How to Serve Your Church – Part 2

Giving handsAt the end of my last post, I asked an important question. “Are you serving the body of Christ, utilizing the gifts you have been given by the grace of God to serve your church?” We understand the importance of using our spiritual gifts to serve the body of Christ. What believer doesn’t desire to do that? The truth is, there are many churches that struggle here. For some people, it’s like pulling teeth trying to get them to serve the body. For others, it seems to come naturally. Others serve, but they find it hard to make the time, or they find that serving their church is a greater frustration than a blessing. So they do it, but they dread it. Now, it’s a good thing when someone serves the body even when they don’t feel like doing it. The New Testament commands us to serve our church – that means that we obey, whether our hearts are in it or not. Obey, and pray that the Lord would also give you the desire to obey. Whatever your situation though, using your spiritual gifts to serve the body of Christ is a matter of obedience.

Paul said in Galatians 5:13, “Through love, serve one another.”

Interesting thing about that…

That word “serve” is actually the verb form of the Greek word that means “slave.” So, what Paul is actually saying is “be a slave toward one another,” or “act as a slave toward one another.” The word literally means, “to be owned by another,” or “to act or conduct oneself as one in total service to another.” And how are we to do it? Paul says in Ephesians 6:7, “With good will, render service (same word) as to the Lord, and not to men.” In other words, recognize that you serve, ultimately, because you are serving Christ. Paul isn’t going out on a limb here either. He’s not stretching his point. This is exactly what Jesus Himself said:

“I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.” Then the righteous will answer Him, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” The King will answer and say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”

– Matt. 25:35-40

That is to say, serving the body of Christ is important!

Now, when Paul says to “serve one another” though, he’s using a different word than is used for gifts of service. That word is the same word used for “deacon.” So, there’s a very real sense in which every member of the church is called to be a deacon, because every member is called to be a servant! Diakonos, diakoneo, and diakonia – three different forms of the same word used to describe deacons. All three words are descriptive; they describe the act service to meet the needs of another person. Other than that, the NT is deliberately vague, though the qualifications are very specific (cf. 1 Tim. 3:8-13). In fact, it seems that the criteria for determining whether the word diakonos is translated as “deacon” vs. “servant” is somewhat arbitrary.

Most go to Acts 6:1-6 to find the first deacons appointed in the NT, but you’ll notice that in that passage, diakonos is translated as “serve” (vs. 3). But then, in 1 Tim. 3:8, the same word is translated “deacon.” Actually, it’s transliterated – meaning that instead of translating the word’s meaning, the Greek letters were assigned English letters to create a new English word. A modern example… my last name is “Tarr,” but that’s actually a transliteration of the German word “Durr.” Translated, the word means, “dry,” or “barren.” I’m not sure what to make of that… but let’s just say I’m glad that when my ancestors came to America, they transliterated my last name instead of translating it!

But then we look at 1 Tim. 3:13, where we see a great example of diakonos being translated, versus being transliterated. “For those who have served well as deacons…” If you translated both usages of diakonos in that passage, it would read, “For those who have served well as servants.” If you transliterated both usages of diakonos in that passage, it would read, “For those who have deaconed well as deacons.” Another example, in Philippians 1:1, Paul says, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with overseers and deacons…” But then the same word transliterated “deacon” in Phil. 1:1 is translated as “servant” in Romans 16:1, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea.”

So, you might be wondering I took the time to point all that out. It’s for this reason:

Don’t leave all the work of service to deacons. Yes – we have designated those in our church as deacons who have particularly demonstrated that they “serve as servants.” But what I have shown you in this post is that it is expected in the NT that all the members of the church “serve as servants!” Everyone is called the serve the church. Deacons have simply been identified as those who help oversee that serving in order to relieve the elders from that responsibility. Yes, elders still serve! But their primary focus is the ministry of the Word. If they allow the serving of tables to interfere with that responsibility, then they are being poor stewards.

And how has the Lord equipped us to serve the church? It is with the use of our spiritual gifts. At this point your response might be, “Okay, I understand I need to serve the church. I need to be a slave of the church. But how? I don’t know what my spiritual gifts are!”

I want to help you with that.

First, be confident that if you’re a Christian, you have spiritual gifts to serve the body. I established that, as well as what spiritual gifts aren’t in my last post – How to Serve Your Church – Part 1. 

Second, be confident of the importance of using your spiritual gifts to serve your church. I established that above.

But now you might be wondering how you can identify your spiritual gifts. Remember, spiritual gifts are called “spiritual gifts” because they are administered to Christians as a grace gift through the Holy Spirit to serve the body of Christ.

