I will not let my church be about my preferences and desires. That is the title for chapter 3 of the book “I Am A Church Member”. We discussed the first two chapters, “I will be a functioning church member” and “I will be a unifying church member” in the last two news-letters (check our newly revamped website for those newsletters). This month we talk about something very close to home.
Demanding our preferences and desires is an attitude that comes all too easily for us. Have you ever watched small children at play? Everything seems to go fine until there is a difference of wants or competition for a toy. Then the pushing and shoving and perhaps hitting begins, there may even be a tantrum thrown on the floor. It’s a good thing we outgrow that behavior when we become adults, isn’t it? Its even better that we never revert to that behavior when we join a church, isn’t it? Our culture is largely built on convenience and choice and we grow to expect that in our church too. Common expressions are “I want the music my way” “I’m upset because the pastor didn’t visit me” “I want the building my way” “I don’t want anything to change”. If we don’t get our way we may not throw a tantrum on the floor kicking and screaming, but sometimes it comes close.
Christians can sometimes act like demanding children who want things their way, but the thing about church membership is that you give up your preferences when you join. There is no doubt a lot about your church that you like, but you are there to focus on others, to worship and praise Jesus and serve your neighbor.
Jesus would often say things that were very counter cultural. He saw that even His disciples liked to fight. One time the disciples were arguing among themselves about who was the greatest, that’s right the closest followers of Jesus were having their very own “Me First” fight! The Bible says Jesus stopped, called these grown men together and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last of all and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35). I would have loved to see their expressions! But then this text is not just for them. It is for you and me also. Being part of a church is not about moving my preferences to the top of the list. It is about serving Jesus and others. In serving, my preferences take a back seat to the needs of others.
The word servant occurs 57 time in the New Testament and serve shows up 58 times. Jesus set the attitude when He said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). You get the idea that serving is important in the Bible and its important to God. Even Paul said it after he became a Christian, “I was made a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of His power” (Ephesians 3:7). We never find joy in church membership when we constantly seek to make things “my” way. But strangely, we find the greatest joy when we choose to be last.
One of the best descriptions of this attitude is in Philippians 2:5-11. “Make your attitude that of Christ Jesus. . .” He didn’t consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. He emptied Himself and took on the form of a slave. He humbled Himself. He became obedient to the point of death, death on a cross. Jesus not only gave His life to give us new life,
He set the example for that new life. If we approach church membership with the attitude of entitlement, we have it upside down. Ask first what you can do for your church. Then you will discover the joy of being last. Letting the church be about our preferences and desires is self-serving. We are members of the church to serve others, grow in our faith, and to serve Christ. Jesus went to the cross for you and me. We can deal with any inconveniences and matters that just aren’t our preference or style.