It’s not about you.
That’s the first line of the first chapter of Rick Warren’s bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life. Say what you want about the book, that’s a great first line, and it is packed with more truth than four words can usually handle.
He also stole it from me. Or at least I like to think so. I never wrote it down or copyrighted it, but it’s been the driving thought of my ministry. Like most everyone, maturity had to teach me to get over myself, that what I want or desire is not the focal point of all human existence. It’s not about me.
When I put this into practice in daily life, it changes me in all sorts of ways, big and small. I hold the door open for everyone else to go in. I let someone else have the good parking spot. I’ll even let my family choose what to watch on TV. Unless the Packers are on. I’m still a work in progress.
I’ve also come to the point of followership – my preferred term for discipleship – where I’m striving to find the words and the ways to win over those who have no connection to Jesus, or are just starting out in their journey with Him. This is what Paul is talking about in one of my favorite chapters in all Scripture, Philippians 2:
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. Philippians 2:1-5 (NIV)
Obviously we will have to take into account our own interests, but we subjugate them to the interests and needs of others. That’s what love is. That’s what love does. That’s Jesus. Putting others always before Himself. Not coming to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.
This works also in the ministry of His people. We are not here to serve ourselves. The church is not for members only – though I have seen a few mission statements from congregations who are there to “serve our members.” In our church, we’re reaching others with the same sacrificial, unconditional love that God used to reach us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Yes, we have been reached. We have been served. We have been saved. But the next step in the process is for us then to become practitioners and distributors of that same love of Christ.
In our ministry, this is why we have become focused on reaching into our community, to be God’s messengers to those who don’t know what it’s like to live for something or Someone beyond yourself. And the most vulnerable among us – those at the greatest risk of falling to the sinful and selfish ways of the devil and the world – are the young. Now more than ever, the younger generations are walking away from God and Church, or never even entering in the first place. And they’re not coming back.
Those are your children, your grandchildren. God wants them back. So do I.
So we focus a lot of our ministry on children and youth, because they need it. That also means that we have to reach the parents of these kids, without whom we lose two or three generations, not just one. By the grace of Jesus and the inspiration of His Holy Spirit, we’ve called a new staff that is focused on reaching generations beyond our own. We budget and plan for ministries that are especially designed to connect with those under 40.
And we have a building plan concept that by design will launch us into the next 20 years of reaching a community and a generation that otherwise will pass us by. More on that in a moment.
I’ve heard it said a few times around SHLC that we need to do more for our seniors. We certainly want to look to the interests of everyone, and we’re working on plans to provide more ministry resources for our retirees and empty nesters. But I’m not fearful of losing them from the Kingdom, unlike our children and teens. So we’ll do what we can, but in the meantime, I’m counting on our seniors to know where to find more food for their faith, and to draw strength and comfort from one another. Our kids don’t have that luxury.
We also need to keep this in mind with our building conversations. It’s not about me. It’s not about you, either. I’m not interested in building the church I want. I’m trusting the Holy Spirit to build the church He wants, and that our children and grandchildren need. That means it probably won’t look like the church I grew up in. But the church I grew up in is on the verge of closing, because for 50 years now that church and thousands like it thought they were there to serve their members. So their kids, totally uninspired by that me-first mentality, left. Too many of the older folks expected the younger ones to follow exactly in their own footsteps, and to like it. Instead, the younger folks walked right out the door.
This is where we come together, as Paul said, by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. If there’s something you don’t get or you don’t like, then you and I get together and talk it through.
But our focus cannot be on ourselves. In 20 years, when I’ve announced my retirement, to coincide with the retirement of the debt on our building, the people who will be leading the ministry and burning that mortgage will be our children and grandchildren.
And they’ll have Jesus to thank for it. So will we.