The church isn’t a program. We’ve heard this statement before. As a blanket statement, I would agree. The church is a family in Christ. That being said, we can’t remove ourselves from programming in an organizational sense. Without some sort of order, there is chaos, so we plan. The way we plan matters. We communicate what we believe by the way that we plan. If things are to be done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40), the question is, what order? How much time will we dedicate to doing what? What does the way we plan our meetings communicate about what we believe concerning our Lord, Jesus Christ?
I am going to present a simple idea in this part of our current leadership series. We plan in service to God’s glory and in service to the good of God’s people.
When the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they came together. And one of them, an expert in the law, asked a question to test Him: “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”
Jesus, in quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5, answered the question of the Pharisee. All of the Law and the Prophets, and in turn, all of the Gospels and the Apostles, depend on this command first. Without a holistic and sincere love for God, nothing else we teach or do matters- it’s empty religiosity. As we think about the planning of the gathering of God’s people, the greatest motivation we have in planning is a holistic and genuine love for God. The way we plan will follow the love that we have for our Lord.
This isn’t all. Jesus didn’t stop at answering the Pharisee’s question. There was another component that Jesus wanted people to understand, another command (the second greatest command). This command is like the first. All the Law and the Prophets, and in turn the Gospels and the Apostles, depend also on the second command. So, Jesus also quoted Leviticus 19:18. When we look to Leviticus, this command specifically concerned the oppression of fellow countrymen. It bids us work with concern for the well-being of our neighbors. The way we plan will not only follow the holistic and sincere love that we have for our Lord, but also the desire we have to work for the good of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Before we even begin discussing the component of the Christian gathering, we recognize this truth and apply it to the way we think about planning even the most basic gatherings as church leaders. If we want to communicate the Gospel in everything that we do and if we desire that our meetings honor Christ as preeminent, then our motivation for doing the things that we do in the way that we do them will be two-fold. We do what we do in the way that we do it in service to God’s glory and in service to the good of God’s people.
Serving God’s glory
This is a very basic idea and probably needs little explanation. If we don’t care about honoring God in everything that we do as a local church, we probably do not belong to a genuine local church. There is a sense in which people-pleasing is a very real temptation, and is a great reality for those seasoned in ministry. We become so concerned with making people happy that we forget we are here to serve the glory of God, first and foremost.
When we plan sermons, songs, ordinances, meals, ministry events, and liturgy, our first question needs to be, “Does this serve the glory of God or the glory of people?” This will include planning things like topics, Bible studies, schedules, missions, and how much time is spent on each component of the service. Since there is no cookie-cutter formula in the Scriptures for us, we know that God has given us some freedom to plan- and I think it honors Him when we plan well. We are stewards of both His resources and His time. When we plan, we plan in service to the glory of God Almighty.
Serving the good of God’s people
Just as we can often become people-pleasers and forget that we first serve the glory of God in all of our planning, we can just as easily have so much zeal for our service to God that we forget we are also here to serve the good of our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is more often the case for new pastors or elders. We are to serve foremost the glory of God. Part of that service is necessarily our service to the body of Christ- the people God has chosen for Himself. As we plan, we must not only consider those things that serve the glory of God but also that serve the good of God’s people.
What do I mean by the good of God’s people? The answer is simple. What I mean by the good of God’s people is not synonymous with people-pleasing. People-pleasing is the tendency we have to serve people’s happiness, not necessarily their good. There are many things that make people happy that do not serve the glory of God. If someone were to tell me that he or she preferred a 20 minute sermon and 2 hymns so that we can finish a church service faster or “on time,” then I might perceive that this person is more interested in checking off the checklist of religiosity than with living in relationship with God and with the body. To limit the word of God to twenty minutes would be to please people rather than God (and we will talk about sermon length during that part of the series).
Serving the good of God’s people is working to do those things that encourage them and stimulate them to love and good deeds in Christ (Hebrews 10:24-25). That is the purpose of the local church meeting as we come in response to what Christ has done in His work of salvation. So, to the one who complains about getting our late or who demands that one component of the service be shorter, working for his good is something different than merely giving into human-centered demands. We want our brothers and sisters in the faith to be drawn closer to God and to continually develop a greater hunger for God.
This being stated, if we are serving the good of our brothers and sisters in Christ, then we must keep in mind their momentary weaknesses in this wretched world. If the person mentioned above is only going to sit for twenty minutes of the sermon before walking out, then that must inform the way that I plan because I am here, ultimately, to serve that person for his good. Though I don’t necessarily give in to the wrongful demand, I try to plan in some way so that he may benefit in Christ and grow holistically and sincerely in his faith. The same is true when there are people who complain about certain styles of music or about the translation of Scripture being used. We are here to serve the good of God’s people, and we cannot deny that responsibility.
There is a fearful balance for us to keep. There are many times when we will have to anger people in order to serve the glory of God. There are many, many people who will be dissatisfied no matter what we do. Sometimes we use the excuse that we are serving God and cannot please everyone to not even try serving their good. Let us humbly strive to serve both the glory of God and the good of God’s people, knowing that we are not yet fully sanctified. Next, we will examine the preaching of God’s word- as expository in method and as an expository part of the church gathering (Yes, I’ll explain what I mean by that).