One CRUCIAL Way To Prevent Spiritual Atrophy

I enjoy exercising. I have exercised regularly for years. I feel better when I exercise. I’m happier. I’m not as anxious. I am more alert and awake to do the other things I love. I choose to exercise because I see the evidence that it prevents physical atrophy and helps me to be a better “me,” which ultimately helps everyone around me too.

In a similar way, giving of myself to the church promotes personal growth, servingauthentic discipleship, and prevents spiritual atrophy. Giving of ourselves–our time, giftedness, and energy–is actually healthy and good for us, and for everyone around us.

I committed my life to following Christ and was baptized when I was 17 years old. For several years after that, I was growing and changing rapidly from the person I was before, but I never chose to step up and serve in the church. I would hear recruit teams share the needs their areas were experiencing, and I would hope to avoid eye contact so that I didn’t have to make up some reason why I couldn’t give of my time to help.

If I’m really honest, it wasn’t that I didn’t have time; I just flat-out didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to make the time to give of myself. I didn’t see how I could add value to my church by serving, and I didn’t see how serving would add value to my life.

Fast-forward a few years. I was a college student in Virginia attending Brentwood Church in Virginia (big shout out to my Brentwood Family. I love you guys!).  I love that the DNA of Brentwood Church is simple: connect and contribute. Connect through worship on Sundays and in a small group of believers (“Community Group,” “Life Group,” etc.), and contribute your time, energy, giftedness, and resources to the well-being of the church.

If I called Brentwood Church “home,” I was taught consistently and often to be an active participant, and not just an anonymous attender on Sundays. This  didn’t come from a perspective of legalism, or expectation, but rather of love and invitation. This church really honed in on the God-given gifts and skills of the people that were there and invited them to use those skills to advance God’s kingdom right there.

How many of you out there would say that you want to be valued, part of something meaningful, and as though you “belong?” I would be willing to bet that most of you responded with an adamant, “Yes!”

During my years at Brentwood, I began to feel wanted. I quit believing that I was expendable, and I and started to realize that as a Christ follower, I wasn’t just called to believe, I was invited to be intricately woven into God’s family. Serving wasn’t just for the people that had “arrived,” it was for me too—broken, flawed, imperfect me.

I decided to sign up to work with this church’s children’s ministry. I started out just filling in when someone would be absent, and then steadily I became more and more involved. Now, years later, one of my greatest passions is God’s people—all of God’s people—evaluating their God-given skills, talents, and interests and finding a place within the body of Christ to use those gifts. Not everyone gets excited about holding babies every week. Not everyone is comfortable leading. But everyone has something to bring to the table.

Whatever “it” is for you—that thing that you LOVE to do just for the sake of doing it—find where you can use THAT in your church. I dare you to test this for a year. Use your skills and passions consistently and often within your home church, and see how you experience deeper satisfaction, deeper feelings of connectedness within your church, and tremendous connection with others serving with you.

I think that as people we are wired to weigh opportunity costs. We can’t have or do everything, so we make choices. Sometimes these choices are based on pure motives like what is best for others. Sometimes our choices are based on what has the most value. Sometimes our choices are just for the sake of preference and what we would enjoy the most. I know I am not the only one that struggles against the clock every day. I think that most of us would say we want our time to matter and count towards something; life is too short to waste. Some of you might be like me 10 years ago, and maybe you just don’t see the benefit of giving of your time to your church.

But what if I told you that stepping up to serve all those years ago changed me? What if I told you that for the first time, I belonged somewhere? What if I said that plugging in and intentionally saying “no” to other things (including my Sunday afternoon nap) grew me into someone that finally had a place to call home? Serving in the Church enabled me to really connect and develop relationships with people. Serving was the catalyst to me honing in on who God created me to be. I  have a deep desire for purpose and meaning. Don’t we all? And what is more meaningful than owning our salvation purchased by Christ, and embracing the Body of Christ called “the church?”

Some of you may legitimately be unable to serve during traditional times like Sunday mornings. It’s ok to think outside of the box on your role in your church family! Maybe you attend a house church and there isn’t a major organization to jump right into, or maybe you live abroad and culturally the dynamic of church is very different than “American church”. To all believers reading this, I boldly declare that the Body of Christ transcends culture and time restraints. Serving means giving of yourself to meet the needs of other believers out of your abundance of time and resources. I cannot tell you what this looks like for you personally, but I certainly encourage you to search God’s heart on the matter! He loves you and you were made with purpose!

With all of my heart I believe that we each have a vital role. Paul writes to the church in Corinth that we are all equipped with different gifts, and we are called to use them. Can you imagine if your stomach quit working because it said, “This body doesn’t need me; the lungs have got this one.” How crippling! In the same way, we are all a vital part of the global, eternal Body of Christ.

You are invited to be all in and more than someone that watchers from the sidelines. Let’s all get in the game and thrive.

Like exercise, it may mean carving out the time because you see the value added. But I promise that God uses your energy, time, and talents to change the world when you commit them to Him, when you humbly submit your time and energy to Him to be used up for His glory. Serving impacts your community, your church, your peers, your family, and it impacts YOU! Give it a try. Commit to giving of your time in an area that you are interested in. Give it more than a few weeks—a year?—and see how your own heart changes as a result.

