(Part 3 0f 6)
Scripture: Mark 9:35
Sibling rivalries. For the people who grew up with at least one brother or sister, you understand what I mean. If you were an only child but have two or more children, you understand what I mean. They pick at one another, they fight with one another. Sometimes its innocent and all in fun, and other times its no-holds-barred war. In a previous church years ago, one couple had two sets of young twins. They were regular in attendance, but how they got there successfully week after week was a wonder. They confessed to me once, “Pastor, we feel like that by the time we get to church, we’re in need of family counseling!” Brothers and sisters fight.
“He got a bigger piece of pizza than I did.”
“He got to play his video game longer than I got to play mine.”
“She got a new outfit and I didn’t”
“It isn’t fair”
“I hate you”
The expectation would be that as brothers and sisters mature, they would grow out of the squabbles. Sometimes they do, but often the tension is still under the surface, it just becomes more subtle and refined. In this Bible verse, Jesus’ disciples had just finished having an argument. The topic? “Who is the greatest.” Can you imagine the conversation?
“I’m the greatest disciple since Jesus called me to follow him first.”
“No, I’m the greatest because I gave up the most money to follow him.”
“No, I’m the greatest because I have more right answers to his questions than anyone else.”
“Well, you didn’t follow him first, I did!”
“I gave up more money than you did – I’ve got the receipts to prove it!”
“You think you get all the answers right to his questions? Well I think you’re an idiot!”
I can visualize things escalating quickly between them. So by the time they reach Capernaum and settle down in the house where they were staying, Jesus asked the question, “What were you discussing on the way?” Jesus puts things in the best possible light, but he knew exactly what they were doing and what they were saying. He wanted to them to learn a lesson, so he asked the question for their benefit. No one said a word. They were busted, and they knew it. The silence was deafening. So Jesus had them to come and to gather around him. He said, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” So Jesus is saying the key to greatness is not in prominence, but in service. The key to greatness is not in seeking your interests, but looking to the interests of others. Most Christians today are aware of what Jesus expects, but they often forget it. Church members are the same way. Somewhere in the past they were probably taught about how important it is to look to the interests of others rather than yourself, but they forget. So as a result when it comes to church membership, it isn’t all about helping other people, it is all about getting what I want. Often a consumer mentality creeps into the minds of church members. There are certain things that I must get from church. If I don’t feel a certain way, if I’m not treated a certain way, then I’m a dissatisfied customer. If I continue to be unhappy then I’ll shop elsewhere. Now granted, there are times when God does lead to move from one church congregation to another. There are greater opportunities for service there, there is more of a compatibility for mutually serving Christ together, so a change is made. Those decisions are valid, and must be respected. Often however, the mindset in church isn’t about how I can better serve others, but how others can better serve me. Just like children, the fussing and fighting begins as to whose needs are the greatest and the most pressing. After an extended period of time with that sort of behavior, it begins to feel natural and acceptable to God.
God expects church members to act differently. As Jesus told his disciples so many years ago, so he tells church members today that you can’t be a leading church member if you insist on getting your way at the expense of others. In this third message of the series on “I am a church member,” there are three things to grasp when it comes to serving others.
First of all, God expects you to serve one another Biblically. The Scriptures are full of people who pleased God by putting the needs of others above their own. Abraham and Lot’s servants argued over grazing areas for their livestock. Abraham allowed Lot to have his choice of the more fertile valley on the plain of the Jordan.
Joseph after a traumatic childhood of being abused by his brothers, rose to power in Egypt and become second in command to Pharaoh. He could have killed his brothers when they came to him seeking food – he had no need of them. Instead he showed mercy and took care of their needs. He was more concerned about service than status.
David was pursued by King Saul after David was anointed the new king of Israel. He could have taken Saul’s life more than once to eliminate the threat, and no one would have blamed him for doing so. Instead, he sought the interests of Saul above his own.
Serving one another is not just a high moral idea to which you can aspire – it is the lifestyle God expects of you. Inasmuch as you can’t do it, God will transform your heart and mind so that you can. Church membership is not about how well you are served when you are here. Restaurants are that way, stores are that way, but church isn’t. Being a part of a church is all about how well you can serve others, not how well they are serving you. God expects you to serve one another Biblically.
