doing, and you and I all have a part in it.
PBS had a show on one single day during the Second World War. They interviewed a number of soldiers about that day, and said, “Tell us about what happened that day.” One guy said that he sat in a foxhole all day, and played cards, and nothing happened at all. Another guy said that he sat in a foxhole, saw two tanks far away, and fired at them, but he was so far away that nothing happened. Another guy said that he was involved in a firefight that lasted for about an hour, but then just ended. They all knew what they experienced that day, but none of them saw the big picture. They were simply doing their duty. They didn’t know that they had been involved in one of the greatest battles of World War II, the Battle of the Bulge. They could tell their kids, “I was there for one of the greatest battles. I did my part.” Amazing things happen when we play our roles. Even when we don’t see the big picture, we can be used for a higher purpose without even knowing it.
Philip Yancey said a really good thing: “Great victories are won when ordinary people execute their assigned task.” Imagine what can happen if we partner with God in what he’s doing by completing our assigned task with faithfulness, perhaps never seeing the big picture, but instead focusing on what he wants us to do without ever asking, “What’s in it for me?”
One of the best examples of this is found in Acts 6. If you’ve never read the book of Acts, it’s an exciting book. It records the birth and growth of the church. It starts with about five hundred people who had seen Jesus come back from the dead. After Jesus had spent about 40 days with them after his resurrection, his followers watched him return to heaven, while angels appeared and told them, “Jesus has been taken away from you into heaven. And somebody, just as you saw him go, he will return!” (Acts 1:11)
Not long after, right in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit came down to where they were meeting, and all of Jesus’ followers were filled with the Holy Spirit. The apostles preached, and right there, in the middle of the Jewish hub, the church exploded. The church went from nothing to three thousand people in one day. The apostles all of a sudden were the main guys. They were preaching, leading, teaching – they were doing everything. The church co ntinued to grow.
Jesus had said, “I’m coming back.” The early church took this seriously. They didn’t know when Jesus would be coming back. Some of them probably wondered, “Will it be after dinner? Will it be tomorrow? Or will he wait until next week?” They lived for eternity. They sold all their possessions and gave the proceeds to the apostles, so that the apostles all of a sudden found themselves in a new role. Now they were accountants. And the church kept on growing. There were people joining the church in Jerusalem who weren’t even from Jerusalem. They were Greek Jews. This led to the very first church problem. If you’ve been around church for very long, you know that churches always have problems. Acts 6 records the very first problem that the church ever had. The church was probably only two weeks old, but it already had a problem.
The problem is that some of the Greek widows weren’t being cared for. Jewish society had a system to help needy widows. It’s possible that when these widows joined the church, they were cut off from receiving help from their normal system. Greek widows were especially vulnerable because they didn’t have relatives in Jerusalem to care for them. In Acts 6:1, we read, “But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. Those who spoke Greek complained against those who spoke Hebrew, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food.” For whatever reason – intentional or not – there was a group of people being neglected.
The apostles faced a decision. They could have taken charge of the food program. Or the other solution is that others in the church could play a role in serving a need. Acts 6:2 tells us what happened:
So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. “We apostles should spend our time preaching and teaching the word of God, not administering a food program,” they said. “Now look around yourselves, brothers, and select seven men who are well respected and full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. We will put them in charge of this business. Then we can spend our time in prayer and preaching and teaching the word.” This idea pleased the whole group. (Acts 6:2-5)
The result is that they selected seven men to meet the need of the neglected widows. It would have been easy for the seven men to think, “Great. You guys go out and be heroes, and maybe write the Bible while you’re at it, and we’ll stay here and serve widows.” But instead of this, people played out their assigned tasks, and as a result the problem was addressed.
We read the result of this decision in Acts 6:7. As a direct result of this action, “God’s message was preached in ever-widening circles. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted too.” The payoff: one – God’s Word was spread; two – the number of believers increased; three – priests, who had an incredible opportunity to influence other Jews – became believers. The church stayed on focus, and God’s Word spread because ordinary people carried out their assigned tasks, even without seeing the big picture, and without ever asking, “What’s in it for me?”
The heroes of this story aren’t the apostles. If it had been left to the apostles at this point to do all the work, the church could never have grown so fast. The real heroes of this story were these seven men, who each went to work and played an important role in building God’s kingdom.
Last week, we looked at what our purpose is as a church. We’re here to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. We want to take people, no matter where they are on their spiritual journey, and to lead them to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. We’re on a mission. We’re not here because we like the music, or because our needs are being met, or because we’ve seen what’s in it for us. We’re not even here to feed all the Christians. That’s our by-product.
We’re here because we believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and whether or not you’re in a relationship with Jesus Christ makes an eternal difference in the life of every person who lives within our spheres of influence. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we’re a church.
We’re also here because we believe the Word of God contains the answers to life’s most important questions. This book is God’s message, the most important message that people need to hear to have their eternities settled, but also their lives changed, their marriages straightened out, their priorities reordered, their life make sense.
We’re here because the church is the tool God is using to transform people and society. We are God’s plan. We aren’t just God’s plan A, we’re his plan B, C, D, and E. God has allowed us the privilege of partnering with him to reach and to lead people into a growing relationship with his Son. Because there is a heaven and a hell, because the Bible is God’s wisdom for life, and because the church is the tool that God uses to transform people, what we’re doing matters.
Here’s the application: WHAT YOU’RE DOING MATTERS. Your ministry matters. Whether it’s giving that friendly smile, or handing out a bulletin, or playing basketball with youth, or teaching a child about the Bible, or whatever it is that you do – your ministry matters.
