Serve in God's Kingdom

Matthew 25:21

We come this morning to the third leg of our mission at Glenwood.  We’ve spent the past few weeks thinking about the purpose and the implications of being a church where everyone can come to experience God’s love and to grow in God’s family.  Beginning this morning we’ll take two weeks to think about what it looks like to be a church where we all can serve in God’s kingdom. 

·         And this is where push comes to shove in the life of a church.  Everybody likes the idea of being loved by God, and being a part of God’s family.  But this is where we take ownership and start doing what it takes to get the job done.  

·         God’s not looking for a casual group of attendees, but a committed church of disciples.  His concern is not with how many we can get in the building every Sunday – God’s concern is with how many workers are willing to go out into the field for the harvest.  And there is a world of difference between the two. 

·         It’s the difference between givers and takers, between doers and talkers, between responsibility and convenience, between those who have a vested interest and those who are along for the ride.

Deep down, I think we all know where we fit in this picture.  We know whether we’re part of the core of workers who contribute to the life of a congregation, or we just show up and assume somebody has taken care of things.  

Now, understand, I’m not interested in criticizing and demeaning Christians who are uninvolved in the life of the church.  But this morning, I want to do two things: 

1)   I want you to see Glenwood as a place where your involvement is needed and valued; and

2)   to create a spark within you to move forward in your level of involvement.

The first one is a work in progress.  The leadership of the Glenwood church has been purposefully working through a plan of identifying our strengths and areas that we want to emphasize and grow in.  A strategic plan was worked on and written and refined, and ministries were examined and developed and lots of people have put a lot of work in on casting a vision for the future of the Lord’s work here.  So, as I said – it’s a work in progress.

But we have some wonderful ministry leaders who have given a lot of thought and dedicated a lot of time to planning how their ministries can serve God and reach the community and give everyone of us a place to get involved in serving the Lord. 

It’s not as easy as it sounds.  Some ministries are just easier for a leader to take care of himself.  It takes much more thought and effort to get others involved.  It really redefines what ministry is about.  A deacon or ministry leader may be a great servant himself, but we’re also asking them to be an enabler of other servants – and that’s not an easy transition. 

First of all, you have to see the big picture – how does my ministry fit in to the larger congregational goals?  My ministry isn’t isolated – others depend on my ministry functioning – and I can’t work independently of what others are doing.  So the deacons and ministry leaders need to think through the teamwork of their ministries.

Second, you have to think of mission, not maintenance.  Some of our ministries deal with the everyday routines like keeping grass mowed or the building clean or preparing communion.  Others are ministries like teaching Bible classes or providing benevolence for the poor.  It would be easy to look at teaching or benevolence and say, “That’s real ministry,” while thinking of the others as just busy work.  But the truth is that when Barb Hauptli is filling communion cups she is doing something extremely important in helping us to communicate the gospel message, and when Lu and Liz are spraying weeds or Pat is mowing the lawn or Dennis is vacuuming the carpet, they are helping us communicate a message of welcome and caring to our visitors. 

Illust. -- If you crawl under a pew of one of the magnificent European Cathedrals, you will find carved there four letters: "AMDG."  You may find the same four letters etched onto the cathedral's stained glass, stitched on its vestment and altar cloths, and hewn into cathedral stone.  You will not find the name of the artist there; only those four letters: "AMDG."  The letters stand for "Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam":  To the Honor and Glory of God.  Despite the difficulty of their creative tasks--since they were all done by hand, a man could spend an entire lifetime carving the decorations for one tower, or carving and joining the woodwork of a chapel--the artist asked no recognition.  Their grand creations stand, but their names are unknown.  Every chisel stroke, every pass of the plane, every stitch of the cloth, was a prayer, offered wholly to the honor and glory of God.    How would our attitude toward work change if all our work was done, consciously, every moment, "to the honor and glory of God?"

There is no unimportant work in the kingdom of God.  The person who vacuums the auditorium is just as important as the person who preaches the sermon.  There are many areas of service and all of them are important to the working of the body.

So, we are having to rethink ministry so that there is a place for every member at Glenwood to be involved in the work of God’s kingdom.  And not just busy work, but work that makes a difference and plays a part in helping Glenwood reach out to our community for Christ. 

Let me get to the second part of my purpose this morning – to do what the Hebrews writer says – “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24). 

There are three reasons to be involved in God’s work – what it does for others, what it means to God, and what it does for you.

Let me tell you what I feel when I show up at a Senior Banquet workday and twenty people are running around this building transforming it into a magical wonderland, or when I walk into the church kitchen and it’s filled with ladies who are preparing a meal for the church family – I hear God saying, “You are not alone – I have 7000 others…” 

You know what I’m saying – we encourage one another when we share in the work of God.  We lend our hand, we do our part, we say, “we’re in this together.”  But it also does something to those who are the recipients of our service – it can be life-changing.  At the church we came from in Memphis, they had a neat tradition:  When one of our young people was baptized, we would ask everyone who had ever taught them in a Bible class or gone as a leader on a retreat or a counselor at camp to stand, and we would have a couple dozen people stand who have been a part of the spiritual growth of that young person.  But it’s hard to have that perspective on Saturday night when you’re cutting out handouts for your Sunday morning Bible class.  We need that reminder that our work makes a difference in someone else’s life. 