Then, God expects you to serve one another practically. In other words, make it evident that you are serving others, especially in the church. There was a survey done recently among declining or dying churches. Remember, 9 of 10 churches today are either declining or dying. It’s a common but deadly serious problem. In this survey of declining churches there are 10 dominant behavior patterns. There are 10 things they are doing that hurt them deeply. I’ll describe each one briefly.
- Worship wars – usually the battle is over the style of music. If I don’t have the music just the way I want it, I’ll do one of two things. I’ll either leave the church because of it, or else I’ll be miserable with it and make sure everyone hears about it as often I get occasion to speak.
- Prolonged minutia meetings – in other words, more time is spent in board and committee meetings than in ministry.
- Facility focus – the church is more focused on beautifying a structure, or building one, than it is on following Christ.
- Program driven – programs started years ago are continued indefinitely, even though they may have stopped serving their purpose.
- Inwardly-focused budget – the budget focus is on keeping people comfortable and happy rather than being good stewards of finances.
- Unrealistic demands for pastoral care – “the pastor and/or Deacons didn’t visit me in the hospital, even though I didn’t tell anyone I was in the hospital. They should have somehow known.”
- Attitudes of entitlement – “I’ve been a member here for a long time or I’ve given a lot of money, so I deserve priority treatment.”
- Greater concern about change than the Gospel – people become emotionally charged when something is done differently, but display little if any emotion for reaching souls for Christ.
- Anger and hostility – members commiserate shortcomings more than they celebrate the Savior.
- Evangelistic apathy – there is little concern about the spiritual need of the lost to know Christ. Instead the focus is on how my needs aren’t being met.
So its fairly easy to identify the problems. What God wants us to do is live differently as church members. Take this list and turn each of these ten things into a set of challenges.
- I will not fight for my style of Christian music. If its about Jesus, I’m good with it.
- In addition to attending meetings, I will minister to others.
- I will focus more on ministry to people than on beautifying the church structure or building a bigger one.
- I will realize not all programs of the past are effective in the present.
- I will be a good steward of God’s resources in the budget, even though some people may be unhappy as a result.
- I will communicate to the pastor and Deacons my need for pastoral care.
- I do not have entitlements as a church member.
- People need to hear the Gospel, even if it involves using different methods than in the past.
- I will celebrate more than commiserate.
- My greatest desire is for people to come to new life in Christ.
As a church member, God expects you to serve others practically.
Then, as a church member, God expects you to serve others radically. Jesus is the ultimate, radical example of serving others. Philippians 2:5-8 says,
“In your lives you must think and act like Christ Jesus. Christ himself was like God in everything. But he did not think that being equal with God was something to be used for his own benefit. But he gave up his place with God and made himself nothing. He was born as a man and became like a servant. And when he was living as a man, he humbled himself and was fully obedient to God, even when that caused his death—death on a cross.” (NCV).
What did Jesus do in this passage? First, he didn’t think of himself and his own benefit, but served God. He had the power and ability to seek his own interests, but he didn’t. He put them to the side. Second, he emptied himself. He not only put his own desires to the side for others, but he poured out his life for others. Third, he humbled himself. Even after being born a man and having sacrificed so much, he humbled himself and served God even more. Fourth, he was obedient to God to the point of death. He gave his very life as an act of service to God and to others. Then later, God raised him and rewarded him. When you get radical about serving God and following the example of Jesus, you too will receive many blessings in return. As a church member, God expects you to serve others radically.
Jesus says in Mark 8:34-36,
“If people want to follow me, they must give up the things they want. They must be willing even to give up their lives to follow me. Those who want to save their lives will give up true life. But those who give up their lives for me and for the Good News will have true life. It is worthless to have the whole world if they lose their souls.’ (NCV).
So what does God expect of you as a church member? To serve others Biblically, practically, and radically.
The Third Pledge
I am a church member.
I will not let my church be about my preferences and desires. That is self-serving.
I am a member in this church to serve others and to serve Christ.
My Savior went to a cross for me. I can deal with any inconveniences and matters that just aren’t my preference or style.