What Should A Local Church Expect from Me?
As noted last week, sometimes local churches disappoint us because our expectations of them are misguided. Those expectations may come from assumptions, early church experiences, denominational models, etc. rather than God’s word.
One overarching principle from which various false expectations arise is self-centeredness. When people approach a local church with a “What can I get out of it?” mentality, things will sour sooner or later. Such a perspective is diametrically opposed to the spirit of Christ who constantly hammered on the theme: “So the last will be first, and the first last … Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave” (Mt 20:16, 26-27).
So, flipping last week’s title around, this week we ask, “What should a local church expect from me?”
1. That I be a genuinely committed Christian. Lacking intimate insight into the hearts of man, we observe their “fruits” – words, actions, emotions, etc. – and formulate a view of them. Some live a spiritual double life. They make verbal professions and go through various motions to project spirituality, but they lack a true, inward connection with the Lord.
Now, it is not our job to identify and label “true Christians,” unless the evidence becomes overwhelming and we extend fellowship where we should not (cf. 1 Cor 5). This observation is only intended to explain why some churches suffer discord and controversy. Often it is because the weak and uncommitted stir up trouble because they still have carnal tendencies: “For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (1 Cor 3:3). The universal church of the Lord is only comprised of genuine believers; only He knows perfectly all of those who are His (and those who are not). But local churches are plagued with goats, tares and wolves who try to blend in with the sheep and ultimately wreak havoc.
2. That I be a team player. Nothing kills collective efforts more than an individual who wants the spotlight. Think Diotrephes. Team sports are just that – team sports. The issue is not can one player defeat the other team singlehandedly, but can one team work in unison more effectively than the other team to gain the objective. The opposite of the prima donna who thinks he shines brighter than others is the loafer who wants to take credit for others’ efforts. Someone is always trying to take up the slack he creates, and this is a distraction for the team.
Sometimes elders ask from or direct things toward the congregation that are intended to strengthen both the individual and the group. The independent-minded member may think, “I don’t see the sense in that,” or “that doesn’t apply to me,” or “no one’s going to stick their nose in my business,” and they react uncooperatively. Others use aloofness and detachment as a shield for their social awkwardness or insecurity. Not every Christian will be gregarious and comfortable in the public eye, but all of us must be supportive of the collective effort to the degree that we are able (and some of us are more able than we let on).
3. That I be present. Being present for occasions of worship and study is a baseline obligation: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Ac 2:42). When one places membership with the Centreville church, he or she is made aware of our meeting times and the expectation that they will be present and engaged as they are able. Yet it is not unusual to observe frequent, frivolous absences and peripheral participation.
This being so, Rick recently mentioned the elders’ request to send a text or email if you know you will be absent. Some do this, but most do not.
Centreville is a congregation with a high degree of absences, many of which are perfectly legitimate. But some habitually miss, and this vacuum leaves others wondering about the absentee’s spiritual welfare and genuine interest. It is easy to tell oneself, “If I’m not there, no one really notices.” First, God notices, and second, you are missed by others.
There is no clear cut criteria list in the NT on the reasons for not assembling or a quota on the number of absences allowed per year. Rather, our presence for worship is on the “honor system” and is a test of our proactive desire to be with our brethren and join with them in praise of our Father. Ask yourself: “Where does regular, participatory worship with my brethren rank on my priority list?” And another question: “Just because I can be gone, does that mean I should?”
4. That I am here to serve. To be an effective servant one must be acquainted with others and know their needs and struggles. One must be available. One must be willing to sacrifice in spite of their busy schedule. Don’t misunderstand: many at Centreville are busily helping others. But since they don’t toot their own horn about it, we may not see what is being done. The same Jesus who said, “When you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” also said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt 6:3; 5:16). A habitual life of service to others eventually manifests itself. The best way to foster a climate of good works in a congregation is by example. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28).