Two Strategies for Serving in the Church

Two Strategies for Serving in the Church

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So you’ve decided to join a church and to get involved. The next obvious question, of course, is how? Today I’d like to suggest two different strategies to start serving, based upon what you know about yourself — specifically your spiritual gifts and interests — at this point in your spiritual journey.

Most of us fall into one of two camps when it comes to understanding how God has wired us to contribute to the body of Christ. Some of us just have an intuitive sense, perhaps backed up by experience, of how we’re gifted. Others among us, however, don’t necessarily know what our spiritual gifting looks like. Depending on where you’re at on that continuum, I’d like to suggest two different approaches for serving regularly at a local church.

If you’ve already got a good idea of what your spiritual gifts are, I think the easiest thing to do is to just get in touch with a pastor or staff person at your church and ask them where you might be able to start using those gifts. If you’re gifted with administration, for instance, there are always places in the church that need help organizing and streamlining details. Have a gift for encouragement? Perhaps serving as a greeter or an usher is right up your alley. Is teaching your thing? Many churches likely have Sunday school, Wednesday night, small group or youth group opportunities to make a teaching contribution.

On the other hand, if you’re not sure exactly what your gifts are, it can be tempting to hang back and be hesitant. But I don’t think that uncertainty needs to be a roadblock to contributing. The best way to begin to better understand how God has put you together, after all, is to get some experience and see what happens. Every church has needs, so ask your pastor (or the staff person you’re most connected to) what you might do to help out. As you get experience serving, you begin to develop a sense of what you’re good at and what’s most satisfying to you personally. Those are good indicators of what God might have specifically gifted you to do when it comes to serving in the church.

After I committed to follow Jesus in my first semester of college, I had an opportunity to lead a small group. It wasn’t something I’d ever done before, but I got good feedback from participants who said they enjoyed and engaged with the way I had facilitated the group. That was my first clue that perhaps one of my contributions would be in the area of teaching and leading. On the other hand, I’ve also had a number of chances to help organize and administrate details for various church events and ministries over the years. I was able to do it, but it was hard work for me that absolutely didn’t come naturally. It’s something I’m able to do if the need arises, but I can confidently say that if there’s someone else on a team of people with that gift, I’ll happily defer to them.

I think it’s also important to note that when we’re just getting plugged in to a new congregation, the leaders there may want to get to know us and observe how faithful we’re going to be before doling out large responsibilities. In my late 20s, for instance, I began attending a new church plant. I asked the pastor where I could be of use, and he had no shortage of answers. I served as a greeter. I helped take up the collection each week. I eventually was asked to help lead a fourth- and fifth-grade class on Wednesday nights, which was an eye-opening experience. Then I started serving as a small-group leader.

About a year or so after I’d become a member and volunteering weekly in those various capacities, my pastor asked me if I’d be willing to consider being an elder. He told me at that point that when it came to spiritual leadership in the church, he always liked to give people small opportunities to contribute and then watch to see how consistent and faithful they would be before asking them to take on more responsibilities. Likewise, you may be in a situation where you’re ready to dive in wholeheartedly, but the spiritual leaders in your church may want to get to know you and observe you for a bit before entrusting big responsibilities to you.  

Finally, whether we’re pretty certain we understand how God has wired us, or whether we have no idea, it’s also helpful to remember that we’re always a work in progress. I once had a veteran leadership development expert whom I worked with at The Navigators tell me that our 20s and early 30s are a time of exploration and development. Those years aren’t a season in which we’re supposed to have it all nailed down. Rather, it’s a season to learn, grow, gather data and begin to develop a sense of who we are. With regard to ministry and service, he said we should strive to say yes as much as possible just to give ourselves varied opportunities and “data points” to gradually discover how God has knit us together.

So with all of that in mind, it’s time to get out there and start serving! 

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  • --I find it curious that other than Martha's original "Rock the Body" post (which had 12 responses), for the NEXT 6 BLOG POSTS on serving your church, there are only TWO (2) posts in response to it (well, three since I just posted).  None of the "regulars" have posted, nor hardly anyone else for that matter.

    I'm not sure how this is should be interpreted.  Is it that despite all the preaching about serving in the church, that very few young adults are actually doing it?  Is it that they are serving but don't want to share their story to encourage others?  Maybe serving just isn't on their radar at all.  Or that they are so busy with other activities (school, hobbies, social engagements, downtime, etc) that they don't have the time or energy to serve.

