Here’s what I’m thinking this morning (as if you wanted to know):
I wrote on a previous blog page there are, I think, five characteristics to healthy discipleship and to healthy congregations. First is spiritual growth (duh!). A healthy disciple is one who is committed to engaging in those practices that promote healthy spirituality. The practices that promote spiritual growth are really not that hard. They are time consuming if done appropriately, but they are not really hard. Let’s see, there’s:
- Prayer (okay, this may seem hard, but it doesn’t have to be)
- Bible study (there are lots of ways to do this–it doesn’t always take a concordance or bible dictionary)
- Fasting (okay, I take it back, practicing the spiritual disciplines can be hard!)
- Solitude (getting away from the distractions of life)
- Silence (a companion of solitude)
- Fellowship (not only a spiritual discipline, but a characteristic of healthy discipleship)
There are probably a few I’ve missed, but these are practices that every disciple of Jesus Christ should practice at some time or another if he/she desires to grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ.
A second characteristic of healthy discipleship is generosity. I won’t go into the details of living a generous life, but I’ll remind myself that I’m blessed to be a blessing. Enough said? I thought so.
A third characteristic of healthy discipleship is evangelism. Yeah, this one scares a lot of people away, but a healthy disciple is one who is prepared to share the gospel or show the gospel. This really isn’t as hard as everyone makes it out to be. It can be as simple as inviting a person to worship, or to a service opportunity, or even to a concert. Just invite. It’s still the number one way an unchurched or dechurched person connects with the body of Christ.
A fourth characteristic of healthy discipleship is worship. When I say worship, I’m speaking of both corporately worship (we are a COMMUNITY of faith–kind of hard to be a community when we don’t gather Together!) and privately, and regular participation in the sacraments.
The fifth characteristic (which is the one I really wanted to write about today) of a healthy disciple is service. Service is, in a real way, as much spiritual discipline, but I think that could be said about worship and generosity, too. When I speak of service, there is a phrase I like to use: Every disciple of Jesus Christ gives service TO the body of Christ and service THROUGH the body of Christ. Let me unpack that just a little.
I have previously written: “My dream is one day to have a principle named after me, and I want it to be known as the 100% rule. You know? 100% of the work of the body being performed by 100% of the disciples of Jesus Christ.” I believe service is the key to connecting new people to the body of Christ, and to sustaining long-term health as a disciple of Jesus. Our service TO the body of Christ is a means whereby we participate in the pastoral care of our local congregation, and we’re all called to “lift one another up.” Pastoral care is all our concern, not just the “pastors,” or those with the “gift” of pastoral care.
Pastoral care takes place when I sing in the choir or praise team, and lead the congregation in worship. Pastoral care takes place when I clean and prepare the sanctuary for worship. Pastoral care takes place when I send a prayer card to a shut-in or hospital patient. Pastoral care takes place when I help the office staff fold bulletins or newsletters. Pastoral care takes place when I serve as an usher, or a greeter, or fix the coffee on Sunday morning. Pastoral care happens when I unlock the building and adjust the heating or cooling before people arrive for worship. Pastoral care happens when I carry out the trash. Pastoral care occurs when I operate the sound system. Pastoral care occurs when I contact the first-time guests. Pastoral care occurs when I teach a Sunday school class or bible study. Pastoral care happens when I prepare gift bags for shut-ins, those in the hospital, or first-time guests. Do you catch my drift? That’s right! Every ministry we offer TO the body of Christ is pastoral care because they are tangible ways we support and care for one another, thus building up the body of Christ. Pastoral care is so much more than saying a prayer for sick folks, or holding the hand of a person going through a crisis. It is that, but it is so much more. Where is God calling you to service TO the body of Christ?
Then, there is service THROUGH the body of Christ. This is that service that reaches most effectively the unchurched and dechurched of the world. Service through the body of Christ is that ministry that engages in hands-on, life-transforming ways with the least and the lost. It is where the body engages those on the margins, the poor, the homeless, the broken. It is lived out in tutoring programs, in mission trips (locally, nationally and internationally), in food ministries, in clothing ministries, in school uniform ministries, in child-care ministries, in recovery ministries, in financial planning ministries, in home-building ministries, and in a thousand other creative ways that touch people in life-transforming ways. Service THROUGH the body of Christ is that service that builds relationships (face-to-face, hand-to-hand) with unchurched and dechurched people. The relationship is where the transformation occurs, not the service. The service provides the opportunity to build the relationship. Jesus changes lives through service–he changes our lives and he changes the lives of others through us. Where are you offering service THROUGH the body of Christ?
A healthy disciple is one who gives service TO the body, and offers service THROUGH the body. Yes, a healthy disciple also worships, and gives, and studies, and evangelizes, but a disciple is not a disciple until a disciple also serves. Yes, it’s that important. It absolutely MUST be part of the culture of the 21st century congregation.
I think it’s time we get our service on!
Until next time, keep looking up…