For the last three years I’ve lived in a tiny town in a county of 15,000 people. There are churches on every corner which means the majority are all very small. This is vastly different from my experience as a city girl, where there are still churches on many corners but there is a plethora of mega churches to choose from.
Here’s what I’ve learned in a place where I’ve had to stop, look, listen, and re-evaluate what I think about “doing church.”
- I’ve long chosen programs over people. As a city girl, I’ve been a big church gal. The more programs the better. The more activity the better. The full calendar serving as the barometer of my commitment to the Father.
- I’ve bought into the lie that if we build programs within our walls, the lost will flock to them. It’s just not true. We’re building a lot of programs that only serve those who already know Jesus. And we go home at the end of the night feeling good about ourselves.
- I’ve believed that we can reach out to others without getting too uncomfortable ourselves. I don’t think I even know what to say about that.
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I think I’ve been too caught up in the wrong definition of service, putting the emphasis on serving people who already know Jesus. Yes, Christians also have problems and needs and we have a responsibility to care for those within the church. Discipleship is important for those who have newly found salvation and freedom in Christ. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with craving the company of other believers. The writer of Romans reminds us,
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Romans 12:10
The truth is that in the church, we already have the answer to our issues. Jesus. Outside the church is where the greatest need lives…the need to be loved and served and to know Jesus.
Living in this area has turned my calendar upside down. As churches here are small, we don’t have a lot of committees and programs and stuff to do. At least not at the church building. These days I go to group worship on Sunday mornings and receive great encouragement from the Word, the worship, and God’s people. That gives me a whole lot of other hours in the week to show love and share Jesus outside the church building.
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This shake-up in my church-going life has had an effect that I didn’t see coming. Oddly enough, lots of my own issues have been solved by serving other people. Taking the focus off myself makes my problems seem not so big or bad or scary anymore.
So yes, we are to love our church family and enjoy spending time with them. We are to disciple and encourage one another. But we have to stop fooling ourselves about our efforts to serve the hurting in our communities around us. Until we take the service inside out, we aren’t going to reach those who are desperately in need of Jesus.
Romans 12 goes on to say,
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Romans 12:13-16
I still enjoy a good church service, especially one filled with many people lifting their voices and their hands to the Lord. And I won’t live on this mountain forever, so someday I may end up back in a big church. Maybe even a big church that has lots of programs for folks on the inside. But for me, it won’t look like it used to. Jesus has shown me that serving from the inside out…serving from a heart that loves Him and loves His people, especially those who are lost…is what is most pleasing to Him.
There can’t be a better reason for taking our service inside out than that.
As the Summer Blog Tour continues… Remember that you can win a copy of Tim Archer’s new release Church Inside Out, (both the book and workbook) by leaving a comment on this page and then completing the form over HERE.
Holly Barrett is an ordained minister who has spent over 20 years in volunteer and staff ministry. She currently works as Director of Communications for The Crossnore School in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains of NC, where it is her privilege to tell the stories of children who are finding hope and healing. Holly is the co-author, with her mother Rachel Solomon, of Gray Hair Talking: Lessons I’m Learning as My Hair is Turning. They plan to release a Bible study later this year and another devotional book in 2017. Holly is also a podcaster having started the podcast, Living a Redeemed Life in 2015. Episodes are available on iTunes or at hollybarrett.org. Holly has two adult children, plus a son-in-love, and three adorable grandchildren. Connect with Holly on her blog at hollybarrett.org or on Twitter and Facebook.
I am grateful to Darrell R. Bock for using his commentary to point out the obvious regarding this parable. Jesus told the parable in answer to the question “Who is my neighbour that I should love?” If that was all the information we sought in this parable, the answer is simple, “the man in the ditch is the neighbour that needs to be loved.”
But Jesus doesn’t really address the question, “Who should I love?” Rather, he challenges his listeners to BE good neighbours. He regards as a given that we should love all we come in contact with. We should best understand the parable of the Good Samaritan as describing HOW we should love our neighbours: even though that’s not the question he was asked.
Interestingly, Jesus never articulates the applications of this parable. At its conclusion he asks, “Who was the loving neighbour?” I suspect I would have responded, “the Samaritan”, but the Jewish lawyers identifies the Samaritan by his character, “The one who showed mercy.” Jesus then concludes with the instruction to “Go and do likewise.” Is that the ultimate application of this parable? That if we love our neighbours, we will demonstrate mercy in our relationships with them?
In my sermon, I emphasised the need to put our love into action. Here are a couple of ways I see the Samaritan love his neighbour.
- The loving neighbour takes action. Godly love doesn’t stop at nice, but empty, words.
- The loving neighbour goes out of his way for others. I presume his journey was slowed down by helping a badly injured person.
- Loving others may (will?) cost us something. The Samaritan paid for the care and accommodation of the man who’d been robbed.
- Loving neighbours take risks at times. If one traveler’s already been robbed, is it safe for anyone else to stop?
I’m pretty sure Jesus wasn’t making all those points when he first told this story, but I believe it’s the responsibility of Bible students today to apply this parable to our own lives, times, and circumstances. Can you think of some more applications of this parable? How can churches enact these principles? How can individuals embody the example of the Good Samaritan? Be as specific as you like.