    I'm just going to say it, which is related to this issue and I believe is the elephant in the room.  People  wonder why Millenials are so disillusioned by the church, and why the church doesn't do more to reach out to them.  To be sure, as some have pointed out, the Church can be wrongfully judgemental, not concerned about "social issues", etc.  But I don't think that is the main reason (and I would simply ask, :"OK.  So the Church isn't relating to you guys.  What are YOU doing as a generation to help be a part of the solution?")  But largely it has little to do with the "style" of worship or not engaging in social justice.  It's all about the money.  You look at who gives the most, and it's the older generations (around age 40+).  Even if you account for Millenials having less money overall due to not having climbed the corporate ladder yet, having more student loan debt, etc. they still give a paltry amount financially (either absolutely or a percentage of their income), even if they give at all.  Well, from a purely administrative and pragmatic point of view, who are you going to cater to?  A group which seems to be nothing but takers and not givers (including serving), or those who are paying your bills for the building and staff?  I know this sounds scandalous, but no large organization is immune from political influences.  I don't know of a good solution to this, as you'd be asking one group (the Givers) to support another group (the Takers) for "nothing in return".

  • --Re: MikeTime

    I could be wrong, but my suspicion is that the majority of service in a church is done by a smaller group of people. In other words, it's another case of the 80-20 rule. If that is the case, then:

    1. As you've already mentioned, many people would have nothing to say because they're not currently serving in a church.

    2. Those who are serving would most likely be heavily involved in multiple ministries. As a result, they choose not to reply either because they're too busy to do so, or perhaps because they don't want to appear boastful (or scare off those who have just started serving).

  • --(1) Why are we not commenting?  Because all of the blog posts are on the same topic so I don't know which one to choose so ... I don't comment at all. :p

    (2) Regarding serving in the church, someone mentioned on another post that to do so in her church, you had to go through a course and become a full-fledged member first.  That's a scary amount of commitment for Gen Y.  Especially if you have a haphazard schedule which, let's be honest, most of us do.

    I'd be happy to stack chairs or other menial tasks, but if you require me to do a 6 week course first? ...Not gonna happen.  Which I think is how the majority of people react.  We're selfish.  

  • --Kelly_1 you said:

    "I'd be happy to stack chairs or other menial tasks, but if you require me to do a 6 week course first? ...Not gonna happen"

    I think that's the exception rather than the rule.  Maybe at that particular church, but I've never encountered any church which requires a rigorous 6-week course to do things like help setup/breakdown a room for events, volunteer at a church-sponsored event at a shelter, bring food for needy families, you get the idea.

    More involved ministry such as teaching a Sunday school class, working in nursury, etc. I can definitely see some training and a certification process, but again, the inconvenience is I think less than most people think it is.

  • --Kell-1, if someone finds a church that you attend enough to want to volunteer there, you should have to go through membership . Proper controls on membership, and church discipline on the other end, are vital to the health of the instituton. For a counter example, just look at most long-standing institutions in America where cultural marxists and other commies have rotted them from the inside.

    If joining a church is just too much for Millenials/Gen Yers, then they deserve the disdain they receive from older, more mature people.

  • --i haven't commented much on the blog posts because like Kelly1 said, they're all on the same topic so when I comment on one, that pretty much takes care of the others, LOL.  Part of it could be people just don't really have much more to say. I know that while I agree with the points made on each blog post about service there's just not much more I feel i can add, so i don't.

  • --Re: Greg

    I agree.

  • --Official church membership is near-impossible in my situation:

    - I spend 2 months of the year in another country

    - I spend half my weekends of the rest of the year in another (different) country

    So I attend 3 different churches at a minimum... I'm just glad that my "home church" (the one I grew up in) still considers me a member without the time requirement and I do get to help out there.  e.g. I'll be home for 3 weeks over Christmas and no one blinks an eye when I suddenly appear in the church choir.  But the choir at the church in the city where I live?  Nope.  I need to be a full-fledged member and go through ~2 months of training - requiring me to be IN TOWN for 8 consecutive weekends.  Not gonna happen!

  • --The lack of comments is also because some of us are suddenly experiencing tech issues this week. The blog frames aren't loading/displaying (Martha's working on it, and has emailed me a couple times. :)  ).

    But if I have to try six times to load every page, I'm not going to 1) be able to read the posts, and 2) be able to comment. So maybe don't read quite as much into people's motives.  It might just be a computer thing.

  • --Honestly I have been extremely busy with work the last month... thank the Lord it's behind me now. (and my extra effort appears to have paid off)  I did check the blog every few days...noticed there wasn't a lot of commenting and decided I'd take a longer look at the posts another time.  

    My service has fallen into two categories over the years... one is design related - using my art skills... storyboards for videos, designing the animal characters for the Sunday School rooms.(still very proud of that)  The other type is just the behind-the-scenes type of thing, which I also enjoy - setting up chairs, setting up the youth skate park...which went away when they made a permanent one, lol.

    But I admit my resume has been pretty thin the last 3-4 years... I suppose first thing's first - need to get back to regular attendance.  I've been spotty this year.  I'm sure there are things for a soon-to-be 34 yr old single guy to do... not sure what that is just yet.

