From Spectators to Servants
It doesn’t take much energy to be a spectator. Just watch the action on the field. Then you can cheer when you approve and boo when you don’t. But following Jesus was never meant to be a spectator sport. One eager to please God is determined to get out of the bleachers and into the game. Serving others is to be the norm not the exception in the family of God!
I’m so glad that we can be here together today. I’m really looking forward to this time in our services, I do every week, where we get to open God’s word. We get to explore what it is he wants to say to us, not just for the sake of our hearing it, but doing what he says and being a different kind of people.
Sometimes I’m asked, “Hey Joe, do you like football?” And the answer is, “yes.” I really do. I grew up playing football and I grew up as a fan, going to lots of different games. I’m especially enamored with college football. There is nothing like the spirit in college games and I love the enthusiasm. Specifically, I’m a fan of SEC football. South-Eastern Conference football. And specifically, I’m a fan of the University of Georgia. I love those games. As a kid growing up, going to all of these games… There was such elaborate celebration associated with what went on in those games.
Two years ago, Tricia and I had a chance to go back to a Georgia game. It was the very same year that Georgia played for the national championship later that year against Alabama. And lost. Oh boy. I feel like I need a moment of silence, but that’s no good, I’ll continue.
What an environment! Prior to the game, we’re in this stadium, just electricity in the air. All the stadiums have big screens now and on the big screen prior to the game they’re showing all these clips. Historic clips of Georgia games and I’m sitting there going, “I remember that game. I was at that game. I saw them win that game. That’s when they did….whatever,” and it was just so moving to me. Anytime you put music behind pictures… already I’m getting a little misty-eyed before the game starts and then at that point, here comes the team out of the tunnel. This explosion of cheering and the band plays that one and only song for the University of Georgia, “Glory, Glory to Old Georgia,” and the crowd sings along. This atmosphere of excitement and celebration. I turned to Tricia and said, “This is a religion!” And I was happy to be part of the congregation. It was indeed a moving experience.
Someone has described it this way: a football game is really 22 people who are on the field desperately in need of rest and 80,000 people desperately in need of exercise. That’s pretty much what it is, isn’t it? It’s easy for us to come and to watch a game and be a spectator. It’s a totally different deal to be on that field, exerting yourself to play that game. It doesn’t take much energy at all to be a spectator. You just watch the action on the field and then when you see something you like, you cheer. When you see something you’re disappointed with, you boo, right? That’s the role of a spectator. That’s what spectators do. They cheer when they feel like it. They boo when they feel like it. It’s a very passive activity to be in the bleachers.
Today, I’m launching a brand-new series that will take us through the month of November. Those of us on our teaching team are super excited about the content. It’s all about the challenge for our church of getting out of the bleachers and moving onto the playing field. I want to begin with a simple concept that you may know, but it really forms the foundation for what I want to talk to you about today. The very simple idea goes like this: Following Jesus was never meant to be a spectator sport. That’s not what we’ve signed up for. We have not placed our faith in Jesus, understood his death is sufficient payment for our sin, have the assurance of heaven based on nothing but faith alone, only to become spectators.
No. Following Jesus was never meant to be a spectator sport. It was never meant to be a passive activity. Instead, we are to engage by getting out of the bleachers and on to the field. In the church, the stakes are enormously higher than any athletic contest. Would you agree? The stakes are huge. We’re about the work of God. We’re about cooperating with God as his kingdom influence expands. We’re about meeting people in their point of need. We’re about saying to humanity, “There’s hope in Jesus!” We’re about eternal things, not trivial things. You and I have signed up for something that’s bigger than any of us could have ever imagined.
Years ago, I had lunch with a friend who attended our church. I noticed this guy because he had come here and he kind of occupied the shadows, and yet I knew him and talked to him. I knew that he loved Jesus. I knew he had incredible gifts, that he had a lot to offer. So I said to him, “Hey, let’s go to lunch.” At lunch we got through the pleasantries, how’s your job going, how’s your family doing, all of that and then I finally said to him, “It just seems like to me that you’re in the bleachers of our church and we need you on the field.” It was the first time I had used that phrase as a personal challenge. It wouldn’t be the last, either. That guy went on to get out of the bleachers and on to the field. He went on to serve. He went on to contribute through his gifts and his talents and he went on to make our church a better place. Just because he decided to get out of the bleachers and on to the playing field.