Well, it can hardly be understood what your spiritual gift is if you don’t first understand what the church is (the body of Christ). I’ll briefly remind you that the church is the body of believers. If you are not a believer, you are not part of the body of Christ. The implications of that statement are profound, but we’ll leave those implications for another post. So, first understand that the church is made up of believers.

Second, the purpose of the church is to serve and make disciples. You have to understand this as well. Your spiritual gift should function to accomplish this purpose. To say you understand the nature of spiritual gifts without understanding the purpose of the church is like saying you understand the nature of an archery tournament, but you have no idea what a target is! It’s like running a race without knowing where the finish line is. To know your gift (and how to use it), you have to know what the purpose of the church is.

Ephesians 4:11-12 says that God called some to be apostles, as prophets, evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers. Why? So that His church would be equipped to serve (vs. 12). Why is it so important that we be equipped? It’s very simple. Because we’re called to make disciples (Matt. 28:19). That means we are called to share the gospel and lead others to Christ, but our work doesn’t end there. Each of us are called to make disciples. That means each of us is called to train others in the way of Christ. If we’re not doing that, we’re being disobedient.

That is what God intended spiritual gifts to accomplish. Spiritual gifts are for the body of Christ to fulfill the purpose of the body of Christ.

Scripture provides a list of spiritual gifts in a few places. There are a variety of them (1 Cor. 12:4), and altogether they are: word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, healings, miracles, prophecy, distinguishing spirits (i.e. – the ability to discern false from true religion), tongues, interpretation of tongues, service, teaching, exhortation, giving, and leadership (cf. 1 Cor. 12:8-11; Rom. 12:6-8). Of course, the miraculous sign gifts that functioned to validate the message of the apostles, such as healings, miracles, and tongues, have ceased. But as for the rest, where do you fit?

Every believer has at least one, but every gift falls into one of two categories – either a form of teaching or serving (1 Pet. 4:11). As for your gift, you may not know what it is, but it’s not very difficult to figure out. Don’t over-think it. The list Scripture provides isn’t exhaustive, but I like what MacArthur says – they are the manifestation of the life of Christ:

Spiritual gifts are divine enablements for ministry, characteristics of Jesus Christ that are to be manifested through the corporate body just as they were manifested through the incarnate body.

They are designed to build up one another into the image of Christ. So, what do you for your church to help build up others into the image of Christ? Answer that question and you’ve discovered your spiritual gift! You’ll find that many times, they are the things you tend to naturally do for the church – things that you may not think are a big deal. You might say, “Yeah, but this is easy. Anyone can do this, it just so happens that I’m the one doing it!” The truth is, you may think that’s the case, but only because of how you’ve been gifted! It’s still important. For instance, you might have the gift of giving – giving your time, resources, skill, or finances – whatever the case may be. You might think, “Yeah, but isn’t that what the whole church should be doing?” Yes… but you have a unique joy in giving and you go above and beyond. You do it sacrificially, and without the praise and publicity that might come with it. You take great pleasure in serving your Lord by sacrificial giving. Let me ask you, “Is that natural?” I hardly think so!

So, how do you know what your gift is? First, what is your desire? And second, can the church confirm that your desire is your gift? The first part might be easy to identify, but the second… well, that depends on how loving your church is. You have to have both parts working together. You might have a desire, but that doesn’t mean you have the gift and it takes a loving church to tell you that. “Brother, I love that you want to do this, but I don’t think this is your gift.” That means you’ll need a humble heart to hear the confirmation (or lack thereof) from your church. “Friend, I love that you want to serve our church by singing. But friend, I’m not sure if anyone’s ever told you this… you’re tone-deaf! Your voice is, well… painful.” Of course, I’m being humorous, but you get the idea! 😉 Match up your desire to what your church can confirm is the Lord’s work in you. You’ll save yourself a lot of frustration, heartache, and potential embarrassment. Not only that, but your church won’t benefit from your service in the way that you had hoped.

So, know your gift, and use it!

If you struggle knowing what it is, first ask yourself, “What do I love doing for my church that helps the body conform into the image of Christ?” Then find members of the church who know you well, and who you know will speak to you honestly, and ask them, “This is what I enjoy doing to serve our church – do you think this is how I’m gifted?”

About Matt Tarr

Matt Tarr is the pastor-teacher of High Point Baptist Church in Larksville, PA. He is a graduate of The Master's Seminary and the Grace Advance Academy, and has formerly served in the Scranton Rescue Mission as well as in the Pastoral Care and Counseling Department at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA. He is also a contributor and editor for Matt has passion for accurately handling the Word of God, discipleship, evangelism, and encouraging others to honor Christ by their Christian living. He also enjoys spending time with his wife, Melody, and his two sons, Jonathan and Timothy.

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