  • --I too was surprised to see the lack of comments on the recent blog posts, and it makes me sad to think that perhaps this might reflect the apathy many people from our generation have towards serving and the many excuses that are offered for not serving. I've been involved in several ministries to various degrees since I was in junior high, from volunteering in the nursery, teaching preschool Sunday school, and being a youth leader to being on the worship team, finances, and board of directors. To me, seeving has been an integral part of being part of the body of Christ, because being part of the church body means participating and contributing. I recently got married and moved to a new city and church, and for the first time in over a decade I don't have any official commitments in the church other than attending worship services and a small group that my husband and I recently joined. We are both enjoying this break but also looking forward to getting more involved and volunteering as opportunities come up. I do wish that serving was more second nature in young adults, whether it's bringing snacks to small group, volunteer for a special event, serve in a regular ministry, and make themselves useful to the body.

  • --There's a difference between apathy and ambivalence. A year ago, I would have had something to contribute about serving the church. I could have looked like a good Christian millennial, not a bad, selfish one. Please be careful about labeling people and dividing them into givers or takers. That kind of attitude gets toxic in a church. I hate the way it eats compassion and feeds resentment and discouragement. Each person has a story, don't assume you know the true version.

    My post sounds angry because . . . well, because I am - but not at you all who've posted here. What you said was fine (for what my opinion's worth), and we do need to think about everything you brought up. Just please don't be quick to think you know what's really happening - especially as relates to individuals in your lives. This series is a (needed) cheering session for serving the church. Some of us just can't cheer. But we can love and learn, heal and grow. It may take time, but I believe we'll get there.

  • --MikeTime,

    Perhaps they aren't responding because they are active in, "Rock the Body"?  :)

    The reason I haven't responded to the posts is that the fall semester ministry at my church has started fully.  I'm leading an 11 week inductive Bible study which started last week.  I don't have the same amount of time to read Boundless (as much as I'd like to) and respond occasionally as I did during my summer break from leading.   I have time to read the weekly "Rock the Body" challenge posts & I try to read the other applicable blog postings.  Also, two weeks ago, a younger co-worker asked me to teach her the Bible.  She's a newer believer and she wasn't wanting to make a 5hr/week commitment to Bible study homework covering the book of I John, for 11 weeks, like those taking the night class I lead at my church have made.  Also, I didn't think that would be the best way to begin:  for someone for whom English isn't her first language, for someone who said she  has barely read any of the Bible, and for one who says she knows little about God.  But, she said she wants to know God better, to know the Bible, etc.  Therefore, she and I are going to study the Gospel of John with a workbook which requires a smaller time commitment.  And, it will still equip her to learn how to study the Bible for herself.

    :).  So, that's why I haven't been posting!

  • --I haven't posted very much lately because:

    1) All the blog posts are somewhat similar, so there's no point in posting similar comments in every blog.

    2) I've been busy exploring the possibility of a new relationship for the past month, and haven't had quite as much time to be on Boundless because I have to get more "stuff" done during the week so that my weekends are free for dates!  

    But on the topic of serving...  I served faithfully in my church for years.  I think I've shared some of the details before, but the short of it is that I was hurt deeply by a few members of the church leadership several years ago, and ended up changing churches.  As a new "regular attender" at a large church, I had a hard time finding my place.  I participated in a small group, and really tried to pour everything I could into that group by hosting them in my home, signing up for food duty, volunteering to coordinate events, etc.  I also volunteered on a team that set up chairs for the service in the life building each week.  When the small group fizzled, I began attending another church that was a lot smaller and more traditional.  That church is willing to let me volunteer for things, but I can't take on any real responsibility or "official" duties until I join as a full member.  I'm not opposed to joining, but I just haven't done so yet.  A couple months ago, I began volunteering at a tiny church that had a very specific need for someone with my particular skill set.  It feels SO good to be serving again on a regular basis.  It's only a temporary position, but I'm grateful for the chance to serve and use the talents and gifts that God has given me.    

  • --Before I wasn't sure what church to go to, but today it was crystal clear that I'm in the right place, so I can start getting more involved, probably in the homeless ministry. When you go waaaay outside the denominational comfort zone you grew up in, it can take time to acclimate, but it's worth it to me because this church is the most like Jesus that I've ever seen.

    I didn't use the church search as a lame excuse not to serve. I have been involved in another church's ministry for a long time, including a big event they had recently, and now I'm going to be taking on a minor leadership position. Most churches do not have this type of ministry, so it is important for the community. I've also been volunteering at the local food bank, and I started a training course to learn how to tutor children. I am going to be careful not to sign up for too many things, but none of the ones so far are big time commitments, and I have a lot of time on my hands.    

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