Defining the Church
Misconceptions about serving the church often stem from misconceptions about defining the church. Many people view local churches like small businesses where the pastor is the CEO and the people are the customers. They think the church exists to give them and their children a menu of programs, activities, and events. Those who decide to serve are like employees of the business, making sure the programs are well-organized, the coffee is hot, the marketing is catchy, the activities are plentiful, and the bathrooms are squeaky clean.
Don’t misunderstand me—there’s nothing wrong with clean bathrooms or hot coffee. In fact, serving your church might mean volunteering to clean the bathrooms or change the coffee filters. But how we think about the church will affect how we think about our service in the church. If we think of local churches as businesses, pastors as CEOs, and churchgoers as consumers, then we will think about service as if we are employees (church members) waiting for the boss (pastor) to give us an assignment (ministry) with a job title—secretly hoping it’s not “Director of Bathroom Sanitation.”
To think well about service, we need to think biblically about the church. Simply put, local churches aren’t like businesses; they’re more like embassies of a great kingdom or a family in the same household.
Embassy of the Kingdom of Heaven
On a mission trip, I had the privilege of staying at a Haitian orphanage located across the street from the American embassy. I have to admit that seeing the embassy always provided me a sense of comfort. I knew the embassy represented my government. Even though I was in a foreign country, I could go to the embassy, and they would recognize my citizenship and offer me the protection and privileges that are mine as a citizen.
As Christians, we are citizens of the kingdom of heaven and local churches on earth are little embassies of that kingdom. In other words, they represent heaven on earth (Matt. 16:18–19; Eph. 2:19; Phil. 3:20). Jesus Christ is the king of heaven’s kingdom, and he rules his church through his word—the Bible (Eph. 1:19–23). Through church membership, discipline, and baptism, the Lord’s local churches identify Christians on earth. They speak on behalf of heaven to declare to the world who is and who is not a citizen of Christ’s kingdom (Matt. 18:15–20).
What does any of this have to do with how we think about serving our church? Everything! First, we should recognize that all of our service is ultimately done for the glory of our great King, the Lord Jesus Christ. Not only did he give up his own life to pay the penalty for our sins and reconcile us to God, he also gives us the amazing privilege of serving him. Imagine that! Every ministry, no matter how small or hidden from the world, is meaningful when done for the glory of Christ. Even a cup of cold water given to his people will not go unnoticed by King Jesus (Matt. 10:42). He sees, he knows, and he will one day say to people who labored for him in total obscurity, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23). By far one of the greatest privileges of our lives is that we get to serve the King of kings by serving the people he loves.
The stakes are high, and we have work to do.
Second, seeing the church as an embassy of Christ’s kingdom reminds us we are not employees of a business, casually checking off a daily to-do list. We are citizens, soldiers even, of an otherworldly kingdom in hostile territory (Eph. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:3–5). We belong to heaven, even as we live in a foreign land under the sway of an evil spiritual ruler named Satan (John 12:31; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2). We once lived under his tyranny as enemies of God, but through the gospel, we have been transferred out of his domain and into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13). The apostle Paul’s words are just as true for us as they were for the Ephesian Christians:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:12)
The stakes are high, and we have work to do. When we disciple a new Christian, we’re not just being friendly; we’re preparing them for battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil (Eph. 3:13–14). When we gather for corporate worship on the Lord’s Day, we’re not just doing our duty; we’re displaying the manifold wisdom of God to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places (Eph. 3:10). When we take part in missions and evangelism, we’re not peddling a product; we’re announcing to the world that all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Christ, and Satan can no longer deceive the nations (Matt. 28:18–20; Col. 2:15).
During World War II, ordinary American citizens rationed consumer goods, recycled materials, and kept factories running night and day. They sacrificed much because they knew the stakes. Do we? Do we realize that we are citizens of Christ’s kingdom? Do we realize our churches are outposts of that kingdom on the front lines of a spiritual battle? Refusing to serve the church would be like a soldier pulling up a chair to sip Kool-Aid while he watches his comrades fight the war.
The stakes are high, and the needs are great. For this reason Christ calls every member of his church to enlist in service. Why? Because a local church is an embassy of Christ’s kingdom.
This article is adapted from How Can I Serve My Church? by Matthew Emadi.
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