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One Simple Word


As a part of the daily rhythm of my job, I meet with lots of people. In fact, one of the things I love most about my work as a pastor is that these meetings often lead to deep conversations. The overwhelming majority of them are fantastic and life giving, as we talk about the things that matter most in our lives. But every once in a while, there are conversations that are not quite so awesome and they give me a lot to think about in my spare time. I want to share a conversation from the second category today, because I believe it is important. I am pretty sure that it gets at the heart of why church in Western culture is increasingly relegated to the margins of people’s lives.

A few weeks ago, someone asked to meet with me to talk about our community, the First Baptist Church of Augusta. He wanted to talk about the direction our church was taking as we move into the future. Over the past year, we have begun to make a concerted effort to reach out to folks in our city who have given up on faith. Whether they have been burned in the past or simply decided that Christianity is irrelevant to their lived-experience, we are working incredibly hard to connect this particular group of people with Jesus Christ and a community of faith. Our effort has led us to ask deep questions about how we use the resources of our church. While much of our church’s life has remained the same, some priorities have begun to noticeably shift. My friend wanted to talk about those changes.

After a few minutes of small talk, mostly around sports and family, we got to the heart of our conversation. His concern was legitimate and echoes what many Christians, evangelical or mainline, would say if they were pressed on the issue. “Will”, he said, “your job is to take care of the people who are inside this church. I don’t understand why you care so much about people who don’t belong here. Take care of the people who are already members, because that is why you were hired”. I want to make a comment before getting to the heart of the conversation.

I agree with this gentleman, part of the responsibility of the church is to take care of each other. One of the earliest stories of our faith, in the book of Acts, teaches us that the church shared a common life and when someone was in need, others in the community responded with generosity and concern. Absolutely, the church is called to take care of people who share a belief in Christ. What makes us different than the culture around us is that we do care about each other in a way that goes beyond the superficiality of social media. But, and it is a big but, this is not an either/or scenario. Yes, we care for those already in the church, but a huge part of following Jesus is sharing our faith, because it has given us joy and hope for our daily lives. Without question we are called to care for our community and reach out with the beauty of the gospel to the world around us. We can do both. We must do both.

As the conversation moved forward, the next comment is the one that gave me pause for thought and, honestly, set me back on my heels.

“Will, you need to take care of the people inside the church because you work for us”.

I didn’t respond immediately because I wanted to process the comment. As a wise mentor taught me, one of my goals as a human being is to be a non-reactive presence in the world. So, I sat there wondering how many people feel this way about the staff of their churches? How many ministers/preachers/pastors feel that way about their communities? I paused for a moment to think about those words, “you work for us”. After a moment of quiet, I looked at my friend and told him two things. The first is obvious and the second should change the way we think about church and community. I simply said this,

Actually, I don’t work for you, I work for Jesus Christ. My first priority is to be certain that I am doing work that celebrates and honors Jesus, the Resurrected Son of God. But just as important for our conversation, I don’t work for you, I work with you. We are part of this community, together, and we have to understand that I, and the rest of the staff, work with the church. Friend, I don’t work for you, I work with you.”

One simple word can make an exponential difference for the church. If pastors only work for the church, then their resources, energy, and passion will always gravitate inward. If that is the case, then communities of faith will continue in a trend of death and will increasingly be irrelevant to the world around them, in large part because they can’t see beyond themselves. However, if pastors and communities of faith work with each other, then the possibilities are endless. When we find ourselves working with, then community is real and the faith of Jesus is shared with the culture around us because we are all together in our goals. One simple word can make all the difference. I don’t know anyone who signed up to work for a church, but I know countless people who are thrilled at the possibility of working with a community who loves Jesus and other people.

I am going to take the liberty of paraphrasing Paul, who said in Galatians 3:26-28,

“So in Christ Jesus, you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ. There is neither Jew or Gentile, neither slave or free, neither male or female, staff or congregation, for you are all one in Jesus Christ.”

Grace and Peace,


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