Are you serving for affirmation?
JH Kwek // September 18, 2018, 3:49 pm
I suspect that many of you reading this article are serving in churches, or are at least in some position of responsibility or authority.
You might be a ministry head, cell leader, mentor. Or you might be the guy who stacks chairs after service. Whatever role we play, most of us participate in this church structure not merely as members, but as people who lead, serve and hold positions – whose roles play an important part in the weekly running of a church service.
Thing is, I believe that across many churches, it has become ingrained into the culture that one should “step up” into service and leadership as quickly as possible.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with leading and serving in church. Indeed, my very act of writing at present is a conscious act of service unto the larger church body. Paul exhorts us in 1 Corinthians 14:12 to “strive to excel in building up the church”, so we must exercise our gifts and discharge our duties in service.
I suspect that for many of us, affirmation has become the main reason why we lead and serve in church.
But here’s the potential problem: the addiction to affirmation in the course of serving and ministry.
- “Wow, thank you so much for serving.”
- “That was a really great point you made.”
- “Great job today, I really enjoyed worship.”
Ever heard these before? To be clear, there’s also nothing wrong with affirmation. It’s a good thing to honour and encourage one another. But I suspect that for many of us, affirmation has become the main reason why we lead and serve in church.
Isn’t it addictive? To hear how great your Bible study session was? How amazing your voice was in worship, or how much the church appreciates your sacrifice?
And how easy it is to play by the rules! Many of us who have grown up in church are so familiar with the structures and scaffoldings of church life, that we’ve crafted for ourselves ideal ways to receive affirmation.
There are many reasons why someone might attend a church.
Curiosity, anger, romance – the people that flow in and out of a church’s doors are diverse both in appearance and purpose.
Yet I venture that this variation in purpose might well exist within the church. I say this with confidence because this same devious purpose – to receive affirmation – was what kept me in church for 12 years.
And so when I failed in my ministry tasks, or messed up during a worship set – my joy was robbed from me. My very purpose in church was taken away, and I was left with nothing but emptiness where once was the affirmation of those around me.
What robs us of our joy? Are we filled with despair when we fail at a task in church? Or when we offend those we respect? When we are not commended for what we have done?
These are important questions to ask ourselves, not just because they pertain to church participation, but because they pertain to our very salvation.
The main reason for gathering together as a church isn’t to say nice things to each other or make each other feel good – it is to glorify Christ!
Ephesians 2 clearly spells out that we gather together with Christ Jesus as the Cornerstone, in whom we all grow together into a holy temple unto the Lord.
Any affirmation must come out from sincere faith in Christ Jesus, which leads us to love and care for one another. Indeed, sincere faith in Christ Jesus might also lead us to do things that seemingly run contrary to affirmation. In Galatians 2 Paul recounts how he called Peter out on his sin – how his conduct was not in step with the truth of the Gospel.
That is what sincere faith in Jesus Christ looks like: while we affirm, we also correct. We do this not to destroy, but to restore each other to walking in step with the Gospel.
Does that bring us joy? Do we see correction and discipline as a necessary and good part of church life? To come to church for affirmation is to completely miss the purpose of gathering together as a church.
Ask God to reveal the true foundation of your life: is it about yourself or the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:20)
It took me 12 years to fully realise that my participation in church life didn’t come out of a sincere faith in Jesus and commitment to His body – I was simply hungry for affirmation.
I didn’t have any real faith in Jesus Christ. Instead, I harboured the desire to see myself worshipped and adored.
It is my prayer and hope that we do not deceive ourselves into thinking we are worshipping Jesus when we are really just worshipping ourselves! Far better that we know now, and know rightly, than to discover too late the corrupted foundations we had built our whole lives upon.
So what gives us joy? Let the answer be Christ, and Christ alone!