You and I have been called to move from being consumers to contributors. Yeah, I get it, our society is wired for consumerism. Our economy depends on it, okay? It’s not all bad. But when you and I embrace this idea that we deserve and we want and it’s all about us, especially when it comes to ministry, we’ve stepped on dangerous ground. No. Instead, we are to move from being spectators to being servants.
Think about the excuses a person would use in an athletic event to remain on the bleachers and not on the field. They’re pretty clear. Some would say this, “I’m remaining in the bleachers because I just want to enjoy the game. That’s what I came for. I just want to enjoy the game. I’m going to sit here and enjoy the game.” Others might say, “I bought a ticket to be entertained. I paid my money and that’s what I’m here for.” Some would say, “Listen, I don’t have the ability to be on the field. The people on the field, they’re trained athletes. They’re working in precision timing together. That’s not me. I don’t have the ability to be out there.” Some would say, “I’m not a member of the team. Yeah, I’m wearing a jersey, but my jersey is a little different than what they’ve got on. They’ve got the equipment. They’ve got the whole thing.” And some of us, if we’re honest, would say, “I’m not on the field. I’m remaining on the bleachers because I’d rather eat hot dogs and nachos, okay?” That’s the conclusion that we’ve come to.
There are many reasons that keep people in the bleachers and out of the game when it comes to following Jesus Christ and being involved in the local church. Lots of different reasons. But here’s one reason I want to start with that you may have never considered. It’s a reason that often keeps people in the bleachers and off the playing field. Ready? Sacerdotalism. Sacerdotalism. Aren’t you blessed. Doesn’t that sound really good? Let’s say it together. Sacerdotalism.
What in the world is that all about? I’ve included a definition for you. Sacerdotalism is the belief that priests are essential mediators between God and people. In other words, sacerdotalism is all about the priest being the person, right? He’s the person that mediates between God and people. This very idea can often keep people in the bleachers and off of the playing field. Think about it. In the Old Testament, the central figure in the spiritual life of the Israelites was the priest. He was the guy that said, “Okay, Israelites, I’m going before God for you. Hang on, here we go.” And he was the mediator. He was the guy who mediated in the presence of God with very specific duties and outcomes that were expected of him. He had great authority. He was the man. He was the guy. Yet, the Old Testament only gives us a foreshadowing of what will be revealed in the New Testament, and I love pairing the two halves of the Bible together. Put another way, the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed. And the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. The beautiful shadows and pictures that God is painting in the Old Testament come to fruition in the New Testament, and we go, “Ah ha! That’s what that was about!” Now the old is gone and the new has come. We can embrace the new because the old was a shadow of things to come.
In the New Testament, this idea of a special class of priest gets shattered. Just busted apart. Now, in the New Testament, Jesus is our great high priest. Not a man mediating before God, but Jesus himself, our great high priest. We’re told in the book of Hebrews, Jesus our great high priest, has gone into the heavenlies. He is a great high priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses, because in all points like we, he was tempted. That’s the kind of great high priest that we have, who stands before the father, mediating for us. That’s why he’s also called the Mediator, 1st Timothy 2:5. There is one Mediator between God and people, the man Christ Jesus. We no longer need a person to mediate on behalf of the people and God. Instead, Jesus himself has become our great high priest. He is the only mediator we need.
The good news of the New Testament doesn’t stop there. Are you ready? Not only is Jesus the great high priest, not only is Jesus our mediator, but everyone who places their faith in Jesus becomes a priest. That’s right. Becomes a priest. All believers have become priests. Let’s start today in the book of 1st Peter. I want to highlight a couple of verses and make our way around a couple of other passages. But in 1st Peter chapter 2, let’s start at verse 5. Peter is writing to a group of believers dispersed for their faith, being persecuted and he’s reminding them of their identity. It all comes back to our identity, doesn’t it? Here’s what Peter says, verse 5, 1st Peter 2.
