My friend Kirsten was making dinner when she heard about a family at church that was suffering from a sudden crisis. She bundled up half of her supper and delivered it to that family – who were blessed and thankful to have it.
The next day, she received a call from a woman who worked with the food ministry committee – not to thank her, but to reprimand her for not going through the proper channels and contacting them first. Now I’m all for order and having systems in place. It’s essential when you’re trying to serve so many people, and you don’t want anyone to get lost in the shuffle. But we cross a line when that system hurts well-meaning brothers and sisters who want to serve the Lord with their gifts.
I love having a beautiful home and garden; I have systems and organizations in place to keep it looking and functioning the best way possible. But if my family can’t relax in our home because I’m obsessed about order and appearance, then I’ve lost my way. We need both: good systems to serve people effectively, and also the ability to bend.
We also need to make sure we’re not creating a culture of exclusion. Do our committees allow people to jump in and serve? I understand the importance of a vetting process when selecting teachers and discipleship leaders, but can’t we let people in by letting them help? I was a new member of a church and heard that the WIC (Women in the Church) were understaffed for an event, so I told one of the officers I was available to help if they needed me.
She said there was a process to becoming a volunteer; my name would be put on a list, and then prayed over by a committee, and they would let me know if I were selected. This really happened. I was offering to fold napkins and set tables, not teach systematic theology. I remember thinking that if they didn’t want my help, they could have just told me.
I learned something important: I don’t need permission to be a blessing. You don’t need to be on a committee to take care of people. One of my greatest joys is having friends and friends-to-be around my table for a meal. It’s the best way for me to know people. That frenetic time on Sunday before worship or after the benediction is not always useful to find out what’s truly going on in people’s lives. You may not be able to host meals, but you can pour a cup of coffee or a glass of tea. If you wait for the perfect conditions to be in place, you’ll never do it. We’re not here to impress, but to share burdens.
When we write applications to enter a school, job, club, or sorority, we overstuff our resumes, desperate to convince the gatekeepers how fabulous and deserving we are. We want so much to be accepted! The church is the one place where we must admit we’re unworthy apart from the grace of God in Christ. There can be no culture of exclusion in the Lord’s church. I don’t know about you – but I don’t want to be merely tolerated, I want to belong.
The church is a place of belonging. In our human institutions, we carefully select the people we want to work with and befriend. You don’t elect your church family; God does. He puts you in a family that you would never choose. Your brothers and sisters don’t physically resemble you; some are difficult, needy, and highly annoying. The Lord has done this, and he has done it on purpose. In all this, He is working to accomplish his goal for you: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
Expand your circle of friendships. Where I live, people cherish long, generations-old relationships, and most don’t know what it’s like to be the newbie. They’ve never been on the outside looking in. Not everyone has their loved ones near (some don’t have any loved ones), and their church is the only family they have. How difficult and uncomfortable would it be to bring someone into your family?
Please bake that cake, take that dinner, make that coffee, have that conversation; serve the hurting and suffering in Jesus’ name. You don’t need permission to be a blessing.