by Doug Rehberg
On a bitterly cold day in 1961, January 20th to be exact, newly elected President, John F. Kennedy, stood on the eastern portico of the U.S. Capitol Building before hundreds of thousands of his countrymen and spoke for 13 minutes and 55 seconds. It was one of the shortest inaugural speeches in American history. Some cite the extremely frigid temperature as the reason for his brevity. Others, who knew better, understood that he and Ted Sorensen had intentionally tried to keep the first inaugural address broadcast to a television audience in color, short and pithy.
At the 12 minute and 36 second mark, he uttered perhaps the most famous words he ever spoke publically. They are enshrined in marble near his grave in Arlington. He said:
“And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
I’m not sure who originated this chiasm (words repeated in reverse order), the second one of the speech. Maybe it was Sorenson. Or, maybe it was Kennedy himself. Either way those words express an enduring challenge not just to Americans, but to every citizen of the Kingdom of God—and every member of a local church.
Recently I came across some new data that was released to help a church determine its health and vitality. Whereas twenty years ago a “healthy” church was considered one in which at least 50 percent of its members attended worship at least 50 percent of the time, today the metric has changed dramatically. The new numbers are sobering. No longer is 50 percent the mark of vitality, it’s now 30 percent! And the average number of times that an “active” member attends worship has fallen from 2 to 3 times a month, to once a month! Think of it. An ACTIVE participant in the life of a local church is someone who shows up, on average, 20 to 25 percent of the time. What do you think James would say about that?
One of the clearest and most effective ways to demonstrate to yourself and others that you’re not asking what the church can do for you is by attending worship. For many, the decision to attend is predicated on their schedule, fatigue, or competing commitments. What is lost in all of this is the effect we have on others. Merely showing up for worship signals that the needs of others are more important than your own. Have you ever thought of the fact that your presence alone at worship says that the vitality of the church is a priority to you? I can’t tell you the number of times someone’s attendance has eventuated in real and tangible ministry to others.
Why am I telling you all this? Is it an effort to manipulate you? Is it a desire to scold or cajole? No. It’s no different than John Kennedy’s call to the citizenry of the country he was elected to serve. His message was simple—get your eyes off yourself and your self-desires and realize the significance of your citizenship to positively affect the lives of others. James would understand that. How about you?