Every Member in Ministry: The Journey Outward

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family.  While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given.  Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered.  Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation. 

1 Corinthians 12:4-11; 27-31 

Today is a sad day for us at the Kirk. This is Betsy Eder’s last Sunday as our Ministry Intern. We have been blessed by her presence and her gifts that she has shared among us. Before the summer began, I suspected this would be true. For Betsy, you see was preceded by her reputation. People told us about Betsy’s strong involvement in her church over the years… serving on the Session, serving as a Stephen Minister leader for her church and our region… chairing the Stewardship committee. She was an involved person. I sensed that we would be blessed to have her among us and I was right.

Involvement is not the only measure to be used of a person’s faithfulness and sometimes it can be misunderstood when someone is not involved… sometimes there are circumstances others do not understand that keep one from being involved. This is especially true in different stages of life for some people. But I do think when a person is involved in ministry both inside and outside the church… you learn a lot about who they are, what they believe in and about their faith. I imagine our personal calendars would tell a lot about all of us- who we are, what we really believe.

Involvement in the church makes a powerful statement about our understanding of faith. It tells others that the Christian faith is not something we consume, it is something we participate in as believers. Involvement tells others, "we don’t believe involvement is a spectator sport. There is more to being a member of the body of Christ, the church, than coming to have your needs met spiritually and otherwise. That should be a part of it, but there should be more."

Let me remind you of the quote I shared from Elizabeth O’Connor when we held our contemplative service… a service focusing on the need to be still and to be filled spiritually by God.
"renewal cannot come to the church unless we are on an inward journey…(and) renewal cannot come to the church unless its people are on an outward journey… it is a crucial mistake to assume that churches can be on an outward journey without being on an inward one… (and) it is disastrous to assume that one can make the journey inward without taking the journey outward… " 1

Today we focus on part of the outward journey. It is that journey where we offer ourselves in ministry out of our fullness… praying that God would use our gifts, as Paul said, "for the common good." Paul assumed everyone was called to ministry… different gifts… different ways to serve… different activities… but all inspired by God for the common good… for the work of ministry. "To each…" (Not some) … to each… God gives.

Years ago I heard about a Methodist church in Montgomery, Alabama that had this crazy vision for their members. "Every Member in Ministry."  Crazy, I tell you. Because my experience in the church is that many are in ministry… but not everyone. But they tell their members that commitment is at the heart of membership because it is essential for being a family. In fact, commitment is the difference between being a member of the Frazier family or a person who simply attends.
"Every member makes two commitments when joining our church family: a commitment to Jesus Christ and a commitment to support the Frazier family through prayers, presence, gifts and service…Volunteering is important at Frazer. Members are not recruited to do specific ministries. Ministry happens because volunteers desire to fulfill God’s purposes in their lives."

Did you hear that last part? Ministry happens because volunteers desire to fulfill God’s purposes in their lives. Isn’t that really the heart of it? Ministry is less about the church’s need for volunteers (though, Lord knows, we need them)… and more about the need for our members to live lives that fulfill God’s purposes in their lives…as those who desire to work for the common good…

Everyone is called and gifted for this ministry… I believe God has given every one a passion for a particular form of ministry. You may or may not know what that is… discernment is needed. But you are still called. I would love for the Kirk to have a vision where everyone who becomes a member understands that part of that membership means that they will be involved in ministry. Everyone is a minister… not just the elders, key leaders or the pastors. Everyone.

Sometimes in church bulletins you’ll see the line: "Ministers: all members of the church…" I’ve used that line in other churches I’ve served. I remember what a minister once told his congregation about parking at the hospital. He said sometimes you get to a hospital and you’ll see a sign that says, clergy parking. You cannot park there. But if you get to a hospital and it says, ministers parking… feel free to park there because you are all ministers!

That is the way Paul understood it and frankly that is the way I see it. Every member of the Kirk is a minister. And I thank God for that. For imagine the church and the world without all of you involved ministry. We would be a poor witness indeed.

Sometimes I think about this on Saturday morning in the summer when I come to the office. Every Saturday morning I hear the noise of mowers and can smell the freshly cut grass. I see members of this church sweating to provide a beautiful setting for us on Sunday and during the week. Sometimes I imagine, what if no one volunteered to mow? How long would the grass get? What impression would visitors have of us that we don’t even care enough to mow the grass?

