I am not sure why or how we’ve come to think of serving in the church as only applying to those with a position, be it an usher, sound man, part of the music team, nursery worker, Sunday school teacher, youth leader, or secretary. Perhaps they are the easiest to identify, or they feel the most active, or they have a title, but whatever it is, these seem to define service in the church. It’s not that these aren’t great and necessary ways to serve, but they are limited. They do not apply to all, so not all who fill the pews can fill these positions.
We might, then, think of the prayer-warrior, greeter, or other undefined and unregulated acts of service as unofficial positions in the church. But that still doesn’t include everyone. The question we as church members face is how we all can serve in the church. Or worded another way, can those who sit in the pews bring value to the church?
One of the great troubles we face is our modern perspective of those sitting in the pews as passive onlookers. Many churches have done a complete turn back to the philosophy of the Catholic Church, especially the Catholic Church of the 1500s in how they view the pew, and we see it in what they place front and center.
The Catholic Church prioritized Mass, so they placed the table front and centre. When the Reformers started churches, they removed the table, and in its place, set a pulpit. Today, many churches have replaced the pulpit with a stage and an easily removable lectern.
For the Reformers, those in the pew were to actively hear the Word, conform themselves to the Word and encourage each other in the Word. They had a place for everyone to serve, be active, and feel part of the church.
However, for the Catholic Church, the people filling the pews were there to watch, not participate. They let the ‘professionals’ do the spiritual work, and the people were left with only two options: serve God by becoming a priest/monk/nun, or don’t serve God at all. There was no active role in serving God for the common folk; all they could do was watch. They were just there to be entertained.
Similarly, there is nothing for those in the pews (or chairs) for our modern churches to do other than enjoy the singing and music that takes up an increasing part of worship. So Christians today do not see sitting in the pews Sunday after Sunday as a place to serve. They have to look outside Sunday worship and even outside their churches to their communities for opportunities to serve.
This is why the question is important to consider.
In the introduction to the book of Romans, Paul gives us an answer few consider today as really being service in the church. He writes of how he longs to travel to Rome to meet and fellowship with the believers there.
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. (Romans 1:8-12)
The last sentence is of particular interest to us. Paul, an apostle, writing to ordinary Christians, tells them he longs to be encouraged by their faith. When we consider Paul's authority and status in the Church and then consider the believers to whom he writes, we should be astounded at this statement.
When we consider Paul’s statement, there is no position too high or too low that does not fit into this service in the church. It is for everyone. Not only that, but it is one of the greatest ways to serve each other. It is what Paul first thought about when he thought of the Christians in Rome.
Think about your local church, the people attending there, and then think of them in light of Paul’s statement. How are you doing in encouraging one another’s faith? Do you value the faith of your brothers and sisters with whom you share a pew?
There is a place for you to serve in the church. You don’t need a title, and you don’t need a position. You simply have to show up. But, this means the weather and work are not all that important in your conversation. They have their place in relating to others, but the substance of fellowship is found in encouraging one another in the faith.
How do we encourage in the faith? We dwell on gospel promises, consider and think deeply about the truth, care for others’ physical needs, lend an ear to those who face trouble, and the list goes on. Most important is our aim to direct each other nearer to Christ, to build confidence, hope, and trust in Christ.
So when you go to church (in whatever form you meet) this coming Lord’s Day, encourage one another in the faith by your steadfastness in the truth of the gospel, your hope in the promises of God, and your willingness to serve.