“You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
Now think about this: In the Old testament, what did the priests do? Well, he mediated, he offered up sacrifices. But now, Jesus as the great high priest, is doing that. Now he’s saying, “You’re priests too” and what are we doing as priests? We’re offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Let’s skip to verse 9.
“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, his own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Friends, what a calling! What an identity! What a different way to think about ourselves once we place our faith in Jesus Christ. Maybe you’re thinking, “Hey, I’m not good enough to be a priest.” Well, if you’re a believer, too late! You’re a priest. Now, you may be a good priest or a bad priest, right? But this is part of your identity as a believer in Jesus Christ and as part of the calling that God has put on your life to be a priest.
Let’s put this idea into a simple statement. I think it’ll drive the point home a little more clearly. Every believer is a minister. Every believer is a minister. It doesn’t get any simpler than that. Every believer is a minister. This is what we’re talking about when we discuss the priesthood of the believer. The Greek word for minister could also be translated as “servant.” It’s not very complicated. That’s what it means. A servant is a person who does something for the benefit of another. That’s pretty simple. A servant is someone who does something for the benefit of another.
When we started our church 30+ years ago, this was a radical idea for some people. Every believer is a minister. Some people had a hard time getting their head around that. Especially people who were coming from traditional church backgrounds. There was something about a traditional church background that made the embracing of a statement like this somewhat challenging, somewhat difficult. Every believer is a minister. Here’s why, I believe. For some reason, it’s difficult for Christians to break out of an Old Testament mindset. A mindset that sees the church building as a temple and the pastor as a priest. For some reason, we want to hold onto that model and it’s an old model.
For example, let’s think about the church building as a temple. Sometimes we even refer to it when we say, “are you going to church?” meaning “are you going to that building?” When people say, “oh, look, a church!” they mean the building. It’s woven into the way that many of us think, especially those of us coming from traditional church backgrounds. The church building is thought of as a kind of temple. Let me explain to you how deeply woven this is into both European and American culture. The average church building is usually kind of long, and it’s usually structured, or patterned after the Old Testament tabernacle, or temple. So the closer you get up here, there’s usually an altar, and there’s all kind of symbols and just like in the Old Testament, there was the Holy Place and there was the Holiest of Holies.
Just a little experiment here for our purposes. I’m moving way back here and I just need to let you know, I feel no holier here than I did standing out here. This idea, just through architecture alone, has created the belief that a building is a kind of temple and that God resides in that building. Jesus comes along as he blows it apart. Here’s what we’re told in the New Testament: God does not live in temples made with human hands. This is not God’s house. Like when we turn the lights out and go about our day, it’s not like “see ya, God!” Here’s the difference: in the same context, we’re told that God dwells in the heavens and in fact, the earth is his footstool. In addition to that, where else does God live? We’re told that God in the New Testament, God comes to live inside of people. He takes up his residence inside. You are, Paul would write to the Corinthian church, the temple of God. Your body is a temple where God lives. Drastically different.
In addition to that whole idea about the church building being a temple, it’s easy for us, especially those of us from traditional church backgrounds, to view the pastor as the priest. He’s the guy that does it all. I’ve had conversations with people in the past where I would say, “You know, every believer is a minister.” “Wait, wait, hold on there Joe, don’t get carried away. You’re the guy that preaches, you baptize, you marry, you disciple, you evangelize, you visit people, you go see sick people. You do. That’s what we pay you for.” It’s such a short-sighted view of what God is communicating to us in the age of grace. Every believer is a minister.
