It’s easy to view church as just another “commercial service.” After all, we’re used to all sorts of services in our society.
There are shopping centers that seek to serve our material needs. There are restaurants that seek to serve our food needs. And, there are all sorts of technicians who are able to come to our homes to fix appliances, install our cable T.V., clean our homes, do our yardwork or do what we can’t or don’t want to do.
We’re used to being consumers and being served. However, church is different.
Becoming Servants in Imitation of Christ
At church, we become the servants. Our task is to help others. This is “loving your neighbor.” Or, to call it by another name, this is “ministry.”
In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul tells us this:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
(PHILIPPIANS 2:507 RSV)
We see Jesus the servant when he empties himself and dies on the cross for us.
We see Jesus the servant when he takes the time to teach and preach even when he wanted time alone to pray.
We see Jesus the servant when he willingly comes into contact with unclean people, risking his own health, in order to heal them.
We see Jesus the servant when he goes into the homes of “dirty Gentiles” rather than thinking about his own reputation.
We see Jesus the servant when he bends down and washes the feet of his disciples. Can you imagine? The teacher–the master!–bending down to wash the feet of arrogant students!
As our Master Does, so Do We Do
It is this Jesus, the servant, that we are to mimic. Though the entirety of our life is should fit this pattern–both in church and in the world–liturgy is a place we can practice.
How do we do this? We do this by ministering to one another.
As I mentioned above, it’s easy to think of church as a place to go to fulfill your own needs. If we think this way, we fall into clericalism–the priests and other staff members become “employees” and congregants become “employers,” or priests’ egos swell and they boss others around. But this isn’t how church is to work. This isn’t the gospel vision of the Christian walk.
In church, we get our “gospel assignment.” In other words, it’s where we are taught *how* to be Christians. And it starts with our ministries to one another. In my church, for example, we have greeters, chanters, readers, and fellowship hosts.
The greeter is the first “hello” we receive when we enter the church. This is an important job. Greeters show up at 8:45 am to welcome those who come for Orthros and those who come to Liturgy. They help our guests feel at home, and they make sure we have the what we need for liturgy.
The chanters lead us in the hymns. Chanting requires constant practice in order to be prepared for services. Though they lead us in the singing, they aren’t the only ones who sing. Everyone joins their voices together with the chanters so that we all praise Christ for his mercy towards us. Scientists say that those who sing together have their heartbeats synched. It’s amazing how singing brings us together.
The reader proclaims the gospel from the Acts and Letters of Paul, John, and Peter. Public speaking is not always easy, especially when you have to chant back and forth with the “Alleluias.” However, there’s nothing more important than proclaiming the Word of God. How awesome it is to be a reader.
At the end of Liturgy, our ministry to one another doesn’t end. We always have faithful, dedicated folks who provide a wonderful fellowship meal. Sometimes it’s something simple, other times it’s a wonderful taste of home cooking from around the world. Either way, it’s hospitality at it’s best.
There are lots of other ways we minister to each other as well. It takes a lot to run a church. We also need ministries that seek to serve the community as well–the poor, the hungry, the outcast, the downtrodden, the imprisoned, the naked, the friendless, and the orphaned among many others. But it starts at church.
We go to church to perfect our skills at loving our neighbor by first learning to love one another. After all, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
P.S. What’s Your “Gospel Assignment”?