Husband. Dad to 5. Student Ministry Pastor. Follower of Jesus. Yatta yatta.


One of the conversations I’ve had of late is in response to this question: “To what degree do I have to serve at the local church to be serving God?”

What if I serve in a bible study with a para-church organization but not one that my local church has any responsibility over?

What if I serve in the nursery at my local school instead of my local church?

What if coach the middle school baseball team with a missional heart and pray for my players and seek opportunities to invite their families to church and even invite them to my home outside of games but don’t lead a student ministries small group or do anything with middle school kids at my church? Am I living in sin and selfishness?

What if I do the dishes at my house every night and take care of my neighbor’s cat and babysit my little brother- all for free and all as an act of worship? Am I serving the cause of the church?

What if I go to work instead of volunteering as a greeter on the weekend and then give the money I make in those hours at work to World Vision to help feed the poor? Am I serving?

These, and questions like them, all represent a common lingering thread in the church today. Perhaps they can all be boiled down to the same basic question: Is it possible to be serving the Lord but not serving the local church? And if so, is that a problem with God or just an issue with a local pastor?

Most responses I’ve heard fall into 3 camps:

I DID MY PART CAMP: This camp expects someone at the local church to provide for their needs of teaching, music, service for children and teens, and other functions often associated with the life of a local church so they can just come and enjoy them on the weekend and then leave. This is justified by those who don’t serve in the local church because they serve elsewhere and therefore don’t need to do so here. That’s someone else’s job. Underlying that is the assumption that the guy serving as an usher is not also coaching a t-ball team- which, for what it’s worth, may or may not be true. I have also run into those (both young and old) in this category of responses who seem to feel as though they are the “retired military” of the church service world. They’ve served their shift and now it’s time for someone else to step up so they can sit down. They’ve earned it.

THE GLOBAL THING CAMP: In this camp there are those who say that the church is not defined by some local congregation and it’s buildings, staff, or small groups. The church is a global body of believers and I’m called to serve God all day in a global framework. Serving God and even the church is not about helping park cars in one piece of property or even about serving in recognized spaces affirmed by one local group, but it is rather about serving God everywhere and in every way. IE: Ephesians 6:7 “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people.” They feel no need to do anything to keep a local congregation alive and may not be a part of one anyway.

IF WE DIDN’T SPONSOR IT, IT DOESN’T COUNT CAMP: This is where the church declares that if you’re not serving on our campus or in our sponsored programs, you’re not serving the Lord as he’s called you to. After all, God gifts each believer with a spiritual gift for the purpose of blessing others in the local body with it. IE: 1 Corinthians 12:7 (written to a local group of Christians) “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” Thus it is inferred, the spiritual gifts God gives us are intended to bless the local church- like the one Paul is writing to. To not do so is to abuse the gift God has given you.

So who’s right? My thoughts are varied. But, I think the answer lies in three things.

#1. The local church has to figure out a way to commission and affirm it’s members as servants of Jesus in lots of contexts both inside and outside of the official fences of the campus property. We need to figure out how to send out the congregation into the community as official representatives of the local church in non-church contexts. The act of serving the Lord is bigger than our “small group catalog” can encompass. We need to give them resources to coach teams, minister to the hurting in local hospitals, and serve in the local community without feeling as though they are denying the call of God on their lives by not doing it on the local church campus on Sundays.

#2. The believer has to affirm that in fact the reason they do not serve on the local campus where they regularly enjoy the benefits of others serving in is not because of anarchy or selfishness, but instead by the call of God. They need to be able to confidently and prayerfully affirm that, “I don’t serve here in some capacity because God specifically has called me to serve elsewhere.”

#3. The church- both globally and locally- is designed to be a collaborative effort of all those who follow Jesus. At no point do I get to say, well, that’s not my problem. I’m called to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. I’m called to be a team player and to encourage and equip others to do their part. We are in this together, and if that were more owned, we could spend less time fighting over what is “legitimate” serving and what is not and more time on getting the job done. If we were unified in our collaborative goal, our individual pieces would form a clearer picture of God.

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