These Choices Separate People from Jesus

In 2011, I joined a overseas mission trip to Kenya with the Maasai Development Project. Our group of medical doctors, nurses, dentists, dental hygienists, high-school students and general volunteers provided free medical and dental care, and eyeglasses to people of the Maasai tribes living in a region known as the Maasai Mara.

Each day we traveled through a game preserve in safari buses to the next health clinic. One of the most exciting moments came when we crossed paths with a massive bull elephant.  He waved his trunk and his feet stirred up a cloud of dust as he threatened to charge our bus.

On the game preserve, elephants are protected. Poachers are their greatest enemy. Other predators steer clear, aware that these giant creatures can easily trample them to death. Other animals still face danger from their natural predators.

Hyenas, lions and cheetahs hunt zebras and antelope. What I noticed about the prey animals is that they lived in herds.  Sometimes these herds were mixed. Herds of zebras mingled with herds of topi, and eland. Whether a herd of the same kind, or mingled with other herd animals, they appeared organized to assure their survival. While other herd animals ate, the eland assigned a few from their herd to stand as sentinels. These eland took positions on the outside edges of the grazers to watch for predators, and to alert their grazing companions of potential threats.

Herd animals benefit from collaboration and the increased safety made possible by their numbers and natural instincts that keep them in community. A herd animal that wanders off or trails behind the herd, looses these benefits and becomes easy prey for hungry canines and cats.  On our safari treks, I occasionally saw them lurking, not far from the feeding herds, patiently waiting for their opportunity to snatch an animal separated from the rest.

Humans have a herd instinct. We also have the drive to take off on our own when our peers don't share our goals, or agree with our methods. However, God's design for the church is to function more like a herd. We are His sheep, and Jesus is our Shepherd, after all!

"Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ's body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other." (Romans 12:4-5 NLT)

This is one of several statements in the Bible that describe the church as Christ's body, and the church's members as part of that body. If church members are part of a body, can they serve the Head independent of the church body? It stands to reason that church members choosing to serve Jesus independent from the church are like sheep wandering away from the Shepherd.

Ellen White put it this way:

Very close and sacred is the relation between Christ and His church--He the bridegroom, and the church the bride; He the head, and the church the body. Connection with Christ, then, involves connection with His church. The church is organized for service; and in a life of service to Christ, connection with the church is one of the first steps. Loyalty to Christ demands the faithful performance of church duties. (Ellen White, Education, p. 268).

Too often, people choose not to serve in a church. Their objections to serving seem reasonable, but can separate them from Jesus.  For each of these objections, the Bible offers a promise:


    Burnout: Jesus' command to serve also includes the strength to serve. When we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, the same power that created the universe lives in us and we become all powerful. "But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you." (Romans 8:11 NKJV). "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13 NKJV).  I invite you to consider that burnout is the result of relying on your own strength and wisdom and not listening to and acting under the power of the Holy Spirit.

  2. Wounds. A church whose leaders are not humble in their relationship toward Jesus and their relationships toward their church members will wound its members. Ideally, when church members wound other church members, there will be repentance and forgiveness. Members who choose not to serve in their church because they were wounded by their church family need to connect to a church family that is safe, that will help them heal, and that will engage them in service with their church body. Sometimes that may require finding a new church family. "In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation." (1 Peter 5:10 NLT)

  3. Retirement. Maybe you've heard people say, "I've served my time. It's someone else's turn."  Where is that in the Bible? Retiring from the body of Christ is to also disconnect yourself from Jesus. Serving time is something you do in a prison. Serving Jesus is what we do when we're freed by Him from the prison of sin. In Titus 2, Paul specifies important roles for older men and women in the gospel work, both to continue to develop Christlike character, and to teach and encourage younger generations. "Now that I am old and gray, do not abandon me, O God. Let me proclaim your power to this new generation, your mighty miracles to all who come after me." (Psalms 71:18 NLT).

We live in increasingly perilous times. The Bible teaches that your destiny is determined by the status of your connection to Jesus and His church.

"Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour." (1 Peter 5:8 NLT)

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