This radical new perspective is highlighted very specifically in the book of Ephesians. I want to invite you to turn to Ephesians chapter 4. We’re going to spend a couple minutes on a couple verses from Ephesians chapter 4. Let me read those to you as you make your way there. Ephesians 4 beginning at verse 11. Jesus has descended to the earth. He has ascended to God. We’re told in verse 11 “…He Himself,” Jesus, “gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, …” What we find here is Paul highlighting for us foundational gifts in the life of the church. Jesus gives some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers. Why does he do that? The very next verse tells us why. “for the equipping,” it’s a great word. The president of the seminary where I attended was very fond of this word. It was printed up all over the place. He was so committed to this word that when we would use the word “training” he would say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, time out. It’s not training. You train dogs. You equip people.” This word is filled with meaning. All kinds of nuances in the original language. For example, not only does it mean equipping, but it means preparing. Or it means to bring to a condition of fitness. Or to mend, to restore, to create, to strengthen. You get the nuances? It’s beautiful. In Koine Greek, outside of Biblical usage of the word, the word is a medical term and it means to mend or set straight. It’s a beautiful picture with all of these meanings.
These foundational gifts given by Jesus to the church are given for the equipping. Every one of us who claims the name of Christ, to be equipped. What a beautiful concept. Who is it that is to be equipped? For the equipping of the, what is the word? Saints. Here’s how our culture tends to view saints. When we hear the word “saint,” let’s be honest, many of us think, “okay, super-spiritual person, like off the charts. Like, this person is a saint.” We picture the devoted grandmother who is given her whole life to doing what she is doing. Or we picture this person that seems selfless. In other words, when we hear the word “saint” we think this is a person who is just off the charts, they’re not even in my league. They’re just way up there somewhere. Super, super, super-Christian. The Bible never uses the word saint like that. A saint is simply a believer in Jesus. One who has been saved by the grace of Christ. Put another way, the designation “saint” is never behavioral, it’s always positional.
For example, Paul would write to the church at Corinth, a messed up church, a sinful church, and he would address them as… any guesses? Saints. Saints at the church at Corinth. If you’ve placed your faith in Jesus, whether you feel like it or not, you’re a saint. You’ve been set apart for something special. These foundational gifts are given for the equipping of the saints, and notice this next phrase, “for the work of ministry…” For the work of ministry. Now, without getting technical or diagramming this sentence, who is it that does the work of ministry, according to this verse? The saints. Believers. So we just took sacerdotalism, and we went, “we don’t need you anymore.” Because every Christian has a role to play. It is every Christian who is responsible before God to do the work of the ministry. Why do we do the work of the ministry? “for the building up of the body of Christ.” That’s the church.
In this series, one of the things you’re going to hear, and we talk a lot around our church about reaching outside of our walls and we invest a lot of money and send people all over the world and we do things to care for people outside of the walls of our church. This series is primarily about building up the body of Christ. That’s really what we’re talking about, as is this specific reference here. These gifts have been given for the equipping of the saints to do the work of the ministry, that way the work of the ministry gets done and the body of Christ gets built up.
Throughout our church family, there are people that understand that they are ministers. I love it. Some of you, you’re listening to me going, ‘Yep, yep, I got it, Joe. I get this. I get it.” Because you’ve embraced this Biblical idea. This is not even in question for you. A long time ago, somewhere along your growth and development, you got out of the bleachers and onto the playing field. You got in the game. You said no longer am I going to be a spectator. I’m going to be a servant. No longer am I going to be a consumer, I’m going to be a contributor.
As I talk to people who have gotten out of the bleachers and into the game, the stories sound very similar. Let me tell you what I hear from people. Stories from the field. Stories from the gridiron. Stories from being in the middle of the action. They’ll say things like this: “Serving has changed my life.” And they mean it. They’re not just telling me because they think they’re supposed to. They mean it, because it has.
Some will say it like this: “I’m part of fulfilling the mission of our church – to influence people to find and follow Jesus.” Because they get it. They’ve made the connection between what they’re doing and the overall direction of our church.
Some will say this- I’ve heard this more than once: “I’m teaching kids, but I think I’m learning more than they’re learning.” It’s okay, alright? It’s like a person who goes on a short-term trip, “Yeah, I’m going to help people.” And they get zapped by God and they realize they’ve been helped. Isn’t that interesting how it works that way? It’s okay to derive a benefit from serving. That’s how God’s built it. God’s built it so when we give of ourselves, not only are others blessed, not only is the body of Christ built up, but we’re the body of Christ too and we get built up. That’s how it works. It’s such a beautiful picture.
