The Fellowship of the Doers

“Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance— isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’ –Matthew 7:21-23

This has always been one of those warning passages that always lurks in the back of my head. It’s a stop-check/measure on your spiritual walk and how you’re living it out. Most times, the only way my faith makes sense to me is when I’m doing. I like the image of being a soldier.* On the front lines serving, sometimes getting wounded (because as I was reminded, even self-inflicted wounds are wounds), treated, ready to go back out on another tour of duty.

Those times of treatment can make folks feel antsy. It’s the anxious time of “what next?” It’s hard to be in a place where we’re called to just listen and wait. To heal and be. Half the time wondering “how long?” and often missing the fact that the waiting itself may be the answer. To mix in another analogy, they can feel like they’ve been benched. Yet such seasons of rest are absolutely necessary. They are a redefining season, a time of transition, realigning, refocusing, and reprioritizing. To assess where you’ve been, what you’ve done, what hasn’t worked, and where you go from here.

That’s not the only aspect the propels this need to DO, nor is it the only danger. On the one hand, we want to DO something for the kingdom. We see problems in the world around us and want to fix them. Be it an appeal to our inner white knight/super hero complex or simply a matter of our hearts breaking and we’re moved to action. Yet on the other hand, we don’t want to be so about DOING that we forget for whom and why we DO those things.

There is another inherent danger to the need to DO something. During times of reflection, we may realize we were DOING for the wrong reasons. Wanting to please. Wanting to fix. Wanting to be a blessing. Maybe we were doing it to impress another, be it the approval of a pastor or the respect of a friend. Win the praise of people. We want to DO something, we want to prove our love, we want to show our devotion. Clinging to a very American set of values, our identity wrapped up in what we do. I know that a quiet part of me believes that I’m not worth being loved if I can’t demonstrate my worth. But I have to ask myself, “Is that what pleases God?” Just like part of the anxiety stems from living in and with a fear of being rejected, by people AND by God. Our hearts cry out for our Father to be patient, not trusting in a time or need for rest, because we’re afraid He’s going to give up on us. We believe, but we haven’t overcome our unbelief.

The thing we know but don’t always believe (or believe but don’t always know) is that we’re already accepted by Christ. Our failings, falling short, or addictions don’t make us displeasing to Him. That’s not how love works. Those things do keep us from intimacy with Him and get in the way of our striving for deeper knowing of Him. My friend Seraphim** tipped me to a book by Henri Nouwen called Inner Voice of Love and this passage:

Know That You are Welcome

“Not being welcome is your greatest fear. It connects with your birth fear, your fear of not being welcome in this life, and your death fear, your fear of not being welcome in the life after this. It is the deep-seated fear that it would have been better if you had not lived.

Here you are facing the core of the spiritual battle. Are you going to give into the forces of darkness that say you are not welcome in this life, or can you trust the voice of the One who came not to condemn you but to set you free from fear? You have to choose for life. At every moment you have to decide to trust the voice that says, “I love you. I knit you together in your mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13).

Everything Jesus is saying to you can be summarized in the words “Know that you are welcome.” Jesus offers you his own most intimate life with the Father. He wants you to know all he knows and to do all he does. He wants his home to be yours. Yes, he wants to prepare a place for you in His Father’s House.”

If we DO, it should be from the overflow of what Christ has done for you. If we DO, it should be us working out what it means to join in God’s mission to reconcile the world back to Him. If we DO, it should be from the wellspring of love. There’s no searching for redemption in our acts of service. There is only thinking of others as more important that yourself and serving them.

Then again, my current prayer is “Lord, this stuff is hard. Could you try testing me with wealth?”

*qualified because sometimes the “in the army of the Lord” business goes too far. I have no intentions of invading Islam or going all Jack Bauer on a wiccan.

** if I have a friend named Wrath why WOULDN’T I have a friend named Seraphim?

“Just A Servant”

I’ll just tell you right now, I’m frustrated. Certain aspects of our modern culture have insinuated themelves into the fabric of the church, deterring or outright corrupting its ministry. Values such as a corporate policy and philosophy have been bought into by the church, where the ABCs of church reality became Audience, Buildings, and Cash. The pastor becomes the CEO and the elders operate as the board of directors. Offerings or tithes become income, or worse, profit; people become measured as “giving units” and the Gospel becomes reduced to little more than a product to be pushed.

This “pastor as CEO” mentality bleeds into and out of our cultural ideas of leadership. Leadership becomes about power, prestige, and possessions except translated through Christianese: we can have more people reached for the kingdom, more people fed, and a larger congregation or church edifice (the pastoral equivalent of measuring penis size). Even the term servant-leader is a capitulation to this mentality when we should all strive to be “just a servant”.

The frustrating part is that some leadership structures view the servants of their communities as commodities. Parts to be used rather than as people. The servants aren’t so much people but rather “just” folks who do the work of church. Servants are little better than light bulbs: as soon as they burn out or otherwise “break,” they are either discarded or hoped to be repaired so they could go back to doing the work.

The word “king” and the word “gens” (common folk) come from the same root for tribe, clan, or nation; that little etymology lesson tells me that there’s a closer relationship between leader and led than we may think. Yet a corporation mentality leads to focus on ridiculous job titles to the point where the title becomes the seduction (I know many folks who got improved job titles rather than, you know, an actual raise). We become about the title rather than the role played or the work being done. And sometimes we don’t want what comes along with a title because those extra intangibles get in the way of the actual work.

Servants are the people who run the church and make it work, wielding the informal power and influence that comes with service. Too often preachers, as important as they are, are reduced to plug and play ear ticklers. We want more of a servant mentality among our people. We want everyone to be like them, but we don’t appreciate them. We need to invest in nurturing them. They are the shepherds, constantly serving the sheep, getting them fed, guiding them, protecting them, co-pastors of a church.

Kingdom leadership is informal, without many official positions. The model of leadership we present is Jesus and yet, he led by serving. He saw needs–physical, emotional, or spiritual–met them, and THEN spoke. It was more important for him to walk alongside his disciples and pour himself into their lives—getting a towel and washing the feet of those who walked beside him—rather than isolate himself so that he could prepare sermons every week.

Not everyone is meant to “lead” or, better said, hold office. Better the “leaders” find their people’s individual passion and gifts and then let them loose. Life is short and we have too little time to not be the people God intended us to be. Striving to be a servant seems to be the best way to subvert our natural inclination to “will to power.” The corporate mentality forgets that loving others isn’t efficient, and we need to be about loving well rather than running efficiently. Loving people well influences. Loving people well is kingdom work. Loving people well is true leadership.

“We express our gratitude to those who serve because to serve is godlike. If Jesus is our window to God, then we are never more like God than when we serve others. Our chief identity is that of children of God, but the best means by which we reveal our identity to the world is through service to others.

“More than any other description, the great apostle Paul called himself “the servant of Christ and of God.” Paul understood himself to be following in the way of the Master – that of self-giving service to others. He remembered his Lord’s teaching that our greatest goal in life should be to hear these words of approval from God: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Sadly, this is something Jesus’ own disciples often forgot”.