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10 Characteristics of A Healthy Church

Hey there! Thanks for tuning in again this week as we look at “this whole church thing.”

As we saw last week, the Church is not limited to a building and the pastoral staff; the Church is every single person that places their faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus calls His people “the Church.” Worldwide, the Church meets in smaller environments (some not so small…) called “the local church.”

If individual Christ-followers make up the Church, then we are responsible for the health and well-being of it. The non-exhaustive list below outlines a few habits of healthy local churches. As believers, we need to critically assess if we are contributing to the health of the local church we call “home.”

A local church is the sum of its parts. Every. Single. Person. Matters. So let’s not only use this list to evaluate the health of our home/local church, but to more importantly ask if we are contributing to it, or hurting it:

Healthy local churches are striving towards the following:

1. A healthy Church is focused on God Himself as revealed in His Word, The Bible.

A church that is not focused on worshiping and serving God is just a feel-good club. There are lots of fun community groups that meet regularly, share meals, serve the needy, and more, but have no spiritual component whatsoever. There’s nothing wrong with that in those places, but if a local church is not actively teaching about, talking about, talking to, and surrendering to God it is not healthy.

2. A healthy local church is a safe place to ask hard questions.

I was so heartbroken recently when a friend of mine told me that she sat down with members of a local church and shared her authentic questions and doubts, and that she walked away feeling ashamed and criticized rather than embraced and supported.

A healthy church allows room for questions. We serve a Big God that is mysterious, and the idea of some things being real can be really scary and down-right hard to buy into. A healthy church not only allows room for people to struggle through real questions, but also encourages the seeking out of answers. There are tons of great resources outlining reasonable defenses of the faith (i.e. Josh McDowell’s materials, Lee Strobel, and more…).

Two words of caution here: be cautious of any person/place that claims to have answers to every single hard question. The truth is that we all have questions, and there is a level of mystery that we may never fully know or understand.

On the other hand, don’t be so skeptical and cynical to think that no hard question has valid answers.

It is ok to ask tough questions. God is not threatened by our questions; He is insulted by our unwillingness to seek Him out in the middle of them.

3. A healthy church promotes deep unity and community, while also being a safe haven for new people.

I’ve heard this called the “open chair” policy; there should always be an empty chair that can be filled, whether that’s in a small group or a large congregation. Avoid causing or creating cliques and “popular crowds” within church walls at all costs, and avoid the appearance of being closed off. If the local church is a spiritual hospital for the sick and the broken to find refuge and healing, its doors should be open wide with receiving arms.

4. Healthy churches are led by healthy leaders.

Healthy churches are led from the top-down. Good leaders are servant leaders that care more about washing feet than about being known and popular. Leaders in these churches are displaying in action what they teach from the pulpit. Like parenting, many actions (or inactions) are “caught not taught.”

A few questions to ask: How does the leadership treat other leaders and staff members? Are they practicing what they are teaching? Is healthy conflict resolution being practiced?

5. Healthy churches commit to the well-being of the surrounding community.

Is there a park clean up day happening? Is your church represented among the volunteers pitching in to help? What about servicemen/women appreciation? Has anyone stepped out to thank the police force, firefighters, EMS teams, etc. that work around the clock to protect and serve your community? Do volunteer teams reach out to tutor at-risk youth, or meet the physical needs of people within the community?

A healthy church is made up of people that get in the trenches with the community around them.

6. Healthy churches are theologically sound.

I’m not going to go into detail about this right now. But a healthy local church is rooted in the Bible—Old and New Testaments—and worships God Himself as displayed throughout it. Healthy local churches preach one Gospel—the Gospel of Jesus Christ—that alone has the power to save mankind.

7. Healthy churches are equipping disciples.

Are new leaders being developed and raised up? Are people becoming more and more independent and able to study the Bible on their own? Are disciples being trained up to follow Jesus the way Jesus said to follow? Are people growing in spiritual and emotional maturity?

8. Healthy churches are united with the global Church.

Healthy churches don’t play the “church competition” game; they want to support other churches in winning as well. Healthy local churches aren’t slandering other churches on the same mission for the same Gospel. There is room for healthy disagreement on some levels, but healthy, Christ-Preaching churches have each other’s backs.

9. Healthy churches are engaged in raising up disciples that GO.

Rick Warren has oft been quoted as saying, “A church’s health is measured by its sending capacity, not its seating capacity.” Christianity is anything but a call to comfortable living. Jesus didn’t stop at commanding His disciples to reach Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, but He also said to go unto all the world. ALL of the world. There are needs in every community, city, state, and country throughout the world. Is your church engaged in sending people—short and long term—to other regions?

10. Healthy local churches are fiscally responsible.

This is two-fold: do the individual people that call a local church “home” give of their resources to the church (their tithe)? And is the church budget managed with integrity, uprightness, and responsibility? Are there ever business meetings for the church to gather and be updated on what is happening financially?

No Church is perfect. This non-exhaustive list reflects characteristics of healthy churches, but no single local church is perfect in every one of these areas. The biggest questions to ask are a) Is the church that I call “home” striving to be a Spirit-led, disciple-making, Christ-preaching church with outstretched arms to the community and the world, and b) Am I, as an individual Christ-follower, contributing to the health or the lack of health in any of these areas?

I’d love to hear from you! How do you see churches “winning?” How can individual believers strengthen and support the health of their local church body?