Here to serve

Most churches will tell you that church is all about serving others. Most people, if we’re honest, don’t really know what that means. Most people turn up on Sunday, enjoy the songs that they sing but don’t have to prepare, listen to the reading they don’t give, hear a sermon that they haven’t prepared and head home having enjoyed some mutual fellowship with a bunch of people who are quite similar to them. If you go out in midweek, it’s usually to a Bible study somebody else is leading and we feed off that.

If people do serve, they might give up a Sunday morning a month to serve in the Sunday school. Maybe one night per week (except holidays) they run a youth group. But even then, more often than not, they continue to feed off whatever happens on a Sunday as usual, just like everyone else. And, let’s be honest, those guys are viewed as the hardcore servers. Most people aren’t doing that sort of stuff.

Like most churches, we also talk a lot about service. But 50% (give or take) of our congregation don’t speak English. We have two predominant people groups in the church: English speaking Brits and Farsi speaking Iranians (there are a bunch of other nationalities too, but these are the two big ones). The difference this makes to how we expect people to serve may not seem big on the face of it.

Truth be told, most people who hear about our ministry tend to be immediately impressed with how it sounds from a distance. Most people are wowed by the inclusion of those from different cultures who speak other languages. People are frequently excited at the thought of Muslim-background people coming to faith. But things are rarely seen as so exciting when the rubber hits the road.

All of a sudden, the reality on the ground, is that Bible studies take twice as long because everything needs to be translated. Non-English speakers may feel that things are too high level or going too fast; English speakers that everything is slow and too low level. Conversation doesn’t always flow because half the people in the room don’t share your background, culture nor language. Everything is much harder.

This means everybody who turns up has to think carefully about service. Am I going to set up the bible studies so I will get the most I can get out of them or am I going to bear with those who will get nothing out of them unless we do them very differently? Am I going to let people pray in their own language so they and their compatriots can be a full part of a service or am I going to insist they remain silent and join in very little because I can’t understand them? Am I going to sit back and feed off of a few or am I going to have to roll up my sleeves and serve in ministry because, if I don’t, who will?

When you step into this sort of setup, you have to ask the question before you come in: how am I going to be fed? If the Bible studies are inevitably going to be slower, where will you be fed? If you are relied upon to roll your sleeves up and serve more frequently, and maybe not sit under as much as you otherwise would but are now the one to deliver it, where will you be fed?

It is, interestingly, the question every pastor has to work out whenever he goes into any pastoral role in which he is likely to be delivering the lion’s share of any teaching. In churches like ours, every member is a minister. Every member will have to give up their felt needs to serve others. Every member will be called upon to serve others, often being the ones to deliver teaching themselves. As ministers of the church, they have to ask where they will be fed.

As it happens, translated Sunday sermons are (in your particular language) no different to any other sermon you might hear. We have simultaneous translation and so your understanding is not affected and nor is the delivery. But apart from this, it simply places more importance on your personal walk with the Lord. Instead of going to church principally to feed off somebody else’s Word-ministry, you must feed on the Word yourself so that you may turn up and serve others. You must speak with the Lord in prayer before you come so that you may point others to the value of speaking to the Lord in prayer.

Some would look at us and think that is a hard calling. Many may say, ‘that’s not for me.’ But as we look at the depressing stats on church attendance, meaningful engagement with the gospel and unreached areas within our own country, more and more of us are going to hit on this issue. As fewer people have any residual cultural Christian knowledge, as fewer come from churched backgrounds, we are going to increasingly find Bible studies are slow, low level and those who been around the church any length of time will be expected to serve, giving way on their preferences, so that we might reach those who are currently unreached.

My advice: start drilling the importance of service into your people now, before you have an influx of people who demand that everyone begins pitching in to serve.