“Beware the barenness of a busy life,” warned Socrates. The words of the ancient Greek philosopher ring just as true in our own generation as they did in his. Facebook status updates. Instagram photo uploads. Netflix series marathons. The list goes on. It seems that just about every few weeks, the results of a new study are being published, pointing out the sad reality that we feel more and more busy while feeling less and less productive. Our own generation puts flesh and bones on Thomas Edison’s penetrating observation that “seeming to do is not [necessarily] doing”.
But isn’t some busyness in life simply unavoidable? It is. And those in positions of leadership and influence in the church fall short when they are not sensitive to this reality. Even Christians have soccer practices, dance recitals, dirty dishes, and dusty furniture! Not to mention laundry, home maintenance, and oil changes. Oh yeah, don’t forget to throw in child rearing and going to work! This is the world we live in. And if members of the body of Christ are going to step up and fulfill the tasks of kingdom and church labours, they are going to have to do so in the midst of all these ongoing pressures. And they are going to need encouragement.
Foundational to all else in this regard is that believers are all on the same page when it comes to the nature of both the church and the Christian life. The Apostle Paul writes: “And He [i.e., Christ] … gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13). The church grows as all its members serve, having been equipped by those in positions of leadership. Equipping is for service. Service results in growth. Growth (i.e., maturity in Christ) is the overarching goal.
But elders, deacons, and others in positions of influence need to ensure that God’s plan for His church, as set forth in His Word, is being articulated on a regular basis. Christians need to be taught that they have been given Spiritual gifts in Christ which other members of the body stand in need of. And they need to be taught that other members of the body have been given gifts that they themselves stand in need of receiving. They must be shown that true service in Christ is glorious, though laborious. Anything short of faithful Biblical exposition of these truths in order to motivate God’s people to serve runs the risk of sounding like ‘Do more church work, because we said so’. God’s Word, rather, comes to the believer and presents him or her with a picture of the glorious body of Christ and the glorious Christ of the body who has a plan to perfect His bride through works of fruitful service in the church. Pastors, are you preaching these truths from the pulpit? Elders, are you bringing these truths up at home visitations? Deacons, are you exemplifying these truths in your own lives?
But as important as this regular instruction is, the work isn’t done when the truth has been set forth. God’s people need ongoing encouragement and motivation. And those they look to for guidance must have something to give them. What follows are a number of practical suggestions for applying the truths of Ephesians 4:11-13 in the life of the church.
PRAY, PRAY, PRAY!
We too often forget the words of the Lord Jesus, that “without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Christ Himself is the great motivator and encourager of His people. If we think we can mobilize the soldiers of Jesus in our own strength, we’ve already lost the battle. Consider the Apostle Paul, who prayed that the love of the Philippians would overflow, with “knowledge and all discernment” so that they would be able to “approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:9-11 ESV). We may not have because we do not ask (James 4:2).
MANAGEABLE TASKS – NOT BURDENSOME ONES
Recognize that many in the church have a genuine desire to serve but are often reluctant to add one more commitment to their already pressure-filled lives. It goes without saying that manageable tasks are far more inviting than overwhelming ones. Related to this is the importance of articulating specific tasks clearly. Perhaps nothing serves to keep away or discourage volunteers more than vaguely-defined positions that need filling. People need specifics. They want to know what is expected of them. They want to be able to assess the quality of their own work in light of a given task’s requirements.
REASSESS NEEDS IN THE CHURCH REGULARLY
Churches change over time, and so will various needs. Consider the role of fellowship meal coordinator — a role that may have been easily managed by a single person at one time in the church’s life. Perhaps that person steps aside. It may no longer be feasible to limit this task to one individual only. Unless leadership in the church is taking the time to regularly consider these things, many needs run the risk of remaining unmet, as members simply feel overwhelmed at the prospect of taking on more than they can handle.
QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
One hour spent with a lonely widow can be better than ten hours spent preparing that perfect crockpot dish for the fellowship meal. To be sure, some tasks in the church require hours and hours of labour. But not everything does. The key is to encourage Christians who know that their time in a given day is limited. Jesus had the same twenty-four hour days as we do, yet could say at the end of His life, “Father … I have glorified You on the earth, I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:1, 4). Jesus never ran around frantically. He stuck to the tasks that His Father had given Him. He was not too busy for a brief nighttime encounter with Nicodemus or an even briefer daytime brush with a rich young ruler. For Jesus, quality of service took precedence over quantity of service.
DISTINGUISH BETWEEN FRUITFUL MINISTRY AND MERE ACTIVITY
It is easy and tempting to equate running around in the name of church service with exercising the gifts that God has given us to use for the upbuilding of the body of Christ. Beware of promoting burnout. No two Christians are identical when it comes to works of service in the church. Capacities differ from one believer to the next. When members know that leadership is aware of this too-often neglected truth, they are far more willing to step up to the plate and offer what they can.
THE POWER OF POSITIVE FEEDBACK!
Don’t flatter, but be mindful of the power of sincere encouragement. Members are more likely to step away from roles when they believe their service is not making a difference. Of course, we must always bear in mind that, in the Lord, our labour is never in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). However, it is far too easy for members’ acts of service to slip through the cracks, especially when it comes to the less obvious types of service. It comes to mind easily to thank the tireless organizer of the yearly church picnic for their efforts. It is not so automatic when it comes to thanking the quiet servant who cleans the church floors every Saturday when no one is around.
God has a glorious plan for His church. It is a plan that encompasses the labours of His children, as they work together to attain to full maturity in Christ. The priesthood of all believers means that everyone in Christ has work to do. No one is called to be a “benchwarmer” in the church of Jesus Christ. In these busy times, however, God’s people need to be encouraged and motivated to not lose sight of the fact that their labours in the Lord are never in vain. Leaders in the church must do all they can to work toward the mobilization of the servants of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit, and to the glory of God. Because as the psalmist points out, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1 ESV).
*The preceding article first appeared in the Sept/Oct 2017 issue of the Reformed Presbyterian Witness, under the title “Mobilizing the Saints for Service: Six Ways to Encourage Volunteers in your Church”.
*Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations taken from the New King James Version (NKJV). Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
*Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version), copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.