Some will say, “I get it. Serving is normal.” Like, this is not graduate school. This is kindergarten. Serving is normal. And to those of you that have left the bleachers and are in the game, I just want to say to you, thank you. Thank you for being people that have believed God, that have taken God at his word, who have said “I’m not going to be passive with this, I’m not just going to be a taker, I’m going to be a giver.” Thank you. Thank you for doing that. You are an example. You are an ambassador for serving.
I want to ask a question that is perhaps going through some of our minds. It goes through mine sometimes. Why do people occupy the bleachers but never get in the game? Why are people content to just sit in the bleachers? Why are people part of a church, but they seldom play their part? The list could be long but let me offer up some things that I’ve heard from people, from conversations that I’ve had.
One of the reasons people stay in the bleachers and they don’t make it onto the field is because they don’t feel needed. I get this. People look around and go, “but, that’s such a large church.” By the way, I don’t think our church is that large, okay? Just to give you my perspective, okay? But all four services, I get it. A lot of people call LifePoint home. I get that. But they look around and they go, “They don’t need me. I was greeted by people, parked by people, I said hi to people, I came in here, there are people doing this and that. There are people teaching kids. They don’t need me.” Please don’t buy into that. You know why? It’s very similar to those incidents that are written about in large cities, like New York or wherever, where a person is injured or in need of medical care on a sidewalk and people just continue to walk by. You know one of the reasons people do that? Because they say someone else will help. That same idea gets brought into a church. Sometimes we say, “I’m going to stay right where I am. They don’t need me. Someone else will do it.”
Here’s another idea: They don’t know how to serve. They just don’t know how to. It’s okay. Maybe you haven’t been equipped to do that yet, but we’re here to help you do that.
One reason people stay in the bleachers and off the field is because they’re afraid. What’s going to happen when I really get involved?
Or they don’t have time. Okay, let’s just get it over with. Everybody raise your hand, okay? You don’t know what you’re volunteering for, but you’re raising your hand. Alright? We’re all busy, okay? Everybody got your hand up? We’re all busy. We’re done with that. We’re all busy. We’re all busy, I get it. But, I really believe you’ll make time for what’s valuable. Let me make it theological. God has given you enough time every day to do everything that he wants you to do. Just do the math. He would never give you more to do than you have time to do. So we have to ask, how are we spending our time?
Again, I think when people are reluctant to get out of the bleachers and onto the playing field, maybe it’s because they’re hurting. They’re just hurting. Some of you need to get mended up. It’s okay. Once you get your strength back and all, we’re going to invite you to get in.
Some people remain in the bleachers because they’re just lazy. They like it up there.
Or, they disagree with the church. I find this one fascinating. I don’t even know what that means. “Well, I’m in the bleachers and not on the playing field because I disagree with the church.” Okay, is that me? Is that the elders? Is that staff? Is that your small group leader? Is that someone you met in the parking lot? I don’t know. I love these refreshing conversations I have with people that I believe are mature enough to differentiate by having great conversations, even disagreement. Disagreement is awesome, if it’s done in the right spirit. But I have conversations with people who will say, “you know, I think this should be done. Or I think you should do this, or whatever like this, but you need to know this is not a ten for me, this is a two.” And were able to rank the severity of that. Here’s the problem. People bring twos and they act like they’re tens. You know why? We love our opinion. We do.
Some are in the bleachers and not on the field because they’ve been burned before. Maybe at another church, maybe at this church.
Or how about this one? There still there and not here because they’ve never been asked. Maybe just a simple invitation. Would you? Can I invite you to…? Have you considered…?
Some just don’t feel it. Some say, “hey it’s easier to stay in the bleachers.”