If you’re welcoming people, you’re not just shaking hands – you may be the first person in somebody’s week to give them a warm smile. You may be the person who’s the first one to make them feel welcome all week. If you’re working with children, you’re not just providing childcare – you’re laying a foundation that will last for life. You may feel like your part is small, but it’s not. Because “great victories are won when ordinary people execute their assigned task.”
Here’s what else it means. WHEN YOU SERVE, IT MATTERS SO MUCH THAT YOU MUST SERVE WITH ALL OF YOUR HEART. Because when people show up here, or come in contact with our church, or are exposed to one of our ministries – it matters what happens! Because what we’re doing matters so much, this had better be the people and place where somebody coming in does feel welcomed, where they can easily find out where to send their kids, where the kids do receive good care and have fun, where nothing gets in the way of helping lead them into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.
I’ve had the experience of bringing new people here, and watching them come in. I’ve had the feeling of watching them, and thinking, “Come on! I only have one shot.” Their kids had better enjoy the program, so they’ll want to come back next week. They had better receive a warm welcome. The washrooms better be clean and well stocked this week. The message had better be on this week. Because this might be the only chance that we get. Ultimately, as I watch that newcomer come in, I’m depending on God, but I’m also depending on you. We go through this every week. Somebody’s here, and we have an opportunity to touch their lives for eternity.
You may be serving already. If so, I applaud you, and I remind you that what you’re doing matters. It may not feel like it. You may feel like what you’re doing is insignificant. You may feel like you don’t really see the big picture. But it matters. You are partnering with God, and what you’re doing matters not just for here and now, but for eternity. Keep on doing what you’re doing, and do it with excellence.
You may be here thinking, “I’ve done my time. I’m too young. I’m too old. I’m to busy.” You fill in the blanks. You’re too something. YOU NEED TO KNOW THAT WE NEED YOU. We don’t need you to fill in a slot in an organization. We need you to partner with us in leading people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ – in helping to change lives for eternity.
It’s dangerous if you’re not in the game. It’s dangerous because we won’t reach people that we could otherwise reach. It’s also dangerous because lethargy breeds lethargy. The more people who are here, who don’t serve, the more lethargic a place this becomes. And soon those of us who once served with passion and purpose, get to the point where we start asking, “What’s in it for me.” We need you to serve, not just because we need your ministry, but because we need your influence. We can’t afford to have too many people who aren’t involved with the game. We need you to join us on our mission.
Where should you serve? We have a great tool that you can use to find your place of ministry. You can complete a communication card and check off that you’re interested in Class #301 – Discovering My Ministry. We can help you discover your part in the work.
But here’s a caution: it’s easier to find your place of service once you start serving. This past week we had a bit of snow. I saw people skidded of the roads and in the ditches. I didn’t do it this week, but I’ve sometimes stopped to help people who needed a push. At that moment, I could tell them, “Sorry – I’d love to help you, but I don’t have the gift of service.” I could have said, “Let me use my gifts. I’ll prepare a sermon on safe winter driving so you can avoid getting stuck in snow drifts.” I could have said, “Let me pray about helping you.” But the appropriate thing to do is to help out, even outside of my area of giftedness. It’s to fill in and serve where needed.
If you’re not involved in ministry, stop making excuses. Get involved in the game. You can always find another place of ministry later, if you find out that what you’re doing isn’t the area of your best contribution. But get involved.
We want to pay the price for an evangelistic harvest. I believe that we’re coming up to one of the most exciting periods in our church’s history. The potential for making a difference is huge. But there’s a price. That price may be comfort. God has not called us to be comfortable, but to pay the price to serve, because great victories are won when ordinary people execute their assigned task.
What I’m going to ask is simple. If you’d like to take Class 301, then go ahead and fill that out. But if you’d like to get involved, to serve, maybe on a trial basis, then just fill out a card and write on it, “Service.” You will be saying, “Yes, I’m going to serve. I’m going to partner in what God’s doing here.” We will contact you to tell you some areas of need right now – not so you’ll make a life commitment, but so you can make a contribution, infect others with your passion for service, and come closer to discovering how God has equipped you to serve. Just complete a card and write on there, “Service.”
You may be here today, thinking, “Now I know what you’re up to.” You’ve found out that we have an agenda for your life; that we want you to enter into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. You’re right. We want you to experience what we’ve experienced. We believe the Bible is God’s message for us, and that there is a heaven and a hell, and we do want you to enter into a relationship with Jesus. The Bible teaches that every person has sinned; that the penalty for that sin is death; and that Jesus came to pay the penalty for our sins. And Jesus invites you to come to him, so you can have your sins forgiven and so you can receive eternal life.
The good news is that when you do come, you get to be part of what God is doing. You get to be used by God to touch other people for eternity. Because great things are won when ordinary people execute their assigned tasks, we need you to get involved.
Father, I want to thank you for the incredible people you’re using at Richview to build your Kingdom. They may not be aware of the big picture, but you’re using them. It’s because of them that people are being attracted and lives changed. Thank you for allowing us to be part of what you’re doing.
I pray for those today who will respond in obedience and get in the game. I pray that they would know the joy – the rush – of being used by you to touch others.
I pray that there would be some here today, who today or tomorrow or sometime soon will receive the gift of eternal life, the promise of forgiveness, not just for their own sake, but so they could partner with us in loving and serving others.
“Then God will be given glory in everything through Jesus Christ. All glory and power belong to him forever and ever. Amen.”