I looked at the surveys many of you filled a couple of weeks ago and I began to wonder… where would we be without those who teach, sing… there would be no Sunday School or youth group or PW circles or music or bulletins or newsletters… Where would we be without the involvement of members? Who would care for those who were sick… who would take all of those meals to those out of the hospital (I’m not doing all that cooking!)… who would bake the bread for our visitors and who would take the bread as an offering of our friendship and hospitality… where would we be?

There would be no Guatemala Partnership without those involved… no Koala (tutoring of children) … no Habitat ministry…no ministry to the homeless… no mission without the volunteers… Who would count the money and write the checks and keep up with the budget without the volunteers?How would we have Wednesday night fellowship or any fellowship without those who help set up, serve meals, clean up?

Who would do the planning and leading if people didn’t serve on Sessions, committees? Oh, I know some complain about committees, but where would we be if no one did the thinking and planning for our work? Who would organize new member classes and small group ministries? Where would the Glenaire people be if no one drove the van? Everyone who gets involved in the church is contributing to the common good. Thank God!

And where would our community and world be if people didn’t minister outside the Kirk… serving on boards that help the community… volunteering at places like the Carying place, the Rescue Mission, the hospital, scouts, school… giving blood so others can live… taking meals on wheels to the elderly…picking up the trash… being a part of service organizations… serving in the larger church at Presbytery….

And where would we be if people did not seek to serve God in their vocations… to fulfill God’s purpose for their lives in their jobs? Some are obvious as they are in ministries of healing or education or service… others are able to take their vocations and use those gifts in serving others for the common good. Have you ever thought about how your vocation can serve the common good? When you do, you are in ministry!

For some, I know becoming involved is hard. That’s one thing people said in the survey. Sometimes, and I’m sad to say this, the church makes it harder. It is clear to me that there are those who wish to be more involved but we have not always responded to those efforts or heard them well. That saddens me. It is clear that we rely way too much on bulletin announcements, announcements from the pulpit and in the newsletter rather than asking one on one. It is clear that sometimes people have a hard time breaking into ministry where there is an established group. That saddens me.

For others, the obstacles are their own… too little time… not sure what they may have to offer… and one that surprised me, "fear"… Fear popped up as a reason people weren’t more involved. I sort of understand. Anytime we try something new there is an element of fear… fear of failure…fear of acceptance… fear of getting in over my head… That was a common obstacle in the Bible… often those who were called report being afraid. But I hold out to you the promise of our God to those people and to you: "Fear not, I am with you."

If we can find some way to overcome those obstacles… and focus on how we might in ministry fulfill God’s purposes for our lives and the life of this congregation… imagine the possibilities.

I don’t know if you know this, but our dreams as a church often outmatch our human resources. Perhaps that’s the way it should be.

Sometimes one of you will come up to me with a great idea for a ministry… or something the Kirk needs to do… but I don’t know of people who can do it. Recently someone said to me, we need to re-start the Memorial committee. I agree. Any names? Anyone feel a passion for that or other ministries yet to be born? It’s time to step up.

I’m reminded of a time I met Millard Fuller, the founder and former President of Habitat for Humanity. We were together in Hickory for a celebration of a key anniversary. He came to speak. I happened to sit down next to him at the site with a box lunch. We were talking and Millard told me the story of the time he was answering phones in Americus, Georgia. A lady called on the phone and was complaining and complaining about how she had been trying to call the head office and no one answered. Millard spoke to her and said. "You know the problem, don’t you? You know the problem?" "No," she said. "The problem is that you are not here to answer the phone!" We need volunteers for this ministry.

I’ve thought about that story many, many times when something comes up in the church… or someone wishes we could do more… or someone thinks we have let them down…and I want to say, "You know the problem don’t you…" " We need you to get involved!"
Truth is, we need everyone to get involved… to claim their ministry. For that is how God seems to have designed this old church to work. Every member given a gift… every member seeking their call… and every member involved in ministry… not only for their own good, but for the common good and for the good work of Christ’s body, representing his love and grace to the world. Amen.

1. From their website

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