During my freshman year of high school, I was quickly losing interest in church. Instead of digging into Bible study, I stopped reading my Bible for myself and responding to the deeper questions from my small group leader. Everything about my posture said, “Whatever.”
My youth pastor noticed my attitude. But rather than taking me on a guilt trip, one day he pulled me aside. “Hey,” he said. “I’ve noticed something about you. You really know how to relate to people. So I was wondering, how would you like to be the youth group’s ‘Initiator of First Impressions’?”
“Wow!” I thought. “That sounds important! I’ll try it out!”
I valued my title because I felt significant, unique, and empowered to be the best “Initiator of First Impressions” there ever was. Now that I work at a church, I know my title was a fancy synonym for “Greeter.” All the same, my youth pastor had invited me to lead, and that opportunity made church feel like it was in some way mine. My pastor assured me that I had something to contribute, but then he gave me something I needed even more: the opportunity to actually contribute.
In Ephesians 4, Paul explained that Jesus gave ministerial gifts (apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists) in order “to equip his people for works of service” (Ephesians 4:12), but in many churches, we have defaulted to “entertaining His people with works of service.” Churches have become places where God’s people come to watch other people do ministry. We often act as a community of observers when we are called and commissioned to be a community of participants, a community of owners.
The conversation with my youth pastor had a ripple effect in my life. Not only did I become an active participant in the church that year, I also started a Bible study on my high school campus. I became not just a participant in a community, but an owner. I realized what it meant to be the church.
The Church Matters
A doctor named Luke wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. In Acts 1:1, Luke says that in his former book (the book of Luke), “I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach” (emphasis added). Luke is saying that the book he is currently writing, the book of Acts, tells about what Jesus will continue to do. But, wait, didn’t Jesus ascend into heaven in the first chapter of Acts? He did. Luke is implying that the book of Acts records what Jesus is continuing to do through His disciples . . . which includes us.
What is Jesus up to in your workplace? Well, if Jesus dwells within you by His Spirit, then I can ask, what are you up to in your workplace? What you’re up to is what He is up to. What is Jesus up to in your broken family? Well, what are you up to in your broken family? Have you ever witnessed an injustice in the world and shaken your fist at God screaming, “What are you doing about this?” I wonder if God is in heaven thinking, “Well, (insert your name), it looks like I made you pretty passionate about it. What are you going to do about it?”
What if what God was doing about the injustices in the world was making us more aware of them? If you’re asking, “What is God up to?” follow that up with this question: What are you up to? Maybe what you’re up to (as the church) is precisely what He is up to, through you. What you do matters.
Equip the Church to Be the Church
One of my favorite ways to build a God-honoring, transformational community as a pastor is to serve and equip my local church. Remember, this wasn’t always the case for me. For far too long, I saw church as a chore. But then my youth pastor invited me to stop observing and start participating. He invited me to become an owner in my church, and I’ve loved it ever since. And now as a pastor it’s my job is to do the same.
I love the church! I love it not simply for the ways it can serve me but for the ways I’m invited to serve it. It’s not perfect because it’s made up of people just like me. It was created to function with contributors, not consumers. Part of my job as a church leader is to make sure people understand this. So one night I decided I needed to teach and equip the young adults to contribute to the church. But instead of just passionately preaching, “you need to contribute,” I equipped them by giving them an opportunity to actually contribute. I decided to throw a potluck! Sure, I’d still give them a message, but I didn’t want them to come simply to receive and agree with me. I wanted them to bring something for each other too. And they showed up. That’s the strange thing about inviting people to contribute instead of promising to entertain them—they show up. They show up ready to give instead of ready to judge. And they feel like they’re a part of something. That’s what happened that night.
They showed up not as observers or consumers but as participants, as owners of the best potluck ever. They showed up with fruit and salad, with pizza and casserole and more types of chips and salsa than you can imagine. The only thing missing? Forks! Ha!
And that’s the way it is in church too. If you don’t bring what’s in your hands to bring, the whole church goes without. As leaders, if we don’t invite others to bring what’s in their hands as well, the church will feel like its missing something. God has created us very purposefully and specifically. He has given us gifts that He wants us to use as the church, and if we don’t bring them for any reason (fear, comparison, or apathy), the whole community is worse off for it. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s true. Being the ‘fork’ at a potluck wouldn’t be too exciting, but let me tell you from experience, the meal is a mess without you.
How to Use this Book & Video Study
This is an excerpt from my book Meant for Good. This book is a biblical look at the truth that you can really trust God’s plans for your life—no matter what it looks like right now. God knows the plans He has for you—plans to give you hope and a future. Are you ready to believe it? Grab a copy of Meant for Good and Bible study curriculum.