Last year I had the pleasure of serving with a bunch of people from my local church who were running a holiday kids club during the winter school holidays. My role was very minimal, but it made me realise that serving alongside other church members is a great way to get to know people you might not usually talk to.
Relationships in the Local Church
While the post-church chit chat time can be great for catching up with people, it can be awkward going to talk to someone you don’t know very well who has been at the church a long time. (Talking to new people is less daunting!) When serving together, however, there’s a reason and a purpose for your presence so conversation can happen more organically.
It made me wonder how many church relationships stay shallow, or worse, end in misunderstandings and hurt, when people adopt an individualistic approach without realising it? How many services have I been to where I’ve been solely focused on what I’m getting out of it, and not thinking at all about how to serve?
It can be tempting to think problems in the local church are the result of not having the correct systems in place. And while some churches might be neglecting the structures and principles given by God for how His church should operate, often times, I believe the problem is that often we struggle to view ourselves as part of the larger Body and act accordingly.
Let’s take the time to examine ourselves in this regard. What can we do to be a blessing to our own local churches? What small things might we be neglecting that have the potential to make a big difference?
Read your Bible
We usually think of Bible-reading as a private and personal spiritual discipline. But I actually think our personal Bible-reading habits have a huge impact on what kind of local church member we are.
Reading the Bible daily helps us to:
- Grow in our love and knowledge of God.
- Know and obey His commandments.
- Be equipped to better love others as we learn what love truly is.
- Recognise errors more easily because we are steeped in the truth.
When we neglect the spiritual discipline of Bible-reading and study, it’s not only our personal relationship with the Lord that suffers, but all of our relationships.
Pray for your minister
As much as we appreciate our pastors, they are not super-humans. They face the same internal struggles and external pressures that all Christians do, and they often do so without the same support network.
So while we might not know every detail of what our ministers are struggling with or facing, we can take their needs to our Heavenly Father, who knows (and cares about) it all.
Remember to pray for them as a person and not just in their role as minister. Here are some ideas for what to pray:
- Pray that their marriage and/or family relationships would be strengthened.
- Pray that they will use their time wisely.
- Pray for supernatural peace and joy through the hard times.
- Pray for courage to speak the truth and stand against attack.
- Pray for their spiritual growth; that they would be growing in the knowledge and love of the Lord.
Use your gifts
Gifts are given to those in the church to serve each other and to glorify God:
“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”1 Peter 4:10-11
We can use our gifts in church either through structured ministry roles or informal service. Whether singing from the front, making a shared morning tea, or giving someone a timely word of encouragement, we all have gifts that can be used.
Keep in the front of your mind that you are not a guest who goes to church to be served, but a family member who belongs and contributes with the rest of the family. Ask the Lord to reveal to you ways you can use your gifts.
Encourage and pray for other church members
Speaking of family, one simple (yet powerful) way we can be a blessing in the church is to pray for and encourage each other. It’s so simple, and yet, to be an effective pray-er and encourager, you need to have real conversations with people and then (here’s the kicker!) remember what they said in those conversations and pray about it.
This has been an ongoing struggle of mine. I find it really hard to keep track of details others have mentioned and asked for prayer about. So last year, I started making notes on the side of a church directory I printed out. I note down major life events and prayer requests. I keep these annotated directories tucked inside my prayer journal (or you could pop it in your Bible cover). Alternatively, you can buy prayer journals that come with a prayer list section inside (like the ones I’ve created below) and write in notes for the specific people you’d like to pray for.
Solve conflict Biblically
I’m sure we can all think of a time we were hurt by the words or deeds of someone from church. This is because churches are full of people who, while being made holy by the Lord, are still not without sin. (And often there are people in the church who are not genuinely saved as well.)
Confrontation, repentance, and reconciliation should be the normal pattern for dealing with conflict or hurt in our churches.
I think we can find it hard to deal with conflict well because we don’t like that initial confrontation – we don’t like the part where we have to say “you’ve sinned against me, and it’s not okay.” Many of us may have grown up thinking we just need to “be nice”, and that being nice means never addressing problems directly.
When we side-step this God-given process, by engaging in gossip, malicious acts, avoidance, or bitterness, we’re harming our gospel-witness, and also the witness of the Church as a whole. It also makes it hard to have more than skin-deep relationships with people in the church because there is the constant feeling that the relationship would not cope with any friction.
Be a blessing to your church community by handling conflict in the Biblically-prescribed way.
Keep an eye out for those struggling to connect
I’ll be honest, as an introvert, sometimes the post-church chit chat time is difficult. Sometimes I have people I need to catch up with for a particular reason, but often I’m standing there wondering who to talk to. I’ve found it helps to look out for anyone else who might be at a loose end. And a pro-tip for my fellow introverts: you don’t have to carry the weight of the conversation if you get really good at asking questions.
Some of my go-to questions:
- What did you think of the sermon?
- What are you getting up to this week?
- How long have you lived in the area?
- What have you been reading lately?
I’ve often heard it said that entertaining is about the host, while hospitality is about the guests.
Showing hospitality requires us to give of ourselves, not only in the time taken to make the food, but in being emotionally available. It’s an opening of the home and of the heart. (But I don’t think it always has to happen at home!)
That’s why it’s so hard to do. It requires us to be generous with our resources, time, and our very selves.
But hospitality is a great way to bless others in your church, and also the church as whole. Having someone over for a meal or a cuppa allows for genuine conversation to take place, it meets the practical needs of feeding hungry people, and it demonstrates love in the effort and time taken out of your day.
Whether you’re in a great, connected church community, or you’re struggling at the moment, I’m hopeful you can find some small way to change your own approach to doing church. And in changing something small, you might find that the impact ripples out into something big.
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.Romans 12:9-16