In a speech delivered at the Sorbonne in Paris, in 1910, Theodore Roosevelt described a kind of daring adventure that I think can also describe the faithfully involved Christian, not one who’s side-lined passively in the bleachers as a spectator, but one who is really on the field. This is entitled, “The Man in the Arena.” He wrote these words. He says,
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasm, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
I can almost hear the music playing behind that. That is inspiring to me. That is an invitation and a picture of what it looks like when we get out of the bleachers and we get into the game. Is it challenging? Yes, but it’s worth it. These words represent the heartbeat of anyone willing to get in the game, anyone willing to strive valiantly with God’s help. I have to tell you, and this is probably similar among all of us here, I’ve always wanted to be part of something significant. Something that makes a difference for the sake of Christ. And for me, in large part, LifePoint is that for me. Tricia and I joke all the time, we’ve given the sweet spot of our lives and we wouldn’t change a thing. We are so grateful and so inspired by so many of you to be a part of a movement like this.
So, capital “C” Church, and little “C” churches, of which LifePoint is one, represent God’s plan to evangelize the world and grow up Christians. That’s his plan. We’re part of that marvelous plan. That’s what we’re describing when we’re inviting people out of the bleachers and onto the field. That’s the invitation. That’s the calling. I’ve found great inspiration over lots of years through a couple of verses in Ephesians chapter 3. They’re so inspiring to me. Verse 10, chapter 3, starts like this: “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly…” I just love those two words together. Exceedingly abundantly. In the Greek, it means “a lot,” okay? “…exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or imagine…” Look, I don’t know about you, but I can ask a lot, and I can imagine a lot. But God is able to do “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or imagine, according to the power that works in us.” His power working in us. Now, notice this: “to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.”
Sometimes in my musings, I imagine what it would be like to be in heaven. Everything is done. Time is no more. I sometimes imagine that celebration and the conversations and sometimes I imagine making eye contact with people with whom I’ve done ministry over many, many years. Shoulder-to-shoulder, we’ve been at this together, and “hey come on over here, this is like the LifePoint group, okay? Let’s talk a little bit.” And we reminisce and we laugh, and we say, “it was worth it.” And the conversation grows silent and someone says, “yes, it was. It was.”
The price is high. We’ll be marred by all kinds of stuff that you get marred with when you’re playing the game. But God invites us in a very powerful way to be able to say, “to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus through all ages, world without end.”
There are few sermons that lend themselves to such immediate application, if we take the time to do it right. Throughout this entire series, after every service we’re giving you an opportunity to explore serving and what it looks like at our church. Inside your worship guide there, you’ll find there’s a little single page flyer that gives you three steps toward making this easier. Easy three steps toward volunteering. On the reverse side you see all kinds of opportunities for ministry outlets and that’s what we’re designed to do. You’ll get some instructions about that later on in our service, but I’d love to pray for us now as we close this portion of our service.
We thank you, our great God, for the invitation to come and join you in what you’re doing in the world. It’s amazing. We thank you that you have resourced us through the person of Christ, and that you never intended for us to be spectators. You invite us to get in the game. You invite us to be on the field. So we thank you for that invitation and we pray by your grace and in your power that we would be people who at the end of our lives would be able to say, “I got out of the bleachers and I got in the game.” And we pray this in the name of Jesus, amen.
What would you say contributes to our consumer-driven culture? In what ways are you most likely to be a consumer instead of a contributor? A spectator not a servant?
Every believer in Jesus is a minister (True or False?). Explain your answer. Do any scripture verses come to mind?
Why are foundational gifts given (according to Ephesians 4:11-12)? In the church, who are the ministers who do the work of the ministry?
Why are some Christians reluctant to get out of the bleachers and onto the playing field? (i.e. Why is it easy for some to be spectators or casual observers instead contributing through their time and talents?)
How would you motivate someone who has never served in the church to get out of the bleachers? What is your own story of serving?
The results on the playing field are largely determined off of it. In sports, in work, on the battlefield, even in our relationships, much of our success in the moment of engagement is determined by the work we did or didn't do preparing ourselves for it. In short,...
One eager to please God is determined to get out of the bleachers and into the game. But our involvement in serving doesn’t have to be random or chaotic. God has given each believer a spiritual gift—a specific, supernatural ability for building up the body of Christ....
Following Jesus calls us out of the bleachers and into the game. But being in the game means we have to get out of our comfort zones and get our hands dirty. This willingness to lay aside ourselves is at the heart of volunteering. In this message, we’ll see how Jesus...