Personal Note: This is my first blog post in a few weeks. We have been in the process of selling our house and moving. I don’t have to tell you if you’ve been through this what an interruption that can be.
Serving is part and parcel of the life of a Jesus follower.
Jesus is the prime example of what true service is. He continually was giving of himself for the benefit of others. He said, “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…” (Matthew 20:28). When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, he told them they should do as he had done for them (John 13:15). Jesus’ example was behind Paul’s admonition to the Galatian believers to serve one another humbly in love (Galatians 5:13).
All of this means that service in the name of Jesus is not some kind of add-on to everything else you’re doing in life. It’s not an optional, do-it-when-it-fits-your-schedule sort of thing. Service for the Jesus follower is a lifestyle.
Let’s think about how churches many times approach serving. Churches tend to promote service from the perspective of a project orientation. Sometimes they even call it that–a service project. It’s done as a kind of one-off activity that is planned, coordinated, executed, and then analyzed for its effectiveness.
The service activity may be a regularly scheduled project varying in frequency from weekly to monthly, quarterly or annually. Some projects are connected to the season of the year. Some churches are well known in their communities for the specific service projects they perform, and are appreciated for them.
A major drawback of doing service purely from a project orientation can be that those being served can feel as though they are little more than a project for a church’s service activity. While they appreciate the kindness shown, they know that these church members, once the project is completed, will retreat back to their homes and normal lives. Meanwhile, needs continue among those served the whole year, day in and day out.
An example of this scenario is a church that conducts an annual outreach to a local apartment community doing Bible Clubs for the kids. The kids and their families are blessed, but once the week is over, they know this church will to a large extent be absent from their lives till next year. Those of the church who participated in the project will feel they have done their annual bit of service and continue on with their normal lives.
Even when service is done on a weekly basis, the project orientation is still influencing the attitudes of service both on the servers and those being served. It is still seen as an additional activity that is scheduled and performed.
So, how would missional service be any different? How would a church move from a project orientation to a missional orientation regarding serving their communities? What impact does a missional perspective have on how a church serves?
First, we need to establish that serving is to be a normal and natural outflow of a loving relationship with God. We love because we have been loved without measure by God; we serve, because Jesus has served us by ultimately giving himself for us. Our mindset should be, how can we not serve with generosity and grace as God has served us?
Serving is to be the lifestyle of the believer. We serve not only by participating in organized activities, but in smaller, everyday opportunities. We must learn that service does not always have to be put on the calendar; it is how we live every day. Reflecting continually on the gospel leads us to live a life of extending grace to others in simple acts of service on a regular basis without even thinking about it. Serving should be a habitual expression of our desire to glorify God and make Jesus known.
Let’s return to that example of serving the apartment community. A missional orientation of serving would lead one or more of the families in the church to choose to move into the apartment community and become residents. Their acts of service would be year-round. The other residents would receive their serving and not feel like a project, but like a neighbor. They are now your neighbors and friends, not your service project. This is how serving gets real, when you choose to live among those God has called you to serve.
Another example is when churches serve by cleaning up a park, or performing some other service activity that is very public. Churches will often get matching colorful T-shirts printed up to wear when they do these projects. That’s okay, but let’s think about the rationale of advertising our church this way. Are we drawing more attention to the love of Jesus for the community, or are we communicating that we want the neighbors to know that our church is the one doing the serving?
I think the simple act of serving without concern that people know that your church is the one doing the serving highlights Jesus more effectively. When Jesus said in Matthew 10:42, “If anyone gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones…” I don’t think he had in mind including a label on the cup with the church logo and a note saying From your friends, the Disciples of Jesus in Bethel.
Churches can tend to use service projects as a means of promoting their church and increasing the attendance at their gathering. Our motive for serving should never have the hint of personal gain. We should serve because this is our identity: servants of King Jesus. Serving should point to Jesus, not to us. And Jesus said if we lift him up, he will draw people to himself.
I challenge you to examine how your church serves the community. Is it more of a project orientation? Service is not a project we complete; it is a lifestyle we live. Adopt a missional orientation to your service as an individual believer, and lead others to do the same.