by Iris Barta
As God’s people, God chooses to work through us in the world and in the Church. His Word says: “Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul?” (Deuteronomy 10:12).
The word “serve” often has negative connotations. It is not our human nature to serve others. It has the implication of someone else being our master, of doing somewhat menial tasks for little or no reward.
A similar word with a more positive connotation is volunteer. Volunteerism is very popular in Canada. Students in some provinces are required to complete forty hours of volunteer service to graduate from high school; some corporations offer a day off with pay for employees who are willing to spend that day volunteering for an organization of their choice. Even volunteer vacations have become somewhat trendy. One online advertisement I’ve seen offers time spent “working hard, travelling, and having a good time while achieving worthwhile goals.” Some universities offer credits for these vacations. While all of these things are very good and certainly commendable, they are not quite what God had in mind when He directed us to serve Him with all our heart and all our soul.
The requirement in Deuteronomy 10 first of all is directed to God’s people. In the Old Testament, this referred to the Israelites. The Israelites were a people set apart to receive the covenant promises of God. These promises were fulfilled when God sent His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus, true God, humbled himself to become a baby in a stable, to live through all the temptations and hurts of our world. He came to defeat Satan and the sin of our world, on the cross. He did that for each of us because He loves us, His people.
In our baptism we are marked with the cross: He puts His name on our forehead and on our heart to mark us as His own. In gratitude for all He has done for us, we answer His call to serve Him with all our hearts and all our souls gladly, empowered by His Holy Spirit at work in us. It becomes a joy, not an obligation. Serving the Lord is not so much what we do, but who we are.
Women in the Church
In His infinite wisdom God created us as men and women—equal in His sight but not the same. Women have unique gifts to serve the body of Christ. Throughout the history of the Church, there are many examples of women serving, women who act as models for our service today. In fact there are 188 women mentioned in the Bible. This number alone tells us the important role women played in God’s plan for salvation; most writings of this time period in history did not mention women at all.
Women do not serve in pastoral ministry in Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), a position we take based on the teachings of Scripture. That might sound unfair to some but we recognize that God calls His people to serve Him in different ways. This is called the doctrine of vocation. We all share certain vocations—we are all called, for example, to serve God by being good citizens in the country in which we live. But other vocations are specific to only one group of people. Only men are called to be fathers; only women are called to be mothers. The vocation of pastoral ministry works similarly: God calls some men—but not most—to this type of service.
In the same way, God calls women to serve Him in ways unique to their own individual vocations. Some of these callings are in “traditional” female roles—like raising families, teaching children, and building community in congregations—but many others are in roles our culture might call more “contemporary”: as church workers, as organizers of mission and social ministry projects, and as leaders at the congregational, district, and synodical level. Women are called by God to serve the Church in a variety of different ways, and it’s worth reflecting on some of these at length.
God calls women to serve Him in ways unique to their own individual vocations.
Only women, as we have noted, are called to be mothers. In 2 Timothy chapter 1 we hear about Lois and Eunice, Timothy’s mother and grandmother. Like young Timothy, many of us recall the faith of our mothers or grandmothers. Your mother is often the first person who whispers in your infant ear that Jesus loves you. She probably taught you to sing “Jesus Loves Me” and to say your first prayers.
Another “traditional” role that women fill in our congregations is making our congregations extensions of our homes by serving in the kitchen. Imagine one of those potluck dinners we love without the service of the women of the Church. The work done in the kitchen goes beyond making and serving meals. In the kitchen, women of multiple generations work together, building relationships—deep, loving, and supportive relationships that are formed by women who love each other because Jesus first loved them.
Creative women also enhance our worship by serving on altar guilds, preparing and maintaining the sanctuary for worship.
Women also have a special gift when it comes to sharing the care and compassion modelled by our Lord. They care for the ill and the aging. Often women are the people who spearhead the food bank collections and the mitten trees in our congregations, and the collection of care kits to be sent overseas. Women of Lutheran Church–Canada have made thousands of quilts to be donated and distributed by Canadian Lutheran World Relief, as just one example.
But many women serve in official church work capacities too, as deacons. They serve as teachers, directors of parish services, youth leaders, and in various other forms of ministry. Other women, both lay and deacon, transfer their skills from their workplace to serve in leadership positions at the congregational, district, and national levels. They serve on our boards, lead in our auxiliaries, and share their vocational expertise with the wider Church. Recently we saw one of these deacons serve as an essayist for Lutheran Church–Canada’s national convention. Without the service of these women, the work of the Church would suffer.
Your Call to Serve
When you think of faithful servants in your own congregation, your district, and the national body of Lutheran Church–Canada, I have no doubt that many women come to mind—women who are instrumental in the work being done to support God’s people and share the saving message of Jesus. God has blessed our synod with gifted women who are eager to use their gifts to serve in ways more numerous than can be mentioned here.
A word to my female readers: those gifted women include you too. You don’t need to be on a board or committee to serve the Church. God has blessed you with special gifts of your own to be a blessing to others where you are. Embrace that calling.
Most importantly, the women of LCC understand the importance of being immersed in the Word. We are called to follow the example of service shown by other women “in the Word”—service exemplified by people like Sarah, Miriam, Ruth, Esther, Martha, Mary, and many others. They, and we too, are called to follow the example of Jesus who humbled Himself, coming not to be served by to serve others, ultimately with the sacrifice of His suffering and death.
We are called to follow the example of Jesus who humbled Himself, coming not to be served by to serve others.
Thanks be to God who created and called His people to be members of the body of Christ, complimenting each other in service to Him.
Iris Barta is President of Lutheran Women’s Missionary League–Canada.