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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About that whole “church” thing…

This weekend my house has been filled with people. People I love. People I want to know more. People that challenge me, inspire me, and that are a part of my life in a way I never could have imagined.

Friday night, my husband and I shared a meal with another couple that we have come to know, love, admire, respect, and hope to emulate in our own lives. We spent hours sharing food, coffee, stories, and real life. When they left, I was sleepy, but exhilarated and full from being in their presence.

Saturday I had several of the women Life Group (small group/community group) leaders from my church over during an open house gathering. Those women are brave, compassionate leaders. Week after week they show up to connect with other women—to teach, disciple, listen, and “do life” with them–through the real, raw parts of life that hurt beyond words, and through the mountain tops of joyful celebration. The women I spent time with on Saturday lead well because they are willing to get in the trenches with the women they serve. That’s courageous. And beautiful. And I love them all.

Sunday night, Adam and I had our own Life Group over. Man, those people have changed our lives. We have been meeting with our group for about two years, but we have grown. We started off with three couples, and now seven couples come together week after week to live alongside of each other. I cannot tell you how much I love those people; when the bottom has fallen out of life, they have been there cheering us on, supporting us, praying for us, fighting with and for us. We hope that we have done the same for them.Church is the people not the building April 26 post

It was a busy weekend; busier than usual. But I am so full. To everyone that stepped foot through our front door, thank you. Thank you for being you, and for being willing to live in community. Thank you for sharing that with our family.

That is what the local church is: Christ-followers living life among one another, challenging, teaching, encouraging, and meeting needs—tangible and intangible. To my family and I, the local church has become our lifeline.

That hasn’t always the case. Maybe you can relate.

I was adopted by my aunt when I was 10 years old, and her rule was that unless I was contagious or had a fever, I was up and at ’em Sunday mornings to attend church. Church was always my routine, but it was never something I loved or was passionate about. Until I gave my life to Jesus at the age of 17, church was the obligatory place I went every Sunday to appease my parents.

When I became a Christian, I did view the church differently. I appreciated going more, and my doodles turned into copious amounts of notes that I have in journals in my basement to this day. My youth pastor taught me how to pray and study God’s word. Church became a great resource for life, but still not anything I couldn’t live without. I couldn’t live without Jesus; attending church, however, was healthy, but not critical.

That all changed when I was in college. I attended Liberty University in Central Virginia. That place is a breeding ground for graduates that go out and change the world, equipped with the fire of the Gospel, and world-class degrees in a crazy amount of professional fields.  I love Liberty. Go Flames!

I got excited about Campus Church each Sunday morning. I loved being taught by Johnnie Moore and others (more volumes of copious notes), but after a few years, I found myself hungry to plant roots somewhere. I started itching to not only gain but also to give. I started longing to know other people, and to be known by them. So I started attending Brentwood Church, a local church in Lynchburg.

And that is when the game changed. God used what I learned at Brentwood to revolutionize my view of church. Apart from my initial decision to follow Christ, there are only a few things that have completely wrecked shop on my worldview, passions, and hunger for the Truth. Attending Brentwood Church during my time in Lynchburg is one of them.

Every week, I would walk through doors manned by smiling faces, authentically happy I was there. Without fail, every week I walked away knowing the values of Brentwood: invest in community by joining a Community Group (small group), serve and be served on Sundays by volunteering during one service and worshipping in the other, and change the world by taking everything we received each week and committing to being and making disciples locally and globally. Brentwood produced (and to my knowledge is still producing) disciples that grow deeper in faith, community, service, and impact all around the world.

That. Is. Awesome. And supernatural. And it’s something I didn’t know I needed, but now I can’t live without.

Turns out, everything I had ever thought I had known about church was wrong. Brentwood taught me that “Church” isn’t a place, it’s a group of people. And turns out I’m one of them. And if you are a Christ-follower, you are one of them. And we are invited into something sacred, beautiful, and powerful. When we realize that the church is the people and not the building, we cannot escape the weight of both the privilege and the responsibility it is to commit to its well-being.

Brentwood Church was a catalyst for me to begin understanding that if I love Jesus the way I say that I do, then I am to be connected to His church. It’s not an invitation with an optional RSVP; I am expected and called to be an active participant in the Body of Christ by offering myself—my story, my time, my talent, and my treasure—to its well-being.

God cares for the orphans and widows. He cares for the marginalized and oppressed. He also cares for lonely believers. And His solution for meeting needs in all of them is His Church.  If we really believe that the Spirit of God indwells believers, then we experience the presence of God not just through the Spirit that indwells us individually, but through other believers. We were made to live and thrive in community with each other, and to look out for each other. We are invited to give and to gain by actively engaging in a local body of believers.

So, for the next few weeks, we are going to dive into what that means. Does a church have to look a certain way to be right? Does it need to be a certain size? Offer a certain type of teaching and/or music? What is a small group, and why does it matter if I’m in one or not? What about serving? Is that required or optional?

I am convinced that our hearts are only healed through the redemption offered by God through His son, Jesus. I am equally convinced that God is passionate about His Church, and that we should be too. Stick around, and let’s keep talking about it.

Run Hard. Love Strong.

~Haley~