This past Saturday, Mike and I were part of our church's annual day of service. Once a year, members of our church organize a long list of community projects and coordinate the volunteers to get them done (no. small. feat.). It's a logistical nightmare; but what's even more difficult, and NEVER talked about, is how hard it is to motivate a group of Christians to sacrifice their time and energy. Because there's this idea that a church is always selfless and never self seeking. Or tired. Or unwilling to do yard work on a 90+ degree day.
Quite the contrary.
A day of service is the perfect picture of the church; full of the biblical purpose of serving those in need, and in exactly the same breath, challenged with the schedules, pride, guilt and selfishness of sinners. Who both KNOW and NEED the Gospel.
We've been members of our church for 13 years--longer than we've been committed to anything really, including our children. I'm not sure when this day of service began, but it was sometime around the years when G was shoving full sippy cups of milk into closets or trying to play catch with yogurt, and other such shenanigans that generally made it IMPOSSIBLE to see a world in which I willingly had the DESIRE to serve others. I was tired and hormonal--and there is a very good chance that someone(s) were receiving meals from my very own nipples (if the twins were born)--which felt like my own, constant, three-and-a-half year service project of feeding the VERY needy.
As the body of Christ, we want to make our church lives HOLY--which, when translated in the language of a midwestern suburb, means nice, moral, and full of casseroles tied with dishtowel ribbons when we're sick. And very often, we're frustrated and discouraged when sin and brokenness shatter the image of what we think the church *should* look like. We go to services on Sunday, put on happy faces, singe praise songs about the glory of God--and often spend the rest of our weeks overwhelmed with dirty dishes or children who won't eat chicken, or toxic milk spills in mini vans. We don't really TALK about it, because Christians shouldn't be so consumed with LAUNDRY! We're given the charge of leading mankind to salvation, and yet we don't have the patience to survive a trip to Target in which the children ask for Sponge Bob macaroni for an entire hour straight.
This was my very heart--and so, for a lot of years, when our church would serve our city, it was all about the work it would take for me to pack up a small wheelie suitcase with diapers, bottles and extra changes of clothes; drop off four (screaming) children at the church-sponsored childcare, or; arrange for a sitter, or (GASP!); bring them to a project that involved paint (no), power tools (no), electrical outlets (no), or mulch (in their diapers for WEEKS...no). I was too tired. Too busy. Too overwhelmed. I felt guilted into it. It started too early, it went too long. It made me too sweaty. My friends weren't doing it, and I wouldn't know anyone. I didn't know how to work a jack hammer. It wasn't fun. It wasn't my *time* to serve. I wouldn't get a medal at the end, and they didn't serve ice cream.
There's NEED. And there's SIN. Constantly and at the same time.
It doesn't matter that my kids are now out of diapers, that they are capable of pulling weeds, or helping with simple tasks. They understand directions, they are capable listeners--and STILL, there is the part of ME that is too tired, too busy. Too unwilling to let go of a Saturday. I'm telling you this, because the work of a church doesn't always feel so...HOLY. It feels an awful lot like work, contrary to the messages that are often put out there, that volunteers feel moved and called and overjoyed to sacrifice their time. There are undoubtedly members of the church body that HAPPILY give up a summer day by the pool, or the comfort of keeping kids in their normal routines, for the sake of others. It just always seemed so much harder, and less appealing for me--and I was content to wait for the service opportunity that would allow me to share the love of Christ on a perfect spring day with no humidity, at an ice cream social, or a free-monograms-for-the-needy event.
This is not meant to justify my selfishness, but rather to tell you that this is the REALITY of the church. Any church that challenges it's members to be the body of Christ. There will be opportunity, and there will be a (sometimes) BIG and (sometimes) small part of us that will resist. There will be people led out of slavery, only to beg to return to it; there will be disciples called PERSONALLY by Jesus himself, who will jockey for social status and the title of being the best; there will be believers so incredibly blessed, who will make every excuse not to sacrifice four hours on a Saturday. That's the way this works, in our church AND throughout the history of the believing world--Christians who both KNOW and NEED the gospel, in equal measure.
I think I've mentioned that I've started a small group of women a few months ago--and it just seemed like a logical fit that we would do some kind of project together. Selfishly, I was looking for something we could do as a group, to get to know each other a little better. I mentioned it, and it didn't seem to go over with the enthusiasm of a free day at the spa; however, a few weeks later, one of the girls in the group mentioned that she knew of a single mom in our area who could just use some help with housework. We had a general idea of what needed to be done, we bought NO SUPPLIES (simply brought stuff from our own houses), we didn't have a careful plan, and not all of us signed liability waivers. We showed up, some of us had sick kids, some of us had birthday parties later in the day, some of us were running late, some of us had to leave early. But we worked, and we talked and we cleaned and we decluttered; we distracted kids that were crabby and we did something in four hours that would have taken this woman a solid year on her own. And it wasn't rocket science, and it was fun--not drinking-chardonnay-and-eating-sushi kind of fun, but the kind of thing that happens when you taken a group of women out of their carefully organized and put together lives. There is a difference, and I tell you that, because I believe a day spent serving others, particularly as part of the church is, to me, so much more than happily and easily handing over my Saturday; just like every other aspect of my faith, it comes with my baggage, and pretending it doesn't is what disconnects me from the love of Christ out of guilt and fear that I just don't measure up. I still carried some of my habitual selfishness, and YET, the work on Saturday was done. There was my sin, and there was a NEED, and there was the Lord who showed up a bridged the gap. He calls me, he uses me, he loves me, regardless.
I see that now. That I have no chance of seeing his redemption, if I don't even give him the opportunity, because there's NOT a lot of room for him to work miracles if I am micromanaging every possible minute of my life. I see that he will transform my attitude, and MAYBE even teach me something if I will just show up in obedience. And I say this to all of you who struggle with what it looks and feels like to be part of a church body, because I get it--but there is MORE.
There is what happens when our sin, and our pride and our selfishness meets the HOLY purpose of God.