I think of Tom and Patty Muller who came knocking on my family’s door on a Saturday morning back in 1974, asking if anybody would like to ride on a bus to come to Bible class the next day – they could never have imagined the ripples that visit would have even decades later.  I’m sure there were lots of other things they could have been doing with their Saturday.  But they were out inviting kids to come ride a bus to church.  Even the smallest, most menial jobs have the potential to change the course of eternity for someone when we serve with a heart to glorifying God.

What does it mean to God?  I look at the response of the Master in Matt. 25 to the servants who were faithful to their charge – “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!” (Matt. 25:21).  Wouldn’t you conclude that when God sees his people at work in his service, there is a joy and happiness in the heart of God?  And if there is anyone in all of the universe that I most want to bring happiness to it is God.

What does it do for you?  I leave this for last, because in a way it sounds crass to ask “what’s in it for me?”  And the key to being a servant in God’s kingdom is a selfless humility.  Nevertheless, when all is said and done, perhaps the greatest benefits of all come to the one who is serving. 

There is no joy so complete as the joy that comes from knowing you are doing exactly what God wants you to be doing.  That sense of peace that comes with being securely in the center of God’s plan.  It’s kind of like the feeling you get when you make a gift for someone (not just buy), and you’ve planned and worked and anticipated giving it to them, and then they open it and say “perfect!”

But even in a practical way there are benefits:

Illustration - One church did a survey of its members to see if people saw a relationship between ministering to others and spiritual growth.The answers were clear. 

When asked, “To what extent has your ministry or service to others affected your spiritual growth?”

·         92% answered “positive”.  Ministry to others had enhanced their spiritual growth.  How much? 

·         63% of those said that service had been an “equally significant fact” in their spiritual growth compared to others spiritual disciplines like Bible study and prayer. 

·         More amazingly, 24% responded that ministry or service to others had been “a more significant factor” to their spiritual growth than Bible study or prayer. 

That’s not to minimize Bible study or prayer, but to say that serving others has an important part in helping us grow up into Christ, and we ignore it to our spiritual peril.

What that tells me is that in order to grow a vibrant, balanced Christian life, service is an essential part of it.  And just as I can’t imagine being a healthy, growing Christian without Bible study or prayer, neither can I be without being a servant.

Here’s the point – where are you as a servant in God’s kingdom? 

Are you neck deep – involved in so many ministries you feel like you live up here?  It may be time for you to re-prioritize and ask, “What are my real gifts and passions?  What is going to be the best investment of my time and energy?”  Those are legitimate questions to ask.  The biggest enemy of the best is not the worst, but the second best.  And you may be gifted in some area, but you’re so busy doing other things you couldn’t possibly add another thing.  I’m not asking you to do more, but focus on the best.

Are you a dedicated servant, always helping do something?  We need leaders in ministry.  People who will step out and say, “count on me.”  For example, we have several ministries that are treading water right now because we need some folks who will step up to lead and say, “I could do that.”  The Bible school desperately needs people who will volunteer to teach.  We have some women who have never gotten to hear a complete sermon because they are in the toddler room and the nursery or down in Kingdom Kids taking care of our kids every Sunday, and never get a break.  We need men and women who are willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.

You may be an occasional servant.  You sign up to bring food, you’ll help hang Christmas decorations, you’ll take a month of preparing communion and that’s wonderful, but you don’t have a ministry where you can say, “This is where I make a difference for the Lord.”  I want to challenge you this morning to find a ministry where you can invest yourself and get involved in serving on a continual basis.

Or are you someone who has never considered volunteering to help?  You assume the announcements asking for workers are for someone else?  I want to challenge you to do two things – 1) Sometime in the next month, sign up to help in one ministry or event.  Show up for one thing to be used by God.  2) Do some thinking about what it is you love to do.  Paul says that the Holy Spirit  has given you a gift to serve the body that is uniquely yours – and when you aren’t doing it, the body isn’t everything God designed it to be.  That’s where God wants you – doing what you are gifted to do.  Come and talk with me or one of the elders or any of our ministry leaders about how your interest might bless the body here.  And you may not know what you are gifted in, but sometimes it’s not our abilities, but our availability that God is looking for – someone who is willing to step up and say, “Here am I, send me!”

We all need a place where we feel like we make a difference in God’s kingdom. 

That’s the challenge and the invitation this morning – and it’s not the same for everyone.  But I want everyone of us to move forward in our level of commitment.  To be a greater blessing to God and to the church here at Glenwood.  Are you up for it?