Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Responsibility of Churches to Foster Serving Members

Last time I wrote that giving in churches is usually emphasized in one of two ways: as sacrificial or as equipping. Although most churches try to do both, they tend to emphasize one more than the other. There is no real problem per se with this. But as I had said, the problems and success of these approaches lies within the heart of the giver, not the methodology.

However — and this is a big however — churches have a responsibility in fostering good or bad attitudes about serving. (Now, when I talk about a churches responsibility to its membership, I am referring more to leadership than to all its membership makeup. The general tone of a congregation is primarily determined by its leadership. But, this does not diminish the responsibility of every member, because the collective membership of a congregation can determine it's tone as well.)

What I find most frustrating is when those who want to serve out of their love for God are discouraged in doing so, in favor of encouraging obligatory sacrifice. People who give all sorts of time and energy to serving in a driven need to be accepted and appreciated are held up as good examples by leadership and congregational members. Those who desire to make a godly investment in the kingdom are sometimes seen as lacking in commitment, because they don't "sign-up" for everything. This encourages an unhealthy approach to service. Only seeing the sacrifices, not the quality investments.

And to make matters worse, these churches are lax in equipping its membership. They expect much, but invest little into those who serve. They can't even spend money to have people trained or financially supported. "They're volunteers after all," I've actually been told before.

On the other hand, when churches feel secure in their equipping, they sometimes lack a certain level of accountability. Some even hate the word "accountability." They favor a more live-and-let-live attitude. And when people step up to serve they may do so with clear expectations for job performance, but very little concerning character development.

The best approach for church congregations is an acknowledgment of the purpose of service. It isn't to have functioning ministries, bring in more money, increase the size, or feel good about oneself — although these things are enjoyable fruits. The purpose of serving is the physical act of giving oneself to the Lord. It is the manifestation of genuine worship and thankfulness. The church environment ought to encourage the latter, and teach those who are young in the faith. The words out of the mouths of leadership emphasize the ideal, and calls to service are seen as opportunities to invest in eternal things, not temporal gain. And this type of service is exemplified by those in leadership.

Instead of calling people to sacrifice more, call them to invest in something that gives bigger dividends than whatever they own. Ask them to give themselves first to the Lord, and demonstrate that in service. And prove that you mean it by investing in them. Why should they sacrifice more when the church leadership is not willing to see them succeed?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

When Giving Goes Wrong

I've found in my experience in different churches an interesting development. In some churches, usually under 1000 members, there is a tendency to call its members to sacrifice. They are required to use more of there talents and time in service to the church body. On the other hand there are also churches who place more emphasis on the training and development of membership to be better at service.

Each approach has an upside and a downside, and they are both needed. In smaller churches the call to sacrifice is admirable when people first give themselves to the Lord, and their service is an outworking of that commitment. However, it becomes either self-serving or detrimental when the motive is relief from guilt and people-pleasing.

On the other hand, when the call to service is centered around equipping, people who desire to serve the Lord with all their hearts are strengthened and encouraged to serve with excellence. And they see their service, not as a sacrifice, but a valuable investment in God's kingdom and in their own eternity. On the downside, when people in this type of community see their service as a necessary burden, they may be more prone to wander what's in it for them. Some will become perpetual learners, never practicing, while some will always be evaluating what they learn, but never implementing.

The root cause of both issues is the heart. Unless people give themselves first to the Lord, their service will be a burden. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5)