I’ve shared the story before about a non-profit organization that asked our church if they could put a bin to collect clothing in the church parking lot. We said, “Yes.” But then the organization put the bin in another church’s parking lot across the street. Same street. Different church.
One of our elders was not happy.
Unhappy Elder: That was supposed to be our mission project.
Nonplussed Elder: Who cares where the bin is located? Clothes will still be collected and it’s convenient for both our members and the members of the church across the street.
UE: But we won’t get the credit for doing it.
All too often we in the institutional church serve because we will get something out of it. In worship yesterday, there were two ways to give money to the special Pentecost Offering. One could text “YOUNG” to 20222 and send $10 directly to the denomination. Or one could put a check or cash in an envelope in the pew. The church and subsequently the Presbytery only gets credit for donations in the envelopes, and I’ve heard leaders criticize giving via texting for this very reason – even though it’s much easier to give with a text message.
Every year, our congregations host community fairs and other neighborhood events in hopes that we will attract new members. We individually serve on boards and committees so that we will get our own way in church world. We live “good lives” so that we will get to go to heaven. We might even claim Jesus as Savior primarily for this reason.
But – as Rick Warren famously said – life’s not about us. When we truly serve, it’s about someone else – preferably someone not connected to us. (Note: if we are only serving our friends and family, that’s actually about us.)
I’m wondering how a church teaches the crucial lesson that serving is not about what we get out of it. Yes, maybe we get a “good feeling” when we serve. But do we also expect to get holy credits? How do we teach that following Jesus is not about benefiting ourselves? It’s about the Kingdom.